"Amazing, isn't it?" Ron asked Derek as they walked through the entrance hall of the castle. The boy's eyes were practically popping out of his head as he took in everything around them. "It's more than amazing," he whispered in a soft voice, jumping a little when he saw several of the figures in the pictures were waving at him, "It's almost unreal. It's like nothing I ever thought possible. Too...too good," his expression dropped again, "I kind of feel like...I don't deserve to be here."
"Now don't think that," Hermione put a reassuring arm around him, "All first years get nervous the first time, but we all fit in some way or another. You will too while you're here."
"I felt out of place too the first time I saw it too, Derek-hello there, Friar," Harry waved to the Hufflepuff ghost, who unexpectedly came out of the wall on the left, causing his friend to jump in shock, "Don't worry, the ghosts don't hurt you. What you do have to worry about is..."
"Mr. Potter, so nice of you to show up," came a cold voice from behind the nearest suit of armor. Harry's heart sank. "...him," he reluctantly finished the quote, turning away from the piercing gaze of Severus Snape. "Would you like to explain why you weren't with everyone else when they arrived, Potter?" the Potions master asked him sternly.
"Look, Professor, we had some things to take care of," Harry said as calmly as he could, "Now really, we'd like to get on with..."
"I'm afraid I can't let you off that easily, Potter, much as you'd like me to," Snape said smugly, "So, our new pupil arrives," he rounded on Derek, "Yes, the Headmaster told me you'd be here. Unfortunately, your uniform isn't on right, so that will be five points from Gryffindor."
"WHAT!?" Ron gasped indginantly, "But he's only been here two minutes! You can't take points off that quickly!"
"Can't I, Weasley!? That's five points from you for disrespect to a teacher," Snape glowered at him, "Care to try for any more?"
Fortunately, before things could get any worse, the nearest door opened up. "Oh Professor, there you are," came a more giddier voice, "Come, come, we haven't rehearsed our big entrance yet; the feast is almost over and...ah, Harry, I was wondering where you were."
"Merry Christmas, Professor Lockhart," Harry forced a grin, not sure whether he should feel grateful or doubly horrified at Lockhart's entrance. The Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher grabbed hold of Snape's arm and dragged him towards the door. "Go on, Severus my friend, you promised," he told him cheerfully, "I'd like a word with Harry first."
Snape let out a very audible snarl, shooting a murderous glance at Lockhart, then back and Harry and his friends, before skulking out of sight. "Harry, so nice to see you again," Lockhart stepped in front of Harry before he could sneak away, "I read in the papers how you got your family all that publicity; a bit overdone, I must say."
"No, no, it wasn't like that at all, Professor..." Harry tried to think of a way to divert the conversation from where he knew it was going. Lockhart, however, remained completely oblivious. "I know you want to be the center of attention and all that, but please, there's no need going that far and staging an altercation," he told him in a sort of condescending way, "The next time you want to make a bid for the papers, just let me know ahead of time, and I'll...and who pray tell are you?"
He had finally noticed Derek was there. "Ron's cousin, he'll be here for a while," Harry mumbled, finding that this answer was getting more and more automatic.
"Wonderful indeed to meet you; Gilderoy Lockhart, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and bestseller for twenty weeks in a row now," Lockhart gave Derek's hand an overly vigorous pumping that threatened to rip it right out of its socket, "I daresay you'll love my class when you take it; we have so much fun in there. Well, best be off, Professor Snape and I agreed to make a little presentation after the meal; I'd let you know now, but it wouldn't be a surprise then, would it?"
He sauntered merrily off. "'We have so much fun in there?'" Ron mumbled mockingly once Lockhart was out of range, "I wish sometimes he could hear himself talk!"
"Oh will you come off it!?" Hermione rebuffed him, "I for one find quite a lot interesting about his classes."
"Of course you would, Hermione; you swoon all over him like every other girl in this school!"
"All right, all right, let's just go eat," Harry raised his hands before things could spiral into a free-for-all, "I don't know about you, but I am very hungry by now."
He glanced at Derek, who eagerly nodded. The four of them strolled across the hall and up the stairs towards the giant doors to the Great Hall. Inside, most of the other students were midway through their meals, which seemed to consist of everything under the sun. "Yes, you can have anything you want here," Harry told an incredulous Derek, "No one goes hungry here, I'm happy to say."
"Except for the house elves who have to make them," Hermione huffed, "Which reminds me, Derek, would you like to join the Society...?"
"Hermione, give it a break," Ron rolled his eyes in disgust, "He's got far more important things to do than follow you over cliffs with your pointless campaigns."
"Pointless campaigns!?" she glared right into his face, "Let me tell you something, Ronald Bilius Weasley, that if it weren't for the hard efforts of house elves, you wouldn't be able to enjoy...!"
