“Passion is the root of all conflict.”
General (ret.) Jigme Dorji Wengshuk
“He’s not leading us into the forest, is he?!”
It was the following Monday. They were now in their second Care of Magical Creatures class and once more Hagrid was giving them another ‘surprise.’ However, something about Hagrid’s giddiness seemed to fill Harriet with dread rather than excitement. It was the same giddiness he’d shown when fawning over the baby dragon he had named Norbert.
In spite of this, Harriet was pleased to hear the thinly veiled terror in Malfoy’s voice as Hagrid led them past his hut and towards the trees that marked the edge of the Forbidden Forest. However, instead of going into the forest, Hagrid moved along the edge of the trees, leading them to a small, empty paddock.
“Right then, you all stay here and I’ll go get ‘em,” Hagrid said and headed off into the forest.
“Ugh, I can’t believe that beast is actually a teacher now,” Pansy Parkinson grumbled.
“Can’t your father do something about him, Draco?” Pixie Fanfarró asked in a whiny, pleading voice.
Hermione grunted in disgust.
Dora smirked maliciously. “Bit hard for your dad to do anything about it now isn’t it, Malfoy? Getting sacked as a school governor and all? Fortunately they found a much better person to replace him, didn’t they?”
Most of the Gryffindors laughed, as did Dora’s other Slytherin friends. Malfoy and his cronies glared back. Lavender Brown diffused the situation by giving off a squeal of excitement and pointing in the direction Hagrid had walked. Hagrid was returning, but he wasn’t alone. He was walking with Rachel’s fifth-year friend and fellow refugee, Erica Quoy. Behind them were five of the most bizarre creatures Harriet had ever seen.
Had Harriet seen each half of the creatures individually, she would have found them familiar. The back half was normal enough: the haunches and slender, hoof-footed legs of horses. The front halves were more disconcerting.
Their hair turned to feathers and enormous wings sprouted from their shoulders. Their front legs were not those of horses, but of eagles; covered in thick feathers with scaly feet bearing curved six-inch long talons. The head was the most striking. Instead of horse heads, they had the heads of eagles, with steely-grey beaks and bright orange eyes.
Hagrid and Erica were leading the beasts by a thick leather collars on long chains. Erica had one of them, which had a coat the same grey as a storm cloud, while Hagrid led the others, two chains in each hand. They led the creatures towards the waiting students, most of whom took understandable steps backwards as they approached. They tied the chains to the fence and Hagrid turned beaming down at the class.
“Hippogriffs!” he declared with excitement as he held out a hand to the beasts. “An’ aren’t they beau’iful?”
“I’ll say,” Erica said patting the grey hippogriff’s beak and giving a wave to Rachel. Harriet glanced sideways at Malfoy and couldn’t help but grin to see his face going red and the two other Slytherin boys, Thomas Wright and Damien Mallory giving him dark, knowing looks. Pansy and Pixie were looking at Erica as though she was something unpleasant they had found under their shoes.
“Also class, this is Miss Erica Quoy. I know at least ‘alf of yeh know her already, but she’s got a mind to study magical zoology full time after Hogwarts, and as she ‘as this hour free, I thought it’d be good fer her to get ‘er hand in by helpin’ teach a Care of Magical Creatures class ‘r’two.”
Erica smiled around at them all. “Nice to meet those of you I haven’t yet,” she said warmly and laughed as the grey hippogriff nuzzled under her hand and arm, looking for more petting.
Hagrid laughed and clapped his hands together. “Well then, if yeh’d all step up to the fence here, we can start our lesson.”
Despite how well Erica was getting along with her hippogriff, most of the class held back. Harriet looked around at her friends and they all nodded in unison and led the way closer to the fence.
“Now, first things firs’ with hippogriffs, they are very intelligent and most impor’antly proud. They understand English perfectly well even if they can’t speak it. They’re not like Epeius who yeh all met last week, yeh have to pay extra close attention to what a hippogriff’s trying ter tell ya without speakin’,” Hagrid explained. “Which is impor’ant as like I said hippogriffs are right proud creatures and they take offence real easy. This means the las’ thing yeh ever wanna do ter a hippogriff is insult it. Cuz if yeh do, well, it really could be the last thing yeh ever do.”
Harriet swallowed eyeing the hippogriffs. Now she’d gotten over the first shock of their odd, formidable appearance, they were rather attractive creatures. But her eyes did drift up and down from their oversized beaks and their sharp, glinting claws. She made a mental note that if she ever had to get close to a hippogriff to be as polite as she possibly could at all times.
“Hey, you in the back, this stuff’s kind of important,” Erica snapped, distracting Harriet. Everyone turned to see she had been speaking to Malfoy who had hung back from the fence and was whispering with his gang. Clearly they hadn’t been paying attention to Hagrid’s lecture. Zabini, Parkinson and Fanfarro looked disdainful, while Malfoy was doing his best to copy their looks but mostly looked abashed.
