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In the Name of the Brave

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 Harry felt that Hagrid had greatly underexaggerated the wonders of Hogwarts. He felt warm and sleepy with the best meal he’d ever had in his life. He could have fallen asleep at the table, but instead he looked up at the High Table again to find the giant man at the far end. 

 Hagrid was drinking deeply from his goblet, talking excitedly with an equally merry, although much shorter man. This normal-sized, white-haired man only had one eye, one arm, and an enormous moustache that curled at the ends. Harry wondered who this man beside Hagrid was and what they were talking about with such excited, arm-flapping, air-clawing gestures.

 The elderly witch sitting next to the excited duo, with close-cropped grey hair and a pointed chin, appeared to be disapprovingly chewing on her pipe at their conversation. Every now and then, seemingly whenever Hagrid made a particularly wild gesture, she frowned and puffed out a cloud of sparkly white smoke.

 Harry wondered who she was too – actually, he wondered who all the teachers were, what they were talking about, and what subjects they taught. Looking along the High Table, Harry had never seen such a strange and colourful cast of people. There were people of all shapes and sizes, more than two dozen teachers along the long table, and every one of them was like visiting Diagon Alley in all its wonders and seeing all those strange shoppers again.

 Only, the staff of Hogwarts seemed to all be dressed in their very best robes and hats for the Welcoming Feast. So, underneath the shifting night sky and floating candles of the Great Hall, they looked even brighter and stranger and more wonderful.

 For example, not far from Hagrid was a man so tiny that Harry would have been taller than him, with many little bronze wings on his hat that fluttered occasionally, like the hat might take off into the sky-like ceiling of the Great Hall at any moment. This tiny man was sitting next to a fat woman who appeared to have living, moving flowers on her hat and clothes. Beside her was a very narrow-faced woman with little planets orbiting her fancy hat.

 Although, of course, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore in the middle of the High Table outdid them all by leagues, in his splendid golden robes that were covered in gleaming fiery birds, with his golden half-moon glasses and ruby earrings, and his tall hat with such long scarlet feathers. He made his own wizardly Chocolate Frog card look dull by comparison. He was having an animated conversation with strict Professor McGonagall, who, in her emerald-green robes and wide-brimmed hat, now almost looked ordinary in comparison.

 Every single bizarre one of the Hogwarts staff would have sent the Dursleys into a fit and it made Harry, secretly and maybe a little spitefully, very happy inside. They were like every strange dream he’d ever had finally made real – except with ridiculous hats.

 Harry continued contently along the High Table and saw Professor Quirrell, the nervous young man in the purple turban from the Leaky Cauldron.

 Quirrell was talking to a teacher wearing all black robes. The teacher in black looked younger than most of the others, as young as Quirrell if not younger, and he was considerably good-looking. He had pale skin, a striking nose, long and lustrous black hair, and an air of casual elegance about him. His dark robes had many silver fastenings, gleaming in the candlelight, and he had a matching hat that was much more dashing than his companion’s.

 It happened very suddenly. Quirrell turned away to speak to another teacher who had come up behind him, the teacher in black looked directly at Harry, and their eyes met. A sharp and burning pain shot through Harry’s forehead in a flash – it came from his scar.

 “Ouch!” Harry clapped a hand to his head, surprised.

 He looked quickly away, but not quickly enough not to catch the sudden narrowing of the teacher in black’s stare.

 Percy, seated nearby, noticed this. “What’s wrong, Harry?”

 “N-Nothing,” Harry assured him quickly, still rubbing at his forehead.

 Percy didn’t look entirely convinced, but he didn’t ask any more questions. Thankfully, no one seemed to have noticed this bizarre moment and even Harry could have wondered if it had happened at all, if Percy wasn’t still looking uncertainly at him. The pain had gone nearly as quickly as it had come.

 Harry frowned and dropped his hand, then sneaked another glance at the High Table. The teacher in black had resumed conversation with Professor Quirrell and was no longer looking at him.

 “Percy? Who’s that teacher in the dark robes?”

 Percy looked over the High Table, then furrowed his brow. “Who do you mean, Harry?”

 Harry followed Percy’s gaze, looking all the way down the High Table, and realized that there were a few other teachers in darker robes near the other end of the table. One of them was an angular woman in a square-brimmed hat, one of them was a woman with a feathered hat and a pinched expression, but the last of them was a man who looked a bit like the teacher talking to Quirrell.

 This other man was also dressed in black robes, but his had a greenish tinge to the fabric, and he had no gleaming fastenings or stylish hat. He also had black hair, but only down to his chin, and it looked somewhat greasy. He was broader and plainer; and he had a very unimpressed look about him that made his age difficult to tell. Sharp black eyes flicked briefly over Harry and the man’s frown deepened.

 Harry looked quickly away at being noticed and hid behind Ron. But despite his racing heart and singing nerves, he still pointed subtly at the first teacher for answers.

 “Who’s that teacher talking to Professor Quirrell?”

 “Oh, that’s Professor Black,” Percy said knowledgeably. “He’s one of the Potions professors. He’ll be one of your teachers, actually. He teaches the younger years, from first to fourth.”

 “Oh,” Harry echoed, and snuck another glance at the man.

 But Professor Black was still deep in conversation with Professor Quirrell and didn’t look their way again, so Harry didn’t know what to make of the sudden pain he’d felt in his scar. All he had now was the wary feeling that Professor Black might not like him.

 “Not to worry, Harry, he’s quite good at his job,” Percy assured him quickly, sitting straight-backed for emphasis. Before he again leaned in and said more conspiratorially, “I’ll be taking Potions with Professor Snape this year – he teaches the fifth to seventh years – for the first time. He’s the one I thought you might mean. He’s sitting between Professor Vector and Madam Pince there; he’s the man in the black robes and with the black hair.”

 Percy pointed subtly towards the other, greasy-haired man in dark robes. Professor Snape was thankfully no longer frowning at Harry either, having started a conversation with one of the witches next to him, but he didn’t really look less intimidating or unimpressed.

 Much like Professor Black, Harry had gotten the impression that Professor Snape didn’t like him either, with the way he’d frowned at Harry’s attention. (At least Snape’s look hadn’t cause him pain?) Harry had assumed that this would be the case with some of his teachers – it was always the case with some of his teachers – but it was still disappointing, and Harry now wasn’t at all looking forward to finding out for certain in Potions class. He’d hoped Hogwarts would be different and now he was afraid to find out it might not be.

 “You know Quirrell already, do you?” Percy continued conversationally. “That’s good. He’ll also be one of your teachers. Very polite man, if a bit quiet; I had him in Muggle Studies, before he took a year off to get some first-hand experience. I wonder why he’s looking so nervous now, talking to Professor Black. I’ve never heard about Professor Black having an interest in his job, unlike…”

 “Unlike…?” Harry repeated.

 “Well, unlike Professor Snape,” Percy said, glancing nervously towards the other end of the High Table, as though he thought the man might hear him over all the chatter around them. “It’s common knowledge throughout the school that Snape is after the position – one of them – and that he knows an awful lot about the Dark Arts.”

 “One of them?” Harry asked.

 Percy cleared his throat. “Ah, well, there’s only really one Defence Against the Dark Arts position,” he corrected. “I’ll be taking Defence Against the Dark Arts with Professor Feasance – but, of course, she will only be substituting for Professor Quirrell if necessary and absolutely isn’t the teacher for Defence Against the Dark Arts for the fifth to seventh years.”

 That last part sounded very hastily added and it only confused Harry. Unfortunately, before Harry could ask why Percy would be taking Defence Against the Dark Arts classes with someone who wasn’t a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Percy hurried the conversation on.

 “Besides, I heard that Snape will only be satisfied with the official position, which Quirrell now holds.” Percy was looking deeply flustered now and, glancing nervously up at the High Table again, he quickly changed the topic of conversation. “I’ve just been going on by myself here. Harry! What was your impression of Professor Quirrell returned from Albania?”

 “Er, he seemed nervous. Kind of like he was terrified of his own subject?”

 Harry wanted to push the subject of these confusing professors, especially Professor Black, but he didn’t want to bother Percy into not talking to him. He felt worried enough when his answer made Percy frown. Should he not have said that?

 “Well, he reportedly returned only very recently,” Percy said carefully. “I wonder if he encountered anything unusual while he was abroad. Although, of course, when you met him, it may have been…”

 “Been what?”

 Percy only looked flustered again, red up to the tips of his ears. “Never mind,” he said firmly, but his eyes flickered up to Harry’s forehead.

 At the lightning-shaped scar, Harry realized, hidden beneath his bangs.

 The conversation between them trailed off at that point and neither of them seemed to know how to continue it. Was Percy saying Quirrell was nervous because Harry was “the Boy-Who-Lived”? With Percy picking awkwardly at his pudding, Harry finally turned politely away and pretend to be interested in Ron’s conversation beside him.

 Ron was talking with the boy who’d introduced himself as Dean Thomas. It seemed a very intense conversation, going back and forth about wizards’ Quidditch and Muggle football, which one was better and which one was just silly. Although both Ron and Dean were repeatedly admitting that they didn’t know anything about the other’s sport, before bluntly insulting it.

 Personally, Harry privately agreed with Dean: any sport played on flying broomsticks seemed a bit silly. Exciting, of course, but a bit silly. But he didn’t want to tell Ron that and upset his new friend. Not when Ron had made a very sincere effort at trying to explain Quidditch during the ride train. Harry still didn’t understand it at all, but Ron had still tried – while also simultaneously, passionately, and confusingly defending a team called “the Something-Something Cannons”.

 Out of the corner of his eye, Harry noticed Percy very relievedly enter a conversation with one of the older students down the table. He tried not to be too disappointed.

 Though Harry sincerely tried to listen to Ron and Dean’s argument, he couldn’t help but sneakily watch the High Table just behind them. But even when the puddings disappeared and Professor Dumbledore made his speech – even all through the funny school song, which the Weasley twins gasp through delight, and made many of the teachers smile very fixedly or even close their eyes in pain – neither Black nor Snape looked at him again.

 

~

 

 The Gryffindor first-years followed Percy and another fifth-year Gryffindor prefect, a fat blonde girl who had introduced herself as Camille Hewley, out of the Great Hall and into one of the most terrifying and wondrous stairwells Harry had ever seen in his life. It was enormous. And the dozens of great marble staircases moved. According to Percy’s proud tour, many of the staircases in Hogwarts did this, at their own will, but the main stairwell was particularly known for it.

 Harry tried to gape at all the great staircases and the many paintings, shining suits of armour, massive tapestries, and strange statues that lined the walls of the stairwells and corridors. The people in the portraits even whispered and pointed as they passed!

 But he was so tired and so full of food. He had no idea where they were going, in this great castle, as Percy led them all through doorways and sliding panels and hanging tapestries like they were on some marvellous expedition. It was a desperate relief when the other Gryffindor prefect, Camille Hewley, promised them all that the prefects would lead them to and from their classes for the first week or so. There was nothing to be frightened of here, she assured them.

 It was a bit of a fright when they happened upon a poltergeist named Peeves, but Percy quickly drove him off by threatening him with the Bloody Baron, the ghost of Slytherin House, who was reportedly the only one who scare the spirit. Percy seemed very put out that just being a prefect wasn’t enough for Peeves to behave and Harry saw Camille roll her eyes at him behind his back.

 The long trek finished at the end of a corridor, with anenormous portrait of a very fat woman in a pink silk dress. Percy gave her the password (“Caput Draconis”) and the frame of the painting swung open like a door, which revealed a hole in the wall. After stumbling through it, they found themselves in a room Percy declared to be the Gryffindor common room.

 The Gryffindor common room was a large room in mostly red and gold, warm and surprisingly cosy, with many squashy armchairs and comfy sofas and a large, crackling fireplace. The room was mostly decorated by tapestries of fantastic beasts, but there was a medium-sized full-body portrait of a beautiful witch above the fireplace, holding a wide-brimmed hat and gazing out the window behind her painted desk. Gryffindor students of all years seemed to be trying to linger around the lovely room and chat merrily, only for some older prefects – Harry could tell they were prefers from the shiny badges pinned to their robes – to shoo them off to bed through doors off to the side.

 In the middle of the room, waiting for them, was Professor McGonagall and another teacher Harry didn’t know. The unknown witch was as short as McGonagall was tall; a plump woman with shiny brown hair and prominent round and rosy cheeks. She was wearing blue robes that had a collar of tawny fur and embroidered bronze lions prowling around the hems, and Harry thought he heard one of them growl as it took a swipe at one of its fellows.

 “Welcome to Gryffindor House,” Professor McGonagall said. “I am looking forward to getting to know each and every one of you, and to come to know the credit you will surely do to our House. For those of you who were too busy gawping at the castle to pay attention, I am Professor McGonagall, your Head of House. This is my Deputy Head of House, Professor Ting.”

 “Hello and welcome,” Professor Ting said warmly. “I teach Charms with Professor Flitwick. Though I won’t be teaching you this year, I look forward to seeing you in my classes someday and to get to know you over the course of this year anyway.”

 Professor McGonagall nodded. “You will come to know the school, its staff, and your fellow students in time. During that time, if you have any questions, you can look to your prefects for guidance, or to myself and Professor Ting. You will receive your class schedules here in the common room at nine o’clock sharp tomorrow, after breakfast, from one of our prefects.”

 Harry drowsily tried to listen to them, but Ron was yawning beside him. It was very distracting. Thankfully, Professors McGonagall and Ting seemed to cotton on to the fact that the new Gryffindor first-years were practically asleep on their feet.

 “There’s so much to tell you,” Professor Ting said, “and luckily there’s so much time for the telling! We shan’t keep you from your beds any longer.”

 “Girls, if you would follow Miss Hewley over there, and boys, if you would follow Mister Weasley, they’ll show you to your dormitories,” Professor McGonagall said, as though there would be very serious consequences if they didn’t do so immediately. “Once again: welcome to Hogwarts and to Gryffindor House. Good night.”

 “Sweet dreams to you,” was Professor Ting’s offering.

 Percy quickly led them up a spiral staircase and Harry only had the time to realize that they must have been in one of the castle’s towers, before they found their beds at last and Harry had no other thoughts besides how quickly he could crawl into his. There were five four-poster beds with thick, velvet curtains in a round room, and one of them already had Harry’s trunk beneath it.

 Percy told them where the washrooms were and bid them a cheerful goodnight, but he got mostly mumbling in return. Harry was too tired to talk much to his new dormmates: Ron, Dean the football fan, Seamus the boy who was “half and half”, and Neville who’d lost his toad. Thankfully, the sentiment seemed mutual.

 Harry pulled on his pyjamas, fell into bed, and only just managed to hear the murmuring thread of a conversation from Ron about the Slytherin dormitories reportedly being in the dungeons under the Great Lake. Harry tried to say that that sounded cold and wet, but though he might have had Dudley’s second bedroom now, but he’d never had a bed like this before. He fell asleep in the middle of his own sentence.  

 

~

 

 Harry dreamed strange dreams that night.

 He was wearing Professor Quirrell’s turban and it kept talking to him, almost like the Sorting Hat had done. In the Sorting Hat’s voice, it kept telling him that he ought to have gone into Slytherin, no matter how much he insisted that he didn’t want to be in Slytherin.

 “Anywhere but Slytherin!” he shouted finally.

 But that only made the turban burn. It had been getting hotter and hotter as it hissed at him that he belonged in Slytherin because it was his destiny. Now it felt like it was on fire! It was on fire!

 Harry clawed desperately at his head, especially his forehead where it seemed to be stuck, but the flaming turban wouldn’t come off. It tightened painfully, it got heavier and heavier, and it just kept hissing. Harry scratched and clawed at his own face until his hands came away red with blood and fire. And still it burned. Harry’s eyes and throat were burning too from the terrible smoke.

 Harry thought he saw figures moving in the smoke and he tried to shout out to them for help. But Headmaster Dumbledore’s parade of colourful creatures, teachers, and students in silly hats couldn’t seem to hear him, as they were all shouting the school song at the top of their lungs.

 One of them, broke away to chase a giant toad and ran right past Harry, and Harry saw that it was Neville and tried to grab him. He missed, having apparently sunken knee-deep into a swamp of treacle tart and being unable to move. Then suddenly Malfoy was there, a blur through the smoke, and laughing at him as he struggled again with the fire on in head. Before Harry could shout at him, Malfoy turned into a teacher, looming over him, dressed all in black robes.

 The laughing didn’t stop. Instead, it turned high and cold. Harry tried to look up through the smoke, to see who the teacher was, but instead he found himself looking at the end of a pale wand.

 Harry tried to squint past it, but the face beyond was in shadow, and then suddenly there was a blinding burst of green light that became everything.

 Harry woke up with a start, sweating and shaking. He grabbed at the velvet curtains of his four-poster bed and, for several seconds, didn’t know where he was. It took the snoring of his dormmates for Harry to remember that he wasn’t still dreaming; he was now at Hogwarts, in the Gryffindor dormitories, in his new room and new bed. He rubbed at his prickling, still-hot scar. Then he realized with great relief that it had all only been a very strange and terrible dream.

 Harry tremblingly released the curtains and sank back down, into his new quilts and pillows and comfortable bed. He wondered if the dream had meant something. One of his new textbooks had said something about dreams sometimes being magic and having meaning, hadn’t it?

 But then Harry rolled over and fell asleep again.

 When he woke up the next morning, he didn’t remember the dream at all.

 

 

Chapter Text

 Breakfast that morning – the morning of Monday, September 2nd – started at 8 o’clock and lasted until 9 o’clock. It was far less formal than the Welcoming Feast and seemed to consist of students wandering in whenever they pleased to help themselves from bowls and platters of food. Whether that meant being there neatly dressed as soon as the first bowls appeared on the table… or rushing in, barely dressed and with wet hair, and stuffing three small muffins in their mouth all at once before immediately running out again. Harry saw both of these things happen that morning.

 Unfortunately, Harry didn’t get to wander in to witness this when he pleased. Because his dormitory was woken up that morning by a fully dressed Percy Weasley, prefect badge gleaming on his chest, bursting into the room at half-past-7 sharp, shouting good mornings greetings and demanding that they join him downstairs in the common room in twenty minutes.

 Ron swore at his brother so rudely that Harry wasn’t sure what half of it meant.

 The new Gryffindor first-year boys stumbled through finding the washroom and getting dressed. They were highly motivated by how Percy didn’t actually wait for them downstairs, but hounded them along and regularly shouted reminders at them every other minute. One of the Weasley twins actually poked their head out of another dormitory to tell Percy to shut up, but Percy just puffed out his chest and told Fred or George that they ought to be awake by now anyway. (Fred or George responded by making a very rude gesture and going back to bed.)

 At ten-to-8, Harry found himself in the common room blinking confusedly at a preening Percy. Beside him, Ron glowered at his brother. Dean the football fan yawned tiredly. Seamus who was “half and half” flopped unrepentantly onto the nearest cushy armchair. Neville who’d lost his toad suddenly realized that his shoes were on the wrong feet and desperately set about fixing that.

 They were soon joined by Percy’s counterpart, Camille Hewley, with the yawning Gryffindor first-year girls in tow. Percy and Camille bustled them all downstairs in ten minutes, showing them what was apparently the fastest route down to the Great Hall, and had them all settled at Gryffindor table just in time for them to see all the plates, cups, and cutlery appear on the tables. The food began appearing seconds after that and Percy and Camille urged the awed first-years to help themselves.

 It wasn’t even close to the spectacular, extravagant feast from the night before. But it was still more food than Harry had ever been allowed with the Dursleys. He eagerly helped himself to sizzling bacon and beans on toast and crackling pastry, and accepted happily when Percy forcefully pushed a bowl of freshly cut fruit around.

 While eating, Harry looked around and noticed that the Great Hall was still relatively empty. Each table only had about a dozen students, who ranged from neatly-pressed uniforms like Percy to still wearing their pyjamas and bedhead, although more were trickling in. Prefects from other Houses were marching in their own first-years. Percy looked very pleased that Gryffindor’s first-years had been the first ones in, while Camille just sipped her tea blearily.  

 Even the High Table only had three teachers: Professor McGonagall, Professor Ting, and the fat witch who’d been wearing moving flowers on her robes last night. Today, all three witches were dressed less formally, especially the fat witch, who was now wearing very brown and practical-looking clothing, though her sunhat still had leaves growing out of it.

 They all still would have been terribly out-of-place and scandalous on Privet Drive, Harry thought with nervous delight. It was so strange to see such oddness carry on like it was ordinary too.

 He watched the High Table while he ate, subtly so as not to be caught staring, but most of the teachers never showed up to join the meal. A couple of them even came by apparently just to talk to another teacher before immediately leaving again. So, unfortunately for Harry’s curiosity, there was no sign of Professors Black, Snape, or Quirrell.

 Fifteen minutes into breakfast, the first owl swooped in through an open window Harry hadn’t seen before, in through the cloudy morning sky of the Great Hall’s ceiling. The owl – a Great Horned Owl, Harry was pretty sure as he stared in delight and awe – had a small, paper-wrapped parcel in its talons and it turned around the hall in wide, graceful circles. Then it dropped its parcel directly on the head of a student at another table, before it landed next to them in a clatter of upset dishes and pecked the student scoldingly. The student squawked unhappily. So did the owl.

 “I can’t believe Blenkinsop forgot his badge,” Percy said, aghast, as the student unwrapped what was apparently a shiny prefect’s badge. Harry hadn’t been sure what it was before Percy said it, having to stand up to peer over Seamus’ and one of the Gryffindor girls’ curious staring.

 Camille rolled her eyes at him again. “He wrote his mother to send it along. It got here soon enough,” she said, and just raised her eyebrows when Percy looked at her in horror for this relaxed opinion. “Look, Joyce already tore into him up one side and it looks like her prefect little sister is about to tear into him right down the other. The boy’s already dead.”

 “He’d forget his own head if it weren’t attached,” Percy muttered unhappily, then launched into an explanation of how mail arrived at Hogwarts.

 Mail arrived either by owl or through Hogsmeade, which was the village where the Hogwarts Express had stopped and Hagrid had picked them up. Owls either arrived at meal times – though persistent ones might find their people at any time, but were discouraged from arriving during class or at night – or dropped their packages off at the Owlery. If there was mail waiting for them, students would receive notice through their prefects or through a note left on their beds.

 “Make sure that you do pick up your mail, sooner rather than later,” Camille told them all, “because eventually those notes will follow you around until you do. They don’t scream like the library notices can, but they do peck and it’s only funny when it’s not happening to you.”

 They ate and watched mail and students trickle in until quarter-to-9, while Camille and Percy answered increasingly complicated and specific questions from a very persistent Hermione Granger. At this point, the Great Hall was almost full and Percy declared that it was time to return to Gryffindor Tower. Ron stuffed one last scone into his mouth and they all trooped off.

 Percy and Camille were more careful to explain the most direct route back to Gryffindor Tower this time around, as they went. They warned about fake doors, suits of armour that gave bad directions on purpose or by accident, and corridors that just weren’t there on alternating Tuesdays. Hogwarts apparently had one-hundred and forty-two staircases in total, in all shapes and sizes, from the great marble giants to rickety might-as-well-be-ladders, and all of them had their tricks.

 And, of course, they were warned about the out-of-bounds third floor corridor on the left side. Harry was so curious that almost asked why it was forbidden (besides the painful death thing, obviously), but it was clear by Percy’s unhappy muttering about “the prefects not even being told” that they didn’t know either.

 Once back in the common room, Percy and Camille handed out their schedules. First period started at 9 o’clock, but the Gryffindor first-years had Study Hall for first period on Mondays. Their first class would be Transfiguration, followed by Maths. Percy and Camille sent them off to gather the things they’d need for class and to finish getting ready, if their robes happened to be inside-out like poor, mortified Neville or if they wanted to… say… brush their hair.

 At this last suggestion from Percy, Harry exchanged an unexpected, unimpressed look with Hermione Granger. There was nothing Harry could do to “tame” his unruly hair and he wasn’t going to try, and it looked like Hermione Granger felt similarly about her own bushy hair. Harry went upstairs to pack up his school things and rebelliously didn’t so much as look at a hairbrush.

 

~

 

 Percy and Camille showed them how to get to Professor McGonagall’s Transfiguration classroom, pointing out important landmarks and hazards as they trooped through the halls. They got there just before the bell rang signalling the end of first period and were immediately ushered inside.

 Professor McGonagall didn’t have a class before theirs, it seemed; she wasn’t already inside her classroom waiting for them. At the head of the classroom, in front of the blackboard and the teacher’s desk and brimming bookcases and assorted magical-looking items, there was only a tabby cat. It was sitting tall atop a bronze podium, watching them with its tail swishing, and Harry guessed it was Professor McGonagall’s pet. If only because it somehow looked very like its person with those rectangular markings around its eyes. Under its slow-blinking gaze, they all settled into desks, whispering curiously between themselves.

 Percy and Camille bid them farewell from there, as they had to go attend their own class: Arithmancy, apparently, a subject which Harry had never heard about before but sounded very magical indeed. A prefect would be by to take them to their third period class.

 “Professor McGonagall will be joining you shortly,” Percy assured them. “Please wait patiently!”

 They did wait patiently, chattering amongst themselves about their classes and last night’s feast. Then greeting the Hufflepuff first-years when they were ushered in by their own prefects and took their seats in the classroom. Harry and Ron took the time to look over their schedules again, with Ron sharing bits of information that he’d picked up from his brothers on each class.

 Ron was in the middle of explaining which classes were core classes and which became electives in third year when the bell rang again.

 Harry was somewhat bewildered that there was still no sign of Professor McGonagall. They’d seen her at breakfast earlier, right on time. He’d been under the impression that she was the sort of person who believed very strongly in punctuality.

 He leaned over to ask Ron about it. “Where do you think Professor McGonagall is?”

 “I dunno…” Ron began.

 But before he’d finished talking, the tabby cat stood up and leaped off the podium. Mid-leap, it began to twist and stretch and shift, too quickly to follow. It landed as a stern woman with black hair and robes patterned like marble. In the time that it took to gasp (which they all did), the tabby cat had become Professor McGonagall.

 She looked down at the all expectantly.

 “Blimey,” Ron breathed next to Harry. “That’s wicked.

  Harry thought he saw Professor McGonagall’s lips twitch, before she nodded. “Thank you, Mister Weasley.” Then she turned to the rest of the awed class and said very seriously, “Transfiguration is a subject of incredible potential; it is some of the most complex and dangerous magic you will learn at Hogwarts. It takes strict discipline to shape the world into all that it might become.”

 She seemed to glare at them all, one by one, as she finished, “Anyone messing around in my class will leave and not be invited to return. You have been warned.”

 Attention so fiercely commanded, Professor McGonagall then turned around and began the lesson. The class rushed for their things, prepared to hang on to her every word, but it turned out that they would not be transforming themselves into animals anytime soon. They didn't even immediately begin casting magic. It was only after lots of complicated notes on her subject that Professor McGonagall came around with a pack of ordinary matches, and they were finally allowed to try their hand at magic by turning a match into a needle. Which, frankly, wasn’t nearly as exciting as anything Harry might have hoped for. 

 Only Hermione Granger managed to succeed, receiving a rare smile from Professor McGonagall and ten points for Gryffindor. Hermione Granger looked like she was trying to emulate Professor McGonagall’s tall, calm poise as everyone looked at her, but she couldn’t seem to help but beam proudly at her accomplishment.

 Harry was a little jealous. He’d done some much more impressive things before coming to Hogwarts and it didn’t seem fair that he couldn’t seem to do magic intentionally now. The only thing he’d managed to do today was perhaps turn his matchstick slightly pointier.

 His upset wasn’t helped by how Professor McGonagall ended the lesson by assigning them homework. She wanted a foot of parchment on the basic steps of simple transfiguration spells, as she’d gone over in class and was described in the first chapter of their textbook, and she wanted it in their own words and by their next Transfiguration lesson on Wednesday.

 McGonagall’s stern gaze quelled any objections immediately, as she promised that this would help them successfully transform their matches into needles by their next class.

 Harry couldn’t remember ever being so ferociously determined to do his homework before. He’d been pretty good at school before coming to Hogwarts and now he’d be able to succeed without having the Dursleys get upset at him for outperforming their precious Duddykins, and also without Dudley himself stealing Harry’s schoolwork to pass it off as his own or destroying it for fun. Harry was going to be the next person to turn a match into a needle.

 He wanted to be good at magic. He wanted to be a wizard. He wanted to do amazing things like… like… turn himself into an animal! He wanted to be just like his parents.

 Harry could imagine the Dursleys now, all laughing at him for being bad at magic. Taunting him for being the same sort of failure they’d lied that his parents were! He could almost hear Aunt Petunia telling him that she’d always known he would get himself blown up one day, just like her sister. He didn’t want to imagine what they’d say if Harry got kicked out of Hogwarts because he couldn’t even turn a matchstick into a needle when he waved his wand at it.

 As Harry’s mood turned increasingly foul inside, Ron leaned over to speak to him.

 “I think I might’ve turned mine a bit silver, but then I think it turned back just to take the piss out of me.” Ron sighed and said, “Oh, well, I don’t know that Charlie got it on the first try either. I know Percy didn’t, because he sent home a panicked letter to Mum – he was probably too nervous. I dunno about Fred and George. I think Bill once told me that he managed to set his on fire.”

 Harry looked at Ron with interest. “…How did he do that?”

 “I dunno. How did Seamus just set his on fire?” Ron replied. “My guess is that matches made them think of fires and then they were thinking about fires a little too hard, then bam! Fire.”

 “Very well thought-out, Mister Weasley,” Professor McGonagall said.

 Ron seemed to nearly jump out of his seat at her sudden appearance, warned only by the soft jingle of the bells on her earrings, then warily accepted the reading lists she was handing out. It was a list of prospective Transfiguration texts for their assignment research and personal reading pleasure. McGonagall had said that they didn’t have to read all the books on the list by the end of the year, but her stern glare had suggested that she expected them to read them and that it wouldn’t be a good idea not to meet her expectations.

 “A clear mind and clear intentions are an important part of any magical subject, but Transfiguration is chief among them,” Professor McGonagall continued, reiterating more clearly what Harry now recognized to have been a part of her lecture. “One point to Gryffindor.”

 Ron flushed red with pleasure… or possibly embarrassment. Harry still felt a little jealous, but he grinned for his new friend and for the context of his own performance. He wasn’t too far behind everyone after all.

 They packed up their things to go to their next class. Prefect Camille Hewley and a Hufflepuff prefect knocked on the door and came inside a minute before the bell rang to signal the end of second period. Professor McGonagall bid them all good luck and, more sternly, continued good behaviour on their first day at Hogwarts.

 

~

 

 Camille let the Hufflepuffs all trail out first, before she led them out as well. “We’re all headed to the same place anyway,” she said, “but we don’t want to trample any poor, unsuspecting seventh-years or anything. Percy has class right now, so it’s just me, but he’ll be back for lunch.”

 “What class does he have that you don’t?” Hermione Granger asked.

 “Muggle Studies. Percy plans to take all twelve subjects in his Ordinary Wizarding Levels this year, but I’m only taking ten,” Camille answered. “So, how did Transfiguration go? Anyone manage to turn their matchstick into a needle?

 “Good for you!” Camille said, when Hermione Granger raised her hand.

 “Did you manage it?”

 “No, I didn’t,” Camille admitted easily. “I broke mine into these awful little splinters, but I got it by the next lesson. It gets easier once you’ve had a little more practice using your wand. All your magic’s been without wands so far – and not at all magic needs them. Your Charms class tomorrow might help… although I can’t remember if you start casting right off… and your Study Hall periods too, if you want to practice.”

 Even Hermione Granger seemed a little confused. “What sort of magic doesn’t need a wand?”

 “All sorts of magic, if you practice enough, or if you’ve got other tools,” Camille said. “Does anyone want to take a guess at subjects at Hogwarts that don’t always need wands? Hey, not you. Hermione, right? You asked the question. Give someone else a shot to answer it.”

 Without Hermione Granger, their group was silent as they followed Camille through the corridors. There wasn’t silence, because of older students walking by talking, the chatter of the portraits, and the creak of armour suits that waved at them as they passed, but no one answered. Hermione Granger seemed to be twitching with the urge to answer, but Harry didn’t even want to try. He was too nervous about getting it wrong.

 “Hey, Nev. How about you?” Camille said finally.

 Everyone looked at Neville Longbottom, the boy who’d lost his toad on the train.

 Neville Longbottom gulped at the attention, but very, very quietly managed to say, “…Herbology?”

 “Herbology, definitely!” Camille agreed, then held up her hand to list the subjects off on her fingers. “Also: Potions, Divination, Ancient Runes, Arithmancy, Astronomy, Care of Magical Creatures, and of course things like History of Magic.”

 “But I read about all sorts of wand spells for Herbology and for Potions and all those classes…” Hermione Granger began, looking even more confused than before.

 Harry wondered if she’d practiced all the spells she’d read about. He’d felt a bit silly waving his wand in the air, not being allowed to use it yet and not being able to practice during the day without risking the Dursleys seeing him “doing magic” when they were still upset over Dudley’s pig tail. Now he was thinking that maybe he should have kept at it anyway.  

 “You’re right that there are wand spells to help in all those subjects!” Camille Hewley agreed easily. “I take Care of Magical Creatures – and I’m in the club – and I wouldn’t want to face some of those bigger beasties or creepier creatures without a wand! Even if some spells just bounce off the thick hides of the really big ones. But you don’t need a wand to handle a bowtruckle or a gnome… or even as something as big as a unicorn or a thestral. You’ve all met Hagrid, right?”

 They all nodded.

 “He’s the next best thing to a Care of Magical Creatures professor here at Hogwarts,” Camille said. “A little better in some places even, because he looks after and out for a lot of creatures on Hogwarts school grounds, and knows them well. He doesn’t even need a wand to do it! He says that every creature has a trick to them; you just have to know what it is.”

 Harry pressed his lips a little tighter together, just in case anything about Hagrid’s umbrella tried to escape him.

 “…Isn’t Hagrid like… over a dozen feet tall, though?” Ron said.

 Camille looked over the small pack of first-years trailing behind her, none of whom came up to her chin, then admitted, “That probably helps.” 

 

~

 

 Their next class was Maths with a wizard who introduced himself as Professor Scalar. He was a rather frumpy man with wildly puffy grey hair on both his head and his chin, huge glasses, and majestically patterned robes that Harry was pretty sure were actually just an ordinary bathrobe and comfortable pyjamas. Harry suspected this in part because the man was also wearing fluffy slippers.

 Professor Scalar didn’t pull off any sort of fantastical entrance like Professor McGonagall. He was erasing the chalkboards and muttering to himself when they came in, apparently having taught the Ravenclaw and Slytherin first-years just before them. The bell rang shortly after they all sat down, he shooed the prefects off immediately, and then he announced to the seated Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs his name and his subjects, which were "Professor Euclid Scalar" and "Mathematics for the first and second years, and also Arithmancy for the third and fourth years" respectively.

 “Professor Vector, the Slytherin Deputy, teaches the upper-years,” he said, when Hermione Granger raised her hand to ask a question, as though this was the answer to it.

 By the expression on Hermione Granger’s face, this wasn’t what she had been going to ask at all. However, Professor Scalar had already turned away and was telling them to open their textbooks to page twenty-three. As everyone scrambled for their textbooks and their notes, their teacher went for the first chalkboard of the three large ones covering the end wall - their classroom was relatively empty besides the boards and the desks, but it had high ceilings and large windows on one side with an amazing view of the Great Lake. Harry forced himself to pay attention as Scalar scribbled out his office hours and his name with chalk.

 And then off he went.

 Harry was at once slightly disappointed and pleasantly surprised that maths didn’t really change even at a school for witchcraft and wizardry. He’d always been pretty good at maths; it was one of his best subjects, even. Harry took notes dutifully as Professor Scalar led them through a calmly paced review of what he expected them to know, with some rather fantastically precise drawings, then set them problems from the textbook that he wanted handed in at the beginning of next class. It was almost ordinary.

 The only magic that happened was that, when Professor Scalar had covered all three of his chalkboards in numbers, he had waved his wand over all of them. And all the chalkboards had slid up to reveal new chalkboards underneath. Then Professor Scalar had gone back over to the left side of the classroom – the windows side – and, horrifyingly, just kept going.

 When Professor Scalar’s lecture had covered nine chalkboards with numbers and run out of room to keep pushing them up, he had waved his wand again and all nine chalkboards had floated over onto the right wall. Then he had gone back to the left side of the classroom end wall, where new chalkboards were waiting, and kept going. By the time Professor Scalar had been finished his lesson, there were thirteen and a half chalkboards of notes on the end and right side walls.

 Fortunately, there was nothing on there that Harry didn’t already know or would probably understand completely with a few practice problems, but it was still boggling to look at all at once. It made everything look much more complicated than it really was.

 Percy and Camille both greeted Professor Scalar warmly when they came to pick up the Gryffindor first-years for lunch, as did the Hufflepuff prefects. Percy enthusiastically told Professor Scalar about the Gryffindor fifth-years’ first class with Professor Vector last period, while they waited for the Hufflepuffs to file out first. In the end, Camille had to drag Percy away from Professor Scalar and an increasingly loud, increasingly excited conversation about “owl” exams.

 Percy seemed kind of embarrassed about it as they made their way to lunch, but readily launched into an explanation of the fifth-year O.W.L. and seventh-year N.E.W.T. exams when Hermione Granger prompted him for more information about them than just passing mentions. In the end, Camille had to end that conversation too, pointing out that they were only first-years and wouldn’t have to think about any really important exams for four more years.

 Percy Weasley and Hermione Granger both looked at her like she was the one being ridiculous for cutting off a conversation about graduation exams on their very first day of first year. But Harry’s head was already swimming with numbers and he was glad for the change of subject.

 He said as much to Ron, who had seemed just fine with Maths, but not so much with exams. 

 “Yeah,” Ron agreed, still looking a little queasy. “I don’t want to think about tests yet. Let’s talk about anything else. What about lunch, eh? What sorts of foods do you think they’ll have?” 

 

Chapter Text

 The rest of Harry’s classes on the first day went just fine, if he was just talking about the classes themselves. The rest of Harry’s day in general did not. Lunch seemed to bring the whole school back to the Great Hall and it was here that Harry finally noticed the whispering and pointing going on around him.

 The whispering and pointing had happened during his Sorting, but apparently it wasn’t once-and-done sort of thing like Harry might have hoped. Like Harry had been hoping since the Leaky Cauldron and being stopped several times while shopping in Diagon Alley. Like he’d hoped on the way to Hogwarts and during the beginning of the Welcoming Feast. He thought he’d seen a few of his classmates and passing older students staring earlier, but they’d looked away quickly, and he’d told himself he was imagining things and ignored it in favour of focusing on his classes.

 It was hard to ignore it now.

 “There, look,” someone hissed loudly, from another table.

 “Where?” someone else said, not even bothering to lower their voice.

 “Next to the tall kid with the red hair.”

 “Wearing the glasses?”

 Harry couldn’t bring himself to imagine they were talking about anyone else. Now that he’d noticed them, it seemed that he couldn’t stop noticing how he was being noticed. He hunched down beside Ron and tried to focus on his lunch, but this only seemed to make people stand on tiptoe to get a better look at him. Harry thought he saw a few students double back – in one case, walking past Harry’s spot at Gryffindor table ten times – to get a better look at him.

 “Did you see his face?” one of the whisperers said.

 “Did you see his scar?” another replied.

 Harry tried to flatten his hair with his fingers, to better cover his scar, and regretted not taking the opportunity to brush his hair this morning. Had that been what Percy had meant? It wouldn’t have done much to tidy his hair, but… well… Maybe it didn’t matter. Trying to cover his scar now only seemed to make people more desperate to see it.

 The staring him bothered him all the way back to Gryffindor Tower, where Percy and Camille sent them up to get their things for Care of Magical Creatures and anything they might need to do their homework. When Percy and Camille handed them off to Gryffindor’s seventh-year prefects – a boy who introduced himself as Prefect Nelson Brigg and a girl who introduced herself only as Prefect Sherry – even the new prefects seemed to stare at Harry.

 Or rather: at Harry’s lightning-bolt scar.

 Harry had initially been excited for Care of Magical Creatures, after everything Hagrid had said to him during their trip to Diagon Alley and some of what Camille Hewley had said earlier. But now his mood had taken a downturn and the class actually turned out to be rather tame.  

 Care of Magical Creatures, which was taken with the Ravenclaws and would only happen once a week, took place indoors in a classroom on one of the lower floors. Though none were present, Harry thought the room smelled like animals anyway – it wasn’t a bad smell, but it was just… very present. The class itself was taught by Professor Grubbly-Plank, the elderly witch with the close-cropped grey hair, pointed chin, and pipe, who had been frowning disapprovingly at Hagrid and the one-eyed, one-armed professor at the Welcoming Feast last night.

 After she took register – the first teacher Harry saw do so – her first lesson was on the different categories of creatures out there (magical or otherwise), basic tips on how to handle and approach creatures (magical or otherwise), and what to do if they encountered any of the creatures (again, magical or otherwise) on Hogwarts’ school grounds. It seemed like it would be a long while before Professor Grubbly-Plank took to them to go care for magical creatures or anywhere remotely near any of the more fantastic beasts.

 It wasn’t that this wasn’t interesting, it was just that this wasn’t what Harry had been expecting and he was having trouble concentrating when it seemed like the Ravenclaw first-years only wanted to stare at him. It made him certain that the Hufflepuff first-years had been staring at him all morning too, while he’d been blissfully unaware and focused on their lessons.

 So perhaps it was a good thing, after all, that they didn’t do anything that class. Feeling like everyone was watching him, Harry couldn’t have waved his wand at a matchstick, much less successfully turned it into a needle. If Harry had needed to do something to stop himself from getting eaten by a dragon, he might have just let it happen to get away from the feeling that everyone was watching him – all whispering about how his parents had died and how the Boy-Who-Lived was actually an awful wizard who didn’t know a thing about magic.

 Professor Grubbly-Plank set them a bit of reading for their class next week and ended her lesson. Harry packed up his things quickly as chattering broke out among his classmates.

 “Merlin, that was boring,” Ron said quietly from beside him. “I could have told you any of that, just listening to Charlie or to Mum telling him off for something. Did you know he tried to make a monster once out of a toad and an egg … Something wrong, Harry?”

 “No,” Harry said immediately. Then he admitted, “It feels like everyone is looking at me.”

 “What? Why?” Ron asked. Then, because Harry was holding a hand a little over his forehead to cover the scar, realized, “Oh… Because…” Ron frowned around at their classmates, none of whom were goggling at Harry at this particular moment. “Are you sure?”

 “I don’t think people would be whispering about if anyone else remembered killing You-Know-Who,” Harry said bitterly, before he remembered that Ron had asked him the same thing yesterday. “I didn’t mind when you asked me, but… don’t they have anything better to do?”

 If Privet Drive had taught Harry anything, it was that people didn’t really have anything better to do than point and whisper wildly about things out of the ordinary.

 Ron grimaced. “Maybe it’s ‘cause you’re new?”

 “Maybe,” Harry agreed glumly.

 “No, they’ll get over it when they see you’re just like anyone else here,” Ron assured him. “And hey, if they don’t stop just… tell yourself they’re all staring at me.”

 Harry blinked at him. “What?”

 “I dunno, it’s what Fred and George tell Ginny sometimes to stop her from being shy? See, I’m the sixth in my family to come to Hogwarts,” Ron said sheepishly. “And that’s not even counting all my cousins. People just have to look at me to know I’m a Weasley – the hair stands out, you know? So they’re actually all probably whispering ‘Oh, no, another one?’ to each other.” Ron then lifted his chin and his eyebrows, puffed out his chest, and looked down his nose at Harry, and said rather pompously, “It’s not you, it’s me. I’m extremely famous, you know.”

 Harry laughed and Ron grinned, upsetting his imitation of Percy.

 “Better you than me,” Harry said. “You know way more about magic than I do, anyway.”

 Ron turned a bit pink. “It’s just normal stuff everyone knows.”

 “But I don’t know it,” Harry insisted.

 “You’ll figure it out, really. A lot of it’s just common sense,” Ron said with a shrug, though the pinkness was running up his ears now. “You know… don’t make any sudden moves in front of a dragon… don’t think about fire when you wave your wand at something unless you want it to catch on fire… that sort of thing.”

 “I don’t think common sense is all that common,” Harry said wryly.

 Ron grinned again. “Maybe not,” he agreed and jostled Harry’s shoulder playfully. “If it’s keep bothering you, just tell yourself they’re staring at me and my famous one point for Gryffindor.”

 Harry laughed again.

 “Oi, you two!” called the seventh-year Gryffindor prefect. “Come on, already!”

 Harry and Ron looked over and realized that the Ravenclaw first-years had already left – and that all the other Gryffindor first-years and their prefect guide, Nelson Brigg, were waiting by the door. Hermione Granger, who had collected a whopping twenty points for Gryffindor over the course of their three classes today, was frowning and tapping her foot impatiently.

 Once they joined the others, Prefect Brigg led them into the corridors and explained that for their Study Hall period he was supposed to take them to the library and give them a tour.

 “So you know where to find it and how to sign in or check out books, if you want to do your homework or whatever,” Brigg explained. “Sherry probably would’ve been better at this, but she’s got class right now and can’t make it. Honestly, learning as you go is really the only way to do it if you ask me – we didn’t get prefects holding our hands like this when I was in first year – but I guess everyone’s worried you’ll all get lost in the dungeons or something.”

 “Has that happened before?” one of the girls said nervously.

 Brigg shrugged. “Oh, yeah, I’ve lost a few friends because they wandered into the wrong area of the school,” he said, and Harry couldn’t tell if he was kidding or not. “It’s like that third-floor corridor that’s been closed off, right? Just avoid that one and you should be alright.”

 The Gryffindor first-years looked nervously between themselves. Everyone remembered the Headmaster’s warning that they would die a most painful death for entering that corridor, but surely Hogwarts didn’t just lose students like that. Hermione Granger and Dean the football fan both frowned suspiciously at Brigg’s back, but Brigg didn’t seem to notice.

 “…He’s joking, right?” Harry whispered to Ron. 

 “I dunno,” Ron answered, looking a little pale. “Probably? That’s the sort of thing that Fred and George say, but they also told me we had to fight a troll to get Sorted.”

 

~

 

 The Hogwarts Library was enormous and, as to be expected, filled with rows upon rows of books. Towering lines of shelves stretched ahead like a maze, with brass plaques indicating sections and the library rules, and books floated back and forth between the shelves like vehicles moving through traffic. The entire library was bright, alight through tall windows and ornament lights attached to the desks and shelves, and it smelled like old paper and wood.

 Just ahead of Harry and Ron, Hermione Granger let out a squeak. Prefect Brigg looked at her confusedly, but she ducked her head away from him, and so he carried on and waved them all towards a spacious assortment of desks and tables.

 A scattering of older students had already settled in, already hard at work around them. The quiet scratching of their quills and pens, turning of pages, and mumbled conversations made the first-years sound like a trampling herd of animals in comparison. A few of the older students glared pointedly, but Prefect Brigg didn’t seem to care about that at all as he began his brief, unmoving tour of the library.

 He told them the library hours, how to sign in to the library during Study Hall, how to check out a book, and not to go into the Restricted Section. Then he pointed out the Librarian’s Desk and told them to talk to one of the school librarians if they needed any help.

 When Harry turned to look at the Librarian’s Desk, he saw the pinched-looking woman who had been sitting next to Professor Snape at the Welcoming Feast. She was dressed in red robes and grey feathers today, looking very watchful with her thin frown and ever-roaming eyes. It seemed as though she was already looking for any excuse to toss them out of her library, while books sorted and stamped themselves in an orderly fashion beside her, and Harry felt determined never to approach her for anything.

 “That’s Madam Pince right over there,” Prefect Brigg said. “I don’t know where Master Forrest is right now, but he’s around too. You’ll know him when you see him. Anyway, we’re here for the rest of the period, so you should get started on whatever homework you have. Unless you don’t want to; I’m not Professor McGonagall, I’m not going to make you.”

 Then Prefect Brigg settled into his own desk, pulled a book out of his bag, and got to work.

 “Helpful bloke, isn’t he?” Ron whispered wryly.

 Harry snorted and shrugged, pulling out his homework so they could just get it done with. Since cluing in, he didn’t think he’d mind not being paid attention to. Not having anyone breathing down his neck sounded nearly as good as it got to Harry, really.

 Ron then poked him in the side. “Hey, look.”

