They Shook Hands - Year 1

The Head of Slytherin House

Harry and his friends were awake bright and early, the first in the House to rise. They showered quickly before hurrying up to breakfast, eager to get the day started. Breakfast this morning was waffles, and Harry devoured a stack in short order.

Today the first years would once again be guided by their prefects, as they still didn't know the way to some of their classes. Their first lesson was Astronomy, which promised to be interesting, but it was Defence Against the Dark Arts that everyone was really excited about.

Jessica led them on the amazingly complex route up to the Astronomy Tower. The way involved ducking through two secret passages, doubling back once, and going out onto a walkway along the parapet before coming into the Tower proper. Harry did his best to take note of landmarks.

A professor with shoulder-length black hair was waiting for them. She was sitting at her desk and drinking coffee from her mug, which read 'Star Teacher' and had a silly-looking cartoon star-person on it. She waved the first years in as they climbed the staircase that opened up into the room. According to the clock, there were several minutes before the lecture began, and the professor showed no signs of starting early. Once they were all in the room, she had laid her head down on her arms and closed her eyes.

The Slytherins deposited their books at the desks and explored the room. The room took up the whole floor. The wall was rounded, one contiguous curve, and covered with huge star charts. There were no windows, so the room felt very dark. The lantern on the ceiling had been cunningly disguised as the sun.

Inspirational posters were scattered in the blank spaces on the wall. 'Reach For The Stars' read one. 'The Sky's The Limit' read another. 'Shoot For The Moon' said a third, with smaller print underneath reading, 'If You Miss, You'll Land Among The Stars'. Harry groaned because the puns were just so pathetic. Daphne was giggling.

The bell rang, and the professor raised her head and yawned. "My name is Professor Sinistra, and I will not bid you good morning, as I am a night owl. I have no idea why they asked me to teach at this ungodly hour."

The lesson was interesting. Professor Sinistra gave an overview of the course before she began lecturing about the major star constellations. They would be learning the names of the different stars and the movements of the planets. They would be required to study the night skies through their telescopes every Thursday night.

Professor Sinistra did not stand still during her lecture. She wandered all over the room, drinking from her coffee mug, which she refilled from her Thermos every time she passed her desk. She made great use of the star charts on the walls, pointing with a wooden metre-stick.

When the lesson was over, Abraham led them back into the castle via a shorter route to the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. He asked them about the lesson as they walked. Harry was walking right next to him and happened to glance up.

"Is that lipstick?" he asked, interrupting Pansy, who was raving about the lecture.

Abraham blushed. "Maybe, but it's not mine, Harry, so it's all right."

The girls giggled; the boys looked slightly nauseated.

"Here we are," he said, stopping at a door. "Have fun."

"I'm so excited," Theo said. "I hope Quirrell starts us in on spells right away."

"I'd like to try that Leg-Locker Curse," Harry said agreeably. "Curfew rang before I could give it a go."

"I'd rather we do something more challenging like the Full-Body Bond," Draco replied.

"Is that the one you failed miserably at casting last night?" Theo interjected.

"Shut up, Theo."

"It's way too advanced for a beginner."

"Look, you're not the only one who learned things as a child!"

Theo stuck his nose in the text, ignoring them all.

Pansy, for once, didn't have a smart-mouthed comment. She, Tracy, and Daphne were still too busy giggling at the lipstick Abraham had smudged on his face to pay the boys any mind.

Millicent turned to Harry and rolled her eyes. "Those two are so girlish. They're forever on about robes and fashion and make-up. I couldn't care less. Give me an old set of comfortable robes, and I'm happy."

"G-good a-a-aftern-noon, S-s-s-slytherin first years," Professor Quirrell stammered, opening the door for them. They took their seats, thrilled to be actually starting "the good stuff", as Theo put it.

