Duelling and Discovery
Harry had never believed he would meet a boy he hated more than Dudley, but Ron Weasley was quickly moving up on his mental list. Harry had been the target of Weasley's vulgar invective every time the groups of Slytherins and Gryffindors collided. The names that Weasley called everyone in Harry's circle were always some variant on evil, slimy git. Weasley wasn't very creative when it came to insults, but Theo had been giving him excellent tutelage over the weekend.
It was impossible that Weasley could have something against Harry personally; they didn't even know each other. The nasty words and blatant lies Weasley spewed were apparently justified by nothing more than Harry's House. It was completely irrational to him that Weasley should dislike Harry simply because he belonged to Slytherin.
Draco and Weasley had disliked each other from their first meeting. Harry could see that each held the other in extreme contempt. Usually it was the two of them trading barbed jibes, but sometimes Harry was the target as well. Harry wished the red-haired boy would stop being such a git.
At least first-year Slytherins only had Potions with the Gryffindors, so they wouldn't have to put up with Weasley's contemptuous treatment much. At least they didn't until they spotted a notice pinned up in the Slytherin common room that everyone got very excited about. Flying lessons would be starting on Thursday. Slytherin and Gryffindor would be learning together.
"I can't wait to get out there and show Weasley what a wizard can do on a proper broom, not some thrice handed-down stick with half the twigs missing like he's got," Draco drawled, practically bouncing with anticipation. Harry, on the other hand, was feeling sick to his stomach. The last thing he wanted to do was make a fool of himself in front of Weasley, Finnigan, and the rest of those Gryffindor gits. He was deathly afraid of embarrassing Slytherin House. Professor Snape's threats still resounded in his mind.
"Wonderful," he said dryly. "Just what I need to do, make an arse of myself on a broom in front of Gryffindor."
"You'll do fine," Draco said dismissively. "Did I tell you about the time this summer when I was flying through the wood near the Manor and almost got spotted by a Muggle whirly-bird?"
"Yes!" Theo said, highly exasperated. Draco had told the story many times over the weekend. The boy was very excited about getting back on a broom and couldn't keep a thought in his head for more than a minute before the broom brushed it back out again.
Draco had been vocal all weekend. He'd complained about first years not being able to have brooms, never getting on the house Quidditch teams. He seemed to have an endless collection of boastful stories about flying.
He certainly wasn't alone, though. Finnigan had apparently spent from the ages of six to eleven zooming around the countryside on his broomstick. Weasley insisted he'd almost hit a hang glider while riding his brother Charlie's old broom (Draco had asked him how he'd caught up to the hang glider riding an antique broom, to the Slytherins' vast amusement).
Millie was nearly as eager as Draco. When she'd first read the notice, she'd stopped dead in her tracks and stared at the parchment. Her jaw had dropped slightly and a glazed look had come over her eyes and face. "Broom," she had whispered reverently. "I get to fly a broom again.
Theo had controlled himself a little bit better, and Pansy had managed to keep her wits about her. She was just as eager as the rest, though. Tracy had been appropriately enthusiastic. Daphne and Blaise had been very excited. Crabbe and Goyle had merely smiled and nodded their heads approvingly. Everyone was looking forward to it except Harry.
One couldn't prepare for flying on a broom by reading a book or by practising in an unused classroom. He was almost frantic; he'd read Quidditch Through The Ages a bunch of times looking for hints. His friends had all assured him that he'd do fine. Hrmph! Easy for them to say.
Thursday morning came all too soon for Harry. He'd been very busy with schoolwork and hadn't noticed the days speeding past. He'd added a handful of new spells to his repertoire and had managed to get the matchstick to turn into a silver toothpick.
The post always came during breakfast, but Harry never paid attention. He never got anything from anybody. All of his friends had no need to write to him. Draco's mother sent up boxes of sweets twice a week, which he always shared. Tracy's mother had sent everyone a loaf of homemade bread with a crock of fresh churned butter only the previous day.
This morning, there was a bit of a hub-bub at the Gryffindor table. Harry glanced over and saw Longbottom holding a glass ball of some kind.