“Er right then, well, Erica and Buckbeak here are going ter demonstrate the proper method of approaching a hippogriff, then we’ll have a volunteer from the class, then we’ll split up inter groups to give everyone a chance,” Hagrid said as Erica undid the collar around the grey hippogriff and led it into the middle of the paddock.
“When you approach a hippogriff look it right in the eyes, and be careful not ter blink too much. In a lot of animals this is taken as a sign of aggression but to hippogriffs it shows yer not up ter anything fishy or suspicious.”
As Hagrid spoke, Erica stepped up to the hippogriff named Buckbeak, holding her head high, unblinking.
“The next thing yeh do is bow. Yeh don’t have ter bow too much, mind, just enough so that you are bowin’. Then wait.”
Erica bowed to Buckbeak. Almost the moment she had, Buckbeak bent his feathery knees and lowered his head to the ground in what could only be described as a bow.
“Now, yeh see? Buckbeak bowed. That means he trust yeh and you can approach him. It’s still not advisable to make sudden moves around him and like I said, never insult ‘im. Now, that one was easy enough as Buckbeak already trusts Erica, so who’d like ter volunteer for their own go with him?”
Most of the class took a step backwards in response. Harriet glanced towards the other hippogriffs again. While Buckbeak now seemed fairly calm, the others were all shuffling and flexing their wings in agitation at being tethered. Again her eyes drifted to their giant claws and hooked beaks.
“I’ll do it, Hagrid,” came Marcus’ voice. Harriet looked around just in time to see him climbing over the fence.
“Good boy, Marcus” Hagrid said looking encouraged.
Erica smiled and stepped back from Buckbeak. Harriet held her breath in spite of herself. By the looks of it, so was most everyone else in the class. As Harriet watched, Marcus held his head high and stepped up to Buckbeak. The beast towered over him, and turned its head from side to side to get a better look. Then Marcus bowed, and Harriet felt her insides clench seeing one of her best friends exposing his back and neck to such a large beak.
However, her worries were unfounded. Just as Buckbeak had with Erica, he bowed again to Marcus. Marcus rose, grinning ear to ear as the class broke into applause. At least most of the class; Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, Zabini, Parkison and Fanfarro were the only abstentions.
“Go on then, you can pet his beak if you like,” Hagrid said.
Marcus nodded slowly and reached up a hand towards Buckbeak’s head. “You have such a gorgeous coat,” he said just loud enough to be heard as he stroked his hand up the hippogriff’s large beak.
Buckbeak closed his eyes and gave a faint twitter, clearly enjoying the attention. Harriet wanted to think that Marcus had only said that in response to what Hagrid had said about being polite to hippogriffs, but the more she took Buckbeak in, the more she had to admit he was a very handsome animal.
“Alright then, Marcus, you know, he might let yeh ride ‘im now,” Hagrid said cheerfully. At this thought however, Marcus’ face fell rapidly. That was clearly more than he’d bargained for.
“Climb up just behind his wing-joint there, and mind his feathers, he wouldn’t like yeh pullin’ any of them out.”
Marcus awkwardly climbed onto Buckbeak’s back. He was looking around Buckbeak’s neck apparently trying to find somewhere to hold on that wasn’t covered in feathers.
He didn’t get time to find one before Hagrid gave a boisterous “Giddy up there!” and swatted Buckbeak’s hindquarters. The hippogriff gave a squawk of surprise and his wings finally unfolded. They were enormous; each one was slightly longer than Hagrid was tall. The overall spread had to be nearly thirty feet from wing-tip to wing-tip.
Harriet had one last fleeting glimpse of Marcus’ astonished face when Buckbeak gave a mighty bound and with one flap of his massive wings he shot off into the air. The class all gasped in astonishment as the hippogriff swooped low over their heads, trying to gain altitude.
Despite her love of flying, Harriet didn’t feel particularly envious of Marcus. He was clutching his arms around Buckbeak's neck as best he could and was rising and falling awkwardly from the beating of his enormous wings. Harriet decided she would much prefer her broomstick to hippogriffs when it came to air travel.
Buckbeak circled the paddock once before turning in and swooping down towards them once more. He looked as though he was going to plough into them but he flared his wings and thudded to a halt on the ground. His big talons dug into the ground stopping him dead in his tracks, though Marcus was nearly thrown off from the sudden stop.
The class all cheered and applauded as Marcus slid off awkwardly. Despite his apprehension, he was now beaming ear to ear and gave Buckbeak’s neck a few gentle strokes, going with the grain of his feathers.
“Well done, Marcus! Right then, let’s all climb on in the paddock here and see how yeh all get on with the rest?” Hagrid said to the class as Erica undid the rest of the collars on the other hippogriffs.
