4: Flight and Fright
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.
Note: The pace will be speeding up a bit here on...
Harry and the Mysterious Curse of the Girl-Who-Lived
CHAPTER FOUR: FLIGHT AND FRIGHT
Harry swallowed nervously, trying to suppress the odd uncomfortable feeling he was getting from Professor Snape. "I've heard that I look similar to both my parents." Still true, even if everyone else saw it backwards.
"Yes," Snape said slowly. "But your dominant features are your mother's."
The way he said this piqued Harry's curiosity despite his discomfort. "Did you know my mother, Professor?"
Snape looked almost stricken, but he quickly composed himself. "Yes, I did. She was quite talented in Potion-brewing. Do you believe you can live up to her standards?"
Harry gulped. "I hope so, sir."
"Then perhaps you can answer this question: What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"
Harry frowned, stroking his chin in thought. A kind of a Potions riddle, was it? Harry honestly did not remember much about either of the plants. Wormwood sounded familiar - it was some sort of bitter herb. Harry had a vague memory of the word Asphodel, but the only plant Harry could think that sounded similar was Athelas - but Harry doubted that any connection existed between the two.
"I assume the answer is a potion, of course, but does it just have those two ingredients?" Harry asked. "I can't even think of any potions that only use two ingredients; in fact, isn't there some sort of Potions Rule that you need more than two ingredients for a potion to be stable?"
At this, Hermione shot her hand into the air with a determined expression on her face.
Snape nodded, ignoring her. "Belby's Rule of Minimal Counteractions. Although we normally don't discuss that theory until the second term. You are correct that there is no potion that only utilizes those two components; however, there is one potion that is well known for using that particular combination."
Harry considered this and tried to think over what he had read in the thick tome One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi. He certainly didn't remember anything about this potion from Magical Drafts and Potions, but perhaps if could remember exactly what asphodel was...
"Is... asphodel a flower?" Harry paused, remembering something at last. "I think it's supposed to be connected to graves or immortality. So maybe the potion is something to do with death?"
"You are on the right track, Miss Potter," Snape said, looking oddly pleased. "Asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. As you surmised, other ingredients are needed: valerian roots and essence of sopophorous bean. Although you would not normally brew it until your sixth year."
"Oh," Harry said, brightening. "I was wondering why I didn't remember reading about it in the first year text."
"Indeed. Perhaps a question that is covered in that text?"
Harry now felt the need to prove himself, so he nodded confidently. Hermione had finally put her hand down after Snape had answered the question.
"Where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?"
Now this definitely sounded familiar to Harry... unfortunately, he recalled that it was near the end of the textbook, in a section he had only skimmed over. He wracked his memory, trying to think of anything relevant. Hermione, of course, had shot up her hand again.
Harry sighed. "I can't recall the specifics - but I know it has something to do with hair... maybe you find by gathering together the fur of a magical animal?"
Snape smirked. "Close, Miss Potter, very close indeed. A bezoar is a stone comprised of hardened fibers and hairs, usually taken from the stomach of a goat - a mere mundane beast. If taken, it can absorb most poisons and act as an antidote."
"Oh, that sounds right," Harry said, although it was always easier to remember after you already knew the answer.
"Perhaps one more, then? An easier one: What is the difference between aconite and monkshood?"
Hermione was now waving her hand in the air almost frantically.
"Quit that, will you?" Ron whispered angrily. "He's not asking you!"
Hermione shot Ron a vicious glare but didn't put down her hand.
"That is quite enough showing off, Miss Granger," Snape snarled. "That will be ten points from Gryffindor for your impertinence. And another five from Mr. Weasley for whispering in class."
It was actually kind of amusing how Ron and Hermione's shocked expressions mirrored each other, but then they caught a glimpse of the other and resorted to glaring.
"So, Miss Potter, do you know the answer?"
Harry had an idea, but he wasn't sure. "I know that aconite is a kind of poison, and I think I remember from our Defense text that it can be used against wolves. But I can't remember what monkshood is, sir. Sorry." Harry felt a bit like he was letting his mother down - girl or no girl.
"Half right, Miss Potter. Aconite is also called wolfsbane due to its poisonous qualities, but it is also called monkshood because of its appearance."
Harry chuckled. Very clever. "Ah, a trick question. I should've guessed."
Snape looked oddly amused. "Yes, you probably should have." He then looked at the rest of the class with a glare. "Well? Why aren't the rest of you writing all this down? Think you're better than Miss Potter?"
The rest of the class proceeded relatively smoothly. Snape mostly left Harry alone after that, although he took more points off both Hermione and Ron, and another off Neville when the poor boy ruined his potion.
It was clear that Hermione and Ron were both furious with Snape, but they didn't seem to want give the other the satisfaction of hearing any complaints.
As they packed up to leave, Snape motioned to Harry. "A word, Miss Potter."
Hermione looked at Harry with pursed lips, like she had bitten on a lemon, looking extremely displeased. Ron saw this and exchanged glances with Harry.
"Don't take too long, Harry," Ron said. "Or I think Hermione's head might explode." He then ducked to avoid Hermione swinging her bag at his head.
"Miss Granger!" Snape snapped. "Fighting in my classroom doorway? That will be a detention, I think. And five points from Mr. Weasley for instigation."
Ron grinned at Hermione, clearly looking as though he had gotten the better of that particular exchange. Hermione huffed and stormed out of the classroom, Ron slowly following behind.
Once the door shut, Snape finally spoke. "Miss Potter, you recall that I did know your mother earlier. However, going into detail would not have been an appropriate use of class time."
Harry nodded. Made sense.
Snape frowned a bit enigmatically. "Your mother was an excellent student and well-respected. Your father, on the other hand, was an ill-mannered scoundrel who lazed his way through classes. I should hope you would know whom to emulate?"