"Let's check it out," said Draco, always eager for a chance to irritate the Gryffindors. Harry got to his feet and ambled in that direction, walking next to Draco, and with Crabbe and Goyle trailing behind.
"What you got there, Longbottom?" Draco said, his customary drawl firmly in place. He snatched the glass ball out of Longbottom's chubby hand.
"Blimey, it's a Rememberall, Harry!" Draco exclaimed. "Longbottom's gotten so absent-minded he has to have someone else remember things for him."
Weasley and Finnigan had jumped to their feet. Finnigan cracked his knuckles, clearly eager to fight. Thomas got up from his seat and stepped closer.
Draco smirked as McGonagall, Head of Gryffindor House, came up behind her charges. "What's going on here?" she asked, her tones clipped, no-nonsense.
"Malfoy's got Neville's Rememberall, Professor," Weasley said quickly, tattling.
"I only wanted to get a good look at it," Draco said innocently. "That's all right, isn't it Longbottom?"
Draco was looking down at Longbottom, so Professor McGonagall missed the malicious gleam in his eyes.
"Y-yes, q-quite all right," Longbottom stammered.
Draco made a show of carefully examining the Rememberall while the Gryffindor boys fumed. Then he handed it back to Longbottom, being quite careful. "Thanks Longbottom. You know, that ball is as full of smoke as your head is."
"Mister Malfoy!" Oh no, he'd angered Professor McGonagall. "Five points from Slytherin for such disrespect."
"Yes Professor," Draco said, still being the perfect gentleman, and gestured with his head to Crabbe and Goyle, before slouching off.
"You prat, you lost us points!" Harry was upset.
Draco waved his hand. "Five points is nothing. I'll make it up tomorrow in Potions. Did you see how scared Longbottom was? I think they changed the Gryffindor mascot from a lion to a chicken."
At three-thirty that afternoon, all the Slytherin first-years hurried through the corridors to the open courtyard for their first flying lesson. It was a clear, breezy day, and the grass rippled under their feet as they marched across the lawns.
Eighteen broomsticks were laying in two neat lines on the ground. Harry had heard from some of the older students that the school brooms were practically worthless. Some of them got the shakes at high altitude, and others had a constant pull to one side.
Harry sat down on the grass and stretched out. The sun felt wonderful on his face, and he yawned widely. A person could almost nap out here.
Before he could nod off, the Gryffindors arrived, shortly followed by their flying instructor. Madam Hooch had short, grey hair, and yellow eyes like a hawk.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" she barked. "Everyone stand by a broom. If you're right-handed, stand on the left, otherwise switch. Come on, hurry up!"
Harry glanced down at his broom. It was old and some of the twigs stuck out at odd angles.
"Hold your wand hand over your broom," called Madam Hooch at the front, "and say 'Up!'"
"UP!" everyone shouted.
Harry's broom jumped into his hand at once. He looked up, grinning, and saw that all of the rest of his friends were holding their brooms as well. Crabbe's was hovering a foot or so off the ground, while Goyle had smacked himself across the shins.
The Gryffindors were having their troubles. Weasley had whacked himself in the nose, and Draco, standing across from him, was laughing at him. Longbottom's broom hadn't moved a bit. Perhaps brooms, like horses, could tell when you were afraid. There was a note in Longbottom's voice that clearly said he wished to keep his feet on the solid ground.
Madam Hooch then showed them how to mount their brooms without sliding off the end, and walked up and down the rows correcting their grips. Much to Draco's chagrin, she told him he'd been doing it wrong for years.
"Now, when I blow my whistle, you kick off from the ground, hard," she said. "Keep your brooms steady, rise a few feet, and then come straight back down by leaning forward slightly. On my whistle- three, two-"
But Longbottom, nervous and jumpy and frightened of being left on the ground, pushed off hard before the whistle had touched Madam Hooch's lips.
"Come back, boy!" she shouted, but Neville was rising straight up like a cork shot out of a bottle - four metres - eight metres! Harry could see that his face was ghostly white. Longbottom was petrified. He gasped as the ground fell away, slipped sideways off the broom, and-
WHAM! There was a thud and a nasty crack, and Longbottom lay face down on the grass in a heap. His broomstick was still rising higher and higher, and started to drift lazily toward the forbidden forest and out of sight.