Professor Quirrell's class turned out to be a bad joke. His classroom smelled strongly of garlic. (They heard later on that the garlic was to ward off a Romanian vampire that the professor was afraid would track him down.) His turban, he told them, had been given to him by an African prince as a thank-you for getting rid of a troublesome zombie, but they weren't sure they believed him. Millicent asked to hear the story, but he stammered something about it not being very interesting and began babbling about the atrocities Dark wizards had caused over the ages. His turban also had a funny smell about it, and Daphne insisted that it too was stuffed with garlic, leaving them all in stitches as soon as they got out of earshot of the classroom.

After lunch they had another Charms class, and Professor Flitwick awarded five points to Slytherin when Harry was able to correctly demonstrate how to hold his wand for casting charms.

That was their last class of the day, so they decided to relax before dinner, to save the studying for that evening. Harry joined in a game of Exploding Snap, managing not to burn himself at all. Theo cut out of the game early to read some more from the Potions text, and Harry was considering doing the same when Jessica and Abraham came by to ask about their second day. Harry definitely appreciated that they were so diligent to their duties. He liked that Slytherin House looked after their own.

Dinner was uneventful, but a surprise awaited them back in the common room. Professor Snape was seated in a chair by the fire talking with Peter von Erickson and Molly Archer, the seventh year prefects. They ceased their conversation immediately when the first years came down the stairs.

"Excellent, they're all here," Peter said, counting noses.

"First years, in case you don't know, this is Professor Snape. He is Head of Slytherin House and Potions Master." Molly's introduction fairly rang with her regard for the man.

"Thank you, Miss Archer," said Professor Snape, his voice quiet. He rose to his feet.

"First years, I welcome you to Slytherin House. I hope by now you've settled in, made yourselves comfortable. I hope you're learning to trust in your prefects. They are here to help you, as am I. If you have a problem you feel is too serious, too big for the prefects to handle, I hope you'll come to me with it. My door is always open to you, and I will always help you."

Professor Snape's voice was not passionate, but his tone was very serious. No one could doubt that he meant what he was saying.

"I know you've been informed of the unofficial rules of Slytherin House. I trust you will follow them. We encourage you to think here, and to make informed decisions. Please insure that you have a good reason for doing the things that you do. Those who act without thinking will suffer the full brunt of my sarcastic wrath. Those who embarrass Slytherin House will suffer a fate worse than death. Those who embarrass me personally will be tied to a chair and forced to watch Muggle religious television."

Harry, who had actually seen Muggle religious television, tried to suppress a snigger of amusement. What a horrible threat!

Snape's eyes flashed to Harry's face. They seemed to burn directly into his soul.

"Something funny, Mister Potter?" There was absolutely no love in that tone of voice.

"No, sir," Harry said quickly. "It's just that I've seen Muggle religious programmes on the telly before. That's an awful thing to threaten someone with, sir."

Snape's eyes continued to burn into his skull.

"That's all I have for now. I encourage you all to be a credit to Slytherin House. I will see you bright and early tomorrow morning. Good night."

"Good night, sir!" they chorused as Snape rose and left the room.

"Well, that was interesting," Harry said once the first years had all sat down near the fireplace.

"He certainly seemed to dislike you, Harry," Tracy said, her voice puzzled.

There was an uncomfortable silence.

"When do we have Flying Class?" Millicent asked, changing the subject. "I want to get on a broom again."

"They haven't said yet," Theo replied, and the conversation drifted to flying, brooms, and Quidditch.

Harry listened for a time, but pulled out his Potions text when Pansy and Theo got into a row about a match last season in which the Holyhead Harpies lost to the Pride of Portree. He couldn't focus on the book, however. His mind kept drifting back to the wonderful changes that had come into his life. It was very overwhelming if one actually thought about it, but Harry wouldn't trade a lick of it away.

By Jove, the castle was immense! Between the constantly-changing staircases, people in the portraits wandering around, and the coats of armour that seemed to walk around on their own, Harry despaired of ever fully learning his way around. As if getting lost on their own wasn't a big enough problem, there was also Peeves the Poltergeist. Abraham and Jessica had warned them all that Peeves was absolutely not to be trusted.

"Did you hear about Terry?" Theo said. "He asked Peeves for directions yesterday afternoon and ran into two locked doors and a trick staircase. He was late to Transfiguration and got a first-class dressing down from old McGonagall."