Well, there wasn't much confusion about which answer Snape expected - and Harry wasn't foolish enough to call into question Snape's judgment of James Potter just then.
"I do, sir."
Snape nodded slightly. "I hope so. Leave now - I have work to do."
Harry nodded in return and sped out of the room.
The conversation raised even more questions. How exactly did Snape know his parents? Perhaps someone else might know - someone who also knew his parents? And as luck would have it, Harry realized he had a meeting that afternoon with someone who had known them quite well.
"Aye, Snape and yer mum were friends for a while." Hagrid then frowned, as if a sudden thought had just occurred to him. "Snape... ah, he, er, hasn't said somethin' odd has he?"
"I think Snape's just a blighty bugger," Ron said, sipping his tea.
"Yeh shouldn't use that kinda language, Ron," Hagrid admonished. "But I'll admit that, yeah, Snape is a bit of an old git at times."
Ron looked positively thrilled that Hagrid had said this.
"But he was friends with my mother?" Harry asked again. It didn't even seem plausible... Harry more expected Snape to be friends with Petunia than his mother.
"Well, they had a bit o' a fallin' out later on..." Hagrid said slowly. "But I dunno if I should be tellin' yeh about all that."
"Hagrid!" Harry said in surprise. "I thought we were friends!" Harry then immediately felt guilty for this remark, considering that Hagrid was probably the first friend he had ever made. "Forget I said that," Harry said quickly. "Of course I know that we're friends. I suppose if you think there's a good reason for not telling me, I'm sure I can trust you."
Hagrid now appeared extremely pained and more than a little guilty. "Sorry, Harriet, but maybe when yeh're a bit older?"
"I'm going to hold you to that," Harry said with a smile, trying to hide his disappointment.
During the next week's Charm class, Harry decided that he would try broaching the subject of his odd situation with the diminutive Professor. Once the class ended, Harry indicated to his various acquaintances that he needed to speak to Flitwick briefly and that they should hurry on ahead.
"Did you have a question, Miss Potter?" Flitwick asked with a ready smile. "We haven't really gotten into any of the advanced material yet, so I wasn't expecting much trouble for the students learning the basics."
"Yes, I do have a question," Harry answered. "Although it's not really about anything like homework or the classwork exactly." He paused, thinking about how he ought to proceed. Harry could not just ask about some mysterious curse out of nowhere, it would seem odd or suspicious. But how then to segue from a more mundane topic?
Flitwick frowned thoughtfully. "I think I understand. You are wondering about your parents?"
Harry had not actually been thinking about them, of course, but now he found himself intensely curious. "So you knew them too? Did you go to school with them?"
The Charms Professor laughed. "No, I am not quite that young. I taught Charms when they went to Hogwarts; I have been teaching for a over twenty years now."
"But you did know them?" Harry pressed.
"I did," Flitwick said with a nod. "In fact, your dear mother was one of my star pupils. She was not the top of the class, but very near there. I wouldn't go so far as to call us friends, really, but I was certainly very fond of her; well, both your parents, really."
"Was..." Harry paused, remembering something Snape had mentioned. "Was my father really an ill-mannered scoundrel?"
Flitwick raised an eyebrow. "Interesting choice of words, Miss Potter. Did you hear that from someone?"
"Maybe..." Harry wasn't sure if he could reveal the source of the insult - although perhaps Flitwick would already know all about that. "I suppose if you taught my parents, you must've taught Professor Snape as well?"
"I might have known," Flitwick chuckled. "Yes, he was in the same year as your parents. He was quite close to Lily, but they grew further apart somewhere around their sixth year, if I remember correctly. I'm afraid I'm wasn't privy to the specifics of their disagreements."
"Hagrid seemed to know," Harry muttered gloomily. "But he wouldn't say."
Flitwick blinked in surprise. "Hagrid knows - and he hasn't given it away? That's more restraint than I believed he was capable of." The Professor paused and fixed Harry with a serious look. "But mind you, that doesn't mean you should be pestering him about the details. Although..." Flitwick glanced out of the room, seemingly to check if they were alone.
"Severus... Professor Snape, that is. He hasn't behaved... inappropriately, has he?"
"Hagrid asked something similar," Harry said. "But unless you mean giving detentions and points kind of unfairly, although he hasn't given me either, I wouldn't call anything he's done inappropriate."
"He hasn't... well, made you feel uncomfortable?" Flitwick then seemed to realize something. "Or if you don't feel comfortable about it, you can speak to your Head of House. I know Minerva seems imposing at times, but she can be a very fine confidante, I assure you."
Harry shrugged. "There's really nothing to confide. But I'll keep it in mind. Although there is something else. It's more of a... theory question, I guess."
"Intellectual query, eh? Well, being Ravenclaw Head of House, I can hardly turn away from any intellectual curiosity. Please ask away."
Now how to phrase it just the right way...?
"Is there... a way to use magic to make someone appear to be someone else? I mean, like making a boy appear to be a girl?"
"You don't mean merely changing shape, like advanced transfiguration?" Flitwick asked.
Harry shook his head. "No, not actually changing from a boy to a girl, only appearing that way."
"Ah, I think I know what you're asking about!" Flitwick said with a smile. "I believe you are speaking of illusions - a fairly advanced topic, but no matter. They allow tricking the senses into seeing something that is not truly there."
"That sounds about right," Harry said excitedly. "Is there a way to cancel it?"
Flitwick frowned. "Well, illusions are fairly transitory - that is, fragile and easy to dispel. Merely sufficient willpower can be enough to see through an illusion. And of course, they don't last long."
Harry's heart sank. That did not sound right at all. "How long do you mean?" he asked desperately. "Could they last weeks or months?"
"It sounds like you are referring to phantasms, the legendary illusions that could actually interact with normal reality. But that is all they are, legends. No modern wizard has been able to replicate any of the legendary phantasms, they are considered myths, like the Deathly Hallows or the Fountain of Fair Fortune."
