The next day the great hall was abuzz with excitement. Only a few more days until the biggest and last Quidditch match of the year. Even Snape seemed a little nicer. He actually wore something resembling a smile on his face but, of course, that was only when talking to Slytherin about the match.
At breakfast, a couple of tables over, Malfoy managed to catch Harry’s eye mid-bite and gave him a nasty smirk.
“Oy Potter…might as well give up now! Everyone knows the judges’ll bypass you for seeker! You’ll probably cast off your broom first round, if you don’t swallow a bludger first!”
This brought a round of general laughter from the Slytherin table, including Malfoy’s sidekicks Crabbe and Goyle. The troll-faced friends gave a few dumb snickers and nasty shouts Harry’s way.
Ron’s face burned as brightly as his hair. “You’re just off because Gryffindor won the last match against you Draco! In case you forgot, the last time we came up against, we beat the pants off of you!”
“Only by a little!” Crabbe yelled back.
Malfoy elbowed Crabbe harshly and gave him an angry glare. Apparently losing by a little still wasn’t admirable in his book. His father had taught him that failure was never acceptable. Not even by a little.
Ron sniggered and turned back to Harry and Hermione, who seemed to be a little pink and purposefully ignoring Malfoy and everyone else in general. He frowned.
“What’s with you two then…”
“Huh?” said Harry almost dropping his fork, “Wh…what…”
“Well you’ve hardly spoken a word this morning…either of you. Normally you’d have something nasty to say back to Malfoy, or Harry at least a twinge with you’re wand! What’s the matter then?”
“Nothing,” said Hermione, rather quickly. She’d hardly touched her breakfast. “Well, I’d better get ready for Herbology.”
She stood and smiled at them, giving a particularly warm smile to Harry. Ron noticed and glanced at Harry, who had been smiling back, but quickly turned back to his breakfast.
“Hermione, we’ve still got twenty minutes before class!” began Ron.
“I’ve still got to study a bit,” replied Hermione, backing away.
Ron noticed her face was flushing a hot red and she pushed her hair behind her ear nervously.
“Well see you two in class then…”
She rushed down the makeshift pathway between the Ravenclaw and Gryffindor tables and left the hall.
Ron turned back to Harry who shrugged innocently.
“Mental, that one is,” said Ron, “I asked her why she was so tired this morning and she said she was up late studying. Why would she need to study more?”
Harry seemed to choke on his eggs just then and didn’t have an answer. Ron frowned suspiciously.
In Herbology, Professor Sprout handed out the tests amid a rumble of protests from the students. Harry glanced at the test and then spoke out loud.
“An essay!? The test is an essay!?”
“Of course it had to be,” said Ron testily, “I didn’t study enough on one particular thing to write an essay about it!”
“Well then that’ll be your fault, won’t it Mr. Weasley?” said the Professor from a few rows down. “Perhaps you and Mr. Potter might have a better go at it if you talked less and wrote more.”
A few desks away, Malfoy looked at Crabbe and Goyle and snickered.
Hermione set her jaw and whispered to Ron and Harry. “Why we have to have Herbology, Potions, and Transfiguration with the Slytherin is beyond me.”
“Miss Granger,” said Professor Sprout, “another word and five points will be taken from Gryffindor.”
“Sorry,” said Hermione and smiled at Harry and Ron behind her hair.
Again Ron noticed the warm looks that Harry and Hermione exchanged and frowned. What was going on?
A few desks away, Draco Malfoy noticed the same thing and frowned to himself. He’d know that look anywhere. It was the same look that Pansy Parkinson was always trying to get him to notice.
Was Potter falling for the Mudblood? Draco snickered, and then wondered how that might be used to his advantage. He looked at Hermione and shuddered. He at least thought Harry had better taste than that. Oh, Granger was pretty enough to look at, but to date!? She was Muggle born. Everyone knew that. Malfoy would never be friends with one of those, much less date one. Good thing most of Slytherin were pure bloods, at least the ones he hung out with.
Malfoy smiled smugly to himself. That’s why Slytherin was the best house.
After Herbology, Harry, Ron and Hermione moved into the crowded halls weaving their way towards Professor Snape’s Potions class.
As Ron walked in front, Harry took the opportunity to grab Hermione’s hand, he thought rather sneakily.
Hermione looked up at him in surprise and Harry gave her a slight smile and a wink. She blushed and squeezed his hand, giving him a look that sent a thrill straight through him.
“So when can we find time to be alone…” said Harry bending close to Hermione’s ear.
She found his breath on that particular area to be a little disconcerting and turned her head slightly his way, blushing. “Maybe tonight, sometime after dinner.”
Harry smiled at her. “Can’t wait.”
At that moment Malfoy barged up in front of them cutting off their path quickly.
“Jeez, Potter,” he drawled snottily, “I thought you had more class than that.”
Ron turned around quickly, and just as quickly, Harry dropped Hermione’s hand and took a step toward Draco, speaking in a low voice.
“Shut up Malfoy.”
“What’d you mean by that?” said Ron angrily, taking a step toward Malfoy.
He ignored Ron and circled Harry and Hermione slowly. “So you decided to make it official.. can’t say I’m surprised. But coming from an all wizarding family I thought you would have chosen better.”
Harry’s eyes flashed and he grabbed his wand.
“Harry don’t.” Hermione grabbed his arm. “He’s just trying to get you in trouble with Snape. We’re right near the classroom.”