 When Harry looked up again, Ron pointed subtly towards Hermione Granger, who was staring at Prefect Brigg aghast like the older boy had just committed a crime akin to murder. Harry couldn’t help but snort again, which attracted the girl’s attention. Hermione Granger frowned at them very fiercely, then turned her back with a loud harrumph, and Ron snickered at her.

 Their homework went fine to begin with. They decided to do their Transfiguration homework first to get it out of the way: a foot of parchment on the basic steps of simple transfigurations. Going through the textbook and his notes again, reading them aloud so that Ron could listen and help him summarize them, Harry excitedly thought he understood McGonagall’s lesson much better than before and that he might be able to manage the match-to-needle transfiguration if he tried it again.

 He might have tried it, if Prefect Brigg hadn’t warned them that magic wasn’t allowed to be performed in the library by students on pain of Madam Pince’s wrath.

 However, their studying was interrupted when an older student came up to their table and said apropos of nothing, “Hey, Potter, what was it like?”

 Harry blinked up at them, confused and wary, because he didn’t recognize them. “Sorry?”

 The older student leaned and said in a conspiratorial whisper, “The Killing Curse, of course. You’re the only person who’s ever survived it, allegedly, so what was it like? Experiencing an Unforgiveable? Come on. Did it hurt?”

 Harry stared at them in disbelief. “I don’t…”

 “Hey, mate,” Ron interrupted, glaring at the older student. “Bugger off.”

 “Didn’t ask you, mate,” the older student said dismissively. “Come on, Potter, I’m just curious.”

 Ron got to his feet and glared into the older student’s face, his face was turning red but he wasn’t all that much shorter than they were, and he didn’t look afraid at all. “Then go ask a ghost, mate, and leave him alone. He doesn’t need reminding of that on the first bloody day at school.”

 Harry looked around to see if anyone else was paying attention – to see if they were going to get in trouble or tossed out of the library. Madam Pince had thankfully disappeared from her desk, but nearly all the other Gryffindor first-years and some of the other students were staring at them. Even Prefect Brigg, when Harry looked at him, was watching this exchange.

 “That’s none of your business,” Harry said to the student who’d come up to them, more bravely than he felt. He tugged on Ron’s sleeve and turned away pointedly. “Go away.”

 The older student scoffed disgustedly. “It was only a question,” they said, but they walked away anyway, back over to a table of other older students where they’d come from. There was a lot of whispering at that table as they joined the group, but Harry determinedly ignored them.

 As everyone else quickly went back to their work, Ron slowly settled back into his seat.

 “Some help that you were with that,” Ron said angrily.  

 At first, Harry panickily thought that Ron was upset with him, but he quickly realized that Ron had turned his glare on Prefect Brigg.

 Brigg just shrugged at them. “It was only a question,” he said, and went back to his work.

 Ron glared at Brigg some more, like he was prepared to argue that, but Harry tugged him back to their homework. “I should set Percy on that git,” Ron muttered, still red-faced, but he reluctantly settled back down. “Show him what for. What a tosser.”

 “It’s fine,” Harry assured him.

 Ron didn’t look like he agreed with Harry on that. He grimaced again and said very quietly, “Sorry if… Sorry if I sounded like that, Harry, when I… when I asked about it. Just… sorry.”

 “It’s fine,” Harry said again, though he didn’t know if it was.

 He really hadn’t minded when Ron asked, because he’d asked Ron lots of questions too, just as curious about Ron as Ron had been about him. He wasn’t scared of Lord Voldemort because he genuinely didn’t remember anything. But now… now he was starting to get the feeling like he should mind the questions, like he should be scared, and he minded that a bit. He minded that he didn’t know so much when everyone else seemed to know so much about him.

 Ron was still red-faced, only he seemed embarrassed now, and Harry felt himself flush too.

 “Look,” he said, “Can we just finish this?”

 They finished their Transfiguration homework much more quietly and awkwardly than before. Harry’s excitement over trying to turn a match into a needle had been lost and he couldn’t dredge it back up again. He couldn’t forget all the students in the library who might be watching him, thinking about him and judging him, and it was a great relief when the bell finally rang.

 Prefect Brigg almost immediately ruined this. After he finished packing up, he turned to the Gryffindor first-years who were hurrying to pack up their things so they could follow him, and said, “Well, that’s the end of classes, you’re free to do whatever you like now. Since you need the practice getting around, I’m going to leave you here.”

 “How are we supposed to get back to Gryffindor Tower?” Neville who’d lost his toad asked, looking panicked. When everyone looked at him, he shuffled his feet and admitted very quietly, “I don’t remember the way… or the password.”

 “Figure it out. Learn as you go. You’re Gryffindors now, aren’t you?” Prefect Brigg said uncaringly, as he shouldered his bag. “Stay here or go back. Dinner’s at six. Curfew’s at nine tonight. Good luck.”

 And then he left.

 “…What a tosser,” Ron said feelingly.

 

~

 

 Harry and Ron decided to leave the library. Ron declared that he was done with homework for the moment and Harry agreed fervently, in part because he was heartily sick of being stared at. Many of the Gryffindor first-years, Hermione Granger and Neville Longbottom included, elected to stay behind, but Harry and Ron trudged determinedly out. They could work on their Maths homework in the common room and Ron was excited to show Harry a wizard’s game of chess.

 Unfortunately, they got terribly, terribly lost.

 Hogwarts had seemed relatively easy to navigate when being led around in a small herd by the knowledgeable prefects, but it was an entirely different castle for a poor pair of first-years who didn’t remember the landmarks all that well. The first problem was that the corridors were very crowded with the end of classes. The next problem was that they hadn’t the first idea how to get to Gryffindor Tower from the library.

 “We can manage it,” Ron said, with brave uncertainty.

 Instead, they seemed to manage a self-guided tour of many of the one-hundred and forty-two staircases at Hogwarts that Percy and Camille had warned them about. From the dizzying tower spirals to ones that seemed to stretch on endlessly before they then turned into slides without warning. The worst was when Harry and Ron climbed one terrible staircase, panting for breath by the top of it, only to eventually realize that they were somehow still on the same floor they’d started on, only in a different place. Which just didn’t make sense.

 “How do people… get around if they can’t climb stairs?” Harry wheezed, thinking of the old headmaster and the other white-haired, wrinkly members of staff. Surely they weren’t going about the school bounding up these formidable stairs two at a time. “Do they fly?”

 “That’s not… allowed inside the school; Fred and George said,” Ron gasped, clearly regretting hurrying back up the staircase they’d mistakenly gone down before it vanished behind them or something. “Not without… special permission from the teachers or a healer or… someone. I think they get a guide or something? Oh, bloody hell, do you think we… can get that? We're so lost. I’d just fly in a window if I could.”

 “I don’t even know how to fly,” Harry complained.

 They also encountered many of the trick doors they’d been warned about. Ron had gotten very frustrated with a solid wall that turned out to be only pretending to be a door, but Harry ended getting a worse shock when a ghost glided through the door he was trying to open. It was like desperately needing to sneeze and being dunked into cold water at the same time.

 “Oh, my apologies,” the ghost said, not sounding particularly sorry, and then seemed to mime opening a door before he floated through a stone wall.

 All before they could ask him for directions too.

 It was very hard trying to navigate a place where everything seemed to move around or actually did move around. Even the people in the portraits moved around from painting to painting, visiting each other to chat, so Harry and Ron couldn’t use them as landmarks and they accidentally went down the same corridor twice. And at one point, Harry thought he saw two of the suits of armour having a swordfight out of the corner of his eye. He was sure of it. But they had gone back to standing at still attention when he whipped his head back around to squint at them.

 But the worst part of their trek by far was being caught by the caretaker, Argus Filch, trying to force their way through the wrong door. The enormous locked door they were so determined to get through turned out to be out-of-bounds. Harry hadn’t even known they were on the third floor, much less in the forbidden corridor, but Filch, sure that they were trying to break into the room on purpose, wouldn’t believe Harry and Ron when they insisted they were just lost.

 “Why would we even want to break in there?” Harry demanded, but Filch ignored him.

 They had to stand there while Filch threatened to lock them in the dungeons, being watched smugly by his cat, who had been the one to see them try for the door and whisk off to fetch him. Mrs. Norris was a scrawny, dust-coloured cat with bulging, lamp-like eyes just like Filch’s. Harry glared back at her unhappily, even if she might have just saved them from the “most painful death” that Headmaster Dumbledore had warned them about, because he wasn’t at all keen to spend the rest of his life in the Hogwarts dungeons just for getting lost.

 By an extraordinary piece of luck, they were noticed and rescued by Professor Quirrell, the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, who was just passing through.

 “It-it-it w-was an honest mist-mista-mistake, eh?” Professor Quirrell stuttered cheerfully, as Filch glowered at him for interrupting. “It-it-it’s their f-f-first day. N-no harm done!” He looked at the out-of-bounds corridor door in terror. “This is n-n-no place to l-l-linger!”

 He sent Harry and Ron on their way without so much as taking points off, much less hand out a detention or locking them up in the dungeons forever. Harry and Ron didn’t argue with him and hurried off, deciding they were better off going back to the Great Hall or main staircase and wait for some passing Gryffindor upper-years to follow back safely. After all, trying to make it on their own had nearly just gotten them killed.

 “That’s the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher?” Ron said sceptically, as they went.

 

~

 

 It was already time for dinner by the time they made it back to Gryffindor Tower. They were immediately accosted by Percy Weasley, who had apparently been looking for them for the past hour, and treated to an extremely disapproving rant on Prefect Brigg’s choice of learning methods for navigating Hogwarts. Percy followed them up to their dorm while they dropped off their things, then marched them downstairs to the Great Hall for dinner.

 Harry, who had felt like he might shout if he had to go up or down another staircase upon finally reaching Gryffindor Tower, didn’t at all enjoy the trek back. Ron didn’t seem all that happy about it either, tossing his bag onto his bed and stomping after his brother.

 Through Percy, they learned that none of the Gryffindor first-years had made it back without assistance. The ones who had managed without trouble had also followed an older student back. Those who hadn’t escaped trouble had ended up all over the school. Such as Neville who’d lost his toad, who’d somehow ended up in one of the greenhouses, and a girl named Parvati Patil, who’d been mistaken for her twin sister and accidentally ended up in the Ravenclaw common room instead.

 “But no, it’s apparently too much to take five minutes more out of your day to keep confused students from accidentally ending up on the rooftops,” Percy was muttering angrily, by the time they’d made it downstairs, not even really speaking to Harry and Ron anymore. “I bet Head Girl Summerbee will have something to say about this. Of course, when I’m Head Boy…”

 Dinner was just as good as the earlier meals, when they finally arrived, and Harry was too tired to care about any pointing or whispering anymore. He and Ron ate relatively silently, then trudged gratefully after Percy and Camille back to Gryffindor Tower when the meal was over.

 When they got back to Gryffindor Tower, they decided not to do their Maths homework after all. They showered, brushed their teeth, and got ready for bed. Then Ron pulled a battered chess set out of his trunk, they climbed onto Ron’s bed, and Ron explained the game to Harry while Harry marvelled at the tiny, shaking fists and brawling of the animated game pieces.

 Ron won their first game within five minutes, but their next game lasted much longer, though Harry was sure that he was still losing through all of it. They played until Harry was nodding off, waiting for Ron to make his move, and Ron pushed Harry off to his own bed before Harry fell face-first into the board and squished all the pieces.

 “They’ll remember that, mate,” Ron said. “Then you won’t be able to make ‘em do anything. We’ll pick this up anything day… or just start a new game since I’ll checkmate you in… never mind. G’night.”

 “G’night,” Harry echoed, and collapsed face-first into bed instead.

 Like yesterday, he was asleep almost at once. If there was anything that might make him toss and turn out of worry, it was that he hadn’t finished all his homework and that he’d nearly accidentally died trying to enter the out-of-bounds corridor today. He was too tired to remember to dread that he had his first Potions class first thing tomorrow morning.

 

Chapter Text

 Harry’s second day at Hogwarts began much like the first. Percy Weasley woke them all up bright and early, they met up with the girls and Camille Hewley, and then marched down to breakfast. Harry ate, snickered when Camille’s owl dropped a newspaper on Percy’s head, ignored anyone who might be looking at him and his scar, and then concentrated very hard on memorizing the way back to Gryffindor Tower from the Great Hall when Percy marched them back.

 They gathered their things for the next classes and were handed off to the Gryffindor sixth-year prefects in the common room. Prefects Jimmy Kiddell and Oriana Quincey seemed, at most, mildly bemused and vaguely disbelieving at being hastily lectured by a fifth-year on the importance of showing new Gryffindor students around properly. It was while waiting for Percy to finish up furiously listing the benefits of this… that Harry properly realized they had Potions next and remembered that he’d been dreading the class.

 He hadn’t seen Professor Black since the Welcoming Feast, nor Professor Snape. Although this was perhaps because he’d forgotten to look for them during lunch and dinner yesterday.

 While Harry remembered with some relief that they wouldn’t be taught by the intimidating Professor Snape, he also remembered Professor Black and the sudden, burning pain in his scar when their eyes had met. Harry remembered the suspicious narrowing of Black’s eyes, how fancy and well-dressed the man had looked, and getting the wary feeling that Black already didn’t like him much. Harry still didn’t know what had happened with his scar, but he knew well enough what it was like to have people take one look at him and decide permanently that he just wasn’t up to snuff.

 Harry’s dread increased every step of the way, as the sixth-year prefects led them to their class. He tried to keep his chin up and laugh at Ron’s jokes, but couldn’t help but imagine a class being in pain every time that Black looked at him.

 To make matters worse, the Gryffindor first-years would be taking Potions with the Slytherins. Harry hadn’t seen Draco Malfoy since the train ride and Welcoming Feast, but it turned out that Malfoy and his friends were just as awful as Harry remembered. Since Harry had confirmed that he didn’t want to be friends with the boy who reminded him of Dudley, Malfoy had gotten worse.  

 The first thing that Malfoy did – while they all walked along the corridors together and as soon as the prefects’ backs were turned, of course – was tell Harry that the “second rate” Gryffindor House had clearly been treating Harry badly, but also that it suited Harry far better than he would have thought. Malfoy then compared Gryffindor House to a “poor-house full of loud, foolhardy idiots” and asked a red-faced Ron if the shabby overcrowding of Gryffindor Tower felt homey, while his big friends Crabbe and Goyle snickered behind him.

 This endeared Malfoy to none of the Gryffindor first-years, though Ron and Dean the football fan looked like the only ones ready to do anything about him. Hermione Granger just gave him a very dirty look. Most people, especially the Slytherin first-years who weren’t trailing Malfoy like goons, preferred to pretend that they hadn’t seen or heard anything.

  Like most people did around bullies, Harry knew from experience, not ready to be having any of this when he thought he’d finally got away from it. He should have known there were bullies everywhere.

 “They’re not bad,” Harry said to Malfoy of the Gryffindor dormitories, which were really excellent. He felt braver, being relatively certain that Malfoy’s big friends couldn’t jump him with the prefects talking not all that far ahead of them. “How about you, Malfoy? I heard the Slytherin dormitories are in the dungeons under the Great Lake. Do you feel at home with all that slime?”

 Ron, Seamus, and Dean all sniggered at that. Harry even thought he saw one of the other, non-crony Slytherin first-years hide a smile. Malfoy flushed a little and then scowled at Harry. But if that was supposed to be intimidating, it fell terribly short, because Harry just thought it made Malfoy look like he’d smelled something bad.

 Thankfully, the prefects turned back around to usher them into the classroom before Malfoy could come up with a response. The prefects didn’t come in with them, bidding them goodbye at the door, and Harry nervously wondered if it was because they were all too scared to enter.

 While the Slytherins entered the classroom first, Ron leaned into Harry and said of Malfoy, “Merlin, I hope he gets lost forever in the dungeons.”

 Harry nodded agreeably, then it was the Gryffindor first-years’ turn to go inside.

 The Potions classroom didn’t look anything like Harry had been expecting. It was a large corner classroom on one of the lower floors, with gleaming windows on two walls that closely overlooked all the long Hogwarts greenhouses and a bit of the Forbidden Forest. The classroom was set up with many tables, each with spacious stone tops, only two seats, a small sink to one side, and a few blackened splotches. The rows of tables were all facing the side wall without windows, where there was a broad desk with its own stone top and blackened splotches, some blank chalkboards, and a door with a neatly lettered sign that said:

SUPPLY CUPBOARD

Do Not Enter

Without the Express Permission of

a Potions Professor

 However, there was no Potions professor when they came in. Harry and Ron went ahead and took a seat at a table together. Since they wanted to be as far away from Malfoy as possible, this ended up being rather near the front, which… wasn’t what Harry would have hoped for. He looked warily at the potions equipment and supplies on the teacher’s desk, wondering if the cauldron was actually going to turn into Professor Black.

 Harry put his potions equipment on the table, along with his textbook and his notebook, and then looked around the rest of the classroom curiously. The wall they’d come in through was actually covered in orderly shelves from floor to ceiling, save for a large sink near the back of the room. There were bottles and beakers and all sorts of potions equipment, as well as jars and boxes of neatly labelled potions ingredients, and cubbies of tidily folded aprons and goggles. Behind the teacher’s desk, underneath the chalkboards, there appeared to be even more storage in the form of many closed drawers, presumably full of unknown curiosities – unknown because Harry couldn’t read the neat labels from where he was sitting.

 The part of the classroom that Harry hadn’t expected to find fascinating, but did, was the ceiling. There were lights fixed above them, resembling lanterns, but none of them were lit – probably because the large windows, with their dark curtains tied aside, let in plenty of light. The morning sunlight also gleamed gently off the other feature of the ceiling: the twisting yet extensive and rather enormous air vents.

 The bell rang. Harry was so focused on looking around that he wasn’t prepared at all when window curtains suddenly swished shut. Thankfully, almost as soon as the classroom went dark, the lights came on and the classroom was even better lit than before. The whole thing felt like an unexpected, elongated blink. Harry looked at the windows to see what had happened, then he looked back to the front of the classroom and startled.

 Professor Black was now standing in front of them, leaning back against his desk.

 Black had done away with the fancy robes of the Welcoming Feast, in favour of a plain, dark grey trousers and a long-sleeved, high-collared, black shirt, with a worn leather apron overtop and shiny brown boots. He’d also gotten rid of his dashing hat and instead tied his long black hair into a low bun. Harry noticed now that, like many of the teachers and wizards he’d seen so far, Black also had pierced ears. He looked like a man the Dursleys would have disapproved of enormously.

 “Welcome to Potions class,” he said, and flicked his wand at the chalkboard behind him, where a piece of chalk began writing out his name and times. “I am Professor Black and I will be your teacher in this subject for the next four years, barring the ever-present possibility that either you or I decide to retire to the tropics instead of attending school before then.”

 A few hesitant snickers went through the classroom. Black smiled at them and picked a clipboard off his desk. “I’m going to take register now. Please take out your notebooks. You may wish to take note of my office hours in the meantime. Brown, Lavender? Thank you. Bulstrode, Millicent? Thank you.”

 Harry followed Black’s advice and jotted down the office hours. After a moment’s thought, he wrote down the name written on the chalkboard as well, even though he didn’t intend to use this notebook for anything except Potions class.

Professor Regulus Black

 When Black got to Harry’s name, he looked directly at Harry, clearly aware of who Harry was. But he still called Harry’s name anyway.

 “Potter, Harry?”

 “Here,” Harry said.

 As much as Harry didn’t want to experience that flashing pain in his scar again, he still looked, because he wanted to know if it was going to happen again. He'd been so worried it would happen every time or something. This time, it didn’t, and Black’s eyes didn’t even narrow on him.

 “Thank you,” Black said, and looked away again. “Thomas, Dean?”

 Black quickly finished up the register with “Weasley, Ronald” and “Zabini, Blaise”, then stood up properly and said, “Potion-making is a subtle, exact, and exacting subject, and also one of the most important, most infamous, and most commonly used forms of magic. There is very little limit to what magic might be brewed in a cauldron; many of the most famous witches and wizards in history are famous for their inventions in this field. There are potions that can allow you to change your face and form, potions that can allow you to see into the future and create your own fortune at will, and even potions that can allow you to keep the worst of beasts… and death itself… at bay.”

 Black’s smile returned. “Fortunately, I don’t expect any of this from you… yet,” he assured them, to a few sighs of relief around the room. But then his expression darkened as he continued, “However, with any possibility of greatness, there is also great risk of danger… injury… and even death. I will not tolerate any misbehaviour or half-hearted focus in my class.”

 He looked around warningly, his voice suddenly turned very cold, “If you see fit to be callous with the privilege of being in my class, instead of proving that you belong here, I will personally see it to it that you face fitting consequences.”

 Silence followed this little speech, because it genuinely sounded like Professor Black might see them expelled… at best. At worst, it kind of looked like he might personally murder them.  Harry and Ron exchanged nervous looks with raised eyebrows. Hermione Granger, sitting just in front of them on the very edge of her seat, looked desperate to start proving that she belonged here. Neville (who’d lost his toad) Longbottom, sitting beside her, looked very pale.

 “Thank you,” Black said with a nod, his expression and voice lightening. He turned back to the chalkboard. “I hope that you took out your notebooks, because we’ll begin with a brief overview of potion-making safety and, unless someone manages the astounding feat of injuring themselves during my lecture, we’ll brew our first potion in the time we have left.”

 The people who hadn’t gotten out their notebooks scrambled for them, while Black began his lecture without waiting for them, the chalk scribbling away as he spoke.

 “First safety rule is that wands aren’t to be used in this classroom. I don’t want to see them; I don’t want to know you have them. While there are spells that can assist in potion-making, I find it prudent to make sure that you all know how to keep your wands and cauldron from blowing up separately before we try blowing them up together,” Black said wryly. “If I see anyone try and wave a wand in this class without my express permission, I will confiscate it and you will have to make a very good case to me if you wish to have it returned in this lifetime.”

 As much as Black spoke, the notes he had the chalk write on the chalkboard tended to be relatively short. No wands, the first line said. Wash your hands, the second line said. No food or drink, the next line said. No touching your face or clothes, said the line after that. And so on. Harry diligently strove to add his own notes underneath what he copied from the chalkboard – pieces from Black’s lecture. Such as the reasons as to why they were supposed to tie back their hair (it WILL catch on fire), keep their bags off to the side and out of the aisles (someone WILL trip over them), and wear thick-soled and close-toed shoes (someone WILL drop something).  

 “Someone actually had the gall to wear flip-flops to my class once,” Black said mildly, looking off into the distance at the memory. “They were hideous. I warn you now that if I hear any flip-flopping coming near my classroom, you will be asked to leave and you will not be invited back. I am not tolerant to most forms of flip-flopping and that includes shoes.”

 Harry sure to scratch out and underline a no flip-flops warning under the rule about shoes. It didn’t seem nearly as important as not eating or touching your face because you might have something dangerous on your hands, but Black seemed to feel very strongly about it, so Harry might as well.

 It was rather a lot, but it all went by very quickly. Professor Black assured them that they would be learning more proper potion-making safety in all their future classes. Then he set them to put their notes away, to get out their potion-making equipment, then to put their bags on the shelves off to the side, and put on the aprons and goggles that were waiting there. Then, of course, to wash their hands. Everyone hurried to comply, excited to be making their first potion at Hogwarts.

 “We’re going to be making this potion in partners – whoever you’re sitting with now will be your partner for today – and we’ll only need one cauldron between the two of you,” Black said, and flicked his wand at the chalkboard again. All his notes disappeared and a drawing began to appear on one chalkboard. “I’d like you to set all your equipment up like mine on my desk – as is currently being illustrated on the board. Do not light a fire without my permission.”

 They all complied, with Black coming around to check that all their equipment was in proper condition and that they’d set everything up properly, and correct them where necessary, so that he could start their fires. A box of empty potion bottles floated off a shelf after him, and everyone who received a nod of approval (which was everyone) also received a bottle.

 “Nicely done,” Black said, once he finished his circle around the classroom. “We will be making this potion as a class, so any attempts to rush ahead will result in a loss of points and I may choose to stop your participation in this part of class entirely.” He flicked his wand at the board that was still clear and large block-letter writing began to appear. “Please read the instructions on the board while I hand out the ingredients.”

 As he handed out the ingredients, Black continued, “I assure you that it is practically impossible for you to come to serious harm while making this potion. There is nothing toxic or explosive or generally considered dangerous. The worst that has ever happened to anyone during this lesson is a small burn or cut on the finger because they weren’t paying close enough attention.”

 When he made it back to the front of the classroom, moving behind his own cauldron, Black announced to them all, “If you do manage to die during my class today, I will be very impressed, and I promise to award you House points for your sheer ingenuity.”

 That got a few more snickers out of the class.

 Then, like an afterthought as he lit his own cauldron, Black added, “However, I will have to deduct points and perhaps throw you out – the door if it’s bad; the windows if it’s very bad – If I catch you intentionally being careless. Now, please take your measuring cups and add two litres of warm water to your cauldron.”

 “…But you didn’t give us any water,” someone said, from the back of the class, which made someone else snigger again.

 Black paused and looked at the student who’d asked the question, and said very patiently and clearly, “That’s a very good question. I didn’t. There is a sink right beside you. If you turn the left-hand tap, warm water will come out, and that water will do for our potion-making today. Everyone please carefully measure out and add two litres of warm water to your cauldron.”

 They went through the steps in an orderly fashion, following the instructions on the board, the instructions Black said aloud, and Black’s example in front of them. Black made sure to warn them what was coming next well in advance and to separate the tasks between them. While Ron stirred counter-clockwise, Harry would pick out and add some powdered plant, or Harry would watch the cauldron for bubbles while Ron measured out juice made with beetles.

 It wasn’t nearly as tricky as Harry had worried. There were only five ingredients and not many more steps in making the potion. It was like very simple cooking. Black moved slowly and spoke surely, watching them all carefully for any mistakes and calling them out to them.

 “Mister Goyle, that’s not counter-clockwise. Stir the other way, please. Thank you.”

 “Miss Granger, if you could let Mister Longbottom do that part? He’s doing a fine job, just keep paying excellent attention to your potion and let your partner help you do the work.”

 “Miss Davis, keep your hands out of your hair, please. It will not be a desirable habit in this class. Please go wash them again.”

 “Mister Nott, we’re not even using knives. Put that away now.”

 By the end of class, everyone had an opaque white potion simmering in their cauldron. Black came around to check each one and nodded approvingly.

 “Mister Longbottom and Miss Granger? Well done. Two points each to Gryffindor.”

 Professor Black awarded everyone in the class two points to their House for a successful potion, one by one, and everyone beamed at him for it. At least, Harry beamed at him and so did Ron. They both felt very pleased with themselves to have succeeded on their first attempt.

 After that, Black showed them all how to put out their fires and each how to bottle their half of their potions. Then he went around the classroom while everyone tidied up their spare ingredients and equipment, correcting them on how to wash out their cauldrons – in the sink at the back of the class, he insisted – and where to put their aprons and goggles after they were done.

 “There are a great many potions where you’ll be able to use your wand to clean up after yourself, but there are also a great many potions that don’t take kindly to having a wand pointed at them,” Black explained. “They explode… or refuse to Vanish. This one could be Vanished, but I believe that scrubbing dishes builds character. If you feel your characters being built, do let me know; all my students have told me I’m wrong, but I still live in hope.”

 Everything was going really well, until something… or rather someone… threatened to put a damper on things. As Black made his way back to the front of the class, with only minutes to spare in the period, Harry made the mistake of accidentally catching Draco Malfoy’s eye. Malfoy smirked, which immediately filled Harry with dread, and threw a crumple piece of paper across the classroom and behind Professor Black’s back.

 It was going right for Harry’s head – Harry was prepared to catch it, then to presumably read whatever horrible note Malfoy had written him – when the Professor Black suddenly turned on his heel and snatched the crumpled piece of paper out of the air.

 The murmuring class went immediately silent as Black then turned on Malfoy.

 Malfoy’s smirk fell very quickly.

 “Mister Malfoy, I can only assume that you failed to listen to my warnings given earlier this class or knowingly chose to ignore them, neither of which I appreciate,” Black said coldly. “I do not tolerate any sort of misbehaviour in my classroom. This includes throwing things.”

 “…It’s just a piece of paper,” Malfoy said, looking very put upon.

 Harry couldn’t see Black’s expression, but he wouldn’t bet it was any friendlier than his voice as he continued, “So it is. Is there a reason, Mister Malfoy, that you think it or you should be exempt from the rules of my classroom?”

 “…No,” Malfoy said, very sullenly.

 Black nodded. “Ten points from Slytherin and see me after class.”

 Malfoy gaped at him. “What?”

 But Black had already turned away. “I can be less lenient, if you like, Mister Malfoy, for your first offense. We can discuss this in further detail after class.” Once he reached his desk again, he turned and addressed the class at large. “Now, who can tell me what potion we just made?”

 The Gryffindor and Slytherin first-years stared at him silently. Harry didn’t know about the Slytherins, but this was the first time he’d see anyone lose points for their House – and Malfoy had just lost ten. A few of the other Slytherins were glaring at him disapprovingly for it, since that had taken off over half of all the points they’d just earned for their potions.

 “I’ll take guesses as to what it is or what it does,” Professor Black offered. “Come on, we don’t have much time left. I want at least one guess before we leave. Something reasonable, preferably.”

 After a few seconds, a blonde girl from Slytherin slowly raised her arm.

 “Miss Greengrass?”

 “…Is it a dye?” she said cautiously.

 “Very good, take two points back for Slytherin. Yes, it is a dye. How did you know?”

 “The ‘beetle’ juice… it’s actually made partly out of a special type of beet.”

 Black nodded and plucked some of the bottled potion off his desk. “Well done. Yes, this is a food dye – completely harmless – it and its many variants are used most often in some of your favourite sweets and drinks,” he explained, as he uncorked the bottle and then took a sip. “It’s somewhat sensitive to sunlight while it’s brewing, unfortunately, but we can open the curtains again now.”

 As he closed the bottle back up, Black flicked his wand at the walls. The dark curtains swished open and suddenly the classroom was filled with sunlight again. The lights of the classroom dimmed accordingly.  

 Then, Professor Black looked at the class and stuck out his tongue.

 His tongue had turned bright green. And in front of the entire class, it turned bright scarlet.  

 Black grinned at them, as they tittered in surprise. “Interesting effect, wouldn’t you agree? If you would all uncork your potions, I’d like to propose a toast. If you have allergies or any other form of dietary restrictions, you’re excused, but to everyone else if you’re willing, please join me in a toast to your first successful potion at Hogwarts and to many more to come.”

 He raised the potion again, expectantly, and they all raised their potions with him. Except for Malfoy, who seemed to have refused to touch his potion at all.

 “Cheers,” Black said, and they echoed him.

 Harry took a sip of the potion. It tasted a bit like cranberry juice, if cranberry juice had a tingling aftertaste. He closed the bottle back up, as Black asked them to, and then turned to Ron with grinning expectation. Ron stuck out a bright blue tongue that turned a vivid violet. Harry burst out laughing and told him what colour his tongue was, then did the same and was informed that his tongue had turned from a strawberry red to a liquorice black.

 “Well… it seems that I’m impressed,” Black said wryly, looking over the class. “You managed to dye in making this potion after all. As promised, one point to everyone who managed to dye during my class today.”

 Harry laughed as he realized the play-on-words their teacher had performed, as did many others in the class.

 That strange flash of pain Harry had experienced during the Welcoming Feast was still close to mind, but Harry was starting to think it was a fluke of some kind. All class, Harry hadn’t felt even a prickle in his scar. Professor Black wasn’t nearly as frightening as Harry had been dreading and it was turning out that he was also surprisingly funny.

 “I have no need for eighteen bottles of Flashing Rainbow Dye,” Black continued, “so please take your accomplishment as you pack up. The bell will ring any moment now and your prefects will appear to whisk you off to Professor Flitwick. There will be no homework for today.”

 They all moved to finish packing up and to retrieve their bags.

 “Oh,” Black interrupted. “One moment, if you would, I have one last thing. Final safety rule of this lesson is… don’t drink any potion without knowing exactly what it does.”

 They all paused and looked at him warily.

 “For example, this particular potion lasts for three days,” he informed them.

 Someone gasped – Harry didn’t see who – as they all realized they would be stuck with colour-changing tongues for the next three days. Then, a second later, before anyone could open their rainbow mouth and say anything, the bell rang to signal the end of first period.

 “Class dismissed,” Black said smilingly. “I’ll see you again on Thursday.” 

 

Chapter Text

 The Gryffindor first-years went off to Charms class rather happily, trailing after the prefects who’d come to fetch them. The three girls whom Harry now knew to be Lavender, Parvati, and Fay kept sticking their changing tongues out at each other and bursting into giggles. Hermione Granger had pulled out One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi and Neville Longbottom was helping her look for the potions ingredients that had been mentioned in class.

 Ron was quite impressed at the prank Professor Black had pulled on them. “I thought he’d be a bit… well… I dunno … But I get it now: why Black is Fred and George’s favourite teacher. They must have loved that.” He looked down at the bottle in hand. “I wonder if they did this. I wonder what they did with this.”

 “Dunno,” Harry said. “Does it just work on tongues?”

 “I bet they’d know. I bet they’ve tried everything. We should ask them sometime.”

 The Charms classroom was a large classroom with a tall ceiling and desks on each side a little like stands, and behind those were enormous shelves filled with books, bits, and bobs. There was an open space in between the desks and the teacher’s desk at the far end by the tall windows. The teacher’s desk was a little hard to see, buried under hills and towers of books.

 Professor Flitwick was standing on top of his desk. He was the tiny man that Harry had seen at the Welcoming Feast, surely not much more than three feet tall, with a shock of white hair and an enormous smile. He was wearing marvellous green robes with a leafy pattern, which were covered in dozens of shimmering birds that fluttered about as he moved. There was a jolly ring of twigs and feathers around his pointed wizard’s hat, like a bird had started to make a nest on the brim.

 “Oh, come in, come in!” Professor Flitwick cried delightedly. “Come in and have a seat!”

 The Gryffindor first-years hurried to comply. The Slytherin first-years soon joined them and filed into the empty seats. They were still missing Draco Malfoy, who had been held back by Professor Black, and one of the Slytherin prefects.

 “Quickly now, quickly now!” Flitwick urged them, his tiny hands waving with excitement like he couldn’t contain himself. Once they had all taken a seat, he said, “Show me your tongues! You all just came from your first Potions class with Professor Black, didn’t you? Please do stick your tongues and show me your accomplishments!”

 With a few nervous looks around, they all stuck out their colourful tongues for Professor Flitwick and the tiny man squeaked and clapped his hands in delight. Harry noticed that the man’s nails were painted bright blue, which matched the speckled egg-shaped earrings dangling from his ears.

 “Wonderful! Wonderful!” Flitwick declared. “I do love having class after Professor Black! Thank you, prefects, you can return to your own classes now! I’m sure your teachers are missing you dearly.”

 “There will be one student arriving late,” the Slytherin prefect said.

 “Thank you for the warning, Miss Fudge. I never like to imagine that something has befallen my students between classes. What actually happened so rarely lives up to my imagination and then I am very disappointed,” Flitwick told them all, with a very dramatic sigh. As the prefects left, he reached for a clipboard balanced on a stack of books beside him. “I am going to take register now, so everyone please announce yourself when I call your name. I do enjoy guessing, but I enjoy getting to the lesson and the learning even more!”

 For all that he supposedly wanted to get to the lesson, Professor Flitwick dawdled on many of the names with comments. Draco Malfoy joined them shortly after the bell rang, slipping between Crabbe and Goyle and settling into his seat with a deep scowl, before Professor Flitwick had even gotten halfway through the list.

 “Miss Bulstrode! How is your mother?” Flitwick would say.

 Or: “Ah, Mister Crabbe! I’ve been teaching your sister these past few years!”

 Or: “Mister Longbottom! Your cousins told me you were coming this year!”

 Or even: “Oh, Miss Patil! I just had your twin in here last period! Are you sure you wouldn’t like to join my House as well? I’m sure an exception could be- No? Ah, well, good luck!”

 Professor Flitwick, Harry would learn later that lesson, was also the Head of Ravenclaw House.    

 However, when he reached Harry’s name, Flitwick’s reaction was to give an excited squeak and topple out of sight. This was to the great amusement of the class. All the tentative smugness Harry had been feeling at Malfoy’s unhappiness and all the hope he’d been feeling at Flitwick’s friendliness vanished. He felt terribly embarrassed, as everyone laughed and Professor Flitwick trotted back up onto his desk to pick up the register again.

 “What a pleasure it is having you with us, Mister Potter!” Flitwick said brightly. Then he marked Harry as present with a great flourish and kept going, even though Harry hadn’t said anything.

 The rest of the lesson was better. They didn’t actually do any magic all class, but the important thing was that Harry wasn’t singled out like that again. The most Professor Flitwick asked them to do was hold out their wands and mimic him, as he showed them all the recommended ways to hold their wands and how best to move their arms while they were casting spells. (“Let me know if you have difficulty with your eye-hand coordination or such!” he squeaked fiercely. “Arrangements can be made to accommodate you!”) Flitwick corrected Harry’s grip just like he did everyone else’s and instead commended Hermione Granger’s textbook-perfect hold. Harry’s tinge of jealousy was greatly overshadowed by his relief.

 The latter half of the class was Flitwick handing out and going over the class syllabus, so they could all study and practice outside of class, and so they could also schedule their homework plans accordingly. Scheduling an entire year’s worth of homework sounded very alarming to Harry, so he just put the syllabus in his notebook and resolved to think about it later.

 Flitwick ended the class by demonstrating some of the spells they would be learning, as listed on his syllabus. Harry’s mood was immensely brightened by this. He watched Flitwick make feathers dance through the air with awe and Flitwick make bluebell flames skitter over the floor in wonder. He laughed as Professor Flitwick asked for a volunteer, then proceeded to make his wand tip glow with light in all the different colours that Seamus’ tongue turned.

 When the bell rang and prefects came around the pick them up, all the Gryffindor first-years left cheerfully. Harry and Ron pulled the syllabus out and argued over which lesson sounded the most exciting. It was a short argument: they were both very interested in the “duelling lesson”, although they could readily admit that many other lessons sounded pretty cool too. 

 Instead of the library again, the prefects took them to the Great Hall for their Study Hall period. The Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw first-years were already there, comparing their new colour-changing tongues, and the Slytherin first-years weren’t far behind them. There were some older students scattered over the long tables, some of them in groups with students belonging to several different Houses, but not many. Some of the students were helping themselves to the plentiful bowls of fruit that were also scattered around the tables, which made Harry remember lunch was soon.

 “You can run off to the Library if you want,” sixth-year Prefect Kiddell told them. “But you’ll have to get there and sign in on your own, because I have to run off to class. Make sure to register with a professor when you get here and tell her where you’re going if you leave, though. Looks like it’s Professor Vector or Professor Sinistra today.”

 Harry looked up at the High Table, where a pale, middle-aged witch in plain, stiff robes and a square-brimmed hat was having a conversation with a younger witch, who was narrow-faced and had dark brown skin and was dressed in shimmering golden robes. The darker witch’s golden hat even had rings floating around it and Harry recognized her as the one who’d had the hat with orbiting planets at the Welcoming Feast.

 Their prefects registered for them, before running off to class, and the first-years settled at Gryffindor’s long table to get some of their homework done. Professor Flitwick’s homework schedule wasn’t set to begin until next class, so Harry and Ron pulled out their neglected maths homework instead.

 To be honest, however, they spent most of the period talking about Charms and munching on the fruit that had been left out. It was only when people began packing up, preparing for lunch, that Harry and Ron went back to work and hurried completely a few problem sets. They ended up having to leave the rest for later yet again. If Hermione Granger, who had run off to the library after announcing that she had already finished all the assigned homework, had seen them, she probably would have been very disapproving.

 

~

 

 After lunch, seventh-year Prefects Briggs and Sherry led them back to Gryffindor Tower to switch out their things, then out to the greenhouses for their first Herbology class.

 Herbology turned out to be taught by the fat, silver-haired witch Harry had seen with all those flowers and leaves on her clothes, Professor Sprout, who was dressed today in a dark green cable-knit jumper, brown trousers, muddy boots, and a sunhat with a sunflower on it that wriggled around to face the sunlight as she moved. She was also the Head of Hufflepuff House and actually a few minutes late to class.

 “Sorry, sorry,” she said, as she let them all into Greenhouse One. “Just having a bite with the missus. In you go, come on now. We’re going to be having a tour of the greenhouses today, so I can tell you which ones are the trouble-makers and what trouble-making I don’t want to see from you either.”

 The greenhouses turned out to be perhaps the most wondrous part of Hogwarts yet. Each section felt like stepping into an entirely different world, partly because many sections were wildly different and enchanted to recreate climates from around the world. Professor Sprout trooped them through hot savannah and humid jungle, through arctic snow and murky swamp – keeping them on the neat stone paths of the greenhouses of course, so that they could gape at the carefully, magically fenced-off pockets of nature and not ruin their shoes.

 “Herbology is by far the most interesting and unique magical subject out there, if you ask me,” Professor Sprout declared, as she led them through what seemed to be an area of desert. “All the spells and care that go into turning the ordinary into the extraordinary… as well as all the study and taming of some truly wild things! Cultivating these plants to make the most of their magical properties is the work of generations upon generations of witches and wizards!” She chuckled to herself and said, “You really will reap what you sow here in this class!”

 She stopped and looked over them all. “You had Potions this morning, didn’t you? Let’s see those tongues! Yes, those are my beets at work, there! Those gloomy boys wouldn’t be able to do a bloody thing without me and my workers, and they know it!” Sprout declared cheerfully. “You better remember it too, when you’re brewing away, that behind every root and leaf you toss into that pot is a lot of hard work!”

 It was like going around a zoo of plants. Some of them were just more upon more of leafy green things Harry couldn’t have told apart if he tried, but others had exotic-looking fruits that were bigger than he was, flowers that snapped and hissed at each other like animals, or appeared to camouflage themselves whenever anyone drew near. There were trees that appeared to be made of glass, bushes that buzzed and shook like they were filled with hundreds of wasps, and ferns that seemed to spontaneously catch on fire for no reason. Harry saw plums that floated up like balloons and tree saplings that wandered restlessly around their enclosure, he saw herbs that oozed slime and vegetables that were lightly smoking, and he saw flowers that blew bubbles and reeds that wolf-whistled in a chorus when Professor Sprout passed by.

 “One of my apprentices taught them that,” Sprout sighed. “You’ll probably see ‘em around.”

 They ended up not going in the last few greenhouses, because Sprout said that the plants in there were a little too dangerous for her to keep an eye on all of them just yet. Given that she’d already pointed out plenty of plants that were apparently poisonous or carnivorous, Harry had trouble imagining what sort of monstrous things that Sprout considered really dangerous. He was terribly curious, of course, but he restrained himself, not wanting to be ironically eaten by a vegetable.

 They ended the tour by trooping back through a few of the greenhouses, with Sprout going on about the farms belonging to the castle, just outside the village of Hogsmeade, and how these provided the school with a source of both food and profit. As they went, they spotted a witch and a wizard in the distance, who waved at them.

 “Speak of the devil!” Sprout declared cheerfully. “That’s Madam Bertie Beery over there, who manages the farms – so say a good thank you to her, if you see her on the grounds – and that bloke next to her is Professor Wort. He teaches Herbology with me, in alternating years, so you’ll see him for class next year. They must be off to herd the radishes back into the pens.”

 Professor Sprout bid them a cheerful farewell at the very end of her tour, alongside an equally cheery order to join the Herbology Club. Well, it was a suggestion, but it was a very strong suggestion. As though Sprout simply couldn’t think of anything better for them to do with their spare time than handling exploding flowers and wrestling other magical plants potentially capable of eating small-to-medium-sized animals. Which, yes, included humans on Professor Sprout’s scale.  

 Personally, to this, Harry rather felt like he’d done his share of gardening already with the Dursleys – and he thought this even though none of those nonmagical plants could scream at him. He said as much to Ron, who nodded, his freckles standing out starkly on his face.

 “Bloody hell, maybe Mum should just be glad that Charlie didn’t go into Herbology,” Ron said. “Except he took that too and said that Herbology wasn’t as interesting as Care of Magical Creatures.”

 “What does Charlie do again?” Harry asked.

 “He works with dragons,” Ron answered faintly. “In Romania.”

 “Oh,” Harry said. “Like… big dragons?”

 “Yeah. Really big dragons.”

 “Oh.”  

 “Yeah,” Ron agreed, then cleared his throat. “Thankfully, though, they probably won’t give us anything really dangerous to deal with until… much, much later. And no dragons. Charlie had to go on a special school trip to get to the dragons; he talked about it for months. We’ll probably get stuff like… bowtruckles… and gnomes… and that sort of thing.”

 Harry still didn’t know what bowtruckles and gnomes were exactly. They’d been mentioned a few times and he had a general idea, but he was very prepared to be very wrong about them.  

 “Sprout said we’d be taking most of our classes in Greenhouse One, right? You said you recognized some of them from your garden at home?” Harry asked. He had been mildly envious at that, at the idea of having a home where even the plants were magic.

 Ron brightened. “Yeah, everything in there seemed alright. We’ll be fine. It’s not like we’re ever going to run into any of those really big plants in a school corridor or something.”

 With their Herbology class over, the prefects took the first-years back to the Great Hall for another period of study. Since Sprout hadn’t assigned them any new homework, Harry and Ron pulled their unfinished maths homework from Scalar out again. (Something Harry had a vision of them doing for the next five years, since Maths, or Arithmancy or whatever special thing wizards wanted to call it, was mandatory until then.) They had their next class with Scalar tomorrow, so it was now or later tonight, and Ron wanted to introduce Harry to a card game called Exploding Snap, which Harry thought sounded… interesting but kind of alarming.

 Interesting – and amazing and incredible and wonderful – and kind of alarming described a lot about the magical world for Harry. He finished his maths problem sets diligently, glad to understand at least something at this school. Also, perhaps, he did this with mild despair, because he had no idea how being able to do maths was going to save him from dragons someday.

 No wonder Hagrid had said Harry didn’t know anything.

 

 ~

 

 Harry spent the rest of the afternoon playing Exploding Snap in the common room with his dormmates. The tall witch in the painting over the fireplace, scribbling at her desk, looked up with a frown whenever they whooped or shouted, but no one else seemed to mind. It was going well until they were suddenly approached by the seventh-year male prefect, Nelson Brigg.

 “Potter,” Brigg snapped. “What’d you go and whinge to Weasley for?”

 Harry startled and pulled his hands quickly back before they got caught in the minor pop of the cards exploding on him. They had borrowed a beginner’s deck from the common room’s supply of games, because neither Harry nor Dean had played before. Seamus had said that he didn’t feel much heat in his fingers anymore, after enough practice, but he’d been outvoted four to one.  

 Harry had been under the impression that beyond a bit of staring, Brigg couldn’t be bothered with him, but now Brigg seemed very bothered with him.

 “…What?”

 “He went to McGonagall! And I get dinged because you can’t handle telling someone you don’t want to answer a few bloody questions on your own? Believe me, you won’t get far here if you expect to be coddled every step of the way just because you got lucky once upon a time.” Brigg loomed over them and sneered, “I’m going to remember this one. Thanks a lot, Potter.”

 Without another word, Brigg turned on his heel and stomped off in the direction of the dormitories. The common room had a few other groups of people sitting around and enjoying themselves, but only a few of these people watched Brigg go and none of them were other prefects.

 Harry, confused and intimidated, looked back to his dormmates. “What was that about?”

 He didn’t think he’d done anything to piss off the seventh-year prefect, besides getting lost yesterday after Brigg had told them to make it on their own. He definitely hadn’t tried to do anything to make an enemy of Brigg. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that the witch in the painting over the fireplace looking at him with an unreadable expression, before she got up and left her painting. What had he done wrong?

 Remembering the mention of a Weasley, Harry looked to Ron for answers. Ron’s ears were turning slightly red. He also hadn’t shrugged or shaken his head with the others.

 “Do you know what that was about?” Harry asked him.

 “I… I… kind of complained to Percy about what he did yesterday,” Ron admitted quietly.

 Harry frowned. “About him letting us get lost?”

 “No! About… about him not stopping that prick in the library from asking you questions about…” Ron’s voice dropped to a whisper. “…about You-Know-Who yesterday.”

 Harry stared at Ron blankly. “Why would you do that?”

 “I didn’t know he’d go and tell McGonagall! Or that McGonagall would tell Brigg off and he’d blame you for him not helping out when he should’ve said something – the tosser,” Ron insisted. “I just thought that someone should know he’s a really shit prefect. People shouldn’t ask you that.”

 “You did,” Harry pointed out disbelievingly.