"Stop, please, just stop, I'm very, very tired," Harry interrupted, fed up with the two of them already. He slid into his usual seat at the Gryffindor table, taking note that in fact an extra plate had been set up for Derek. "Oh there you are, Harry," Seamus greeted him, looking with intrigue at Derek as he eagerly bit into the roasted Cornish hen that was the main course for the day, "You missed the big announcement."
"What big announcement?"
"We're going on a field trip to the Cunninghamton Museum tomorrow!" Dean broke in excitedly, "Dumbledore's made the arrangements for all of us."
"The what museum?" Harry frowned.
"The Barnabas A. Cunninghamton Museum in London," Ron looked rather excited at the news himself, "It's only the largest and most elaborate wizarding museum in the world, Harry. We've always wanted to go there, but the rates have been too...well, circumstances kept..."
He abruptly stopped. Harry could guess quite clearly, however, that the Weasleys couldn't afford the trip to London. "What, what kind of things do they have there, Ron? That you know of, anyway?"
"Percy went with a friend; he says there's loads of stuff connected to the founders of Hogwarts, Merlin's items, several old druids who helped formed the Ministry, stuff like that," Ron explained, "Now what I hear is that the balls from the very first game of Quidditch've got a whole room to themselves, so if that's true, that's what I'm seeing first."
"But...how will we get there?" Harry was boggled by the logistics of transporting hundreds of students halfway across the country in one afternoon, "Is the train taking us down, are we getting the Knight Bus, or what?"
"I'm guessing probably the bus, or they finally let us try to Apparate," Seamus shrugged, "I guess we'll find out tomorrow. In the meantime, classes are going to only be a half hour in the morning."
"Oh no!" Hermione groaned out loud, "And I was so looking forward to giving Professor Binns a full presentation on the extended ramifications of the 1686 Goblin Act; I worked so hard during the respite on it!"
"You actually did THAT one all in one week!?" Ron stared at her with an expression bordering on pure horror, "Are you sure you're not superhuman!?"
Harry had to suppress a laugh. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a familiar figure at the Slytherin table on the other end of the Hall. In contrast to the other Slytherins, who were openly boisterous and talkative, Emma sat essentially alone at the very end of the table, slowly eating dessert with a dismal expression. Harry felt a doubly large pang of sympathy for her, knowing now how terribly lonely her home life was. "Should say something," he mumbled softly to himself.
"Huh?" Derek leaned over his shoulder.
"Nothing, nothing," Harry said quickly. "So, like it here so far?"
"Oh, I wish everyone at the old school could see us now," his friend grinned excitedly, "They'd keel over from jealousy."
Harry nodded in agreement. Deep down, though, he was still rather worried how they would get away with passing Derek off as a wizard in the actual environments of Hogwarts, when there were a thousand and one ways it could all go wrong.
Initially, however, things went a lot smoother than he'd thought. The first class on the schedule the next morning was History of Magic, which even the most inattentive Muggle could probably pass with no problems, Harry had long surmised. It certainly proved to be no problems for Derek, who even managed to stay awake through Professor Binns's dullest lecture yet that year, something about a meeting of Chinese wizards in the 600s that Harry knew nothing about and frankly didn't see how it could help them at all.
Next came a slightly more pressing challenge: Charms. Fortunately, Professor Flitwick's small size made it impossible for him to see everywhere at once. Thus, all Harry had to do was wait until Flitwick was looking the other way before assisting Derek in applying the necessary charm to make the parchments before them glow different colors, a step he really didn't feel right doing, but also felt he had little other choice in making.
Then came Defense Against the Dark Arts. While Derek had initially shown some concern about looking sharp in this course, Harry had reassured him that with Lockhart at the helm, very little effort of any kind would be needed. And indeed, most of the "defense" lessons were largely Lockhart asking the class what his favorite country he'd claimed to have traveled to over the years was.
"Is that guy supposed to be a joke?" the Muggle in fact asked incredulously when they walked out of the class at the end of the session, "What were we supposed to be learning from all that?"
"I myself have been asking that time and time again," Ron rolled his eyes in disgust, ignoring Hermione's glare at him, "Why Dumbledore thought he'd make a good teacher, I'll never know. Better get prepared now, though, Potions is next."
Harry gulped out loud to himself. He'd seen that Potions was going to be on the schedule, but it hadn't sunk in that they'd have to face Snape again yet. If Snape figured out their secret, it was all over and then some.
And indeed, he did have some reason to worry. Snape seemed more agitated than usual for whatever reason, breezing like a bat up and down the aisles, his eyes remaining transfixed on Derek in the front row. Also watching him closely, unfortunately, was Malfoy, who took advantage of every opportunity to fling ingredients at the boy. Finally, about halfway through the class, Derek could take it no more and raised his hand. Snape kept ignoring him, prompting him to call out, "Uh, sir, this..."
