Something To Prove
"I'm being pulled out of school," Zabini said softly.
"My mother is taking me out of Hogwarts. She's going to enroll me at Beauxbatons."
"What's Beauxbatons?" Harry asked.
"A lesser wizarding school in France," Theo answered. "Hogwarts was founded over a thousand years ago. Beauxbatons is only six hundred."
"The troll. Mother has heard about it and is absolutely furious; one, that a troll was able to even get in the castle in the first place; two, that it took considerable time for the teachers to actually locate the beast; and three, that when informed that the troll was in the dungeons, Dumbledore dismissed the school to their common rooms. Well, as was said at the time, the Slytherin common room is in the dungeon. Mother thinks this shows that what the newspaper has been saying about him for some time now is entirely true.
"And of course, there's the fact that you went looking for the thing. She really wasn't impressed with that. I couldn't talk you three idiots out of going to look for it, and now I've got to go to sodding France? Where's the justice in that?"
Harry felt a flash of guilt. He could have tried harder to convince the others that it had been a bad idea.
"I have to go pack," Zabini said, still not sounding as though he believed it. "I'm to report to Professor Snape's office tomorrow at noon for her to collect me."
"Well that isn't a lot of time."
"Mother is quite insistent. It's been smashing to know you all, however briefly."
"Rum luck, Zabini," Draco said. "Sorry you've got to go to France. Do write us a letter and let us know how frogs' legs taste."
"I think I'm going to be sick."
"Worse than that, you're going to miss the Quidditch match."
Blaise pushed his plate away and left the Great Hall.
"Still think going after that troll was a good idea, Theo?" Draco asked nastily.
"What else were we going to do?" Theo demanded. "We were already there. Someone had to stop it."
"We could've gotten the prefects."
"There wasn't time. Someone could have gotten hurt."
"You get too excited about these things, Draco," Theo said dismissively. "We're alive, aren't we?"
"No thanks to you! Don't you feel the slightest bit bad about getting Zabini yanked from school? We were just getting to know him."
"I'm very sorry about that, and while I wouldn't do it the same way another time-"
"-the fact that we did beat it proves that I wasn't all that crazy, doesn't it?"
"We got lucky."
"Luck is for losers. I prefer to rely on skill."
The sky that Saturday morning was bright, clear, and cold. The Great Hall was full of the delicious smell of fried sausages, and the cheerful chatter of everyone looking forward to a good Quidditch match.
Harry's stomach was filled with butterflies. Though the food smelled delicious, he couldn't eat a bite.
"You really should eat something, Harry," Draco told him as he spooned hot cereal into his mouth.
"I don't want anything."
"Have a bit of toast, at least," Theo urged him, holding the plate in front of him.
Harry's stomach roiled. He pushed the plate away. "No thanks, I'm not hungry." He felt terrible. In an hour's time he'd be walking onto the pitch.
"Harry, you need your strength." Millie was sitting next to him, forking eggs onto his plate.
"Yeah," Pansy chimed in. "Seekers are always the ones who get clobbered the worst by the other team, you know."
"Yes, so I've heard," Harry said dryly, his nervousness finding an outlet in sarcasm. He didn't touch the eggs.
As the next hour passed, Harry played disaster scenario after disaster scenario in his head. Despite it being Saturday, Theo had his nose in a schoolbook, keeping his eyes on the text as he ate with his right hand. Harry was the only one who wasn't trying to conceal laughter as Crabbe tipped an inkwell into Theo's hot tea; he was too preoccupied to notice. Everyone else watched eagerly as Theo took a sip from his cup.
"Blech!" Theo sputtered as he spat his tea out. He looked down into the cup. "Ink! Who did that?!"
Everyone burst out laughing. "It's not funny," Theo said, retching. "Someone is bloody well going to get hexed."
Pansy sniffed. "There's no need to use uncouth language," she berated him. "It's vulgar. Resorting to obscenities is the sign of a weak mind."
"I couldn't have said it better myself," Tracy admired.
Draco snickered. "But you would have taken twice as long and used words that we couldn't understand."
Tracy glared at him and stuck out her tongue.
Theo had packed his book away. Glowering at everyone, he excused himself to go brush his teeth again.