 Ron flushed an even deeper red. “I didn’t ask that exactly! And… well…”

 “You shouldn’t have told on him,” Harry interrupted, not caring for the reasons why Ron had done it. Now Harry had a prefect who had it out for him over something that didn’t really matter. “It was just a question! I could’ve handled it! Now I have a prefect who hates me for nothing!”

 “Well, sorry, but…”

 Harry was too angry to listen to Ron’s apologies. He stood up and left without listening, storming up to their dormitory. When he looked at the other beds of the dormitory and recalled that he now shared a room for other people, he pulled the thick curtains of his bed closed around him and felt… well… trapped and miserable and furious.

 At that moment, he couldn’t remember anything he hated so much as being disliked and blamed for things other people had done. It had been happening all his life, but still it never failed to make him angry. He should have been used to it, but he never wanted to be.

 Harry sat on his bed and fumed over what Ron had done and Prefect Brigg for being a complete tosser over it. Until he realized that he was sitting in a dark, enclosed space being angry about something, then he fumed at himself too. He curled in on himself when someone came up to the dormitory, hesitating seemingly just outside his curtains. Harry prepared dozens of things to say in response to whatever was said to him, then fumed even more when the footsteps moved away and left the dorm without their owner having said anything at all.

 Eventually, however, Harry was angrier at himself than anything else. He felt silly, because surely Ron had been only trying to help? Now Harry might have lost his new and only friend over something that was, Harry now thought miserably, really only a little thing.

  This time, when the footsteps came back up to the dormitory, Harry peeked carefully out from between his curtains. Ron was standing there, looking awkward.

 “Harry?” he said. “We’re going down to dinner in a bit and… well…”

 This wasn’t the apology Harry wanted. But he was hungry, so he slunk out of bed anyway, and realized immediately that he’d underestimated how much more awkward it would be when he came face to face with Ron again after storming off. They stared at each other silently.

 “So… maybe I shouldn’t have told Percy without asking you,” Ron said finally, but then he lifted his chin. “But I didn’t know he’d go to McGonagall and I still think Brigg was being a bad prefect.”

 Harry crossed his arms. “But you asked me those questions too.”

 Ron’s face was pink now. “That was… different,” he mumbled. “We were in that train compartment for hours… and getting to know each other… and I didn’t ask it like that. And I didn’t even ask those questions about…” His voice lowered to a whisper again. “…about the Killing Curse.”

 Harry had so many feelings at that and no way to get them out. He might’ve been comfortable with Ron and uncomfortable in the library, but he didn’t see that much of a difference. This didn’t feel like the apology Harry had wanted. Mostly, though, Harry thought he was angry because here was another thing everyone seemed to know that he didn’t.  

 “I don’t remember it! I remember nothing about it, Ron, just like I told you! Just like I was going to tell that person in the library yesterday!” Harry said angrily. “I don’t even know what the Killing Curse is!”

 Ron gaped at him. “You don’t-?”

 “I can guess what it does,” Harry amended – because he wasn’t stupid, it was in the name. “I told you: until Hagrid told me, I didn’t know anything about being a wizard or about my parents or about Voldemort! I- ugh, I forgot I shouldn’t say his name again. I don’t know anything. I don’t remember anything! I don’t understand why everyone keeps staring at me for it like I did something!”

 Ron was staring at him with wide eyes by the end of this. “Because… you’re the Boy-Who-Lived… you destroyed You-Know-Who and that ended the war. Everyone knows that-”

 “Everyone except me,” Harry snapped.

 Ron went quiet. They stared at each other in silence again, with Harry holding himself tightly, and Harry couldn’t tell what Ron was thinking at all. He slowly uncrossed his arms.

 “If it happens again, just… let me… I can handle it.”

 “Yeah, alright,” Ron agreed quietly.

 The silence descended between them again for several seconds.

 “If you need help though… telling people to go away…” Ron began awkwardly.

 “Thanks, but I can handle it,” Harry assured him quickly. “I handled Malfoy just fine before class today, right? I don’t want people to think I’m just… trying to get by on accidentally being famous or something. I’ll just tell them I don’t remember anything and then they’ll stop gawping at me like I’m an animal in a zoo.”

 “Yeah, I guess.” Ron shuffled his feet. “Are we… are we good now?”

 “Yeah, we’re good. Aren’t we?”

 Ron nodded, looking as relieved as Harry felt that he hadn’t lost his new friend.

 “Yeah. Cool. Um, so, we should go downstairs now,” Ron said. “If we want a prefect to help us get to the Great Hall without getting lost or trying to go through the wrong door again. Not Brigg, of course, because… well… Anyway, it’s Percy and Camille again and they’re alright. I brought your stuff upstairs earlier, by the way, it’s on your table there.”

 “Oh. Thanks.”

 “And, um, I didn’t go off and tell anyone again without asking you, but… Harry, you should really tell someone about what Brigg just did,” Ron said, his ears still red and his voice quick with nerves. When Harry frowned at him, he continued, “He can’t just come up and practically threaten you because something he did got him in trouble.”

 “He didn’t even do anything,” Harry protested, growing sick of this.

 “Well, yeah, that’s the point-” Ron began, but then quickly cut himself off as he realized they were repeating this again. “Percy and McGonagall thought it was bad, Harry. It’s not your fault they didn’t like what he did – or didn’t – do. He can’t come up and blame you for it like that.”

 “What’ll telling on him again do? It’ll just make him hate me more.”

 Ron frowned, frustrated. “…I guess.”

 “Look, can we just be good? And go to dinner? And forget this whole thing ever happened?”

 Harry asked this even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to forget. Not now that he had a seventh-year prefect who wouldn’t forget his whinging either and had it out for him. But he didn’t want to be mad at Ron any longer – he couldn’t imagine having to go through the rest of Hogwarts being mad at Ron, who’d only been trying to look out for him – and he was hungry.

 “It was only a question,” Harry repeated.

 Ron stared at him for a few seconds, then he shrugged and grinned ruefully, which gave Harry a brief view of his butter yellow tongue as he spoke. “Yeah, I guess. Let’s go down before Percy leaves without us… which’s probably never, so… let’s go down before he comes up looking for us. What do you think they’ll have for dinner tonight?”

 Harry almost sighed with relief. He had his friend back and, though it still felt like there were some things left instead, Harry didn’t want to have anything more said. Dinner was a much more comfortable, less complicated thing to talk about. He gladly followed Ron out of their dormitory and down the spiral stairs.

 “I dunno,” he said. “That treacle tart was pretty good.”

 “Yeah, that was alright. Hey, do you think they got the stuff for that from the farms or from one of Sprout’s greenhouses? I was wondering if it all become potions ingredients or if they ever sent some of it to the kitchens to be put on plates.”

 “It gets eaten either way,” Harry pointed out, now lightly nauseated.

 “Well, not all the time with potions, but I guess, yeah, they go down the gut either way. If you’re eating a potion from the bottle instead of drinking it, though, I’d think that’d mean something was seriously wrong with that potion,” Ron said, and grinned when Harry snorted. 

 

Chapter Text

 Wednesday morning turned out to be duller than Harry ever could have imagined. Everyone had been looking forward to their first Defence Against the Dark Arts class, but Quirrell’s lesson turned out to be a bit of a joke. In that, when Harry had suggested that Quirrell seemed scared of his own subject, it looked like he’d hit the nail on the head exactly.

 Quirrell stuttered through his entire introduction and register. When he got to Harry’s name on the register, he had smiled in his terrified fashion and suggested, with a nervous laugh, that he needn’t teach them any Defence Against the Dark Arts at all with Harry around! This didn’t get any laughs from the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw first-years, and embarrassed Harry terribly yet again, especially since he didn’t know anything about Defence Against the Dark Arts. But it sounded like Quirrell was genuinely afraid Harry might steal his job, so Harry smiled tightly back at him anyway.

 Like Flitwick, Quirrell also spent his first lesson going on the syllabus, sounding increasingly terrified with each lesson that he read word-for-word off a piece of parchment. It took a long time, with Quirrell’s stutter, hesitance to continue before he was sure that everyone had finished taking notes, and apparent complete unfamiliarity with his own lesson plans.

 After this was finally over, there wasn’t much time left in the class, so Professor Quirrell opened the floor to questions and proceeded to warily pick raised hands like he thought he might be attacked. Most of it was about simple stuff that Harry already knew or could have guessed. Quirinus Quirrell had taught a class called Muggle Studies, before taking a year off to travel and gain some more worldly experience, then had come back to take the Defence Against the Dark Arts position.

 Much to Hermione Granger’s disappointment, he either didn’t know or didn’t have much about what the homework schedule would be or what their future assignments might be on yet.

 The most interesting thing anyone asked was why Quirrell was wearing a turban. Quirrell told them that it had been given to them by an African prince as a thank-you for getting rid of a troublesome zombie, which sounded very exciting. However, when Seamus Finnigan asked to hear how Quirrell had fought off the zombie, Quirrell went pink and demurred over it as being too complicated to get into with the time they had left. When Hermione Granger raised her hand to ask which African nation this had been exactly, Quirrell immediately changed the topic to the weather.

 Harry thought rather unhappily that if Quirrell cared about the weather so much, he ought to have chosen a classroom with a better view of it. It wasn’t just Quirrell’s high, nervous laughter and stuttering that made the class awful, but also the classroom itself.

 The Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom had windows, but they were tightly shuttered and even barred, and there were only a few of candelabras for light. It was also crowded, with all sorts of strange baskets, hanging ornaments, and rusty, magical-looking devices. It also stunk. The classroom smelled strongly of garlic and the several pots of incense Quirrell had burning. Such a hazy, dim, rank room left Harry’s head throbbing and Quirrell’s answers were far too dull to keep Harry’s focus off it.

 The most interesting thing that ended up happening had nothing to do with Quirrell at all. Near the end of the period, someone knocked on the door and let themselves in. It was another teacher, a witch who wiggled her fingers in a wave and left the door open as she entered, and the only one at all upset by the interruption was Professor Quirrell.

 “P-Professor F-Feasance!” he said. “W-what can I d-d-do for you?”

 Professor Feasance was a witch with a pale face and bright make-up, with a long neck and a short bob of brown hair, wearing cat-eye glasses and delicate floral robes in blue and violet. She looked at least as young as Professor Quirrell and not very intimidating, but he looked terrified of her.

 Not that that seemed to mean much with Quirrell, Harry thought.

 “I thought I’d drop by and see how everything was going,” Professor Feasance said smilingly. “I don’t have classes this morning and thought you might need a hand – everyone knows the first-years are the scariest and toughest of the bunch.” She looked over the seated first-years and winked, before she looked back to Quirrell and offered, “If I’m interrupting anything important, I can leave.”

 “Oh, n-no, not at all!” Quirrell assured her, with another nervous laugh. “Cl-cl-class, this is P-Professor Feasance, the other D-Defense Against the D-D-Dark Arts teacher.”

 Harry thought he saw Feasance’s smile dim. “I’m not a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher,” she said firmly, as though reminding him, before she looked over the class again. “I’m a substitute teacher here at Hogwarts who will be covering any classes that Professor Quirrell can’t make. It just so happens that I have covered many of the upper-year Defence Against the Dark Arts classes during my career here at Hogwarts.”

 Harry remembered Percy saying something about this at the Welcoming Feast. That he would be taking Defence with a teacher who wasn’t Quirrell but also wasn’t a Defence teacher. Hearing Feasance say this herself didn’t make it make any more sense.

 “O-oh, right! S-sorry!” Quirrell said quickly.

 Feasance just kept smiling and waved a fluttered her hand dismissively. “It’s a very common mistake.”

 While Feasance’s interruption was a breath of fresh air, mostly because she’d left the door open as she came in, nothing much came of it. She essentially said that she looked forward to seeing them around the school and then drifted off again. She didn’t close the door behind her then either. The entire class seemed to groan or whimper as Quirrell waved his wand at the door to slam it shut behind her.

 The class thankfully didn’t last much longer past that. When Quirrell dismissed them, those who didn’t drag their feet because they were half-asleep, and who didn’t linger to ask more questions of the perpetually terrified Professor Quirrell, practically bolted out the door. Harry was one of the first out of the classroom. Once outside, he took in a grateful gasp of fresh air and pressed his aching head against the cool stone wall of the corridor.

 “I know he said the garlic is to ward off a vampire he’d met in Romania,” Harry muttered unhappily, “but the vampire doesn’t need to be able to smell the garlic from Romania, right?”

 “I should write a letter to Charlie and ask him,” Ron groaned from beside him. “Merlin, that was dull. And we have History next! It’s all off the broom from here.”

 Harry, who’d thought that the History of Magic sounded very interesting, felt nonplussed.

 “What’s wrong with History?”

 

~

 

 The real question was revealed to be: what wasn’t wrong with History of Magic?

 It was even duller than Defence. The teacher was Professor Cuthbert Binns, who was dead and seemed duly determined to make them all die of boredom, what with his terrible, droning voice and disinterest in interacting with them at all. He didn’t even take register. Ron whispered to Harry that Binns, when he had been alive and very old, had fallen asleep in front of the staff-room fire and died in his sleep, but still gotten up the next morning to teach and left his body behind him.

 Harry had never imagined having a ghost for a teacher could be so boring.

 They took notes on names, dates, and events in a large lecture hall full of statues and busts, too big for just the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw first-years alone. Harry tried his best to continue to take diligent notes - he had found magical history quite interesting in his textbooks - as Binns droned on and on, but more often resorted to rubbing his head, trying not to fall asleep to escape this dull morning and his lingering headache from Quirrell’s lesson. By the time the bell finally rang and released them to lunch, Harry couldn’t have told anyone the difference between Emeric the Evil and Uric the Oddball if his life had depended on it.

 

~

 

 After lunch, the Gryffindor first-years were taken back to Professor Scalar for their second Maths lesson with the Hufflepuffs. Scalar, who was again dressed in what very much looked to be a different set of bathrobe, pyjamas, and fluffy slippers, accepted their homework first thing and then handed it back so they could all mark it together before returning to review.

 Maths wasn’t the most interesting subject, but it was still leagues better than Quirrell’s stuttering terror and Binns’ droning dullness. They hadn’t actually learned anything in Quirrell’s class and Binns, being incorporeal, hadn’t used the chalkboards – or really talked to them throughout his lecture. Professor Scalar, after answering a few homework questions with his very precise drawings, then turned to call for volunteers to put their answers on the board. Harry was nervous at first, but he did well with his problem, so it turned out to be a welcome difference.

 At the very least, Harry learned today that whatever Scalar wrote with might not be chalk after all, as he was handed a stick of it to answer, which explained why the man’s magnificent bathrobes and his students’ black robes were not constantly covered in white dust as the chalkboards flew about the room. (In fact, it smelled a bit like fruit candy. Harry was hard-pressed by the sudden urge to lick it, as he answered his problem, but he thankfully managed to not do that. He was already known as the Boy-Who-Lived; he didn’t want to also be known as the Boy-Who-Licked-Chalk. Harry instead thought rather viciously that Professor Quirrell ought to take lessons from Scalar in creating classroom his students could actually breathe in.)

 Harry’s headache had disappeared over lunch and the tall windows of Scalar’s bright, airy classroom helped enormously in keeping it away, so Maths might as well have been brilliant. Though, personally, Harry could have done without the assigning of more homework at the end of class. As the prefects led them off to their second Transfiguration class, Harry felt mildly boggled at the idea that strict Professor McGonagall’s class might turn out to be both the most exciting and easiest to get through of today.

 

~

 

 In Transfiguration, Professor McGonagall was waiting for them as a witch instead of a cat today.  She watched them all take their seats while standing between two podiums. One podium was the bronze one with the Gryffindor crest that she’d been sitting on before, but the other was a newer, fancier podium in gold. Its middle was a very detailed sculpture of an eagle in flight; the eagle was holding the crest of Ravenclaw House in its claws at the base while its great, spread wings were supporting the top of the podium. Since the Gryffindor first-years took Transfiguration with the Hufflepuffs, Harry felt more than a little confused by this addition.

 And then the eagle blinked at him. Which, frankly, wasn’t very strange with all of Hogwarts’ moving paintings, animated statues, and suits of armour, but still momentarily took Harry aback.

 Harry was further taken aback when the gold podium suddenly stood up. The eagle’s upper half stretched and grew, its claws and tail melting into where the podium’s base had unfolded into long legs. Broad wings became long arms, metal scraping against metal, and, suddenly, the golden podium had become a very tall statue of man, who looked around the hushed classroom silently.

 “Class, I would like to introduce Professor Mohammed,” McGonagall announced calmly.

 Harry, who had just been taught by a ghost earlier, was completely prepared to accept that a golden statue taught classes at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But then the gold melted away into nothing and, instead of a statue, standing beside McGonagall was a tall, brown-skinned man with a beaky nose, a long black beard, and a white turban. He wore large silvery glasses, and his robes, once they sagged as fabric again instead of metal, were also silvery in colour, patterned with great sailing ships and shimmering with a hint of blue.

 “Greetings,” Professor Mohammed said, who was not a statue after all. “I have the pleasure of teaching Transfiguration with Professor McGonagall, in alternating years, and of teaching Alchemy to the upper-year students. I am also the Deputy Head of Ravenclaw House.”

 “Professor Mohammed has come by to introduce himself and provide us with an outstanding display of Transfiguration magic,” McGonagall said, and raised her hands to clap pointedly.

 The class joined in her clapping readily. Privately, Harry thought it was more astounding to turn into a cat than a piece of furniture, but it had still been very impressive. Far more impressive than turning a match into a needle. Which was the lesson that Professor McGonagall returned to, as soon as Mohammed had assured them all that they were welcome to say hello before he taught them next year and had excused himself from the classroom.

 After McGonagall’s new lesson, which strongly reiterated many of the points of her last lecture and the homework, she let them all try to turn a match into a needle again. Harry and Ron both succeeded before the end of class and were very pleased with themselves. They didn’t get points, unfortunately, because most of the class had managed the same thing. But when McGonagall asked them to turn their needles back into matches, they managed this too; to their surprise, they managed it much more quickly than the initial transfiguration had taken.

 “It’s like it wants to be a matchstick again,” Ron said curiously, as he peered at his work.

 “It turned back very quickly,” Harry agreed, not having thought of it like that before. Could a transfigured needle want to be a match again? He supposed it might be a bit short-sighted of him, after all those animated magical objects he’d seen about Hogwarts.

 “And after all that time spent convincing them to be needles in the first place,” Ron said, sounding bemused and grumpy at the same time.

 Although the grumpiness could’ve been because Professor McGonagall was putting their new homework, reading and questions, on the board. As she did so, she reminded everyone sternly that it was due next Monday and that she expected homework to be handed in before they would be allowed to wave a wand in her class.

 

 ~

 

 Thursday morning, the pattern of other teachers of subjects showing up to introduce themselves continued. Like Professor Feasance interrupting Quirrell’s class and like Professor Mohammed interrupting McGonagall’s. The Gryffindor first-years went to Charms, with Flitwick and the Slytherins, and found themselves being reintroduced to Professor Ting.

 Ting taught Charms in alternating years with Flitwick, so she wouldn’t be their teacher until second year, and Harry unhappily noticed Malfoy scoff when she told them she was the Deputy Head of Gryffindor. Ting rattled off that she’d been born in Taiwan, educated at Hogwarts, and pursued further studies in Italy – and that she enjoyed painting, the arts, and word puzzles – and she told them at least five times throughout this that she really was so looking forward to getting to know everyone. She talked very quickly, possibly because she had to dash off to teach her own classes.

 She did give them a demonstration of magic just before she left, enchanting some of Flitwick’s books and furniture to act like animals. She left Flitwick to deal with all this, and Harry laughed as he saw his tiny teacher, dressed in a dashing red cape today, whirl away from a chair that fancied itself a bull before cancelling his colleague’s charm.

 However, not all the visits by other teachers seemed to have been planned or were in any way pleasant. During Harry’s second Potions class the next period, he finally crossed paths with Professor Snape. It was very much not a pleasure to meet him.

 Snape swept into their Potions class, without knocking, while Black was leading them through a lecture and lesson on the proper care and usage of their Potions equipment. Professor Black, in the middle of correcting common mistakes he’d seen them make earlier in the week, seemed neither startled nor bothered by the sudden appearance of Snape halfway through his class.

 Harry felt a little wary, however, as Snape’s sharp gaze went over the room. Dressed all in thick black robes again, standing quite tall, Professor Snape looked even more unimpressed and intimidating than before. Especially when Snape’s eyes landed on Harry again. Harry stiffened – perhaps to prepare for that flash of pain in his scar from the Welcoming Feast, which hadn’t repeated itself with Black and didn’t reappear now – and Snape’s frown deepened.

 “Severus,” Black said politely. “This is… unprecedented.”

 Snape’s attention turned back to their teacher, but the frown stayed. “Indeed. Between inadequate restocking and idiotic accidents of the dunderheads around me, I have found my storerooms without sufficient asphodel or wormwood for my students’ use today.”

 “Caught off guard? How equally unprecedented. Do feel free to help yourself from my supply cupboard then,” Black said. Then, ignoring the look that suggested Snape would have done this with or without his permission, Black turned back to the class and said, “Class, may I introduce Professor Severus Snape, our Head of Slytherin House and resident potions master? Severus, you’ve met our new Slytherins; these are the new first-years for Gryffindor.”

 “Yes, hopefully you’ll be able to make something worthwhile of them in the next four years,” Snape said curtly, as though he didn’t believe this would happen. “I would prefer not to see anyone poison themselves again this year.”

 “Don’t we all.”

 Then Snape’s stare turned specifically to Harry again and he continued softly, “I see you have Harry Potter in your class. Our new… celebrity.”

 Snape’s voice was cold and dripping with disdain. Harry thought he could hear Draco Malfoy and his friends, Crabbe and Goyle, sniggering at the back of the class.

 “Yes,” Black agreed, still politely. “I have heard of him.”

 Snape turned that disdainful look on their teacher, but Black still didn’t look bothered by it. Instead, Black just raised his eyebrows and pointed his wand at the supply cupboard door, which swung neatly open for Snape as though Black was holding it for him.

 “If you don’t mind, Severus, I’d like to get on with the lesson I prepared for today? I trust that you’ll be able to find what you need without my assistance.”

 Snape didn’t thank Black, but rather strode into the supply cupboard. Black continued where he’d left off, demonstrating how best to sharpen their knives, but no one seemed to be able to focus on anything but the clinks and clacks of Snape going through the cupboard. Everyone seemed to hold their breath as Snape swept out of the supply cupboard, a couple of glass jars tucked under one arm, closing the door sharply behind him with the other.

 Black paused and turned again, as though to speak to the other potions professor, but Snape didn’t seem to have any interest in speaking to their teacher again. The potions master nodded at Black and went right for the door to the classroom. Snape’s disdain skimmed over Harry again, as he left, but then Snape and his sharp gaze were gone.  

 “You’re welcome,” Black said wryly after him, to the shuddering door, then went back to his lesson without any more comment on the interruption.

 Harry tried to focus on their teacher again, but attention seemed to have followed Snape out the door. That hadn’t been anything like meeting any of the other teachers for any other subject. The only things Harry had learned about the other Potions professor from this encounter were that Professor Snape was the Head of Slytherin House and that, for some unknown reason, Snape absolutely, definitely, specifically did not like Harry.

 

~

 

 Friday morning at breakfast, Harry received an unexpected letter. He introduced Hedwig to Ron and fed her a piece of bacon, petting her soft feathers in thanks, and frowned over it. Harry couldn’t for the life of him imagine the Dursleys deigning to write him a letter, especially by owl, and he wouldn’t have thought that he had anyone else who might send him letters.

 “Who’s that from?” Ron said curiously.

 “I don’t know,” Harry admitted, tracing the large, spiky writing of his name. It looked familiar.

 “Well? There’s only one way to find out who it’s from.”

 This was true, so Harry opened it. “It’s from Hagrid!” he said, delighted. He hadn’t seen much of the giant man since starting classes, but apparently Hagrid hadn’t forgotten about him.

 The letter said: 

 Dear Harry,

 I know you’re very busy now that you’ve started classes, but would you like to come and have a cup of tea with me after classes today? I want to hear all about your first week. Send us an answer back with Hedwig.

 Hagrid

 Harry looked up at Ron. “Do you want to go have tea with Hagrid after class?”

 “Yeah, sure,” Ron said excitedly. “I’ve heard so much about him.”

 “Great, I just need something to write him back with-”

 Harry paused as a pen appeared under his nose. Across the table from him and Ron, Hermione Granger had pulled a pen out of her bookbag and was offering it to him, clearly having been eavesdropping on his conversation. When Harry stared at her for this, she just turned her nose up a little higher, looking disapproving.

 “Neither of you brought your things down,” she said.

 “Yeah,” Ron agreed slowly. “That’s ‘cause we don’t have class until second period.”

 “If you’d brought your things down, you would have had more time to study and do your homework before class,” Hermione Granger told him, looking very disapproving now. “I know that neither of you have touched your Herbology homework yet… or your Transfiguration and-”

 “Because we don’t have those classes again until next week,” Ron said.

 Harry quickly took the pen that Hermione Granger was offering. “Thanks,” he said, as he scribbled off a quick “Yes, please, see you later” on the back of Hagrid’s letter.

 Unfortunately, even as Harry gave the pen back, this didn’t seem to stop anything.

 “But if you get it done daily, then you have more free time and time to review your work,” Hermione Granger argued firmly, as she put the pen back in her bag.

 “Or I could just do it later and do fun things,” Ron retorted.

 “Our study periods aren’t for having fun,” Hermione Granger said, sounding entirely serious. “They’re for getting work done-”

 “I didn’t say we weren’t going to do our homework next period. That’s what they’re for, aren’t they?” Ron demanded, sounding frustrated. “We did our Maths homework yesterday. We’ll do the rest of it today or over the weekend.”

 Harry gave the letter back to Hedwig. “I’ll come visit you soon, alright?” he told her, with one last pat. Hedwig cooed at him like she knew he didn’t know where the Owlery was, but she went off to find Hagrid anyway, leaving Harry determined to ask one of the prefects so that he could follow her and find out where she lived now.

 “Well. You could have had the whole weekend free if you’d already finished it,” Hermione Granger said archly, getting to her feet, her nose raised high. “I doubt you’ll remember to do everything with all the fun you’ve been having.”

 “What? You’ve never had fun before?” Ron asked, mimicking the dismissal in her voice.

 Hermione Granger went stiff, then she turned on her heel and walked off in a huff. Several people turned to look curiously at Ron and Harry for this, including many of their fellow Gryffindor first-years. Harry sunk a little lower into his seat, but Ron just scoffed.

 “Bet you anything she’s going to the library again,” Ron said.

 “I’m not taking that bet,” Harry said. Then, awkwardly, added, “We should probably go get our things, though. I think we have to go to the library for our Transfiguration homework today.”

 “Yeah, probably,” Ron grumbled.

 

~

 

 Friday went by quickly enough. Their first class of the day was actually a weekly class called Literature, held with the Ravenclaws. It was taught by Professor Cheville, an elderly witch with a wrinkled brown face and a headscarf under her pointed hat – who came up from the nearby village of Hogsmeade every day to teach her classes.

 “’S’basically just to make sure we can read and write alright,” Ron explained uncertainly. He pointed at the stacks of ratty books around the classroom, copies enough for each of them, and the vases upon vases of all sorts of writing quills. “We read a few books, like The Tales of Beedle the Bard and other children’s stories, a few old songs, some newspaper articles – and write about them, I think? Fred and George said it’s really easy; they didn’t even have to pay attention-”

 “Like, wizard’s children stories?” Harry asked.

 “Yeah. Haven’t you-? You haven’t read Beedle the Bard? Really?”

 “No,” Harry admitted, then whispered excitedly. “It’s kind of like Wizard Studies, then.”

 As opposed to the Muggle Studies class he’d heard people mention a few times. Also: as opposed to History of Magic, which seemed about as useful to Harry as history that wasn’t about magic.

 “Um, I guess? Yeah, I guess it is,” Ron replied, seeming deeply perturbed at the prospect of being studied. Then, after several seconds of thoughtful silence, said, “…You really haven’t read Beedle the Bard before? Everyone has it read to them. Weird. I guess you were raised by Muggles and all.” 

 After their Literature class, which Harry had already begun referring to inwardly as Wizard Studies, they had Defence Against the Dark Arts again. Professor Quirrell’s second class wasn’t quite as miserable as his first, but it wasn’t much better.

 Listening to Quirrell stumble through an introductory lecture on the difference between different spell types – specifically curses, hexes, and jinxes – could have made for a decent enough class. Harry thought that Defence Against the Dark Arts probably could have been a very interesting subject, if they had a teacher who wasn’t afraid of his own shadow. Or if their teacher didn’t have a dark, rank classroom that seemed built specifically to split Harry’s focus and then spit Harry out with a minor headache by the end of it.

 It wasn’t as bad as last time, but Harry felt that it was still barely bearable. He left Defence rubbing the side of his head and wondering if he should start bringing an ice pack to class… or a great big clothespin so he could block off that garlic and incense stench.

 After class, at lunch, one of the Weasley twins took one whiff of Ron beside him and said, “Ugh. You lads smell like you just took a bath in rotten garlic and misery… or like you just had Defence.”

 Ron sniffed at his own robes and made a face. “Was he always like that?”

 “Quirrell?” said the first twin.

 “We wouldn’t know,” said the other. “We only started taking Muggle Studies this year.”

 “Got a nice witch named Burbage,” nodded first twin.

 “Smells like peppermint,” the other twin told them knowledgeably.

 “But don’t be too envious. We have class with Quirrell too.”

 “Smells like fear.”

 The first twin nodded and leaned in to whisper conspiratorially, “Have you noticed that there’s a funny smell hanging around his turban too?”

 “It’s stuffed full of garlic as well,” said the other twin knowingly. “So that Quirrell can be protected wherever he goes from that Romanian vampire that’ll be coming to get him one of these days.”

 Then the twins sat back and sighed.

 “We asked for their name, so we could send them directions.”

 “But alas, no luck.”

 Harry wouldn’t have said that he disliked Quirrell enough to hope the man was attacked by a vampire. But if he had to keep sitting in that stuffy classroom listening to Quirrell make magical fighting dreary, he thought that he might become increasingly amenable to the idea. Then they could take classes with Professor Feasance instead, who surely taught her classes in rooms with advanced amenities like ventilation and lights.

 “Does Quirrell not like Professor Feasance?” Harry asked.

 Both twins and Ron looked at Harry curiously.

 “Don’t think Quirrell is not afraid of anyone enough to not not like people,” the first twin said.

 “What gave you that impression?” the other twin asked.

 “…I dunno. He just mentioned her a few times today… as the other Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher,” Harry answered.

 Personally, Harry thought of Feasance the same way, while hoping that Feasance would interrupt the lesson again to give them some fresh air, but he’d kept remembering how Percy had corrected himself over the title and how even Feasance herself had outright insisted she wasn’t a Defence teacher. It seemed weird that Quirrell, her fellow teacher, wouldn’t remember that. Harry thought of Quirrell mostly as nervous and scared, but there was something different about it…

 “He said that she’d helped design a lot of the curriculum,” Harry continued. “It… sort of sounded like he was… terrified and dismissive of her plans?” There had been quite a bit of nervous laughter, although maybe that was because Quirrell just saw most of everything as a terrifying joke.

 “Think if Quirrell had his way, we’d be learning to stuff garlic down our pants,” the first twin said.

 “He was a bit like that during our classes too,” the other twin mused.

 “Maybe he’s jealous she’s not really in line to get jinxed,” Ron said, as he took a massive bite of his sandwich. Then, mouth-full, continued, “Tha’s s’mthin’ t’be scared ‘f.”

 “Jinxed?” Harry repeated.

 All of the Weasleys there looked at each other, then look back at him and leaned in again.

 “The Defence Against the Dark Arts position is jinxed,” the first twin said.

 “It’s been jinxed for years,” the other whispered.

 Ron, whose mouth was still full of sandwich, could only nod fervently in agreement.

 “No Defence teacher’s been able to keep the position for much more than a year,” the first twin continued. “Something always happens to them. Almost always something awful.”

 “No one’s died,” the other twin assured them.

 “Yet,” insisted the first.

 “Why hasn’t someone done something about it?” Harry asked.

 “They’ve tried,” said the first twin.

 “But there’s no proof.”

 “They can’t find any key or clue. So, it just looks like a line of really weird coincidences – strange strokes of awfully bad luck all keeping people from taking the position for too long.”

 “It’s not always deadly, though.”

 “Not literally. But they say the curse has a way of finding the one thing that’ll ruin someone.”

 “Brings all sorts of secrets out.”

 “And it might be worse if there’s no skeletons in the closet. Charlie says there was this awfully nice bloke who didn’t have any scandals and decided to come back for seconds. Then he got horrifically injured only a few days in.”

 “Yeah. It’s been tough on ol’ Dumbledore, having to find a new Defence teacher every year.”

 “But it’s been better with Professor Feasance.”

 “He would have had to find two.”

 Harry felt a little horrified and lost by this. The idea of a jinx on the job was bad enough. One that brought enough bad luck to potentially kill someone someday was worse. It was a bit like getting the unexpected news, not even an hour after stepping into Hogwarts, that there was an out-of-bounds corridor where people could potentially die a most painful death for taking a wrong turn.

 “How does Feasance avoid the jinx?” Ron said.

 The twins looked at each other and grinned slyly and knowingly.

 “Simple,” said the first twin.

 “She’s not a Defence teacher,” said the other.

 “She’s just a substitute teacher.”

 “Quirrell is the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher for all years and all classes.”

 “Feasance just happens to teach the classes he can’t make.”

 “You know, because he’s busy hiding under a bed…”

 “…stuffing garlic down his pants…”

 “…boarding up the windows of his classroom…”

 “…planning a jealous raid of Professor Mohammed’s fanciest turbans…” 

 “…coming down sick…”

 “…getting high…”

 “…or if he just doesn’t feel like going.”

 “And this just so happens to be the most, if not all, of the fifth, sixth, and seventh-year classes,” the first twin finished triumphantly. “Strange coincidence, that. Defence teachers keep skiving off their own classes and Professor Feasance has to fill in.”

 “That’s what she says herself, apparently,” the other twin told them, and then mimicked a high, breathy voice. “’It’s all a very strange coincidence that been going on since I started as a substitute teacher here. Not worth dwelling on, especially since I’m not a Defence teacher. Please be so kind as to open your textbooks now.’”

 “She does substitute for other classes too.”

 “But not often.”

 “Having to keep up with Quirrell’s relentless skiving is a busy job,” the first twin said, nodding.

 Harry wasn’t sure that he’d kept up with this, though it fit with what Percy had told him at the Welcoming Feast about Snape wanting the official position. “So… Feasance teaches Defence, but she’s not an official Defence teacher?” he asked.

 “Yup,” the other twin said.

 “Clever, innit?” said the first twin.

 “Huh,” Harry said.

 “So then she doesn’t get the jinx, but he does,” Ron said, thoughtfully. “Ouch. He’s probably not happy about having to take the brunt of such bad luck. I know I wouldn’t be.”

 The first twin nodded, then leaned in to say slyly, “But you can bet that if the curse ever does come for Professor Feasance, with her having been here so long, it’ll be really awful.” Which was apparently enough of a line-crosser to have his twin frown at him too, so he quickly added, “Not that we’re hoping that’ll happen, of course.”

 The other twin nodded, then laughed. “Do you remember what she said when we asked her about it?” He mimicked that high, breathy voice again and repeated, “‘Don’t you worry about me, boys. I’m far too young and pretty to die! Run along now!’”

 

Chapter Text

 Friday afternoon saw them off to two new classes, their last ones, both once-a-week classes. The first was called “The Study of Ancient Runes”, with a witch named Professor Kylver, who taught Ancient Runes to the first through fourth-years. But Harry could barely sit still through her first-day introduction, because the second class was Physical Education, also known as Magical Sports, which  Ron had said actually meant Flying.

 Their teacher even arrived to class on a broomstick. She introduced herself as Madam Hooch and Harry thought she even looked a bit like a bird of prey, with her sharp, pale face, bright yellow eyes, and short, spiky silver hair. She was dressed in leather flying gear, but overtop was a grey half-cape with a feathered pattern, which seemed to flutter like wings as she hovered over them, balancing effortlessly on her sleek, shiny broomstick.

 All of it made Harry feel like an awestruck mouse, desperate to have his own go, which made it very disappointing when Hooch dismounted and told them that they would not be flying today. Their flying lessons would begin next week, she announced, before she reminded them that first-years weren’t allowed their own broomsticks, then glared at them all like they ought to turn out their pockets and give up any broomsticks hidden on their persons immediately.

 About half of them groaned in disappointment, but the other half sighed in great relief.

 Harry didn’t know which one he felt.

 After that, Hooch swung her broomstick onto her shoulder and marched them out of the large courtyard, just by the Great Hall, where they’d met her. She took them for a long tour of the grounds for their first day, spending about half the time on the actual tour and the rest on a long, loud lecture about proper sportsmanship and school spirit.

 Madam Hooch oversaw extracurriculars at Hogwarts – supervising Quidditch practices and refereeing the Quidditch matches, of course, but she also assisted many of the school clubs, especially the competitive ones that didn’t have another staff supervisor. Like the Gobstones Club.

 There was going to be a club fair tomorrow, Hooch assured them, where they could go see which club suited them best. By her lecture, it was obvious Hooch believed there was a club for everyone. She said there was no better way of getting involved in the school or getting out to meet people, as though she couldn’t fathom not being immediately keen to go take on new responsibilities and meet complete strangers.

 Despite not getting to fly… and despite Gryffindor having this class with Slytherin… Harry still had a good time. The Hogwarts grounds were beautiful, even if it was a little cloudy out, and the outside of the castle wasn’t nearly so confusing as the inside. In fact, having a view of the castle from the outside made it make a bit more sense, with Hooch pointing out things like the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw towers, the greenhouses, and the Great Hall.

 Hooch also pointed out places Harry had been wanting to ask after, without knowing who to ask, and landmarks that Harry hadn’t known about before but was now glad to know to avoid.

 The Forbidden Forest, which they had only been brief warned off, seemed to loom ominously even in daytime. And the Whomping Willow wasn’t at all frightening until it very suddenly was, when Hooch conjured an animated paper bird to bother the branches, to demonstrate why there weren’t allowed near it. Suddenly the tall fence around just one tree made a lot more sense.

 After the Whomping Willow had torn the paper bird to shreds, and those shreds to shreds, Hooch turned to the paled first-years and said, “Any questions?”

 Why do you have a tree like that just sitting out on the grounds? Harry would have asked, if he had been the sort of person who asked questions of teachers. Since he wasn’t, and since Hooch had said that Professors Sprout and Wort looked after the tree, and since Harry had seen the marvellous greenhouses already, he didn’t ask this incredibly silly question. There was even a gate in the fence, with a sign that said:

No Entry

(Except on Plant-y Business)

 Among the things that Harry had wanted to after and would be going near were: the Owlery, the Quidditch pitch, and Groundskeeper Hagrid’s hut. In fact, when their tour and class were over, Harry and Ron turned right back around and headed toward Hagrid’s for tea.

 

~

 

Hagrid lived in a wooden house with a stone base and a stone chimney, right at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. It was a hut that had looked small when Hooch pointed it out, but turned out to be quite large when they reached the massive front door to knock. In hindsight, Harry didn’t know why he was surprised, since it made sense for Hagrid’s house to be Hagrid-sized. The crossbow and pair of galoshes, just next to the steps, were also Hagrid-sized.

 Harry and Ron jumped back from the door at the frantic scrabbling and barking, followed by Hagrid ordering something named “Fang” back. Hagrid had to hold this “Fang” back so Harry and Ron could cautiously come in.

 Fang turned out to be an enormous black boarhound, bigger than Harry, who like Hagrid quickly turned out to be not as fierce as he looked. The first thing Fang did, after Hagrid closed the door and released him, was snuffle through Harry’s hair and then lick Ron’s ears until they were red. When Harry and Ron had a seat at Hagrid’s insistence that they make themselves at home, Fang settled beside Harry’s seat to park his heavy head in Harry’s lap and soak his knees in drool.

 “Scratch behind his ears, he loves that, the big ol’ puppy,” Hagrid advised.

 Harry, who hadn’t been around many pets besides his Uncle Vernon’s sister’s awful dogs or Mrs. Figg’s many cats, took Hagrid’s advice. He was delighted when Fang nuzzled into his legs, tail thumping happily.

 The inside of Hagrid’s hut was very cosy. It had one floor and just three rooms. There was a small bedrooms, with a massive bed with a great quilt over it, and a small washroom, both with curtains in the doorways to close them off. Then there was the main room they were in now.

 The main room had the broad dining table where they were seated, a small kitchen were Hagrid was fixing tea and cakes, and a copper kettle boiling over the large fireplace. But it also had an enormous squashy armchair off to one side of the fireplace with a bag of knitting, a small bookshelf full of very large books, with a pair of reading glasses on top, and all sorts of interesting things scattered around and hanging from the ceiling. There were traps and cages and tools, as well as sacks of feed, fat baskets of vegetables, and hanging hams and pheasants.

 By the door, Harry noticed a large umbrella stand, where Hagrid’s pink umbrella sat proudly in the centre of its more colourful, less worn fellows.

 “This is Ron,” Harry told Hagrid, upon realizing he hadn’t introduced them, when the giant man came back to the table with the tea kettle, cups, and a plate full of rock cakes.

 “Another Weasley, eh?” said Hagrid, with just once glance at Ron’s red hair and freckles. “Feels like I’ve spent half my life chasin’ yer twin brothers fer some reason or another, then the rest of it keepin’ up with the all ye many Weasleys. How’re yer parents doing’?”

 “Fine,” Ron mumbles, and bit into a rock cake and winced.

 The rock cakes could have broken their teeth, so Harry and Ron pretended to enjoy them until they forgot all about tea and eating, in their excitement talking about their first week. Hagrid might not have been a great baker, but he was an attentive listener. He let them go on and on about their classes, and he had all sorts of insights to share about the castle and its teachers.

 Professor Flitwick, for example, was apparently a champion duellist. Professor McGonagall’s ability to turn into a cat made her an Animagus, one of only a handful registered in Britain, due to it being very advanced Transfiguration, and her brother was a veterinarian who regularly came around the Hogwarts grounds. Many professors had family living in the castle itself – like Professors Mohammed and Sprout’s wives, and Professor Mohammed even had his mother and young children around – and others had family living down in the village of Hogsmeade or farther.

 Hagrid’s insight on Filch was to call him a “grumpy old git”, which was very gratifying.

 When Harry told Hagrid about Black’s first lesson and the prank he’d played on them, Hagrid laughed loudly and was disappointed that the potion had worn off already. Ron, however, reached into his bag and revealed that he’d been carrying his tongue-dyeing potion around.

 “Never know when it could be useful,” Ron muttered, looking embarrassed. “Or when you could prank someone. I was trying to get Fred and George earlier. Didn’t work.”

 Hagrid laughed louder and insisted that Ron put some in the tea for them. They then had a very merry time showing off their rainbow tongues to each other, until Fang became curious, plonked his massive paws on the table, and helped himself to some of Harry’s tea before Hagrid could shout and shove the dog off. Harry was worried at first, but Hagrid just laughed as Fang’s tongue lolled out bright purple.

 “Might have good use fer that,” Hagrid chuckled. “I’ll always know when the dog’s been in where he shouldn’t be.”

 “Yeah, but it won’t work if it never wears off,” Harry said, eyeing the slobber on his teacup dubiously. Hagrid laughed again before he went to fetch Harry a new cup, which ended up being a Hagrid-sized cup, because Hagrid didn’t have many normal-sized cups. It was nearly as big as Harry’s head, but that was sort of amazing, and Harry insisted it was fine.

 However, when Harry told Hagrid about Black’s second lesson, about Snape’s interruption and apparent dislike of Harry, Hagrid didn’t agree with Harry’s assessment. Both Ron and Hagrid told him not to worry, because Snape liked hardly any of the students… or even the other staff. Hagrid told them firmly, as he puttered about doing nothing, that Snape had no reason to dislike Harry especially.

 Still, Harry couldn’t help thinking Hagrid was taking great care not to meet their eyes.

 “Ye’ll like takin’ lessons with Black,” Hagrid continued instead. “Surprisingly decent bloke, in th’ end. Had this joke, when he started, that it took both him and Snape to replace ol’ Slughorn because Slughorn was worth the both of ‘em combined – in skill an’ size. Made ol’ Slughorn laugh with that one.”

 “So… is it a new development, then? Two teachers per subject?” Harry said.

 “Fer some classes. Having ‘em all official-like is new; happened when some of those new classes and changes came ‘round. Most of ‘em have always had assistants or apprentices ‘round the place anyway, or always need at least two people about jus’ to keep a handle on things. Like Herbology with Sprout ‘n’ Wort – and then Bertie and her bunch out on the farms – or Care o’ Magical Creatures, with ol’ Kettleburn and Grubbly-Plank. I help ‘em out a lot even then.”

 “Prefect Camille Hewley said that you’re the next best thing to a Care of Magical Creatures professor,” Harry reported. “Better even, because you don’t even need a wand to look after them.”

 Hagrid flushed bright red under all his hair. “Every creature’s got a way t’ them,” he mumbled bashfully, but he looked very pleased as he sat back down. “Jus’ hafta know how to speak so they can understand. Nice girl, Camille – always liked her – see her in th’ Care club. Speaking of: how’s yer brother Charlie, Ron? I liked him a lot too – great with animals – before he skipped on out.”

 “He’s in Romania now, working with dragons,” Ron said proudly, perhaps because Harry had told him that Hagrid liked dragons so much.

 Unsurprisingly, Hagrid’s eyes lit up at the mention of dragons. He managed to become an even more avid listener than before, as Ron told him everything he knew about this dragon reserve and the work there. Harry tried to listen attentively, but he faded out as Ron and Hagrid began rattling off dragon breeds he’d never heard of before. Harry didn’t know what a Hungarian Horntail was and he doubted he would ever see one, since he had no plans of ever visiting Hungary.

 Instead, Harry leaned down to scratch behind Fang’s ears again, where the dog had resettled against his legs, and he noticed a piece of paper on the floor underneath the table. The words “GRINGOTTS BREAK-IN LATEST” caught his eye and, retrieving it, Harry realized it was a cut-out article from the Daily Prophet newspaper.

 “What’s that there, Harry?” Hagrid said.

 “The Gringotts break-in happened on my birthday!” Harry said, surprised, as he read the short article. Ron had mentioned on the train that someone had tried to steal from Gringotts, but Harry hadn’t known the date. “It might have been happening while we were there!”

 “Really?” Ron said excitedly. “Oh, happy birthday, by the way!”

 “Thanks,” Harry replied uncertainly. How long was it acceptable to accept birthday wishes?

 When Harry looked at Hagrid again, he decided Hagrid definitely wasn’t meeting their eyes on purpose. “Glad not to be caught in that,” Hagrid said gruffly. “Goblin protections are a nasty business.”

 “Yeah,” Ron agreed, leaning over to have his own look. “Bill says so, and that being a suspect in a goblin investigation might be-” He squinted at the paper. “What’s it saying?”

 “It says that the vault in question was emptied earlier the same day.”

 “Maybe the goblins just weren’t bothering with it, and that’s how the thief got so far.”

 “Maybe,” Harry said, watching Hagrid carefully.

 Hagrid had emptied Vault 713 of that grubby package, all wrapped up in brown paper and string. Had that been what the thief wanted? Hagrid had gone with a letter from Professor Dumbledore and had said it was worth more than his job to tell Harry. Where was that package now?

 Harry didn’t ask and Hagrid didn’t tell them. Hagrid offered them more rock cakes and they pretended they were too full for more, and Harry slipped the article up his sleeve to look over later. Hagrid changed the subject from bank robberies to Hogwarts in the coming months, which ended up being about the Halloween Feast and how Hagrid’s pumpkins were always the highlight of the meal.

 Hagrid insisted on showing them his pumpkin patch, and they noticed as soon as they stepped outside that it was getting quite late. The shadows of the Forbidden Forest had gotten very long and were breathing out the beginning of an evening chill. They’d talked the afternoon away.

 “Blimey, dinner must have already started! You two better run off back now!”

 Harry was hungry, but he was rather loath to leave Hagrid’s. “Can we come back sometimes?” he asked nervously. Hagrid was the only other friend Harry had at Hogwarts. “To see the pumpkins?”

 Hagrid beamed at him. “Of course!” he boomed. “How ‘bout next Friday? Same time? Tell me all about yer second week at Hogwarts!”

 Harry beamed back and looked at Ron, who shrugged. “Sounds good to me.”