“I don’t care,” he growled back, shaking Hermione’s hand off.
Ron stepped between them and shoved Malfoy back a bit. “What’re you on about… What’d you mean ‘chosen better’?”
Malfoy’s eyes widened and he grinned, looking from Harry to Ron.
Harry’s eyes, while still angry, pleaded for Malfoy’s silence.
“You mean you don’t know Weasley!?” drawled Malfoy snottily, “What a great lot of friends you’ve got!”
By that time a crowd of students had gathered around the four and were murmuring amongst themselves; some snickering, some hoping for a good fight.
Ron looked back at Harry and Hermione with an angry, confused look on his face.
“They’re together! You haven’t seen?” Malfoy laughed, “What an idiot! And all behind your stupid back…”
He realized that it still wasn’t registering with Ron and pointed at Harry and Hermione. “Look at them! Ask!”
Ron whipped back around and looked pointedly at them. He didn’t need to ask anything. The guilty looks on their faces was enough. Hermione was almost in tears.
“Ron, we wanted to tell you all day today…” She put a hand on Ron’s arm but he shook it off.
Harry stepped forward shaking his head. “I’m sorry… we were going to tell you soon…we just weren’t sure how…”
“Weren’t sure how!?” Ron snapped angrily taking a step back from them, “You walk up to me and you tell me! That’s how!”
Harry opened and closed his fists in helplessness. “I… we just weren’t sure how you’d take it!”
Ron stabbed a finger in Draco’s direction. “Well I bloody well might’ve taken it better if it didn’t have to come from Malfoy!”
Draco snickered wildly. “Knew you weren’t on the bright side Weasley, but then you’re family never really is. Look at it this way… at least you don’t get stuck with the mudblood. One of you had too. Everyone knew it.”
The whole crowd of students did a collective intake of breath at Malfoy’s comments, and began talking louder amongst themselves. Most hadn’t heard Malfoy use that word before… if they had they would’ve remembered Ron trying to curse him with a belly full of slugs.
Both Harry and Ron seethed and whipped out their wands at the same time.
“Malfoy!” yelled Harry furiously pointing his wand.
Malfoy turned with a smirk but before he could even fully turn around, a livid Hermione marched past Ron and Harry and punched Draco so soundly across the face that he stumbled backward.
Draco held his cheek and stared at Hermione in astonishment.
Harry and Ron began to rush forward but stopped at a look from Hermione. She turned back to Draco, visibly shaken from what she had just done; although her voice didn’t betray it.
“Don’t EVER speak to me or about me like that ever again Malfoy! Maybe you should learn what class is!”
Draco gritted his teeth and reached for his wand but Harry was quicker. “Immobulus!” His wand shot out a blue streak of energy that rendered Malfoy completely unable to move, except for his eyes.
At that moment, Snape stormed out of his classroom glaring at the collective crowd. Swiping his greasy black hair from his face, he spoke to them in his trademark condescending way.
“What is going on here? Perhaps it was thought by you all that class was to be held in the hallway today… Potter, you’re idea?”
Snape’s small eyes fixed on Harry as usual, and as usual, he glared nastily back.
The students glanced sideways at the still form of Malfoy and then to the other three as they edged and shouldered their way past them into the classroom.
Hermione drew in a sharp intake of breath. Snape still hadn’t noticed that Malfoy hadn’t moved. She, Harry and Ron also stayed put, hoping Snape would walk into the classroom first so that they could counter curse Malfoy before the Professor noticed.
Snape tilted his head sarcastically towards Harry. “Well Potter, class won’t teach itself, and unfortunately, you’re still not famous enough for me to abandon them to teach you and yours in the hallway. So when you care to join us…” He whirled neatly away and marched back into his classroom.
Hermione closed her eyes and breathed. As she and Harry walked past Malfoy and headed into the room, Ron stopped in front of him and pointed his wand in the other boy’s face, grinning maliciously.
Malfoy’s eyes widened as Ron stepped closer, letting his wand tip rest just under the blonde’s nose.
It was just a whisper, but as Malfoy’s body relaxed from the curse he almost fell backwards in an attempt to get away from Weasley.
Ron continued to stare at Draco dangerously, but calmly walked past him into the classroom.
Shaken, Malfoy closed his eyes briefly and swallowed. Weasley could’ve done anything to him just then. He calmed himself and slowly made it inside.
After class, Harry left Hermione with an apology and ran after Ron, who was trying his best to avoid him. He finally caught up with him right before he could reach the Divination classroom and grabbed his arm.
“What’d you want Harry, we’re gonna be late,” said Ron rather testily.
Harry winced at the stitch in his side and spoke through bated breath. “Look, I’m sorry. We really were going to tell you. I… we were just waiting for the right time.”
“So how long?” began Ron angrily, “How long have I been an idiot!? I should’ve seen it all along…”
“All along!?” Harry cut him off in surprise, “This just happened last night… after you went to bed.”
Ron breathed out heavily and sighed, dropping his books to the floor and seating himself. Harry followed.
“Harry, maybe you’re more stupid than I am.”
Confused, Harry opened his mouth to answer in the negative, but thought better of it and slumped against the wall. “I swear Ron… just last night. I guess we just realized what we felt and…”
“Look,” Ron cut him off, more angrily than before. “I’m not off because you and ‘Mione have a thing, ok? I’m off because you didn’t tell me straight away today, and I guess because… well…”
At that moment Professor Trelawny glided to the classroom door intending to close it and saw Harry and Ron camped out outside.
“Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, I believe class is starting.” Her eyes, three times their normal size behind her enormously thick glasses, narrowed at the two young men.
Ron sighed and stood, Harry following. “Lunch is after, we’ll talk more then,” said Ron following Trelawny inside.
Harry stood and shook the dark hair testily from his eyes reluctantly following Ron in. Divination was among his least favorite classes.
Class went as usual. Trelawny glided along each row collecting the homework assignments.
As usual, she frowned at Ron for the very short paragraph he handed in, and as usual, when she got to Harry, she looked at him with pity, and clucked and sighed, mumbling under her breath about what a pity it was to see such a promising young life cut so short.
Trelawny had been predicting Harry’s early demise since the first day he walked into the classroom, so as the Professor passed him with another sigh, Harry rolled his eyes and slumped down in his seat.
Divination… nothing new.
As Harry sat trying hard to concentrate on the fresh air from the open window and not on the overly perfumed smell of the classroom, (Trelawny insisted on incense), he glanced over at Ron, who made sure that if he saw, he did not glance back.
He began to wonder if his and Ron’s friendship would be able to sustain the initial weirdness of two of their tight three dating.
He wanted to make sure Ron knew that he would not be left out; that he and Hermione both still loved him, and he was their best friend, no matter what.
Harry thought of Hermione just then; how she must be in Arithmancy class alternating between trying hard to concentrate on work and worrying about Ron.
He knew her well enough to know that this was eating at her as much as he…
“Mr. Potter,” called the elderly, ethereal voice from the front of the classroom.
Harry looked up from his day-dreaming to see Professor Trelawny’s enormous eyes shooting concerned looks his way.
The entire class was a sea of upturned faces, all directed toward him… all except for Ron, who continued to work at his desk as if nothing was happening.
“Now that I have your attention,” began Trelawny, “I see from your homework assignment that you have not studied your crystal properly.” Her face fell as she continued. “Your report includes everything from Quidditch scores to personal involvement with Vol…(ahem) He-who-must-not-be-named, but contains nothing of the shortness of your life, or the tragic death that will ensue!”
Harry slumped down further in his chair and pinched the bridge of his nose, moaning.
Lavender and Parvarti, fully believing everything Trelawny spoke or predicted, burst into tears, while others chuckled at Harry’s utter embarrassment. The Professor continued rather tremulously.
“While we all regret it, it does no good to ignore facts… We have seen what we have seen…”
Harry found it even more annoying that when the Professor spoke of any of her visions, she began idiotically referring to herself in the third person. He groaned even louder. He’d had enough.
“Professor! All I ever see is haze! That’s all most of the class sees. If I’m gonna die young, I haven’t seen it… I don’t even believe in this junk.”
Trelawny took an involuntary step back in utter shock and dismay. While she was angry with the outburst, she still believed Potter to be in denial. There wasn’t any other explanation, was there?
“Well!… Well…” she sputtered, pushing her glasses up on the bridge of her nose. “Perhaps you should visit Madame Pomfrey; you do look a little pale…This may be what’s causing your denial! Perhaps this is the beginning of the end…”
Harry started to speak again but at that moment, Ron finally raised his head from his work and slapped his quill down in anger.
“Rubbish!… Harry’s not gonna die any more than I’m Quidditch captain! I never see anything either!”
“Me neither,” sounded a voice from the back of the room.
“Nor me,” began Seamus Finnegan.
“I don’t either,” said Dean Thomas from somewhere in the middle.
Trelawny realized quickly that she was losing control of her class and decided to nip it in the bud.
“Perhaps Mr. Weasley, you and Mr. Potter wish to sit out the rest of the class!” The angrier the Professor got, the more she began to resemble a blowfish. “I saw that coming, did you?”
Harry slumped down as far in his seat as he could without falling out, threw his head back and sighed.
Ron was already at the door as Harry sat up and grabbed his books, but he couldn’t resist one last barb.
“Sure it’s safe for me out there?” Harry deadpanned. The class exploded with laughter.
“OUT!” Trelawny pointed at the door furiously.
As Harry and Ron walked out of the room they spotted Dumbledore talking to three distinguished looking wizards and heading their way.
The wizards seemed to perk up particularly when Dumbledore, having spotted the two in the hallway, pointed towards them and spoke.
Harry and Ron, knowing that the Headmaster would question why they weren’t in class, turned to slump away as quickly as possible.
“Harry, Ronald, one moment please.” Dumbledore’s pleasant scratchy old voice still held a presence of command that stopped the two in their tracks.
“We’ve had it,” whispered Ron stiffly.
Dumbledore and the three gentlemen approached and the headmaster smiled knowingly at the two. “You haven’t ‘had it’ quite yet Mr. Weasley. Whatever reason you two are lurking in the hallways can wait for the moment… Harry, I’d like to introduce you to Mr. Ben Versval, Mr. Angus Cornbluth, and Mr. Kard Starven, the three Quidditch recruiters from the ‘Knights’.”
As Dumbledore introduced the wizards with him, Ron secretly had to wonder how the Headmaster was so gifted in certain things, like seeing through invisibility cloaks, and for the matter, hearing whispers from far away. Great Wizards, he was powerful.
Harry shook hands with each recruiter in turn and quietly surveyed the three. He had a hard time imagining in his young mind that they had ever played Quidditch, but reminded himself that Hogwarts had been open for many, many years.