Finally Marcus Flint came over and put his hand on Harry's shoulder, bringing him out of his fearful imaginings. "All right, Harry?"
Harry tried to answer, but all that came out was a croak. Flint grinned at him. "Not to worry, two winks after we kick off, you'll be moving too fast to be nervous. C'mon, let's go get you suited up."
"Good luck Harry!" everyone wished him.
Flint chattered amicably at him while they made their way down to the changing rooms. The rest of the Slytherin House Quidditch Team met them partway down: Miles Bletchley, Desmond Montague, Adrian Pucey, Ivan Bole, and Matthew Derrick.
Bletchley handed out uniforms as Flint, the oldest among them, used transfiguration magic to make all the bits the proper size. Harry and the rest began to change as Flint cleared his throat.
"Now then, men, we have a very important match in just a few minutes."
"Shocking," Bletchley interjected.
"We're currently in first place for the House Cup, and we have to keep that lead. Gryffindor is in third place, and not even winning this game can let them take first. But since we want to take the Quidditch Cup as well, again, for the seventh year in a row, we can't give them even a single break."
"Not even a broken bone?" asked Bole, sounding profoundly disappointed.
Flint grinned wickedly. "Okay, we can't give them even a single chance, and we try to give them as many breaks as possible."
Bole smiled beatifically, his expression matched by Derrick.
"Wood still hasn't managed to find a Seeker worth his salt, so Harry's going to have an easy time of it," Flint continued, giving Harry an encouraging grin. "I say we take advantage of that. Bole, Derrick, if their Seeker," he consulted his clipboard, "Lois Panning, gets anywhere near the Snitch, you take her out. Harry, I want you to keep out of the way as much as possible. That way we can rack up the points and bury Gryffindor's chances at taking either Cup this year. When we get, oh, say a hundred points up, then go after the Snitch. Unless I fly by and tell you otherwise, of course. Or, if you seriously think that we're in trouble, then go after it and win the game for us.
"Bole, Derrick, those Weasley twins are good Beaters, and they have experience. You'll be responsible for protecting the rest of us. Fly quick, and if you can take out either of them, do it.
"Pucey, Montague, we've got to go out there and out-fly them. The three girls Wood has flying Chaser are all lighter than any of us, so they're going to be quicker. We've practiced how to compensate for that, and I want to see you both using the moves I've taught you. I'm the experienced one, so they're going to be watching for me to take the lead on any aggressive action. We'll use that against them as much as possible. You both fly well, and I know you're capable of doing this."
Bletchley sniffed. "Oh, I can feel the love," he said, sounding totally sincere.
"Shut your noise, you," Flint snapped back good-naturedly.
"No words of advice for me, Flint? I'm crushed."
"Yeah, don't let the Quaffle get by you," Flint ribbed him. "For every time you let the Quaffle in, you have to buy me a butterbeer at the next Hogsmeade weekend."
Bletchley snorted. "Yah right," he scoffed. "How about no?"
Flint grinned again. "I've got a good feeling about this game. Let's go out there and show Hogwarts what Slytherins are made of."
"Yeah!" they all cheered, and picked up their brooms.
Harry caught sight of his reflection as they walked out towards the pitch. The emerald green robes of the House team looked good on him. With the protective equipment he was wearing, he even looked a little fierce. Harry drew that image into his mind and fixed it there.
The roar of the crowd greeted them as they stepped out of the tunnel. Slytherin supporters waved flags and shot firecrackers into the sky. Green and silver confetti drifted down.
"Harry!" It was Theo's voice and Harry turned, seeing him running up as fast as he could. "I think I've got something that can help you!" Theo said, breathing heavy. He drew his wand and pointed it directly at Harry's nose.
"What are you doing?" Harry demanded, slapping Theo's hand away. "Don't just point a wand at me!"
Theo's lips twisted in a wry grin. "A little tense, are we?"
"What do you want?" Harry snapped, irritation at the break in his concentration making him short with his friend.
