A Troll In The Dungeon
Perhaps it was because he was so busy now, what with Quidditch practice twice a week on top of all his homework, but Harry could hardly believe it when he crossed off the last day of October on his calendar. He'd been at Hogwarts for two months now, and the old castle felt more like home than Privet Drive ever had.
Harry was happy. It was a new feeling for him, and he found that he quite liked it. He had hardly dared to dream that life could be as wonderful as it had turned out to be. Whole days went by when he didn't even think about the Dursleys, those miserable Muggles who had tried to keep him down. His days were no longer filled with hunger, isolation, and verbal abuse, but rather with laughter and friendship.
His friends seemed to be a gift from heaven. Sure they had their quirks and their strange habits, but they were good people. They'd taken Harry into their House and into their hearts. Harry knew that if he ever had to make a stand, any of his friends would jump up to stand beside him, no matter the odds, no matter the opposition. He would do the same for them.
His friends had helped him with learning the basics of magic, drawing them all closer together. Now that they had mastered those basics, their lessons were becoming more interesting. In Charms they had begun to work on levitation, the spell that Professor Flitwick had used to send Tracy's kitten, Argent, zooming about the classroom. So far they had focused on the wrist movement ("Swish and flick!") and properly pronouncing the Latin words.
On Halloween morning they came up into the castle proper led by their noses, which had been filled with the wonderful smell of baking pumpkin. Even better, Professor Flitwick announced in Charms that he thought they were ready to actually try casting the levitation spell. He told the class to break into pairs and passed out a feather to each pair of students. Harry was partnered with Draco, though he could have quite easily worked with any of his friends.
Today, luck was with them all. Even those of the Slytherins who had been struggling managed to successfully send their feathers floating around the room today. Only Pansy was having trouble; she managed to set her feather on fire, filling the room with a highly unpleasant smell.
"Well done, all of you!" cried Professor Flitwick. "Fifty points to Slytherin!"
Charms was their last class that day, so they holed up in the library afterwards to finish some homework. Professor Snape had assigned an essay on the Scintillating Solution that was due the following morning. They would actually be attempting to make the potion in one week.
When it was time for dinner, they all entered the Great Hall and stopped in their tracks. The Hall had been absolutely transformed. A thousand live bats fluttered from the walls and ceiling while a thousand more swooped over the tables in low black clouds, making the candles in the pumpkins stutter. The feast appeared suddenly on the golden plates, as it had at the start-of-term banquet.
Harry was just helping himself to a baked potato when Professor Quirrell came sprinting into the hall, turban askew, and terror written across his face. Everyone stared in amazement as he tripped and fell to his knees in front of the High Table.
"Troll!" he gasped. "In the dungeons! Thought you ought to know." He slid to the floor in a dead faint.
For a second nobody moved. Then someone screamed and a panicked uproar filled the hall. It took several purple firecrackers exploding from the end of Professor Dumbledore's wand to bring silence.
"There will be order," he declared. "Prefects, lead your Houses back to the dormitories immediately. I will lead the teachers to the dungeons and we will deal with this troll. Quickly now!"
"Stay where you are," Elan Malfoy snapped at them. "There's no sense in creating a huge jam of people at the door. Someone will get hurt."
So the Slytherins waited patiently for the Hall to clear. Peter von Erickson, the seventh year prefect, appeared lost in thought, but when he spoke, he was perfectly cool and composed, very much in charge of the situation.
"Listen up, everyone. Because this troll is in the dungeons, I have decided that it would be too dangerous to try to lead you all back to the common room. We're going to the library instead."
"What will Professor Dumbledore say?" a frightened second year girl asked.
Peter's upper lip curled in disgust, though he said nothing inflammatory. "Sometimes the Headmaster is a little absent-minded. I'm sure it just slipped his mind that our common room is in the dungeons."
"It's going to be all right," Elan assured the girl, taking her hand. "The professors will take care of the troll, and you'll be snug in your bed tonight."
The girl (Harry thought her name was Samantha) smiled gratefully. The prefects stationed themselves all around the Slytherins, forming a defensive perimeter. The fifth, sixth, and seventh year students all had their wands out as well. Peter led the way towards the library.