"He pelted the second year Hufflepuffs with water balloons this morning," Millie said. "I saw one of their prefects casting a Drying Charm on them."

Peeves was a general menace, but he was thankfully very afraid of the Bloody Baron, Slytherin's resident ghost, and tended to leave the Slytherins alone. Harry wished the Baron could scare the caretaker, Argus Filch, as easily. It was widely rumoured through the school that the old man was a Squib, something Draco and Theo shuddered when talking about. His greatest delight was catching students out of bounds and threatening to hang them by their thumbs in the dungeons.

Despite being a magicless Squib, Filch had a familiar, a scrawny, dust-coloured cat called Mrs. Norris. She even looked like him, with bulging, lamplike eyes. She patrolled the corridors alone. Break a rule in front of her, put just one toe out of line, and she'd whisk off for Filch, who'd appear, wheezing, two seconds later.

"Did you hear about Weasley and Longbottom?" Pansy said. "Filch caught them trying to force the door on the third floor corridor."

"The one that's out of bounds?" Harry asked.

"Yes. They claimed they were lost."

"What was their punishment?"

"Detention. Filch wanted to hang them up by their thumbs."

Draco laughed. "Too bad Dumbledore discontinued the old ways."

The hour grew late, and Harry eventually got some studying done. All the first years knew that in the morning they would have double Potions together with Gryffindor House. The rivalry between the houses was such that Draco and Tracy had mandated being extremely well-prepared for lecture. Jessica and Abraham had warned them that Professor Snape loved to ask questions, and you didn't want to get a question wrong in front of the enemy.

Harry had done extremely well to date, so far as he could see. With the help and encouragement of his friends, he'd already cast a number of spells. Several of those spells had come from chapters in the books that they wouldn't get to in class for weeks. That he took to magic like a fish to water was a bit alarming, but Hagrid had said that his Mum and Dad had been very magical. They'd been Head Boy and Girl, after all, and that meant great talent. Magic was in his blood.

The hour grew later still, and Draco was yawning wide enough for Tracy, who was sitting next to him, to fall in. Draco shut his book with a thud and got to his feet.

"That's enough. I'm going to bed. If he asks me what aconite is good for, I'll just make something up."

"It's considered deadly poison," Harry said, trying to restrain a yawn himself.

"Yes, because too many peasants tried to become doctors and killed a bunch of folk a long time ago." Theo's voice was smug. He knew more about herbs and their properties than any of them.

"I don't care," Draco said, walking towards their room. "I'll tell him to ask Theo or Harry." He yawned again, loudly.

They all looked at each other, each trying to hold it back. Then Millicent could suppress it no longer and yawned, stretching to the ceiling. Nothing else would do but for the rest of them to break as well. Yawning is contagious, after all.

"Bed," Harry agreed, gathering his things.

Worn out by his second full day filled with magic, Harry was asleep before his head hit the pillow.


Friday morning came soon enough, and everyone hurried through their morning shower. They rushed upstairs to the Great Hall and ate as quickly as polite manners would allow. They did not speak, not wanting to take valuable time away from chewing. They intended to be ready and waiting for the Gryffindors. It seemed almost sadistic, letting the two houses antagonize each other all through the week and finally putting them together on Friday morning, ruining the weekend for whoever came off worse in the confrontation.

Harry was just spooning the last of his porridge into his mouth when a bit of folded parchment dropped into his bowl. He looked up to see one of the school owls winging away. He swallowed his mouthful and unfolded the note. It said, in a very untidy scrawl:

Dear Harry,

I know you get Friday afternoons off, so would you like to come and have a cup of tea with me around three? I want to hear all about your first week. Send us an answer back with a school owl.

Hagrid

Concerned with getting to Potions on time, Harry stuffed the note into his schoolbag. Across the table, Theo was frantically flipping the pages of Magical Draughts and Potions, looking for something. Everyone else was wiping their mouths or picking up schoolbags.

"Time to shine," Tracy said, smiling cheerfully as they made their way back down into the dungeons.