 They bid Hagrid and Fang farewell and hurried back to the castle. One of Harry’s hands was holding his bag over his shoulder, but his other hand was clutching the cut-out article he’d hidden up his sleeve. Maybe next week he’d be able to ask Hagrid more about the Gringotts break-in and the curious package that had been in Vault 713.

 

~

 

 Harry had hoped that Saturday morning would free them from Percy Weasley’s early morning wake-up call, but his hopes were cheerfully dashed by their fifth-year prefect. Percy designed to wake them a full half-hour later, in respect for their first day without classes, but it didn’t feel like it.

 Harry dragged his feet getting out of bed, while Ron cursed again. Meanwhile, Dean Thomas buried his face under his pillows rebelliously, Seamus Finnigan crawled under his bed itself to escape the morning, and Neville Longbottom yawned so fiercely as he stood up that he fell over onto Harry’s bed beside his and immediately back to sleep. He was very blearily apologetic when Harry poked him awake again.

 Since they didn’t have classes, they could dress however they liked, Percy assured them. Even though he was wearing the same freshly pressed uniform that he always was, with his prefect badge pinned in its place of honour on his chest. So, Ron rummaged trousers and a cosy jumper with a faded R on it, just a bit too small for him, out of his trunk. Dean changed into a West Ham football jersey and jeans, and Neville changed into his own robes, but Seamus just pulled on his school uniform from the day before and called it good. Harry took one look at his oversized Dursley hand-me-downs and stuck to his uniform as well.

 It was surprisingly crowded when they got to the Gryffindor common room. Percy Weasley had gotten into a row with one of the twins and sent them on ahead to the girls. All the girls were wearing their own clothing, including Camille – the fat blonde girl’s prefect badge was pinned to casual red robes – who was dozing on the sofa. Hermione Granger was the only one wearing obviously Muggle clothing, in her t-shirt, cardigan, and jeans.

 “Er, Camille?” Neville said nervously. “We don’t have class today, do we?”

 “Hmm? What? Oh, no,” Camille assured them, then yawned so strongly that everyone else yawned too. Then she nodded off into the sofa again, mumbling, “No classes on weekends, ‘cept on really special occasionsss… zzz…”

 “The club fair is happening today,” Hermione Granger informed them, her chin held high as she stifled her own yawn. “It starts after breakfast and it’s going to be going on all day.” She frowned at all of them, but seemingly Harry and Ron especially. “Honestly, weren’t you listening to Madam Hooch’s lecture at all yesterday?”

 Ron glowered at her, while Harry tried to resist the chain of yawns going around the room.

 “Camille!” Percy Weasley cried, aghast, as he joined them. “Don’t fall back asleep! Gryffindor needs more than one prefect representing them at the fair and no one else will be downstairs for at least another hour! Brigg, Sherry, Kiddell, and Quincy all refused to-”

 “I’m awake! I was up late preparing stuff for the Care of Magical Creatures table,” Camille complained, and hauled herself up. “Alright, let’s get going, everyone.”

 Breakfast wasn’t much different, save for being a little later and for the air of excitement chattering around them. They followed this feeling and their prefects out into the Main Courtyard, where club representatives had set up or were still setting up tables with bright and informative displays. Animated paper planes whizzed over their heads, trailing small banners, lights bobbed on invisible strings, and a pair of puppets appeared to be fencing fiercely on a tightrope above one booth. Harry could hear several different kinds of music playing from somewhere nearby, and with animal-like bleating occasionally interrupting.

 After Percy and Camille released them, Harry and Ron wandered the line of tables in wonder, admittedly more interested in the magical displays than the clubs themselves. The club representatives, many of whom appeared to be dressed in their best robes and hats, or very bright matching shirts, were either extremely keen or seemed to be doing their best impressions of turtles. Out of politeness to all of them, Harry soon himself holding an entire stack of brochures, cards, and other bright and informative invitations – many of which had moving pictures and several of which shouted in squeaky voices, sang, or made incredibly irritating jingling noises – without really knowing how he’d gotten them all.

 Thankfully, among them was a printed schedule of the fair with a map on the back. At the end of the first line of tables, Harry and Ron escaped the thickening crowd and found a nice, out-of-the-way bench behind one of the booths, where they were free to look it all over and decide what to do.

 “There’s a Quidditch demonstration in the afternoon, with a meet-and-greet with some of the captains and players,” Ron said eagerly. “Fred and George said that the Quidditch Club organizes pick-up games every Saturday afternoon, even for people who don’t make the teams and for people who don’t have their own broomsticks- oh, it says here that first-years need permission from Madam Hooch to participate.”

 “That’s rough,” Harry said, as he sorted through his stack. He finally found the card that was singing and said disbelievingly, “Hogwarts has a choir?”

 “Yeah, um, I think there’s…” Ron flipped through the map and schedule again, frowning. “They’re going to be singing just after lunch. One? No, two. No, yeah, one. I think Fred and George looked into it once, but that might’ve been for a prank? Or they’ve got friends in it. I dunno who runs it.”

 “Professor Flitwick, it says here,” Harry supplied.

 The students pictured on the card, who were the ones singing, were holding enormous toads. These toads were advertised as a selling point and students with toad familiars were apparently especially welcome, which made Harry wonder if he should pass the card on to Neville.

 There seemed to be a counterpart club for just about every class at Hogwarts, from Transfiguration to Math… and so on and so forth. Harry thought that he was having enough trouble keeping up with his classes as it was. He didn’t know nearly enough about any subject to consider joining a club focused on it.

 “Some of them are kind of like study clubs for that subject anyway,” Ron assured him. “They’re not usually run by the teachers; they’re run by anxious upper-years like Percy… or by people who are proper nutters for it like Charlie. No offense to Camille. I think Bill was part of the Ancient Runes and Astronomy ones when he was in school.”

 Harry nodded, now having most of the Weasley family in order in his head. He was still helplessly lost when Ron began mentioning cousins, but he had the siblings in order.

 “And the twins might be part of the Potions club? Sometimes? They might’ve been kicked out, if they were ever officially part of it. I think they tried to start their own club once, with their friend Lee? But that might’ve been a prank too. It’s usually all a joke with them.”

 Harry read off some of the more notable clubs off the cards and map, like the Art Club with Professor Ting, the Farming Club with Madam Beery, the Book Club with Professor Cheville from their Literature class, or the Linguists Club with one of the librarians. And those were just a handful of the ones related to a subject and supervised by a staff member. There were clubs for students of various religious backgrounds to meet and pray together, some of which were supervised by a staff member and some which were not; and then there were student-run clubs unrelated to school subjects. Harry shuffled through advertisements for a Cooking Club, a Pet Enthusiasts Club, a Knitting Club, and many, many more.

 No wonder Hooch was insistent they would find something.

 “Do we have to join a club?”

 Some of them sounded kind of interesting, but Harry couldn’t really do most of these things, so it didn’t feel like he had any business joining. The only one that seemed feasible was the Cooking Club. Besides, it was an overwhelming list, and Harry no idea where he was supposed to fit all this between his classes and schoolwork.

 “No, but Percy might bother me if I don’t join at least one,” Ron said with a grimace. Then he glanced at the next club card in Harry’s hand and made another face. “Merlin, what the hell is that?”

 It was a very, very glittery card, covered in flashing hearts and stars, with the club name written in a different colour of glitter and nearly unreadably swirly script. It had a photograph of a handsome blond wizard, who kept grinning dashingly and blowing kisses at them, and the card kept sighing wistfully. Harry felt uncomfortable just holding it and dropped it between them, then was horrified to find that his hand was covered in the glitter from the card.

 “The Gilderoy Lockhart Book Club, apparently,” he said.

 “Oh. Ugh. Mum should join that.”

 Harry didn’t know who Gilderoy Lockhart was and didn’t care. He tried to shake the glitter off his hand to no avail. He picked up the brochure for something called the Holyhead Harpies Fan Club and tried to use it as a handkerchief, but that only made the Quidditch player on the cover scowl at him for making her all glittery too.

 Ron laughed at him, so Harry, scowling, reached over and smeared the glitter all over Ron’s face. Ron gaped at him, then grabbed the card and lunged to smear it all over Harry’s face. They wrestled over it. Only they both ended up very glittery, so no one won.

 In the end, Ron decided to go find the Chess Club and see what that was about. Unable to decide on anything for himself, Harry just decided to follow Ron.

 The problem was that, when Harry and Ron tried to step back into the fair, it was much more crowded than before. All the booths had been set up, all the club representatives had arrived, and the school was properly awake now. There were enormously distracting, flashing posters full of moving people and creatures. There were tables that broke into fanfares or spat confetti whenever anyone made the mistake of going near them. It was a minefield of trampling herds and older students’ elbows and overeager spokespeople.

 And many of these representatives, from the Gobstones Club to the Charms Club, seemed extremely keen to entice the famous, literally glittering Boy-Who-Lived into their club.

 “Er, sorry,” Harry found himself saying to one of them, who had begun waxing poetic and perhaps getting slightly teary-eyed about reaching some World Tournament with Harry among them. “I’ve never actually played Gobstones before.”

 To another, Harry had to say, “No, I don’t actually know any spells for defeating Dark Lords.”

 And to another, “I’m all that keen on riddles, actually. Thanks.”

 When it seemed like they wouldn’t reach the Chess Club’s table before lunch, Harry started getting desperate. He was having trouble mustering up any more politeness. He said things like:

 “Oh, that’s nice. I’m late meeting a friend, though, so goodbye.”

 “Interesting. Say, what’s that thing over there?”

 “No, I’ve never heard of dogs before, sorry.”

 When one particularly determined club representative looked like he was coming around for a fifth time, Harry didn’t looked where he was going as he shoved through the crowd to get away. He walked right into someone. Mumbling an apology, Harry froze when he looked up into the surprised face of Professor Black.

 Harry felt himself flush in horror, as he realized that not only was he still covered in glitter from that awful card, but he’d gotten glitter all over the front of Black’s green robes as well.

 “Potter, have you given it another thought yet-?!” shouted his pursuer.

 Harry winced before he could help it. Black’s surprise disappeared as he looked behind Harry.

 “Ah, persistent, are they?” he said quietly, and stepped neatly in front of Harry. “Carry on, Mister Potter, although perhaps subtler decoration next time?” Then he raised his voice and said, “Mister Beamish, on the hunt for new recruits, I see. Might I suggest willing candidates? I imagine they would be the most amenable.”

 Harry took the opportunity to flee after Ron, who’d finally managed to find his club.

 The booth of the Wizard’s Chess Club was thankfully in a corner out of the way. Their display was a little dull, with little more than a stand covered in newspaper clippings, photographs of the club in previous years, and photographs of tournament champions from Hogwarts holding trophies, but they had set up some chess boards and tables for prospective members to have a go. Only, it seemed that the two club representatives had accidentally gotten distracted playing their own match while waiting, and Ron had to poke one of them to get their attention.

 “What? What? Can’t you see we’re in the middle of something here?” the poked one snapped.

 “She was just about to make her move!” the other one complained. “Oh, wait, Cassandra, they might be new club members. Hello! I’m Vice-President Arnold Alderton and this is Club President Cassandra Ling!” Then he checked his watch and muttered, “Oh my god, is that the time?! How long have we-?”

 Cassandra Ling ignored him and squinted suspiciously at them. “Why are you sparkling? No, wait, never mind. The important thing is whether you can play. Can you play?”

 Ron puffed up his chest. “Yeah, I can.”

 Harry looked down at the magical chess pieces, which squinted back at him, and said, “I’m with him.” 

 Harry spent the rest of the morning hiding with the Wizard’s Chess Club, being soundly and repeatedly defeated by Arnold Alderton. Meanwhile Ron and President Cassandra Ling, who featured in many of the displayed photographs, played a match so intense that their pieces cracked the board in the carnage. Cassandra and Arnold seemed incredibly pleased by this destruction and, after Cassandra had won by a murderous margin, invited Ron to join their club immediately.

 They extended an invitation to Harry as well, very certain that he could only get better.

 “Doesn’t hurt to have someone new to keep the confidence up,” Cassandra added, like this was the compliment that it wasn’t. She seemed a little confused when Arnold sighed, and when Harry and Ron excused themselves to go eat lunch instead of playing another match.

 After lunch, Harry and Ron knew better than to wander around where the club representatives could see Harry. They snuck around to watch the choir performances and gaped from a distance at the animated figurines the Care of Magical Creatures club had made, some of which were a little lopsided but still roared or whinnied very fiercely. Then they slipped off to the pitch to watch the Quidditch demonstration, which was mostly the Quidditch players – including and especially the Weasley twins – performing increasingly dangerous flying tricks. At least until Madam Hooch ordered them all out the air before they “got themselves killed outside of a proper match”!

 There wasn’t much going on after that, so Harry and Ron went back to Gryffindor Tower to try and wash off the glitter. They mostly succeeded. Then they settled into the common room sofas by the fireplace, talking excitedly about the flying demonstration, and Ron told Harry all about the time he’d nearly hit a Muggle hang-glider on Charlie’s old broomstick.

 They were left alone until Hermione Granger came back to the tower, her arms full of brochures and cards, and looked down her nose at them. “Did you two even go to the club fair?”

 “Yeah,” Ron glowered. “We went.”

 “Well? What clubs did you join?” she demanded. “Don’t tell me you didn’t join any.”

 “We joined the Chess Club,” Harry answered, still unhappy at being so disapproved of. He didn’t see why she cared how he and Ron spent their time outside of classes, so long as they weren’t getting into trouble. It wasn’t any of her business.

 “What clubs did you join? All of them, looks like,” Ron said, then snorted. “When are you going to have the time to do your homework?”

 Hermione Granger seemed to flush at this. “For your information, I have a planner that keeps me on top of everything. You ought to get one, if you want to stay on top of our classes as well. And, for your information, I joined the Transfiguration Club, the Charms Club, the Herbology Club, the Potions Club, the Ancient Runes Club, the-”

 “Bloody hell, forget I asked.”

 Hermione flushed further at the interruption. “Well, at least I’m making an effort to be involved in this school instead of… instead of sitting back and doing nothing!” she said hotly, and stomped off toward the dormitories.

 Several club brochures fluttered behind her as we went, as she lost her grip on them. The tall witch in the painting over the fireplace looked sternly at Ron and Harry, like she thought Hermione Granger’s upset was all their fault. Ron didn’t notice and just shook his head after the girl.

 “We’ve got seven years to figure it out,” he scoffed. “It’s not like we’re going nothing. It’s just that we’re not trying to do it all at once like she is.” 

 

Chapter Text

 The weekend passed without any more fanfare or glitter. Sunday morning, Harry and Ron trooped out to the Owlery to visit Hedwig, and Sunday afternoon, they did all of the homework they hadn’t yet done for Monday. They even did most of the homework for Tuesday as well, while they were in the library and working, and they felt very proud of themselves for it.

 Unfortunately, their pride didn’t last very long. Because the teachers of Hogwarts had apparently come to some secret agreement: that the second week was when they were to start their classes in earnest and, correspondingly, to start piling on the homework.

 McGonagall, in their first period Transfiguration class on Monday, warned them to spend their study periods wisely. She implied that they ought to be starting the homework she gave out that day later that same day. Harry and Ron – who had yet to completely finish their homework for tomorrow – and most of their classmates had been appropriately horrified, but Hermione Granger had nodded in agreement and given the rest of them a very smug look.

 In their Care of Magical Creatures class that afternoon, they were lectured on the creatures they would be meeting next week – a special, local breed of sheep called the Hogswool, from the Hogwarts farm, which was not very thrilling – and assigned more homework.

 They spent the time in between meeting the other Care of Magical Creatures teacher, Professor Kettleburn. Professor Kettleburn was an excitable white-haired wizard with one eye, one arm, a gleaming prosthetic leg that seemed to have been gnawed on at least once, and an enormous moustache that curled that the ends. He was the wizard who had been animatedly talking to Hagrid at the Welcoming Feast, so Harry wasn’t surprised to find out that he taught Care of Magical Creatures to the third through fifth years, when it became an elective class.

 Professor Grubbly-Plank glared disapprovingly at Kettleburn, chewing her pipe, as he told a cheerfully gruesome story about the loss of his eye as a much younger man and how it really hadn’t been the creature’s fault. At the end of the lesson, she assigned them their homework with a tone that suggested if they didn’t do it properly, they’d somehow end up like Professor Kettleburn and his handful of remaining limbs.  

 Between that and the few extra problems that Professor Scalar had assigned with their homework earlier that morning after Transfiguration, everyone was very alarmed.

 Harry and Ron spent their fifth period Study Hall in the library. And it was to their great despair the following day, no matter how incredibly interesting some of their homework was, that the rest of the week seemed like it would be following suit. It looked like they would be spending a great many study periods actually studying.

 Professor Sprout joyfully referred to this uptick in the workload as “finally getting their hands dirty!” Which was meant very literally in Herbology. She had them replanting some sort of magical pansies, which involved a lot of coaxing and gentle handling because the flowers cried and clung desperately to their old pots. Harry was glad not to be risking being eaten by vegetables, but disappointed that most of his previous gardening experience seemed to be rather useless.

 The first-years’ homework schedules even had to contend with a special Introduction to Astronomy lecture on Wednesday night. They were fortunately not starting a new midnight class with this event, it took place just after dark and the teacher simply wished to introduce herself and the sort of magic she taught, in preparation for future years and to urge them to join the Astronomy Club.

 Her name was Professor Sinistra, she was the willowy witch Harry had seen around with the fancy hats that had floating pieces. Though she seemed nice enough and the rituals she demonstrated were as wondrous as anything else, Harry blearily decided that had no desire to stay up all hours of the night and spend them shivering atop on the Astronomy Tower. He had important homework to do. He had important sleep to do.

 Professors Flitwick and Black both seemed terribly amused by the frequent yawning of all the first-years on Thursday morning. Before class, Black advised them in future years to try and take a nap the afternoon before Astronomy or in the mornings after his class.

 “Just please cover your mouth when you yawn,” Black said drolly. Then, more seriously, added, “However, if you ever do truly feel too tired or dizzied to participate in the brewing parts of class, let me know immediately and we’ll make other arrangements. It’s one of the many unbendable rules of my classroom. Brewing while tired or sick rarely ends well.”

 He looked off into the distance in memory, out the classroom windows over the Herbology greenhouses, and said, “I can attest through the personal experiences of my own intrepid schooldays that watching someone nod off face-first into their own boiling cauldron is quite the unpleasant sight.” Then he grimaced and looked back at his clipboard. “I don’t particularly wish to see that again, if you would be so kind as to oblige me. Thank you.”

 And then he took register, leaving them all to imagine what horrible things might have befallen this unnamed student. Everyone was very relieved when that lesson turned out to be on the various dangers of different ingredients – in handling and combining them. Harry certainly never wanted to see someone’s face melt off.

 

~

 

 Harry ended up being very glad that he hadn’t tried to join any extra clubs, because he seemed to spend all his free time during their second week either doing his homework or wandering around the castle trying to find his way.

 The sixth and seventh-year Gryffindor prefects had outvoted Percy Weasley over the weekend, deciding that the first-years ought to start getting themselves out of bed and finding their own way around now. Seventh-year Prefect Brigg had delivered this news to them on Monday very smugly.

 (However, this hadn’t stopped Percy from secretly ducking in in the mornings to rebelliously wake them up anyway, to many sleepy groans around Harry’s dormitory.)

 Fortunately, with spiteful smugness of their own in the face of Brigg’s, Harry and Ron now had a good idea of where they were going. So long as they didn’t try to go anywhere new, didn’t try to take any different routes, and didn’t get misdirected, they could get around Hogwarts just fine.

 Unfortunately, the key there was so long as they didn’t get misdirected. The worst part about trying to get around without a prefect was, without doubt, the resident poltergeist, Peeves. The Bloody Baron reportedly might have been the only one Peeves listened to or feared, but all the prefects had been relatively able to avoid him or warn him off. And though groups were usually fine – as were teachers, who reported that nothing they had done had ever managed to permanently banish the poltergeist – there was no one Peeves seemed to like scaring more than “ickle little firsties”.

 Peeves made a menacing show of going to grab at their legs on the staircases to frighten them (he never actually did, though, he just approached them slowly while cackling hysterically), he emptied rubbish bins and buckets of water on top of their heads, he slammed doors in their faces, and he followed them around singing terribly annoying and rude songs at the top of his lungs. And that was just the beginning of the list. Sometimes, he would even jump out from behind tapestries and suits of armour, grab their noses, and scream, “GOT YOUR CONK!” This was apparently his favourite trick to play and it quickly, after only one frightening incident, became Harry’s least favourite trick to have played on him.

 Peeves was the scourge of first-years late to class everywhere. In this second week, the poltergeist had managed to make Harry and Ron lost and late to class twice, which lost them their first House points. Hemione Granger had glowered at them something awful for this offense, but she needn’t have, because Harry had felt awful enough about it all by himself.

 In general, their second week was much like their first and quite enjoyable. Though not all of it was terrible exciting and excitingly magical, it was still so delightfully different. (What cheered Harry up even more than the thought that the Dursleys would have hated everything about Hogwarts was that he didn’t have to think about the Dursleys at all if he didn’t want to.) Harry had never imagined that he would actually have fun doing some of his homework before.

 But Peeves, who had actually made up a terrible little song about the “famous” Harry Potter, wasn’t the only one out there who seemed to live to bother the “Boy-Who-Lived”. The frequent staring and whispering in the hallways was bad enough, but Harry seemed to have collected more enemies than he might have hoped. It was only his second week, but Peeves made three of them.

 Nelson Brigg, the male seventh-year Gryffindor prefect whom Ron had told on, was one of these people who obviously had it out for Harry. He didn’t seek Harry out or anything, but he seemed to be making a petty habit of making Harry and Ron dodge out of his way when they passed him, or to block their path just to make them take a few steps to go around him, and it was very clear the only sort of help he would give them was right into a dead end. The only time Brigg wasn’t frowning at Harry was when he was ignoring him, or when had barked in laughter at Harry for coming into the tower soaking wet, courtesy of Peeves and a soapy bucket of water.

 But… the last of Harry’s enemies was far less ignorable than the nuisance of Prefect Brigg, the annoyingness of the staring, or even the scourge and terror that was Peeves. Harry hadn’t thought that he could hate any boy so much as he hated his cousin Dudley, but Draco Malfoy seemed to be doing his best to prove Harry wrong.

 Also, to get back at Harry for getting him trouble in Potions last week.

 While Malfoy never dared to try anything inside the Potions classroom again, the corridors themselves were fair game to him. As was the Great Hall. As were Charms, Ancient Runes, and their Magical Sports classes – all of which Gryffindor had with the Slytherins. Malfoy threw papers and insults constantly, at both Harry and Ron, and whatever poor Gryffindor first-year happened to catch his attention. Whoever the target, Malfoy’s awful cronies and a few of the like-minded Slytherins were always ready to back him up with chorus of snickering.

 Like how on Wednesday at supper, Malfoy had gloated loudly when his eagle owl brought him yet another package of sweets and a letter from home. Harry, meanwhile, hadn’t had a single piece of mail since Hagrid’s note, and Malfoy had been gleefully quick to draw comparison between them.

 Harry did his best to ignore Malfoy. Even though it was awfully tempting to try and give back as good as he got, or to just give the prat a bloody nose. Harry tried to distract himself and keep his hopes up all through their second week by looking desperately forward to Friday – to the flying lesson that had been promised to him last week. Harry wanted to fly more than anything else.

 But so, it seemed, did Draco Malfoy.

 In the lead-up to their Friday lesson, Malfoy seemed to talk about nothing but flying. He frequently listed all the broomsticks he’d ever owned – which had always been the nicest and most exclusive of the time – and his esteemed opinions of their merits. He complained loudly and often about first-years never getting on the House Quidditch teams, about first-years not even being allowed their own broomsticks, and about first-years even needing permission to take part in casual games.

 Not that Malfoy would be participating in “meaningless bandying-about with amateurs”, he assured them all, if only because he thought it would be pitifully unfair to everyone else.

 After having to listen to yet another of Malfoy’s long, boastful stories at lunch on Thursday – another story in which Malfoy had apparently narrowly escaped Muggles in helicopters – Harry was feeling terribly foul about the flying lessons he’d been so excited for. After their Thursday afternoon classes, Harry and Ron attended the first meeting of the Wizard’s Chess Club, which consisted of about a dozen people playing chess matches in an unused classroom full of long tables. And Harry’s glumness was so strong that Ron noticed, even despite the powerful distraction of a chess match with the Hufflepuff second-year he’d been matched up with.

 Ron, ironically, tried to cheer Harry up by mentioning their flying lesson tomorrow.

 “Yeah, it’s just what I always wanted,” Harry replied darkly, head and crossed arms on the table, watching two pawns engage in what was essentially a slap fight. “Can’t wait to make a fool of myself on a broomstick in front of Malfoy.”

 “You don’t know you’ll make a fool out of yourself, Harry. I bet you’ll do just fine,” Ron assured him quickly. “And I bet Malfoy’s all talk too, about how good he is at Quidditch. He’s such a git. Even if he could get anyone to play with him, he probably bullied them into letting him win… or got his father to bully them into letting him win.”

 Harry considered this. Malfoy did boast about his father an awful lot.

 “Besides, even if you are awful, you can’t possibly be worse than Neville,” Ron said comfortingly, after a quick look-around to make sure the room was clear. It was, since none of the other Gryffindor first-years had joined the Chess Club.

 Harry being at least better than Neville was probably true. Much like Harry and Dean Thomas, Neville Longbottom had also never been on a broomstick in his life. Yet despite having been born into a magical family, he was by far the most nervous of them. It was like Neville thought that his formidable and frequently mentioned grandmother, who had never let him near a broomstick before, might pop out from behind a tapestry and berate him soundly if he so much as touched a broom. She seemed to have impressed upon him a ridiculously long list of the many gruesome accidents that could befall a person while flying, which Neville had stutteringly repeated for them over breakfast today.

 “Hopefully,” Harry agreed, having been of the private opinion that Neville’s Gran might’ve had the right idea for her grandson. Neville Longbottom had an extraordinary number of accidents with both his feet on the ground, so maybe he was right to be so extraordinarily nervous all the time.

 Ron and Seamus Finnigan – the latter of whom had also apparently spent most of his childhood zipping around on a broomstick – had done their very best to convince Neville that broomsticks weren’t out to murder their riders. No one made broomsticks like that. Neville’s broomstick, therefore, wouldn’t go out of control and try to viciously impale him or anything like that.

 Neville had nodded politely through all of it, entirely unconvinced.

 “I bet you’re better than Granger too,” Ron said with a scowl.

 It definitely hadn’t helped Neville that, right after Ron and Seamus’ assurances, Hermione Granger had jumped in with an “actually” and her own list of terrible and mysterious accidents that had befallen people on broomsticks. Being almost as nervous as Neville about flying, which was a rather extraordinary feat, she had apparently been reading about Quidditch and the history of magical flight. Harry wished she hadn’t, because all these stories hadn’t helped his own nerves either. No amount of “helpful” flying tips she’d repeated for them could make up for the abridged version of A Murder in Flight: Crowe’s History of Flying Gone Horribly Wrong.

 “Flying isn’t something you can just memorize and learn out of a bloody book,” Ron scoffed, as he nudged one of his chess pieces forward. Ignoring his opponent’s scowl in favour of Harry’s stricken look, Ron was quick to add, “But it’s not that hard, Harry. Really. Once you learn how to do it, you never forget. I bet everything will go just fine for you.”

 

~

 

 Many things happened that Friday.

 Friday morning, Neville received something called a Remembrall from his Gran, which was supposed to help him out by telling him when he’d forgotten something. Malfoy stole it, briefly, before McGonagall, striding by at just the right moment, forced him to return it. Then the Gryffindor first-years went off to Literature and Defence, and some less important things happened there.

 Harry spent lunch not being sure whether it had been Quirrell’s classroom or his own flying nerves making him feel ill. Ron said it was probably both, then passed Harry a cold drink to press to his forehead, which helped.

 Friday afternoon, they had their weekly Ancient Runes class – which was an introduction to etymology this week – and then they all trooped outside into the clear, breezy day. Instead of going all the way out to the Quidditch pitch, their first flying lesson was taking place in a grassy field just outside of the castle, which was apparently close to the school’s Hospital Wing. Which was a precaution Harry didn’t actually know if he found reasonable and reassuring or rather the opposite.

 Dean and Seamus had been working hard to talk Neville’s nerves down all day and, initially, it actually looked like they were succeeding. But then the Slytherins joined them and Malfoy, never one to miss an opportunity to mock anyone, had loudly reminded all of them that today was a Friday the Thirteenth. Then proceeded to predict just how badly Neville’s flying might go, calling around for wagers. Neville had looked like he might faint, and all of Gryffindor glowered at Malfoy while the awful git and his cronies snickered at how scared Neville and some of the more superstitious or nervous Gryffindors students like Lavender Brown or Hermione Granger looked.

 Madam Hooch joined them before Harry’s urge to knock Malfoy’s nose in could win out. Much to the horror of the nervous flyers among them, Hooch left no opportunity for them to opt-out of their flying lesson. If they had nerves, Madam Hooch’s brisk commands seem to say, then they ought to keep them to themselves and just get over them, then get on with hovering high in the air on a flimsy stick. What she actually said was that flying was something all witches and wizards ought to be able to do, but Harry heard everything else in the way she said it.

 While the flying lesson began alright, it quickly went badly. Against all of their reassurances, Neville almost immediately lost control of his broomstick, broke his arm, and had to be marched off to the Hospital Wing by Madam Hooch.

 It hadn’t actually been all that spectacular. Neville had kicked off too early (before a stunned Madam Hooch had given them any instructions whatsoever past getting on the broom), clutched his broomstick to his chest tightly in fear, and accidentally shot straight up into the air, high and fast, and then slipped off and fell. He had landed hard – with a painful THUMP – while his broomstick drifted off towards the Forbidden Forest and out of sight without him.

 Then Hooch had hurriedly picked him off the ground, his face bright red and streaming tears, and sharply told the rest of them that she’d be right back. She had threatened them with immediate expulsion if they so much as touched their bums to broomsticks without her.

 And then Malfoy had found Neville’s new Remembrall, fallen out of his pocket.

 Later, Harry remembered the jeering of the Slytherins – Malfoy, his cronies, and that awful Pansy Parkinson girl who sneered at Parvati Patil for telling Malfoy to shut it – and Malfoy taking tauntingly off into the air with Neville’s Remembrall. Harry remembered Hermione Granger telling him not to get into trouble by taking off too and he remembered not caring. He’d been spoiling for a fight with Malfoy practically since school began and the blood had been pounding in his ears.

 Mostly, however, Harry remembered two things.

 Firstly, he remembered how wonderful it had felt to fly. He remembered the gasps and screams and a whoop from Ron as he’d kicked off. It had turned out that all of Harry’s terrible nerves had been for nothing, because all his fright and anger had suddenly soared off into a rush of fierce joy. Flying had felt nearly natural. The wood had given way to him and Harry had cut through the air. It had felt as easy as breathing, at the same time that the wind through him took that breath away.

 Even when Malfoy had thrown the Remembrall and Harry was diving, flying had still been wonderful. The whistling wind! The whipping speed! The rise and the fall and the reach! It was maybe a little terrifying, but Harry had been determined to catch that glinting sphere, and fear had been undisguisable from all the rest of the fierce exhilaration pounding through him.

 The gratification, when Harry had tumbled out of the dive and onto the grass with the Remembrall clutched safely in his fist, was even fiercer still. He’d grinned towards Malfoy with vicious victory.

 Secondly, Harry remembered how quickly and heavily his fierce joy had dropped into utter terror, when Professor McGonagall had then shouted his name. Professor McGonagall running towards him, bearing down with her outer robes flapping behind her and her glasses flashing furiously, was not an image that Harry thought he would ever forget, even if he lived to be over a hundred years old. It had rather felt as though he’d swallowed his own heart.

 Especially because he’d spent the next ten minutes utterly convinced that he was going to be kicked out of Hogwarts after only two weeks. Imagining what the Dursleys might say had been horrifying. Harry had made desperate plans to ask Hagrid if he needed an assistant when they snapped his wand, because it would surely be better than going back to no magic in his life at all.

 But then, instead of marching him off to the gallows or the dungeons, Professor McGonagall took him to the library and asked after Wood – who turned out to be a burly upper-year student, a fifth or sixth-year probably, and not a cane that she was going to beat Harry with. And then she took them both to an empty classroom, ordered Peeves to stop writing rude words on the chalkboard and to get out, and then turned around and told Wood that she had found Gryffindor a Seeker.

 

~

 

 Harry then felt very confused.

 Also, after a few questions, mildly forgotten about. Though still mostly confused.

 “He’s just the right build for a Seeker too, Professor!” Oliver Wood, who was apparently the captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, was now saying enthusiastically. “Light – speedy – a bit too skinny, really, but that can’t be helped at this point. We’ll absolutely have to get him a decent broom, Professor – a Nimbus Two Thousand or a Cleansweep Seven, I’d say. He can’t play on a school broom. I’d give him one of my old ones before-”

 “Of course not,” Professor McGonagall agreed archly, apparently having seen Harry’s dive for the Remembrall from her office window, judged it even more impressive than the dives of Charlie Weasley, and immediately come running to recruit Harry to the House Quidditch team. “Merlin, no, that would be a disaster. I shall speak to Professor Dumbledore immediately and see if we can’t bend that first-year broomstick rule in this obviously special circumstance.”

 When Harry had first met her, he would have never believed that he would ever hear Professor McGonagall say anything about bending a school rule. But Oliver Wood was nodding fiercely, as though this was the only reasonable course of action.

 “The team has some funds, Professor, I’ll gladly adjust my plans for those-”

 “You let me worry about the broomstick issue, Wood. You’ll need all your focus on getting our team into top shape so we can put up a better performance than last year.”

 Wood grimaced back at her, then closed his eyes in pain at the memory.

 Harry, not knowing what was going on anymore, was trying to decide whether it was silly to ask if he was going to be expelled or not. He assumed he couldn’t be, if McGonagall was trying to put him on a school Quidditch team, but he wasn’t sure. Could they expel him and then keep him around to play on the Gryffindor Quidditch team?

 Exactly what sort of trouble was he in here? House points? Detention?

 “We were flattened in that last match with Slytherin,” McGonagall recalled, horrified. “I couldn’t look half the staff in the face for weeks... Severus Snape was unbearable enough in his smugness, but then Regulus Black was even worse… and then Malvolia Feasance with her pitying apology…” McGonagall trailed off with a shudder at such an insult.

 “We’ll crush them this year, Professor,” Wood promised, with great sincerity. “We’ll make an even better team than the one we had before Charlie Weasley abandoned us.”

 McGonagall raised her chin. “See that you do, captain.”

 “…Er, am I being punished?”

 McGongall and Wood both turned on Harry, both with very shrewd stares. Then Wood turned back to McGonagall, his face now the very picture of horror, and said, “Professor, detentions will eat into our practice time. I have enough trouble creating a decent practice schedule and training regime between the girls’ commitments. And then the twins-”

 “You are not being punished, Potter,” McGonagall assured Harry.

 Harry wasn’t entirely sure about that, because no one here had actually asked him if he wanted to join the House Quidditch team. Both McGonagall and Wood seemed to have just assumed that, since Harry was apparently a good candidate, he would be a part of the team. So, Harry felt a bit like this was all happening whether he wanted it or not. He did kind of want to, but he wanted the opportunity to think about it first as well.

 It didn’t help that Professor McGonagall then peered at him very sternly and said, rather warningly, “I want to hear that you’re training hard, Potter, or I may change my mind about punishing you.”

 Then she suddenly smiled.

 “Your father would have been proud. He was an excellent Quidditch player himself.”

 

 ~

 

 Harry, struck rather speechless by this new fact about his father, hadn’t participated much in the conversation beyond that. Thankfully, Professor McGonagall and Oliver Wood hadn’t needed much of anything from him beyond that.

 Wood said that he’d find Harry over the weekend to talk to him about the team, practices, and Quidditch, and asked Harry to keep his potential position on the team a secret until further notice. Harry nodded awkwardly and Wood seemed pleased with that. The Gryffindor captain and Professor McGonagall had led the way out of the classroom and then gone off down the hall together, very seriously discussing the merits of the most recent broomsticks on the market.

 “Oh, Potter, do return to your class immediately, please,” McGonagall said sternly over her shoulder, just before she turned the corner. “Tell Madam Hooch that everything’s been taken care of and to have a word with me if she has any questions.”

 Which left Harry, standing alone in a castle corridor, still awkwardly holding the school broomstick that he had been lent for the flying lesson that might now be still going on without him. In the other hand, he had Neville’s Remembrall, which had been thrust back into his hands after McGonagall had told the Gryffindor captain about Harry’s dive. The Remembrall was still clear, so Harry apparently hadn’t forgotten anything, but he found himself rather wishing that he had.

 If Harry had forgotten something, then it meant that he would have something to remember.

 On the way back to the flying lesson outside the castle, Harry allowed himself a brief stop in front of a particularly shiny suit of armour. He tried to swing the broomstick onto his shoulder like he’d seen Madam Hooch do so easily a few times before and instead accidentally hit himself in the head with the twigs, but quickly managed to get it settled. Then he put his other fist on his hip, lifted his chin, puffed out his chest, and stood as tall he could.

 Harry tried to imagine his father, here at Hogwarts, playing Quidditch. He imagined his father, James Potter, as a boy, wearing the same uniform and with a broom over his shoulder too, walking these same hallways that Harry was walking now, maybe off to play a match with his team.

 But all Harry could see in the suit of armour’s breastplate was himself. His own round glasses. His own small shoulders and silly stance. His own wild black hair, windswept even wilder from his flight and dive, revealing the lightning-bolt scar on his forehead. It didn’t help that the armour wasn’t flat and Harry’s reflection was a bit squashed and stretched, so that his head looked a bit like a pear.

 Though it might have been that Harry simply had no idea what his father had looked like. He didn’t remember his parents. And he had never seen a photograph of James Potter before – nor one of his mum, Lily Potter – because the Dursleys certainly hadn’t kept any photographs of Harry’s parents around the house while doing their best to pretend that Lily and James Potter had never existed. All Harry had was Hagrid’s assurance that Harry looked like his dad, with his mum’s green eyes, but that small hint wasn’t nearly enough for Harry’s desperate, starving imagination.

 Suddenly, the suit of armour in front of Harry moved. It crossed its shiny arms unhappily, with the usual clanking and metallic squeaking, and covered Harry’s reflection, interrupting Harry’s daydreaming. It tilted its helmet down at him disapprovingly.

 “Oh,” Harry said, realizing that he’d probably been a bit rude. “Sorry.”

 And he hurried on back to class. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 Returning to class, Harry’s plan was to tell Madam Hooch the message that Professor McGonagall would answer all her questions and then say nothing else. While McGonagall had generously decided not to punish him for flying unsupervised, Hooch had threatened to see them expelled and had sounded like she’d meant it. He’d rather get in trouble for not telling Hooch what had happened than risk having teachers get into great big rows over whether he should be expelled.

 Harry’s heart sank with unsurprised horror when he returned to find that someone had already told Madam Hooch everything that had happened. Harry didn’t need the disapproving scowl on Hermione Granger’s face, or Ron’s glowering expression towards their classmate, to guess that it had been her who’d immediately told on him.

 Harry repeated McGonagall’s message like a shield and, by wondrous fortune, Gryffindor wasn’t stripped of all its points. Nor was Harry told to go pack his bags so they could give him a swift and permanent kick out the front gates. No, Madam Hooch just frowned at him, then told him to put his broom down and sit off to the side for the rest of class.

 It could have been a lot worse, so Harry was quite grateful to sit off to the side and watch the others wobblingly hover just a few feet off the ground. He was jealous, of course, but mostly still reeling from being rather forcibly recruited to the Gryffindor Quidditch team.

 Suddenly, he wished that he’d listened better when people had been explaining the game to him before, though not as strongly as he wished that Ron had been better at explaining it. He kept trying to daydream about his first Quidditch match, but he had never seen a game. So, instead, Harry kept imagining McGonagall and Wood forcibly putting him on a broom and excitedly shoving him into his first Quidditch match without even explaining all the rules to him – then the entire school, gathered in the stands of that great pitch, would all have a jolly good laugh at him as he flew about without the foggiest idea of what was happening.

 Harry was somewhat mollified by the fact that Draco Malfoy had gotten into trouble as well. Malfoy had also been told to sit out of the lesson, and was currently doing so far away from Harry and occasionally shooting him nasty glances. Like it was Harry’s fault that Malfoy kept getting in trouble for being such an awful git. Harry made sure to glare fiercely back at him.

 At least, he glared at Malfoy until the end of class, when Madam Hooch came over again with a severe look and a few words for Harry.

 “I will be speaking to Professor McGonagall about this, Mister Potter,” she assured him. “While I can appreciate that you meant well, seeking to protect Mister Longbottom’s belongings, I do not appreciate having my rules ignored. You could have been very badly injured today.” She looked down at Neville’s Remembrall, still in his hand, and said, “The safety of someone else’s belongings is not worth your life, Mister Potter, or even a trip to the Hospital Wing. Remember that, and please return the Remembrall to Mister Longbottom when he returns to your dormitory.”

 Hooch dismissed him and went to give a severe look and some words to Malfoy after that, who was already surrounded by his sympathetic cronies, and Ron hurried over to talk to Harry. Everyone else was filing back into the castle, with classes ended for the day. A few lingering sympathetic looks were cast in Harry’s direction as they went. 

 “You shouldn’t have gotten in trouble for that, Harry!” Ron said fervently, flushed pink, like he’d been holding onto this for the remainder of class. “Standing up to Malfoy for being such a bloody prick! Well, flying up to him. Merlin, Harry, you were pretty good! Are you sure you’ve never flown before? That dive was amazing! I can’t believe you caught it!

 Harry flushed too. “Thanks.”

 “Malfoy’s face was incredible! Did you see it? You really showed him! It’s unbelievable that you got in trouble just because you didn’t let Malfoy get away with his shit!” Ron continued angrily. “Did you tell Professor McGonagall about it? What’d she do? She didn’t give you detention, did she?”

 “Er, no,” Harry said, then looked around quickly.

 Madam Hooch had sent Malfoy and his cronies off towards the school and was now cleaning up the brooms. Malfoy was glaring at Harry over his shoulder as he went back to the castle.

 “Come on, let’s go down to Hagrid’s and I’ll tell you on the way.”

 Though Oliver Wood had told Harry not to tell anyone about his becoming Seeker for the Gryffindor Quidditch team, Harry couldn’t not tell Ron everything. “McGonagall took me to see this upper-year named Oliver Wood,” Harry began as they walked.

 Ron’s brow furrowed. “I know that name. Why do I know…?” He snapped his fingers and said, “I’ve heard Percy mention him… and Fred and George… and Charlie. He’s on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, isn’t he? He’s a nut for it.”

 “He’s the captain of the team,” Harry said quickly, not yet able to comment on Wood’s nuttiness over Quidditch. He’d seemed rather keen, but not much more so than McGonagall. “He and McGonagall… I think they recruited me? They want me to be the Seeker for the Gryffindor House team. Don’t tell anyone, though, Wood doesn’t want anyone to know yet.”

 Ron gaped at him. “You’re joking.”

 “No? I don’t think they were joking, but they might change their minds once they find out I don’t know anything, so really don’t tell anyone, alright?” Harry didn’t want to go around bragging about getting on the Quidditch team, only for Wood to decide he wasn’t up to snuff after all.

 “But first-years never…” Ron trailed off, still wide-eyed with amazement. “Blimey, you must be the youngest Seeker in a century! At least! Really, first-years never get on the teams. Seeker. Wow. That’s incredible! I guess they must’ve really not found anyone to replace Charlie after he left.” He looked awed, wordless with it, and then he said, “When McGonagall appeared and dragged you off, I thought she was going to do you in! But Seeker!

 “Me too! But it turns out saw my dive from her office window and Gryffindor apparently really needs a Seeker, so… I think I’m on the team whether I want to be or not? She said that she wants to hear that I’m training hard, or she’ll change her mind about punishing me!”

 “Why wouldn’t you want to be on the team?” Ron said, as astounded as he was excited. Until he realized, “First-years aren’t even allowed their own brooms. What are you going to do?”

 “Nothing? McGonagall said she’d take care of it. She said she was going to talk to Dumbledore and see if she could get him to bend the rules!” Harry whispered. The whisper was unnecessary, but he was still surprised by that. He would have never expected it of her.

 Ron looked very impressed. “She must think you’re really good then! Like really good!” He looked off in memory and recounted, “Fred and George said that she’s a bit of a Quidditch nut herself. She was real upset when Charlie left, they said. Real competitive. Hates losing. I think she might’ve played on the team herself, once upon a time.”

 “Really?”

 “I think so? We should ask Hagrid! He’s been here forever, so I bet he knows.”

 “Yeah,” Harry agreed, thinking of his dad. “I bet he does.”

 

~

 

 Hagrid was delighted to see them, like he hadn’t expected them to remember their agreement to have tea again, and so was Fang. Hagrid settled Harry and Ron at the table and released Fang so that he could get a tea tray together. After licking Ron in greeting and getting pushed off, Fang's head found a place on Harry’s lap for scratches and Harry happily obliged.

 “Wouldn’t have blamed yeh if ye’d forgotten,” Hagrid was saying, “what with all the work the teachers like to pile on yeh in the second week. They like to keep yeh on yer toes.”

 That made Harry imagine all the teachers chatting in a staff room somewhere, all wearing their fancy magical outfits, chortling together over how many hours of homework they’d each assigned their unfortunate students. Perhaps they were even bragging and competing over it, swirling their wine glasses full of students’ tears. It was distressing easy to imagine.

 Once he’d brought the tea over, Hagrid asked how their second week had gone. There was a meagre attempt to talk about their other classes, but the topic switched without Harry noticing how, and suddenly they – mostly Ron – were telling Hagrid all about the Flying lesson they’d just left and Harry’s new position as Seeker on the Gryffindor House Quidditch team. Like before, Hagrid was a very good listener, acting sympathetic to Neville’s accident and angry at Malfoy’s behaviour and excitedly congratulatory to Harry for being the youngest Seeker in living memory.

 “My livin’ memory, o’ course,” Hagrid corrected, still beaming proudly towards Harry. “Ol’ Professor Dumbledore and the like might remember differently – it’s been a while, but memory like a silver trap, he’s got. Good on yeh, Harry!”

 “Don’t tell anyone yet?” Harry said, feeling flushed with all this praise. “The captain of the team wants it kept secret. So, I’m not actually supposed to tell anyone.”

 He couldn’t not have told Ron and they were both too excited not to have told Hagrid. Thankfully, Harry was pretty sure that Hagrid could keep a secret. Headmaster Dumbledore had sent Hagrid on that errand to pick up that small parcel from Vault 713, and wouldn’t have done that unless he trusted Hagrid. Harry felt reassured as Hagrid nodded vigorously and winked.

 “Won’t no one hear a word out of me, Harry! But I bet ye’re gonna do great out there!”

 “I don’t know. I’ve only flown this one time.”

 “But you did great!” Ron assured him quickly, from where he’d been gnawing on one of the massive, not-at-all-rock-like gingersnap cookies Hagrid had offered them. “I mean, you were kinda a bit wobbly in the beginning, yeah, but…”  

 “Yer only gonna get better. If McGonagall wants yeh fer the team, Harry, then yer plenty good,” Hagrid said. “McGonagall knows her Quidditch. She’s a real hound fer the sport – broomhead, that’s what they call it, I think – but, uh, don’t you go on tellin’ her I said that.”

 “Is it true that McGonagall used to play for the House team?” Ron asked eagerly.

 Hagrid sat back and looked off into memory. “Yeah, she did. All the way back when. ‘S’been a long bloody time, though, so I can’t remember much. Think she might still have some photographs in her office, next to that portrait above her fireplace, if yer lookin’ to find out more. Sure she’d be real happy to talk about ‘em, if ye just asked.”

 Before today, Harry would have had much more trouble imagining a “real happy” McGonagall. He still had plenty of terrified trouble imagining asking her personal questions like that, though.

 “Don’t think any o’ the rest o’ the staff are quite as keen fer it as her,” Hagrid continued. “There’s that Staff versus Students Quidditch match they have some years, o’ course, but only when McGonagall and Hooch can round up enough o’ the other staff into it. An’ the students can put up a team that won’t fall apart or toss up with nerves on ‘em.”

 “Do you play?” Harry asked, fascinated. Playing against his teachers sounded even more terrifying than asking personal questions of them, but it might be fun to watch.