Theo tugged at Harry's and Draco's robes, pulling the boys towards the back of the group and then ducking off to the side. He had a strange look to his face, a weird glint in his eye. Blaise followed them, his curiosity plain to see.
"What?" Draco asked, irritated, twitching his robes back into place.
"Let's go," Theo said.
"Where?" Harry asked, confused.
"To the dungeons!"
Harry stared at his friend. "Are you insane?" he hissed. "There's a great bloody troll in the dungeons! Why do you think the prefects are taking us to the library instead of our common room?"
"I've read about trolls," Theo said. "I think we can beat one. C'mon, it'll be fun!"
"Fun?" Draco said incredulously. "Evidently this is some definition of 'fun' that I am unaware of. Theo, you're going to get us killed!"
"It's only a troll-"
"Only a troll?" Harry gaped at him. "You've been sniffing potion fumes in class, haven't you?"
"Look, I don't really think it'll be fun, but honestly, what a challenge! Don't you want to try your hand at something more advanced than feathers? We've been practicing hexes for nearly two months for what? Humiliating Weasley doesn't take that much preparation."
"It's quite a jump from feathers to trolls," Harry retorted. "I'd like a few intermediary steps, if you don't mind. Now come on. We're going to the library."
Theo shook off Harry's hand. "No way, no day. That troll is mine."
"You're out of your bloody mind!" Draco half-shouted, making a grab for Theo's robes.
Theo dodged neatly. "Come along if you want to," he threw back over his shoulder, and he sprinted down the hall.
Draco looked at Harry. Harry looked back, very unhappy. "You realize that we have to go after him," Harry said.
"We do?" Draco asked. "You mean he's not going to get what he deserves?"
"Forget this," Blaise declared. "I'm not going anywhere near that troll." He retreated back the way they had come.
Harry grabbed Draco's robes and began pulling him down the hall in the direction Theo had gone. "He's our friend, and we have to stick by him, even though he's gone potty. As soon as we save him, I'm going to hex him into next week, but right now he needs our help."
Draco changed the subject, pulling his robes free of Harry's grasp and straightening them yet again. "I wonder how a troll got in," he mused as they walked. "They're really stupid. No way it could have gotten in on its own."
"Peeves?" Harry suggested.
"Could be. Seems a bit out of his style though." This was clearly bothering Draco.
Harry stopped suddenly, holding up his hand for silence. They could both clearly hear hurrying footsteps.
"Elan's gone looking for us!" hissed Draco, pulling Harry into a shadowed corner. It was not Elan, but rather Professor Snape that they saw walking quickly through the corridor and disappearing through a secret passage.
"What's he doing up here?" Harry asked. "Shouldn't he be with the other teachers in the dungeons?"
"No idea. That passage leads to the third floor, though. What's up there that he's so concerned about?"
"Hey, there's Theo!"
"Glad you could join me," Theo muttered, as they moved forward to stand near him.
The troll was huge and ugly. It dragged a thick club on the ground behind it as it shuffled through the hall. It was perhaps best that they did not try to categorize the awful smell of the thing; what of the feast they had managed to enjoy thus far would be decorating the floor if they thought too much about it.
"I thought Quirrell said it was down in the dungeons," Harry whispered. "What's it doing up here?"
"All sorts of people in strange places tonight," Draco replied. "So what's the plan? Does it include running far away from here?"
"No, it doesn't" Theo hissed at him.
"So what do we do?" asked Harry.
"I'm not quite sure," Theo replied doubtfully. "We stop it, that's for certain, but now that I'm looking at this thing, I'm not quite sure I knew what I was doing."
"I could have told you that. I did tell you that. So let's run away! Let the teachers take care of it!" Draco snapped. "We don't have a lot of options."
Harry shook his head. "They're all down in the dungeons except for Snape, and he looked busy, so let's not bother him. We're here now, and it's up to us to stop this thing before it hurts anybody." He looked at his two friends. "Who better than us? We're Slytherins, the best House at Hogwarts."
Draco and Theo grinned at him. "You got that right," Theo said. "So what's your idea?"
Harry drew his wand and pointed it, not at the troll, but at the giant club it carried. "I'm going to apply today's Charms lesson," he said. "Wingardium Leviosa!"