Theo pointed his wand at Harry's nose again. "Occulus reparo," he intoned. Harry felt a jolt, almost like static electricity, strike his glasses. His nose tingled for a moment and he scratched at it. Then he pulled off his glasses to see that where he had previously used cello tape to hold them together in one piece, now the frames were whole, solid. The lenses were buffed to absolute smoothness, not a scratch in sight. They looked brand new, and Harry marvelled. The Dursleys had gotten his glasses secondhand, and they'd always been a bit beat up (and so had Harry, thanks to Dudley).
"I found that this morning. I would have had it at breakfast except someone put ink in my tea." He was obviously still hacked off about that.
"Thank you," Harry said, genuinely touched by Theo's gesture.
"You're welcome," Theo replied, laughter dancing in his eyes. "Can't have our Seeker unable to see properly, can we?" He clapped Harry on the shoulder. "Best of luck, mate."
Harry walked towards the center of the pitch with the rest of the team. Both teams circled around the crate, taking their starting positions. Madam Hooch, who was refereeing, stood in the center with her broom in hand, glaring at them all.
"Now then, I want a nice clean game, all of you," she said, staring directly at Flint. His face took on an innocent expression.
"Mount your brooms!"
Harry straddled the smooth wooden handle of his Nimbus Two Thousand. Madam Hooch's silver whistle gave a piercing shriek. Fifteen brooms rose up, high, high into the air. They were off!
"And the Quaffle is taken immediately by Angelina Johnson of Gryffindor. What an excellent Chaser that girl is, and rather attractive, too-"
Harry didn't know the boy who was providing the play-by-play action, Lee Jordan, but Flint had warned Harry to pay him no mind. Though he was minded by the stern and impartial Professor McGonagall, Jordan still let his Gryffindor bias show.
"And she's really belting along up there, a neat pass to Alicia Spinnet. She's a great find of Oliver Wood's, last year only a reserve. She passes back to Johnson- no! Intercepted by Slytherin Captain Marcus Flint! He's heading up the pitch, he's flying like an eagle up there. He takes a shot- no, a fake throw and a pass back to Chaser Adrian Pucey. Pucey puts it through the far ring. Phooey, ten points to Slytherin."
Cheers rose from the Slytherins and their supporters. Howls and moans of dismay could be heard from the Gryffindors.
"Gryffindor back in possession, and Wood passes up to Chaser Katie Bell. She dives around Flint, she's in the clear, nobody around her- OUCH! She takes a Bludger to the back of the head sent by Beater Ivan Bole. That had to hurt. I hope she's all right. The Quaffle is scooped up by Dezzy Montague of Slytherin, and he passes to Pucey. He goes for the shot, no, he's blocked by a second Bludger sent by George Weasley. Or is it Fred? Nobody can tell these two apart, but nice play by the Gryffindor Beater in any case. Johnson in possession, clear skies ahead. Wow, she's really moving! She takes the shot, she's got it! No! How did he do that? Keeper Miles Bletchley pulls off some sort of miracle and manages to block a perfect shot."
Jordan sounded as dismayed as the rest of the Gryffindors who had all started to cheer in anticipation of the ten points. Slytherin supporters roared in approval.
"Slytherin in possession," Jordan continued. "Chaser Pucey dodges a Bludger, a Weasley, the other Bludger, the other Weasley, and Chaser Bell. Looks like nothing can stop him, and- wait a minute, was that the Snitch?"
A murmur ran through the crowd as Pucey dropped the Quaffle, busy looking over his shoulder at the flash of gold that had zoomed by him.
"Pucey!" howled Flint. "You're not the bloody Seeker! Keep your eyes on the Quaffle, you divvy!"
Harry saw it too; it was definitely the Snitch. His nervousness had vanished the second he'd kicked off, and now excitement filled him as he dove for the Snitch with a great whoop. Gryffindor Seeker Lois Panning had seen it too, and they converged right behind the Snitch. Neck and neck, they hurtled along at tremendous speed. The Chasers all seemed to have forgotten their jobs and hovered in mid-air as they watched the fight for the Snitch.
Harry was faster than Panning. He could see the little round ball, wings fluttering, darting up ahead. He leaned forward a tad more and began to edge away from Panning and her Cleansweep Six.
All the Slytherins called foul as a Weasley managed to "accidentally" get in Harry's way. Harry's broom spun off course, and Harry did his best to hold on. Madam Hooch had a harsh word for Weasley, but the Snitch had vanished again.