Harriet climbed into the paddock with the rest of the class. After Marcus’ success, everyone seemed much more eager to try their hands with the hippogriffs. Harriet and her friends wound up with the chestnut coloured hippogriff. It had bowed readily to Harriet and cooed as Buckbeak had when she stroked its beak. Its feathers were large and courser than she had expected, but despite the fearsome appearance, there really didn’t seem to be much to worry about with the hippogriffs after all.
After her turn, Harriet turned her attention to the rest of the class. Neville was trying to bow to his hippogriff, but kept backing away quickly as the hippogriff didn’t seem to be inclined to bow back. She smiled softly as she watched Basheera step up with Neville and they both bowed together. Finally, the hippogriff bowed, and Neville flushed muttering an inaudible thank you to Basheera as he finally began to pet the hippogriff.
Harriet then turned her attention back to Buckbeak. Malfoy and his cronies had quickly taken Buckbeak over. Malfoy stepped up to the hippogriff and bowed. Harriet hoped silently that Buckbeak wouldn’t bow to him, but was disappointed as the hippogriff bent his knees and lowered his head.
“Well that was easy,” Malfoy drawled, speaking in an overly loud voice, clearly wanting to be overheard. “It can’t have been that difficult if Van De Lakk could do it, don’t you agree Blaise?”
“But of course,” Blaise agreed.
“Yes, I bet you’re not dangerous in the least are you, you great ugly brute?”
It happened so fast Harriet didn’t even see it. One moment Malfoy was standing, petting Buckbeak’s head, the next he was on the ground, crying in shock and pain. Above him, Buckbeak was reared back on his hind legs, his talons flashing and his wings and feathers flared, shrieking.
Hagrid reacted in an instant, grabbing Buckbeak from behind and pulling him back away from Malfoy. Erica meanwhile grabbed Malfoy by the shoulders of his robes and pulled him back away from the raging hippogriff. The class largely panicked and ran for it, hurdling the paddock fence. With the exception of Malfoy and Dora, only Gryffindors remained inside the fence. Kieran was moving as quickly as he could to Malfoy who was still crying out in pain.
“I’m dying! It’s killed me! I’m bleeding to death!”
“Let me see it!” Kieran said insistently trying to get Draco’s arm. As he did, he moved aside just long enough for Harriet to get a glimpse of Draco’s wound. The wound did look horrible; a long gash along the length of the top of his forearm that was bleeding profusely.
“You’re not dying,” Kieran said in a calming voice. “Clean cut, Madame Pomfrey—”
“Nobody asked you, cripple!” Malfoy spat between cries of pain.
Harriet felt all her sympathy for Malfoy vanish as quickly as Buckbeak had attacked. How dare he? How dare he say that to Kieran who was only trying to help him? Kieran however didn’t react. He just kept trying to get to Malfoy’s arm, however, he didn’t get the chance by the time Hagrid rushed over and scooped up Malfoy in his arms. He ran towards the school, so tall he didn’t even break his stride as he stepped over the fence. Erica was refitting the hippogriffs to their collars and leashes. Buckbeak was calm once more, now that Malfoy was gone, and let Erica put his collar back on as if nothing had happened.
Kieran stared blankly at the spot where Malfoy had been laying. No one else seemed to notice as the class began making its way up to the school, but Harriet did. She crossed over to him and gently put a hand under his arm. Using his walking stick Kieran pushed himself up with Harriet’s help and they all started to make their way back up the hill towards the castle. She didn’t say anything; she knew exactly why the word had wounded Kieran, though he had tried not to show it.
Ahead of them, most of the Slytherins were in a rage, shouting abuses at Hagrid’s retreating back. Harriet was pleased to see that Malfoy’s remark to Kieran had not gone unnoticed and they were hurling their own insults back.
“Oh shut up the lot of you,” Dean Thomas called after the Slytherins. “It was all Malfoy’s fault and you know it!”
“Yeah, and calling the one guy trying to help him a ‘cripple,’ what a class act he is!” Jackson shouted.
Crabbe and Goyle cracked their knuckles in a threatening way, though Dean and Jackson hardly looked abashed.
“He’s going to be alright, isn’t he?” Hermione asked anxiously, wringing her hands.
“Yeah, he’ll be fine,” Kieran muttered. Harriet hugged his arm tighter trying to comfort him.
Ronnie sighed. “Well, leave it to Malfoy. If anyone could screw up Hagrid’s class that badly, it was him…”
They went inside and made their way to the common room. Harriet passed the time playing Exploding Snap with Marcus. Hermione was reading her Ancient Runes textbook. Ronnie was cleaning her football boots, while Kieran was staring blankly into the fire. The story of what had happened had spread through the house at the usual wildfire pace that rumours spread through Hogwarts and most everyone was looking sullen and worried.