 Hagrid, in the middle of drinking tea, sputtered. “Me? Blimey, Harry, no, I’m not one fer Quidditch much. They don’t usually make broomsticks in my size. Couldn’t even get off the ground in my first Flying lesson, though that broom ruddy well tried its best!”

 Harry managed to smile, though he felt a bit silly. Hagrid was so large he would probably need a broomstick that was as thick as a tree trunk to keep it from snapping under his weight.

 “McGonagall said…” Harry began awkwardly. “McGonagall said my dad played Quidditch.”

 “He did?” Ron said, surprised.

 “Oh, yeah,” Hagrid agreed with a nod, like he was just now remembering this. “Great flyer, yer dad! Played for Gryffindor here at Hogwarts. Big fan and follower o’ the… oh, wossnames… the bees? Nah, that’s not right… Somethin’ yellow an’ black. I remember ‘cause he had this great striped eyesore of a jersey that he…”

 “The Wimbourne Wasps?!” Ron interrupted, like he couldn’t believe this.

 Harry, who had been hanging on to Hagrid’s every word, looked at Ron. “Are… are they bad?”

 “What? No, no, they’re pretty good, actually. Not bad. They do better in the League than the Chudley Cannons, but... well… that’s not hard. Their fans are kinda annoying, though. Call themselves the Stingers. They’re long-time rivals with the Appleby Arrows.”

 “Yeah, that’s the one!” Hagrid agreed. “The Wasps!”

 “Harry, you didn’t tell me your dad played Quidditch on the House team!” Ron said.

 “I didn’t know! McGonagall just told me today.”

 “Really?” Ron’s face scrunched up. “Huh. Well, that’s still cool. What position did he play?”

 “She didn’t say.”

 Harry looked up at Hagrid hopefully, but Hagrid’s face scrunched up too.

 “Sorry, Harry, but I can’t remember. Yer better off askin’ McGonagall or someone else. I’m not always much for attendin’ the matches. All the crowds an’ the weather they get sometimes. They don’t usually make Quidditch stands in my size either.”

 “Oh,” Harry said, unable to hide his disappointment.

 “But I’ll be sure to come ‘round fer yer first match, Harry!” Hagrid assured him hastily. “Help cheer yeh on with a friendly face in the stands! Wouldn’t miss it fer the world, really.”

 Harry smiled gratefully. “Thanks, Hagrid.”

 Hagrid seemed to flush a little, under all his hair. “Nah, it’ll be plenty of fun. ‘S no trouble at all.”

 “Did… do you know if my mum played Quidditch too?”

 “Not on the school team,” Hagrid answered apologetically, looking uncomfortable now. “‘Fraid I dunno about anythin’ else. Well, think I remember she once joked that yer dad’s Wasps shirt was a target… an’ stingin’ her eyes t’ boot, but can’t say whether she liked Quidditch one way or the other. You’ll have to ask someone else ‘bout that, Harry.”

 But I don’t have anyone else, Harry almost said.

 But he didn’t. Instead, he took the hint and stopped asking Hagrid questions about his parents for now. He let Ron lead the conversation into the Quidditch League – which neither Harry nor Hagrid knew much of anything about and couldn’t contribute to – and then he joined in again once the subject turned back to their other classes… instead of talking more about the parents that Harry had never known, who had apparently loved flying and worn eye-stinging sports jerseys and told jokes about those eye-stinging sports jerseys.

 It seemed so unfair that still no one would just come out and tell him things about his parents. Or that Harry had to so often keep quiet, terrified of being angrily told to stop asking questions altogether. The lives of Lily and James Potter were scattered around him, hidden, and entirely inaccessible until someone decided to give Harry a drop of information to let him know there was anything to be found in the first place. He now had a mountain of questions for no one.

 The subject of conversation soon turned back to Draco Malfoy, who had been bothering them since the beginning of school. Apparently, Ron wasn’t done being angry at him and Harry had to agree, though he wasn’t surprised Malfoy had behaved the way he had.  

 “Bet he’s got the sort of parents who get mad at the teacher for that,” Harry grumbled.

 The Dursleys had been like that, accusing everyone but Dudley (and themselves) for their “darling angel Diddykins” shortcomings and misbehaviour. Aunt Petunia taken offense with teacher after teacher for taking offense with Dudley’s awful marks and burgeoning bullying. Harry had no doubts that Malfoy’s endless-sweets-sending parents were exactly the same sort of people, if not worse.

 Hagrid grunted unhappily. “Ye’d be bettin’ right, Harry,” he said. “They’re a bunch o’ bad apples, the Malfoys, an’ it’s no surprise hearin’ the son of Lucius ruddy Malfoy didn’t fall far from the tree. They never met a problem they couldn’t buy off.”

 That reminded Harry of what Ron had said on the train: that the Malfoys had switched sides after Voldemort disappeared, claiming they’d been bewitched. Also, that Ron’s dad said that Malfoy’s dad didn’t need an excuse to go over to the Dark Side.

 “Have you met Malfoy’s dad?” Ron said curiously.

 Harry turned to Hagrid, also interested, because it sounded like Hagrid had and hadn’t liked it. Harry wondered if it had been anything like his first encounter with Draco Malfoy in Madam Malkin’s.  

 “Seen him in passin’ too often. He used to go to Hogwarts too – almost everyone ‘round here did – an’ now he’s on the bloody Board of Governors,” Hagrid answered, and shook his shaggy head disgustedly. “Now there’s a bunch who need a good jump into the Great Lake. Might wash out the rubbish stuffed up between their ears.”

 Ron looked delighted at this. “Was he really a follower of You-Know-Who? Dad said-”

 “Can’t be sayin’ one way or the other,” Hagrid interrupted.

 Hagrid wasn’t meeting their eyes again. But it wasn’t just that he looked uncomfortable again, though he did look uncomfortable, he also looked a little… angry. Like he had when, back in Diagon Alley, he’d told Harry that Voldemort had attended Hogwarts a long, long time ago.

 Harry and Ron exchanged a wide-eyed look, while Hagrid stared into his tea. For several seconds, the only sound in the dim hut was the crackling of the fire.

 “They were dark times back then,” Hagrid continued finally, gruffly. “All sorts of people turned out not to be what we thought they were. You-Know-Who had a way of gettin’ at people. ‘Specially the people no one woulda thought could turn, the people we were supposed to be able t’ trust, by bewitchin’ ‘em or offerin’ ‘em everything they wanted to do his dirty work. It’s hard to say what really happened back then. Some things, still no one knows the truth about.”

 Hagrid looked up at Ron then. “What I can say is that, one way or the other, the Malfoys aren’t ones to cross. Yer father’s a brave man to say stuff like that ‘bout a bully like Lucius Malfoy. Their sort have got thin skin when it comes to their pride, so most don’t dare to bring it up.”

 Harry couldn’t tell whether Hagrid meant the Malfoys didn’t like being bewitched or didn’t like people accusing them of not having been bewitched. Draco Malfoy was an awful bully, but he was just as young as they were and Harry didn’t think him nearly clever or dangerous enough to be properly evil. Malfoy was more of a nuisance than anything else.

 When Harry looked at Ron again, he could clearly see that his friend was regretting having gotten Hagrid started on this topic. Ron mustered up a smile, but it was more of a grimace.

 “Guess you’re gonna have to watch your back for a while around Malfoy, huh?” Ron said jokingly. “Especially once he finds out that he just accidentally landed you a spot on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, after all his bragging about how great a flyer he is. Oh, that’ll serve him right. I can’t wait to see that face!”

 Harry smiled back, though he didn’t much feel like it anymore.

 “If yeh do run into trouble with that boy, Harry, go to a teacher ‘bout it,” Hagrid advised, and huffed mightily. “Like to see some rotten Malfoy try to intimidate McGonagall or Flitwick! Or ol’ Professor Dumbledore!” Hagrid chortled to himself. “They wouldn’t dare!”

 The mood in Hagrid’s hut lightened again, but it never truly recovered. Ron asked Hagrid what he’d spent their second week of classes doing and Hagrid ramblingly told them about the boy who had gotten Confuded and accidentally wandered into the Great Lake, the “niffler” that had gotten into Professor Mohammed’s laboratory, and how the unicorns in the Forbidden Forest had been skittish of late and kept running across the herd of “thestrals” that Hagrid looked after.

 Ron and Harry both made the appropriate interested noises, and Harry didn’t have the courage to tell Hagrid that he didn’t understand a lot of what Hagrid was talking about. It was still more interesting and exciting than their weekly Care of Magical Creatures lectures with Grubbly-Plank though, barring the visit from the excitable Professor Kettleburn.

 Once he’d trailed to the end of his stories, Hagrid clapped the awkward silence away and shooed them off towards the school and supper. Harry gently pushed Fang off his lap (“Just shove ‘im off, Harry,” Hagrid said) then he and Ron collected their things to leave.

 “Don’t want to make a habit of eatin’ up yer whole Friday afternoon like this,” Hagrid chuckled, as he showed them out. “Sure ye’ve got other young people things to do with yerselves.”

 “Should we… not come back next week?” Harry said. “We still haven’t seen the pumpkins.”

 His heart felt like it was dropping to his stomach, just a bit, at the idea that Hagrid might not want them coming around anymore. Had Harry asked too many questions about his parents? Had Ron asked too many questions about the Malfoys?

 “Oh, o’ course yeh can, Harry!” Hagrid amended hastily. “Yer welcome fer tea anytime! Might have business in the Forest, sometimes, but yer both more than welcome to come ‘round!”

 “Next Friday again, then?” Harry said, looking at Ron as well.

 Ron shrugged. “Sounds fine.”

 “I’ll have the tea an’ biscuits ready fer yeh and we’ll go see the pumpkins,” Hagrid agreed beamingly. “It’s always good to hear about the news ‘round the school. Harry, ye’ll have to tell me all about how yer Quidditch goes! I’m sure ye’ll blow them all away, just like yer dad.”

 “Thanks, Hagrid,” Harry said. “Um…”

 Harry and Ron were standing at the bottom of the steps to Hagrid’s door, while Hagrid stood in the doorway and in the way of an interested Fang following them up to the school. Hagrid looked up from his dog, curiously, as Harry hesitated.

 “Have you… heard anything more about the Gringotts robbery?” Harry tried.

 “’Fraid I haven’t been payin’ attention to that sort o’ news,” Hagrid said, not meeting their eyes again, paying all his attention to Fang instead. “Been busy here. Ye’re busy too, with all that homework and Quidditch of yers, Harry, so it’s best to forget ‘bout things like that. Doesn’t have a thing to do with the school, after all.”

 “…Right,” Harry said. “Well, goodbye.”

 “Goodbye, Harry, Ron.”

 “Bye.”

 They turned away as Hagrid turned back into his house, pushing his persistent dog back inside.

 “Back, Fluffy! Back!” Hagrid said, before the door slammed shut.

 Harry and Ron paused and looked at each other, then back at Hagrid’s closed door. They could still hear Hagrid’s heavy footsteps, moving farther into the hut, and the indistinct, fading rumble of his voice. Harry looked at Ron again, who looked back with raised eyebrows.

 “‘Fluffy’?” Ron repeated.

 Harry shrugged in mutual confusion, because Fang was not a fluffy dog. His Uncle Vernon’s sister messed up her dogs’ names all the time, forgetting which one was which when she was shouting at them, but… as far as Harry knew, Hagrid only had the one dog.

 “Maybe it’s a nickname?” Harry suggested.

 Ron looked dubious of Harry’s idea of nicknames, but didn’t disagree.

 

 ~

 

 It wasn’t quite time for supper yet, so Harry and Ron took their time walking back to the castle. They talked carefully about everything that they’d talked about at Hagrid’s. Ron seemed especially hung up on how he’d accidentally gotten Hagrid to talk about when Voldemort had still been around.

 “It’s one of those things we’re not really s’posed to talk about, you know?” Ron said awkwardly. “Like… asking Mum about her brothers… or stuff like that, because she always cries. Did… did it look to you too like Hagrid was…?”

 “I don’t know. He seemed… upset?”

 “At least he did talk about it,” Ron said finally. “Mum and Dad barely say anything.”

 Harry felt very close to Ron in that moment, sharing deep frustration over adults who refused to tell them anything. He was sure that Hagrid still wasn’t telling them things, but at least Hagrid was nothing like the Dursleys, who had lied about everything.

 “Maybe you really should watch your back around Malfoy for a while,” Ron continued. “I mean, there’s no bloody way he knows any Dark magic or anything – did you see him in Charms the other day? But he’s really gonna be pissed once he finds out you’re Gryffindor’s new Seeker. Oh, I really can’t wait to see his face – are you sure we can’t tell him?”

 The idea was tempting, but Harry shook his head. “I’m not supposed to tell anyone.”

 “Shame.”

 Harry wondered what would happen if he told a teacher on Malfoy – like McGonagall, who was so determined that Gryffindor win this year, whom Harry couldn’t imagine being intimidated by anyone – but he knew it would probably end up like Ron and Percy telling on Prefect Brigg for not stopping people from asking Harry questions. People would think Harry was complaining over nothing again and then Malfoy would only get worse.

 “Snape is the Head of Slytherin House, right?” Harry asked. “The other Potions professor?”

 “Yeah, but we’ve got no chance going to him for help!”

 Harry remembered that cold look that Snape had even him twice now, during the Welcoming Feast and then when he’d visited their Potions class, and the comment he had made on Harry’s celebrity status. Hagrid had assured him that Snape had no reason to hate him personally, so had Ron, but Harry still didn’t know if he believed that.  

 “I know,” he said. “That would really make things worse, wouldn’t it?”

 “We’d probably get detention if we even tried to talk to him. To hear my brothers tell it, the only students he actually likes are the Slytherins, and everyone else can bite it,” Ron said disgustedly. “You know, if he hates students so much, why is he even a teacher? If I hated kids, I wouldn’t stick around a school for anything.”

 

Chapter Text

 By the time they returned to the castle, the conversation had turned back to brighter and more important subjects than undesirable professors: anything and everything to do with Quidditch that Harry ought to know, now that he was going to be Gryffindor’s secret Seeker, according to the expertise of Ron Weasley. All the Weasleys enjoyed and played Quidditch apparently – even Ron’s younger sister, Ginny – and Ron seemed determined to share everything that he knew in order to get Harry up to snuff.

 Harry listened with nervous excitement and did his best to stop Ron from tripping over steps or walking into walls as they made their way back to Gryffindor Tower. They were so caught up in their conversation that neither of them noticed the two figures creeping up behind them.

 Suddenly, Harry’s feet were swept out from underneath him and he was hoisted into the air. Or, well, the attackers tried their best. As soon as Harry felt arms wrapping around his legs to lift him, he reactively swung his elbow around and, before he could catch that becoming-familiar flash of bright red hair, his elbow landed right in the eye of one of the Weasley twins.

 “Congratulations, Har- holy shit!”

 Harry felt his heart drop as he realized what he’d done. The twin he’d hit stumbled away, while the other one put Harry back down quickly and raised his hands like he thought Harry was armed.

 Harry looked desperately to Ron – perhaps to apologize, perhaps to claim that he never would have struck out if he’d known who it was – but Ron was gaping at the brother had elbowed in the face. The struck twin was doubled over and clutching at his eye.

 “Fred, are you alright?” said the other twin, who must have been George.

 Harry was prepared for all of them to be furious with him. He wasn’t at all prepared for Fred Weasley to look up, still holding his left eye, and laugh.

 “Blimey, Harry, you’re quick! No wonder Wood wants you for the team!”

 Ron burst out laughing and George grinned at Harry too.

 “We’re on the team too – Beaters – if you missed Hooch shouting at us at the fair last week,” George said, and made a show of slowly reaching forward to gently pat Harry on the shoulder in congratulations. “You must be good! Wood was practically skipping on his way to find the girls after he told us McGonagall had brought you in.”

 “Maybe now she’ll finally forgive us for Charlie leaving,” Fred said wistfully. “She hasn’t said it, but we’re pretty sure she’s held Charlie skipping out the same year we joined the team against us. Like we knew he was going to run off to Romania.”

 “We wouldn’t have told her either way,” George confided.

 Fred nodded, poking gingerly at his closed eye. “Probably would have followed him out if we could’ve. Blimey, can you imagine? He’d be on the run from Mum too then, instead of just from Wood, who’s never forgiven him either.”

 “Nothing’s going to get Charlie to show his face around Hogwarts again,” George agreed. “Wood and McGonagall’d murder him for what he did to the team. ‘Cept perhaps a dragon.”

 Ron snorted. “That’d get him!”

 “Yeah, but who’s got one of those in their pocket? Ow, shit,” Fred winced, as he poked at his eye a little too hard, and he covered it again. “Reckon you could be a Beater yourself, Harry! You’ve got an arm on you. Ow. I think you just took out my eye. Nobody move or they’ll step on it.”

 Harry’s nervous smile dropped immediately.

 Fred and George burst out laughing again. Ron bumped Harry on the shoulder grinningly.

 “Your face, Harry!”

 “It was like somebody had just socked you in the face!”

 “Oh, don’t worry,” Fred said, chuckling. “Eye know when eye’ve been gotten good! Eye’ll allow it. Eye’ll be fine once eye’ve gotten some eyes on it.”

 “Eye see what you did there!”

 The twins chortled delightedly together.

 “No hard feelings, Harry,” Fred assured him. “So no more hard elbows, eh?”

 “Yeah, um, no.”

 “Anyway, we’ve got to go. Lee reckons he’s found a new secret passageway out of the school,” George said in a conspiratorial whisper, as he passed them to stand beside his brother. “We’ll see you around, Harry, and at practice! Well, I’ll be seeing you, at least. Dunno about Fred here.”

 Fred elbow to elbow his twin, but George dodged easily.

 “Bet it’s that passage behind Smarmy Greg we found in first year,” Fred scoffed, still holding a hand over his eye, trying to grab at George. “Come on, you! I need an extra pair of eyes now, if Harry’s going to be jabbing them out at practice!”

 “I’m not-”

 “Yeah, we should go close the lid on that one,” George agreed, and cackled out of Fred’s reach, sauntering away down the hall. “Lee’s trying to improve his sneaking, but compared to us, he’s just a pupil of the trade!”

 “You’re making a spectacle of yourself, Georgie!” Fred cried, hurrying after him.

 George kept laughing. “No need to lash out! They might start calling you Mad-eye Freddie!”

 Harry and Ron watched the Weasley twins chase each other down the hall, ribbing each other the entire way, and Harry felt the panic in his chest slowly ease away. Fred Weasley really didn’t seem to be holding a grudge – just his eye. In fact, at the end of the hall, before he followed George around the corner, Fred Weasley turned on his heel to look back and shouted dramatically:

 “And with that, my friends, eye take my leave!”

 And then he disappeared.

 Ron snicked and Harry smiled relievedly at him. If anything, Ron seemed rather impressed that Harry had managed to hit his brother. Ron kept snickering as he tugged Harry onward.

 “I haven’t seen anyone get them that good since Ginny up and walloped George!”

 “I didn’t mean to.”

 Ron shook his head, still grinning. “I would’ve, if they’d tried that on me.”

 Harry let himself grin back… and indulge in his curiosity.

 “So, um, what did they mean about your brother Charlie skipping out?”

 Like the twins just now, Wood and McGonagall had both mentioned what an incredible Seeker Charlie Weasley had been, but Wood had also claimed that Charlie had abandoned them. McGonagall’s expression had agreed wholeheartedly.

 “Oh, well, um, Charlie actually his NEWTs after his sixth year,” Ron explained. “Usually people take ‘em at the end of their seventh, but Charlie took his few a whole year early and lined up his job without telling anyone. He was already Quidditch captain and everything, had been for a couple years or so, and he might’ve had a shot at Head Boy like Bill – but he ran off to Romania to work with dragons instead.”

 “Wow,” Harry said, impressed. “He must be really smart.”

 Ron nodded and scuffed his shoe against the floor. “Yeah, Mum was shocked at first, but she and Dad are super proud now. It looks like they might even go visit him over Christmas. It’s… There’s pretty much nothing I can do here – Quidditch, prefect, Quidditch captain, whatever – that one of my brothers hasn’t done already and even faster.”

 He looked gloomy. Harry didn’t know what to do about this.

 “Well… have any of them joined the Chess Club before? That’s something different.”

 “I guess. Percy probably would’ve if he’d had the time.”

 “But he didn’t, right?”

 Ron shrugged, still unenthused. “Guess not.”

 “You still want to join the Quidditch team, right?” Harry tried. “You like Quidditch, right? Does it really matter if they did it first? You’re not doing it just because your brother did it too or because your parents are making you. I’d still like to play with you.”

 Ron grinned again. “Yeah?”

 “Yeah, you looked good on a broom out there to me,” Harry said, with a decisive nod. “You don’t even play the same position, right? Keeper or Chaser or… something. That’s already different.”

 “Thanks, Harry,” Ron said, cheered. “That is something.”

 

 ~

 

 They got to Gryffindor Tower and then down to the Great Hall for supper without any more trouble. Harry received smiles and commiseration from his yearmates for what had happened during their Flying lesson. Even Dean Thomas, the football fan, thought it had been cool.

 Harry brushed if off best he could – the attention was a lot and he wasn’t supposed to talk about the “consequences” of his stunt. Instead, Harry tried to point out that Parvati Patil telling Malfoy to shut it about Neville, who was still in the Hospital Wing, had been pretty cool too.

 It almost worked, except then Fred and George came around to the meal. Fred was holding a handkerchief of ice to his eye and they both cheerfully patted Harry on the back as they passed.

 “Just don’t break the ‘eyes’ again, Harry!” George joked, and got thumped by his twin for it.

 Not only did this recapture the attention and awe of Harry’s fellow first-years, but it sent whispers down the table and brought on impressed looks from some upper-years as well. It was only their second week of school, but already the first pranks had been dealt out – the very first on one of the fruit bowls left out during Study Hall periods – and the rumours of the Weasley twins’ mischief-making had accordingly made the rounds, so that even the first-years were aware of the Fred and George’s infamous and much-admired reputation.

 It was a reputation not so admired, it thankfully seemed, that anyone took offense to Harry managing to accidentally give one of them a black eye.

 Even Percy Weasley when he came around to ask what had happened – because the twins were “making up increasingly ridiculous false stories – didn’t seem to mind. Harry shrank back from him at first, prepared to be told off by their stuffiest and most rule-abiding prefect, but his expectations were neatly dashed again after Ron jumped to the rescue.

 “Well, if it was an accident, that’s alright,” Percy said simply. “They ought not jump people like that anyway.” Then, even more bizarrely, with a quirk of the lips as though something like humour had overtaken him, Percy added, “Pity it wasn’t something more permanent, then we’d be able to tell them apart. Carry on, Harry.”

 Then, leaving Harry and Ron to gape after him, Percy moved along to join his friends farther down the table. Percy’s upper-year friends was a group which contained, Harry noticed for the first time, the Gryffindor Quidditch captain, Oliver Wood, who was currently grinning broadly at Harry like he’d been doing so for a while. Thankfully, Wood turned away when Prefect Camille Hewley, also part of the group, appeared to ask him a question.

 Harry turned back to his own meal, unsure of what to make of how many people in his House honestly seemed to like him. The enemies and nuisances, he’d expected, but all of this was… odd. Was this what Professor McGonagall had meant about Houses?

 Fred and George weren’t the only members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team to come up and introduce themselves. Near the end of the meal, a girl came around to their stretch of table. She was probably a few years older than them; she was also quite tall and very pretty, with dark brown skin, black hair in many tight braids, and a stunning smile. She tapped Harry gently on the shoulder to get his attention.

 “Hey, Harry, right? Congratulations.”

 “Um, thanks?” Harry said awkwardly, with not the foggiest idea who this girl was and very little idea why she was suddenly talking to him. “I didn’t mean to hit him, though. It was an accident.”

 The girl blinked at him, then burst out into peals of laughter.

 “You thought… you think… ha!”

 Harry felt himself flush with embarrassment, as people began to look at him again. The girl put her hands over her mouth to muffle her giggles, but even when she managed to stop, her brown eyes were shining. She cleared her throat and offered a hand for Harry to shake.

 “Angelina Johnson. You might’ve seen me at the club fair? I play Chaser for Gryffindor,’ she explained, as they shook hands, and then she winked. “Yeah, I definitely just wanted to say congrats on giving one of the Weasley twins a shiner. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner. I’ll see you around, Harry.”

 “See you,” Harry echoed, feeling like his face was on fire.

 Ron was snickering beside him, but offered, “I think she’s one of Fred and George’s friends. I bet they told her.”

 Harry watched Angelina Johnson leave the Great Hall, playing their exchange over and over again in his head with desperate humiliation. Finally, he turned away, in the hopes that he might be able to eat his embarrassment away. As he did so, he looked over the tables to see if anyone else was snickering at him… and noticed that someone was looking at him.

 In fact, they were glowering at him. So darkly that Harry wouldn’t have been surprised if the ceiling had started raining and lightning had cracked overhead. It was Draco Malfoy, of course; he didn’t look at all happy about the attention Harry was getting.

 Harry stared back at him, still flushed from his embarrassing introduction to his future teammate, then reached into his pocket rather unthinkingly and withdrew the glass ball he’d been carrying around since he’d caught it. Harry had meant to return it to Neville now, but Neville wasn’t here. So, instead, Harry waved the Remembrall at Draco Malfoy and grinned at him with all the vicious victory he’d felt when he’d caught it. Take that.

 Malfoy’s pale face turned bright red with anger. It was extraordinarily satisfying.

 Harry pulled the Remembrall back and returned it to his pocket, feeling much better about all this. Ron was right; everything had turned out alright. Malfoy wouldn’t forget about this anytime soon, but Harry wasn’t scared of him, and Harry doubted that Malfoy would have been less awful to him even if this hadn’t happened. Malfoy would’ve just tried to pull something else.

 As Harry turned away, he noticed someone’s bushy hair moving quickly back and forth, and saw that Hermione Granger was looking between him and Malfoy. She finally focused again on Harry, as she noticed him looking, and she frowned disapprovingly at him. Like she thought Harry ought not to have done anything in the first place, much less gone on to rub his victory in Malfoy’s face. She had been the only one not to be at least somewhat impressed by Harry’s flying or his accidental walloping of a Weasley twin.

 Harry frowned back at her, because he still didn’t see why she thought she could disapprove of him, and he pointedly turned his attention back to Ron before she could tell him off. It was hardly any of Hermione Granger’s business what he did or how he behaved.

 

~

 

 It was becoming a tradition for Harry and Ron to be attacked on their way to Gryffindor Tower, or so it seemed when they were ambushed twice in one day. Only this time, they weren’t confronted by someone nearly so welcome as well-meaning Weasley twins. After supper, not too far outside the Great Hall, Harry and Ron found Draco Malfoy waiting for them, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle.

 All three of the Slytherins were scowling and Malfoy’s crony friends were cracking their knuckles.

 “I suppose they decided they had to keep you around a while longer, when they realized you didn’t have any parents for them to send you back to,” Malfoy drawled. “Did you cry? Must be nice being famous, eh, Potter? Everyone just feels so sorry for you.”

 Harry’s hands fisted at his sides.

 He wasn’t scared of them. There were bunches of other students around, leaving the Great Hall, with many teachers still at the High Table. Malfoy had already proven he was the sort of bully too scared to do anything with a teacher around – and also that there wasn’t any cheap shot he could throw at them that Harry couldn’t take or throw back.

 “Are you talking from experience, Malfoy, or are you just jealous that no one likes you?” Harry replied, full of courage for this confrontation.

 He wasn’t expecting Malfoy to end it by challenging him to a “wizard’s duel” at midnight. Nor was he expecting Ron, whose face had been turning tomato red and whose hands had been fisted and shaking at his sides, to wheel around and accept on his behalf.

 Since Harry would rather have dropped dead that admit in front of Malfoy that he didn’t know what a wizard’s duel was, he didn’t say anything as a furious Ron and smug Malfoy set the terms of this. But as soon as Malfoy and his friends were gone, Harry whirled on his friend, who was apparently his “second” in all this. Draco Malfoy might’ve made Harry mad enough to want to sock him in the nose, to announce that he’d been made the youngest Seeker in a century actually, or any number of spiteful things to knock the other boy down a dozen pegs… but a duel?

 “It’s just a duel with magic,” Ron whispered, as they found an alcove to talk in while other students passed them. “Like any other duel, I guess, ‘cept instead of swords or something, you fight with spells. You need a second in ‘em to take over and keep fighting if you die.”

 At that, Harry could feel the colour leeching out of his face and Ron must’ve seen it.

 “But don’t worry, Harry. You and Malfoy don’t know nearly enough magic to have a proper duel – you’ve seen him in Charms, right? If he’s ever been in a proper fight before in his life, I’ll eat my hat. He wanted you to refused, don’t you see? Probably so he could safely call you a coward or something stupid like that. I bet he’s really panicking now!”

 “I’m panicking now!” Harry hissed disbelievingly. “I’ve never been in a magic fight before either! What if I just… wave my wand and nothing happens?”

 “Throw it away and punch him on the nose. Dad says no one expects that.”

 “Excuse me,” someone said tartly.

 Harry wasn’t expecting Hermione Granger to be the next person to ambush them and he didn’t appreciate it. He didn’t need her now on top of everything, but she came up next to them anyway, with her head held high, looking like she was trying to imitate a teacher who’d caught her students misbehaving. At this point, Harry wasn’t really surprised. He sighed.

 “Yeah, you’re excused,” Ron said unhappily. “Go on.”

 She flatly ignored this and spoke to Harry instead, which didn’t endear her to him. “I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation with Malfoy just now…”

 “Looks like that’s a regular problem for you,” Harry said coolly.

 That made the girl stutter over her words, but she quickly squared her shoulders again.

 “You’re already in terrible trouble for what happened during our flying lesson today! And it’ll only get worse if you get caught sneaking around the school at night, which you’re bound to be. You musn’t go. Think of all the extra points you’ll lose Gryffindor if you get in trouble twice in one day chasing after Malfoy like this!”

 “So, I’m just supposed to let him go on being a git?” Harry demanded.

 “No, but-”

 Ron rolled his eyes. “How the hell did you make it into Gryffindor like this, Granger?”

 “You’re supposed to tell a teacher,” she snapped, and stopped her foot. “You’re bound to be caught! And you’re bound to lose more points for Gryffindor if you do! And those are points that I earned that you’re losing! That’s my hard work that you’re just throwing away so you can go off and get into fights!” She turned up her nose. “It’s really very selfish of you.”

 Harry thought it was a bit selfish of her to care more about House points than anything else. He didn’t see why he had to put up with this sort of disapproval from her when she wasn’t his friend. Even the Dursleys were at least (unfortunately) related to him.

 “And this is really very nosy of you,” Harry said frankly, “butting into other people’s business.”

 Ron seemed to concur, as he said unhappily, “You’re not going to run off and tell a teacher again, are you? Harry stopped Malfoy from breaking Neville’s Remembrall and you got him in trouble for it. I don’t think people are going to find it very selfless of you if you keep trying to get them in trouble standing up to prats like that.”

 Hermione Granger stared disbelievingly at them, as they looked back expectantly.

 “Goodbye,” Ron added.

 “Being a Gryffindor shouldn’t mean getting into stupid fights for no reason!” Hermione Granger snapped. “I hope the two of you realize how silly you’re being about this and give up on this silly midnight duel before you go off, get in trouble, and waste other people’s hard work.”

 And then she turned on her heel and stomped off toward Gryffindor Tower.

 “Thanks for the concern!” Ron called after her, before he turned back to Harry and muttered, “I can’t believe she was eavesdropping on us again. She’s in all those clubs, right? Doesn’t she have anyone else to bother?”

 Harry stayed agreeably silent, though he didn’t know that she did. There were three other girls in Gryffindor, but Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil seemed to have become fast friends, and Faye Dunbar had made her friends outside of their House. When Harry did see Hermione Granger around the common room or library, instead of running off to clubs or class or wherever she went, she was always reading by herself.

 “Why did you tell Malfoy I’d duel him in the first place, though?” Harry demanded of his friend. He was as keen as the next person to punch the git, but… “I don’t want to get into a fight or in trouble.”

 “Well… you said you wanted to handle this sort of thing yourself.”

 “Not like this!”

 It would’ve been one thing if Harry had just turned Malfoy down, but it would probably be twice as bad if he never showed up after accepting. Malfoy would never let it go and would probably spend the next seven years calling Harry a fake Gryffindor and sorts of nasty names.

 Ron looked bewildered. “I… thought you’d want the opportunity to get back at him without any teachers around… after everything that happened today and all. Don’t you?”

 “Well, yeah, maybe,” Harry admitted honestly. “But she has a point: what if we get caught?”

 “Fred and George sneak out all the time and they never get caught,” Ron said dismissively, and tugged Harry along so they could head back to the tower. “It’s probably way easier to sneak out than they want us to think it is. We just go to the trophy room at midnight, you punch Malfoy in the face like he’s been asking for weeks, and then we go back to bed!”

 “Alright,” Harry said dubiously.

 He definitely didn’t want to be called a coward for the rest of his time at school. They could just get this over this and never talk about it again. Besides, if he was going to wallop anyone in the face, it might as well be Draco Malfoy and done intentionally. That was pretty tempting.

 

~

 

 The worst part about a midnight duel was the waiting. Harry and Ron went up to their dormitory and attempted to prepare and distract themselves as best they could. Ron told Harry what he knew about wizard’s duels, which was actually very little, and they flipped desperately through their textbooks for duelling spells Harry might be able to learn in a few hours.

 Harry tried to memorize the words and wand movements of these jinxes as best he could, but he couldn’t get in any real practice. Not only did he have no one to practice on, unwilling to test these spells on Ron, they had to hide their plans from their dormmates. Neville still hadn’t returned from the Hospital Wing, but Dean and Seamus were around, and Ron and Harry ended up playing a few games of chess to secretly talk strategy for Harry’s duel.

 It didn’t help Harry’s nerves in the slightest that, as well-meaning as Ron was being, Harry still lost every single game terribly.

 When Percy came around to mention that they were approaching lights-out, to allay suspicion, Harry and Ron had to pack up their game and pretend to prepare for bed with the others. A while later, to further allay suspicion, they even had to pretend to go to bed.

 At first it felt like Harry would never sleep again, staring at the roof of his four-poster bed and having time crawl by around him. But the room was dark and his bed was soft, he could hear the soft snores of Dean and Seamus, and it had been a very long and eventful day. Somewhere between worrying that he was going to lose the duel terribly or be caught and thrown out of Hogwarts, without meaning to, Harry slipped off into a restless sleep.

 

~

 

 The dream that rose around him was strange.

 Harry was creeping down a long, dark corridor, his wand tightly in hand, and he could hear ticking off in the distance. He was on his way to his duel with Malfoy, but he was alone and he had no idea where he was going. Outside of a small light around him, illuminating the stone floor and the edges of walls, darkness stretched far ahead of him and just as far behind him.

 Not only was there no going back, but he had no idea where he was going or what might be in moving in the thick shadow around him.

 And there were things moving around him, all manner of them, all apparently determined to keep him from reaching his goal. Hogwarts was a surprisingly loud and crowded place at night.

 Prefect Brigg kept appearing out of the shadows and making Harry jump out of his way. Neville Longbottom rocketed by on a broomstick, in between being escorted back and forth by a whole parade of teachers and prefects bickering at the top of their lungs. A large butterfly kept fluttering in front of Harry’s face, apparently determined to land on his nose no matter how many times he waved it away in annoyance. And Peeves the poltergeist, giggling incessantly, alternated between mimicking the butterfly by trying to grab Harry’s nose and singing some silly song that Harry’s couldn’t quite catch the words to.

 “Could you all just get out of my way?” Harry cried desperately.

 But that only summoned the Gryffindor Quidditch captain out of the shadows, who had been looking for him everywhere. Oliver Wood immediately dragged Harry off to his first Quidditch match, which he was apparently already late to.

 Only, for some reason, Quidditch turned out to be a war between students on broomsticks and the suits of armour that lined the castle halls. The Weasley twins suddenly appeared behind Harry and shoved him into the middle of the chaos, all flash and clang, without even a broomstick of his own. Harry crawled hurriedly through the wild battlefield, to great jeers and booing of the crowd, and to the ticking of a clock in the background – and ran toward the cat he could see at the far end.

 “Professor McGonagall! Help!” he cried, waving the butterfly away from his face again, once he reached the cat. “I don’t want to play Quidditch anymore! I’m going to be late!”

 But when the cat turned around, Harry saw that she was really Mrs. Norris, and she hissed at him before yowling loudly. Harry could hear Peeves cackling and Filch’s grumbling coming for him, and knew he’d get in terrible trouble if he was caught. Harry waved the stupid butterfly out of his line of sight again and sprinted away. He was so close! He wouldn’t be stopped now!

 Through the wild Quidditch war, past the bustling teachers, Harry followed his feet, and there! The door! Finally!

 He threw the door open, rushed inside, and slammed it shut behind him!

 The nightly noise went immediately silent and Harry turned toward light, finding himself in a brilliant room he had never seen before. It was a gleaming potions classroom where every surface was covered in bottles and tubes of all wild shapes and sizes, each fantastic one made of glass and gold, and each gleaming one filled with what looked like rubies made liquid. The potions were so beautiful and tantalizing – Harry thoughtlessly reached out to touch one of them.

 And got a face full of butterfly for his troubles.

 Harry swatted the insipid creature away. He didn’t manage to squish it – he missed – but the butterfly finally fluttered away and Harry watched it flit farther into the potions classroom. It flew past all the gleaming ruby-gold potions, toward a bright golden cauldron, exactly like the one Hagrid had had to stop Harry from buying in Diagon Alley, sitting atop dying embers.

 Harry followed, curious, as the butterfly landed softly on the rim. But the potion inside the cauldron was emerald green instead of ruby red. And when the butterfly, settled on the edge, touched the potion to drink… the butterfly suddenly burst into green flames… into a crisp.

 Harry stumbled back in horror, but not soon enough to miss the ashes landing softly across the rippling surface of the cauldron. 

 

Chapter Text

 Harry came awake to someone shaking his shoulder. He blinked away thoughts of reaching for the door and fleeing into the shadows, and startled at someone looming over his bed.

 “- have to leave, Harry, wake up.”

 Harry squinted and readjusted his glasses. “Ron?”

 “Yeah, we need to go, Harry. It’s nearly midnight,” Ron whispered, then frowned. “Are you alright? I almost thought you were awake, listening to you toss and turn like that. You were muttering in your sleep.”

 Harry rubbed at his forehead. “I was having… a weird dream.”

 “Yeah, looked it. You alright?”

 “Fine,” Harry murmured, and got out of bed.

 It was dark and delicately quiet in their dormitory. Harry could just barely make out the shapes of Dean and Seamus asleep in their beds, both snoring softly with their curtains partly drawn, and see that Neville’s four-poster bed was still open and empty.

 The only living being awake to stop them was a large rat, Ron’s pet Scabbers, who had been sleeping on a scarf atop Ron’s dresser, and whose only move now was to lower his whiskered head and go back to sleep. This was unsurprising from a rat who spent most of his time sleeping here in their dormitory and the rest of it eating or chewing on bedposts.

 Harry winced at every creak as he and Ron made their way down to the Gryffindor common room to sneak out. Just like at Privet Drive, every sound seemed to become infinitely louder in the night.

 Harry had never seen the common room so late at night before; he had always been in bed by now. There was something unnerving about the emptiness of it, in seeing such a warm and inviting room turned so shadowy and almost… insubstantial. The fantastic beasts around the walls grumbled slumberous in their tapestries, such that the lowly spitting fire seemed to cast wild, dormant forms over the squashy armchairs and comfy sofas all around them, as they crept through this stranger’s common room. Even the tall witch who usually watched over them from the painting above the fireplace was absent, her writing desk empty.

 “I was hoping you’d come to your senses.”

 It felt rather fair to startle when they suddenly came face to face with an irate Hermione Granger. One of the side-table lamps switched on and there she was, sitting in one of the squashy armchairs with a heavy book in her lap, wearing a fluffy pink bathrobe and her slippers and a terribly disapproving, very tired scowl. Like she’d stayed up waiting for them.

 “Oh, hell, it’s you,” Ron said disbelievingly.

 Harry struggled to calm his panicky heart, which seemed to be trying to escape back up the stairs, while Hermione Granger got to her feet, crossed her arms, and glowered at them.

 “I can’t believe that you had hours and hours to think this over and you’re still going through with this nonsense,” she said in a loud whisper.

 “I was hoping you’d change your mind about meddling in other people’s business,” Ron whispered back, his ears turning pink.

 Hermione Granger flushed as well. “You losing Gryffindor points makes it my business!”

 “But not standing up to prats? Someone ought to do it, Granger, since it’s definitely not going to be you. Otherwise Malfoy’s just going to keep swaggering about like he owns the place.”

 Ron and Hermione’s hushed argument continued and Harry, as annoyed as either of them, found it difficult to get a hissed word in edgewise. They were unintentionally loud in the delicate quiet and Harry instead looked around to see if anyone had heard them.

 One of the monstrous tapestry beasts, a lion with leathery wings and a scorpion’s tail, rolled over with a snarl and kept sleeping, but another beast cracked open a golden eye. This second beast had the head of a woman, the body of a lion, and great feathery wings. She looked dismissively over the three first-years disturbing her sleep with their hushed hurly-burly – then she cocked her crowned head and looked toward the dormitory stairs. 

 Harry followed her gaze and saw the shadow of a person coming down the staircase.

 “Someone’s coming!” he hissed.

 Much to his surprise, Hermione Granger was the first to snap her mouth shut and dive behind one of the comfortable sofas. Ron and Harry exchanged a wide-eyed look before they followed suit, ducking down out of sight of whoever was coming down the stairs of the boys’ dormitory. Hemione Granger very begrudgingly shuffled over for them, so they could all have more room.

 They couldn’t see anything from where they were hiding. Harry strained to hear some sort of clue as to who it was or if they were still there, but his bounding heart seemed determined to drown out any scratch of shoes or rustle of fabric. They could only tuck their arms around their knees and wait.

 The worst part was the realization that Hermione Granger had turned on a light. If whoever it was came over to shut the side-table lamp off again, this unknown person would almost certainly catch the three of them out of bed.

 Harry held his breath and listened for anything over the faint spitting of the fire and the grumble-snoring of the tapestry beasts – and finally he was rewarded with the sound of footsteps! They were faint and growing fainter. Harry could hear their scuffle by the staircase, then the slight creak of the bottom step, as though the person who had descended so silently was dragging their way back upstairs to bed.

 Harry crawled across the floor and dared to peer around the sofa. He looked across the dark of the common room, toward the stairs, and saw the familiar height and broadness of Prefect Nelson Brigg, who was standing with one foot on the staircase and was looking back at the common room expectantly.

 Harry ducked away again immediately and leaned against the sofa’s back, his heart bounding anew. He hadn’t been able to see Brigg’s face and had no way of knowing if the seventh-year prefect had seen him peer around the sofa’s edge, but Harry had been in the light of the only lit lamp of the common room. He expected Brigg’s voice to call out to him – for the prefect to say that he had seen Harry and that there was no use in hiding!

 But there was nothing. Hermione Granger and Ron were both looking at Harry with wide-eyed uncertainty, but Harry was just as uncertain of their fate as they were. Brigg wasn’t saying anything. Had Harry really not been seen?

 Suddenly, the lamp beside their sofa went out, as though someone had waved a wand at it to turn it off. Harry heard Ron suck in a breath.

 But instead of impending detention or any other trouble, they all heard the sound of footsteps going up the dormitory stairs – properly this time – as though Brigg was really leaving. Was this a test? Were they supposed to turn themselves in? This time, Harry waited for nearly a minute after the footsteps had finally faded away, before he dared to peer through the shadows of the common room again for Brigg.

 The stairway was empty of even a shadow. Harry sighed.

 “He’s gone.”

 Ron echoed him immediately. “That was close.”

 Hermione Granger pushed herself to her feet again quickly, putting her hands on her hips, scowling at them like she hadn’t just been hiding behind a sofa with them. “I told you that you were bound to get caught doing this!” she whispered. “That was probably a prefect! And there are probably bunches of teachers out there just waiting to get you two into trouble for fighting after curfew!”

 “At midnight?” Ron said dubiously, pushing himself up as well and scowling over her. “They probably have better things to do than wander the halls looking for troublemakers and getting no sleep, don’t you think?”

 Hermione Granger didn’t appear to have a retort for this point.

 “Hmph,” she said finally.

 “Besides, you can’t say that Malfoy doesn’t deserve to get punched in the nose,” Ron said smugly.

 “Punching people isn’t how you ought to solve your problems!”

 Harry noted as he stood that, despite this insistence, Hermione Granger made no attempt to argue that Malfoy wouldn’t deserve it. She usually scowled at that slimy git for his mean antics and cruel remarks almost just as much as Harry or Ron.

 Ron shrugged. “Sure, but don’t you think Malfoy would be way less likely to be a git if he knew someone would wallop him for it?”

 “That’s probably why he goes around with Crabbe and Goyle everywhere,” Harry said.

 “He’d never get to say half the things he says if they weren’t there cracking their knuckles every time he says something,” Ron agreed. “People would be cracking their knuckles on his face all day long. He was definitely expecting you to refuse earlier, and now he’s got to show up and duel or we get to call him a coward for the rest of the year. He’s trapped himself!”

 Harry might have found that as funny as Ron clearly did, if he wasn’t also trapped in this duel. So far, his plan was to punch Malfoy in the nose, deal with him without a teacher nearby, and leave as soon as possible. Then make a fist at Malfoy for the rest of the year if he so much as said a single mean thing to any of the Gryffindor first-years again. None of the jinxes or hexes Harry had hurriedly read about earlier were conveniently coming to mind.

 “What do you even really get if you go through with this?” Hermione Granger demanded.

 “I get to punch Malfoy in the nose?” Harry said.

 Hermione Granger huffed, as though this obvious answer wasn’t nearly good enough.

 “What if he doesn’t stop bothering you?” she pushed. “What if he tells a teacher on you? Fighting’s not at all allowed in this school. What if you get hurt or worse…” She lowered her voice and hissed, “What if you get expelled?”

 “Malfoy’s not going to tell a teacher, he’d get in trouble too,” Ron said.

 “It’s not worth it! All sorts of things could go wrong with this silly, selfish duel! Why don’t you just tell him off and ignore him? You should just go back to bed now and not get Gryffindor into any more trouble today.”

 “It’s almost tomorrow now,” Harry said flatly. “Look, we’ve got to get going.”

 “Someone’s got to prove to Malfoy that he can’t just say and do whatever he wants,” Ron said. “It’s not like the teachers or prefects are really doing anything about him.”

 “That doesn’t mean it’s up to you to break school rules!”

 “He broke ‘em first, probably,” Ron said with a shrug. “Well, we’re still going – right, Harry? So, unless you want to go back and find a prefect… and probably get in trouble for being out of bed too… then you can’t stop us. Goodbye.”

 He tugged on Harry’s sleeve and they slipped out of the portrait hole without waiting for whatever the girl would say next. It didn’t surprise Harry that, after a moment, Hermione Granger determinedly followed them, though he didn’t know how she honestly expected to change their minds now. Hopefully, if they just ignored her and her disapproval, she would eventually just give up and leave them alone.

 The corridors of Hogwarts were not so dark at night as Harry’s hazy dreams had suggested. The torches were lit sparingly and flickered lowly, but there was light enough to see their way, though the corridor seemed to stretch longer ahead of them in its emptiness. The only sound Harry heard was soft snoring and he turned around to see the Fat Lady, curled up in the chair of her painting, fast asleep. She mumbled something as the frame of her painting shut slowly behind them.

 “What are you doing?” Ron hissed incredulously.

 Hermione Granger crossed her arms again, not looking particularly intimidating in her bathrobe and slippers, but she lifted her chin anyway. “I’m coming with you,” she declared quietly. “I’m not going to stop trying to talk you out of this stupid fight. Someone has to make sure this doesn’t all end in disaster. Besides, I’ve read a bit on wizard’s duels and I’d bet that neither of you know any sort of counter-spell or counter-jinx.”

 That was true, much to their disgruntlement. All Harry knew about defending himself from magic was what had been briefly mentioned in Defence – a class in which Harry spent most of his time fantasizing about the ventilation of the Potions classroom… or about Professor Feasance bursting in to inform them that she was going to be “substituting” permanently for their class from now on and teaching all her lessons outside.

 But that still didn’t mean Harry wanted Hermione Granger to come along and disapprove of him some more. Why him and Ron out of everyone else in Gryffindor? While Harry had seen her give her overbearing advice and intense disapproval to others, she didn’t seem to disapprove of Lavender and Parvati, or of Dean and Seamus, to the same degree she did Harry and Ron.