Bole aimed a Bludger at Panning, determined to hit her.
"Potter doesn't seem to know how to fly straight and nearly kills the Gryffindor Beater-"
"It could happen to anyone, I'm sure. No penalty shot, as there was no foul, and Gryffindor is in possession."
It was as Harry dodged a Bludger that had been rocketing towards his head that it happened. His broom gave a sudden, frightening lurch. For a split second, he was convinced that he was going to fall, and his short life passed before his eyes. He gripped the handle tightly with both his hands and knees. He'd never felt anything like that.
It happened again. Harry was scared now. It was as though the broom were a wild horse that was trying to buck him off, but Nimbus Two Thousands did not suddenly decide to buck their riders off. Something was seriously wrong. He tried to turn. He had to get a time-out called and figure out what was wrong with his broom.
He couldn't turn. Harry was near panicking now. The broom was completely out of his control. He wasn't able to turn. He wasn't able to steer. He couldn't direct the broom at all. It was zigzagging through the air, every so often making a violent swishing movement that nearly threw him off.
Jordan was continuing on as though nothing were wrong. "Slytherin in possession. Flint has the Quaffle, no Pucey, no Montague, no Pucey, these three are playing fast and furious. Looks like a Hawkshead Attack Formation to me, with Montague on the point. Flint tries to be a Beater and uses his face to whack a Bludger. Hope it didn't hurt him too much. But Montague puts the Quaffle away, oh no."
The Slytherins were cheering. They'd been making lots of excellent shots, and despite Wood's abilities as Keeper, had taken the lead. Nobody seemed to have noticed that Harry was in trouble. His broom was gradually carrying him higher and higher, away from the game, jerking and twitching as it went.
"What's Harry doing?" Theo asked as he peered through his binoculars.
"Has he lost control?" Millie said, instantly worried.
"He can't have," Draco said, puzzled. "He's a great flyer."
"Then what's wrong?" Pansy demanded.
Tracy shrieked as Harry's broom began rolling over and over to the side, with Harry just barely holding on. Then it bucked again and Harry was swung right off! He was holding on with only one hand!
"Did something happen to it when Weasley blocked him?" Daphne asked intently.
"No third year Gryffindor could cast Dark magic powerful enough to mess with a Nimbus Two Thousand," Theo disagreed. Then something occurred to him and he raised his binoculars. "I don't believe it," he said, his voice carrying his shock.
"What?" Millie asked, still looking up at Harry.
"Professor Snape is casting a jinx."
"What?" Pansy demanded, ripping the binoculars from his hands, nearly ripping Theo's nose off as well. "Where?"
"Ow, straight ahead," Theo replied, holding his nose.
"Well, I don't have Professor Snape, but I can see Professor Quirrell muttering something."
"Quirrell!" Tracy exclaimed. "What's going on here?"
"One of them must be casting the counter-jinx," Theo said, his voice sounding very odd. He was still cradling his nose.
"But which is which?" Millie asked, frustration clear in her voice.
"Which witch is which?" quipped Daphne.
"This is no time for jokes, Daphne!" Tracy half-shouted at her. "Harry's about to fall off!"
Flint had directed the other Chasers and the Beaters to fly a pattern below Harry, while he himself, the most experienced Chaser, tried to get close enough to snag his Seeker off the possessed broomstick. Each time he tried to dart at Harry, the broom kept rising higher, still Flint did not give up.
While the Slytherins were busy, the Gryffindor Chasers blitzed Bletchley with shots. He did his best to block, but was quickly being worn down, and Gryffindor's score began to catch up. Then Bletchley missed another shot, and the score was tied at sixty points.
"I'll take care of it," Goyle said, getting to his feet. "Move out of my way!" he bellowed, shoving anyone who dallied too long. Within seconds he was out of sight below the stands.
Goyle lumbered towards the section of the stands where the teachers were sitting. While the others would fret about details, Goyle had heard all he needed to. Either Snape or Quirrell was jinxing Harry's broom, and that meant they both had to be interrupted. He'd leave the figuring out of it all to those who were quicker of thought than he. If there was a man of action, his name was Gregory Goyle.