"We should be able to have breakfast in the common room on Fridays," Draco groused.

It was colder in the Potions classroom than up in the castle proper. It was colder than the Slytherin common room, for the fires there never stopped burning. Fortunately, as they walked the dungeons more than other students, they acclimated to it more readily than the shivering Gryffindors.

The laboratory was quite interesting, if creepy, with pickled animals floating in glass jars all around the walls. Instead of desks, there were solid stone work benches lined in an orderly manner that had places for two students.

Tracy neatly elbowed Draco out of the way when he started to sit down next to Harry. She smiled sweetly up at him, and Draco stomped back one row to sit behind Harry, glaring at Tracy with a highly indignant manner. Pansy sat next to him, and Theo sat with Blaise. Millicent teamed up with Daphne, leaving Crabbe and Goyle to partner.

Professor Snape had not yet arrived, so Harry investigated the work space while they waited. Cupboards with shelves were built into the bottom of each bench. A pair of drawers contained tools such as thermometers, glass stirring rods, and hot pads. An iron rod was embedded in the stone, and several adjustable clamps were connected to it. Black scorch marks marred the benchtop.

In addition to their own basic supplies of potion ingredients, there was a rack of ingredients for student use at the back of the room. Each student had to record what he was taking, how much of it he was taking, and what potion he was making. It was strictly regulated to encourage students to purchase their own ingredients.

The door slammed, and everybody jumped in their seats. Professor Snape strode purposefully down the aisle to his desk in the front of the room.

"There will be no foolish wand-waving or funny words spoken in this class," he declared, his voice powerful. He reached the front and turned to face them, his robes whipping around him.

"Though you will hardly believe that it is magic, potionmaking is also a subtle science and an exact art," he continued, his voice dropping low, but they caught every word. Like McGonagall, Professor Snape had the gift of keeping a class silent without effort. "I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses." He slowly folded his arms across his chest. "I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even put a stopper in death. That is, if you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach."

That all sounded tremendously interesting to Harry. Potions seemed to be quite exciting, and Harry found himself looking forward to the first lesson. He glanced sideways at Tracy, and was paying rapt attention. All of the Slytherins looked eager; the Gryffindors seemed nervous.

"Well, well," Professor Snape said softly, "Harry Potter. Our new celebrity."

Harry gulped. His suspicion that Snape didn't like him appeared to be correct. His palms began to sweat as Snape stared at him. Ron Weasley sniggered behind his hand. Snape paid him no attention; maybe he hadn't noticed. His eyes were again boring straight into Harry's skull.

"Tell me, Mister Potter, what would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"

He'd studied that! He didn't remember reading about such a potion in the text, but he knew both of those herbs from his reading for Herbology. They were both powerful sleep agents.

"A good long nap, sir?" he said respectfully.

Snape's eyes stopped their intense glare. His face became unreadable. "Quite right, Mister Potter. In a roundabout way, I suppose. Together they form a sleeping potion so powerful that it is known as the Draught of Living Death."

Harry drew a slow breath and let it out. He'd gotten it right. His relief was almost palpable.

Snape's eyes became hard again. "What is the difference, Mister Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?"

Now that was being unfair. Two questions? Weasley was shaking with laughter at Harry being singled out. Harry struggled to recall. He suddenly felt very warm and had to fight down a stab of panic. He knew those names. Draco had said something about them right at the end of the night. No, that had been-!

"They're the same thing, sir. Also known as aconite."

Once again, Snape's face was unreadable. "Very good, Mister Potter. Ten points to Slytherin."

Harry took a long breath and wiped clammy hands on his robes. He'd gotten it right again. Being put on the spot by a teacher had always been stressful in Muggle school, and it appeared Hogwarts was no different. He realized that he would have to study very hard to catch up with his friends.

"Mister Potter knows what you all should know. Anyone who did not know the answers, had better write it down," Professor Snape said, his last words becoming clipped and obnoxious.

There was a sudden rummaging for quills and parchment. Harry set up his inkwell and prepared to take notes. He already knew that he would have to be diligent in this class. Professor Snape's unexpected challenge proved the necessity beyond a shadow of a doubt. The man had high standards, and Harry was eager to prove he could measure up.