The most sullen and worried was Erica. She was sitting in a corner with Angelina, Alicia, Katie, and Rachel.
“I should have been over there keeping an eye on him,” she said miserably.
“Oh don’t say that,” Rachel admonished gently, hugging Erica around her shoulders, which was a feat, considering Erica stood a whole head taller than Rachel.
“I knew he wasn’t paying attention to a damn thing Hagrid was saying,” Erica went on as if Rachel hadn’t spoken.
“Erica, it’s going to be fine,” Angelina said hugging Erica from the other side. “It’s no good blaming yourself for another git’s stupidity.”
“But what if they fire him?!” Erica asked, looking stricken. “Hagrid could lose his job, and Buckbeak could be put down! I should have been over there! Beaky’s not even the proudest or most aggressive of the flock!”
Harriet grimaced and gave significant looks to Hermione and Ronnie. They nodded and went over too to join in the conversation. Harriet did feel a little better for it. She had been jealous of Erica much of last year over her friendship with Hagrid, but her attitude had begun to change after Erica called her out on the jealousy, and seeing Erica’s own distress over Hagrid’s arrest.
That night at dinner, Harriet couldn’t eat. She kept glancing towards the staff table, where Hagrid’s absence was painfully obvious.
“We should go see him,” Dora said at random.
“What, now?” Hermione asked, looking at her watch.
“Yeah, before it gets dark,” Dora replied.
Hermione continued to look apprehensive.
“I’ll go with you,” Erica said, having clearly overheard them.
“Well, at least it’ll be group of us,” Hermione said, though she still sounded reluctant.
They rose and began making their way towards the Entrance Hall. They had just reached the front doors when a voice spoke up behind them.
“And just where do you think you’re all going?”
They turned as one and saw Professor Stratton striding towards them. He did not look angry, or even suspicious. They all exchanged glances before Erica cleared her throat.
“I’m sorry, Professor, it’s my fault, I wanted to go see Professor Hagrid after what happened today and—”
“Quoy, Quoy, it’s alright,” Professor Stratton said, holding up a hand to cut her off. “An admirable sentiment, but students are no longer allowed out at this time of night without supervision.”
Harriet looked away, fighting off a glare. Sirius Black hadn’t got this far, had he? However, almost as though he read her mind, Professor Stratton went on.
“It is a rather dangerous time right now. Sirius Black has been reported sighted within two hours of Hogwarts, and Solomon Kinney remains at large. Furthermore the Dementors still patrol the borders but there is no guarantee they will remain there if offered an opportunity.”
Harriet hung her head, Dora was looking mutinous and Hermione was giving everyone her usual look of ‘I told you so.’
“Okay, Professor,” Kieran said reasonably. “Come on guys, we can see him in the morning.”
Professor Stratton looked perplexed. “What on earth do you mean, O’Brien?”
“Well, you said we’re not allowed out unsupervised,” Marcus said. Inexplicably, Erica beamed.
Professor Stratton smiled in response. “Yes, you’re not allowed out… unsupervised,” he said. “However, it would appear as though you are going to be supervised, doesn’t it?”
It took a second but Harriet beamed as the light clicked in her head. Professor Stratton’s smile grew and he strode past them, opening the door. The group of students grinned to each other and followed after him as he led them down across the grounds towards Hagrid’s hut. Despite his warnings of Black, Kinney and the Dementors, Harriet couldn’t help but notice that Professor Stratton didn’t seem all that cautious as he led them.
Hagrid didn’t answer right away when they knocked on the door. Fang, Hagrid’s pet boarhound, barked in greeting and Professor Stratton knocked once more.
“C’min,” Hagrid finally croaked and Professor Stratton opened the door and ushered the students in before him.
It only took one look at Hagrid to know he had been drinking. He was sitting at his table, Fang’s head in his lap and a bucket sized pewter tankard in his hand. He squinted as he took them in.
He turned a bleary eye up to Professor Stratton. “’Spect I just set a record, eh Des? Don’t think they’ve never ‘ad a teacher last just a week b’fore.”
Professor Stratton scoffed. “Oh come off it, you great oaf,” he chuckled. “You’re not being sacked and you know it.”
Hagrid grumbled looking into his tankard. “Yeah right, only a matter of time after Malfoy…”
“Is… is he alright…?” Hermione asked in a tiny voice.
Hagrid shrugged. “Madame Pomfrey and Miss Momori said they fixed him up best they could, but he still says ‘e’s in agony, moaning and all that.”
“He’s faking,” Kieran growled. “I saw that cut, it was perfectly clean, and Madame Pomfrey and Miss Momori have strong enough potions to cure any infection.”
“If he can live through having all the bones in his arm regrown, I’m sure he can live through a bad cut,” Harriet said crossing her arms and sitting at the table opposite Hagrid.