He finally reached the section roped off for staff members and guests of the school. He peered up through the slats. There was Quirrell, muttering away just as Pansy had said. He drew his wand.
"Incendio," he whispered, sending a small jet of flames onto his teacher's robes. He moved on, looking for Snape. Quirrell's robe would catch; he was confident in his own skill.
"Incendio," he whispered again, lighting Snape aflame as well. Then, sure that it would be enough, he turned and ran as fast as he could. He might be a little slow, but he was no fool to stick around.
"Quirrell, you're on fire!" someone shouted. Hagrid tackled him, smothering the flames with his own body.
"Severus too!" cried a female voice. Hands slapped at him, trying to extinguish the flames.
"Aquamenti!" Professor Flitwick cried, drenching the Potions Master from head to toe.
Up in the sky, Harry's broom stopped shaking. He grabbed on with his other hand, clinging desperately, praying that it wouldn't throw him off. It stayed calm. He swung himself back and forth and managed to hook a leg over the handle. With a heave and a grunt, he pulled himself back up to the top and hugged his broom, breathing heavily.
"And Potter is ok!" Lee Jordan announced to the whole stadium. "Though I can barely see him, it appears that Harry Potter has managed to regain control of his broom. Whatever problem that wonderful Nimbus Two Thousand had with a sneaky Slytherin riding it has apparently been solved."
"Jordan!" snapped Professor McGonagall.
"And the score is tied at sixty points each. Come on girls! You can do it!"
The Slytherin Chasers dived at the Gryffindors in a perfect attack formation. Bell shrieked as Flint came lunging in, howling an insane warcry. He snatched the Quaffle from her and charged towards Wood, looking for all the world like a madman.
THWACK! came a hideous sound, as Bole and Derrick perfectly executed a Bludger Backbeat, sending the iron ball rocketing with insane momentum towards Wood.
Wood's eyes got wide, big as saucers. His face paled, becoming as white as the sheets in the hospital wing. His own Beaters were out of position. He swallowed visibly and tightened his grip, his knuckles whitening. He spun around and knocked the Quaffle away with the tail of his broom, then a half-second later, took the full brunt of the Bludger flush on his back. He cried out in pain and momentarily lost control, but he held on. Wood righted himself with effort, but drifted around like a drunk, clearly hurt.
Pucey scooped up the loose Quaffle and sent it soaring past a disabled Wood to score. Johnson gained possession, but was cut off by Flint, still howling his warcry, who stole it from her.
It was turning into a rout. Bole and Derrick had clearly incapacitated Wood, and without a Keeper, Gryffindor's chances were sunk. One of the Chasers might guard the rings, but she would not have Wood's experience. The two remaining Chasers could never beat three, not with the way Flint had gone insane.
Harry took it all in, watching as Bole targeted Panning yet again, and she barely avoided being creamed by the Bludger. They'd pretty much forgotten about Flint's instructions to nail her only when she got near the Snitch. If the Seeker was injured, their team couldn't win.
The stands began to murmur, the Gryffindor supporters clearly disgruntled with how the team was getting their collective clocks cleaned by the Slytherins. Many of them turned to leave, not wanting to see the end of it. Slytherin was a hundred points up, one sixty to sixty.
Well, time to go to work, thought Harry as he looked about for the Snitch. Good grief. It was toying with Panning, hovering all near and around her, but Bole and Derrick were making it impossible to grab. Harry leaned forward and zoomed towards it.
Sensing danger, the Snitch tried to flee, but Harry had too much speed. Then, as he sped by, employing a tactic he wouldn't have expected from the honest-to-a-fault Gryffindor, Panning knocked her broom into his! Harry lurched forwards, came near to losing his grip again, and he instantly headed for the ground.
He almost crashed, but fell off and to his knees. He retched, gagged, and spat up something shiny into his hands. Tiny fluttering wings shot out of the little golden ball, and he wrapped his fingers around it.
"I've caught the Snitch!" he yelled.
The Slytherins and their supporters all let up a tremendous cheer. The whole team began to converge on him.
"Way to go!" Flint shouted in his ear, nearly deafening him. He picked Harry up and swung him around in a circle. Bole and Derrick bruised his shoulders with their slaps of congratulations. Pucey and Montague raised him up in the air.