The club was wrenched out of the troll's grasp and soared into the air. The troll stopped shambling along and stood blinking stupidly at its own weapon. Harry waved his wand a little, and the club smacked the troll in the head! It was stunned for a moment, but then it shook off its daze and roared in anger.
"Bonkers!" Draco exclaimed, drawing his own wand. "Wingardium Leviosa!" he cried, pointing his wand at a marble pillar with an oil lamp resting on it. The pillar shuddered, then slowly rose into the air.
"Wingardium Leviosa!" Theo echoed, pointing at one of the tapestries that hung everywhere in this castle. He brought the fabric up high, maneuvering it over the troll's head, and dropped it down, blinding it.
"Hit it!" Draco shouted, and both he and Harry began striking the troll about the head and shoulders with their floating, impromptu weapons. They got about six good hits in before, with a groan of pain, the troll tottered and crashed to the ground.
Everyone was frozen for a moment, not believing it was over. Then Theo laughed and twirled his wand in his fingers. "Up Slytherin!"
Draco was looking decidedly unwell. "Excuse me," he said faintly, "but I'm going to have a heart attack now."
"What is going on here?" came a shocked and infuriated voice. The Slytherins turned to see Professor McGonagall standing nearby, her face pinched, her lips white from being pressed together, and her eyes flat and piercing. She looked very unhappy with them.
"Hello, Professor," Theo said nonchalantly. "How are you this evening?"
"None of your cheek, Nott," she snapped. "Why aren't you in your common room?"
"Well," drawled Draco, "seeing as how there was a troll loose in the dungeons, our prefects decided to take us to the library instead."
"Then why aren't you in the library?" she asked through clenched teeth, visibly trying to not give in to the urge to strangle the lot of them.
"A worthy question," interjected Professor Snape, coming onto the scene with Professor Quirrell close behind. He bent over to examine the troll. "This troll has been beaten quite severely." He stood up. "How?" he asked, his black eyes boring directly into Harry's.
"We applied today's Charms lesson, sir," he said, relieved to be speaking to his own Head of House, someone he knew would be on his side. "We used the Levitation Charm and just kept hitting it until it stopped moving."
McGonagall was staring at them in disbelief. Quirrell, looking ill, had leaned against the wall. He would glance down at the troll every few seconds and shudder before looking away.
Snape, however, was regarding his first-year charges with something akin to pride. "Yes, well, with such fearsome weapons, the outcome was inevitable."
"Of all the- Why I never- How could you be so stupid?!" McGonagall burst out. "You could have been killed!"
"But they weren't," Snape said sharply. "They prevented this troll from causing murder and mayhem here in the castle. Their methods were crude, no doubt, but no less inspired for it." He looked critically at them. "Twenty points," he said firmly.
Harry delighted in the look of consternation that crossed McGonagall's face. "Professor Snape," she began.
"The three of you may return to the Great Hall. I believe now that the troll has been taken care of, the Halloween Feast can continue as planned." Professor Snape's dismissal was great news, and the three of them dashed away. As they rounded the corner, they saw Professor McGonagall shaking her finger at Professor Snape, who looked profoundly unintimidated.
Back in the Great Hall, the students were beginning to return, their plates still as they had left them. Harry sat down and took a bite of his baked potato. It was still warm.
"Well," Theo said brightly, "that was an adventure."
Draco reached over and shoved his friend's face into his soup bowl. "Never do that do me again!" Theo was sputtering soup. "I am not a bloody Gryffindor, I am not bravely stupid, and I do not enjoy facing certain death!"
"Draco, you're going to drown him," Harry said with his mouth full. He chewed faster and attempted to swallow.
"He deserves it!"
"Let him up." Draco held on another few seconds to make his point, then released Theo's head. Theo came up out of his soup gasping for breath, and groping for a napkin.
"You'll pay for that, Malfoy," Theo threatened. "I wouldn't sleep tonight, if I were you."
The Quidditch season had begun!
On Saturday, Harry would be playing in his first match after weeks of training: Slytherin versus Gryffindor. Gryffindor was in third place in the House Cup, though the points from winning the match would not let them take first place. Slytherin was already in first place, and they wanted to maintain that lead.