"Now, let us continue. Weasley! Where may one discover a bezoar?"

The red-haired boy had been laughing while Harry was on the spot. Harry didn't feel like pushing his luck to return the favour.

"I don't know, sir."

"Thought you wouldn't open a book before attending class, is that it, Weasley?"

"No, sir."

"You were able to afford the required text?"

Draco snickered. Harry wished he were near enough to shush him.

"Yes, sir," Weasley said through grinding teeth.

"And what prevented you from reading it?"

"I was reading for Charms."

"And what did you learn?"

Weasley didn't answer. A flush was creeping up his neck.

"I see. Professor Flitwick will be very disappointed. Five points from Gryffindor for not being prepared for class."

Draco snickered again.

"Finnigan, what is the proper volume to fill a size two cauldron?"

"I dunno know, sir. To volume?"

Snape stared at the Irish boy for a long moment. A muscle in his cheek twitched.

"One point from Gryffindor for cheek, Finnigan. Anyone? Yes, Mister Nott?"

"Two-thirds, sir."

"Correct. Five points to Slytherin, and five from Gryffindor. Goyle! How many porqupine quills are needed for the Potion to Cure Boils?"

"Four, sir?"

"Wrong! Crabbe?"

"Six?"

"More wrong! The correct answer is two. I do hope you at least know your numbers before coming to my class. Parkinson, how many portions of snake fangs does the potion need?"

"Six, sir."

"Correct. Zabini, how do you prepare the fangs?"

"They must be powdered, sir. Mortar and pestle."

"Ten points to Slytherin. How much of the nettles is required? Patil?"

"Three, sir?"

"A lucky guess. What temperature do we brew this potion at? Brown?"

"One hundred, sir?"

"Idiot girl," Snape snarled. "Water doesn't even boil at a hundred. Five points from Gryffindor."

Snape wasn't even bothering to lecture. He seemed determined to find out who had prepared for class and who had not. After covering every aspect of the potion, he finally let them begin.

"Very well. Open your books to page three and begin. You should have more than enough time to prepare this potion if you do not make any mistakes."

Harry looked at Tracy. "Let's get to work."

"Right. You start with the snake fangs. We want them powdered. I'll weigh the nettles and get the water boiling."

Harry had to experiment to find a good grip on the pestle and mortar. The fangs were harder to crush than he'd thought.

"Is this good enough?"

"Yes, I think so."

Tracy had their potion bubbling happily, so Harry added six portions of the powdered fangs. She quickly added the dried nettles.

"Now we wait," Tracy said.

Professor Snape swept around in his long black cloak while they worked, watching over their shoulders.

"Show more care with the fangs, Thomas. Those aren't nearly crushed enough. That's not enough nettles, Brown. Balance your scales before weighing. Those flames aren't high enough, Golding. It will never boil at that rate."

When he paused to peer into Harry's cauldron, he said nothing. Harry was grateful for that. Snape made him rather nervous. He moved on to Draco and Pansy's bench.

"This is nearly perfect, Mister Malfoy, Miss Parkinson. Class, observe this cauldron. This is precisely how the horned slugs should look. You can add them to the potion now, Mister Malfoy."

A loud hissing sound suddenly filled the dungeon, and clouds of acid green smoke began pouring out of Neville Longbottom's cauldron. The whole thing had melted into a twisted blob, and the potion was seeping across the stone floor, burning holes in people's shoes. Within seconds, the whole class was standing on their stools while Longbottom, who had been drenched in the hot potion when the cauldron collapsed, moaned in agony as angry red boils sprang up all over his arms and legs.

"Idiot boy!" snarled Snape, clearing the spilled potion away with one wave of his wand. "I suppose you added the porcupine quills before taking the cauldron off the fire?"

Longbottom whimpered as boils started to pop up all over his nose. He was barely recognizable, and Harry felt sorry for him.

"Take him up to the hospital wing," Snape spat at Finnigan, who was Longbottom's partner. Then he rounded on Weasley and Thomas, who had been working next to Longbottom.