Versval, was a stuffy looking man, who shook Harry’s hand firmly, but seemed to be sizing him up starting at that very moment. His sharp gray eyes took in the younger man’s entire form in one instant, and he smiled rather forcedly. His paunchy stomach and generally out-of-shape form indicated to Harry that it had been quite a while indeed since his Quidditch playing years.
“Nice to meet you Potter,” he said stiffly, but not unkindly, “I’ve heard much about you from the Headmaster. Good luck on Friday… but I daresay you won’t need much of it.”
Harry nodded and his hand was snatched then by Cornbluth, who again seemed to take his job very seriously, but seemed much less stiff than his counterpart.
“I agree,” he began without a smile, but cordially, “Dumbledore tells us that you catch the snitch nine times out of ten… an impressive record! We could very well use someone like you on our team. Prescott, our seeker, has recently become a new father and is bowing out, so we’re currently looking to recruit. If you’re worth it, we could stand another season of temporary replacements until you graduate.”
At this, Ron brightened and slapped Harry’s back, grinning at about ten thousand watts. “Lucky we’re out here, huh?” he whispered.
The last to greet him was Starven, who moved towards the front of the little group and grinning largely, pumped Harry’s hand with vigor.
He was a shorter man, but powerfully built. His balding head and the few wrinkles that lined his face showed that he was at least in his late forties, but he seemed still in shape and very enthusiastic about his job.
The looks that the other recruiters shot his way told Harry that they weren’t very impressed with the man. In fact, they regarded him as somewhat of an overbearing personality. Harry would tend to agree soon enough.
“So fine to meet you Harry,” he began with a gap-toothed grin, “Headmaster Dumbledore has been briefing us on all of our up and coming Quidditch players, but I had no idea that one of them was the great Harry Potter!”
Harry felt that the man was a little too sincere and removed his hand as soon as it was polite to do so. “I’m uh… not that great…”
“Modesty!” said Starven, slapping Harry on the back so hard he nearly stumbled down the hall, “All the great ones have it…”
Dumbledore smiled briefly. “Yes, well… Harry, to explain… I’m taking the recruiters around the school to familiarize them with our surroundings and to meet our team personally. This way they will know your names and faces to talk to you after the game… if necessary.” His wizened blue eyes gave a great twinkle at his last statement.
Ron stared dumbfoundedly at the wizards. “Harry! This is great!…Getting to meet the recruiters before the game! It’s fate we’re out here!” He grinned wildly and slapped his friend on the back.
Harry secretly thought that the next one to slap him on the back was going to need a magisplint.
Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled once again, this time at Ron. “Is it fate? Or would Professor Trelawny have a different explanation in mind?”
Ron’s smile wavered. “Uh, maybe…”
Once again, Starven pushed to the front of the little group, much to the annoyance of the other wizards. He grinned arrogantly.
“Harry, one more thing… Could we have a look at that fabulous scar of yours? Being so famous, I bet you get asked that a lot.”
“Well, I’d rather not, really…” began Harry uneasily.
“Let’s see then,” said Starven, not listening. Reaching over, he pushed some of Harry’s unkempt locks from his forehead and leaned back, surveying him much as he would a new quaffle and bludger set from Quality Quidditch Supplies.
The other two wizards, while embarrassed at their counterpart’s lack of courtesy, were still curious enough to stare covertly as well; all three oblivious to the irritation building on Harry’s face.
“Well, and there it is…” said Starven surveying him rather subjectively, “Fabulous… just fabulous.”
Harry’s hand shot up and quickly pulled his hair down for cover. He rarely noticed the scar anymore, nor did anyone else in the school for that matter, so it irritated him to no end to be scrutinized like a piece of fascinating history.
His other hand, balled furiously into a fist, though he obviously wouldn’t have used it, was quickly captured by Ron, with a warning stomp to his foot.
If looks really could kill, Ron would have certainly been in trouble at that moment, but he chose to ignore it, and stared ahead innocently. None of this went unnoticed by Dumbledore.
(Ahem) “Well gentlemen shall we move on? We’ve many more players to meet.”
The wizards nodded amiably and began to follow the Headmaster, but Starven grabbed Harry’s hand again and pumped it once more. “Brilliant to have met you Mr. Potter…”
“Brilliant…” repeated Harry through clenched teeth. The set of his jaw and the flash in his eyes were all too familiar to Ron.
Classrooms suddenly began filing out, with students milling past them, glancing strangely at the wizard with Harry and Ron.
“Well, gotta go!” said Ron pulling Harry away from the firm grasp. “Can’t be late for lunch… Most important class of the day, you know!” He laughed uneasily.
Starven released Harry’s hand and called after them as he walked to catch up to Dumbledore and his fellow recruiters. “Goodbye, Harry! I’ve a feeling we’ll be speaking a lot more to each other.”
“Don’t count on it,” said Harry under his breath, waving to Starven.
Harry and Ron made their way towards the Great Hall amidst the mass of five hundred or so other Hogwarts students headed the same way.
As they walked, Harry glanced over at Ron to see if he could detect whether Ron was still angry or not. Finally, he decided to make absolutely sure and grabbed Ron’s arm, pulling him aside.
“Harry, I’m starving,” Ron protested.
