(All characters and locations within belong to J.K. Rowling unless otherwise stated.)
“The more imminent the change in a system, the less balanced it becomes. The system constantly attempts to correct. The change is inevitable, as all change is, though the process of change is always temporary before a system of equilibrium is struck once more.”
General (ret.) Jigme Dorji Wengshuk
“I just thought you ought to know… Hagrid lost his case. Buckbeak is going to be executed.”
It was the Thursday after the Hogsmeade trip. Harriet was in the library with Kieran, Marcus, Ronnie, and an even more present than usual Aurochius. He had been keeping an even closer eye on Harriet than usual over the past week since the Hogsmeade incident. Harriet wished he wouldn’t, she still felt guilty enough after seeing the look on Professor Lupin’s tired face. He hadn’t said a word, but his look of disappointment was enough to make Harriet swear in her head that she would never do anything so reckless again.
Hermione had just walked up to them, a letter in her hand, tears in her eyes and her lip wobbling before making the pronouncement to the little group. At the moment, the four were working on an exceedingly unpleasant essay for Professor Snape on the nature of bloodroot poison. Professor Snape had seemed even more irritable than usual lately. Harriet wondered if it was because of Professor Lupin’s continued popularity making it seem unlikely Professor Lupin would be gone by the end of the year, thus costing Professor Snape yet another opportunity to be Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.
“What?!” Ronnie declared indignantly slamming her book shut and drawing a disapproving look from Mr Robertson, the new librarian. He took being a librarian very seriously, but did not seem quite as stand-offish as Madam Pince had been.
Hermione held out the letter to Harriet, who took it and read. It was so splotched with Hagrid’s oversized tears that it was very difficult to read.
We lost. I’m allowed to bring him back to Hogwarts.
Execution date to be fixed.
Beaky has enjoyed London.
I won’t forget all the help you gave us.
See you in class.
“They can’t kill him,” Harriet said handing over the letter to Ronnie. “Buckbeak isn’t dangerous!”
“It was Malfoy’s father,” Hermione said, sniffing and sinking into an empty seat at their table. “You know what he’s like…”
“Guess Malfoy didn’t manage to talk his dad out of it after all,” Harriet sighed.
“If he even tried at all,” Marcus grumbled.
“Well Dora did say it would be impossible to talk his dad out of it,” Harriet said reasonably, before mentally chastising herself for speaking up in defence of Malfoy. There was too much bad blood between them over the previous two years for Harriet to see Malfoy any differently anytime soon. And yet, in spite of all that, something about the argument with Kenley she had overheard had nested in Harriet’s mind and would not leave.
“Well, there will be an appeal,” Aurochius spoke up.
Harriet turned to look up at the towering minotaur. It was the first time since her friends had started drifting apart that Harriet had forgotten about Aurochius being around. His tone was softer and gentler than it had been since the previous Saturday as he looked down on Hermione.
“An appeal?” Ronnie asked.
“Yes, in capital cases there is always an appeal,” he explained.
“Well, that’s good news,” Marcus said cheerfully but Hermione shook her head.
“Like it’ll make a difference,” she said hopelessly. “Nothing will have changed…”
“Yes it will,” Ronnie said in an uncharacteristically determined tone.
“How?” Hermione asked.
“You won’t be doing all the work yourself this time, I’m going to help, like I should have been doing all along,” Ronnie declared.
Without another word, Hermione had leapt up from her chair and hugged Ronnie tight around the neck.
“Oh Ronnie, I’m so sorry about Scabbers,” Hermione sobbed into Ronnie’s shoulder.
Ronnie looked shocked but only for a moment before she hugged Hermione back. “It-it’s alright… he was old… and he was sick… maybe it was the better and faster way for him to go, like Fred said… and hey, maybe Mum and Dad’ll get me an owl now,” Ronnie said smiling.
“Well, we have Care of Magical Creatures tomorrow morning, we can talk to him then,” Kieran said reassuringly.
Harriet nodded. She wanted to go see Hagrid now, but there wasn’t time. They still had their patronus lesson that night, and after that it would be too late. She sighed closing her book.
“Well, I’m gonna head to the owlery,” she said. “I have to send him something before then to let him know I heard before patronus lessons.”
“Yeah, maybe we all should,” Marcus said sincerely.
“Definitely,” Ronnie said. “Besides, it’d be a good way to show him we’re not all fighting anymore.”