"What are those? I've never heard of either one."
"Oh," Flitiwck said in realization. "I had forgotten you had been raised with your Muggle relatives. Those are old Wizarding legends and mythical stories. It is my understanding that Muggles have some similar, but rarely intersecting legends of their own."
Harry sighed sadly. "So this doesn't even seem like a real thing to you? Just an old myth?"
Flitwick looked thoughtful. "Why does this bother you so, Miss Potter? It seems more than a simple academic inquiry."
How to possibly approach it? Perhaps the truth?
"I'm really a boy," Harry tried. "I'm under some spell that makes everyone treat me like I'm a girl. But I'm not lying; even the Sorting Hat knows."
"I don't think I follow," Flitwick said in confusion.
Harry cursed internally. That hadn't worked. He needed to improvise. "You said my mum was good at Charms, right?"
"So I think she was studying something that had to with defeating Volotredi."
Flitwick winced, but nodded.
"Sorry, I mean You-Know-Who. I think my mother was trying to figure out a way to defeat the Dark Lady - and maybe it worked."
"You mean she tried to curse You-Know-Who to be a man?"
"No, no," Harry answered, shaking his head. "Well, I don't think so. If so, it didn't work, right?"
Flitwick conceded this with a nod.
"That's why I 'm trying to figure out more about it," Harry went on, feeling pretty clever. "I think it might be key to figuring out why I survived."
"Fascinating," Flitwick mused. "But how did you find out about your mother's work?"
"Um, well, I found some old diaries of hers," Harry lied. "I can't say I understand them at all, of course. And um, they were pretty incomplete, just general notes," Harry added this, realizing that Flitwick might actually ask to see them. Then he came up with an even more plausible lie. "But then my Aunt threw them all out, so I never even finished them."
Flitwick looked horrified. "Merlin's beard! Why on earth would she destroy your mother's research?"
"You don't know Petunia... she hates magic," Harry said easily. This of course was no lie at all.
"Awful," Flitwick said mournfully, shaking his head. "All that lost knowledge. Well, Miss Potter, I am afraid that I don't know of any real spell that could alter someone into appearing as the opposite gender." He paused and smiled. "However, that does not mean we have a dead end. I shall be happy to research it and tell you my findings. I have some resources that even the Hogwarts library does not have, so perhaps they shall bear fruit."
"Thank you, Professor," Harry said gratefully. "And... I promise to try to live up to my mother's example."
Flitwick chuckled pleasantly. "Miss Potter, this is only your second week of class. I have a feeling you will do quite well indeed."
The following day, Harry awoke with a bit of a start, quite nervous. Not only did he plan to speak to McGonagall after class today , but the first-years were finally getting a chance to learn how to fly.
Harry had been eagerly anticipating this chance for days, but he was also dreading speaking to McGonagall, who still intimidated him greatly - even with Flitwick's encouraging remarks. Well, at least he could still use the same lies.
As he had been doing for the last week, Harry quickly washed and changed privately before returning to the main room. He had been getting better at timing it so that he didn't catch the other girls changing, although there had been a few accidental glimpses. Harry didn't know if he'd be similarly embarrassed changing in front of boys if he didn't have his girl curse, but it just seemed... inappropriate to see girls that way.
Harry smoothed out his robe in preparation for the day; once his other clothes were already on, he didn't really have a problem with putting on the outer robe in front of the others.
"Harriet, are you sure you don't want help with your hair or something?" Parvati asked, who was brushing Lavender's hair.
"Do you think it looks bad?" Harry asked, touching his hair a bit self-consciously. Then he remembered that his hair supposedly didn't look exactly the same - it appeared messy and unwieldy when he viewed himself in the mirror. But did Harriet's hair also appear unkempt?
"Oh, no, no!" Parvati quickly replied. "Just saying that if you need our help, we'd be happy to do whatever."
Lavender smiled at Harriet in agreement and then winced when Parvati pulled at something in her hair.
Harry didn't exactly feel like he wanted any part of that.
"No, I'm fine," Harry said. "Besides, my hair would get messed up later anyway. Flying lessons, remember?"
"Oh, I'm worried I'll fall off!" Lavender grimaced.
"There's nothing to worry about," Parvati soothed. "They've been teaching Flying for ages, and the only accidents that ever happen are during Quidditch games. And we're too young for that, anyway."
Hermione looked up from Quidditch Through the Ages with a very nervous expression on her face. "Where did you read about all that? I haven't found any such statistics."
Parvati rolled her eyes. "I didn't read it anywhere, Hermione. I'm sure I just heard it somewhere."
Hermione did not look very reassured. At all.
"Just so you know," Harry said. "I'm going to speak to Professor McGonagall after class today too, so you can go on to lunch without me. I'll come by a bit later, it shouldn't take too long."
"What did you even talk to Flitwick about yesterday anyway?" Parvati asked. "It seemed kinda important."
Harry shrugged. Might as well keep using the same lie. "Just something to do with some research my mum did before she died. Some of the Professors knew her pretty well, so I'm getting some information from them about figuring out all that."
"You're getting to do an independent research project?" Hermione asked in outrage, sounded angrier than Harry had ever remembered. "Whatever for?"
Harry opened his mouth to refute this, but then realized that in a matter of speaking, this was precisely what he was doing. "Like I said, it's something my mum was working on. What's wrong with that?" Harry felt honestly confused about why Hermione was so incensed.
"Ignore her," Parvati said. "I think it is perfectly wonderful that you are trying to continue your mother's work. I can talk to Padma to see if she knows anything, if you like."
"Who's Padma again?"
Lavender giggled. "That's Parvati's sister, silly. She's in Ravenclaw, remember? So I'm sure studying something will be fascinating for her."
Parvati nodded. "Yeah, that's probably true. I love her, but she can be a bit mad about books and studying. Sort of like Granger."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Hermione asked indignantly.