"Let's hear it for Harry!" Bletchley shouted.
"He didn't catch the bloody thing, he swallowed it!" one of the Weasley twins was bellowing, clearly highly offended.
"Don't you dare call that Potter's Pass!" the other echoed. "That was the biggest mistake I've ever seen on a broom!"
"Bastards!" cried a still loopy Wood. "Miserable, sodding Belgian bastards!"
"The final score, after that completely unintentional um, er, catch by Potter puts Slytherin at three hundred ten, Gryffindor at sixty. Well, there won't be any celebrating in Gryffindor Tower tonight."
Harry and the rest of the team headed to the locker room and changed out of their robes. The boys had snagged Harry as he walked outside and pulled him behind Hagrid's hut.
"Harry, are you okay?" Draco asked instantly.
"I'm fine, just a little scared," he replied, the adrenaline rush beginning to fade away, leaving only weary exhaustion behind. "Where are the girls?"
"They went back up to the castle. I imagine they'll be very glad to see you're all right."
"Someone was jinxing your broom," Theo told him.
Harry's jaw fell open. "Jinxing my broom? How?"
"Not how, who," Draco corrected.
"It was Snape," Theo said, leaving no room for argument.
"Bollocks," Crabbe snapped. "Quirrell was casting too! I saw him with my own eyes, I did!"
"One of the two was jinxing and the other was counter-jinxing," Goyle explained to Harry. "We don't know which was which, so I set 'em both on fire to break their eye contact."
"So it were you!" came a booming voice. They all cringed and turned to see Hagrid standing there, arms folded, disapproval written clearly across his face.
"Hagrid, listen, please!" Harry begged him.
"Lightin' teachers on fire? What sorta Dark business are y'all about? Goyle is it? Well yer comin' up ter the Headmaster's office right now!"
"Hagrid, he was saving my life!" Harry cried. "Did you hear everything? Either Snape or Quirrell was jinxing my broom!"
"Snape must know that I know he tried to get past the three-headed dog on Halloween," Harry said, desperately trying to persuade Hagrid that something funny was going on.
Hagrid's jaw dropped. "How'd you find out about that?" he asked, completely thunderstruck.
"We ran into the dog while running away from Filch one night. Then we saw Snape headed to the third floor on Halloween, and the next day he was limping and I found blood on the floor in the dungeon," Harry answered.
"Well, at least Fluffy's doin' 'is job," Hagrid said, looking pleased.
"Yeah, he's mine. Got him from a Greek chappie I met in the pub las' year. He's here at school to guard-"
"Guard what?" Theo asked, insanely curious.
"Never you mind."
"That package from Gringotts, right Hagrid?" Harry said, looking intently at the large man.
"What're ye doin' talkin' 'bout that, 'Arry?! I told yer, t'were secret Hogwarts business!"
"It wasn't hard to figure out something funny's going on, Hagrid, between what happened at Gringotts, the dog, the limp, the blood. Every one of these things is odd."
"From there we just used a little logic," Draco drawled.
Hagrid's face got dark. "All of yer had better just leave this puzzle alone. Yer meddlin' in things wot are none o' yer concern. Ferget the dog, ferget about the package from Gringotts. That matter's strictly between Professor Dumbledore and Nicholas Flamel."
"Flamel!" Theo said triumphantly.
Hagrid got red in the face. "Out o' here, all of yer! Back to the castle! Now!"
As quickly as they could, they got back to the safety of the dungeons. Theo immediately headed to the dormitory and began digging frantically through his box of Chocolate Frog cards.
"Where is it?" he half-shouted as he rummaged.
"Where's what?" Draco snapped at him. He was irritated; Theo had been ignoring all questions for the past few minutes.
"He's got to be here!"
"Are you saying that Flamel is on one of your bloody cards?" Draco asked, clearly driven past politeness.
"I know he's on one! I just don't know where it is!"
"Good luck digging through that odd thousand," Crabbe chimed in.
"Yeah," Goyle said. He looked at Harry. "Should we go tell the girls what we found out?"
"Definitely," Harry agreed. "They're clever, and the more clever folks we have working on this puzzle the better."