“School gove’nors been called and all,” Hagrid said. This created an awkward moment, as Dora’s father had become a school governor after the ousting of Draco’s father at the start of last summer.
“What… what did they say…?” Dora whispered.
“Jus’ said I started too big, shoulda kept on the path I was with creachers like Epeius… just thought they were a good stepping stone, not all that diff’r’nt after all, being ‘alf horses… all my fault—”
“It’s all Malfoy’s fault!” Harriet insisted.
“Yeah, you told us all hippogriffs attack if insulted, it’s his fault he wasn’t listening,” Marcus chimed in.
“Erica even told him to listen up,” Dora added, reassured. “I’ll write to Dad and tell him the whole story, don’t worry Hagrid.”
Hagrid became overcome with emotion at that point and slumped forward on his table. Professor Stratton sighed.
“Alright, think you’ve had quite enough there, Rubeus,” Professor Stratton said. “Come on, up with you.”
With surprising strength that left Harriet’s mouth open, Professor Stratton hooked an arm under Hagrid’s and hoisted him to his feet. He hooked Hagrid’s arm over his shoulder and helped him outside. Hermione picked up the oversized tankard and followed them out: there was a loud splash and Hermione came back inside.
“What was that splash?” Ronnie asked.
“Professor Stratton stuck Hagrid’s head in the water barrel,” Hermione said simply, putting the tankard on the shelf.
Half a minute later Hagrid and Professor Stratton returned.
“Ah, tha’s better,” Hagrid said wiping the water from his face. “Really, thank you lot for comin’ to see me, it means a lot.”
“Always, Hagrid,” Harriet said smiling.
“An’ thanks for comin’ with ‘em,” Hagrid said to Professor Stratton.
Professor Stratton laughed. “Well I certainly wasn’t going to stop them, so I figured I might as well be a facilitator,” He said with a little wink at the students.
* * * *
As September wore on, the changes in staff were beginning to show. It took very little time for Defence Against the Dark Arts to become most people’s favourite class. From Boggarts they turned to Red Caps, wicked little goblin-ish beings who lived in dungeons and old battlefields, waiting to attack intruders.
After Red Caps they studied Kappas, which lived in the rivers of northern Japan, and often targeted wading children in their rivers.
The second most loved class was easily History of Magic. Professor Stratton had turned their classroom into a model Greek temple. Great pillars lined the room from floor to ceiling, and Professor Stratton himself had turned his chair into a throne and wore a fake beard and laurel crown. He had even let the students pick their own Greek gods to represent.
Hermione predictably was first, and immediately picked Athena. Dean and Seamus picked Dionysus and Hades respectively. Parvati and Lavender picked Hera and Aphrodite. Marcus went abstract with Morpheus, the god of dreams. Basheera picked Hestia, while AJ picked Demeter. Rachel picked Artemis, Jackson picked Poseidon, and Ronnie picked Nike. This left Harriet, Kieran, Neville and Tori unable to decide.
“Hmmm,” Professor Stratton muttered taking them in thoughtfully. “O’Brien… for you, I believe the choice is clear.”
Kieran sighed. “Yeah, I guess it is.”
Professor Stratton frowned. “Why so glum? I thought being Hermes would be a great honour?”
Kieran blinked in surprise. “H-Hermes, but I thought—”
“Yes?” Professor Stratton asked with a quelling tone.
“Nothing sir,” Kieran replied, though Harriet was sure she saw the faintest hint of a smile playing at the corners of his lips.
“Hoffman, I hereby decree thou art Eumonia, the goddess of good order and lawfulness.”
Tori blushed but smiled and nodded. Professor Stratton then turned to Harriet.
“And you, Potter, I believe the best choice for you would be Eirene.”
“Irene?” Harriet asked, perplexed
Professor Stratton laughed jovial. “Yes, Potter. Eirene, the goddess of peace.”
Harriet smiled and nodded. I could probably use some peace right about now, she thought, and in the future too come to think of it…
Professor Stratton turned to Neville. “And you, Longbottom. I grant the role of none-other than Apollo himself.”
Neville’s eyes went wide, as did Parvati and Lavender’s.
“Neville? Apollo?!” Lavender asked sounding shocked.
Professor Stratton’s eyes narrowed. “Dost thou question almighty Zeus? Let alone question your professor?”
Lavender blushed and shook her head.
“Good, now then, our court is spoken for. Let class begin!”
The trend did not continue in other classes. Professor Snape was being horrible as ever in Potions, and everyone knew why. The tale of Neville’s Boggart and subsequently making it wear a dress had swept through the school. In certain circles, “Madame Snape” became a common pseudonym for the Potions Master.
His animosity was largely, and predictably, directed towards Neville. When Malfoy returned to class the following Thursday, his arm still in a sling, Professor Snape all but made Neville into Malfoy’s personal servant. This was even worse for Neville, as this now meant he was largely responsible for both his own potions work, and Malfoy’s.