“Are you still upset? I want to get things straight with you now, before we see Hermione…”
Ron sighed and stared down at the floor, shifting his books from one arm to the other. “I’m not angry anymore, Harry. I just wish you and ‘Mione would trust me a little more…” He ran a hand through his bright red hair, reminiscent of Harry. “To tell you the truth, I’m more worried than mad… If something goes sour between you two, all three of us get involved, you know? Things might not ever be the same…”
He might have continued, but just then someone shoved between the two, barreling into them so hard that Ron’s books were knocked from his hands.
“Hey!” began Ron angrily, “What the bloody hell…”
But Harry had stumbled back and found himself face to face with a flushed and very irate Malfoy. Both straightened up almost reflexively at the sight of each other and glared fiercely.
Malfoy took a step closer to Harry and came almost nose to nose with him. “If I were you Potter, I’d keep a closer watch on the mudblood…” his jaw clenched angrily, “and on the poor church mouse there.” He nodded Ron’s way before continuing. “If either of them ever try a stunt like that again, or you for that matter, I’ll pay you back so hard you’ll wish you’d never even met me.”
Harry took a step forward forcing Draco to take a step back and patted him roughly on the cheek. “How’s the jaw?” he smirked viciously. Cocking his head to one side, he glanced at Ron who had finally picked up all of his things. “Hermione must throw one bloody hell of a punch, aye Ron?”
Ron grinned and nodded, raising an eyebrow and glancing ever so subtly at Malfoy’s jawline.
Reflexively, Malfoy raised a hand to his cheek where a nice large welt would soon be turning into a bruise. He threw withering glares Harry and Ron’s way and began to walk away toward the Slytherin table, but not before warning Harry again. “Remember what I said scarhead.”
Ron couldn’t help but twist the knife, just a little. “So Harry!” he yelled with the obvious intention of letting the whole school hear, “About what we were talking about, how exactly does it feel to be punched by a girl?”
Harry grinned, catching on. “Wouldn’t know… Never been! We could ask Malfoy though… something tells me he’s an expert!”
A fair number of students caught on to the joke and turned Draco’s way, some snickering, some wondering when Malfoy had gotten himself punched.
Malfoy stopped mid-stride and whipped around, causing students to bump into one another to stay out of his way. They scowled at him, muttering as they passed.
For a moment, he merely glared at the two, and then stomped back to them. Since Harry and Ron were now side by side, Draco took the opportunity to stand face to face with both, but addressed Harry.
“Watch your back at the game Friday, Potter.” If Harry and Ron hadn’t been right in front of him, they mightn’t have been able to hear the low threatening words. “Sometimes those bludgers get knocked off course and go straight for someone else. Funny how that happens, don’t you think?”
Harry smiled back at him humorlessly with a dangerous glint in his eyes. “Are you threatening me? Because that wouldn’t be wise…”
Ron breathed in furiously, about ready to finish what Hermione had started earlier when she suddenly came walking up; oblivious at first to Malfoy. Her smile fell dramatically when she saw him, obviously enjoying a show-down with Ron and Harry.
“Oh hi,” she said rather loudly and drolly.
Malfoy turned his sneer on her and opened his mouth to speak.
“How’s the cheek, by the way?” Hermione interjected, “I’m so awfully sorry! I don’t know what came over me. Does it hurt much?… Looks like it…”
Draco clenched his jaw and the rest of his face turned as red as the welt. He took a bullying stomp towards Hermione, but when she didn’t flinch, he turned, trying to put on a disaffected air.
“Remember Potter, threats are only threats until they’re made good on…” Then he turned a snotty look toward Ron and acknowledged him with a pompous lift of his chin. “Weasel..”
He smiled mirthlessly then, fire sparkling in his eyes, and finally headed back to Slytherin’s table.
Both Ron and Harry smiled affectionately at Hermione. No one could put a guy back in his place quite like her.
She shook her head in Malfoy’s direction and turned back to them. “What was all that about, then?”
“Just rubbish,” sighed Harry irritably.
Ron grinned lopsidedly and threw an arm around his two friends. “…think you hurt his ego,” he said leaning his head towards Hermione, but glancing at Malfoy at his table, “You really do throw one bloody hell of a punch.”
“Really!” Hermione rolled her eyes and began leading them towards the Gryffindor table. “Well honestly! Just because I’m a girl means I’m not supposed to be able to flatten someone…” She plopped down at the table with Harry beside her and Ron opposite them.
Ron began to eat.
“Well I wouldn’t want you mad at me,” Harry grinned and playfully pinched Hermione on the cheek. Hermione smiled slightly and slapped his hand away.
“Don’t give me any reason to be.”
Harry smiled impishly at her but caught a look at Ron at the same time Hermione did.
Ron had sombered, and ate his soup and sandwich quietly, concentrating a lot harder, it seemed, than needed. Immediately, Hermione’s face fell. She reached an arm over to Ron and took hold of his wrist.
Ron stopped eating at the touch and blinking once, turned his gaze up to meet theirs.
“I’m all right ‘Mione,” he began, sighing. “It’s just…”
He placed his forehead on his palm, staring down at the table for a moment. “Will…will you both promise me something…” It was more a demand than a request.
“Of course! Anything Ron…” began Hermione earnestly.
Ron held up a hand for her to wait, and looked up. “Promise me that whatever happens with you two that we will always be friends,” he looked almost harshly at both of them, “and this won’t turn us, like…wierd…with each other, all right?”