Harry felt the situation beginning to escalate towards argument, and wished that Hermione would go back to just ignoring them. "Look at it this way Hermione," Harry said in sudden realization. "At least you're not nervous about Flying anymore, right?"
Hermione's face paled and she buried herself back in the book.
McGonagall seemed even more surprised than Flitwick that Harry had approached her for help.
"Forgive me, Miss Potter, you just caught me a tad off guard. In truth, neither of your parents ever asked for help this early on the term. Although I suppose it would be foolish indeed to assume you are identical to either one. Especially considering..." She trailed off, looking suddenly worried.
"Miss Potter, I apologize for the following question, and please let me know if you do not wish to answer."
Harry blinked in surprise and nodded, wondering what this question could be.
"I know you were raised by your Muggle relatives. Were there any... problems growing up with them?"
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"Did the Dursleys act inappropriately towards you at any point? More than what could be considered proper, I mean."
Harry sighed. "I've heard this type of question already, ma'am. They never hit me or anything, although they let Dudley do whatever he wanted. Although really, that's not a big deal - I got pretty good at running away. Sure, I mean I had to do chores and whatever, and yeah, if I could stay here over the summer instead of going back, obviously I'd prefer to do that." Harry stopped, realizing he had said quite a bit more than he had intended. "But that's not why I came here, of course. And before you ask, no, Professor Snape hasn't been weird either."
McGonagall pursed her lips in annoyance. "I hadn't considered Severus as of yet, but I am pleased to hear that has not behaved inappropriately. You say the Dursleys had you doing chores; anything out of the ordinary?"
Harry shrugged. "I don't think so. Typical stuff, cooking, laundry, pulling weeds, that sort of thing. Hardly pleasant, but it's not like it was torture. Not quite, anyway." Then his eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Wait, how do you know the Dursleys?"
"I am, shall we say, somewhat familiar with those particular Muggles. I never approved of you living there, but Albus... well, that is not important. How long have you been required to do these chores?"
"Um, for as long as I can remember," Harry said, scratching his head. "Probably since I was six or so."
McGonagall's eyes flashed in fury, then she visibly calmed herself. "I will look into this, I assure you."
"Wait, wait, that's not what I came to talk to you about at all!" Harry said in frantic protest. "You don't need to look into anything... although..."
"Although?" McGonagall asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Well..." Harry said slowly. "I suppose if you could find a different place for me to live, I would hardly say no to that."
McGonagall smiled slightly. "I think I can adhere to that request."
"But getting back to why I was here in the first place," Harry began, wondering if something actually good might come out of this conversation. He hadn't really wanted to complain about the Dursleys - but if the Professor could somehow arrange for him to leave the Dursleys, never to return? Harry didn't think Vernon would be the only one celebrating that particular joyous circumstance.
Harry quickly explained his mysterious problem to the Professor, utilizing the same lie he had used with Flitwick. After all, they might compare notes, and it was always easier to keeping lying once you'd started.
"That is an odd question, indeed, Miss Potter," McGonagall said with an intrigued tone. "If you had asked about permanent gender Transfiguration or switching, there would be much I could discuss, but a sort of illusionary trick? I can't say I'm familiar with anything of that nature. Have you spoken to Professor Flitwick about it?"
Harry nodded. "He said he'd research it."
"Then he is probably the best source of information. I will see if I have anything on it, but I do not find it likely. Still, it seems an interesting mystery. And I will certainly speak to those... who need to be spoken to regarding your relatives." She smiled, which didn't seem so out of place on her anymore. "Now you had better head off to lunch before it's all gone. You'll need your energy for your flying lessons later."
Harry had experienced some wondrous things in the realm of Magic: Giving Dudley a pig tail, the sheer jumbled insanity of Diagon Alley, the majestic Great Hall, and the burst of energy every time a new spell was learned... But it was nothing compared to the sheer grandeur and adrenaline rush of Flying. And Harry had his favorite prat Malfoy to thank for it.
"I don't even see why they bother teaching girls," Malfoy drawled as they waited outside for the Flying instructor. "Everyone knows that the best players are always male."
"What about the Harpies then?" Parvati spat angrily. Malfoy's comments didn't seem to be gaining him any friends, even among his fellow Slytherins - which included a few girls, of course.
"Pff, they've barely won any championships since the '50's."
Ron laughed. "That's a fairly stupid response, Malfoy. Better not let Madame Hooch hear you going on about girl's abilities in Quidditch."
"What was that, Mr. Weasley?" The Flying instructor, Madame Hooch had just appeared. Harry was pleased to note that Malfoy was now keeping his stupid, cowardly mouth shut.
It all happened fairly quickly after that. Neville's accident, breaking his wrist. Malfoy pinching the Remembrall... And Malfoy's utter horror when Harry flew up with an ease he had never felt for anything else. The expression on Draco's face was probably one of the best parts of the day.
And if he got to leave the Dursleys because of a short conversation? Well, then it could end up being the best day ever.
But he had to get through one minor obstacle first.
"Are you going to expel me?" Harry asked McGonagall as she led him through various hallways.
"What? No, of course not," McGonagall shook her head. "You may have broken the rules, but I know you didn't intend to do it for ill reasons." She paused and stood, looking back at Harry. "I hadn't told you, but your father was one of my favorite students. He had a real skill for Transfiguration, and he was a fair hand on a broom as well. Although if I must be honest, I do not think he was nearly as skilled as you appear to be."
Harry felt a sudden thrill at the comparison to his father. Finally a comparison that wasn't to his mother. He was glad to be compared to either of his parents, of course, but it was different to be complimented that he was similar or even better than his father. "So he wasn't an 'ill-mannered scoundrel', then?" Harry asked wryly.