"You should know better than to interrupt me when I am critiquing another student, young man," Snape growled softly without looking at him (as his "critiquing" had largely been insulting the dragon's blood oven cleaning solution Neville had been trying to make, Harry didn't think this was the proper phrase to use), "That will be five points from Gryffindor for insolence."
"But he's been bothering me all through the class!" Derek protested, pointing an accusing finger at Malfoy, who struck a phony angelic look. He didn't need to, for Snape ignored everything and stormed up to glance at Derek's progress in the project. "Perhaps if you took more time to put effort into this, and less time trying to complain about the actions of other students, you would have far better results," he said darkly, "That will be another five points for coming to class completely unprepared," he rounded on Harry, "And five additional points from you, Potter, for not seeing to it that he did come prepared."
Harry gripped the sides of the table hard to avoid making a scene over this. Nonetheless, he managed to keep himself calm, and apart from continuous provocative actions by Malfoy, nothing else went wrong during the rest of the session. Derek, on the other hand, was completely riled up. "Did you see how unfair all that is!?" he complained as they left the claustrophobic confines of the dungeon, "Someone should report that guy!"
"We've brought it up repeatedly, no one does anything," Ron shook his head, "Some battles you just can't win here, Derek, unfortunately. What's next?"
"Nothing for us," Hermione checked her schedule, "We'll be leaving for the trip in about an hour and a half."
"Well, I've got Quidditch practice," Harry pointed out; Wood had approached him in the commons room last night and informed him of this, "Hopefully it won't be too long of a run-over. Care to join me for that?" he offered Derek, "Finally get to see what Quidditch looks like?"
"That Snapper guy won't be there?" he had to know.
"Snape, and no," Harry assured him.
"Count me in then," his expression brightened.
"Well, you two enjoy yourselves and try and be back in time; Ron and I are going to the library and practicing for the Charms exam at the end of the week," Hermione told him.
"No we're not!" Ron protested, "It's still too far off!"
"Yes, we are," she leaned very close to him, "You've made it quite clear when you accidentally turned me blue today you don't know as much as you think. So we're going to work on it, or..." she cut him off as he tried to interrupt, "You'll study with me for final exams every day from the first day of the new year until we take them."
"You wouldn't dare!" he was completely horrified at that prospect, "That's cruel and unusual punishment!"
"Then follow me, please," she gestured for him to follow her. Harry laughed deeply. "You've got to love those two together," he told Derek as they walked down the stairs towards the front of the castle, "They make such a great team."
"You must go crazy sometimes having to put up with them," Derek laughed himself.
"Sometimes I do, sometimes I do," he confessed.
A rather warm winter sun beat down on the snowy Quidditch pitch as they approached it. The other Gryffindor team members were already there and setting up. "Hello there, nice of you to come," George gave Derek another hard slap on the back, "You're going to love watching this. And don't worry, we won't let any of the bludgers take you out."
"Huh?" the boy's expression creased.
"George, come off it," Harry chided him, "The last thing he needs is to worry about that."
"But we just want him to be prepared," George defended himself, "One can never know what might go wrong in..."
"All right, can I have your attention please?" Wood was standing by an easel on which he'd set up several moving diagrams, "Now, we've only got a limited time to make this work, and needless to say we're going to need every little bit of effort we can muster if we're going to beat Slytherin later in the week, so pay attention to everything I tell you here."
Paying attention, however, was not something that could be easily done under Wood's tutelage, and Harry was soon almost sound asleep as the lecture on the special plays Wood had devised over the break droned on and on. Once Wood finally announced, "All right, let's go up and run through these," he breathed a deep sigh of relief; his mind probably could not have taken much more. "Go on and take a seat in the stands over there," he instructed Derek, who seemed to be the only one who'd managed to stay awake, "Now comes the good part."
He kicked up off the ground and circled around high above the pitch. As the regular Quidditch balls were not available at the moment, Wood had brought along several cricket balls which he'd enchanted to act in a manner similar to the Golden Snitch. Harry thus spent most of the rest of the practice chasing these all over the pitch and managing to miss only two of them. He felt quite confident that they would top Slytherin in the actual game by a fairly handy margin.
"All right, that's good everyone," Wood's voice magically called out loud enough to be heard all over the pitch after what seemed like an eternity, "We'll get more in tomorrow night. Seven o'clock sharp, and bring your best effort."