* * * *
Harriet was anxious to get to Hagrid’s class the following morning. Hagrid wasn’t taking the news very well. He seemed almost numb, and barely focused on actually teaching the class. In fact, it was awkward for Harriet because as much as she wanted to talk to Hagrid, he had handed over teaching duty to Erica and Epeius the Areion, who was teaching them all about porlocks.
“Now, porlocks are interesting and very useful creatures to have around,” Erica explained as the small creature peered around Epeius’ legs, giving dark, mistrusting looks at the assembled students. It looked to be around two feet tall, covered in shaggy grey hair with sharp, beady little eyes that glinted through a thick grey fringe, a big nose, little arms ending in four-fingered hands, and goat’s legs.
“They have a symbiotic relationship with horses of all kinds,” Erica went on, though she was also keeping her distance from the porlock. “Though they are very mistrusting of humans, that’s why I asked Epeius if he wouldn’t mind helping out.”
“Yes…” Epeius said in his slow, deep voice as he looked down at the shy little creature. “They were an adjustment when I stayed at the stables in Hogsmeade this winter…”
“You don’t have them in America?” Dora’s friend, Sae Miyazaki, asked.
“I don’t think so, I’ve never heard of them before,” Dora’s other Slytherin friend and refugee, Courtney Thomas, said.
“No,” Epeius said. “Not in the wild, anyway. But they are rather helpful once you get used to them. They make sure you’ve got your blankets at night, make sure you’re watered, things like that.”
“They’re typically found around the Dorset area here in the UK and in southern Ireland,” Erica said. “And that’s what the ones around human owned horses do. In the wild they clean horses of skin parasites and watch for predators from the horses’ backs. In fact it’s been argued by some that it was early humans observing this behaviour that gave them the idea of riding horses.”
The class continued with further discussion on the nature of porlocks. Harriet and her friends made their way to Hagrid the moment the class was over.
“All my fault,” he told them sullenly. “Got all tongue-tied… they was all sittin’ there in them black robes, lookin’ down on me an’ makin’ me nervous an’ I kept droppin’ me notes and forgettin’ all them dates and cases yeh looked up fer me, Hermione… then Lucius Malfoy got up—”
“Hey!” Marcus grunted as Goyle shoved into him as he, Malfoy, and Crabbe passed them on their way to the school. Harriet glared but noticed that it was only Crabbe and Goyle who were smirking back. Malfoy on the other hand was keeping his head so low that Harriet could barely see his neck between his blonde hair and the collar of his black robes. The little bit of his neck she could see looked redder than normal.
“Well, not much you could have really done, Hagrid,” Aurochius said patting Hagrid on the shoulder. “We all know Lucius Malfoy usually gets what he wants where the Ministry is concerned.”
“Money talks,” Dora said angrily.
“Heh, you should talk there,” Ronnie jabbed elbowing Dora in the ribs.
“Oh don’t start fightin’ now,” Hagrid said mournfully.
“We’re not!” Dora and Ronnie said quickly in unison holding up their hands and looking worried.
“Yeah, that’s just kinda our shtick,” Dora explained putting a hand on Hagrid’s arm. “We’re fine, we promise.”
Hagrid nodded. “Well, all that’s left fer me ter do is make sure that the rest of Beaky’s time is the best he’s ever ‘ad, I owe him that much.”
“It’s not over yet, Hagrid,” Ronnie said defiantly. “We’re all going to help you work on the appeal.”
Hagrid gave Ronnie a smile though Harriet could tell he wasn’t holding out much hope. Hagrid left them at the door and turned back to return to his cabin. Harriet felt her heart sink as he pulled out his table-cloth sized handkerchief and blew his nose.
“You know I’d consider him a monster if he wasn’t such a cry-baby.”
Harriet grimaced at the all-too familiar, sneering voice of Pansy Parkinson. She and Pixie Fanfarró were standing just inside the doors to the entrance hall, most likely waiting for Harriet and her friends to enter before taunting them.
“Oh shove off will you,” Marcus groaned.
“Ooooo tough words from a Muddie,” Pixie jabbed back.
Harriet saw Marcus’ hands clench into fists.
“Just ignore them,” Hermione said tilting her nose in the air.
“You know he’s supposed to be a professor,” Pansy said. “More like pathetic if you ask me.”
It happened in an instant. Before Harriet even knew what had happened, Hermione had spun around, taken two strides towards Pansy and slapped her hard across the cheek. Pansy stumbled back and bumped into a bench, plopping down on it and staring in disbelief at Hermione. Pixie was also gaping at Hermione, too stunned to react. Hermione raised her hand again but this time Aurochius stepped forward and grabbed her comparatively little wrist in his giant fist.