Madam Hooch rushed over to the boy's side. Her face was nearly as white as his.
"Broken wrist," Harry heard her mutter. "Come on, boy, it's all right, up you get."
She turned to the rest of the class.
"None of you is to move while I take this boy to the hospital wing! You leave those brooms where they are or you'll be out of Hogwarts before you can say 'Quidditch'. Come on, dear."
Longbottom, clutching his wrist and with tears rolling down his chubby cheeks, hobbled off with Madam Hooch, who had her arm around him.
No sooner were they out of earshot than Draco burst into a gut-laugh. Theo added a snicker.
"Did you see his face, the great lump?"
Harry couldn't help himself. While it was a tragic accident, it appeared that Longbottom was going to be all right. It was a good object lesson.
"Evidently no one told Hooch that Longbottom was going to be her demonstration of what not to do," he said, chuckling.
"Shut up, Potter!" snapped Parvati Patil.
"Ooh, sticking up for Longbottom?" Pansy jeered. "Never thought you'd like fat little crybabies, Parvati."
"Well, look here," Draco said, suddenly leaning forward and snatching something out of the grass. "It's that stupid thing Longbottom's gran sent him."
The Rememberall glittered in the sun as he held it up.
Weasley glanced around quickly. Almost even odds out here, and not a teacher in sight.
"Give it here, Malfoy," Weasley demanded.
Everybody stopped talking to watch.
Draco ignored Weasley, turned to Harry. "Fancy a game of Keep Away, Harry?" he asked, picking up his broom.
A harmless game of Keep Away? Why not? It would be pretty mean to do this to Longbottom, but anything to irritate Weasley.
"Sure," he said, picking up his own broom.
"Malfoy!" shouted Weasley as he lunged for the Rememberall in Draco's hand.
Draco hopped onto his broom and rose into the air, above Weasley's head. Harry instinctively jumped on his own broom and kicked off.
"Well, Weasley? Are you wizard enough to face me up here?" Draco shouted down derisively.
Weasley's face turned very ugly. He mounted his own broom and rose, shakily, into the sky.
Draco hadn't been lying or boasting. He could fly well, and he proved it, neatly dodging Weasley's attempts to seize the Rememberall.
"Here, Harry, catch!" Draco said, tossing the glass globe behind his back and in Harry's direction.
Harry caught it, executing a barrel roll. Wow, how had he done that?! He heard gasps from below him, from Slytherins and Gryffindors alike. He could see the Patil girl holding Finnigan back from joining them in the sky. As Weasley rushed at him, Harry tossed the ball back to Draco.
"Hey Weasley, you want this? Go get it!" Draco cocked his arm and whipped it forward, flinging the Rememberall as hard as he could.
Weasley stared after the hurtling object with regret and rage all across his face. "You bastard!" he shouted, flying at Draco again. He missed as Draco dodged nimbly, and he sank back down to the ground looking both furious and defeated.
Harry gasped when Draco threw the ball. That was going too far. He hunched over his broom and zoomed along the ground, looking to intercept the ball before it shattered against the castle wall or the stone walkway. Harry wasn't thinking. All he knew was that if he let such an important possession get damaged, they'd lose points for Slytherin, and probably get detention as well. Totally focused on the glittering globe that was falling from the sky, he zoomed right past a tall, black-robed figure.
Reaching out his hand, he wrapped his fingers around the cool glass, tucking it in close, and bringing himself around quickly. He set his course back towards the others, but sank to the ground and began shaking in fear when he saw Professor Snape standing in the open corridor with his arms crossed, looking very annoyed.
"Mister Potter, just what do you think you are doing?"
Harry swallowed hard. "Well, sir, you see, we were playing a bit of catch with Longbottom's glass ball here, and it got thrown a little bit too hard. I went after it because I didn't want his property to be damaged. We could have lost points, sir."
Professor Snape's face was unreadable. "Give it here, Misterr Potter. I will make sure it gets back to Longbottom. You'd best get back to the others, and stay off that broom!"
Harry nodded, shouldered his broom, and went trotting back to the rest of the students. He didn't look back and didn't see Professor Snape staring after him.