 “This really isn’t any of your business,” Harry said again.

 “When were you invited?” Ron agreed.

 Hermione Granger bit her lip at first, but then she lifted her chin even higher. “I’m still coming with you, because this sort of trouble-making behaviour is my business,” she said, “and unless you want to go back and find a prefect… and get yourselves into trouble for trying to sneak out and get into fights like this… you can’t stop me from trying to stop you for your own good!”

 Midnight was approaching quickly, so Harry and Ron had no choice but to let Hermione Granger follow them. Harry led the way, after confirming with Ron that the trophy room was one of the rooms just off the Great Hall. Ron was pretty sure this was right.

 Hermione Granger looked as though she desperately wanted to share her knowledge during this exchange, but she also refused to help them get into a fight and said nothing.

 Well, she didn’t say anything helpful.

 “You don’t even know where your fight is supposed to be?”

 “We do too!” Ron insisted. “Come on, Harry, it shouldn’t be too hard to find.”

 

~

 

 Hogwarts at night was as different from its daylight self as the Gryffindor common room was to its own other self. It had few things in common with Harry’s busy dream.

 The castle was not as dark as he had feared, but somehow, no matter the unchanging lack of windows or the number of torches lit, dark side corridors managed to look even darker. Just as empty hallways appeared somehow emptier. Just as, though they did not become lost, all the staircases and passages seemed to twist and turn in new and stranger ways.

 The castle was quiet, but it was not silent, and every settling sound seemed to send goosebumps over Harry’s skin. The magical portraits and tapestries were mostly asleep, each one making their own unique wheeze or whistle or rumble, but occasionally the three first-years caught wind of a whoop or a cackle of the painted people staying up past curfew. It was terribly nerve-wracking not only to be checking around every corner for lurking adults, but to have to watch the walls for the one awake painted person who might be bothered to go running for a professor.

 Even the suits of armour seemed to be asleep. They were slumped across walls and spears and halberds and each other, their helmet visors rattling like they were snoring. Harry felt reasonably wary of having weapons drawn on them if they woke these clanking guards.

 But the painted people and the suits of armour were not the only watchful obstacles out there, nor were they the worst, for the presence of the Hogwarts ghosts seemed to increase threefold in these dark hours and Harry didn’t know if ghosts slept. Ordinarily, besides Binns, he saw the ghosts infrequently. During the day, they seemed to wander in the farther reaches of the castle like the towers or dungeons – chatting with each other in foreign languages and forms of English so old they may as well have been foreign to Harry, acting out some routine that had long since lost its context, or staring off into the distance at unseen things – about as solid as sunlight in a dusty room.

 At night, however, the silvery forms of the Hogwarts ghosts stood out against the shadows and they spread over the school like it was their turn to have its hallways. Their strange conversations echoed down the long corridors in an almost lively way. Several times, the three first-years had had to duck out of sight, to avoid being caught by the ghosts fencing, waltzing, singing, shouting, or simply drifting down the way while humming in thought.

 “We ought to go back,” Hermione Granger whispered again. She was much quieter now, like she had lost a great deal of her nerve, though she still persisted in following them.

 They were waiting for another ghost to pass them by. This one sounded like a pirate and was singing what sounded like an old drinking song, alternating between mumbling and bellowing at the top of their lungs, apparently trying to sing all the parts at once, tottering away through the air like a drunkard. Harry hadn’t expected the night to be so crowded with the dead and had also lost a great deal of his nerve, but he was hardly about to admit that to Hermione Granger and was determined to see this through.

 “We ought to hurry up,” Ron countered. “We’re going to be late.”

 “Oh, yes, we wouldn’t want to disappoint Malfoy,” Hermione Granger said snottily.

 Ron gave her a dirty look.

 “Let him get in trouble for being out of bed waiting for you!” Hermione Granger hissed. “There’ll be all sorts of noise if you honestly try to fight him, you know. Someone’s bound to notice your duel and go running for a professor.”

 “We can’t go back now,” Ron said incredulously. “We’re almost there.”

 Hermione Granger sucked in a breath to continue the argument, while Harry did his best to ignore her and focus on the ghost just about to stumble around the corner. There were so close to the foyer that led to the Great Hall and Harry was certain now that someone had told them that the trophy room was just off Great Hall. He had to see what was inside.

 But before Hermione Granger could make her next point, there was a terrible scream through the night. It was coming from far away, from the direction of the main stairwell they had avoided taking, but it was so loud and high that it made all three of them jump in their hiding place.

 The tottering ghost suddenly stood up straight and stopped singing, for the screaming continued and echoed all through the school. The three first-years pressed deeper into the shadows as the castle came to life around them. A pair of armour suits jumped to attention and clanked down the hall, a portrait of an ornithologist put his hands over his ears as the birds in his painting all started hooting and cawing and shrieking, and a small parade of silver ghosts streamed from the Great Hall and toward the main stairwell with great chatter and urgency to see what was wrong.  

 “Murder!” wailed a distant voice – deep and masculine and with a strange accent.

 Harry immediately thought it must have been an older ghost, consciously attempting to speak modern English as they did when they wished to be understood by the living and the younger ghosts. (Sir “Nearly Headless” Nicolas would occasionally forget and attempt to hold enthusiastic conversations with helpless Gryffindors who had no idea what he was saying.) The awful screaming went on and on behind this new speaker, travelling higher and farther away through the castle.

 “Murder!” continued this distant voice, tragically. “Beware the impossible murder, my midnight friends! Murder most savage and beastly and bloodless has happened this night!”

 “Is that the Baron who cries murder?” one of the ghosts from the Great Hall, an old and withered witch, called to the one who had been playing drunkard.

 “Aye, so it seems!”

 “When is the Bloody Baron not wailing murder?” complained another of the Great Hall ghosts, a young woman in an evening gown and feathered headdress. “Why should my performance be interrupted for an old murderer forever coated in the blood of his crime?”

 “Why not if the interruption is more interesting than the performance?” answered the maybe-not-actually-drunk drunkard mockingly.

 Can ghosts get drunk? Harry wondered, a little hysterically. What happens if they died drunk?

 “How dare you!” 

 “But who screams? That is not the Baron,” declared the withered witch.

  This garnered much murmured agreement from the other Great Hall ghosts, who were straining toward the main stairwell as the faint screaming was disappearing above them. The suits of armour had clanked back to their places and back to sleep, guards easily distracted and just as easily placated, and most of the few nearby paintings were drifting back to sleep as well (the poor ornithologist had nearly calmed all his birds) – but the sleepless ghosts seemed to be falling through each other with great excitement.

 “The Grey Lady, of course! Who else shrieks so loudly at the Bloody Baron when he is making a wailing pest of himself?” sniffed the young woman, but she too was floating toward the stairwell, as though her curiosity was winning out.

 “I have never known the Lady to scream at him like that,” said another ghost.

 And that seemed to make up their minds for them. The small crowd of ghosts all floated off toward the main stairwell, some floating directly upward, to investigate the cries of murder. As they drifted away, Harry heard the enormous castle clock begin to chime midnight.  

 “What was that?” Hermione Granger demanded, as soon as the ghosts had all gone.

 “Who cares?” Ron answered stubbornly, but Harry saw his freckles standing out on his face in the torchlight. “The ghosts make up all sorts of nonsense when they’re bored, Fred and George say, often the same boring things again and again. It’s midnight! We’re not going to get another chance at the Great Hall being empty and I don’t know another way to the trophy room.”

 It was only a short run before they were in the foyer the ghosts had left and then they were just outside the Great Hall. One of the doors of the Great Hall was ajar – Harry had not seen them fully closed since before the first-years had entered during the Welcoming Feast – and he peered inside for anyone who might call an alarm on students being out of bed. Thankfully, it seemed like all the ghosts who had claimed the Great Hall for their midnight activities had left to investigate the screaming and wailing in the stairwell, so the three first-years slipped inside freely.

 The Great Hall was cavernous at midnight and Harry felt very small among the long, empty tables, with only Ron and Hermione Granger and their echoing footsteps for company. There were torches lit only by the doors on either side of the hall. Most of the light actually came from the ceiling above, which seemed to stretch even higher above them in the darkness, and which was even more magnificent than usual as the sky above was apparently clear tonight. The moon itself appeared to hang from the rafters and Harry had never seen so many twinkling stars in all his life.

 But they could not stop to appreciate such a wonderful sight, not with the tolling of the clock urging them onward to Harry’s duel on the other side of the hall. As they slipped through one of the side doors that was supposed to lead to the trophy room, suddenly Harry wanted to do nothing more than stare at the starry ceiling of the Great Hall, to return to warm bed and odd dreams, or even to investigate what had distracted the ghosts – anything to get him out of this stupid duel.

 “You can still turn back, you know!” Hermione Granger whispered insistently.

 “And have Malfoy call every Gryffindor cowards?” Ron scoffed.

 “Who cares what Malfoy says?!” she hissed. “Just tell him you forgot because he’s not important enough for you to remember. My parents say bullies like him always just want attention.”

 Harry and Ron both stared at her.

 “Shit,” Ron said. “That’s kind of brilliant.”

 “Maybe I’ll just tell him I changed my mind,” Harry muttered, because that sounded like a much better idea now. He could live with that. “Might as well see if he even showed up.”

 Harry’s hand was already on the door to what was supposedly the trophy room and he could not come so far without knowing what was on the other side. He pushed it open and the hinges creaked wincingly loud in this shadowy side passage. With a deep breath, he went in.

 It took Harry a dozen cautious steps into the room before he realized his disappointment. The trophy room looked nothing like the shining classroom of his dream. It was filled with trophies and plaques of all shapes and sizes, some of which had little moving pieces that were either enchanted or clockwork or both, as well as busts of notable historical figures like those which lined the History classroom, in many shades of gold and silver and bronze. Some rare trophies appeared to be made of glass, some had delicate portraits painted upon them and asleep, and some rarer still seemed to have jewels embedded. But the room was quite dark, with only one low torch lit at the far side of the room, and most of these grand trophies stood lifeless and gleamed rather dully.

 Harry didn’t know what he had been expecting to find. Of course it didn’t make any sense for this room to be filled with spectacular ruby potions and golden cauldrons.  

 “Malfoy?” Ron called, scowling through the dark. “Harry, I don’t think he’s here.”

 Harry blinked. “What?”

 “Maybe he got caught on his way here,” Hermione Granger suggested unhappily, from where she was lingering near the door. “What an awful place for a duel, anyway! You’d be bound to knock something over if you had a fight here, Harry.”

 “It would make a lot of noise,” Ron conceded begrudgingly.

 “Maybe he chickened-” Harry began.

 Only to be interrupted by a hoarse meow.

 Harry looked down into the wide, accusing, bulbous eyes of Mrs. Norris and startled back. She was lurking only a dozen feet away, between two trophy cases, and she meowed again and louder.

 “Is that-?” Ron whispered.

 Harry suddenly understood exactly what had happened. “Malfoy set Filch on us!”

 Hermione Granger and Ron’s eyes both went wide. Mrs. Norris yowled.

 “Run!” Harry cried.

 

 ~

 

 They flew through the nightly castle with Mrs. Norris at their heels. She was a deceptively quick creature and yowled loudly for her caretaker to come catch them, and everyone said there was no hiding from her, but she seemed to get tired easily. Filch could not be very fast, but everyone said he knew all the castle’s secret passageways. If they could lose Mrs. Norris before Filch caught wind of them, Harry hoped they could get away.

“A door!” Harry said breathlessly to Ron and Hermione as they ran. “We need to find a door and close it on her! She won’t be able to get through.”

 “Not a classroom though! Or she’ll have us cornered,” Ron answered, just as breathless.  

 They sprinted past sleeping portraits and tapestries and suits of armour, maybe of whom stirred or startled at Mrs. Norris’ terrible noise. They went up two flights of shadowy staircases and around tight, dark corners and down long corridors, searching desperately for a door they could close in their pursuer’s whiskers, then continue past to Gryffindor Tower and their safe beds. They were a full corridor ahead of Mrs. Norris now, but Harry thought he had heard uneven footsteps and the much-dreaded clink of keys on Filch’s belt before they had turned their last corner.

 “There!” Hermione Granger said, pointing to a door near the end of the corridor, clearly just as eager to get in trouble as they were. “We should be able to go through those rooms and come out on the other side of the main stairwell!”

 “Are you sure?” Ron said.

 “It’s how the floorplan should work out!” she insisted.

 That sounded good enough for Harry, who knew how clever Hermione Granger was and knew that she had read Hogwarts: A History more times than anyone should, and it seemed good enough for Ron too as they reached the large, thick door. It was wide enough to have been a double set of doors and twice as tall as any of them – and Ron immediately grabbed its enormous handle with both hands. They all made disappointed and horrified sounds when the handle came hard against a lock.

 “Damn!” Ron cried. “No luck!”

 Harry looked back the way they had come and his heart panicked to see Mrs. Norris’ tiny figure trotting quickly around the corner. “Come on! We’ll have to try the next one!”

 “No, I know a spell for this exactly!” Hermione Granger insisted, and drew her wand from the pocket of her bathrobe. Ron leaped out of the way as she pointed it determinedly at the enormous door handle and said, very clearly, “Alohomora!”

 They all heard the clunk as the lock undid itself. Harry could have melted from relief.

 Hermione Granger turned the handle the rest of the way and pushed at the heavy door. Harry and Ron were quick to put their backs to it and help her, eager to be through and safe. A great chuff of air came through as it opened, it smelled very strong and not precisely good, and Harry thought for a bizarre moment that he heard whistling coming from the other side.

 But then the door suddenly pushed back against him, Ron, and Hermione Granger. It swept them off their feet, slammed abruptly shut in their faces, and sent them all tumbling back across the stone floor. Harry landed painfully, confused, and heard the lock clunk firmly back in place.

 To one side, he heard Mrs. Norris meowing as she ran them down, but to the other, past Ron’s bewildered cursing on the floor beside him, Harry heard footsteps coming toward them from the other end of the corridor and felt his heart drop to his stomach. Harry turned with dread and saw shiny brown boots, the slight heels clicking on the stone floor as they approached at a brisk walk, then he looked up in confusion to see someone who definitely wasn’t the fearsome Mr. Filch.

 “We really need to put a sign on that door,” Professor Black said thoughtfully.

 

Chapter Text

 As Harry stared up at his Potions professor in horror, there was a hoarse mew. Professor Black looked down and smiled, for Mrs. Norris had trotted around them and was rubbing against his ankles, purring very loudly. Professor Black bent down at the waist and ran a hand along her back, before patting her indulgently on the head.

 “Yes, well done, madam,” he said fondly. “A wonderful hunt to add to your unequalled record.”

 Then Professor Black straightened, looked down at them again, and raised his eyebrows. He was not dressed in pyjamas, despite the midnight hour, but rather his usual black, practical clothing and an ordinary long, neat braid. If only he’d been wearing his apron, he might have just strolled out of one of their Potions classes. It made him a truly odd sight after all the oddities they had just seen roaming the nightly halls of Hogwarts.

 “I cannot imagine that the Hogwarts floors have suddenly become very comfortable,” he said.

 Suddenly, Harry remember that he was still sprawled over the floor and he hurried to his feet, his face burning. Beside him, Hermione Granger also leaped to her feet immediately, while Ron pushed himself up more slowly, rubbing his bruised elbows sullenly.

 “Nor do I imagine that your prefects and Heads of House have neglected to inform you of the curfew times,” Black continued. Then went on, with great consideration, “I once had a student attempt to explain to me, apparently very sincerely, that they simply weren’t aware of what the word ‘curfew’ meant… but you three were running from our resident huntress here very quickly for students simply unaware they are not meant to be wandering the halls at this hour.”

 Black then waited, as though expecting them to explain themselves. However, Harry had always found that there was very little point in explaining himself – most of the time it just made getting in trouble worse – and he didn’t think the truth would help him here. Any remotely believable lie had apparently completely deserted him in this moment of desperation. Ron seemed to be of the same opinion and issue as Harry and stayed silent as well.

 “What are you three doing out of bed?” Black asked finally.

 He didn’t really seem mad, but Harry didn’t know what to say to avoid getting in trouble. He didn’t think explaining that they were trying to get into a fight would go over well with a teacher.

 “Miss Granger?” Black prompted.

 Harry and Ron both turned to Hermione Granger in silent panic. Everything Harry knew about their unlikely, flushed, hanging-her-head-in-shame companion made him certain that she would tell their teacher everything. Was Hermione Granger even capable of not answering a teacher’s question? Why, oh, why did Black have pick her out of the three of them?

 “I-I-I told them to stop!” Hermione Granger blurted out, stutteringly. “I was trying to get them to go back to bed, but they wouldn’t! And…” Her voice had gone high and quick, and now she sniffled and it broke on her. “I t-tri-tried but they weren’t listening-”

 Harry realized, with a startled blink, that she was beginning to cry.

 “Oh, sweet Sugar Quills,” Black said, with a mildly alarmed expression, and quickly fished a handkerchief out of his pocket. “Here you are, Miss Granger, please.” He handed it over to her, which she accepted with a shaking hand, and asked her, “Am I really so frightening? If I ever needed a sign that I must cease practicing my disapproving scowls at once, this must be it.”

 Hermione Granger shook her head desperately, apparently unable to stop.

 “Well, that’s a relief,” Black said gently. “As it should be a relief to you that I have no intention of trying to have you expelled or anything dreadful just for a little late-night wandering.” He then looked towards Harry and Ron, leaving the girl to recompose herself. “Is this true? What were the two of you up to so late at night that Miss Granger felt compelled to come stop you?”

 Harry and Ron exchanged a look, each clearly trying to come up with something. It was a fantastic relief to know they weren’t going to be told to pack their bags and kicked out the front gates.  

 “It was a dare,” Harry mumbled finally, rubbing the back of his neck.

 “She didn’t want to come with us,” Ron agreed unhappily.

 Black looked between them. “And who set you this late-night jaunt of a dare?”

 What would telling the man do? It would be Draco Malfoy’s word against theirs; all Malfoy would have to do was say that they were just trying to get themselves out of trouble. And yet… Black had told Malfoy off before. Harry was surprisingly tempted to tattle, just to see what would happen.

 They were interrupted, before Harry or Ron could decide whether to bring Malfoy into this, by the jingle of keys and thump of heavy bootsteps. They both turned to see the old, grumpy caretaker, Mr. Filch, coming around the corner and down the corridor hurriedly. He was also dressed as though it was daytime, in his signature heavy coat, save for the lantern he had in one fist. Harry’s heart sank again, because Filch looked delighted at what Black had caught him.

 “You got ‘em,” Filch said triumphantly, when he was close enough. He jabbed a friendly finger at Black and said hoarsely, “I knew I could count on you to catch our vandals red-handed, professor. They didn’t get a chance to damage anything, did they?”

 “Not so much as a scratch,” Black replied pleasantly. “However, Argus, I think this may more likely be a case of first-years looking to get each other in trouble for being out of bed, rather than one of vandals with wicked intentions.” Black added wryly, “I’m afraid your stellar reputation for the care of the school’s art and artefacts may be working against you.”

 Filch looked pleased at the compliment, but then highly dubious as he reconsidered the three first-years in front of him. He scooped Mrs. Norris up into his arms, with the ease of practice, and she purred loudly as he looked particularly between Harry and Ron.

 “I don’t know about the third one there, but I’ve seen these two here around these parts before, professor,” Filch said suspiciously. “You two trying to get in where you shouldn’t be, again?”

 Harry and Ron stared back at him with great confusion.

 “Get in where?” Harry demanded.

 “Don’t you try to play innocent with me,” Filch said dangerously, clearly determined to get them into great trouble and lock them away in a dungeon somewhere. “No respect for anything, you children. Think it’s funny to flout the Headmaster’s orders like this, do you?” He focused on Ron and said disgustedly, “Another Weasley, of course. Just like your wild brothers, eh?”

 Ron flushed furiously pink at this accusation.

 “I think, Argus, that there is no need to leap immediately to malice as an explanation when simple ignorance will do,” Black said slowly. “Especially when it comes to our poor, perpetually lost first-years.” As they looked to him again, he asked them, “Do you know what floor you’re on at the moment? And what side of the school?”

 Harry furrowed his brow and tried to think about it, but Hermione Granger squeaked suddenly in realization. Her eyes were still wet and her face was still blotchy, however, so she ducked away into the handkerchief again when they all looked at her.

 “Miss Granger?” Black said.

 Harry looked at the enormous door they’d just tried to force their way through. It looked... familiar.

 Beside him, Ron stiffened and said, “Oh, bloody hell. We’re on the third floor.”

 Oh. That made sense.

 “Yes, you are. The third floor on the right-hand side, to be precise, which I can see by your expressions you also know happens to be forbidden,” Black answered calmly, as though he was leading them through one of his lessons on how to make potions without chopping off their fingers or boiling their faces off. “Forgive me if I don’t award you points, Mister Weasley, but you three are out of bed after midnight and it seems rather inappropriate.”

 Harry remembered this enormous door now. He and Ron had tried to force their way through it on their very first day of classes, lost on their way to Gryffindor Tower, only to be stopped by Filch and then rescued from Filch by a fortunately passing Professor Quirrell. Harry remembered being terribly relieved over the whole thing, both not to have died the most painful death that Headmaster Dumbledore had promised and not to have been thrown in the dungeons by Filch for the simple crime of getting lost.

 It was suddenly chilling to think just how close they had come to encountering whatever forbidden thing lay beyond again. How had they ended up here of all places, anyway? Against this one particular, terribly troublesome, locked door? Harry had only followed his feet, trying (and failing) to get away from Mrs. Norris.

 “What do you think, Argus?” Black said bemusedly. “Are these the faces of malicious intent?”

 Harry didn’t know what face he was making, but Hermione Granger had buried her flushed, blotchy face deeply into the handkerchief and Ron had gone from pink to white. Filch looked dubiously between the three of them, stroking Mrs. Norris as he considered the matter, but apparently their expressions were enough even for him. Filch’s shoulders slumped as he sighed.

 “You know how the forbidden calls out to people, especially those who have lost their way,” Black said, commiserating, and looked around the out-of-bounds corridor as though he was considering how to fix it up. “We’ll have to make signs for this corridor and that door immediately. In fact, I’ll do so myself within the day, if you would put them up for me,” he promised. “It is clearly not enough to have a member of staff fetched every time some poor student accidentally wanders this way. It is an egregious waste of our time.”  

 Filch grumbled, but it was an agreeable sort of grumble. “Yeah, I’ll hang some signs up,” he said, as though he was inwardly disappointed not to have an excuse to drag students off to the dungeons.

 “Thank you. I’m sure you know the best places for them,” Black said politely. “Oh, also, do remind me tomorrow to speak with you about a restoration project, if your summer isn’t already filled; I recently uncovered some old portraits that could do with your appraisal.”

 Filch looked more agreeable at this prospect, whatever it was.

 “I will take these three back to their beds,” Black continued smoothly. “I would have been here sooner, but something unfortunate seems to have the castle ghosts in an uproar. The noise woke several of the other staff members; I believe that they’re gathering in the History classroom now and that Quirinus and Mr. Defter could use your help in discovering the problem. At the very least, I think Headmaster Dumbledore would appreciate knowing that this door here isn’t properly locked.”

 Filch’s expression sharpened suddenly and he gave the hefty door a wary look. “Is it now?”

 “A simple Alohomora proved its undoing, just before I intervened.”

 “Now that is interesting,” Filch said slowly, and turned one last suspicious look over the three first-years before he nodded. “I’ll alert the Headmaster at once, professor.”

 “Thank you, Argus.”

  Then Filch turned on his heel and hurried off again, with Mrs. Norris’ bulging eyes peering watchfully back over his shoulder, leaving Harry, Ron, and Hermione Granger alone with Professor Black once more. Black looked them over as well, but his stare wasn’t at all suspicious. He still didn’t seem mad. At most, he appeared to be thinking something over, before he smiled at them gently.

 “I think we had best begin making our way upstairs, don’t you? It’s the unfathomably early form of terribly late. The most important problem to solve at the moment is getting the three of you back to bed, so that I can go to mine. Come along.”

 With that, Black turned to lead them back to Gryffindor Tower and, without any other real choice, they followed. Harry’s mind was whirling with Black and Filch’s conversation, but most of all it was stuck on the fact that they had not yet been punished for breaking curfew on a dare. Surely he wouldn’t be excused from trouble twice in one day? It felt like his uncertain heart kept peeking up from the vicinity of his stomach. He wanted to return to bed partly because he just wanted this entire affair over with desperately.

 The way back up to Gryffindor Tower was surprisingly quick. Black knew exactly where he was going and they didn’t have to duck around obstacles like the dozing suits of armour and the watchful paintings anymore – at least one of which, Harry now knew, was watching the out-of-bounds corridor. Harry’s feet felt like lead under the knowing gazes of some of the portraits they passed, some of whom shook their heads or clucked in disapproval.

 Many of the painted people they passed merely yawned and soon Black did as well.

 “I warned several prefects that first-years might try to sneak out of bed around this hour,” he said conversationally, while they were waiting for a staircase to come around, breaking the awful silence. “I do hope none of them stayed up too late trying to catch you; though I know that you didn’t consider the matter, at least you decided to try your hand at breaking curfew on a Friday night.”

 Is that what Prefect Brigg had been doing in the common room earlier? Harry wondered.

 “Do any of you have unbreakable commitments tomorrow?” Black asked politely. “Any commitments or urgent business on Saturday afternoons?”

 Harry and Ron both answered that they didn’t. Harry didn’t know when his first Quidditch practice might be, since Wood hadn’t yet talked to him about that. Harry didn’t know if he would still be having his first Quidditch practice, since Wood might not want a troublemaker on his team. Well, another troublemaker, given that both the Weasley twins were on the Gryffindor team.

 “Until three o’clock,” Hermione Granger said quietly. “I have clubs.”

 Black nodded, as he herded them all onto the staircase and onward. “Then I shall see you all at four o’clock in my classroom for detention,” he said, inarguably. “We can discuss this in further detail at that more respectable hour.”

 And Harry’s uncertain heart dropped back to his stomach. Detention, of course, and with the promise of further punishment to come too. Now that it was past midnight, that was only sixteen hours away. For all Harry knew, for all of Black’s promises that he had no intention of trying to have them expelled, they might be the last sixteen hours he got to spend at Hogwarts.

 “In the meanwhile, however, I think that will be ten points from Gryffindor,” Black went on. “Each.”

 Harry nearly tripped over his own feet at that. Thirty points? It was the most points he had ever seen taken off in one go, much less have taken off because of him, even though Ron had sworn before that his twin brothers had easily lost much more. It didn’t surprise Harry at all that Hermione Granger beside him gasped in horror; this was exactly what she had been afraid of.

 None of them argued with this, however. They had been caught out of bed past midnight, trying to break into a room in the forbidden corridor; what was there to argue? Harry and Ron walked in sullen silence and Hermione Granger clutched equally silently at Professor Black’s handkerchief. They made for a grim party as they finally arrived at the Fat Lady’s portrait.

 She was still asleep, so Black cleared his throat and said, “Excuse me, my lady?”

 “Oh, let me rest my eyes for five more minutes, would you?” the Fat Lady sighed, without opening said eyes. She turned over in her chair, tucking her hand over her chin, and used the other hand to wave at them in dismissive circles. “It is far too early for this. Go on about some business or another and come back much later.”

 “I have students I need to return to you.”

 “Just keep them.”

 “Lady Isobel, please,” Black said tiredly. “Pig Snout.”

 At this, the Fat Lady cracked open an eye and sighed dramatically. “Oh, very well, sir! But only because you’re at least polite about it.” And the frame of her portrait swung reluctantly open to reveal the passageway to the dark Gryffindor common room.

 “And this is where I leave you, for I learned at a very young age that it wasn’t wise to wander into the dens of lions,” Black said, and checked his watch. “Go to bed, please. Remember: my classroom, four o’clock, later… today, unfortunately. Goodnight.”

 The three first-years murmured their own goodnights and trooped inside under Black’s watchful eye. Harry looked back and saw their Potions professor turn away just as the portrait of the Fat Lady – whose name was Isobel, apparently – closed behind them. He blearily wondered where Black might be going at this hour. Had Black been awake this whole night just to help Filch catch them? Was he going to find out what had happened with the ghosts and that terrible scream?

 Harry’s thoughts were interrupted as Hermione Granger suddenly pushed past him. She didn’t say anything to them… or even look at them. She was still holding the handkerchief protectively to her face, as though it could hide her obvious upset, and she fled up the stairs two steps at a time.

 “Well,” Ron said, after she had gone. “That was a big load of rubbish. And we were worried about Malfoy calling us cowards! What a complete git. Should have known he’d never play fair; he’s probably allergic to playing fair.”

 Harry nodded in agreement. “He might actually lose if he couldn’t make up his own rules.”

 Harry might have been deeply disappointed and ashamed to have lost points and been given detention – it was only his second week of school and this had been an embarrassing mistake – but at least felt slightly vindicated in his first impression of Draco Malfoy in Madam Malkin’s. As well as his second impression of Malfoy on the train. This whole thing was exactly the sort of stunt Harry’s cousin might have pulled if Dudley had been clever enough to come up with it or seen it on the telly.

 “Come on,” Ron said defeatedly. “Let’s go to bed.”

 They returned to their dormitory quietly, where Dean and Seamus were still asleep as though nothing had happened, and got into their beds with murmured goodnights.

 Harry found himself staring up at the roof of his four-poster bed again, as though he had never left. He wished that he had never left. It had been a really stupid idea to try and get into a fight. It had been stupid to have any kind of faith in Malfoy like that. It was incredibly humiliating that all that worrying over knowing the right spells, trying to dodge Hermione Granger, and all that careful sneaking around through the castle at night, all those paintings and suits of armour and ghosts, had ended in them getting in trouble. Thirty points and detention! It was a worse nightmare than Harry's awful dream.

 It occurred to Harry now, a curious and suspicious thought, that throughout the entire way back up to their dormitory, they hadn’t seen a single ghost. That was… what had Filch said? Interesting. 

 

Chapter Text

 The first thing that Harry heard anyone say at the Gryffindor table during lunch on Saturday was, “Who lost thirty points overnight?!” It was an indignant upper-year, coming from the direction of the High Table, next to which were the four enormous hourglasses filled with colourful gems which kept track of House points.

 Harry hunched his shoulders and hoped he didn’t look too guilty.

 “At least Percy hasn’t found out yet,” Ron said glumly, between bites of his sandwich. “But it’s probably only a matter of time. There’s a record of this sort of thing, you know, and I bet he checks it like it’s the Prophet to try an’ figure out what Fred and George are up to.” 

 That made Harry imagine some undefined interview in the future, perhaps with a policeman or a professor, where the suspicious interviewer was perusing this supposed record and saying, “Mister Potter, I see you have a detention on your record from twenty years ago. Would you care to explain that? I’m afraid we can’t have someone with your sort of history here.”

 He’d slept terribly after being returned to Gryffindor Tower. He’d only woken up in time for lunch because Neville Longbottom had finally returned to their dormitory from the Hospital Wing. Harry had only gotten up in the end because he didn’t want to accidentally sleep through his detention (which was less than four hours away now, Harry couldn’t help but remember) and get in even more trouble with Professor Black. 

 Harry and Ron both stopped talking about their troublemaking when two prefects came up to their table; it was Camille Hewley and a broad, dark-haired seventh-year girl called Sherry, the latter of whom Harry didn’t see much. Harry was absolutely certain that they were here for him and Ron. He should have known it was only a matter of time.

 But then the girls turned their attention on Neville instead. Neville was sitting across from Harry and Ron now, with one arm in a cast so that it could heal properly and the other hand picking at his food. Neville had said he was alright and had thanked Harry for the return of the Remembrall earlier, but he didn’t really look alright. He looked a bit grim, honestly, and the arrival of the prefects only seemed to make him grimmer.

 “You alright there, Nev?” Camille said.

 “He’s fine,” Prefect Sherry answered shortly, before Neville had even opened his mouth.

 Camille didn’t even look at her, despite the fact that they’d arrived together. “Oh, is your name Neville? No? I wasn’t asking you,” she said casually. “How about it, Neville? Doing alright?”

 “…’M fine,” Neville answered quietly, his shoulders even more hunched that Harry’s.

 “There, I told you,” Sherry said. “He’s tough. Just leave him be.”

 Now Camille gave the other girl a hard look, before she smiled at Neville again. “Well, just let me know if you need anything. We’re always here to help,” she said, and reluctantly moved along the table toward the other upper-years, pushed along by the other, older Gryffindor prefect.

 Prefect Sherry leaned in the whisper something to Camille as they left, but Harry didn’t hear it.  

 “…Is everything alright, Neville?” Ron said carefully.

 “Yeah. It’s good.”

 It still didn’t look good, or even really fine, but neither Harry nor Ron knew how to push the subject. They let it drop, distracted by how Hermione Granger had finally entered the Great Hall.

 Harry and Ron watched as, after spotting them, she pointedly refused to look back at them anymore and chose a spot seemingly as far away from them as possible. She sat at the other side of the long table, far away from where she usually ate and from all the other Gryffindor first-years too.

 “I can’t believe she didn’t just rat us out to a professor,” Ron said. He was scowling down at her, but with a confused twist. “Why’d she have to come with us when she could have just told on us?”

 “I dunno,” Harry answered. “It is a bit weird.”

 If Hermione Granger had wanted to stop their duel, she could have ratted them out to any of the prefects Professor Black had warned to watch for them, instead of diving behind a sofa to hide from Prefect Brigg. She might have even been rewarded for it. Harry hadn’t seen Prefect Brigg yet today, but he was inclined to think that Brigg hadn’t seen them after all. Surely Brigg would have delighted in getting Harry into trouble.

 Another unfriendly face Harry had been dreading seeing today was Draco Malfoy, but Malfoy had barely looked at the Gryffindor table beyond a few across-the-hall sneers. He wasn’t acting nearly as smug as Harry had imagined, which was also a bit weird.

 “I can’t believe she nearly took us through that forbidden door,” Ron muttered.

 “Well, she didn’t know,” Harry pointed out, in the interest of fairness. She had tried to help them escape Mrs. Norris, even if it might have been only to save her own skin and had backfired spectacularly on all of them. “And we nearly went through it too.”

 “I guess.”

 Harry’s brow furrowed as he remembered, “Didn’t Black say the door wasn’t ‘properly’ locked?”

 “Yeah, he did. Maybe there was supposed to be magic on the door.”

 “Magic to stop a wizard from magically unlocking a door?” Harry wondered, because he was very confused and that did make an awful lot of sense. It had been a bit bizarre to think, however briefly, that the entire magical world could just go around unlocking each other’s doors willy-nilly. Harry had been ready to suppose that was why Gryffindor Tower used a portrait as their door, before he remembered the enormous and frightening vaults of Gringotts Bank.

 “Something like that,” Ron agreed. “We’ve got something like that on our house.”

 “Huh.”

 Harry went back to his food, as Ron did the same, but it wasn’t very long before Harry turned his attention to the High Table as he ate. He had noticed that many of the professors vanished over the weekend – even more of them than those who already frequently missed meals in the Great Hall, like the reportedly extraordinarily busy Dumbledore – but there seemed to be even fewer staff members there than usual today. Black had not yet made an appearance, which wasn’t all that strange, but none of the Heads or Deputy Heads of Houses had either, which Harry personally found odd. Quirrell, whom Black had mentioned last night, hadn’t shown up either; nor had Filch or the “substitute” Defence teacher, Professor Feasance.

 After a few minutes of staring, Harry noticed someone was staring at him. It wasn’t one of the teachers or Draco Malfoy or Hermione Granger, but rather Neville Longbottom, sitting across from him. Neville was looking between Harry and Ron with nervous curiosity. The boy flushed a little once he noticed his staring had caught Harry’s attention.

 “…Did something happen last night?” Neville asked timidly. “Did I miss something?”

 “Nah, not really,” Ron said. “Bit dull, really.”

 “Yeah, it was just another boring night,” Harry agreed immediately.

 “Oh… alright.”

 

~

 

 Harry and Ron tried to distract themselves with their homework, since they had quite a bit to do for next week, and no amount of broomstick flying, midnight wanderings, or detentions would save them from it. Ron jokingly suggested they could break an arm or two, which had apparently given Neville, who came with them to the library to work despite his handicap, a slight extension. Neville had only gloomily pointed out that this meant he was probably going to fall further behind, which prompted Ron to apologize and Harry to help their dormmate as best he could with his maths.  

 However, even though he rather liked maths and helping, Harry found it terribly difficult to concentrate with their detention looming over them. It ticked dreadfully at him in every quiet moment. The detention seemed to be upon him before he knew it, after an afternoon of not coming nearly soon enough. Harry and Ron bid farewell to a confused Neville and trooped dutifully, sullenly, off to return their books to Gryffindor Tower and to Black’s classroom.

 “Do we need anything?” Harry asked.

 Ron wrinkled his nose. “For detention? I don’t think so.”

 “What do you think Black’s going to talk to us about? Isn’t it over and done with?”

 “I dunno,” Ron said, shrugging. “Maybe he’s really keen on knowing who ‘dared’ us to go out at midnight. Should we tell him it was Malfoy? We probably shouldn’t tell him about the duel, because that’s sure to get us in more trouble, but he might listen to us about it all being Malfoy’s fault.” Ron’s shoulders slumped slightly now. “Or mine. I should’ve known he’s just a lying, cowardly git.”

 “Well, we just didn’t know how much of a lying, cowardly git he was before. Now we do and don’t have to listen to anything he says ever again,” Harry said, even though he did secretly wish that Ron hadn’t agreed to the duel in the first place. In an attempt to cheer them both up, he added, “Now we can call him a coward for the next seven years.” 

 “Yeah, there’ll probably be plenty of opportunities for us to sock Malfoy in the nose over the years,” Ron said, with rather optimistic pessimism. “One of us will get it to eventually.”

 They soon met Hermione Granger on the way there and had to stop talking about punching Malfoy in the face – and still she refused to look at them or speak to them. Not that Harry or Ron really minded, because they didn’t want to talk to her anyway. Harry had no idea what to say to her. If she really hadn’t wanted to get in trouble, she shouldn’t have followed them in the first place.

 The Potions classroom was a little odd in its emptiness, but it was still the same fascinating room that Harry was becoming increasingly fond of. The late afternoon sun was coming in the large windows, gleaming off the greenhouses the classroom overlooked, and it was anything but stuffy. Harry always enjoyed sorting through all the jars of ingredients and equipment stocked neatly throughout the shelves, even with only his eyes, and the empty countertops were beginning to give him a feeling of anticipation for what interesting thing they might be doing next.

 Professor Black was sitting at his desk when they came in, going through a stack of papers that looked like homework, wearing a pair of silver, rectangular reading glasses. He was dressed differently than earlier, so it appeared as though he had slept since last they saw him. As Ron shut the door behind them, Black set the papers down and checked his watch.

 “Right on time,” he commended. “Please, have a seat. At the front, if you would, for I have no plans or desire to do any shouting today.”

 Hermione Granger took her usual seat, at one of the tables at the very front of the class, while Harry and Ron took the table beside her (which felt very odd, because their usual one was the one behind her). They anxiously waited for Black to finish organizing his papers and setting them. Once Black was finished, he put his elbows on the table, threading his fingers together, and looked at them steadily. Then he frowned, took off his reading glasses, and resumed his pose.

 “Much better,” he said. “Now, I would like to hear what happened last night.”

 “Sir?” Hermione Granger said.

 “I would like to know what the dare was and who gave it,” Black clarified. “We were interrupted by the arrival of Mr. Filch and the desperate need to go to bed last night, but I would still appreciate an answer. And if you don’t mind, Miss Granger, I would like to give Mister Potter and Mister Weasley a chance to explain themselves.”

 Hermione Granger looked at them, while Harry and Ron looked at each other. Would telling Professor Black about the duel get them in even more trouble? Ron had suggested it might on the way here, but Harry couldn’t know if staying silent might also get them in even more trouble. He didn’t want to disappoint Black with silence, but he also didn’t want Black to not believe him and call him a liar if he tried to tell the truth.

 “It was Malfoy,” Ron said finally.

 “I see,” Black answered simply, much to Harry’s surprise. “And what was the dare?”

 That was a secret Harry and Ron were much more uncertain about sharing, but the choice of it was whisked out of their hands before they could quibble over it any further.

 “He challenged them to a duel,” Hermione Granger blurted out.

 Black raised his eyebrows. “A duel?”

 But Hermione Granger suddenly seemed to realize that she ought not have said that. She glanced at Harry and Ron’s widened eyes and ducked her head, falling silent again, possibly just having gotten them expelled or in even worse trouble. Black turned his gaze to Harry and Ron, looking expectant; Harry waited for their professor’s anger or disapproval, but it didn’t seem to come.

 “Let me get this straight: Mister Malfoy challenged you to a duel in the trophy room at midnight?”

 “He challenged me,” Harry admittedly miserably.

 “It was me who accepted, though!” Ron said quickly. “Harry didn’t even want to go.”

 “I should think not,” Black said, before Harry could protest Ron’s protest, and lowered his hands to his desk. “The trophy room is a terrible place for a secret duel; there’s no room to cast and too many valuables to break. It would be more like dominos than a duel. Well, that matches up quite nicely with what I got out of Misters Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle this morning.”

 Harry and Ron both blinked at him. What?

 “Mr. Filch is a very busy man and does not appreciate being used in the schemes of students. He enlisted my help again this morning, this time to uncover the true motivations of those who so ‘kindly’ warned him about the ‘vandals’ last night. Be assured that I have had a very stern word with Misters Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle about sowing trouble and lying to Hogwarts staff. Should Mister Malfoy wish to try for a third offense with me, he has been promised that it will not be, as people like to say, ‘the charm’.

 “However,” Black continued, his voice and expression suddenly becoming frighteningly stern, “that it was Mister Malfoy’s ‘dare’ that began this trouble, does not excuse the fact that it was accepted. Duels are not considered an acceptable form of discussion or argument here at the school, and can be considered grounds for serious punishment. Self-defence if you are attacked is one thing, but knowingly sneaking out to engage in a fight out of sport or a grudge, risking severe injury… that is entirely unacceptable. If you were older, I would be warning you now about the possibility of legal consequences. Now that I have informed you of this, I expect more honourable and sensible behaviour from you in the future.”

 Professor Black looked deathly serious as he said this. It was heavily implied that he would not be so lenient in the future. Harry’s heart was pounding at the thought that not only could he have been expelled, but the police could have been called. He hadn’t even known that wizards had police; it would have been humiliating to be arrested and carted off to jail by wizard police he hadn’t even known existed.

 Black sighed. “Thankfully, no duel took place, and I doubt that you and Mister Malfoy could have honestly harmed each other if it had, so let this serve as a warning and a lesson to you. If someone challenges you to a duel again, you can say no. You have nothing to prove to your fellow students.”

 Then he looked away from Harry and Ron, back to Hermione Granger.

 “So, Miss Granger, you went with them to try and prevent this foolhardy duel?”

 She nodded timidly. “I… tried to talk them out of it.”

 “Five points back to Gryffindor, Miss Granger, for your good intentions,” Black said. “I commend you for attempting to talk your fellow students down from a fight. In the future, however, if you prove unsuccessful, I would prefer if you told a prefect or professor before things got out of hand.”

 Hermoine Granger looked as though she didn’t know whether to be happy about the return of her precious House points or upset at also being reprimanded. Harry didn’t know why, since Black had essentially complimented her, while kind of rubbing it in that he didn’t think Harry and Ron had had good intentions. She seemed to settle on upset, though she lifted her chin again.

 “That’s all that I wanted to say to you today,” Black said to all of them. “Unless any of you had any questions? No? Sneaking around at night and getting caught is practically a Hogwarts tradition, so congratulations on that. Let’s get on with your detention.”

Professor Black set them up with some menial ingredient preparation for one of his classes. He had them wash their hands while he fetched a large basket of something that looked like purple pea pods and some bowls for them, then he showed them how to shell the purple peas inside.

 “I would rather have you doing something useful, so that you learn something, instead of writing nonsense lines,” he explained. Then he looked at Ron and added conversationally, “It’s gotten to the point where it’s almost quite the unexpected windfall for me to give Fred and George Weasley detention. A few more years and I may make trained assistants out of them.”

 After a bit of supervision, Black declared that they knew what they were doing and reminded them to put the “bad” ones and the shell in separate bowls, and returned to his desk and his work. He put his reading glasses back on and pulled the papers back in front of him.  

 Harry was grateful for the surprisingly lenient punishment, even though thinking even vaguely in the direction of Black’s reprimand made him feel downright awful. He had really been stupid, hadn’t he? But there were far worse things they could have been made to do than shell peas. At least they hadn’t been chained up in the dungeons, expelled from Hogwarts, or arrested by the police, all of which seemed like they could have been possible consequences for duelling.

 “Are any of you going to be absent over the next week?” Black asked, after a few minutes.

 They all shook their heads and Black hummed.

 “…Why would we be absent?” Hermione Granger asked.

 “Some students are heading briefly home next week for Yom Kippur,” Black said. When he glanced up at their expressions, he elaborated, “A religious holiday. Terribly inconvenient for classes, but not nearly so much as it is inconvenient for them, I imagine. I assign some accommodation work for them to complete beforehand, afterward, or during their absence, and I wanted a second opinion on something.” He sighed. “I’ll finish this later. I still need to make those signs I promised Mr. Filch last night, so I will do that while I remember.”

 Black put his papers aside, then reached into a drawer behind him for new scrolls.

 “What do you think? Black ink or red ink?” he asked.

 “…Red?” Ron said, when Black looked back at them as though he honestly wanted their opinions.

 Black nodded. “Red catches the eye and will hopefully underline the warning,” he agreed, as he set these new materials on his desk. “I think I will also suggest to Mr. Filch that we simply rope that corridor off entirely. Perhaps with that ‘do not cross’ tape the D.M.L.E. uses. Although that may be too much temptation for some particularly daring students, so perhaps not.”

 Then he got to work, apparently sincerely, diligently writing out signs marking the third floor corridor on the right-hand side of the school as out-of-bounds. Harry thought this explained the many neatly written labels all around the Potions classroom and the equally neatly written sign on the supply cupboard door.

 “…What sort of accommodation work is available for absent students?” Hermione Granger asked.

 “It varies from professor to professor. I assign short-answer questions and small research projects, usually,” Black answered. “However, I’ve also set brewing important potions to older students when they return, either with me outside of class or in the student labs, so long as they are supervised by one of Professor Snape’s students or apprentices.”

 After a few seconds of pause, Hermione Granger said, “Neville got injured yesterday.”

 “Yes, I heard. Thankfully, his arm should be nearly good as new before the weekend is over and he has been given an extension on his homework. Please do let him know that I advise he seek out a prefect or a professor if he finds himself having unexpected trouble, Miss Granger.”

 Hermione Granger nodded, looking a little relieved, and Harry felt relieved for Neville too. He would have to advise that Neville find a prefect like Percy or Camille and to avoid Brigg if he needed help. But it seemed like the girl wasn’t done with questions – which shouldn’t have surprised Harry, really – because after another few minutes, Hermione Granger found the courage to ask another.

 “Sir, what… happened last night? With the ghosts?”

 Harry and Ron paused in their work and exchanged a look, then they turned to Professor Black as well, curious to hear his answer. They saw that Professor Black had also paused in his work. After several seconds, Black looked up, which he hadn’t done with the last question.

 “One of the ghosts… gave us all a fright, you might say,” Black replied, with a wry smile. “They have a tendency to do that every now and again, as is their prerogative as ghosts; they enjoy their tricks just as much as they do their treats, much like our resident poltergeist. There are professors investigating the matter now and, once they have something to announce, if there is anything to announce, they will let the school know what happened.”

 “Oh,” Hermione Granger said.

 Black looked back down and returned to his work. After exchanging another look beyond them, even Hermione Granger, the three first-years returned to their task as well. Harry couldn’t help but notice that Black hadn’t really answered the question. Maybe he didn’t really know?

 The rest of their detention continued in much the same vein. Black finished his sign and held it up for them to see, asking for their opinions on whether to make the text larger or if he had made any spelling mistakes, but Harry thought it was just fine. It was quite large and bold as it was and as neat as any other sign in the classroom, reading simply: “This Third-Floor Corridor is Out-Of-Bounds and Unsafe. Please go around.” With their shrugged approval, Black decided to add a warning line about punishment for ignoring the sign, then made several more. They continued shelling these purple peas and, once they ran out, Black fetched them some more.