Harry's presence on the team had not been kept secret, so some people kept telling him he'd be brilliant, while others told him they'd be running around underneath him holding a mattress. Draco, Theo, and anyone else who knew what Harry was capable of doing usually laughed in the face of anyone who spoke like this, which irritated Weasley and his fellow Gryffindors immensely.
Last minute practices forced on the team by Flint made Harry even more grateful for his friends, who helped him get through all of his homework. His grades would have plummeted had he been left to his own devices.
The week raced by, and Harry's nervousness increased exponentially with each passing day. That Friday in Potions class, the tension in the air was unbearably thick. Vicious glares shot both ways across the room, and only the impending arrival of Professor Snape kept them from becoming more than glances. The door slammed, signaling the start of class as it did every Friday.
"Patil, what is the ratio of distilled water to dandelion sap in the Wart Removing Potion?"
Poor Parvati Patil was stuck working with Weasley. If rumour was to be believed, she'd apparently drawn the short straw this morning. Weasley had a different partner every class because none of the Gryffindors wanted to work with him anymore. So far, to Harry's knowledge, Weasley had not managed to brew a single potion correctly. Weasley was even worse at Potions than the hopelessly inept Longbottom. Whenever those two worked together, an explosion was almost guaranteed.
Weasley was always the first one to bolt from the Potions dungeon, anxious as he was to escape both Professor Snape and the Slytherins. His mistakes had lost Gryffindor scores of points, and earned him many biting, scathing remarks from the professor. He hadn't yet gotten slapped with a detention, but Harry was sure it was only a matter of time.
Harry stared in amazement as the Potions Master limped down the aisle. Professor Snape was a Slytherin to the core, yet he was limping, showing weakness. Something was seriously wrong.
"See that?" he whispered to Tracy.
She frowned. "He must really be hurt," she whispered back.
Curiosity consumed Harry all through the lecture. He was distracted to the point that he nearly added double the required amount of ladybug shells to his potion. Fortunately, Tracy was paying attention and saved him from ruining all their hard work. When she jabbed him in the side and told him to focus, he tried to concentrate. Professor Snape's apparent regard for Harry could slip away in an instant if Harry allowed himself to make mistakes. He didn't want to draw Snape's wrath.
After class was over, Weasley bolted and all the other students headed up to the Great Hall for lunch. Harry stayed behind. Snape had his head buried in one of the supply cabinets. He cleared his throat.
"What is it, Mister Potter?"
"Are you all right, sir? I noticed you limping."
Snape's piercing black eyes bore into Harry's face as the Potions Master gave Harry his undivided attention.
"I appreciate the concern, Mr. Potter, but I am quite fine. A strained muscle this morning during my morning stretches."
Something about that didn't sound quite right, but Harry knew it really was none of his business. He nodded.
"Yes sir," he said. "We were just worried, is all. You know, about not showing weakness and such."
A cheek muscle twitched in Snape's stern face. "I see. Rest assured, I will be fine in several more hours, Mr. Potter."
"Yes, sir," Harry said again. "I'll see you at lunch then." He turned to leave, but something on the floor caught his eye. "Professor? What's this on the floor?" He lent over to touch it, and his fingers came away red.
"Nothing to be concerned about, Potter," Snape said, his voice taking on a slight warning tone.
Harry deflated. Snape obviously wasn't going to tell him anything. "Yes sir," he said and walked towards the door.
"Oh, and Potter?" came Snape's voice behind him. Harry turned around. The Potions Master grabbed a handful of his robes and leaned in very close. Harry noticed that his breath wasn't pleasant at all.
"You three foolishly endangered the reputation of Slytherin House," Snape said, his dark eyes burning a hole in Harry's skull, "and more importantly, your lives. I am responsible for your lives, and if you ever act like a hard-headed Gryffindor again, you will wish that the troll had gotten you. Do you understand?"
Too scared to speak, Harry nodded his head furiously. Snape released him and turned back to his tasks. Harry bolted for the door. On the walk up to the Hall, Harry's mind was in turmoil. Professor Snape was hiding something, but what? Was it even any of Harry's business? Snape was a teacher, he could certainly handle his own affairs. Why then, did it continue to nag at him?