Divination was also far from enjoyable. Professor Trelawney continued a stream of foul predictions of Harriet’s future, which were branching out beyond the Grim. Every ‘sign’ that Professor Trelawney saw seemed to miraculously turn itself into an omen of coming doom for Harriet.
This was made even worse for Harriet by Parvati and Lavender who kept the dark mood going outside of class. The pair seemed to almost worship Professor Trelawney, and frequently visited her during free hours. Afterwards, they would return to the common room looking smug and all-knowing. Furthermore, they would only address Harriet in hushed, sympathetic voices, as though she were dying of some incurable disease.
Even Care of Magical Creatures had lost much of its fun. Hagrid had stopped bringing Erica to class. Erica said it was because the governors had thought having a student help teach a class such as Care of Magical Creatures had been a mistake and possibly contributed to the incident. Dora continued to insist that her father had nothing to do with the decision, though that did not keep Ronnie from grumbling about her father when Dora wasn’t around.
Instead of more interesting creatures like hippogriffs and Areions, they were now studying flobberworms, which were nothing more than oversized earthworms with gaping, jawless mouths that did nothing but lie around and eat any plant-matter their mouths came in contact with. Even if this was perhaps safer than other creatures, Harriet had to admit, it was deathly boring.
While Defence Against the Dark Arts was fun and interesting, there were occasional lulls. In the last week of September, Professor Lupin fell ill and so instead of dealing with another interesting magical creature, they simply read and made notes on the chapter on dugbogs, a bog-dwelling creature that resembled dead-wood when stationary but with clawed, webbed hands and feet they would use to attack the ankles of human invaders of their marshes.
Outside of the classes, September did yield two events that filled Harriet with joy. The first was Hermione’s birthday on the 19th, followed by Marcus’ on the 27th. As the birthdays were so close together, they held a joint party for both of them in the third year boys’ dormitory. While this was usually frowned upon by Percy, Hermione had the idea of going first to Professor McGonagall, who agreed, provided there was a prefect present to monitor the situation.
Harriet’s one beacon of hope for a good year in this time was the start of the Quidditch season. The captain of Harriet’s Quidditch team, Oliver Wood, was a burly, handsome seventh year for whom Harriet harboured a small (though not entirely secret) fancy.
There were seven positions on a Quidditch team. Harriet played the Seeker, the most difficult position, as it was her job to catch the tiny, fast, and very manoeuvrable Golden Snitch, which ended the game and awarded the successful Seeker’s team one-hundred fifty points. There were three Chasers, who were tasked with putting the Quaffle (a large red ball, about the size of a football) through one of the three hoops on the opposing teams end. Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet, and Katie Bell were the chasers on the Gryffindor team. Fred and George were the team’s two Beaters, who used wooden clubs to keep the malicious black balls known as Bludgers away from their teammates. Finally there was the Keeper, who defended their team’s hoop form the opposing team’s Chasers.
Wood called their first meeting on a quiet Thursday evening in early October. He looked even more manic than usual, and he left them in little doubt why.
“Alright everyone, this is it, our last chance,” he said as he paced the locker room in front of them. “The last chance for all of us, together, to win the Cup. We’ve been a team for three years now, and honestly the best team I’ve ever seen as far as talent goes.”
He paused and turned to them looking downcast. “But we definitely have the worst luck ever, no denying that. But we can’t let that stop us this year. It’s my last year, I’m graduating after this, we’ll never get another chance together if we don’t pull it off this year.”
“We can do it, Oliver,” Katie said, trying to sound encouraging.
“Eight times lucky?” Fred said, giving Katie a teasing smile though dropping it as Wood gave him a dark look.
“We can do it; we’re the best team in the school bar none. Angelina, Alicia, Katie, you three fly like a single person. Fred, George, you two are without a doubt the best beaters I’ve ever seen. Which is fitting, as I’ve said before, you two are probably the only things on the pitch more dangerous than the bludgers,” Wood said sternly.
“Well, can’t say farer than that,” George admitted, grinning.
“And Harriet, you’re the most natural seeker I have ever seen,” Wood went on turning his attention on Harriet. As usual when Wood praised her, Harriet felt her stomach flutter.
“Oy, don’t forget yourself there, Wood. If we’ve ever had a better Keeper, I’ll eat a flobberworm,” George said.
Fred scoffed. “Oh come on, anyone can eat a flobberworm, they just take a little ketchup. Now if you were gonna propose eating Hagrid, that would—”
“The point is,” Wood went on. “I took a big gamble when I took over as captain. I put my chips on a younger team. I knew it may cost us the Cup for a year or two, but I knew it would pay off in the long-run for Gryffindor house with a very strong, experienced side in a few years’ time. And that would create a good base for bringing on new players later after I’m gone. Well, that has already come to pass. We’re the best any Hogwarts house could ever ask for. And this year is our year.”