Before anyone could say anything, though, Madam Hooch returned. She picked up the lesson where she'd left off, and everyone was zooming around quite readily when class ended.
"Line your brooms up back where you found them," she directed them. "I'll see you all tomorrow."
As soon as they got away from the Gryffindors, the Slytherins clustered around Harry. Draco, Theo, Millie, Pansy, and Tracy were nearest, with Blaise, Daphne, Crabbe, and Goyle leaning in.
"What was that?" Tracy asked, her voice trembling. "Where did you learn to fly like that?"
Harry opened his mouth to answer, but no words came to mind.
"Isn't it obvious?" Millie said, practically drooling. "It's in his bloomin' blood! That sort of talent isn't something you can learn. Oh, we've got to talk to Professor Snape and get Harry on the house team."
"The house team?" Harry said, alarmed. "But first years aren't allowed."
"What position?" Draco asked.
"Seeker, duh." Theo's face was getting animated. "That stupid glass ball was almost like a Snitch."
"Terence Higgs is the starting Seeker!" Pansy protested.
"He was only the reserve last year," Millie said. "The starting Seeker finished school and if we can get Harry permission to try-out, he'd get it for sure!" Millie was paying no attention to where she was walking and nearly fell into a shrub.
"How will being reserve be any good?" Draco asked, bewilderment clear in his voice.
"Terence will have to defend his position since he wasn't the starting Seeker last year," Theo answered. "That's how they do try-outs."
"So if Harry beats Terence to the Snitch, he gets to be Seeker?" asked Tracy.
"We've got to talk to Professor Snape," Millie reiterated, leading the way up the path, into the Front Hall of the castle, down the marble staircase, down the stone stairways to the dungeons.
"I don't think we'll all fit," Draco said, looking at Crabbe and Goyle particularly. "Blaise? Daphne? Could I possibly inflict these two on you for an undetermined span of time?"
Blaise opened his mouth to protest, but Daphne elbowed him in the side. "It's a big responsibility, but if we're the only ones who can do it right, then we must do it. Good speed on your mission, and Merlin grant that you return with good news."
"Thanks, Daphne," Harry said gratefully.
The six Slytherins hurried on to Snape's office.
"Professor Snape?" Millie said, knocking on the door.
"Come," Snape's voice rang out.
Millie opened the door and she practically dragged Harry to Professor Snape's desk. Draco, Theo, Tracy, and the others came in as much as they could.
Snape eyed them shrewdly. "How may I help you?"
"Sir, Harry just did amazing things with a broom!" Millie exclaimed.
"I'm fully aware of Mister Potter's broomstick handling," Snape replied. "Indeed, he does have my permission to try out for the house team."
Harry felt his jaw drop. Professor Snape had done a complete reversal. At first he'd have sworn that the man hated him, then it had become indifference, then respect, and now Snape was doing him a favour.
"How'd you know, sir?" Draco asked.
"I happened to be standing in a corridor adjoining the courtyard during the incident, Mister Malfoy. Mister Potter, I will notify Marcus Flint, the team captain, and he will provide you with information about the try-outs. I hope you appreciate the fact that first-years normally are not allowed to try-out."
"Yes sir, thank you sir." Harry's head was spinning, and all he wanted to do was lay down and rest.
The trip back through the dungeons to the Slytherin common room was a blur to Harry. When he came to himself, he was sitting in one of the padded, high-backed chairs at a table near the fire, staring into the flames.
He looked up and saw Draco and Theo working on their Potions homework. Crabbe and Goyle were comparing notes on Astronomy. The girls had gone to the library, he remembered now. His own Potions notes and text were open in front of him.
"Yuck," he said. "I don't want to be thinking about this stuff right before dinner."
He closed his book and opened up Quidditch Through The Ages. Usually the lightest and faster fliers...
"Give me Neville's Rememberall, Potter." Weasley's voice was hard and unfriendly.
Harry swallowed his mouthful of roast beef and turned to see Weasley and Finnigan standing behind him, unfriendly scowls across their faces.
"I don't have it, Weasley. Now if you don't mind, I'm trying to eat dinner." Harry put another forkful of mashers into his mouth.
Weasley's face grew even more ugly. "I said give it up, Potter."