McGonagall snorted, shocking Harry, who would not have expected the Professor to be capable of such an act. "I think I can guess who said that to you. Professor Snape and your father were not exactly friends at school, so you can be sure than such words are not unbiased in the slightest. James was a bit of prankster in his younger years, but he certainly matured in a fine young man. You need not worry about your father's reputation - he was a truly good man."
Harry sighed, feeling like a weight had been relieved from his shoulders. "That's good to hear, Professor. But... if you're not going to expel me, where are we going?"
McGonagall sighed. "I am not sure if you are ready... But I suppose it would be hypocritical to treat you differently than if you are were a boy. We already have girls on the team after all."
That got Harry's attention instantly. "Professor, I would have to say I'd prefer if you didn't treat me as just a girl."
McGonagall smiled slightly. "Miss Potter, what would you say if I told you we needed a seeker for our House Quidditch team?"
The girls were extremely excited to hear the news, excluding Hermione, who didn't seem to understand the appeal of Quidditch and didn't approve of anything involving Harry in any event.
"Blimey, Harriet," Ron said at the table. "That's pretty exciting. Youngest to be on the team in a century!"
"And youngest girl in over that much," Parvati pointed out.
Ron glanced at Harriet and shook his head. "Well, that much doesn't matter, does it? I hear the Gryffindor Chasers are the best at school, at least that's what Fred and George say, and they're girls."
Lavender beamed and nodded in approval of the sentiment.
"Me? I don't care how they look as long as they win," Seamus put in. "But luckily they all happen to be lovely birds. Eh, Dean?"
Dean shook his head and watched Harry worriedly. "You leave me out of this."
"Ridiculous," Hermione muttered. "I mean, it's all well and good to support equality, but what is the appeal of flying about on a frail stick made of wood throwing balls at each other?"
Seamus grinned widely and seemed about to say something, but Dean caught his eye and shook his head frantically.
Harry just was happy to get a chance to fly consistently. This was starting to become one of the best days ever after all.
As the group left the table, Malfoy approached them, flanked by his ever-present bodyguards. "Surprised to see you still here, Potter. I thought you had fainted in fright after your madcap nonsense earlier. Or is this just your last meal before being expelled? Oh, wait a moment, I forgot," Draco rolled his eyes. "You are the teachers' pet after all, so they'd never get you in trouble. Although I wonder what you've done to make them let you get off with everything... trading favors, are we?"
Ron jumped up from his seat in fury, in what was now becoming a bit of pattern for him. "Shut your bloody gob, Malfoy! You wouldn't be so brave without your stupid friends!"
Hermione gasped in horror. "Language! Someone may overhear!"
"The brave defender of Harriet Potter," Malfoy said sarcastically. "Are you challenging me, then? Brave enough for a wizards' duel!"
"Anytime, Malfoy!" Ron spat.
"But who would be your second, Weasley? They'd obviously end up fighting for you."
"I'll do it," Harry said firmly, hoping he wasn't getting in over his head, especially since he had never even heard of a wizard's duel. "Unless you're afraid of losing to a girl?" Harry felt the reference to himself as a girl was justified in this one instance, in order to humiliate and insult Malfoy. The git seemed to have that kind of effect on him.
"Never!" Malfoy growled. "I'll see you both at midnight, trophy room." He and his lumbering friends strode off.
"Tsk, tsk, Harriet," Parvati shook her head. "You shouldn't let him get to you like that. Malfoy's just a stupid prat."
"What about me?" Ron asked in a wounded manner.
"You should watch your language!" Hermione said angrily. "And what are you even thinking, a duel? You'll get caught and lose us all points!"
Parvati rolled her eyes. "Trust Hermione to not understand what actually matters."
Hermione frowned but didn't say anything, getting a kind of calculating look in her eyes.
Harry didn't like of look of it one bit.
Harry paced in the common room, waiting for Ron. He'd go up to get him, but Harry was worried about appearances, after what Percy had said. It was bad enough everyone treated him as a girl, but some sort of ill-mannered girl? Harry didn't want to take that chance.
Finally Ron came down the stairs, looking extremely nervous.
"You don't think Malfoy really knows much about duelling, do you?" he asked.
"I doubt it," Harry said, hoping this was the case. "But worst comes to worst, you can always knee him in the groin. Or if you like, I'd be happy to try that myself, any time at all."
Ron laughed. "Glad to hear we have a backup plan."
A voice suddenly came out of the darkness. "I can't believe you two are actually trying something this foolish!" A lamp flickered on, revealing an angry Hermione in her pink bathrobe. "You're bound to lose us a trillion points!"
Ron groaned and held his head in frustration. "We don't need this now, Hermione. Malfoy probably won't even show, and we'll head right back. So just go back to bed."
Harry shook his head, knowing this wouldn't work.
"If you must insist on this foolish nonsense, then I'm coming with you."
Harry and Ron looked at each other, completely surprised by this.
"You need somebody competent there after all," Hermione said snobbishly.
Ron sighed. "I might've known."
"We don't need your help Hermione," Harry said. "But thanks for the offer."
"I'm not going to help you imbeciles do anything!" Hermione refuted. "I'm going to ensure we don't lose any points!"
"Fine, come then!" Ron said in frustration. "We're gonna be late if we don't leave now."
The three walked out of the portrait hole, but as it closed they heard someone racing towards them.
"No, don't let it..." Slam. "Close." It was Neville, looking heartbroken.
"Why are you out here Neville?" Harry asked.
Neville blushed. "Um, I uh forgot the password," he stammered. "I've been out here for hours - the Fat Lady vanished!"
"She probably went to visit someone else," Ron shrugged. "But don't worry, she'll be back eventually."
"W-wait, don't leave me alone!" Neville said desperately. "The... Bloody Baron has been here twice already!"
"We have somewhere to be at midnight," Ron groaned. "And we already have one unwanted guest."