“That’s enough!” Aurochius said sternly.
“Let go!” Hermione struggled. “She can’t dare call Hagrid pathetic! She’s foul! Evil!”
“That is enough, Granger.”
Everyone froze. It was Professor Snape. He strode towards the little group, looking as menacing and bat-like as ever.
“What is going on here?” he asked, his black eyes scanning the group.
“Granger lost it, Professor!” Pixie gasped. “Just started slapping Pansy for no reason!”
“That’s not true!” Dora, Ronnie and Marcus all declared in unison.
“Parkinson called Hagrid pathetic because he’s upset about his hippogriff which is only going to be executed because Malfoy was an idiot,” Marcus snarled.
“Yeah, and Fanfarró called Marcus a ‘Muddie,’” Dora added.
“Liars!” Pixie hissed venomously. By the look of it, Pansy still had not fully recovered from the slapping.
To Harriet’s great surprise, Professor Snape turned to Aurochius.
“Is this true?” he asked.
Aurochius gave a snort. “Yes.”
“I see,” Professor Snape said before turning back to Hermione, Pansy and Pixie. “Detention, Fanfarró. Two detentions and fifty points from Gryffindor, Granger. Physical violence is not tolerated at Hogwarts under any circumstances. Get on to class now, all of you.”
“What?” Pixie gaped, aghast. “What did I do?!”
Professor Snape rounded on Pixie so fast that Harriet jumped. “I will not have my students besmirching the name of our house using such language. If you think I am so dim as to not see through the term ‘muddie,’ then you are gravely mistaken and clearly deserve another detention.”
No one spoke. No one moved. Pixie looked as though Professor Snape himself had slapped her as he turned away again with a loud rustling of his long robes and stormed away from them all.
“Wow…” was all Ronnie managed to mutter as they slowly drifted away from the mortified figures of Pansy and Pixie.
“Well, he’s still a jerk, but the looks on their faces…” Dora said wistfully before turning off to follow Professor Snape towards the Slytherin common room. “I’ll catch up with you at lunch.”
“See you,” Harriet called. She was trying to digest what had happened. By the looks of it so was everyone else.
“I can’t believe Snape took your word, or even asked,” Marcus said, looking awed. “He always gives preference to his own students, especially those two.”
“Professor Snape has his faults, but he has always been decent to us. I knew him long ago during his last two years at Hogwarts. He did not run with a good crowd, but I never heard him use derogatory terms like that. That is not to say he couldn’t have used them in private company, but given his reaction there I am doubtful he did,” Aurochius sighed. “And then there is the fact he may have grown over the years. A phase he grew out of. Perhaps in his youth he kept such things private, but he never used terms like ‘mudblood’ that I know of.”
“It was still worth it,” Hermione said under her breath, giving a small, sheepish smile as they finally reached the Charms classroom.
“Come now, come now, you’re very nearly late,’ Professor Flitwick said anxiously as they entered the room. “We’re going to be studying Cheering Charms today.”
“Oh excellent,” Hermione said. “I could do with one of those.”
“Think we all could,” Harriet said.
After Charms it was time for lunch. All of the Gryffindors were come over rather giggly and carefree as the effects of the cheering charms lingered on. They sat together at the Hufflepuff table with Dora, Jackson, Jeremy, Isabella, Skye and the McGee twins when Scott, Atsuko and Tomomi came over. To Harriet’s surprise, Atsuko was looking at Hermione with concern.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“Of course,” Hermione said, her voice still a little dreamy from the Charms lesson. “Well, I’m a bit rankled over Pansy and Pixie being stupid but that’s water under the bridge,” Hermione explained. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, you weren’t in Arithmancy this morning,” Tomomi said, also studying Hermione carefully.
“What?! OH NO!” Hermione shrieked leaping up from the table. The news apparently shocked the effects of the cheering charms right out of her. She ran off to the staff table and began talking rapidly to a taken-aback looking Professor Vector.
“Arithmancy? But she can’t have been at Arithmancy,” Ronnie said. “She was with us all morning in Care of Magical Creatures and Charms.”
Tomomi blinked finally sitting down. “But, how can she be in two classes at once?”
“That’s a very good question,” Jackson said scratching his cheek. “A lotta folks been asking questions like that this year.”