“‘Course not!” began Harry, almost as if the thought were ludicrous. “Ron how could you think that…”
“‘Cause I’ve seen it before!” said Ron. “Remember Seamus and Dean and Lavender? Dean and Lavender began dating and then Seamus was slowly out of the picture…Then when those two broke up, none of their friendships were the same!”
“Ron, it won’t be like that with us,” began Hermione, squeezing Ron’s arm. She brought her other hand over to rest on Harry’s arm as well. “We’ve been through too much together. All of us…We’re a team.”
Harry turned to Ron and nodded, giving Ron’s other arm a boyish squeeze. Hermione looked back and forth between them and began tearing up. Harry noticed and began to grin.
“Oh,n… Hermione! Dry up!” Ron wailed, rolling his eyes and letting his shoulders fall. “Look, we’re just eating here! It’s just a sandwich… see? The soup’s not that bad Hermione!” He yelled loud enough for all of the Great Hall to hear.
Hermione ducked quickly and swiping a tear from her cheek, reached over and punched Ron in the shoulder.
Defense Against the Dark Arts went quickly for the three, with Malfoy, seated along with Crabbe and Goyle, shooting murderous looks their way almost the entire time. The whole classroom seemed to feel the tension, especially the new teacher, who had been a graduate with high honors from Beauxbatons about ten years prior. It was an understatement to say that Misseur de Voncrey, who moved to England for the experience of a new country, was having to get used to the new school, and the differences between French and English witches and wizards.
His students in particular, had far different ways of dealing with feuds between one another. For example, de Voncrey never remembered having to deal with a student trying to hex another student in the middle of class, but that was precisely what he had caught Draco Malfoy doing, and no less, to a girl.
As soon as he had detected the unrelenting eye contact and mutterings under his breath from Malfoy, he had strode over to the Slytherin’s desk and snatched his wand away from him, sending him out to the hallway to cool off.
No matter how much the English were supposed to be known for their coolness and aloofness, the Professor was beginning to learn differently. The English, while proper by most standards, were from his point of view, most definitely hotheads.
Granger, for her part, seemed surprised that Malfoy would try something in class, and her eyes widened accordingly when Draco was upbraided in front of the whole student body and told to sit out the rest of the period.
Malfoy didn’t seem to mind though. Apparently, the thought that the other student knew what he had been trying was enough to drive his point home. It wasn’t a particularly dangerous hex, but enough to give the recipient a particularly bad stomach sickness that could put them in the infirmary for a couple of days. Payback, it seemed.
English… sighed de Voncrey.
Wanting to avoid another run in with Malfoy after class, Harry, Ron and Hermione hurried quickly outside towards Hagrid’s hut, where behind it, in a makeshift barn, he would be teaching Care of Magical Creatures. They needn’t have hurried though; Malfoy didn’t show.
The giant lumbered out of his hut just in time to see the three Gryffindors trot up. “Well! ‘Lo ‘arry! ‘ermione, Ron… Got a special treat fer ya today.”
Hagrid’s eyes lit up as the rest of the class joined the three. Sixth year Gryffindors, some of Hufflepuff, and Slytherin all held class together this period.
After scanning the crowd, Hagrid noticed with his characteristically sharp eyes that one student was missing.
“Where’s Draco Malfoy then…better be a good excuse. Today’s class’s particularly important.”
His eyes narrowed as he took in the forms of Crabbe and Goyle, trying unsuccessfully to hide in the back of the crowd. For Goyle, that was like a hippogriff trying to hide behind a flag pole.
“You two then!” bellowed Hagrid, though not unkindly.
Crabbe and Goyle turned around slowly and looked at Hagrid while trying to swallow the lump of fear in their throats. It didn’t bode well to lie to a giant, even one as gentle as Hagrid, so they opted for the truth.
“He’s gone up to see Madame Pomfrey,” said Crabbe.
“Madame Pomfrey?” Hagrid replied, “Wha’s the boy gone and done ta ‘imself now?’
“Done by another!” Goyle spoke up, “His face is starting to… well it’s sort of, turning a bit purple.”
“Just at the jaw area…” finished Crabbe, “Well it’s… it’s a bruise.”
The two Slytherin looked down at the ground as if they’d just broken a great confidence. The class began to snicker, and at the word ‘bruise’, Hermione’s eyes widened and she coughed suddenly, hiding a small smile.
“A bruise ain’ nothin’!” began Hagrid as he turned to lead the class towards the barn, “Woulda’ healed on its own soon enough…”
“He didn’t want anyone noticin’, I guess…” began Seamus Finnegan with a laugh, “No pride in bein’ walloped by a girl.”
Hagrid turned then, confused. “A girl!?”
The class stopped suddenly, bumping into one another with the sudden halt.
“It was…” began Seamus, but a murderous look from the much bigger, much meaner Goyle stopped him. “Um… an accident,” Seamus finished, flinching as Goyle took a ham-sized fist and punched it into his other hand, pointing at him.
Hagrid didn’t seem to notice. “Hmm… ah well, ain’ no harm I guess, but you two’ll ‘ave to get ‘im up to speed on this lesson,” Hagrid pointed in Crabbe and Goyle’s general direction.
The giant stopped at the entrance of the barn, where there stood four large crates. From inside, a shrieking noise emitted that caused most of the class to take an involuntary step backward. When sparks began escaping out of the corners of the boxes, they stepped away even further.
For most, COMC class was not their favorite. Hagrid’s idea of a magnificent creature usually involved something scary and potentially harmful.