"What are you, deaf?" Draco snapped. "He told you he doesn't have it. Piss off."
"Shut up, Malfoy. I wasn't talking to you."
"Well I'm talking to you, Weasley. You're outnumbered over here, so I recommend you leave."
"And if I don't?" Weasley asked belligerently.
Draco stood up. "Then I guess I'm just going to have to correct your attitude problem."
Weasley glared at Draco, Harry nearly forgotten. "Any time," he said invitingly.
"Tonight then, if you want. Wands only, no contact."
"In the trophy room; it's always unlocked. Midnight. Finnigan going to be your second?"
"You bet I will," Finnigan said, speaking for the first time, his Irish accent snappy. "Who's yours?"
"Potter, of course," Draco smirked.
It might have been Harry's imagination, but a flicker of uncertainty might have flashed across Weasley's face.
"Fine. Midnight then."
And then they were gone.
"What was all that about?" Harry asked, puzzled.
Draco looked chagrined for a moment. "Oh Harry, I'm sorry. You don't know. Bugger. Umm, okay, Weasley and I are going to have a wizard's duel."
"It's a formal way of settling disputes. You'll be my second, which means you take over if I die." Draco noted the look of horror that crossed Harry's face. "Never fear. As if some worthless Muggle-loving git like Weasley could kill a Malfoy!"
"But you could get hurt!" Harry protested.
"Nonsense," Draco said, waving the question away.
"You'd better make sure you can cast a Shielding Charm," Theo said, having heard everything.
"As if Weasley has anywhere near my skills," Draco scoffed.
Theo frowned. "Don't get overconfident, Draco. He might have a few surprises for you. Maybe we ought to go with you."
Draco was shaking his head. "No," he said. "How would that look? I told Weasley that it would just be me and Harry tonight. I can't go back on my word, not about something like this. There's honour involved here."
"He's right," Tracy said, leaning over to their huddled conversation. "If anyone else shows up, the terms for the duel are invalid, and you certainly don't want that to happen."
"Right," agreed Draco. "I want to hex him till his own mother won't recognize him."
"We should get some more work in on our casting," Harry suggested.
Draco nodded. "Yes, definitely a good idea. Then we should take a quick nap to recharge. Now I should eat more food, yes."
He hunched over his plate and began to fork carrots into his mouth, barely pausing to chew.
Harry couldn't continue eating. The succulent slices of roast beef that he had taken grew cold. A wizard's duel. Bloody heck, even if he was only a second, this wasn't good. He hadn't been raised a wizard; he knew nothing about these things.
Tracy, sitting at his left, leaned over. "What's wrong," she whispered.
"Nerves," he whispered back.
"You'll do fine," she assured him. "Draco can take care of himself. All you have to do is stand around and look pretty."
Harry grinned despite himself.
"Trust me, Harry, this isn't a big deal. I think it'll be very educational for you."
"You mean I get to see how proper wizards do things?"
Tracy nodded. "And you get to watch Draco wipe the floor with the Weasel."
As soon as politely possible, Harry, Draco, Pansy, Tracy, Millie, and Theo all left the table and hurried to the classroom that they had been using for practising their spells. Theo took a bit of chalk and marked two places on the floor.
"That look about right?" he asked.
Draco barely glanced at the marks. "Fine," he said. "Who am I practising against?"
Theo looked around at the others. "I guess that would be me," he said, sighing.
"If you don't want to, Theo, I'll do it," Millie volunteered.
He shook his head. "No, I need the practice too."
Draco and Theo squared off, wands at the ready. Each took a duelling posture.
"Three, two, one, go!" shouted Tracy.
"Aegis vocare!" Theo cast a Shielding Charm as Draco pointed his wand and cast his own spell.
Back and forth the two cast their spells, dodging, ducking, and occasionally connecting. Draco fell victim to the Leg-Locker Curse and took several nasty hexes before he could remove it. Theo exulted in his momentary victory, and that led to his downfall when he was caught unawares and could not escape the Jelly-Legs Jinx.
"Bugger!" he shouted, falling down.
"I win!" Draco said, smirking triumphantly.
"Like hell," Theo said, pointing his wand from the floor and casting the Tickling Charm.