"Just hurry up and come with us Neville," Harry said with a sigh. "It couldn't hurt that much, just keep quiet okay?"
Neville bobbed his head up and down quickly.
Of course, when they came to the trophy room finally, Malfoy was nowhere to be found.
"I ought to have guessed!" Hermione said in annoyance. "This was all a waste of time!"
"Shut up!" Ron said a little loudly.
"Be quiet, both of you!" Harry whispered. "I think I hear Mrs. Norris."
The group began to sneak away quietly, keeping an eye for the cat. Harry moved slowly around a corner, only to stop in shock. Filch was only a few feet away!
"Eh, what's all this? Students out of bed?" The horrid old man cackled. He looked over at Harry and frowned suddenly in confusion.
"I don't recognize you!" Filch sputtered angrily. "Who are you?"
Harry didn't answer, but just ran.
The others saw him coming and raced alongside.
"Come back here, intruder!" Filch yelled. "I don't know who you are, and I know every student in this bloody school! I'll track you down soon enough!"
The foursome ran around, trying to lose Filch, but then found themselves in front of a locked door, which Hermione unlocked with a spell, annoyed.
Harry took note - it seemed a useful one to know.
But they didn't exactly have much time to think much after that... because there was an enormous three-headed dog in the room, looking a bit surprised and then quite angry.
Hermione muffled a shriek, and Neville seemed about to faint.
"Let's go! Filch is better than getting eaten!" Harry pushed the two out of the door and Ron quickly followed behind.
Luckily, they had seemed to lose the caretaker, and the Fat Lady had finally returned to let them in.
"I'm just glad you two didn't cause us to lose any points," Hermione said in satisfaction.
"Okay, it's official - you are mad," Ron said, shaking his head.
"Didn't you even notice what the dog was standing on? A trapdoor?" Hermione asked.
Ron looked shocked. "Sorry, but I was bit busy trying not to get eaten!"
A trapdoor... Harry wondered about that.
As each day passed, Harry began to come up with a fairly typical routine. Get up early and dress before anyone else, then use the time the girls spent getting ready to study in the washroom. Hermione seemed oddly approving of this, unlike anything else Harry had ever done.
Parvati and Lavender were always friendly to Harriet, although Parvati was by far the more outgoing one. Harry still sometimes felt a bit uncomfortable around them, because sometimes they had an oddly sad look in their eyes. And trying to get him to do girlish things... well, Harry tended to laugh that off, but he wasn't sure how much longer that would work. Harry still did not care for Dean, and Seamus often had a disconcerting way of looking at him, so Harry continued to avoid both of them.
Ron was still a great friend, and they were able to share Malfoy insults for hours on end. Harry often tried to speak to Neville, feeling sorry for the boy, but Neville rarely seemed that coherent around him. Harry hoped he'd get over it soon.
Attend classes, practice Quidditch, do homework... it all began to blend together a bit. Harry worked especially hard in Charms and Transfiguration, hoping to live up to his parents' legacies. Of course, he still slept through History, although most of the class did as well. Potions was a bit of a mixed bag; Snape was fairly awful to the other Gryffindors, but Harry felt he was learning quite a lot for his part. Other than Flying, Defense was the subject Harry enjoyed learning and practicing more than any other, but Quirrell was still so ineffective and boring that Harry kept getting headaches in the class.
Harry occasionally would ask McGonagall and Flitwick if they had any new information, but although they never did, they always seemed pleased at the followups and happy with Harry's increased diligence in their classes.
Before Harry realized it, two months had sped by, and Halloween was upon them. The castle was decked out in the appropriate decorations, but extra magical of course.
"Now, don't forget that nice wrist movement we've been practicing!" squeaked Professor Flitwick, perched on top of his pile of books as usual. "Swish and flick, remember, swish and flick. And saying the magic words properly is very important, too — never forget Wizard Baruffio, who said 's' instead of 'f' and found himself on the floor with a buffalo on his chest."
It was very difficult, but Harry had been practicing that very movement. After several minutes of repeating the incantation in various pronunciations, he finally managed to get the feather floating several inches in the air.
"Ooh, well done, Miss Potter!" Flitwick said in obvious approval. "That will be five points to Gryffindor for your efforts! I saw you working with the pronunciation, and you are very close to perfect. But I would like you to relax more, and work with controlling the feather's motion."
Harry nodded and tried to repeat his success.
Ron, at the next table, wasn't so lucky.
"Wingardium Leviosa!" he shouted, waving his long arms like a windmill.
"You're saying it wrong," Harry heard Hermione snap. "It's Wing-gar-dium Levi-o-sa, make the 'gar' nice and long."
Harry winced at this, wondering why Hermione couldn't at least try to be friendlier with her corrections.
"You do it, then, if you're so clever," Ron snarled.
Hermione rolled up the sleeves of her gown, flicked her wand, and said, "Wingardium Leviosa!"
Their feather rose off the desk and hovered about four feet above their heads.
"Oh, excellent work!" cried Professor Flitwick, clapping. "A full four foot rise, I believe. Very nice control work, another five points I think for that."
Hermione smiled triumphantly and looked down her nose at Harry
Harry felt himself begin to get angry, but slowly calmed himself. They were still in class after all.
But after class, as they all walked away from the classroom, Hermione decided to continue from her condescending look. "That was a paltry effort you did, Harriet. Hardly worth the five points you gained, but I suppose it's no surprise you received them after all."
Harry had finally had enough of this and snapped angrily. "All right, Hermione, that's it!"
The students all stopped walking to watch silently.
"I don't know what your problem is with me exactly, but you know what? I don't really care. I've been nothing been nice to you, and you've been nothing but a pain to me since we've met!"
Hermione's eyes narrowed. "You really don't get it? You really don't understand?"
"Please explain," Harry growled. "If indeed there is an actual reason behind all the snide remarks."