“Hagrid, please don’t let those be blast-ended skrewts again!” pleaded Dean Thomas, who had gotten a particularly nasty burn from one he had tried to round up a couple of years ago in Hagrid’s class.
“Nope, ‘taint them,” said Hagrid, grinning and slapping the top one of the crates. The creatures inside seemed to dislike the jostling that gave them and began shrieking and sparking even more.
Hagrid dipped his head slightly to the side and sighed. “Now come on, get closer. Don’ be afraid. I wouldn’ get ya anythin’ ta work on tha’ would really cause ya ‘arm.”
He lifted a small crow bar and wedged open one of the box sides, letting it fall to the ground with a loud thud.
Harry, Hermione and Ron stepped closer, mouths` gaping open.
Inside the crate were three two foot tall rock shaped creatures, with leash and cable on each one. If forced to describe them, Harry would’ve said they looked like knee-high dragons with rock scales. When completely still, they could pass rather well for medium sized boulders. But unfortunately, these were far from still. On the contrary, they seemed to be quite agitated at the moment; all three able only to fly about one foot from the ground with their tiny wings, and producing streams of sparks from their nostrils.
Their small wrinkly faces and long snouts, Ron noticed, were full of tiny, potentially harmful teeth.
Hagrid grinned even larger and sighed, enraptured. “Ain’ they wunnerful…Mighty cute they are.”
He squatted to scratch one under the chin, and the creature in turn, nipped Hagrid’s finger hard enough to make him howl and pull it back quickly. He sucked on it and glanced at the creature reproachfully.
“A bit outta sorts righ’ now…”
Hermione stumbled back into Harry and Ron as one pulled on its leash and snapped its small teeth at her.
“Hagrid, what are those?” began Hermione, pulling her arms in reflexively.
Hagrid gaped at her, and seeing that the rest of the class was just as ignorant, he began his lesson. “Them!? Them are Flame Drocks!… Ya mean in all th’ time you’ been at ‘ogwarts ya ne’er been taught ’bout these!?”
“Think I’d remember,” said Ron, yanking a close limb away from a particularly grumpy one.
“What’re they for?” asked Harry, pulling Hermione farther back from the crates.
“For!?” began Hagrid reproachfully, “They’re creatures ‘arry… They exis’ ’cause they do; jus’ like you an’ me. But if you’re meanin’ what’re we learnin”em for…” Hagrid’s eyes narrowed as if he were about to divulge a great secret, but he spoke loud enough for the whole class to hear.
“Well, they’re a lot like reg’lar dragons, see, but when they breathe fire, th’ ash tha’s lef’ from whate’er they burn can be made into a pow’rful medicinal draught. Good fer sicknesses, superficial wounds and the like.”
“But why…” began Seamus.
“But why can tha ash be used?” Hagrid cut in excitedly as if knowing what Seamus was going to ask. Actually, Seamus was going to ask why they had to actually handle them.
“I’s ’cause a their diet!” Hagrid answered his own question. “See, Flame Drocks on’y eat macurel slugs, which…”
Hermione’s eyes widened brightly. “Macurel slugs! I know about them! I read it in Magical Insects and Cures! The macurel slug lives off of the hardrake bush, which in itself holds no medicinal power, but when combined with the digestive system of the macurel slug, it has the power to heal! Well…some things.” Hermione began to inch wonderingly closer to the drocks. “Hagrid, is that why macurel slugs glow?”
Harry again grabbed Hermione’s arm and pulled her back with a warning glance.
“Tha’s righ’ Hermione!” Hagrid began, obviously excited that someone found his class as interesting as he did. “And tha’s also why th’ Flame Drocks can breathe fire like normal dragons. Th’ glow slug diet gives ’em somewha’ of an ‘incandescen’ heartburn’ ya could say.”
“Well fascinating,” said Ron rather dryly, “So, what’s our chore?”
“Well, they ain’ been fed yet today,” Hagrid began, “So I wan’ all of ya ta split up into teams an’ pick three people from yer teams ta walk ’em so’s they can grub. Take ’em roun’ rocks and boulders ta find the macurels. The slugs usually hide there. Tha’s also why Flame Drocks have their wunnerful rock hide camouflage. When they sit really still an’ th’ macurel slugs glide up, i’s lunchtime.” Hagrid finished with glee.
The giant grinned wildly with expectation as he watched the teams of six choose who would be the three lucky walkers.
In actuality there was much arguing about filling these roles, as no one wanted to volunteer.
“You do it Harry,” began Seamus, pushing him forward, “You’re a great wizard.”
“Shove off,” replied Harry in annoyance. “How ’bout you Dean? You were good with the mandrakes.” He pushed Dean forward.
“Mandrakes are in Herbology, and they can’t burn you…” said Dean, stepping back again.
“They shriek like mandrakes,” said Ron, shoving Dean forward again.
“How about Neville?” said Parvarti Patil, grabbing Longbottom’s arm, “He’s good in Herbology too…”
Neville’s eyes widened as he took a step back. “I can’t even control my frog!”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Oh bloody hell!” She marched forward and grabbed a leash, pulling one forward. As it was too hungry to think about the person leading it, the drock just began pulling her along, heading toward the edge of the Forbidden Forest, where there were plenty of rocks and boulders that served as a sort of visible line not to cross. “I’ll take one, Harry you and Ron take the other two. For pete’s sake…” Her voice trailed off as she walked.