Harriet found it strange but her mind was otherwise occupied. The cheering charms were starting to wear off for her as well when she thought of her next class: Divination. Harriet was coming to positively dread the class. They had been studying palmistry lately, and Professor Trelawney regularly used Harriet as an example to the class for everything terrible that could happen to someone as indicated by their palm lines. In fact, Harriet had quite lost her appetite now that she was worrying about Divination.
Hermione re-joined them. She still seemed flustered but a little reassured that Professor Vector had given her the necessary homework with some extra homework to help her catch up. Harriet knew she would regret not eating later, but nothing on her plate looked appetising as she pushed the plate away and rose with Ronnie and Hermione as they headed off to Divination.
As usual, the Divination classroom was stuffy and hot, especially with the month of May almost upon them. However, one change had come over the room. In the middle of each table was a crystal ball, each glowing faint and white as they approached. At first, Harriet thought the balls were spinning but on closer inspection realized that each ball was full of swirling, pearly mist.
“Guess we’ve finally moved on from palmistry,” Ronnie said, taking her usual seat.
“Yeah,” Harriet said sitting with her. “Not complaining if it means I don’t have to put up with her parading my hands around the room.”
“Good day to you all,” came Professor Trelawney’s misty voice. She stepped dramatically out of the shadows of the room (or at least it would have been dramatic if she had not made the same entrance for every single class so far) and took her usual seat beside her roaring fireplace and gazed around at them all.
“I decided last night that it was time to introduce the crystal ball a little early. “The fates informed that your examination in June will undoubtedly concern the orb, and so I thought it was only fair to give you as much time as possible to learn its use before then.”
Hermione scoffed, distracting several nearby tables.
“Wow, so you predicted what you were going to put in your own exam? That’s simply amazing,” Hermione grumbled, causing more than a few nearby students to snigger, though drawing very nasty looks from Parvati and Lavender.
Professor Trelawney however acted as though she had not heard. “Crystal gazing is perhaps the most refined and elegant art in the realm of divination. I will make it clear that if you do not see anything today when gazing into the Orb’s infinite depths to not be discouraged. I do not expect any of you to master its use in just the first day. Now, let us all close our outer eyes, take deep breaths, and focus on clearing our inner eyes and super-conscious.”
Ronnie began to break down into giggles as Dean and Seamus crossed their legs on their poofs, touched their thumbs and forefingers together, closed their eyes and began to emit soft hums. Harriet felt stupid sitting there pretending to calm herself for an hour’s worth of staring into what seemed to her to be a glorified snow globe. When she did finally turn her attention to the crystal ball, it became apparent that no amount of ‘clearing her inner eye’ was going to help her in the slightest.
Dean and Seamus were continuing to clown around when Professor Trelawney wasn’t looking, making more than a few of the other students start to giggle as well. Hermione meanwhile was tutting though Harriet wasn’t sure if it was Dean and Seamus’ antics that were on her mind, the incident in the entrance hall with Pansy and Pixie, her missed Arithmancy class, or her growing displeasure at Divination as a whole. She decided it was probably all of the above.
After fifteen minutes, Neville gave a forlorn moan. “Has anyone seen anything yet?”
“Yes, I think I’m getting something,” Jackson Lee said, staring with determined concentration into his table’s crystal ball.
“What is it?” Tori asked, looking sceptical.
“Yes… yes I see it… it’s very clear now.”
“What?” Rachel asked, leaning over next to him.
“We’re due for some fog.”
Laughter filled the room; Hermione’s the loudest. Professor Trelawney, Parvati and Lavender however looked scandalized.
“Now really,” Professor Trelawney said disapproving, “you’re disturbing the clairvoyant vibrations!”
She crossed the room, heading towards Jackson, Rachel and Tori’s table but passing Harriet’s on the way. She stopped abruptly and turned, looking at the crystal ball on Harriet’s table. Her magnified eyes were wider than ever and her hand was trembling as though she’d seen a ghost. Harriet’s heart sank, she knew what was coming.
“I… I see something…” Professor Trelawney said, her voice barely a whisper as she leaned down over their crystal ball, “It’s something moving, black and ominous…”
“Wow an ill omen, I never would have guessed,” Dean said, echoing Harriet’s own thoughts but Professor Trelawney paid him no mind.
“Yes… oh you poor dear, it’s here, plainer than ever before. Stalking toward you, ever closer, ever hungry for the soul it longs to take to the other side! The Gri—”
“Oh come on!” Hermione exclaimed. “That stupid Grim thing again?!”
Professor Trelawney gave Hermione a look of unmasked anger. Parvati and Lavender were glaring at Hermione and whispering back and forth.