 Black spoke to them, here and there, as they all worked. He asked them with mild curiosity how their classes were going and what they were doing in each one, going through the three first-years in order so that it was not just Hermione Granger answering his questions. Once he returned to the homework he was creating for students who would be leaving for their holidays, he mentioned offhand what the first-years would be doing in his class next week. It was a bit awkward and nothing like tea and conversation at Hagrid’s, since Black didn’t really share his own experiences on the matter beyond a few remarks and was content to let silence rest for long periods of time, and it was hard to forget his dressing-down earlier, but it could have been far worse.

 When Harry was beginning to wonder how long they had been there, their detention was interrupted. They all turned to face the door as it opened and a woman glided in, looking at a large bottle in her hands, closing the door neatly behind her with her hip.

 “Regulus, would you-?”

 She paused, in step and speech, as she noticed the three first-years staring at her.

 It was Professor Feasance, the witch who was not a Defence teacher. She was even more prettily dressed than the last time Harry had seen her, wearing sparkling, delicate blue robes that seemed to float with her and some very bright make-up behind her glasses. She even had many sparkling ornaments in her hair, which fluttered much like little creatures resettling when she moved.  

 “Oh, my apologies, Regulus,” she said. “I didn’t know you had company.”

 Black put down his work and took off his reading glasses. “I can always spare a moment for a friend, Malvolia,” he said, before he raised his eyebrows. “Although… perhaps not to begin drinking before dinner has even started. We do have an example to set.”

 Feasance looked down at what she was holding, which Harry now realized was a wine bottle, as though she’d forgotten all about it. Then she laughed gaily at the remark. “Oh, this isn’t for you, Regulus, darling. I am lucky enough to be dining with Mr. Defter tonight! Just the two of us. I was afraid he might have to reschedule because of the ghosts, but he insisted.”

 “How romantic,” Black said bemusedly.

 “Isn’t it?” Feasance said breathlessly, and sighed. “He’s such a divine man. I’m anticipating an absolutely enchanting evening. Since he’s such a connoisseur, I just knew I had to pick out the perfect bottle of wine to bring.”

 “Of course. Do you want a second opinion on your choice?”

 Feasance blinked at the offer, then laughed again and held the wine bottle back protectively. “Oh, thank you, but this isn’t my choice. This bottle has actually gone bad – you know how a musty cork ruins the taste – and I was just on my way to dispose of it when it occurred to me…”

 “Yes?”

 “I really ought to carry around a bezoar.”

 Now it was Black who blinked at her, visibly surprised.

 “It’s something every witch should have in her purse,” Feasance continued airily. “I couldn’t believe I didn’t carry one when I realized. We do have an example to set, don’t we? I was hoping that I could borrow one from you, until I could order one from Madam Beery.”

 “…A bezoar.”

 Feasance nodded. “Yes, if it’s not too much trouble.”

 Black stared at her for several seconds, this glittering, smiling witch in the middle of his classroom, but finally he said easily, “Of course not. What’s mine is yours, Malvolia, you know that.” Then he picked up his wand and pointed it at the supply cupboard door, so that it opened for her.

 Feasance’s smile brightened even further. “Thank you, darling.”

 She glided into the supply room and out of sight. They could hear her humming to herself and rummaging around for this “bezoar” she was looking for. Harry, Ron, and Hermione Granger all looked to Professor Black for an explanation, but Black was staring thoughtfully after her. He glanced at them, briefly, but he only looked away again, and soon Professor Feasance glided back out of the supply cupboard with a paper parcel in her other hand.

 Harry frowned at it, because it greatly resembled the parcel that Hagrid had taken from Gringotts. It clearly wasn’t, for the paper wasn’t the right colour and the string wrapped around it was different, but it was about the same size. The similarity was striking to him, even though it was hard to imagine any potions ingredient important enough to get its own Gringotts vault.

 “Thank you ever so much.”

 “Anytime,” Black answered. “Though, in return, Malvolia, I would appreciate if you could explain to me how you came to this eminently sensible decision. It may have merit for a man in my position.”

 Malvolia gave him a knowing grin. “I’d expect nothing less of you, Regulus, darling. It’s been days since we last caught up anyway. After my dinner tonight with Mr. Defter? Perfect. I’ll send for you. Kisses, darling! You’re the best.” She turned on her heel to leave, skirts swirling, and opened the door to leave. Before she did, she looked back and winked at the three first-years. “Don’t give him too much trouble, children!”

 Harry looked to Black again after the door closed behind her, hoping to know what a bezoar was, but Black was still staring after her. After several seconds, when Black finally seemed to notice there were three incredibly curious first-years looking at him, he frowned.

 “Sorry for the interruption,” he said, then checked his watch. “It looks like it’s nearly time for dinner, actually – times flies when you’re having fun – so I’ll release you a few minutes early. I just remembered that I need to have a rather urgent word with Severus – Professor Snape, that is. No, just leave those where they are and I’ll clean them up myself. Just go wash your hands, please.”

 Confused, they did as Professor Black requested. Harry watched over his shoulder as Professor Black waved his wand at their work, so it would put itself away, and quickly set his homework papers aside again. When they returned, Black was quick to herd them out his classroom door.

 “I’ll see you here again next week at the same time? Not a detention, just to check in,” he promised. “My apologies again for the interruption, though I suppose you’re rather glad for it. Go on.”

 Hermione Granger left then, after a frown toward their professor, who had turned on his heel to fetch something from inside his classroom. Ron watched her go and wanted to leave as well. He nudged Harry questioningly, but Harry shook his head slightly and lingered determinedly. Black had answered many questions for them over the course of their detention. Surely he wouldn’t mind a few more. 

 Black came out of his classroom again, the signs for Filch tucked under his arm, and looked Harry and Ron over before he turned to lock his door behind him. “You can leave now, Mister Potter, Mister Weasley. I know it was abrupt, but you’ve been dismissed. You have my permission, even my encouragement, to flee and feed yourselves. I will see you in class on Tuesday. Please excuse me and try not to get into any more duels.”

 This easy admonishment stole the question right out of Harry’s mouth. The sudden embarrassment was too much to recollect himself immediately and Black smiled down at him.

 “Oh, and congratulations on making the Gryffindor team, Mister Potter,” he said.

 And then he strode away at a brisk pace. Black was gone before Harry could overcome his surprise and ask any of his many questions about bezoars or ghosts or what Black had remembered about either of them that was so urgent. 

 

Chapter Text

 The detention was a consequence of sneaking out past curfew, but it wasn’t the only one. Like Ron had feared, either through his powers as an older brother or a fifth-year prefect, Percy Weasley had somehow, inevitably found out about their detention and, unsurprisingly, he wasn’t at all happy about it. Their only saving grace was that Percy didn’t seem to know that they had been sneaking out to partake in a midnight duel. Neither of them sought to explain themselves to him.

 They were treated to a brief, disapproving lecture and some lengthier, even more disapproving frowning from the unimpressed prefect throughout most of Sunday morning, until they decided to flee Gryffindor Tower. They visited Hedwig in the Owlery and then went to the library to both continue hiding and to continue siege against their second-week homework.

 However, when they finally returned, they found that Percy had offhandedly ranted about their misbehaviour to one of his dormmates: Gryffindor Quidditch captain, Oliver Wood. If Harry had imagined that no one could have been more aghast at their detention (while not being an actual professor) than Percy, he would have been wrong.

 Unlike Percy, Wood didn’t seem to care that they had been sneaking out and “casting a negative image on Gryffindor”. Wood only seemed to care that they had been caught. Detention, in the mind and lecture of Oliver Wood, was bad because it ate into valuable practice time, which was bad because it could mean losing a game, which was bad because it could mean losing the Quidditch Cup again this year. Wood also pointed out that getting an insufficient amount of sleep could mean unproductive practices and imperfect performances, which could mean losing games… which could mean losing the cup… which was, clearly, bad.

 Harry listened to this with disbelief, bemusement, and humiliation. He had no intention of sneaking out after hours again, but Wood didn’t seem interested in letting Harry get a word in edgewise. Unlike Ron to Percy, Harry couldn’t bring himself to tell Wood to “shove off”.

 “Thankfully, we should be off to an early start this year,” Wood said, seemingly finally winding down, “since all out positions are filled. Professor McGonagall has assured me that we should be able to hold our first practice sometime this week, so don’t get any more detention, alright? I have enough to schedule around between the twins and the girls.” He gave Harry a very accusing look. “You don’t have any other clubs, do you?”

 “…I’m in Chess Club?”

 Wood frowned, then nodded, as though this was barely acceptable. “Watch your fingers there, Potter, alright? Those are important now, you hear?” He sighed. “Well, at least you’re not taking Care of Magical Creatures or in the club – unlike Charlie. I don’t need any of my team members getting themselves sent to the Hospital Wing over their other extracurriculars.”

 Harry wanted to say that he had already felt his fingers were important – he was certainly very attached to them – but he mostly just wanted Wood to go away, so he didn’t try to continue the conversation. Satisfied that he had made his point, Wood finally moved along to supper, allowing Harry to continue to the portrait of the Fat Lady – Lady Isobel – where Ron was waiting for him, sitting against the wall, flipping throughout one of their textbooks with a frown.

 When they finally got up to their dormitory, they dropped their things and then dropped onto their beds. It had been an impossible day, the sort that was somehow far too long and far too quick, and, since the midnight-duel-gone-wrong had eaten up most of their Saturday, they hadn’t gotten nearly as much accomplished as they should have. Tomorrow was already Monday.

 “Let’s never get in trouble again,” Harry moaned.

 Ron nodded fervently into his pillows. “It’s not worth it.”

 

~

 

 Transfiguration was first on Monday and it seemed someone had told McGonagall what had happened over the weekend. It wasn’t clear who – it could have been Percy, Wood, Filch, Black, or even possibly Mrs. Norris, since McGonagall could turn into a cat – but Harry also could have believed that she could simply see the guilt in them. It was more likely that she simply kept abreast of all the detentions given to her Gryffindors somehow, but Harry still could have believed she had that power by the unimpressed frown that flickered over him, Ron, and Hermione Granger.

 She began her lesson by making an announcement to the entire class, a “reminder” that curfews were taken very seriously at Hogwarts and that students weren’t permitted to be walking the halls after hours without permission. It was highly embarrassing. Ron turned a bit pink and Hermione Granger slouched slightly ahead of them. They thankfully got on with the lesson proper quickly, but Harry still felt flushed and could only hope that their classmates didn’t share McGonagall’s fearsome guilt-seeing powers.

 Professor Scalar next period, on the other hand, appeared to have no idea that any first-years had done anything significant over the weekend. Harry relievedly handed in his homework and slowly let himself participate in class again, instead of following his instincts by hiding under a desk until he forgot what embarrassment was.

 Unfortunately for his curiosity, Harry didn’t manage to gather the courage to interrupt the lesson and ask Scalar about the maths problem that had been written on a board on the side wall. The problem was in Scalar’s handwriting and looked tremendously complicated, and someone had written “Problem of the Week” across the top in bubbly, rainbow letters. Harry didn’t know what half of the symbols in the problem meant, much less how to begin solving it, and he spent much of the lesson hoping that Scalar would show them how to solve it. Admittedly, he was partly worried Scalar would ask them to solve it, but he was also slightly disappointed when Scalar never even mentioned this extra maths problem lurking off to the side.

 Grubbly-Plank, in their Care of Magical Creatures class that afternoon, didn’t appear to be aware of any detentions either. She had their drop their things and immediately marched them outside to meet Hogswool sheep, as planned, which she emphasized had been brought all the way from the Hogwarts farms by some of Madam Beery’s workers for them.

 “Where are the farms?” Harry as Ron, as they trooped outside. He’d seen people walking off toward them, allegedly, but even Madam Hooch’s tour of the school grounds hadn’t revealed them. “I haven’t seen them.”

 “They’re out by Hogsmeade, I think? They’re not actually on school grounds. I know we passed some parts on them on the Express and I know the twins have snuck out before, but that it’s a long way,” Ron answered, making a vague gesture in the supposed direction of the village. “Away from the Forbidden Forest, you know?”

 Harry looked toward the distant forest, which had a rather looming quality even in early afternoon.

 “Oh,” he said. “What’s… what’s in there?”

 Harry had a good idea of why the forest was forbidden to students – it looked scary, maze-like, and plenty of people referenced fantastic beasts in the woods, including Grubbly-Plank. Hagrid had certainly listed off plenty, like unicorns and whatever thestrals were, but not like he thought they were bloodthirsty monsters to be avoided. Then again, Hagrid like dragons, so Harry had no idea what the giant man considered cute and fluffy and not at all dangerous.

 “Things that’d eat sheep? I dunno. Werewolves and centaurs and…” Ron gave a sudden, horrified shudder. “…giant spiders, if Fred and George aren’t lying, which they might be. They’re probably kidding with that one. They know I hate spiders.”

 That seemed a very Weasley twin thing to say for a laugh, so Harry nodded agreeably.

 The Hogswool sheep turned out to look exactly like unmagical sheep. Harry might have said that they were a little on the large side for farm animals, but to be honest, Harry had no idea how large sheep were supposed to be, since he had never seen one in real life before. Madam Beery’s workers, a pair of witches who introduced themselves as Ade and Bethan, insisted that Hogswool sheep were indeed magical. They said that Hogswools had been bred over the years to grow wool as a much faster rate than unmagical domestic sheep (which Harry thought was a bit dull for magic, honestly), so if Ade and Bethan didn’t shear them regularly, the sheep could get very hot in the summer months and had trouble moving about easily.

 They claimed that this was tricky because Hogswools, being magical, were quite wily, but Harry thought the three sheep seemed quite docile, unimpressed, and unbothered. Apparently, these three made this trip to meet the first-years every year. Grubbly-Plank certainly gave no one any opportunity to test the supposed wiliness of the sheep.

 After their lesson, while various wool samples and related tools were being passed around, Ade and Bethan answered any questions the students might have. There were only two questions that Harry actually bothered to remember later.

 The first was from Ron, who asked if the Hogwarts farms had any problems with Forbidden Forest creatures trying to eat their sheep. Ade and Bethan exchanged a bemused look, then answered that they did, occasionally, but that it wasn’t anything they couldn’t handle. They unfortunately didn’t go into further detail, much to the class’ disappointment.

 The second was from Hermione Granger.

 “Do you provide any bezoars to the school?” she asked.

 Harry stopped fiddling with the hand spindle that had been passed to him and looked up. Hermione Granger was looking at Ade and Bethan very intensely, in such a way that Harry suspected she was not looking at him and Ron. Harry looked to the guest lecturers expectantly.

 “We do when they come along,” Ade answered easily.

 Harry felt disappointment at this lacking answer, but Grubbly-Plank swiftly intervened.

 “Perhaps you could explain to my students what a bezoar is? I don’t believe they’ve come across the concept in their other classes yet.”

 “Of course, professor. Bezoars are a build-up of undigested or partially digested material in a digestive track – which means you ate something that your stomach can’t handle. Animals and people can both get them and they can cause nasty blockages. There’s a few different kinds, depending on what the bezoar is made of, like seeds or milk or hair. People use them in potions and for making jewellery or other objects of curiosity.”

 Several students were nodding along, but Harry frowned, because that still didn’t explain why Professor Feasance had spontaneously decided she needed one before going out to dinner. Harry doubted that she had been after another piece of jewellery. It hadn’t sounded like a matter of not being well-dressed enough for her date.

 Hermione Granger, he noticed, wasn’t nodding or frowning. She looked thoughtful.

 “Hey, Harry, are you done with that?”

 Beside him, Lavender Brown was looking expectantly at the spindle in his hands.

 “Right, sorry,” he said, and passed it over.

 

~

 

 Harry had been prepared to dread Tuesday, but it seemed there hadn’t been a need.

 Their first class was Potions, but Black didn’t seem to hold any grudge over catching them out of bed or having to supervise their detention over the weekend. He made no announcements about curfews whatsoever. He took register as he always did and then got on with his lesson, in which they would finally be brewing another potion, saying that he didn’t want to waste any of their time to work.

 The only possible acknowledgement that anything had happened was a brief smile toward Harry and Ron, as Black handed out the ingredients, one that seemed a little warmer than it might have been before. Harry smiled back, nervously, and Black moved along and that was that.

 There was no chance to ask Black any questions about bezoars. Harry spent all class doing his best to concentrate and brew another perfect potion, which filled his head so completely that everything else seemed to slip out, and Harry forgot all about them. There was no time to remember after class, between tidying up and running along to their next class, and Harry and Ron spent the way to Charms trying to come up with a good way to remember the different stirring speeds.

 Flitwick’s class was as fun and charming as it always was. Tuesday and Thursday mornings were beginning to leave Harry in a good mood and he hoped it would continue. The only possible downside was a minor one: that Harry could now see Malfoy, since they sat on opposite sides of the Charms classroom.

 Draco Malfoy hadn’t said a word or made a move toward Harry or Ron all throughout Potions, under Black’s watchful eye, but now he glared whenever their eyes happened to meet. Harry glared back a few times, until he decided to look away and ignore Malfoy instead. He remembered Black’s insistence that they had nothing to prove to Malfoy, and he also remembered Hermione Granger’s suggestion that they simply tell Malfoy he hadn’t been important enough to remember. Harry had hated getting in trouble, but he was glad Malfoy had gotten in trouble too, and he knew that was all Malfoy’s own fault.

 Tuesday afternoon saw them taken away from the Slytherins, much to Harry’s relief, without any sort of trouble from Malfoy. They went to Herbology with the Hufflepuffs and had a perfectly lovely class with Sprout. Neville Longbottom, for one, was in a much better mood, having gotten his cast off, and gladly helped Harry back for the maths help Harry had given him on Saturday.

 “Thanks a lot, Neville,” Harry said, as the other boy identified another plant for their group. Many of the leaves looked much the same to Harry or nothing like the guide Sprout had handed out, but Neville seemed to have an eye for them.

 “Yeah, you’re pretty good at this,” Ron agreed, as he carefully copied the plant’s name off Harry’s paper. “D’you have a big garden at home or something?”

 “I have a few plants,” Neville admitted. “My granny’s knees aren’t what they used to be, so she sends me out to tend the garden a lot. I… I used to go on nature walks with my cousins a lot too… and… and we’d draw the different plants and animals we’d see… and stuff.”

 “My mum sends us out to look after the garden too,” Ron said, but he made it sound like more of a chore than Neville had. “Mostly it’s just getting rid of gnomes, though.”

 “Oh, I don’t like gnomes,” Neville agreed.

 Harry was quite fed up with only being able to picture the decorative, porcelain garden gnome collection of Mr. and Mrs. Number Three on Privet Drive, which Dudley and his friends liked to smash for fun and then blame Harry for. “What are gnomes?”

 Ron and Neville gaped at him, which was annoying, but then launched into proper explanations at last for this magical pest. Ron’s home had an abundance of them, so he had an abundance of stories, and Neville was glad to continued helping Harry. It turned out that real gnomes were nothing like the Muggle ideas, but rather small, unpleasant, potato-like creatures. Ron and Neville both found Harry’s explanation of Muggle ideas of cheerful, helpful gnomes hilarious.

 This gnome conversation continued all through the rest of Herbology and as they made their way back to Gryffindor Tower. Until Neville suddenly interrupted it to say, “Oh, did you see that they put signs up around the out-of-bounds corridor?”

 Ron stopped the story of “Ginny’s Water Bucket Revenge” and they turned to follow Neville’s pointing. Down a hallway, framed and hanging on a wall, they could see the neat, red lettering of one of the signs that Black had made during their detention, warning students off the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side. Down the dim, supposedly dangerous corridor beyond, Harry could just make out the enormous, heavy door that he and Ron had tried to force their way through twice now.

 He was incredibly tempted to try it again. He didn’t want to die, of course, but he was terribly curious to know what was on the other side that was so terrible. Even if he couldn’t know that, Harry was still curious whether the door had been “properly” locked or not.

 However, he knew that he was sure to be seen. There were watchers somewhere in that corridor, ready to summon Filch and Mrs. Norris at the first step, and Professor Black might not be so lenient with them a second time. Once was an accident, twice was an accident, but a third time? Black expected better of them now.

 “Now I won’t wander in there accidentally again,” Neville said relievedly.

 “You too?” Ron said, as they moved along.

 “Yeah, in the first week of school. I had no idea! I’ve just been avoiding the entire third floor ever since… and following other people to and from classes,” Neville replied. “Hermione’s really nice about that, you know.”

 “That is nice of her,” Harry agreed awkwardly.

 “I guess,” Ron said.

 

~

 

 Defence on Wednesday was slightly less awful than usual. Quirrell was finally introducing them to simple jinxes, which Harry probably could have used if Malfoy had ever had any intention of following through with that midnight duel. Quirrell’s classroom was still nightmarish, though. Harry was seriously considering enlisting the help of the Weasley twins, either to bring a pack of ice to class – he could ask Fred about that, who still had a shiner from Harry’s elbow last week – or to get the address of that Romanian vampire supposedly after Quirrell.

 He said as much to Ron, who patted him on the back in commiseration.

 Near the end of Defence, Harry was contemplating their next class – daydreaming about getting out of this one – and realized that they had History next period. History was a class taught by Professor Binns. Professor Binns was a ghost. Would Binns even be there?

 They still had no answer on what had happened between the ghosts that night. Black hadn’t said anything since their detention and no announcement had been made to the school. Harry had been keeping an eye out for the ghosts, hoping perhaps to run into Sir Nicolas and casually ask him, but they had been remarkably scarce this week. He had mostly seen them whispering to each other at the far end of long corridors as he made his way to classes, lingering on the highest floors as he returned to Gryffindor Tower, or disappearing down the stairs to the dungeons when he made his way to the Great Hall.

 Without much else to do besides pay attention to Quirrell reading their homework questions aloud to them – from Feasance’s curriculum, it seemed, from his unfamiliarly with and disapproval of it – Harry flipped to a blank page in his Defence notebook and made a new note for himself.

 Ask Binns about ghosts?

 Bezoars?

 Harry was worried about forgetting again. He had just now remembered how bezoars had slipped his mind completely. He pulled out his History notes from his bag and made the same reminder, hoping that he would keeping being reminder until he actually got some answers for himself. He didn’t have a Remembrall or anything, so this would have to do.

 When they went to History, Professor Binns floated into their classroom as usual, disproving Harry’s theory that Binns might make himself scarce as well. However, Harry’s courage for questions fled him, because Binns seemed to be in an oddly foul mood. This only made Harry more curious, but he was too busy taking notes while nursing his headache to find a convenient opening for a question, and he didn’t want to make their ghostly professor mad at him.

 Others were not so cautious. It took Binns five minutes to notice Hermione Granger’s hand in the air. He seemed surprised, perhaps a little annoyed, but he did pause his lecture to answer her.

 “Yes?”

 “Professor Binns, are you… are you alright?”

 This seemed to surprise their ghostly professor even more. He stared at Hermione Granger unblinkingly for several seconds of awkward silence – ghosts rarely blinked, Harry had noticed, which gave them extremely unnerving stares at times – before Binns regathered himself enough to answer her.

 “I am in perfect health, thank you,” he said shortly. “Now, as I was saying…”

 And Binns’ lecture droned on.

 “Perfect health? What ‘health’? He’s dead,” Ron muttered.

 Harry never managed to ask his question, but he did remember that Black had said that the ghosts had gathered here in the History classroom after that terrible screaming. Harry wrote this in his Defence and History notes and told himself that someday, when he came across a professor in a decent mood at a decent time, he would ask.

 He would never get any answers if he didn’t ask… or at least go looking for them.

 

~

 

 Wednesday afternoon classes were much better than their morning ones.

 They had Maths again, where that same mysterious “Problem of the Week” question was still at the side of the classroom, and Professor Scalar finally explained it at the prompting of one of the Hufflepuffs. (Not how to solve it, unfortunately, because it was apparently a bit beyond first-years.) The “Problem of the Week” was an exercise that he ran with the Maths Club, which he supervised, and he opened the exercise to all his students.

 Belatedly, Scalar also mentioned that there was a Maths Club and that they should join it.

 “They reminded me to tell all of you about the club this week,” he said, writing the time and place of the Maths Club’s meetings on the board for them to take down. “I meant to mention it earlier. I always mean to… but the new school year always goes by so quickly…”

 They went to Transfiguration next, their last class of the day, and it too went well.

 At least, until McGonagall asked Harry to stay behind, a few minutes before the bell rang to signal the end of classes. Harry spent those few minutes terrified. McGonagall was usually a very prompt teacher, but perhaps she had finally decided to punish Harry properly for sneaking out for a midnight duel? Maybe she had decided that she didn’t want such a troublemaker on her Quidditch team?

 Harry knew that old offenses were never really let go. Even if it seemed like they were over and done with, people only had to remember them and decide they mattered, and suddenly old offenses were back to haunt Harry again.

 But instead of all his worst fears, after the classroom had cleared and Harry was left behind, McGonagall excused herself to her office and reappeared with a long, paper-wrapped parcel. It was at least as long as Harry was tall… and it was the perfect shape for a broomstick.

 “This arrived earlier this morning,” McGonagall said, as she placed the long parcel carefully on her desk. She waved a hand over it, as Harry gaped, and explained, “A donation to the Gryffindor team from an alumnus of the school and of the Gryffindor House Quidditch team… for use by Gryffindor’s new Seeker.”

 Harry had no idea what to say.

 “…I could have bought my own broomstick, professor.”

 He didn’t mean to sound ungrateful, but he had more money in his Gringotts vault than he knew what to do with. He wanted his own broomstick – this broomstick, now, in this moment, more than it felt he had ever wanted anything – but he didn’t want Professor McGonagall to think that he was any sort of burden to the team like this. Especially not after he had immediately turned around and tried to get into a fight after she had decided not to punish him.

 “Until you do, Mister Potter, this one will be yours,” McGonagall answered evenly, inarguably, as she sat back at her desk. “If you would prefer to donate the broom to the rest of the team, then one of your teammates can use this broomstick, if they so choose, although they do all have their own broomsticks already.”

 They was nothing else to say to her except his thanks (except possibly expressing relief at the fact that she had once again decided not to punish him), so Harry did.

 “Thank you, professor.”

 “You are quite welcome, Mister Potter.”

 Harry stepped up to take the broomstick from her desk. He could feel it through the packaging, the thrum of the magic inside, and he remembered the rush of flight with a fierce and sudden longing. Harry knew that flying wasn’t allowed inside the castle, but if it was, he might have gone hurtling through the halls in celebration. The only present that he had ever received before now had been his birthday cake and Hedwig, from Hagrid, and his made him want to go flying with his owl. Would Hedwig like it? Harry wanted desperately to try.

 “Mister Wood has asked me to inform you that you have your first Quidditch practice today, in approximately fifteen minutes,” McGonagall said. “The team will be waiting for you on the pitch, Mister Potter, so I suggest you hurry along.”

 This snapped Harry out of his daydreams and delight immediately.

 “Right,” he said urgently, internally whirling. Practice? He had Quidditch practice? Now? Why hadn’t someone told him? In his panic, as he turned to leave, he added again, “Thank you, professor.”

 Before he reached the door, however, McGonagall called out, “Oh, Mister Potter?”

 Harry turned to face her again, a part of him prepared for the worst, but there was a strangely warm expression on McGonagall’s face. The sort that, when he had first met her, Harry would not have supposed such a stern-looking witch was capable of making.

 “I do hope that you will not be pursuing any more midnight wandering.”

 “No, professor,” Harry agreed immediately.

 “That is not one of your father’s hobbies that you should be emulating.”

 Harry blinked at her. What?

 “Off you go, Mister Potter. You don’t want to be late to your first practice.”

 “…No, professor,” Harry agreed again, a little dazedly.

 What was that about his father? His father had once gone sneaking around the school past curfew? Black had said that getting caught out of bed was a bit of a school tradition, but his father had done it often enough that McGonagall would called it a hobby?

 Harry had a thousand questions and words for only a handful of them. He wanted desperately to ask – now, in this moment, more than he had never wanted anything, such that he would have handed this broomstick back in a heartbeat to know more – but McGonagall had dismissed him and appeared to have returned to her work. Harry had a surprise Quidditch practice to make and he was too surprised by this sudden mention of James Potter to know where to begin.

 Reluctantly, Harry turned to leave again without saying anything.

 Why was there never a right moment to ask a question?

 

 

Chapter Text

 When Harry stepped outside the Transfiguration classroom and closed the door behind him, his bookbag over one shoulder and the wrapped broomstick in his other hand, he found an unlikely pair waiting for him. Ron was there, of course, but so was Hermione Granger. They appeared to be not talking to teach other in the way that suggested they had been talking earlier, but that it hadn’t ended well. Ron and Hermione Granger’s eyes both widened at the parcel in Harry’s hand.

 It wasn’t difficult to guess what was inside.

 “Is that…?” Ron said.

 Harry nodded quickly, because his new position on the Gryffindor Quidditch team was still supposed to be a secret. “Yeah, I have to… meet someone outside in fifteen minutes,” he said vaguely, hoping Ron would understand.

 “Oh,” Ron said. “Right. Alright.”

 “Is that a broomstick?” Hermione Granger demanded disbelievingly, before she looked at Harry accusingly. “First-years aren’t allowed their own broomsticks.”

 “It’s not mine,” Harry said quickly.

 McGonagall had said it was a donation to the team, so it wasn’t entirely a lie.

 “Whose is it then?”

 “None of your business.”

 That only made Hermione Granger’s eyes narrow even more. “Did you… did you get recruited for the House Quidditch team? Are you the new player people are talking about?”

 Harry blinked at her. “People are talking?”

 “How the hell did you guess that?” Ron demanded.

 “Because I listen when people talk!” Hermione Granger snapped. “And the only thing people want to talk about is Quidditch and Gryffindor having some special new player! And you’re holding a broomstick that you shouldn’t have! Do you mean that you never really got in trouble after the Flying lesson on Friday?”

 Harry felt a bit ticked off at that, both at the fact that Hermione Granger had guessed the secret he was supposed to keep so easily (and that Ron had given it away) and that she seemed to think that he ought to have been punished for that. It wasn’t like he’d wanted Malfoy to act like a git. He’d only been trying to get back Neville’s Remembrall. It wasn’t like anyone had actually asked him about joining the Quidditch team. It had all just happened and Harry was going along as best he could.

 “No,” Harry said coolly. “Look, why do you keep bothering us?”

 That stopped Hermione Granger short.

 “…Excuse me?” she said.

 “You don’t follow anyone else around like this, do you?” Harry asked, feeling cornered and absolutely exasperated with being disapproved of by this girl. “You don’t treat Dean and Seamus or Lavender and Parvati like this. Why do you care so much about what Ron and I do?”

 “I… I care about Gryffindor and… and they don’t misbehave the way you do!”

 “So you’ve got to be our own personal prefect?” Ron said.

 “No, but… look, why do you care so much about what Malfoy thinks of you?” Hermione Granger demanded of them, her voice straining. “You could be so much better than getting into petty fights and getting into trouble! I was only trying to talk some sense into you when I came along! I really should have known better, I know, but you really ought to know better than that too! I know you know better than that!”

 “You don’t know me at all,” Harry said, annoyed.

 Hermione Granger’s eyes went wide again, before she suddenly turned on her heel and marched away from them, with her head held high and without another word.

 Harry stared after her, his frustration feeling at loose and uncertain ends. Had he upset her? She didn’t look upset, but he couldn’t really tell. He hadn’t meant to upset her if he had, but he really didn’t understand why she kept trying to butt into their business and then boss them around like this. He didn’t feel that he should have gotten into trouble for what had happened during that Flying lesson and the teachers certainly seemed to agree with him, so why should she beg to differ?

 Harry looked at Ron, whose expression was also slightly uncertain.

 “Why was she waiting out here?”

 Ron shrugged. “I think she wanted to talk to McGonagall about something, but I dunno what.” He looked down at the parcel in Harry’s hand. “Is that really a broomstick? What model?”

 “I don’t know, but I have Quidditch practice in less than fifteen minutes.”

 “What, really?”

 “Apparently! McGonagall just told me now.”

 “Then come on, Harry!” Ron grabbed his shoulder urgently. “We’d better get you to the pitch!”

 

 ~

 

 Harry and Ron went straight to the Quidditch pitch, where the rest of the Gryffindor team was already gathered. Harry felt very small, walking underneath the enormous stands and through the entrance, and onto the wide, sweeping pitch. The green of the empty field seemed to stretch on endlessly, even though Harry could very clearly see that it didn’t, and three hoops at either end of the round field and the stand towers around it all looked much taller than the last time Harry had seen them. There was so much space between him and the sky.

 Harry swallowed and strode onward. Oliver Wood appeared to be speaking with Madam Hooch, off at one end of the pitch, but the rest of the team was nearer to the entrance and Harry and Ron joined them. The Weasley twins were there, of course, with Angelina Johnson and two more girls whom Harry didn’t know. All of them were dressed in warm clothing, trousers and jumpers, no robes, and holding their own broomsticks.

 Fred Weasley still had that black eye that Harry had given him a few days ago, though it was less purple and swollen today. He still didn’t seem to be holding a grudge over the accident, waving with the rest of the team as Harry and Ron approached, though the twins had lamented plenty over the past few days about how hard their lives became when people (professors) were actually able to tell them apart. Fred now appeared to be trying to wheedle some make-up from Angelina Johnson, the Chaser, to do something about it.

 “Come on, Angie, you must have something that can cover this.”

 “Why don’t you just go to Madam Pomfrey already?”

 “And explain to her how I got it? Angie, please, I could make that awful-smelling salve myself, but it takes time and money. When have I ever had those things to spend?”

 “And you think make-up doesn’t cost those things?” Angelina said, shaking her head, giving Fred a deeply amused look. “Even if I had the time and money to spend on you, you really think that I have a concealer that would suit you? In your colour? Really? Really?”

 Behind Angelina, the two other girls were giggling madly. Harry didn’t get the joke.

 Fred made a face. “You think I know anything about make-up? Angie, please.”

 Angelina made an even more exaggerated face back at him, teasingly. “I really don’t think that you do, Fred. I really, really don’t. But you’re just going to have to learn some glamour charms or something, because this…” She pointed between them. “…this deal is not happening. Cosmetic charms are your friend here, not me.”

 “Angie, those are tricky and they itch. Have mercy.”

 “Um…” Angelina appeared to think about it, tapping her finger against her chin. “No.”

 George, who had up until this point been leaning on his broomstick and rather happily watching his brother fail to woo Angelina over, finally stood up tall. “You heard her, Mad-Eye Freddy. Looks like I’m still the handsome one for a while yet, until you catch up again,” he laughed. “Come on, let’s introduce the firsties to the girls. They haven’t had the pleasure.”

 “Ah, yes. Run while you still can, Harry!”

 One of the girls behind Angelina raised her broom. “Hey, how about you run?”

 “That’s exactly what I’m talking about!”

 Angelina ignored her teammates and smiled toward them. “Hey, Harry.”

 “Um. Hi.”

 “And this must be Ron with you?”

 It occurred to Harry, just now, that he had accidentally, thoughtlessly brought his best friend along to the practice for the team that he wasn’t supposed to tell anyone he had been recruited to. Oh… oh, whoops. Well, there wasn’t anything for it now, so Harry just nodded.

 “Hey,” Ron said eagerly.

 “Nice to meet another Weasley,” said one of the girls behind Angelina, the one who was still holding her broomstick threateningly, while grinning widely. “So, which one of us ought to keep a lookout? What position do you play?”

 “Keeper, usually.”

 The girl threw back her head and cackled. “Wood! You’re after Wood’s position, then! Oh, good luck. No one’d be able to pry it out of his cold, dead hands.”

 “Ollie’d come back as a ghost before he left this team without seeing another Quidditch Cup for Gryffindor,” Fred mused, exchanging a sly look with George, before they burst out laughing as well. “And the Quaffle would go right bloody through him! Oh, that’d be priceless!”

 “Let’s not joke about things like that?” Angelina said firmly. “Come on, you three.”

 Angelina was apparently the vice-captain of the Gryffindor House Quidditch team (at least, according to Fred and George, and no one argued) and, as vice-captain, she immediately elected to skip over Fred and George. She said their Beaters needed no introduction and instead introduced Harry and Ron to Gryffindor’s other two Chasers. The first was the one with the wide grin, another third-year girl, named Alicia Spinnet, who was brown-skinned and brown-haired, quite broad, and of a middling height. The second was a second-year girl, named Katie Bell, an olive-skinned and dark-haired girl who was the shortest person there after Harry. They must have been who Oliver Wood had been referring to when he said “the girls”.

 “Katie here got recruited straight from last year’s pick-up matches,” Angelina explained.

 “So, yeah, don’t worry, Harry, you beat everyone’s records,” George assured him, with a wink.

 Katie nodded excitedly. “Did you know that we’re the youngest team in the House league?”

 “What? Like, on average?” Alicia said.

 “Yeah! And Harry and I just made us even younger!”

 “Babies on broomsticks,” Fred mused.

 George laughed agreeably, then spun on his heel to shout into the stands. “Hey, Lee! Write that down! We’re the youngest team in the league! THE GRYFFINDOR BABIES VERSUS THE SLYTHERIN TROLLS! WRITE IT DOWN, LEE!”

 Harry turned to follow George’s shouting and saw the twins’ friend, Lee Jordan, sitting in the nearby stands of the Quidditch pitch, with his feet up and a pile of other people’s bookbags in the seats around him. Lee looked up at George and cupped his hand to his ear, George repeated the demand, and Lee burst out laughing. Lee raised his hand in a ring gesture, the “O.K.” sign, and then made a show of writing something in the book in his lap.

 “Oh, that’s going to go over well,” Angelina said bemusedly.

 “It’s going to be fantastic,” Fred said.

 Lee wasn’t the only one in the stands, Harry noticed, but there was hardly a crowd. There were two lower-year girls close to him, one of them with bright green hair and both of them sharing an equally bright magazine, and a handful of ghosts on the other side of the stands. The silvery ghosts, looking very dim in the afternoon daylight, seemed to be chatting amongst themselves, cheering weakly and intermittently at nothing. One of them took off the fancy hat and waved it wildly, while another did the same with their own head, being apparently more headless than Sir Nicolas.

 “So, that’s the broomstick that McGonagall ordered, is it?” George said.

 “What model?” Fred asked.

 “I… I don’t know.”

 “Well, you better unwrap it now, because Wood’s heading over,” George warned.

 Fred nodded. “He’ll do it for you, Harry, if you don’t go for it.”

 So, Harry set his bookbag down and finally unwrapped the long parcel that McGonagall had given him. Oliver Wood joined them, carrying a large and ornate trunk in his arms, just as Harry pulled the last of the paper away from the sleek, dark and golden, gleaming broomstick. A hush fell over the team at the sight of it. It was the most gorgeous broomstick that Harry had ever seen… and familiar too… Harry was relatively sure that he’d seen it before. Harry turned the handle to read the golden letter at the end and Nimbus 2000 flashed in the light.

 “Holy shit,” Fred said.

 Everyone else was too wide-eyed to possibly reprimand him for the language.

 “Why didn’t we get brooms that nice?”

 The Gryffindor captain, Oliver Wood, swallowed like he was trying to send his heart back down his throat. “I knew that Professor McGonagall was going to b- looking to get a broom donated to the team… but… a Nimbus 2000…” He trailed off in awe. “We have a Nimbus 2000.”

 Fred gave Wood a sharp look and said jokingly, “If it’s a donation to the team, does that mean everyone can use it?”

 “No,” Angelina answered firmly, before their captain could. “It’s Harry’s broom. Unless he hands it over for you to borrow or you buy it off him, then you shouldn’t even touch it. Didn’t your mother ever teach you to respect your siblings’ things?”

 “Well, she tried.”

 Wood cleared his throat and agreed, “The Nimbus 2000 is much more of a Seeker’s broom anyway.”

 “Buy it?” George scoffed. “Merlin, can you imagine how much it would cost to buy Harry Potter’s first broomstick? Never mind that it’s a Nimbus. Someone would pay a lot of gold for that!”

 Harry shuffled awkward at this, no longer holding the Nimbus 2000 to fiddle with, since he’d just handed it over for Ron to gawk over. He liked the Nimbus – he liked it a lot – but he didn’t like the idea that he might have gotten it just because he was famous or that people might try to take it from him because he was famous. Admittedly, people giving things to him because he was famous was far better than people staring at him, asking to see his scar, or wondering how the Killing Curse felt, but there was still something distinctly uncomfortable about the whole thing that Harry couldn’t put words to.

 Fortunately, Wood moved the practice along quickly, eager to see the Nimbus 2000 in action.

 Unfortunately, this left Ron to go sit in the stands with the others, and Ron didn’t initially do this. No, while the others left to go warm-up, Ron hung around to capture Wood’s attention and ask him a question. Wood seemed confused at being held back, but pleased enough to meet another Weasley. He didn’t immediately whirl on Harry for daring to share the “secret” around, at least.

 “I was wondering if I could… you know… drop in on your practice and join you,” Ron said eagerly to Wood. “And help out and stuff… if you need a spare Keeper or Chaser or whatever. Someone to set up drills or something! Or to even out a scrimmage! I’d need to borrow a school broomstick, but I’m pretty good and-!”

 “We’re… not really looking for any reserve players at the moment,” Wood interrupted, awkward but unmoved. “If we were, we’d probably have to hold try-outs for them, in the interest of fairness.”

 Ron’s face fell and Harry’s heart dropped with it.

 “Look, it’s great that you’re keen,” Wood said firmly, “and I’m sure that you’re decent – you’re a Weasley, after all – but I don’t have time to train up another first-year. Or to be slowed down by someone who might not even get to play… and you don’t even have your own broomstick. If you are keen on joining the team, then you should join the pick-up matches and get your own practice in, and give it a year or two. We’re always on the lookout for new talent.”

 “Oh,” Ron said. “…Alright.”

 “For now, I need you to sit off to the sit with the other tagalongs. Sorry.”

 And with that, Wood walked off.

 Harry lingered, dismayed on Ron’s behalf and on his own. He would have liked nothing more for his first Quidditch practice than to share it with his best friend. Harry thought it had been very brave of Ron to ask. Why had Wood refused him? It was wholly unfair. Ron knew more about Quidditch now than Harry probably ever would, so Harry didn’t see how Ron might slow them down.

 “…Ron,” he began.

 “It’s fine, Harry,” Ron interrupted gruffly. “Look, I’ll just… sit off with Lee.”

 And with that, Ron walked off too, a sullen to set to his shoulders, and Harry could only watch him go helplessly. Harry walked off as well, reluctantly, in the opposite direction, as Wood called him to get a move on and join the team’s stretching.

 Harry’s first Quidditch practice was ultimately a good one.

 After stretching, they moved on to warm-ups, where Wood repeatedly corrected Harry’s grip and posture and balance. (“Don’t want to build bad habits, Harry!”) They played a game of tag on their broomsticks and, besides Wood’s nagging, it was the most fun Harry could remember having in a long time… perhaps even the most fun Harry had ever had. The Weasley twins were always great fun to be around and Gryffindor’s Chasers, Angelina and Alicia and Katie, were all extremely nice.

 The best part was undoubtedly the flying itself. The Nimbus 2000 cut through the air in a way that Harry’s borrowed school broom had not, quick to respond to sharp turns and sharper dives and the sharpest rises that Harry could throw at it, throwing himself around in the air. It hadn’t been that long at all since the last and first time he had flown, but oh, how Harry had still missed the heady rush of wind and the feeling of weightlessness that came with falling with style. There was no feeling like it.

 And that feeling was somehow made even better when Harry was also laughing out of reach of a grinning Fred or George or Angelina.

 But Harry’s heart still drooped slightly every time he caught sight of Ron, sitting in the stands near Lee Jordan, and he remembered that he wasn’t sharing this fantastic feeling with his friend. It left a slightly sour taste to Harry’s fun.

 Still, at least Harry finally got a proper introduction and explanation for Quidditch. Wood took him back to the ornate trunk that he brought over from Madam Hooch (who was now also sitting off to the side with a book, presumably to make sure that none of them pulled a Neville Longbottom) and showed Harry the three different balls that were used in Quidditch, explained the different player positions, and then explained the rules of the game.

 It was much easier to understand now that Harry could actually see all of it. Like the girls practicing different flying formations and playing a frighteningly fast game of catch with a spare Quaffle. Or the twins practicing hitting moving targets with their Beater’s bats, between randomly, grinningly, acting as obstacles for the Chasers to weave around.

 Harry still didn’t understand why in the world Bludgers existed – he was glad that Wood didn’t feel the need to release the loud, crabby balls – or the reasoning behind some of the rules, like why it would apparently be up to him to win every game by catching the Snitch. But at least Harry had a good idea of how the game actually worked now. Everything that Ron had so eagerly told him about the game was beginning to make sense.

 Harry spent the rest of their practice catching the Muggle golf balls that Wood had brought along to practice and would throw from his broom. Harry sped and swung and dived about on the Nimbus 2000, and he caught every single golf ball before they touched the ground. Fred and George whistled and whooped for him, every time, and Wood was beaming with delight by the end. All through their end-of-practice cooldown, Wood talked about his many, many plans for future practices and dreamed openly, wistfully, about Gryffindor winning the Quidditch Cup later that year with Harry Potter and a Nimbus 2000 on their team.

 With practice over, Harry’s new teammates cleaned up their own equipment and shooed Harry off with happy farewells. With his new Nimbus 2000 in one hand, his robes over the other arm (he had thankfully been wearing jeans and a t-shirt underneath today), and his bookbag over the same shoulder, Harry and his drooping heart went over to the entrance to the pitch, where Ron and Lee Jordan were now waiting for the players.

 Lee Jordan was the first to greet Harry. Lee was a relatively short, friendly-faced, third-year boy, with dark brown skin and short black dreadlocks, and a pile of other people’s bookbags gathered around his feet. Harry hadn’t spoken to Lee before, but he had overheard him in passing. The older boy had a very loud and dynamic voice, a fondness and skill for impressions, and he was usually making use of that or his even louder, easier laugh.

 “Hey, Harry! Good practice? Don’t know if we’ve officially met yet, but I’m Lee Jordan.”

 He held out a hand for Harry to shake, which Harry did, although not nearly enthusiastically as Lee.

 Lee adopted a voice like a radio host and said, “You may know me from such places as ‘being Fred and George’s friend’ and ‘being the official and hilarious announcer for all the official House Quidditch matches’ and ‘being the unofficial and occasionally unwanted, but still hilarious, announcer for unofficial matches when I feel like it’!”

 “Um, hi?”

 Lee dropped the voice and finally stopped shaking Harry’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet another victim! Sorry, player! I meant player!” But then he winked, very dramatically, such that Harry thought perhaps Lee hadn’t meant player after all.

 He remembered Lee frequently encouraging Fred and George’s antics.

 “Uh… It’s nice to meet you too?”

 “I’ve heard a lot about you and I can’t wait to make up more of it!” Lee declared grinningly, gesturing toward the plain, worn journal he was holding. “Oh, I’m just kidding, Harry. Wow, George wasn’t kidding about your face. Don’t worry!” He opened the book, letting the pages flash by, snapped it shut again, and leaned in to whisper conspiratorially, “I save all my best and worst material exclusively for Slytherin.”

 In the brief showing of Lee’s journal, Harry had caught sight of all sorts of disorganized notes in cramped handwriting, crude caricatures of people and creatures, and random nonsense in many colours and doodles. It looked like a notebook for class, filled by at least three different people who all a minimal amount of drawing skills, a great many ideas that had to be scratched down immediately, and barely been paying attention to the teacher. Harry didn’t know what he thought about potentially ending up inside a journal like that.

 “What… is that?” he asked warily.

 “My joke-book journal. Like it? I bought it when I got tired of losing perfectly good ideas to the margins of my homework. It makes it all much easier to have everything in one place. Just now, I was writing up ideas for future matches, so I don’t forget them or forget to look up the details of stuff later.”

 “Details?”

 “You gotta add an element of education to your entertainment,” Lee said knowingly. “Like some trivia about the Nimbus 2000 or the youngest Seekers of all time, so that McGonagall feels a little more reluctant about trying to take away my microphone again, you know?”

 Harry did not know, but he nodded anyway.

 “Hey, did you know that there was this kid last year – thirteen or fourteen or something – who was already being looked at by the Bulgarian National team? That’s absolutely mad, isn’t it? He must be good. Or she… or neither… I don’t know, so I have better go look it up, shouldn’t I?”

 “Probably,” Harry agreed.

 One of the twins called out to Lee before anything more could be said and Lee bid them farewell, stepping out of his pile of bookbags to go join George. Lee said something to George that made them both laugh, then they turned to look at Fred, who was bothering Wood over something, much to the amusement of the girls nearby.