Draco dropped his wand as he clutched his sides, laughing uncontrollably.
"Enough," Harry said, stepping between them. He performed the counter for the charm on Draco and helped Theo to his feet.
"Impressive, boys," Millie said, clapping her hands.
"Thank you," gasped Draco, wheezing for breath.
"I'd say you're more than ready to take on Weasley," Tracy said admiringly. "There's no way he could know even half of those spells. He certainly won't be able to think fast enough to do the reversals."
"Let's hope so," Harry said. "How does a proper duel end?"
Tracy took his arm as they left the classroom and made their way down to the dungeons.
"It depends on how serious the dispute is," she said. "If it's really serious it can be to the death. Then the second will take over, but usually it's just till one wizard disarms the others. If a wizard loses hold of his wand, then the duel is over."
"But what then?" Harry asked.
She blinked. "Well, I suppose the loser has to apologize. There's usually specific terms laid out before the duel begins."
Harry fretted. "I don't know enough about this to be a proper second," he said, wringing his hands.
"Don't worry about it," Tracy reassured him. "Draco knows what he's doing. He won't let you make any mistakes."
When they got back to the common room, Harry and Draco immediately went to bed. They would need to be awake and full of vigour to do their best. Draco especially needed to replenish his magical energies after the practising he'd been doing. Despite Harry's worries, he fell asleep almost immediately. The next thing he knew, Theo was shaking him awake.
"C'mon, Harry, time to go defend Slytherin pride."
Harry nodded groggily and stumbled to the bathroom where he splashed cold water on his face. The shock of it snapped him awake instantly. He returned to the dorm and found Draco awake as well, double-checking that his wand was still secure.
The two boys nodded at each other, not speaking.
"Good luck," Theo grunted, finally free to seek his own bed.
They were silent as they walked the corridors and made their way up the stairs to the third floor where the trophy room was.
Weasley and Finnigan weren't there yet. The crystal trophy cases glimmered where the moonlight caught them. Cups, shields, plates, and statues winked silver and gold in the darkness. They edged along the walls, keeping their eyes on the doors at either end of the room. Draco held his wand in his left hand, tapping it nervously against his palm. The minutes crept by.
"Where is that git?" Harry asked, impatient to have it done with so he could go back to bed.
Draco checked his watch. "He's late. Maybe he's too much of a coward?"
Harry was about to respond, but a noise in the next room made him freeze. He drew his own wand.
"Sniff around, my sweet, they might be lurking in a corner."
Filch! Mrs. Norris! They'd been betrayed! Horror-struck, Harry grabbed Draco's arm and dragged him towards the door. They had barely got out into the corridor when they heard Filch enter the trophy room.
"They're in here somewhere," they heard him mutter, "probably hiding."
Harry gestured to Draco, leading the way down the hall. Pale as a sheet, Draco followed him down a long gallery full of suits of armour. They could hear Filch getting nearer.
"Ah hah!" they heard him shout with glee. "Footprints in the dust!"
"Oh no," Harry moaned. "Run!"
The pair sprinted down the gallery, not looking back. They swung around the doorpost and dashed down one corridor then another. Harry was in front, no idea where he was or where he was going. They ripped through a tapestry and found themselves in a hidden passageway, hurtled along it and came out near their Charms classroom, which he knew was miles away from the trophy room.
They stopped, gasping for breath. "That was close," Draco wheezed.
"Too close," agreed Harry. "How'd he know we'd be there?"
"Weasley," Draco hissed. "That git went tattling. I'll fix him."
"Never mind that right now," Harry said. "We've got to get back to the dorm before we get caught."
"How?" Draco asked as they walked down the corridor. "I'm so lost, I couldn't tell you which direction down is."
"The Charms classroom is right over there," Harry said, pointing. "We just-"
Peeves popped out into the corridor, making them jump. "What for you are wandering around at midnight?!" he said loudly.
"Peeves, shut up!" hissed Draco. "You'll get us caught!"
"Oh, la di da di!" Peeves cackled.
"We'll get the Baron after you," Harry hissed, furious and scared. "How would you like that?"