"Oh, don't give me that nonsense!" Hermione said angrily. "You come to this school, raised by Muggles no less, and famous for something you have no right to be famous for. You aren't even the best student, yet all the professors treat you better than anyone else. Even Professor Snape favors you!"
"That part still baffles me," Ron muttered under his breath.
"I wouldn't say he favors me, exactly," Harry answered. "But he and my mum were friends - that's not so awful is it?"
"You know exactly what you are doing, Harriet Potter!" Hermione said in a low voice. "You can act all innocent with me, but I know what kind of person you truly are. And you can't use your relatives as an excuse!"
"Hermione!" Parvati shrieked. "Watch your mouth!"
"Shut up!" Hermione hissed. "I'm not saying anything I shouldn't be saying! Harriet has been coasting on her fame for months."
Harry suddenly felt incredibly sorry for Hermione and sighed. "Hermione, I don't think you understand a thing about me. I just would rather us all get along. Can you manage that at least?"
Hermione looked from side to side uncertainly. "I... I don't know what you mean!"
"It means stop being such a nightmare!" Ron said, looking like he had been holding this in for a while. "Haven't you've noticed you've got no friends?"
Nobody said a word.
Suddenly Hermione's face crumbled and she burst into tears. She pushed her way past the group and ran off.
"Ron, that was a bit harsh," Parvati admonished.
"Well, maybe," Ron said uncomfortably. "But you can't tell me you don't agree."
Parvati frowned. "Well, no. But still, there is such a thing as tact."
"Um..." Ron scratched his head. "I don't think I know that word."
Lavender giggled then looked chagrined. "Sorry."
As they dispersed, Parvati whispered to Harry, "We really should go make sure she's all right. She didn't seem all that okay."
Harry nodded in agreement and followed Parvati to the nearby girl's bathroom. That had been an adjustment of its own for Harry, but luckily all the bathrooms had private stalls, so at the very least he didn't feel exposed. He still felt nervous going into the public girl's bathroom, but told himself that this was only to check on Hermione.
Sure enough, Hermione had locked herself into a stall and was sobbing softly.
"Come on, Hermione," Harry said. "Talk to us."
"Go away!" she said in a muffled voice.
Parvati sighed. "I guess we should just come back later."
Harry nodded sadly, wishing there was something more he could do to help Hermione.
But later that day, as they all sat around the table for dinner, Hermione was still missing.
"Where is she?" Ron asked, looking somewhat guilty.
"Probably still in the bathroom," Parvati said, shaking her head sadly. "She'll be okay eventually."
"But she's missing dinner!" Ron said in horror.
There was a sudden gasp, and they all turned in unison to see Professor Quirrell sprinting into the hall, his turban askew and terror on his face. Everyone stared as he reached Professor Dumbledore's chair, slumped against the table, and gasped, "Troll — in the dungeons — thought you ought to know."
He then sank to the floor in a dead faint.
There was an uproar. It took several purple firecrackers exploding from the end of Professor Dumbledore's wand to bring silence.
"Prefects," he rumbled, "lead your Houses back to the dormitories immediately!"
"Follow me!" Percy said in a kind of almost happy tone. "Stick together, first years! No need to fear the troll if you follow my orders! Stay close behind me, now. Make way, first years coming through! Excuse me, I'm a prefect!"
Harry began to pack up his things, then had a sudden horrible realization.
"What's wrong, Harriet?" Ron asked, who had been waiting for her.
"Hermione! She's still in the washroom near the dungeons! We have to warn her!"
"Do we have to?" Ron whined. "Just let the prefects take care of it."
"Ron, you don't honestly want her to die, do you?"
"Well, no, I suppose I don't," Ron grumbled. "But let's hurry it up. I don't want to die either. I've already almost been eaten once this year."
But as they approached the bathroom, they could smell something horrid, and they soon heard something walking about with a heavy tread.
Harry began to get a very terrible feeling.
"Ron, hurry up! The troll might be there already!"
For his part, Ron looked a combination of terror and determination, but he quickly followed behind Harry.
Sure enough, the troll was clearly in the washroom.
"Maybe she's not in there?" Ron asked hopefully.
A sudden shriek answered that question.
"Merlin's dung!" Ron cursed.
"We've got to save her!" Harry said, shaking Ron's shoulder.
"Fine, fine, stop shaking me!" Ron yelled. "But what can we do? We're just first-years."
Harry sighed but then frowned in determination. "I guess we'll have to plan as we go."
The troll seemed much bigger when Harry actually saw it, and it was certainly smellier than anything he could think of. Poor Hermione was huddled in a corner behind the sinks, and then she saw Ron and Harry. Her mouth dropped open in shock.
"Confuse it!" Harry said desperately to Ron, and, seizing a tap, he threw it as hard as he could against the wall.
"Oy, pea-brain!" yelled Ron from the other side of the chamber, and he threw a metal pipe at it. The troll didn't even seem to notice the pipe hitting its shoulder, but it heard the yell and paused again, turning its ugly snout toward Ron instead, giving Harry time to run around it.
"Come on, run, run!" Harry yelled at Hermione, trying to pull her toward the door, but she couldn't move, she was still flat against the wall, her mouth open with terror.
Harry then gritted his teeth, and realized there was only thing he could do.
He took a great running jump and managed to fasten his arms around the troll's neck from behind. The troll couldn't feel Harry hanging there, but even a troll will notice if you stick a long bit of wood up its nose, and Harry's wand had still been in his hand when he'd jumped – it had gone straight up one of the troll's nostrils.
Howling with pain, the troll twisted and flailed its club, with Harry clinging on for dear life; any second, the troll was going to rip him off or catch him a terrible blow with the club.
Hermione had sunk to the floor in fright; Ron pulled out his own wand — not knowing what he was going to do he heard himself cry the first spell that came into his head: "Wingardium Leviosa!"