“How many times have you seen the Grim in Harriet’s tea leaves, bird entrails, and now her crystal ball?” Hermione went on.
Professor Trelawney stood, clutching her shawls tighter around her indignantly.
“I’m sorry to say, my dear, that from the very moment you entered this classroom it was clear to me that you did not possess the proper mind and imagination required for Divination. Indeed, you are perhaps the most hopelessly mundane student I have ever had the misfortune to teach.”
“Fine!” Hermione spat slamming her book shut and cramming it into her bag. “I’ve had enough, I give up. I’m done.”
She swung her book bag over her shoulder, stormed to the trapdoor, flung it open, dropped the ladder, and climbed down, slamming the trapdoor shut after her.
“Mundane?” Rachel asked glaring at Professor Trelawney. “You know she’s the top student in the year?”
“One of the top in the school,” Harriet said also coming to Hermione’s defence.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t be doing near so well if it wasn’t for her helping me with homework,” Ronnie added.
“Enough!” Professor Trelawney snapped and the room quieted but the angry muttering lingered. “Return to your crystal gazing at once, in silence.”
The room did go back to crystal-gazing, though angry mutterings continued. Professor Trelawney strode around the room in a huff when suddenly Lavender gave a squeal of excitement that made everyone jump.
“Oooo! Oh, Professor! I just remembered! You foresaw her leaving, didn’t you?! You said it ages ago in our very first class! Around Easter, one of our number will leave us forever!”
Professor Trelawney beamed at her.
“Yes, my dear, I did indeed know that Miss Granger would be leaving us. I had hoped that I had misread the signs, but the inner eye is ever a burden, you know?”
Professor Trelawney crossed over to join Parvati and Lavender.
“Someday Hermione’s having, huh?” Ronnie asked miserably.
“Yeah,” Harriet muttered returning her attention to her crystal ball.
“But… Easter was almost a month ago,” Tori said, looking at Parvati and Lavender with open disbelief.
“Ugh, you think that really matters to them?” Rachel hissed.
Harriet sighed. As the class went on, she debated more and more following Hermione’s example, or at the very least, asking Professor McGonagall if she could transfer to another class at the start of next year.
* * * *
“Right, Slytherin lead us by two hundred points exactly everyone. This means we have to beat them by more than that to take the Cup, which is a tall order. Fortunately, that’s where Harriet will come in.”
It was winding down to the final Quidditch match. Wood was discussing the tactics the team would need to finally defeat Slytherin and claim the Quidditch Cup for the first time in seven years. Harriet, as Seeker, would need to catch the Snitch before Malfoy to earn the team a guaranteed one hundred fifty points.
However, there was considerable pressure on the rest of the team as well. To beat Slytherin, their chasers would have to score sixty points more than the Slytherins could. Having seen Slytherin in action before on their Nimbus Two Thousand One racing brooms, Harriet knew this was going to be difficult. However, since Harriet had managed to get her focus back in practice, and progress back to where she had been in Patronus lessons, Harriet was more confident that the team could pull this off. She knew she could beat Malfoy to the Snitch in any case.
In the meantime, the coming match marked an increase in the level of animosity between Slytherin and Gryffindor the likes of which Harriet had never seen. She even overheard a few of the older students discussing how they had never seen things this bad before either. Neither Gryffindor nor Slytherin students could get near each other in the halls without attempts to trip each other in passing or the occasional jinx or hex flying.
Classes which Gryffindors and Slytherins shared, such as Harriet’s Potions and Care of Magical Creatures classes, were downright unpleasant. Several times potions exploded at the Gryffindor and Slytherin tables from students throwing things into other students’ cauldrons when they weren’t looking. In Care of Magical Creatures, several times Harriet and her friends ended up having to help Erica chase down rogue magical creatures that Slytherins would startle or hit with stinging hexes to make them run off.
The worst of it, however, happened two days before the match. They were leaving Potions, and the moment they were out of earshot of Professor Snape’s classroom, Blaise Zabini hit Neville’s robes with a jinx that caused them to shoot up, covering his head. Neville tripped in his attempt to extricate himself and fell face first on the floor. At once there was a standoff. The Gryffindors that weren’t helping Neville rounded on the Slytherins, most of whom drew their own wands to ward off a counter-attack. Aurochius meanwhile was standing between the groups, holding his hands out to both parties, trying to talk sense in to both.