Harriet glanced around the team. Even Fred and George were looking serious now. She smiled to herself. If there was one thing she knew, Fred and George were able to accomplish anything they put their minds to, and if Wood had finally put their minds into winning the Quidditch Cup at long last, it had to be in the bag.
On top of Fred and George’s new enthusiasm, there was also the fact that Wood scheduled practice sessions three nights a week now. While this was good news for the team, it was not very good news for Harriet’s homework, which was beginning to pile up as September and October wore on. It was worse for Hermione, however, who worked well into every night finishing all her homework for all the classes she was taking. What was more vexing for everyone else on the other hand was the slowly spreading rumours of Hermione being in multiple classes at the same time. Harriet had bigger issues on her plate, coupled with the fact that was plainly impossible, Harriet paid little attention and busied herself with more difficult homework and Quidditch practices.
The thing that raised Harriet’s spirits the most happened on the night of October 11th, when Harriet climbed wearily through the portrait hole after a very long, very wet Quidditch practice. The whole common room was buzzing with excitement.
“What’s the fuss?” Harriet asked Kieran who had come over to greet her.
“First Hogsmeade weekend just got announced,” he replied, pointing at the notice board.
Harriet felt her excitement grow and her tiredness ebb away as she made her way to the notice board. Sure enough there was the notice, declaring the first Hogsmeade trip would fall on Halloween of that year.
“I can’t wait!” Ronnie said eagerly, having come over to greet Harriet as well. “We’ll finally get to see inside Honeydukes and Zonkos!”
“And just what would you be needing from Zonkos, little sis?” George asked as he walked up behind them. Ronnie stuck out her tongue at him but he ignored her.
“Or you little Miss Potter?” Fred asked, ruffling Harriet’s hair. Harriet grumbled trying to straighten her hair out again.
“Funny, I think they can go to anywhere they want in Hogsmeade because they’re old enough, girl or not, don’t you Alicia?” Angelina asked in a voice brimming with barely concealed disapproval.
“Definitely,” Alicia said. “You agree, Erica?”
“One hundred percent,” Erica added.
George swallowed. Harriet had learned very quickly last year that there was only two things that could get George to ‘behave’: the level of his mother’s anger, and how much Erica approved of their hijinks. Erica gave George a smirk but then paused and looked at the noticeboard just to the right of the Hogsmeade notice. “What’s this?”
Harriet looked. There was something there she hadn’t noticed at first, but she recognized the writing too well. It had been posted by Marcus.
Fleet footed but not much of a flyer?
Athletically inclined but wish more than seven students could participate?
Then come to our informational meeting on the creation of alternative house athletic teams, to pitch different sports ideas this Saturday!
List of possible sport ideas:
“Wow, that’s forward thinking of him,” Harriet said, smiling and looking around for Marcus.
“Ohmigosh, no way,” Ginny’s fellow second-year friend, who harboured a not-so-tiny fangirl crush on Ronnie, Rayne Prismere said as she looked at the notice. “That is so awesome omigosh, Ronnie did you see this?!”
“Yeah kiddo,” Ronnie said laughing. “I helped with the ideas.”
“That she did,” Marcus said jovially as he joined them. “Been thinking about it all summer and just finally said ‘heck with it’ and put it up. Just see who’s interested and all that.”
“Hmmmmm, it is a pretty good list, some sports are missing though,” came Hermione’s voice.
Marcus turned to look at her. She was studying the list closely, frowning at the bottom.
“’Missing?’ Just what would you know about sports of any kind, Hermione?” Fred asked, scoffing.
Hermione glared at him. “Well, I just thought lacrosse would be a good addition…”
“La-what?” George asked.
Hermione rolled her eyes and stomped off to her bag and returned with a book. She handed it to Fred and George who started to read it while Harriet leaned in. It was a book of lacrosse plays and tactics. Fred and George flipped through it with bemused expressions but Harriet narrowed her eyes and gave Hermione a shrewd look. Hermione’s cheeks went a little pink and she seemed to be trying to ignore Harriet’s eyes.
“So, it’s a sport with a bunch of girls running about a pitch, bumping into each other, getting hot and sweaty…?” Fred asked as he flipped pages.
“Not just girls,” Hermione retorted, going very pink.
“Wearing tight shirts, little skirts and knee-high socks…?” George added as if Hermione hadn’t spoken.
Hermione flushed even brighter and opened her mouth to protest this assessment but was drowned out by Fred and George’s synchronized declaration: “THIS IS THE BEST SPORT EVER!”
“What the devil are you two shouting about?” said Percy as he approached the group.