The club flew suddenly out of the troll's hand, rose high, high up into the air, turned slowly over — and dropped, with a sickening crack, onto its owner's head. The troll swayed on the spot and then fell flat on its face, with a thud that made the whole room tremble.
Harry got to his feet. He was shaking and out of breath. Ron was standing there with his wand still raised, staring at what he had done.
It was Hermione who spoke first.
"Is it — dead?"
"I don't think so," said Harry, "I think it's just been knocked out."
He bent down and pulled his wand out of the troll's nose. It was covered in what looked like lumpy gray glue.
"Urgh — troll boogers."
He wiped it on the troll's trousers.
A sudden slamming and loud footsteps made the three of them look up. They hadn't realized what a racket they had been making, but of course, someone downstairs must have heard the crashes and the troll's roars. A moment later, Professor McGonagall had come bursting into the room, closely followed by Snape, with Quirrell bringing up the rear. Quirrell took one look at the troll, let out a faint whimper, and sat quickly down on a toilet, clutching his heart.
Snape bent over the troll. Professor McGonagall was looking at Ron and Harry. Harry had never seen her look so angry. Her lips were white.
"What on earth were you thinking of?" said Professor McGonagall, with cold fury in her voice. Harry looked at Ron, who was still standing with his wand in the air. "You're lucky you weren't killed. Why aren't you in your dormitory?"
Snape gave Harry a swift, piercing look. "Explain yourself, Miss Potter. This level of stupidity astounds me."
Then a small voice came out of the shadows.
"Please, Professor McGonagall — they were looking for me."
Both McGonagall and Snape seemed startled by this remark.
"She wasn't feeling well," Harry said hurriedly in a half-truth. "So she was in the bathroom earlier after class. When she didn't show up, we realized she must not have heard about the troll. We were really only coming to warn her and get her back to the dorms."
McGonagall sighed. "Brave and foolish. Thoughtful and short-sighted."
Snape snorted. "That's Gryffindor for you."
McGonagall glared at him. "Enough, Severus." She sighed. "I suppose you three have already been through a great deal already this evening. You did leave when you should have spoken to a prefect or professor, but you did manage to potentially save Miss Granger's life. I suppose I shall take off twenty points for misbehavior."
"But that's not fair!" Hermione protested.
"I wasn't finished, Miss Granger. For their efforts in defeating a fully grown troll, I give them each twenty points."
Snape smirked. "Awfully generous of you. Imagine if it had been a giant. Perhaps thirty points in such a case?"
"Is that a bit more fair?" McGonagall asked sternly, ignoring the Potions professor.
Hermione nodded silently, her eyes finally drying.
"Then please go see Madame Pomfrey at once to ensure that nothing's broken. And no protests, that means all of you!"
The three students walked silently together for a little while towards the Hospital wing.
"Hold on a minute," Hermione finally said.
Ron and Harry stopped walking and looked back at Hermione.
"Please, I need to-" Hermione took a deep breath. "I need to thank you both. And I need to... I need to apologize."
Ron's eyebrows shot up in surprise.
"You're right," Hermione said miserably. "I have been awful to both of you, but especially you, Harriet."
Harry shifted uncomfortably. "Maybe so, but that hardly meant we wanted you to be hurt."
Hermione smiled slightly. "Yes, although in a way, that only makes it worse." She sighed heavily. "To be honest, I've been... very jealous of you."
"Wow," Ron shook his head. "That must have been really difficult to say."
"You have no idea," Hermione muttered.
"Hermione, I have nothing against you," Harry said. "You're smarter than everyone else in the class, but you just don't need to keep being obvious about it. We already know."
Hermione giggled a bit at that. "That's very kind of you, Harriet. It hasn't been easy for me, a Muggle-born, at this school. And here you come in, also raised by Muggles, but everything is so easy for you."
"I wouldn't quite go that far," Harry protested.
"The teachers all like you more than anyone else, even Snape."
Ron nodded. "Eerie, that."
Harry scowled. "Well, first of all, I don't think that's true, and second, so what? It hasn't been easy for me, especially with the girl curse and all."
The other two looked at him in puzzlement.
"Never mind," Harry muttered.
"Do you think, perhaps," Hermione started to say. "Perhaps we can start over? From that first time we met, maybe we can all be friendly and I can still appreciate you showing up that stupid chauvinist Malfoy?"
Ron laughed. "Well for my part I couldn't possibly hate someone who dislikes Malfoy."
Harry smiled. "Hermione, I think we'll be fine, if you can use your powers of bossiness and book smarts for good instead of evil."
Hermione and Ron both laughed at this, then exchanged a surprised look.
Ron shrugged. "I should warn you about that. Harriet is sometimes a bit too clever for her own good."
"I know the feeling," Hermione mused.
"There is one thing," Harry said.
"All I ask is that you never compliment me about something girlish, and you never refer to me as a girl. You do that, and I think we'll be just fine."
Hermione blinked in surprise and intrigue. "Fascinating. Is this something to with your relatives?"
"Uh, uh," Harry waved a finger. "None of that now. No questions about that either, all right?"
Hermione nodded. "Sorry."
"She asked me the same thing," Ron confided. "It was hard at first, but now I barely think about it, to be honest."
"Wait," Hermione said in sudden realization. "Is that why you slapped Dean?"
"Harriet slapped Dean?" Ron asked in horrified amusement. "When was this?"
Harry shrugged. "Ages ago."
"Oh, that's right," Hermione said. "It was right before your Sorting."
"Do go on!" Ron said excitedly.
"You don't mind, Harriet?" Hermione asked.
"Go ahead," Harry waved. "One of my proudest moments - after the troll, of course."
Hermione smiled. "All right then. So Dean gets Sorted and introduces himself..."
Next time...You know something, Hedwig? This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
"What do you see in the Mirror?" Harry asked.
"Um, I'd rather not say," Ron said, his ears a bit red.