Harry sat down with his friends, but he didn't take any food. Theo nudged him.
"Hey, what's eating you?" In a whisper, Harry told Theo about the conversation and Snape's guardedness.
"Harry, this is blood," Theo said, peering at the red liquid on Harry's fingers.
"B-blood?" Harry stammered. "Whose blood?"
"An excellent question indeed," Theo muttered. "Professor Snape was limping, and now you discover blood on the floor. There's more to this than a strained muscle. Something hurt Snape, something that can't be healed with common magic. Something else is preventing him from getting proper treatment for it. This is a mystery."
"Hey Draco," Theo said, waving the blond boy over. "Got any ideas about this?" He explained the situation and his own speculations.
Draco's eyes were very serious. "I have an excellent idea," he said, looking directly at Harry. "We saw him headed towards the third floor the night we fought the troll. How much would you care to wager that he had a run-in with that three-headed dog?"
Harry gasped. Images of that great vicious beast came back to him just as sharply as if it were in front of him again. "Are you saying that Snape is after that mysterious package from Gringotts?"
Draco frowned, his eyebrows coming together in deep thought. "That's what the evidence points to. The plot thickens."
Millie shoved Draco down the bench. "Hey, you're talking pretty loud, you know. I don't think any of the other students heard you, but Pansy and I heard you loud and clear."
Daphne leaned over. "I heard you too. We really shouldn't talk about this here, you know."
"Fine," said Theo. "In our practice room after lunch. Until then, not another word."
Harry couldn't eat. His stomach was in knots. He drank three glasses of milk to have something to do. He did his best to observe the head table inconspicuously, but he needn't have worried; Professor Snape never arrived.
After what seemed like forever, lunch was over and the now free Slytherin first years nearly ran from the hall. Harry followed as Daphne, Theo, Pansy, Draco, Tracy, and Millie made their way to the empty storage room.
"Okay, let's go over it from the beginning," Pansy said, "just to make sure we're not missing anything."
Harry recounted the story of his visit to Gringotts with Hagrid. Millie then told how Hagrid had been very evasive about the break-in and the Daily Prophet article. Draco said that he and Harry had seen Professor Snape headed for the third floor on the night the troll had gone rampaging. Tracy reminded them all that the Professor had been limping earlier in the day. Harry concluded with the evidence he'd turned up after lecture.
"So that's all the solid evidence we have," Theo said. "Now then, my theory, which is based solely on the evidence, is that Professor Snape let the troll in to cause a distraction while he tried to get at whatever the dog is guarding, and the dog is what injured him, leaving him with that limp and causing him to be dripping blood on the floor."
"But that's absurd!" Daphne protested. "He's a teacher, he wouldn't be trying to steal something that Dumbledore is keeping safe."
Tracy snorted derisively. "Not all the teachers are saints, you know, and everyone can be tempted. What if it was a magic artifact or something with special magic powers? Remember, someone broke into Gringotts to get at this thing. It's got to be important."
"Tracy is right," Draco said. "Everyone can be tempted. We've got to find out what that dog is guarding."
"How?" Harry asked.
Draco shook his head. "I don't know, but we are certainly not going to go adventuring around the school to find out. Two near-death experiences is about all I can handle."
"Oh yes, Professor Snape told me that if we ever act so recklessly again, he'll make us wish the troll had got us," Harry told them. "He said we shouldn't act like Gryffindors."
That got a few chuckles, and Theo looked a little ashamed of himself. "Anyone have anything else to add?" he asked, changing the subject. Nobody did. "Then I suggest we move on. Who wants to practice some curses?"
"We don't have our targets with us, you ninny," Pansy said with a sneer.
Theo considered this, scratching at his chin with his index finger. "Good point, Pansy. In that case, then," he said with an evil-looking smile on his face, "I volunteer -- you. Rictusempra!"
"Sign the petition!" Millie said as a group of third-year Ravenclaws walked into the Great Hall. She was ignored. That was the last of them; now all the students were seated to dinner. She sighed in exasperation.
"We are the only people who've signed this petition," she said with disappointment.
"Not the only people," Harry said, trying to keep her spirits up. "We did get a lot of Slytherins to sign."