"Weasley! Thomas! Why didn't you tell him not to add the quills? You thought such an obvious mistake would make you look good if he got it wrong, did you? That'll be five points from Gryffindor."

Thomas opened his mouth to protest, but they could see Weasley kick him. "Let it lie," he muttered.

When they climbed out of the dungeon two hours later, Harry's stomach was rumbling, and his spirits were bright. His studying had paid off and he'd earned points for Slytherin. Professor Snape had been plainly impressed with Harry's preparedness for class, and his obvious dislike was replaced by a grudging sort of acknowledgement that Harry might not be a complete dunderhead after all.

As they relaxed their way through lunch, Harry suddenly remembered the note from Hagrid.

"Anyone know how to get up to the Owlery?" he asked.

"You can borrow Arlette," Draco volunteered. "Shall I show you up myself? Who are you writing to, anyway?"

"Hagrid invited me down for tea."

There was a sudden silence around the table.

"Do you intend to go?" Theo asked, his voice artlessly careless.

Harry heard the seriousness behind the casual tone. "Hagrid was the one who rescued me from those Muggles," he reminded his friends. "For that alone, he deserves my goodwill."

They mulled over that.

"Harry is right," Tracy said in his support. "No matter what Hagrid may be, what he may have done, and what he may do, he is the one who gave Harry the truth about his heritage. We should be grateful to him for bringing Harry back where he belongs."

Theo scowled. "I suppose you're right."

"Technically," Pansy sniffed, "but he never should have left, I think. Blame Dumbledore the Muggle Lover for thinking Muggles could properly raise a wizard."

There was much agreement.

"We're a bit off-track," Harry noted. "Should I go to tea?"

There was a mixture of yeas and nays.

"Oh pish on you all," Millicent said, waving her hand dismissively. "If you want to go, Harry, I'll go with you. If nothing else I can remind you of a study session we have to go to."

Company. Harry was glad for it. "All right," he said. "Draco, can I still borrow Arlette?"

"I said you could borrow her, didn't I?" he sighed, his voice having been one of the nays. "If he seems to be drunk, you should leave," he cautioned.

"It's the middle of the day," Harry said, shocked.

"So?" Theo was derisive. "The inside of the tavern is always dark," he said, sounding like he was quoting from somewhere.

"I won't stay long," Harry promised. "I want to practice that match-needle transfiguration some more."

"Shall we work on our hexes some more after dinner?" Tracy was asking as Harry and Millicent made their way up to the Owlery.

"What do you think of classes so far?" he asked. "Professor Snape really is something else."

"Yeah. I think I'm going to like Potions. I'm amused that it's tied so close to Herbology. I hope I'm good at them both."

"What's your least favourite?"

"Definitely History, but that's no surprise. I think Astronomy is pretty boring. Best is definitely Charms."

"And you got that matchstick to go silver," Harry reminded her. "I could use some help with it."

"Sure. What about you?"

"I like Potions. I hope I don't cross old McGonagall."

"The firm hope of many, I'm sure."

"So Tracy and Draco both have siblings," Harry said curiously. "What about you? Any brothers or sisters?"

"Both, actually. I'm the oldest of four. My annoying little brother Arcen will be starting next year. You can have full permission to thrash him if he gets on your nerves. Blanche and Dena won't be first years until after I finish school. They're just babies."

"I've never been around babies."

"They're loud sometimes. They're not very interesting. Mum and Dad are all sorts of silly over them."

"Tell me about your parents. I've met the Malfoys. I'd like to meet your parents some day."

"Daddy works in the Ministry. He's the Assistant Head of the Beast Division. He says it's a fairly easy job. He doesn't really need to work, being from old money. He just likes to get out of the house to avoid the chaos of Mum's job. She's a highly respected fashion expert."

"Fashion?"

"Yes. Her opinions are sought by witches from all over the world. It's ironic, really. Mum's so into it, and I couldn't care less. She's finally given up trying to get me to put on a dress."