"And your mind, your heart, your soul, and anything else you can find," Harry heard the twins mumbling to themselves as they coasted back down to earth. He strolled towards the stands as the rest of the team shuffled off. "Well, I hope that was..." he started to say, but then he noticed that a new figure had in fact joined Derek in the stands while he hadn't been paying attention. "Well, what brings you down here?" he asked.
"My schedule was open, watching anyone practice seemed like the best bet," a far happier looking Emma told him, "There's nothing like the thrill you get watching the brooms circle around, ready for action."
"She explained everything to me while you were at it," Derek told Harry, "I think I get the point of it much better now."
"So, why don't you give it a try yourself?" Emma proposed to him.
"Huh?" Derek's expression went down, "I, uh, did mention I don't like heights."
"Come on, it's just a quick fly-through," she prodded him, "You said you found it interesting; give it a try."
She gestured him towards Harry's broom. Derek hesitantly approached and slung himself over the back. "No, no, you don't need to grip it that tight," she told him gently, "And straighten up; that posture's the surest way to fall off on your face. Now gently kick up. That's right. Now just twist it in the direction you want it to go."
Derek turned ever so slowly to the left. He was only about five inches off the ground. "Uh, I...is there some kind of safety device on this thing?" he asked, shifting his weight hard to the right as he started to spill over.
"Unfortunately not, Derek, you just have to be extra careful," Harry told him, "I've found that out the hard way myself. See if you can make a lap around. That's good, you're doing fine, just keep it nice and straight, and you'll get the hang of it."
He gave his friend a thumbs up as he slowly moved on the broom down the pitch, taking extra care to stay as close to the ground as possible. "Thank you for your advice," he commended Emma, "He's, uh, still got a lot to learn; this is, uh, very new to him."
"I could tell as much," she admitted, "But I think he's got the hang of it. You're doing good," she called down to Derek as he dared to go a little faster around the far end of the pitch, "He might have the makings of a good player if you train him hard enough."
"And if we can get the heights out of the equation," Harry conceded. "So, you ever try out for Quidditch here?" he asked her, "If you're into it like you say..."
"I've tried since my first year," Emma sighed, "I thought I did good in each audition, but they've passed me over each and every time. It's almost like Slytherin doesn't want a girl to take the pitch, like I'd poison their efforts being one."
"What's your natural position?"
"Chaser. Been at it since I've been seven."
"I see," Harry mused, "I do wish you luck, maybe someday you'll make the team."
"I appreciate that, Harry," she actually cracked a smile, "It's nice to know you're not what everyone in Slytherin says you are. Which reminds me, I noticed Draco was giving your friend a hard time in Potions. If he bothers him again, I'll let someone with authority know about it."
"Good luck complaining to Snape," Harry gave her fair warning, "If it's something connected with me, he's not going to listen."
"I meant the headmaster," Emma explained, "I know the password to his office; was in there earlier in the year."
"Ah," Harry nodded. Something else was on his mind. "So, uh, what, what made you go into Slytherin anyway?" he had to know, "If you're not all that happy there..."
"It took me a while to decide," the girl told him, "I guess because I wanted to prove I was someone special, not just Amaralda Dickinson's child..."
Her expression dropped yet again. Harry put a sympathetic hand on her shoulder. "I, uh, heard from someone who knew about it...what happened to your father," he said slowly and cautiously, "I'm sorry, really I am. He sounded like a good man. I wish you'd been able to know him better."
"So do I," her eyes were tearing up again, "I wish I could take Sorting back; having to listen to everyone in Slytherin talk about how much wizarding blood is supposed to mean, and to know my father died because You-Know-You believed that same rubbish, it's almost sickening. Like I told you, Draco in particular is a rat; I'd give anything to just slug him right in the face for spewing the hate he does. But then he'd complain to his father, he'd call my mother..."
She was too bent up to finish. Harry debated whether or not to go onwards in the conversation. His fate was solved when Dumbledore's voice echoed across the castle's grounds: "ALL STUDENTS PLEASE REPORT TO THE GREAT HALL; WE ARE LEAVING FOR THE CUNNINGHAMTON MUSEUM IN FIFTEEN MINUTES." "Well, I guess we'd better be going," he said, waving for Derek to stop as he zoomed by, "You excited to see the museum?"
"I've been there hundreds of times before," Emma in fact seemed rather bored, 'My mother's a collector of wizarding artifacts; she donates readily to the museum. Got to find some good use of her time, I suppose," there was a brief flash of a contemptuous look on her face as she said this, "Well, I guess I'll see you later, Harry."
"And thank you again for your help," he told her as she left. "She's rather nice, isn't she Harry?" Derek asked, coming up besides him, "Why didn't you meet her earlier?"
"Apparently simple twists of fate we're not meant to understand, Derek," was all Harry could think of, "Well, let's get this broom away and see what this trip holds in store for us."