"By having Elan threaten to give them detention," Draco said sourly. "Do you know I had to promise to do him a favour in order to get him to do that? An open-ended favour? I may never forgive you for this."
Millie had pointedly reminded them all that she had promised to circulate a petition for the creation of a school choir in order to smite an enemy of Slytherin House. Using guilt trips and unscrupulous tactics that Harry hadn't thought her capable of, she'd brow-beaten Draco into helping her with it. Harry had done so out of a sense of obligation. She'd made that promise to the Sorting Hat in exchange for the Hat sorting the Muggleborn Hermione Granger to Hufflepuff, the House of Duffers, in revenge for her rudeness and callousness towards Harry on the Hogwarts Express. What made it worse was that it had been Harry's idea (though not a serious one).
Harry didn't know if he could sing or not; he'd never tried. Still, a singing group sounded like fun, even if he had almost no free time. Hopefully things would lighten up after the first Quidditch match tomorrow. Harry shook his head. He'd been trying not to think about that.
"Well, well, what have we here?" came a well-known and hated voice. Ron Weasley, his friends Thomas and Finnigan in tow, walked up.
"Weasley," Harry said coldly.
"Potter," came the reply, just as chilly.
"Sign the petition," Millie interrupted their impending fight.
"What petition is this then?" Finnigan asked. He had no particular love for the Slytherins (especially not after Draco had so soundly hexed him, though to be fair, Weasley had gotten far more than he), but he didn't go out of his way to antagonize them the way Weasley often did.
"There isn't any sort of singing group here at Hogwarts," Draco told him. "We'd like to get one started."
Finnigan considered this. "All right, where do I sign?"
Draco did a double-take. "Umm, right here," he said, handing over the petition.
Finnigan read through the wording briefly. "Hrmm," he mused. "Looks fair enough. Quill?"
Millie handed it to him, and he signed with a flourish. "There you are," he said, handing it back.
"Thank you," she said. "Anyone else?"
"I can't sing," Thomas said.
"Neither can Harry," Draco replied. "Didn't stop him."
Thomas considered this. "Sure, all right." He signed.
"Weasley?" Draco asked, managing to interject all sorts of insults into the question.
"No thanks," he said with irritation. "C'mon, let's go."
They entered the Hall.
"Well, that was unexpected," Harry said, surprised.
Draco chuckled. "It was worth offering it to them just to see the look on Weasley's face when his friends signed."
"The more people the better," Millie agreed. "C'mon, we'd better eat before the food gets cold."
As they sat down, Harry noticed Professor Snape seated in his usual place. He made a note to watch Snape carefully to see if he could spot any sign of that limp.
Chance had Harry sitting near Crabbe and Goyle, the two boys in his year that he knew the least. He knew they were best friends, had been since they were small -- smaller, that is. They looked remarkably similar, which meant people often confused them. They both thought Herbology was boring, along with History (though they were certainly not alone in that!) Neither seemed to understand that a lack of knowledge of herbs and plants would hurt them when it came to Potions, which is why they were always doing badly down in the dungeons.
Where Harry despaired over Astronomy, though, Crabbe thought it was the best thing in the world. Thursday nights when everyone else was yawning and falling asleep at the top of the Astronomy tower, Crabbe would be bright-eyed and perky. Harry was at a loss to explain it.
Goyle, on the other hand, while he liked Astronomy just fine, much preferred Charms. What he lacked in actual skill (not all that much), he more than made up for in enthusiasm. Once someone got him talking about the subject, it was difficult to get him to stop. At present he was telling Crabbe about the Engorgement Charm and the marvelous applications it could have on a pastry.
He and Draco were sitting across the table from the dastardly duo, Draco listening to them with the bored sort of interest, which meant that he was paying attention only until something better came along. Harry was distracted, watching the High Table for Snape to leave, trying to enjoy his dinner, and paying attention to the conversation around him.
"So I imagine if you used it on the last of the pie, you'd have more than enough pie to share," Crabbe said, his eyes losing focus as he spoke, his mind apparently drifting off.
"Oh for the love of Merlin," Draco snapped. "Is food all you can ever think about, you fathead?"
"Hey!" Crabbe protested. "My head isn't fat!"