As they clumped up the steps to the Owlery, Harry stopped in his tracks. There were owls everywhere! Every type, every size, every colour, every age. Eccidemas, Millie's barn owl, came swooping down to perch on her shoulder, nipping at her head affectionately. Arlette, recognizing Harry, swooped in for some attention as well.

"Hey girl," Harry said, scratching her head. "Draco said I could borrow you to send a letter."

Arlette drew herself up proudly. She stuck out her leg and hooted with pleasure. Arlette was proud of being a magical post owl and took pride in carrying out her responsibilities.

Harry quickly scrawled an acceptance of Hagrid's invitation and held it out to the owl. "Just carry this down to Hagrid's hut and give it to him. You don't need to wait for a reply."

She grasped the parchment firmly in her beak and winged away, out from the belfry and across the castle grounds.

"Success," Millie grinned at him. "Come on, we can waste some time before tea."

Wasting time turned out to mean exploring, and they gathered up Tracy, Draco, and Crabbe before roaming the corridors.

At five to three Harry and Millie left the castle and made their way across the grounds. Hagrid lived in a small wooden house on the edge of the forbidden forest. A crossbow and a pair of galoshes were outside the front door.

When Harry knocked they heard a frantic scrabbling from inside and several booming barks. Then Hagrid's voice rang out, saying, "Back, Fang, back!"

Hagrid's big, hairy face appeared in the crack as he pulled the door open.

"'ang on," he said. "Back, Fang!"

He let them in, struggling to keep a hold on the collar of an enormous black boarhound.

There was only one room inside. Hams and pheasants were hanging from the ceiling, a copper kettle was boiling on the open fire, and in the corner stood a massive bed with a patchwork quilt on it.

"Make yerselves at home," said Hagrid, letting go of Fang, who bounded straight at Millie and began licking her face.

"This is Millicent," Harry introduced her. Millie was giggling and teasing Fang, the two playing together on the floor.

Hagrid poured boiling water from the kettle into a large teapot. The teapot stood next to a large plate of cookies that looked remarkably like rocks.

"I hope yer keepin' yer head on straight in that nest o' serpents, lad," Hagrid began.

"I've made some good friends," Harry said, not wanting to have a fight about Draco Malfoy again.

"You jest make sure ye keep yerself on the straight an' narrah," Hagrid huffed. "How're them classes?"

Together, Millie and Harry told Hagrid all about their first lessons. Fang was enjoying cuddling with Millie, and she apparently liked the great tub of pudding.

As Hagrid started ranting about Filch, "that old git," and how he wanted to introduce Mrs. Norris to Fang, Harry noticed a clipping from the Daily Prophet on the table:

GRINGOTTS BREAK-IN LATEST

Diagon Alley, London: Investigations continue into the break-in at Gringotts on 31 July, widely believed to be the work of Dark wizards or witches unknown.

Gringotts goblins insisted that nothing had been taken. The vault that was searched had in fact been emptied the same day.

"But we're not telling you what was in there, so keep your noses out if you know what's good for you," said a Gringott's spokesgoblin this afternoon.

The date of 31 July rolled around in Harry's head. "Hagrid!" he said, interrupting Millie, who was telling him about her younger brother Arcen.

"That Gringotts break-in happened on my birthday! It might have happened while we were there!"

Hagrid refused to meet Harry's eyes. He grunted.

"It's important business, no doubt. Best to keep out of it," he muttered, offering them more cookies. "Keep yer nose clean."

Harry read the story again. The vault that was searched had in fact been emptied the same day. Hagrid had emptied vault seven hundred thirteen, if you could call it emptying, taking out that grubby little package. Had that been what the thieves were looking for?

The conversation died out, and Millie stood up. "Thank you for tea, Mister Hagrid, but we have a study session to get to before dinner."

"Aw'right then, get on yer way. Don't wanna keep ye from yer studies. Work hard, will ye?"

They promised that they would do so and left the hut, Millie scratching Fang one last time behind the ears.

"There's something going on," he said to Millie as they walked back up to the castle. "Hagrid knows something about that break-in and he's not talking."


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