Ron rolled his eyes and threw up his hands. “Well, c’mon Harry.”
Both boys grabbed a leash, keeping it as far away from their bodies as their arm lengths would allow.
“Tha’s the spirit!” cried Hagrid happily, “You others, if’n a drock turns any plant ta ash, take these jars an’ fill ’em with it. Madame Pomfrey’ll be glad ta refill her stock.”
Several students fought each other and rushed forward to be the lucky ones to carry the jars. Hagrid frowned. No one ever seemed to volunteer in his class.
After a few minor burns, much slug eating by the drocks, and a few gathered ash piles, class was finally over. The Flame Drocks, having finally been returned to Hagrid’s barn, seemed happier with full bellies. In sleep, Hermione noted with wonder, they looked so much like boulders that it would have been really hard to pick them out had they not had a class on them.
Having turned in the four or five jars of ashes to Hagrid that were collected, the class was dismissed. It was four o’clock, which left two hours before dinner.
Ron and Hermione planned to sit in the Gryffindor common room and study for the OWL finals, but Harry had Quidditch practice.
Quickly they made it back to the school and through the halls, with still no sign or run in with Malfoy, much to their relief.
“Chocolate frogs,” said Harry to the portrait of the fat lady.
She sniffed condescendingly and swung open for them.
Harry squeezed Hermione’s hand quickly and took the stairs two at a time to change into his uniform. He knew he still had a few minutes before practice, but wanted to sit down for a while first.
He descended a few minutes later in his signature long red cloak, form fitting khaki colored pants, black knee boots, and knee and wrist pads, dragging the Firebolt 2004 that Sirius had given him last year behind him.
Hermione secretly thought that Harry never looked sexier than when he was in that uniform. She had to avert her eyes to keep him from seeing what she was thinking.
Colin Creevey, a short, skinny, mouse-like fourth year who had idolized Harry from the moment he met him, had been hanging out in a corner of the common room until Harry emerged.
Being his biggest fan, and the unofficial photographer for the school paper, Colin took the opportunity to photograph Harry blind as he headed for the overstuffed chairs in front of the hearth where Ron and Hermione sat.
Harry shielded his eyes from the flashes, and being at least a foot taller than the fourth year, he picked Creevey up by the shoulders and set him to the side, continuing on to a chair and dumping himself down. He looked extremely annoyed, which delighted Ron to no end.
“Harry he just admires you,” began Hermione.
“Ah, the price of fame…” smirked Ron as Colin came walking around Harry’s chair.
“Shove off…” Harry shot back.
Colin stepped in front of his chair. “Sorry, Harry! I just wanted to get a couple of pictures of you headed to practice the day before the big game.” He then whipped out a small notepad, and pencil from behind his ear.
“So, feel confident about the match tomorrow?”
Harry lifted an eyebrow and glanced drolly back at the younger boy. “Colin, I thought you were just the photographer…”
“Sometimes they let me do small interviews!” replied Colin excitedly, “Especially when it’s one I really want! I asked specifically for this one…”
Harry saw Hermione give him an “Aw Harry, let him” look and favored her with a lopsided grin.
Hermione read the resigned look on his face and grinned at him, turning back to her studying.
Harry also caught Ron mouthing something that looked suspiciously like “You’re whipped” at him and scowled accordingly. Ron grinned down at his book.
Hermione may have been trying to concentrate on her upcoming tests, but her eyes kept unavoidably gliding over to Harry, seated in front of the hearth. His shock of dark brown hair was mussed even more from his quick changing, and the questions from Colin kept bringing amused grins to his face.
She saw the sharp outline of muscles underneath the uniform, and couldn’t help but notice his tall, lean form as he slumped carelessly in the chair.
Once Harry caught her eyeing him past Colin and lifted his eyebrows, giving her a quick grin.
She blushed furiously and scowled halfway between a return grin. It irked her sometimes that he could make her feel that way, but she noticed that the return gaze was an appreciative one.
Finally, Colin snapped his notebook shut and replaced the pencil behind his ear. “Thanks a lot Harry! I’ll be rooting for you tomorrow!”
Hermione and Ron watched as he climbed happily up the stairs to the boys dorms, undoubtedly to begin writing his article.
Hermione turned back to Harry.
“That was really sweet, I…”
“Oh yes Harry, that was awfully sweet,” Ron cut in with a silly high voice. He stood, trying to keep a grin off of his face and wiggled his hips over to Harry. “You sure look big and strong in that uniform…I…I’m really attracted to you right now.”
Harry rolled his eyes and backed away with a smirk. “Ron…”
“Don’t you want to give me just one little kiss? It won’t take long…” Ron squealed and threw his arms around Harry.
“Get off!” Harry laughed, shoving Ron aside.
Ron landed in a heap on the couch, laughing so hard that his cheeks hurt.
Hermione, her cheeks burning, replied by punching Ron in the side. “Funny, Ron. You big git.” But she couldn’t hide her smile.
Harry was a little red.
“Enjoy it Potter?” Ron guffawed in between breaths. Other Gryffindors across the room were snickering as well.
Harry flushed and swiped his hair back a little nervously.
“Ok, well… gotta go… See you at dinner!” He snatched Hermione’s hand and gave her a quick peck on the cheek before grabbing his broom and heading for the portrait door.
“What, none for me!?” Ron squealed.
“Shut it, Ron,” Harry threw back at him and let the door slam behind him.