Harry pulled his cloak around his shoulders and followed Goyle out into the corridor. "Goyle, I want to thank you for helping out today. You probably saved my life." Harry didn't talk with Goyle a whole lot, but the boy was clearly a good person, so that situation would have to change.
Goyle blushed slightly. "Aw, it was nothing," he said. "You're my friend, Harry. I know I'm not quick, but I had to do something."
"Well I definitely appreciate it."
Goyle grinned at him and clapped him on the back with a big hand. "You watch my back, I'll watch yours."
Harry tried not to wince as his knees nearly buckled. Goyle was a strong boy. He knocked on the door in the girls' half of the corridor with the plaque reading 'First Years'. There was a short delay, then Tracy opened the door.
"Harry!" she cried, her worry evaporating like morning dew. She threw herself at him, hugging him tightly. "We were so worried! I thought you would plummet to certain death!"
Harry made a muffled sort of noise; he had accidentally got a mouthful of her loose, golden blonde hair. He hugged Tracy back, hard. He had hugged her several times since their talk on the battlements so many weeks ago, and the hugs always felt nice. Now he would never turn one down.
Soon Millie, Pansy, and Daphne were also hugging him. Harry wondered how anyone could say that Slytherins were cold and uncaring. His friends were the best people in the world.
"You're not hurt at all?" Pansy asked him again.
"I'm fine," he said. "Thanks to Goyle, that is." Goyle started flushing again.
"This great lunk?" Daphne said, ruffling the big boy's hair.
"I just started a couple of fires," Goyle said, clearly not used to being the hero.
"But that's just what was needed." Millie turned to Harry. "That's how jinxes work, see. If you're casting a jinx, you have to keep constant eye contact. You can't even blink."
"Draco and Theo told me all about what they saw. No clue whether it was Quirrell or Snape?" Harry asked.
"None," Daphne sighed, sitting down on her bed. "I thought it was all a bunch of poppycock myself, but I saw Snape going muttery-muttery. Then I saw Quirrell going muttery-muttery. So I don't know what's going on."
"Well I've got a bit of a clue that might help us figure out what's on the third floor," Harry interjected. He related the name that Hagrid had let slip: Nicholas Flamel. None of the girls recognized the name; Harry saw a bunch of blank faces.
"Well," he sighed, "Theo is tearing through his Chocolate Frog cards. If this Flamel is at all important, he'll be on one of those cards."
"So what do we do in the meantime?" Millie asked. She pulled off her pointed hat and threw it on her school trunk in frustration. "Whoever it was might try again."
"What I don't understand is why you're all so ready to say that Quirrell is the bad guy," Goyle said, sounding confused. "Why would he be trying to kill Harry? He's not the one Harry saw sneaking around on Halloween."
The girls all looked back and forth at each other. Had they really overlooked that?
"Could Goyle have actually figured it out?" Pansy asked everyone. "Someone mark it down on the calendar."
"If it's not Professor Quirrell," Tracy declared, "then we must deduce that Professor Snape is the miscreant."
"But Snape seems to like me," Harry protested. "After the first week I think I became one of his favourite students."
"I thought I was his favourite. He's always writing positive comments in my homework. Does he do that with you too?" Tracy questioned. Harry nodded.
"Then we still don't know what the blazes is going on, do we?" Millie asked, still sounding frustrated. "It's still a big mystery."
"Guess so," Daphne said. "Oh well, at the rate we've been getting new clues, it won't be long now before Hagrid slips up and spills the tea."
Millie and Harry locked gazes. "He definitely knows what's going on," she said tentatively.
"No doubts," he said slowly.
"Do you think we ought to try to be a bit friendlier and see what information we can sneak out of him?" she asked him.
"Probably our best lead right now." Harry sighed. Hagrid had been decent enough, but he'd seen the big fellow drinking large quantities of wine every night at dinner. The rumours that Hagrid was a drunk were proving to be true.
"Are you actually suggesting spending more time with that foul-smelling ox?" Pansy sniffed derisively.
"Someone tried to kill me," Harry said firmly. "Before it was just a puzzle; now it's personal."
"Veracious!" Tracy cheered. "When someone takes on one Slytherin, they'd do well to remember that we travel in packs."