Peeves sneered at them. "Don't care. Shouldn't be making threats, Ickle Firsties. Mouths getting ahead of you. Let me help your problem!"
Harry tried to duck away as Peeves lunged at him with a pair of dirty socks. "Eew!"
Draco had managed to get around Peeves and Harry dashed under the poltergeist. Together they ran for the end of the corridor.
"STUDENTS OUT OF BED!" Peeves bellowed, "STUDENTS OUT OF BED DOWN THE CHARMS CORRIDOR!"
"Oh, we're in for it now," moaned Draco as they ran for their lives. At the end of the corridor, Harry reached for the door to push it open and slammed into it, hard. The breath was knocked from his body as Draco crashed full into Harry's back.
"Open the door," Draco cried, tugging at the knob. Together they pushed and pulled. It was locked and refused to open.
"We're done for," Harry said, nearing a state of panic.
In only seconds Filch would be on them. Harry forced himself to stop panicking. Resolutely he pushed his panic to the back of his mind. Millie had been telling him about an Unlocking Charm yesterday. What were the bloody words!
"Alohomora!" he said, praying for the spell to work.
A jet of white light shot from the end of his wand into the lock. Draco quickly pulled the door open and they ducked inside, slamming the door shut behind them. They leaned up against the walls in relief.
"Bugger, that was too close." Draco was shaking. Too many panic attacks in too short a timeframe.
"Which way did they go, Peeves?" Filch was saying, his voice barely audible through the thick door. "Quick, tell me now!"
"Say 'please,'" the poltergeist sassed him.
"Which way did they go, Peeves, now where did they go?"
"Shan't say nothing if you don't say please," said Peeves in his annoying sing-song voice.
"All right- please!"
"NOTHING! Ha haaa! Told you I wouldn't say nothing if you didn't say please! Ha ha! Haaaaaa!" They heard the sound of Peeves whooshing away and Filch cursing in rage.
"He thinks the door is locked," Harry whispered. "If we just stay here we should be f-" He broke off in mid-sentence, his eyes bugging out of his head.
"D-Do you like dogs?" Harry asked, his voice trembling.
"They're all right," Draco answered, raising one eyebrow. "Odd sort of question at the moment, isn't it?"
"Not really," Harry said, pointing a finger up behind Draco's head, way up tall.
Harry was quite sure he'd walked into a nightmare. On top of everything else that had happened tonight, he just couldn't take this sort of shock.
They stood not in a classroom, as Harry had supposed, but instead in the forbidden third-floor corridor. Now he knew why it was forbidden; now he knew why Dumbledore had promised a fearsome and horrifying death.
Draco turned around and let out a slight whimper as he stared up into the eyes of a monstrous dog, a dog that filled the whole space between ceiling and floor. It had three heads. Three pairs of rolling, mad eyes; three noses, twitching and quivering in their direction; three drooling mouths, saliva hanging in slippery ropes from yellowish fangs.
It was standing quite still, all six eyes staring at them, and Harry knew that the only reason they weren't already dead was that their sudden appearance had taken it by surprise, but it was quickly getting over that. There was no mistaking what those thunderous growls meant.
Harry groped for the doorknob. Given the choice between being caught by Filch and dying a most painful and horrifying death, he chose Filch.
They fell backwards, Harry slamming the door closed, and they ran, almost flew, back to the safety of the dungeons. Filch must have hurried off to look for them elsewhere, because they didn't see him anywhere, but they hardly cared. All they wanted to do was put as much space between them and that monster as possible. They didn't stop running until they reached the blank stone wall that concealed the entrance to the Slytherin common room. Shaking, nearly crying from sheer stress, they collapsed on the floor in front of the fire.
"What in the name of the Founders is a beast like that doing in a school filled with children?" Draco demanded, his voice shaking. He had lost his normally cool demeanour and appeared on the verge of a breakdown.
"That's much too big to be a watchdog," Harry attempted to joke, but his joke started the cogs turning in his own brain. Watchdog; guard dog; guard; treasure; vault; the Gringotts break-in! Hagrid had said that the only place more secure than Gringotts was Hogwarts itself. It was tenuous logic at best, but it did seem to fit.
He'd deduced where the grubby little package from vault seven hundred and thirteen had gone to.