 Harry turned back to Ron, who still hadn’t said anything and was not at all jubilant.

 “Should we… head back to school now?” Harry suggested. “We’ve still got time before dinner if…”

 “Yeah,” Ron interrupted. “Let’s head back.”

 “But if you want a go on the Nimbus, we could stay…”

 “Nah, let’s just go.”

 So, they left together, putting the rest of the Gryffindor Quidditch team behind them. It was a relatively quiet walk back to the castle. Harry tried to offer Ron a go on the Nimbus again, then to just let Ron carry it as they went back to Gryffindor Tower, but Ron turned him down every time. Eventually, Harry noticed that every offer just seemed to leave Ron in an even worse mood, so he stopped, and their quiet walk turned into a silent one for a while.

 “…I wish that Wood hadn’t turned you down,” Harry said finally.

 “He was probably right to do it,” Ron grumbled. “Really, who wants some bumbling first-year who isn’t nearly as good as they think they are to look after? I don’t even have a broomstick.”

 Harry didn’t think Ron was directing this toward him, but it still smarted.

 “‘We don’t have reserves because no one ever takes Bludger to the face in a Quidditch match. Go play in the pick-up games without a broomstick or something!’” Ron said mockingly. “‘We’re always on the lookout for talent.’ Yeah, right. There won’t be an open position on the Gryffindor team again for another three years, when Wood graduates! It’ll be fourth year before I even have a shot!”

 “That’s not too far away,” Harry said, even though it kind of was.

 Ron gave Harry a disdainful look, then kept complaining. “It’s just… it’s really unfair! Why does Wood get to decide these things like this?”

 “Because he’s the captain?”

 “But he’s not even holding try-outs or anything! No one else even got the chance to sign up! You got on the team and a brand-new broomstick without even asking for it! You got everything! Just because you’re the Boy-Who-Lived-”

 Harry stopped immediately. “I didn’t get the chance to sign up either!” he pointed out angrily, quite overwhelmed by the sudden hurt. “They didn’t even ask me if I wanted to be on the team! Or if I wanted to have Bludgers trying to break my face in! Just like you didn’t ask me if I even wanted to participate in any midnight duel! No one ever asked me if I wanted to have my parents killed by Voldemort!”

 Ron’s mouth had been open to argue Harry’s points, but it snapped shut at his last one. His eyes were wide and his freckles were beginning to stand out on his face, as Harry carefully took in several deep breaths and released his choking grip on the Nimbus.

 Harry looked around to see if anyone had heard them, in this side corridor of the castle’s lower floors, but thankfully no one seemed to be around to hear Harry’s outburst. (Harry had no idea how he was supposed to hide the broomstick that he was holding from his dormmates or the rest of Gryffindor House. Did it matter? When people were already apparently “talking”?) Classes were long since over and it still wasn’t time for dinner.

 “Look…” Harry said finally, frustrated. “I’ll… I’ll quit Quidditch if you really want me to! Wood and McGonagall might be mad, but I wanted to play with you! I’ll give the broom back and we can play in the pick-up matches on awful school brooms instead!”

 He might get in trouble for it, but Harry would much rather keep his only friend.

 Ron shook his head quickly. “No. Merlin, no, Harry,” he said shakily. “You shouldn’t quit the team just because I didn’t get on and because I’m… I’m being a jealous git about it. You’re good, Harry! Really good! And Gryffindor needs a Seeker! And… and it’s really obvious that you liked it.”

 “Oh, good. I… I didn’t want to quit,” Harry admitted.

 Flying felt wonderful, Harry really liked all of the incredibly nice and funny people on the Gryffindor team, and Quidditch was the only thing that Harry really had connecting him to his father. He would have hated giving it all up, especially this wonderful broomstick, even to make Ron happy. That he might be able to keep it all had his anger leeching out of him, leaving him empty with relief and… perhaps still sore with hurt… just a bit.

 “You shouldn’t quit, Harry,” Ron said, firmly now. “Not because of me. I’ll just… sit off to the side and try to get into the pick-up games.” He sighed and grumbled, “I’ll just stick with Chess Club.”

 “You should!” Harry offered. “You’re really good at it. And you can have as many goes as you want on the Nimbus – we can share it – and you can use it to play in the pick-up games. Maybe Wood’ll change his mind about having you on the team.”

 Ron shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

 “You know so much more about Quidditch than I do. I’m probably going to take a Bludger to the face five minutes into my first match and that’ll be it for my Quidditch career.”

 Ron snorted and gave Harry a rueful grin. “You’ll do fine.”

 “I hope so.”

 After that, neither of them really had anything else to say, so they continued on their way to Gryffindor Tower. It was still quiet between them, Harry’s hurt had not left him completely nor had Ron’s unhappiness left him entirely, but it was slightly better than before.

 Harry hoped that everything would clear up quickly.

 It was hard being happy knowing that someone else was unhappy because of him.

 

Chapter Text

 Thursday wasn’t a bad day, exactly, but Harry wouldn’t have called it a particularly good one either.

 Harry and Ron were being relentlessly followed by an awkward quietness, which had fallen between them after Harry’s first Quidditch practice yesterday… ever since the brief row they had had before dinner. Harry wanted to be rid of it somehow, because it was an uncomfortable sort of silence, the heavy and restless and hungry sort that always seemed to be demanding something to fill it. Unfortunately, Harry didn’t have anything to give this quiet, even if he knew what it wanted in the first place, so it stayed.

 Their row had been so quickly over. Why was the upset of it so determined to stay past its welcome? All of Harry and Ron’s comments to each other this Thursday morning were stilted and had little lasting power. It was entirely unlike the easy camaraderie Harry had become accustomed to over these past few weeks.

 To make things worse, the persistent quiet between him and Ron wasn’t the only thing dampening the usual entertainment and fascination of first-period Charms.

 Hermione Granger was ignoring them. Harry should have been relieved that she was no longer bothering them, apparently putting in great effort not to look at them and even choosing a new seat farther away from them, but for some reason he wasn’t. Well, he was relieved, but he couldn’t seem to stop thinking about their argument outside McGonagall’s classroom and the way she had suddenly stomped away from them. He couldn’t stop coming up with new arguments against her, to better prove her wrong whenever next she tried to disapprove of him. But she didn’t even look at him all class.

 Harry ought not have cared about that or what she thought she knew about him, since he didn’t really know her and she definitely didn’t know him, but… no matter how many times Harry tried to put it out of mind, one glance toward her brought it all creeping back.

 Draco Malfoy, on the other hand, wasn’t ignoring them anymore. A few days seemed to have given back whatever the slimy git had that he might have wrongly called courage. He kept making faces at them, before turning to Crabbe or Goyle and saying something that made them all snicker, which made it much harder to keep ignoring him. Harry almost wished that Malfoy would just come up and say these things to his face, maybe try to start something proper, so that he didn’t have to keep wondering what Malfoy was on about now.

 Potions was better than Charms, if only because Harry couldn’t see Malfoy anymore and Professor Black’s presence silenced all snickering. However, Hermione Granger sat directly in front of Harry and Ron in Potions, unable to so easily change seats, and she still didn’t look at them.

 Harry felt ready to do something drastic by that afternoon, but he and Ron were finally rescued from the quiet that lunch by an unlikely hero: Neville Longbottom. Apropos of nothing, while they were all eating at Gryffindor table, Neville said to them,

 “Oh, Sugar Quills! Hide me!”

 Harry and Ron looked up from their meals in confusion, but Neville had already disappeared underneath the table. Harry only understood why when he spotted Camille Hewley and Prefect Sherry walking into the Great Hall together, coming toward the upper-year area further down the Gryffindor table, and saw how their eyes were roaming the crowds of lower-years as though searching for someone.

 Fortunately for Neville, who was usually hunched over his meal anyway, he had vanished quickly enough that the two prefects passed Harry and Ron without so much as a glance downward. Camille and Sherry stopped once they reached the section of table where Camille usually ate, looking back down the table one last time, before they parted ways. Camille sat down with her fifth-year friends and Sherry continued on her way, joining some other seventh-years, a group that Harry unhappily noticed included Prefect Brigg.

 Ron looked underneath the table. “What was that about?”

 “O-oh, nothing,” Neville insisted, and didn’t come out from under the table.

 “Is doing nothing against school rules now?” Harry said dubiously.

 “Are you in trouble?” Ron asked.

 “No…. Yes…? I might as well be,” Neville confessed miserably. “Sherry thinks I ought to j-jo-join a club to get over my nerves. She says I won’t b-be so anxious anymore if I do, instead of relying on… h-help… or other stuff… because facing my fears will make me braver.”

 That sounded… like it made sense to Harry. There were a great many frightening things here at Hogwarts, truth be told, and if Neville didn’t get used to them, then he’d have to spend the next seven years being terribly anxious all the time. Personally, Harry would put up with quite a lot – Hermione Granger, Quidditch, unpleasant prefects, gruesome ghosts, Professor Binns’ droning lectures, Professor Quirrell’s awful classroom, Draco Malfoy, and so on – so long as Harry didn’t have to go back to the Dursleys and a perfectly miserable normal life on Privet Drive.

 “What clubs did you join?” Harry asked Neville.

 “I didn’t join any,” Neville admitted, still miserably, still underneath the table. “They all looked too imp-pressive or scary for me. I couldn’t manage to talk to anyone.”

 Harry, who had more or less just avoided people or followed Ron, felt sympathetic. He exchanged a look with his best friend. Ron was also wearing a rather pitying expression and didn’t appear to have a way to magically make Neville braver either. They looked under the table again.

 “…We’re in Chess Club,” Ron said awkwardly. “You could come with us and play with Harry.”

 “I’m awful,” Harry volunteered.

 “I’d probably be worse,” Neville answered, with determined moroseness. “Besides, that wouldn’t be good enough for Sherry, probably. She’s in the Debate Club, you know, and in the Transfiguration Club… and Camille wants me to join the Care of Magical Creatures Club with her.”

 The problems with all those clubs for Neville were obvious.

 “Who cares what she thinks? You can find one that suits you,” Ron insisted.

 “I think I still have some of those brochures from the Fair and stuff. Maybe you can find one that you like,” Harry offered optimistically.

 “Maybe,” Neville said, not at all optimistically.

 Harry and Ron didn’t have any words to comfort Neville, and Neville seemed determined not to be comforted. So, instead, Harry passed Neville’s plate under the table upon request, Ron kept passing their dormmate more food, and they both swore that the they had no idea where Neville was when Camille Hewley came back around to ask if they’d seen him.

 

 ~

 

 After Herbology, their last class of the day, Ron invited Neville to join them in Chess Club again. The club had another meeting after classes today, and Club President Cassandra Ling had made sure to announce at the first meeting that anyone was allowed to come and go as they pleased (and to bring new people in at any time.) Neville, however, politely turned them down again.

 “I like chess, but I’m really not that good at it,” Neville insisted.

 “You don’t have to be that good at something to just give it a shot. No one’s going to laugh at you,” Ron promised fiercely. “You can just come and watch, if you like, and we’ll tell those prefects that you actually played.”

 “I’m actually going to try a few clubs with Hermione, but m-maybe another time?” Neville said, very apologetically. He glanced back toward the aforementioned girl, who regularly partnered with him in classes and was now loitering on the path back to the castle, out of earshot and still ignoring them.

 “Oh, um, by the way, d-did something happen between you and Hermione?”

 “Did she say that something did?” Ron demanded.

 “Um, no? She didn’t say anything at all about you, either of you, at all, actually, so… I don’t know?” Neville squeaked. “Things just seemed a little weird, so… I thought maybe…. Did… did something happen?”

 “Not really. Just a… disagreement over clubs, I guess,” Harry said awkwardly.

 “It’s nothing, Neville. Don’t worry about it,” Ron agreed.

 “That just makes me worry about things more,” Neville said plaintively.

 But Neville bid them farewell anyway and went off with Hermione Granger, which Harry didn’t think was a good idea, but didn’t have the heart to interrupt. Neville apparently found the nosy girl quite nice, but her many clubs all seemed the sort that Neville had been trying to avoid by hiding under tables. Well, at least Hermione Granger had found someone who didn’t mind her bossing them around or poking her nose into their business, Harry supposed.

 Harry and Ron went off to the Chess Club gladly, with the awful quiet finally broken between them. Even if things seemed rotten for them, at least they weren’t Neville Longbottom.

 Ron offered to play against Harry that day, but Harry declined so that he could work on his school assignments instead, and Ron had a much better time pulling a tricky victory out from the Hufflepuff second-year from last time, who seemed determined to put up a much more vicious fight. It was… well… as bloody as a game could get when the players were all bloodless. The pieces were limping off the board, dragging some of their fellows behind them, by the end of it.

 Harry made sure to congratulate Ron for his win afterward. Even Club President Cassandra Ling had something nice to say about Ron’s victory, when the Hufflepuff second-year went over and requested that they be matched up with someone else.

 “Keep this up, Weasley, and you might make the team someday,” Cassandra said approvingly, before she went to adjust her rosters.

 Cassandra Ling, a seventh-year Ravenclaw, was a tall, willowy girl, with very short black hair, narrow eyes, and a frequently furrowed expression. She seemed to hold a similar regard for Wizard’s Chess as Oliver Wood did for Quidditch. This might have been quite frightening; however, since chess wasn’t a team sport and many people seemed to view it as something more casual, she didn’t seem to care much what other people did.

 This didn’t stop her from unknowingly giving Harry terrible visions of Wood making copies of himself and attempting to play every single position on the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Harry had received a rough draft of his future Quidditch practices for the next four months from Wood this morning. Wood had told Harry to alert him immediately if he thought something might interfere with any of them, and to anticipate a few sudden schedule changes (it would update automatically, thanks to some Charm that Wood had cast on it) based on “whatever the teams and the girls get up to, please don’t follow their example, Harry”.

 It was Cassandra’s vice-president, Arnold Alderton, who explained her statement to them. Arnold was a sixth-year Hufflepuff, as short and fat as Cassandra wasn’t, with thick features, made larger by his enormous glasses, and curly brown hair. He was quite nice, although he was constantly checking his watch, unless he was engrossed in a chess match, as though he was permanently concerned that there was some rogue appointment trying to creep up on him.

 “Hogwarts has a Wizard’s Chess team, didn’t we mention?” he said.

 No, Harry and Ron told him, they had not.

 “Oh, well, we do. Cassandra’s the captain and quite successful, of course. There’s a Wizard’s Chess World Tournament for young witches and wizards, you know.”

 They didn’t know, actually.

 But then Arnold checked his watch again, for the first time since ending his match with their club president, and said, “Oh, my god, is that the time? Cassandra, you let me play too long again! I told you to stop the game ten minutes ago at the latest! I only have twenty minutes to prepare for my tutoring session now! I could have been late!”

 And then he promptly ran off without explaining any further, which was something of which Harry was becoming heartily sick.

 “I didn’t know that there was a Wizard’s Chess team. None of my brothers ever mentioned one,” Ron said confusedly, as they settled back down again, since there didn’t seem to be anyone conveniently available to answer any questions.

 Almost everyone was still engrossed in a match and Harry wasn’t about to march up to Cassandra Ling and demand answers on Ron’s behalf. Apparently, neither was Ron.

 “Maybe you can be on the Chess team and the Quidditch team someday,” Harry said optimistically.

 “Maybe,” Ron agreed curiously.

 They played another match before dinner. Harry still lost, but not as terribly as he thought he might have, perhaps due to Ron’s good mood. The quiet didn’t return to bother them all evening.

 

 ~

 

 The next day was fine. Their first class on Fridays was Literature, which Ron usually found boring or frustrating by himself, since he didn’t much like reading. But Harry enjoyed their “Wizard Studies” class and Ron was usually more than happy to help explain wizarding things to Harry, so it worked out in the end. It helped that Harry didn’t mind doing the reading aloud for the both of them, for Ron to listen to and comment on; it made Harry feel helpful, against all of the things Ron knew that he didn’t, though Harry was beginning to wonder if Ron might need glasses too.

 It wasn’t a particularly exciting class, but something notable did happen. Professor Cheville reminded them of an assignment that would be coming up in future months, in which they would be doing a short interview of one of the Hogwarts ghosts. She encouraged them to begin thinking about which ghost they wanted to talk to and write about, since they weren’t allowed to interview their own House ghost or Professor Binns.

 Harry thought it sounded like a very interesting and suitably magical project, at the same time that he wanted to panic a bit. He had no idea which ghost he was supposed to talk to if he couldn’t talk to Sir Nicolas. How was he supposed to interview a ghost when they were all still making themselves scarce around the castle?

 The idea of interviewing ghosts followed Harry to Defence Against the Dark Arts next period. It was still at the forefront of his mind when he opened his notebook and happened across the notes he had made on Wednesday, about the ghosts and the bezoar, and he paused to find these old thoughts in his own handwriting.

 Ask Binns about ghosts?

 Bezoars?

 They were only two of Harry’s many questions without answers, but it bothered Harry that he kept getting distracted and still didn’t know anything more than when he’d written these words. Well, he now knew what bezoars were, but not what they were for. Compared to finding out more about the forbidden third-floor corridor or about the mysterious lives of Lily and James Potter, it should have been easy to find out what people used a bezoar for, yet he still didn’t know.

 Harry remembered the journal that Lee Jordan had shown him yesterday, the one full of jokes and trivia for Lee to remember and research later, and he decided to distract himself from Quirrell’s incense and lecture by trying his hand at something similar. He decided to make a proper list of all the things he already knew and everything he still wanted answers for.

 It wasn’t much, but it was infinitely more interesting than Quirrell.

 

 ~

 

 Bezoear = block in stomach of stuff it can’t handle, used in making potions and jewellery

 Can get from animals and people? Hogswool sheep?

 What do they do?

 What did Proffessor Feasance need a bezoer bezoar for?

  • Potions? Jewellery?
  • People who might know: Black, Feasance, Snape

 What happened to the ghosts at midnight on the night of Friday, September 13th?

  • Loud awful screaming -> someone shouting about murder? -> ghosts left to see what it was
  • Went to Prof. Binns classroom to talk about it
  • People who might know: Black, Binns, Filch, Quirrell, Mr. Defter(?)
  • Headmaster Dumbledore too probably
  • People I can ask: Black?

 Feasance went to dinner with Defter? Who is Mr. Defter?

 What did Prof. Black need to talk to Prof. Snape about?

  • People who know: Black and Snape obviously

Is the door on the 3rd floor locked now?

  • What’s behind it?
  • Why is it forbidden? Besides people dying??
  • If it’s dangerous, why is it in a school? Hagrid said Hogwarts = safest place? But forbidden corridor = most painful death?
  • (Hogwarts = more dangerous than I thought it would be)
  • What was there before it was forbidden?
  • How did it get unlocked?
  • How was it supposed to be locked?
  • People who might know: Black, Filch, HM Dumbledore

What did Hagrid take from Gringotts Vault 713 for HM Dumbledore?

  • Small package in paper and string, all alone in vault, Hagrid put it in his pocket
  • Who tried to steal it on my birthday? (July 31st)
  • Why?
  • People who might know: Hagrid, HM Dumbledore

 

~

 

 After their weekly Ancient Runes class that afternoon, they had their second attempt at a lesson in flying on broomsticks, and it wasn’t a disaster this time. Madam Hooch was on her toes for trouble today. She also kept Harry and Draco Malfoy on opposite sides of the field, with a sharp eye for any misbehaviour, and personally helped Neville Longbottom hover a few feet off the ground.

 It wasn’t nearly as fun or exciting as Quidditch practice. The school’s brooms were actually rubbish, Harry realized, compared to the new Nimbus 2000 that he had hidden under his bed. But Harry got to fly with Ron for the first time and that was pretty fun.

 Harry had the unkind thought that Ron really wasn’t as good as his brothers or any of the other Gryffindor team members, but he dismissed that thought quickly. Honestly, neither was Harry, for all people told him that he was a natural. Ron was leagues better than a lot of their classmates; he just needed more practice and his own broomstick. Fred and George were two years older than Ron and Oliver Wood was a fifth-year, so the comparison was hardly fair.

 They zoomed through Madam Hooch’s drills together and chased each other about with glee.

 However, not everyone was enjoying themselves. Hermione Granger, much like Neville, seemed to be having trouble. She had a death-grip on her broom and it kept slowly floating down when she tried to fly, until it was running through the grass like a slug. She came to another frustrated stop, just as Harry unintentionally came to stop nearby. She stood up in a huff and glared down at the uncooperative broomstick like she was considering a campfire.

 “…Maybe you should try a different broom,” Harry suggested warily.

 Hermione Granger turned her mutinous glare on him, which made him regret his unsolicited advice immediately, and then she harrumphed again. “I already tried switching brooms! But they keep doing this! I even swapped with Neville and it still isn’t working!” She stomped her foot. “Flying broomsticks are silly anyway! Brooms flying makes no sense!”

 “Sure it does!” Ron scoffed, having suddenly come up beside Harry.

 “No, it doesn’t,” Hermione Granger repeated, with great exasperation. “It’s a broom.”

 “Yeah, but it’s enchanted. It’s got magic worked into it,” Ron argued. “Didn’t you read all those books on flying?”

 “Well, yes. So maybe it floats, but it’s hardly safe, is it? How do all the charms and enchantments work together? How does it actually go? How does it know where to go? Where are the enchantments? It’s a flying piece of wood! I can’t believe people actually fly about on brooms!”

 That was a lot of questions. Harry had no idea how to go about answering them, especially when he didn’t have the answers. Harry looked desperately to Ron for help.

 “Huh, you’re like the opposite of Neville,” Ron said.

 She blinked. “What?”

 “Neville thinks his brooms are all trying to kill him in awful ways and you don’t believe they should work at all,” Ron said, like it was obvious, and then shrugged. “How’s the magic supposed to work if you’re so determined that it shouldn’t? It’s still magic even if you don’t know exactly how it works. Come on, Harry, let’s go.”

 Then he flew off and, with one last look at the surprised Hermione, Harry followed.

 

 ~

 

 They went to Hagrid’s again after class, as was becoming a tradition on Fridays, and they finally got to properly see Hagrid’s marvellous pumpkin patch. Hagrid’s pumpkins were some of the largest that Harry had ever laid eyes on – great, fat, orange vegetables that were already plump up to Harry’s waist if not larger – and yet Hagrid assured them that the pumpkins wouldn’t be so puny by the time that Hallowe’en and November came around.

 Harry and Ron boggled at the idea that these massive orange beasts could be considered small, but Hagrid seemed sincere. Harry supposed that definitions of “puny” could be very different to a man who could have held one of these great pumpkins in each hand.

 The three of talked for a bit about Hagrid’s pumpkins a bit more, and future feasts and events in store for the school, before they moved on to the things that they had done that week. While Hagrid tended to his pumpkins, Harry and Ron talked to him about their classes and clubs, and in between cooing at his patch, Hagrid talked about his duties as Hogwarts groundskeeper. Hagrid was just telling them about how skittish the unicorns were being, which made Harry think again of the skittishness of the ghosts of late, when it all became too much for Harry to bear anymore.

 “Hagrid,” he said. “Do you know what happened to the ghosts?”

 The giant man paused in patting one of his pumpkins and gave Harry a curious look.

 “How do yeh mean, Harry?” he said finally.

 “There was this terrible scream last week that all the ghosts left to look at, and they’ve been making themselves scarce ever since,” Harry explained. “Professor Black said that something happened, something to frighten them, but he hasn’t told us what. No one’s even said anything about it.”

 Hagrid’s curious look turned into an expression of horror.

 “Blimey, Harry!” he cried. “That was you? Yeh – what were yeh even doin’ in that corridor? What were yeh doin’ out of bed? Yeh could’ve been killed snoopin’ about there!”

 “…Yes, I know,” Harry said unhappily, because he had already been aware of that and having it confirmed by another adult didn’t make him feel any better about nearly dying. Headmaster Dumbledore had said the whole “most painful death” thing to the whole school on the first night, then neglected to make sure there were signs warning off innocent, lost firsties!

 But Hagrid was no longer paying attention to them, apparently, running his massive fingers through his shaggy mane of hair again and again. He looked to be working himself up in a way that made Harry particularly wary.

 “Blimey,” Hagrid said again. “Ruddy hell. No wonder Black was fit t’be tied!”

 “Black was what?” Ron said, looking somewhat confused by this shift in conversation.

 “‘E came down first bloody thing last Saturday morning with Filch in tow, practically before the sun was up, demandin’ t’see me keys and to know if I’d been using ‘em properly,” Hagrid answered, with gruff distraction, almost pulling at his hair now. “Like I’d just up and forget t’lock that door – I wouldn’t forget to do something as important as that – I wouldn’t. I told ‘em”

 “Did… he believe you?” Harry asked.

 “Filch didn’t. Never does, the grumpy old git – ‘s’not my fault they don’t make anything in my size in this ruddy castle,” Hagrid grumbled. “Black did, with a warning, and ol’ Dumbledore did too! He knows I wouldn’t forget to lock a door behind me or let another soul in there t’do my job.”

 “Why are you going into the forbidden corridor?” Ron demanded. “Is that even safe?”

 Hagrid finally seemed to stop panicking and realized what they were talking about. He let go of his frazzled hair, stood up, and pointed a massive finger at the two of them, fixing them both with a suspicious black stare. Harry shrank back a little, because Hagrid could loom very tall and well when he put his mind to it.

 “I know what I’m about – I know the tricks to it – to my job,” Hagrid said firmly. “You two don’t. Stay away from that door, yeh hear? Yeh got no damn business pokin’ yer noses into any of that!”

 Harry and Ron nodded quickly, and Hagrid visibly relaxed, before he shook his head.

 “Ruddy hell,” he said again. “Ruddy hell.”

 “Wait, does that mean that what happened to the ghosts involves the third-floor corridor?” Ron aid suddenly, with a courage for questions that had momentarily deserted Harry. Harry could have whooped at his best friend’s question and how Hagrid didn’t seem furious for it.

 “I don’t know a thing about that,” Hagrid said, avoiding eye contact entirely by picking up his tools and suddenly making his way back to his hut. Harry and Ron had to jog to keep up with his massive, ground-eating strides. “They’re lookin’ into that, Professors Feasance and Quirrell. I got no part in that investigation, alright? You leave that alone too.”

 Hagrid wouldn’t say anything else about either subject and they didn’t ask. They couldn’t really, because their visit didn’t last much longer past that. Hagrid didn’t invite them in for tea and biscuits – he did invite them back next week, though, which soothed Harry’s fears that they had finally permanently worn out their welcome. No, Hagrid shooed them off to dinner, even though dinner wasn’t for another couple hours yet, called Fang back inside from where the dog had been lolling in the nearby grass, and then slammed his front door firmly shut.

 “What was that about?” Ron asked, on their way back to the castle.

 “Hagrid has a key to the forbidden corridor,” Harry replied thoughtfully. “He goes there regularly. Isn’t that strange?”

 Harry kept trying to picture Black and Filch coming down here to Hagrid’s hut, knocking on the door, being invited inside for tea, and wincing as they tried to bite into Hagrid’s rock cakes. Now that was a strange picture. Had Hagrid been on the wrong end of one of Professor Black’s telling-offs? The door had been locked, just apparently not properly. Did Hagrid have a special key because he wasn’t supposed to use magic to properly lock and unlock the door?

 “Sure, it’s odd,” Ron agreed, but he was looking at Harry with his own odd expression. “But what’s the point in bugging him about it? You don’t want to try that door again, do you?”

 “No,” Harry lied. “Of course not.”

 Of course Harry didn’t want to die a most painful death – that would be silly – but he didn’t want to give up on that door. Hagrid could apparently go inside without dying. He was doing something important for Dumbledore, possibly even risking his life regularly to go in, and Harry couldn’t help but wonder and worry what it was all about. 

 

Chapter Text

 Saturday was a day that began with his second Quidditch practice, first thing in the morning. Harry yawningly went to it alone, leaving Ron to sleep in. He didn’t want Ron to feel that he was rubbing his position on the Gryffindor team in his friend’s face… and he didn’t want to face Ron’s jealousy again. Ron knew where Harry was going to be, if he really, really wanted to leave his nice, soft, warm bed and sit out in the slight morning chill for over an hour.

 But Harry relished that morning chill, just a little. The rush of wind on his face remained thrilling and wonderful, and Harry thought he would never get tired of the joy of flying. He was so glad that Ron hadn’t wanted him to quit the team.

 The practice was nearly as nice as the flying; it went much like the last time, friendly and funny, with a little bit of added sleepiness and morning grouchiness. Oliver Wood gave Harry a list of practical clothing that he ought to wear under the uniform and the gear he would be fitted for next week, so that he could stay warm as the season went on – it seemed to Harry, by Wood’s impromptu lecture, that he was Not Allowed to fall ill. In the meantime, Angelina Johnson kindly cast a Warming Charm on Harry that left his face feeling hot for the entire practice.

 Ron was awake when Harry returned from practice, having spent his time playing chess with Neville in their dormitory, and he greeted Harry without any sort of sullen jealousy or bite. Since the mood between them was good, the morning chill was fading off, and they didn’t want to waste such a beautiful day entirely on homework or being cooped up, they decided to visit the Owlery to see Hedwig, as they had been doing every weekend thus far.

 Neville opted not to come, so that he could continue hiding from Prefects Camille and Sherry.

 Since Ron spent the walk to the Owlery complaining about how Scabbers was such a dull pet – the old rat only really seemed to eat and sleep, such that Harry often forgot the rat was there at all – Harry offered to let Ron send letters to his parents with Hedwig. Like the Nimbus 2000, Harry didn’t see any reason not to share what he had with his friend. It was an unexpected delight to have things to share at all. But Ron seemed uncertain about the offer, at least until Harry said that he felt bad not having any letters for her to deliver.

 Ron suggested that Harry could write his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, if Harry wanted, saying confidently that he didn’t think his mum would mind hearing from Harry. Then it was Harry’s turn to feel uncertain. In the end, they tenuously decided they would each think about the other’s offer.

 Then they tried introducing Hedwig to Scabbers, since Ron was carrying the rat in his pocket, and it went spectacularly badly. Somehow, they had both managed to forget that owls ate rats. Harry had to hold Hedwig off, while Ron made a run for it, and Harry spent the walk back to the castle apologizing profusely to a white-faced Ron and a shaking Scabbers.

 After lunch, they spent the rest of the afternoon quietly, nervously laughing off what had happened, checking on Scabbers under the bed, and occasionally looking at their homework, until it was time to go see Professor Black for their… not-detention.

 Harry found that he was surprisingly not anxious about going to their follow-up after last week’s detention. Black had said that he only wanted to “check in” with them and, even if this was going to be another detention, Harry didn’t think he’d mind a few hours of Black’s idea of detention. The worst thing that Harry could imagine facing was another telling-off and Harry didn’t think he’d done anything to make his teacher mad at him in the past week, especially since he hadn’t seen Black since class on Thursday.

 “Probably just wants to make sure that we haven’t been trying to get into another duel,” Ron agreed.

 As they approached Black’s classroom, they saw Hermione Granger coming out. She had apparently beaten them to their not-detention and already finished. At least, so Harry assumed, because as soon as she spotted them, she stiffened in surprised, then lifted her nose and walked off down the corridor in the opposite direction.

 “That’s… not the way to Gryffindor Tower,” Harry said, relatively certain.

 “Maybe she’s going to one of her hundred-and-one clubs,” Ron said uncaringly.

 Harry made an agreeable noise, but he remembered Hermione Granger saying last week that she didn’t have any clubs today around this time. It seemed to him like she had progressed from ignoring them to avoiding them. Which was fine, even if they really ought to have been avoiding her, because Harry was glad not to have to talk to her again.

 They knocked on the door to Black’s classroom and he called them in immediately. When they entered, they saw that Black was sitting at his desk again, with yet another stack of paperwork in front of him. He looked up and smiled at them, as they closed the door behind them.

 “Good afternoon, Mister Potter, Mister Weasley. How has your weekend been treating you?”

 “Fine,” Ron said.

 “Good,” Harry agreed, instead of mentioning accidentally falling off his broom during practice first thing this morning and then getting slapped in the face by one of his owl’s wings while she’d tried to eat his best friend’s pet. Black didn’t need to hear about any of that.

 “How are you?” Harry tried.

 “I’m quite well, thank you, if buried in marking, as always. However, that is a challenge and consequence that I bring upon myself, so I hardly have room to complain,” Black answered, as he took off his reading glasses and gestured them toward the nearest table. “Please, have a seat. This shouldn’t take up too much of your time.”

 They complied, as Black set aside his marking.

 “Now, have you had any more trouble from Mister Malfoy?” Black asked, getting down to business.

 “…No,” Harry answered, easily enough, because Malfoy was only really being a minor nuisance now. Dudley could’ve outdone him easily. Harry didn’t want Black to think that he couldn’t handle himself and needed every little thing taken care of for him.

 “Good. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if any more issues arise with Mister Malfoy… or between yourselves and any other students. I shouldn’t like for Hogwarts to be an unpleasant experience for anyone. If there’s no trouble on that front, tell me, how was the rest of your week? How are your other classes treating you?”

 Harry and Ron looked at each other, and Ron shrugged.

 “Fine,” Ron answered, and Harry nodded.

 “Not too much work? Are you finding all the time and resources you need to comfortably complete your assignments?”

 “Yeah, we’ve been going to the library a lot.”

 “That’s a good habit to be making. It’s a good place to get work done, free of distractions,” Black said, and then changed the topic again. “How are your clubs coming along?”

 “We’re in Chess Club,” Ron said. “It’s going fine.”

 Harry nodded, though he had yet to win a single match and still found it rather violent.

 “Are you? I enjoy a game myself every now and again, though few on us on staff can hope to match Professor McGonagall’s prowess. I’m sure she’s glad and proud to know some of her Gryffindors are enjoying the game. Now, I don’t believe that the Chess Club has anything soon, but I hear that Gryffindor has had its first Quidditch practice of the year already.”

 “Yeah, um, on Wednesday, and one this morning. It was good. They were good,” Harry said quickly. “It’d be better if Ron could play too, though.”

 “It is a fine thing to fly with friends,” Black agreed.

 “But they aren’t even holding try-outs,” Harry told him plaintively, then looked at his best friend in confusion, because Ron had just kicked him under the table and was looking a little pink.

 “No, Mister Wood held most of his try-outs and interviews before the summer holidays, I believe,” Black said, nodding. “It appeared that he wasn’t originally anticipating drawing from our new first-years at all, but he was unable to fill the Seeker position, which led to your… record-setting position, Mister Potter.” He looked toward Ron. “Are you looking to get on the team, Mister Weasley? What position do you play?”

 “Maybe someday,” Ron admitted awkwardly, still pinked. “I play Keeper.”

 “Ah,” Black said understandingly. “Not a position that Mister Wood will be giving up for a few years yet, then. It will be… your fourth year? It will be your fourth year when the position becomes free. Not as long as it could be, but the wait can be frustrating. I didn’t make the team for my first few years here, and even then that was a reserve position for a year.”

 “Wood’s not looking for reserve players,” Ron said.

 Harry was boggling that Black had played Quidditch back in school. He’d had no idea.

 “Unfortunate. Perhaps he feels that he has his hands full with Mister Potter and Miss Bell joining the team. He is taking his OWLs this year and he is without a fellow upper-year to help him captain the team,” Black said, reaching out to shuffle his papers again. “If my advice is out of place, Mister Weasley, my apologies, but if you work hard over the next two years, perhaps you could persuade Mister Wood to think about taking on a reserve Keeper by your third year? The rest of Gryffindor team will be collectively considerably older and more experienced by then, and he may not like the idea of leaving Gryffindor without a Keeper the following year.”

 “…Thank you, sir.”

 “Good luck, Mister Weasley. Perhaps I’ll see you in one of the Quidditch Club’s organized matches sometime. At the very least, there is no harm in asking Mister Wood if he’d consider the idea. Although…” Black’s tone turned wry. “Try to seek a good balance between reminder and pestering Mister Wood over it. Speaking from experience, it’s a line to walk carefully.”

 Harry nodded. It was a line over a pitfall of dangers for sure.

 “At least you get to ask,” Harry said jokingly to Ron, who snorted.

 “…Pardon, Mister Potter?”

 Harry and Ron turned their attention back to Black, who had paused into going back to his work, with a faint furrow to his brow. He had clearly missed the joke between them.

 “Harry sort of got roped into joining the team by McGonagall,” Ron explained.

 “Yes, I heard about that.”

 “She didn’t ever actually ask if I wanted to join the team,” Harry elaborated. “Or if I wanted to get my face flattened by Bludgers or anything. I didn’t even know they existed to be scared of!”

 Ron snorted again, but Black still didn’t seem to find the whole thing funny.

 “I… see,” Black said slowly. “Professor McGonagall and Mister Wood have been quite concerned with the state of the Gryffindor team. What did she say to you?”

 Harry felt like he was the one not following the conversation now.

 “…She said my Dad used to play.”

 “Yes, he did. I played against him when I was in school,” Black agreed, setting his hands together on his desk. “He would most likely have been extraordinarily proud to hear that you were enjoying yourself in a sport that he also enjoyed at school. However, I am sure that James Potter and Lily Evans would never want you to be pushed into something you didn’t want to do just to be thought brave. Do you wish to play Quidditch, Mister Potter?”

 Harry stared at his teacher wondrously, because someone was talking about his parents, before his mind caught up with what Black was actually asking him.

 “But I do want to play Quidditch,” Harry said, suddenly afraid that Black might pull him off the team for his own good. “I like flying. And everyone on the team is really nice! And I already have a broomstick.”

 Harry really didn’t want to give up the broomstick.

 Black met Harry’s anxious stare evenly, for several seconds, then relaxed back into his seat. “I’m glad, but it pays to be certain. Quidditch is not a sport for everyone,” he said wryly. “Bludgers are… rather understandably off-putting. They are, I have always believed, two of the many reasons that many Muggle-raised children don’t go in for the sport.”

 “Theirs are boring, though,” Ron objected.

 Black smiled at him.

 “You played Quidditch against my dad?” Harry asked, desperate not to let the subject change.

 “I did,” Black agreed again. “Not often directly, of course, since he was a Chaser and I was a Seeker, but our paths did cross on the pitch frequently enough.”

 Harry suddenly remembered his first Potions class, when Black had spun on his heel and snatched Malfoy’s paper ball out of the air with shocking deftness. It made a great deal of sense that Black had been a Seeker too! Harry found himself excited that he shared a Quidditch position with one of his favourite teachers, if he couldn’t share one with his dad.

 “In the official games, at least,” Black amended. “There weren’t regularly organized, inter-house pick-up matches when I was in school. Certainly none between Gryffindor and Slytherin.”

 It took a few seconds for that to sink in. Once it did, Harry gaped.

 “You were in Slytherin?”

 Black blinked at Harry – once, twice – and then he laughed. He ducked his head and smothered his mouth with a hand, but his brief laugh was still loud, and when he looked up again, it was with bright eyes and a brighter smile. Harry had never seen Black smile so widely and warmly before.

 “Yes, I was. My whole family has been in Slytherin, traditionally, and rather infamously, so… it’s somewhat amusing to me, Mister Potter, that anyone might be surprised by it,” Black said reassuringly. “The sheer novelty of it is… well, this has never happened to me before, Mister Potter. Pardon me for laughing; it was out of pleasant surprise, I assure you.”

 It made Harry feel marginally better to know that Black hadn’t been laughing at him, though he still felt silly for yet again not knowing something that everyone else in the magical world apparently knew. Even Ron looked somewhat disbelieving, but how was Harry supposed to have known?

 “Well, moving on, I am glad to hear that you are enjoying yourselves in your clubs. Speaking of, I was surprised to see Miss Granger making an effort to be early to her check-in and quickly on her way,” Black said, rather conversationally, even though he was looking at his papers again. “She certainly seems to have made herself quite busy, but I was wondering if perhaps you knew why she might be in such a rush today?”

 “…No, sorry,” Ron said.

 “We’re… not really friends,” Harry agreed.

 “Perhaps not,” Black replied. “But you are still housemates and Miss Granger seems to think quite highly of you. I thought perhaps she might have mentioned something.”

 Harry had thought she thought they were troublemakers.

 “Is there anything else you might wish to speak to me about? Mister Potter? Mister Weasley?”

 Ron shook his head and Harry, unfortunately distracted by Hermione Granger, reflexively mirrored him by mistake. Black had revealed himself as yet another person holding pieces of Harry’s past; he had known Lily and James Potter, he had gone to school with them, and he had even played Quidditch against Harry’s father. Harry was immediately aghast with himself, but he was still too late to take it back and demand Black tell him everything.

 “Very well, I shall not intrude on your weekend any longer,” Black said, with a finality that could have been fit to break Harry’s befuddled heart. “I have many more pieces of homework to mark, as is my due punishment for assigning them, and I would wager that you have homework for next week that has yet to be completed. I shall see you in class on Tuesday.”

 

 ~

 

 Dinner on Saturday began as usual, with only a few spots of unhappiness dampening the ever-marvellous food. Hermione Granger was sitting with the rest of the first-years again, instead of at the other side of the table, but she was still ignoring Harry and Ron. And Neville Longbottom briefly ducked underneath the table as Prefects Camille and Sherry passed by.

 Unfortunately for Neville, by Camille Hewley’s unimpressed look downwards, it seemed like she had caught on to his trick. Fortunately for him, she seemed to let it go for tonight.

 As Harry followed the prefects’ progress down the table, where they could each join their upper-year friends, he noticed that there was something different about dinner tonight. The High Table seemed… more crowded than he had seen it since the Welcoming Feast. Headmaster Dumbledore was present for one thing, filling his often-empty golden chair, dressed in twinkling midnight colours, seated with Professor McGonagall to his left and another elderly wizard to his right.

 The teachers didn’t seem to have assigned seats at the High Table, but most of them generally sat in the same area of the table, much like the students at their House tables. Professor McGonagall almost always sat next to the headmaster’s chair, Professor Sprout almost always sat nearby Hufflepuff table, and so on and so forth.

 Today, not in their usual seats so far as Harry had noticed, to the right of the unknown elderly wizard, was Professor Quirrell, then Feasance, then Black, then Snape. Harry didn’t know that he had ever seen these particular professors all in one place before, at least since the Welcoming Feast, since they all had a tendency to frequently skip meals in the Great Hall. Something seemed… amiss.

 Snape looked sour as ever, not eating and reluctantly making low conversation with Black, who looked… grimmer than he had only hours before during their not-detention. He wasn't eating either. Feasance, as prettily dressed as always in fancy black robes and a black hat with a half-veil, appeared to be trying, unsuccessfully, to hold conversation with an exceptionally nervous-looking Quirrell. Their Defence teacher appeared very pale and his hands were noticeably shaking, such that Feasance looked toward the elderly wizard on Quirrell’s other side, instead, to say something.

 The elderly wizard beside Dumbledore wasn’t a professor with whom Harry was familiar. He must have been nearly as old as the headmaster; he had a fluffy cloud of white hair, a short and neat beard, and was very smartly dressed in an old-fashioned black suit. He nodded to Feasance, then turned to speak to Dumbledore, who nodded to him.

 Then this elderly wizard raised a silver spoon in a wrinkled hand, and tapped it repeatedly against his wine glass. The tinging sound rang high and sharp through the Great Hall, which soon fell nearly silent. All heads in the hall turned toward Headmaster Dumbledore, who was rising out of his golden chair to make an announcement.

 Harry had heard the headmaster’s speech at the Welcoming Feast and the infrequent announcements the man had made since – he had made one after the Club Fair, something about making new friends and gathering together to achieve greater ends – but Harry knew for certain now that something different and amiss. The headmaster looked almost sombre in his dark robes, as he briefly touched his long wand to his lips, then began to speak.

 “It is with a great sadness that I must share an unfortunate piece of news with you tonight,” Dumbledore said, his grave voice seeming to echo off every wall and rafter. “One of our castle ghosts passed on this past Saturday. Madame Eurydice De Lyon, our resident lepidopterist, better known to her fellow Gryffindors and magizoologists as Madame Pippa, is no longer with us.”

 Much murmuring suddenly went through the hall at this news. A loud gasp and many sounds of dismay came from the Ravenclaw table as well as the Gryffindor one. Harry recalled, in the middle of his bewilderment and realization that he had never met this particular ghost, that the Ravenclaw House ghost was also a lady. Had they known each other?

 Dumbledore, meanwhile, accepted a golden goblet form the elderly wizard beside him and raised it high into the air, and all the other teachers at the High Table echoed him.

 “May she find peace in what awaits us all in time, in her ongoing travels,” the old headmaster said gently. “And may her memory be a blessing to all of us who have had the joy of walking these halls alongside her. To Madame De Lyon.”

 The school echoed his sentiment and toasted the departed ghost, those who had not already raised their glasses hurrying to take them up and do so. Harry toasted and drank with the rest of Gryffindor, but he noticed that several of the teachers didn’t. Quirrell seemed too upset to hold his silver goblet up for long. Snape toasted, but then simply set his wine glass aside.

 Harry looked around at his fellow Gryffindors, especially the upper-years, for hope of a hint of what to make of this. None of them looked truly stunned at the news that one of the castle ghosts had passed away, they were simply surprised if surprised at all, and most of them looked appropriately and acceptingly sombre in grief. Percy Weasley was one of them, while Camille Hewley looked openly horrified and Oliver Wood awkwardly put a comforting hand on her shoulder.

 But Hermione Granger, sitting across from him, was not most people. Their fellow first-year had her brow furrowed deeply and, as she lowered her goblet and looked back to her plate, Harry heard her muttering to herself:

 “How can a ghost be killed? That doesn’t make any sense-”

 “What?” Harry interrupted.

 Hermione Granger looked up at him and they exchanged at wide-eyed looked – Harry at what he had heard and Hermione at being overheard – before her brow furrowed again and she leaned in. Around them, conversation was slowly stirring back to life among the other students, and Harry had to lean in as well to catch her conspiring whisper.

 “Don’t you remember?” Hermione said. “Last week, when we were out of bed and heard that horrible screaming, the Bloody Baron was shouting murder. He called it ‘murder most bloodless’. How do you murder a ghost?”

 Harry stared at her, then looked at Ron, who was also wide-eyed beside him.

 “That shouldn’t… that shouldn’t be possible,” Ron whispered back, disbelievingly. “You can’t hurt a ghost. They’re ghosts! They’re already dead. They’re pretty much stuck the way they are!”

 Harry glanced again at the High Table, where Dumbledore had taken his seat again. Both Hagrid and Black had said there had been an investigation, hadn’t they? Hagrid wasn’t here, so Harry looked at the grim-faced Black and the displeased Snape beside him, both dressed in their usual dark colours. Then Harry looked to the subdued Feasance and the shaken Quirrell, both of whom Harry had never seen in black before but were wearing it tonight (though Quirrell’s ever-present turban was still purple). Then Harry looked to the headmaster and the unknown elderly wizard, who were speaking solemnly to each other, watching the Great Hall carefully.

 “Maybe someone figured it out,” Harry said quietly.

 But Ron looked very dubious of this suggestion and, after another deep frowning look and a hmph, Hermione Granger went determinedly back to ignoring them again.

 

 ~

 

 Hagrid has a key to the forbidden corridor and goes there regularly on a job for Dumbledore

  • Why? Is it really that important? Is it dangerous? Could Hagrid DIE?
  • Hagrid can go into the 3rd floor forbidden corridor without dying, could other people?
  • Black thought it was Hagrid’s fault the door wasn’t locked properly?
  • Filch thinks it was him
  • Hagrid is kind of forgetful? Sometimes
  • Does Hagrid need a special key because the door is locked by magic and Hagrid isn’t supposed to do magic?
  • He said he was the keeper of keys at Hogwarts

Hagrid knows what’s in the forbidden corridor, but won’t talk about it

A ghost passed away on Friday, September 13th

  • Was that the scream?
  • That’s probably why all the other castle ghosts are acting weird
  • Who was Madam Yuriddissy? Dumbledore called her Pippa de Leon?
  • People who might know her: Sir Nick, HM Dumbledore, other ghosts, teachers looking into it like Quirrell and Feasance? Binns probably knew her
  • Did it involve the forbidden corridor on the 3rd floor? Hagrid said it didn’t?

How did she pass away? Can ghosts pass away?

How do ghosts WORK?

  • Why do only some people become ghosts?
  • Do only some people become ghosts?
  • Could my p
  • People who might know: Binns, Nick, other ghosts, the Bloody Baron?

Can ghosts be hurt or killed? HOW?

  • The Bloody Baron called it murder
  • Why would someone want to murder a ghost?
  • People who might know: the Baron, Quirrell, Feasance, HM Dumbledore?