“What’s it to you?” Fred asked, his playful teasing demeanour being immediately replaced by a distinct coolness.
“Our common room too, isn’t it?” George said darkly.
“Yes, but people are trying to study,” Percy grumbled and looked on the board. “And what’s this?” he asked pulling down Marcus’ notice.
“Hey!” Marcus protested. “That’s mine, put it back up.”
“Excuse me?” Percy said in a tone that reminded Harriet forcibly of Professor Snape at his most dangerous, “did you just give me, the Head Boy, an order, Van De Lakk?”
Marcus glared, chewing his tongue.
“This was not properly marked as a notice, Van De Lakk; furthermore, all clubs have to be organized through Professor McGonagall as deputy headmistress.”
“But it wasn’t actually starting anything, it was just to be a get together to see if anyone would be interested, and if they were what sports they would want,” Marcus retorted.
“All the same. Please use the proper channels before posting a notice. That is all,” Percy said before heading off out of the portrait hole.
“Coward,” Fred said, gripping his broomstick handle so hard it actually creaked. “Ducking out to make sure he had the last word. Sorry about him, Marcus ol’ mate, it is a good idea.”
“Yeah, it would be good to see a bit more student activity around here,” George agreed.
“Why, so you can ogle?” Angelina said coolly.
Fred rolled his eyes. “Oh come on, we tease you lot constantly, how is this still a surprise?”
“Fair enough,” Angelina agreed, dropping her icy look and laughing. The fifth-years headed off for the seats by the fireplace and Harriet took Hermione’s arm in hers and rather forcibly marched her away from her homework to a less crowded area. Something that had been puzzling her since the trip to Diagon Alley suddenly made a lot more sense.
“Lacrosse, huh?” Harriet asked.
“I, well, I just was studying it out of interest, you know, the history of the sport and such—”
“From a play book?”
“Well, the history of the plays,” Hermione said, starting to lose her would-be casual act.
“Uh-huh,” Harriet said, smiling in a way that was at once approving and accusing. “Why the act? I think it’s great! What got you thinking about it?”
Hermione sighed. “It was my cousin this summer when we visited her family in France. She and her friends were playing and they had me join in… it was… exhilarating! I just couldn’t stop! Coming up with plans and plays, working out fitness routines to stay in the best shape, it’s… it’s surprisingly academic,” Hermione said before she glowered and stole a glance towards Ronnie who was now sitting with Marcus working on a new flyer. “And I’ve kept quiet about it because of her…”
Harriet raised her eyebrows. She knew Hermione and Ronnie didn’t get on quite as well as her other friends, but the venom with which Hermione said ‘her’ took Harriet quite aback.
“Because of Ronnie?”
“Yes!” Hermione hissed. “She’ll just tease me, ‘oh Hermione, the big bookworm’s taken up sport, ha-ha-ha,’” Hermione went on hugging her chest and scowling.
“No she wouldn’t,” Harriet retorted. She opened her mouth to argue her case more when Ronnie cried out in shock.
There was a flurry of activity and something orange was swinging through the air wildly. At first Harriet thought it was Ronnie’s hair but soon realized it was in fact Hermione’s cat, Crookshanks, being flung about the air. Crookshanks was clinging to Ronnie’s bag, hissing and spitting as Ronnie tried to shake him off. With a squeak, Scabbers went flying out of the bag and landed with a thud almost at Harriet’s feet. He made a dash for a cupboard but Harriet was too quick for him, snatching him up from the floor just in time as Crookshanks went skidding past.
“That thing is a monster!” Ronnie shouted running over and taking Scabbers from Harriet while Hermione picked up Crookshanks.
“He is not a monster!” Hermione snapped, hugging Crookshanks tight as the cat growled, still staring at Scabbers. “He’s just a cat! And all cats chase rats!”
“Not like this! This is the sixth time since the start of term! There’s plenty of mice around this school but the only one that mad cat’s after is Scabbers!” Ronnie shouted.
“You don’t know he doesn’t go after other rodents around the school!” Hermione retorted. “And well he… he might just sense that Scabbers is an older rat, and—”
“Don’t call Scabbers old!” Ronnie snapped stuffing the trembling rat into her bag again. She looked down at Crookshanks with deep dislike but also a shrewd expression. “There’s something weird about that cat,” she went on. “I had just told Marcus to be careful with my bag because Scabbers was in it… and not a minute later that cat came out of nowhere…”
“That’s… that’s true…” Marcus said, studying Crookshanks with interest. “Maybe Scott’s right about him being part Kneazle…?”
“Well, even if he is, it’s still just nature,” Hermione said. She was trying to keep her dignified tone, but Harriet caught a slight break in her voice.
“Not with that cat,” Ronnie growled and turned towards the girls’ dormitories. “And in case you’ve forgotten, Scabbers was here first…” she snapped and stomped off without another word.