Harriet, who was helping Basheera, Tori, and Parvati with Neville’s bloody nose, didn’t see what happened. There was a flash of light and a cry of pain. Harriet knew at once who the cry belonged to: Kieran.
She spun around just in time to see all hell break loose. Jinxes and hexes flew everywhere. Tapestries flew off the walls and suits of armour crumpled, their loud clanging as they fell adding to the already overwhelming din.
The voice was so booming Harriet felt it in the floor. It was so angry it sounded more like the roaring bark of a great dog than a shout. The fight ended at once and all of the students turned. Harriet had expected it to be Professor McGonagall or Professor Dumbledore, but it wasn’t. Professor Stratton was standing in the door way to the corridor and his eyes were burning.
He began striding towards the students, his great arms swinging determinedly as he bore down on them. Despite not even having taken part in the fight, Professor Stratton’s rage made Harriet feel very, very small, in a way not even Professor McGonagall had ever made her feel. Harriet heard a low grunt and turned to see Aurochius getting to his feet. By the looks of it, during the exchange he had dropped down between Harriet and the Slytherins to block her from any incoming spells. In spite of all that had happened, Harriet was touched.
Aurochius panted a bit and winced as if shrugging something off. Harriet supposed he must have been hit by at least a few of the jinxes. They may not have had any visual effects on him, unlike Seamus who was breaking out in hives. Harriet supposed that Aurochius must have had strong resistance to magic, but he had obviously felt the spells all the same. She would have to ask him or Atsuko about it.
“Thank you my friend,” Aurochius said holding out a hand to Professor Stratton.
Professor Stratton shook but his eyes continued to sweep over the guilty faces. Just then another voice came from the other end of the corridor.
“What’s going on here?” Professor Snape’s voice called.
Professor Snape was coming towards them, his black robes billowing and bat-like as he approached. He paused however as Professor Stratton turned to face him.
“Ahh, Professor Stratton. You have things well in hand here I see,” Professor Snape said. His face was even more stiff than usual as he looked up at the much taller professor.
“Yes, indeed so, Professor Snape,” Professor Stratton said simply.
Professor Snape nodded and moved swiftly away back down the corridor. At that moment, Harriet remembered the feast after the Sorting Ceremony, when Professor Stratton had been introduced. Professor Snape had seemed leery of Professor Stratton then as well.
“What. Happened?” Professor Stratton said, cutting off his words sharply.
Immediately, students broke out into explanations. Professor Stratton raised a hand in the air and silence fell again at once. He looked around at the horde of jinxed students and shook his head.
“Never mind, I’ll sort it out later. First, let’s get you all to the hospital wing, come on now.”
Harriet spotted Kieran, clutching his bad leg and groaning. Jackson was trying to help him up. Harriet started to hurry over when to her surprise, Damien Mallory and Thomas Wright came over too. By the looks on their faces, Harriet was sure they were trying to help, but Dean Thomas, who had been helping an itching Seamus back to his feet, stepped in between them and Kieran.
“Stay away from him, your lot started this,” Dean snapped.
Damien and Thomas glared and were about to respond when Professor Stratton snapped at them.
“That’s enough. Thomas, help Finnigan. Wright, you help Lee and O’Brien.”
Professor Stratton looked around the rest of the group. “Those of you who aren’t hurt, get on to your classes. Those helping the casualties follow me.”
Ronnie was helping Marcus who had been hit by the Tarantallegra charm and was barely keeping his balance as he danced about involuntarily. In one motion, Professor Stratton drew his long wand, jabbed it at Marcus’ legs, said “Finite,” and re-pocketed it. Marcus’ legs quit dancing at once and he groaned in relief.
“Thanks, sir,” he said and Professor Stratton gave him a little nod and his scowl finally broke.
He led the afflicted towards the hospital wing. Everyone hung back from him. This was mostly due to most having to move slower because of the injured, like Kieran, but really Harriet got the impression that most were nervous of making Professor Stratton angry again. In spite of it all, Harriet couldn’t help but give a vindictive smirk at the sight of Parkinson and Fanfarró. Pansy was wailing with leeks sprouting from her ears, while Pixie was hopping from foot to foot, yelping with pain, clearly a victim of a toe-biter jinx.
As they went, most students were muttering. Damien Mallory was chastising Crabbe, who had apparently cast the charm that injured Kieran and now was helping Goyle whose ears had been expanded to the size of dinner plates.
“Shove off, Mallory,” Blaise Zabini snapped, shoving Damien’s shoulder.
Damien glared back. “If he’s a bullying jerk, I’m gonna call him a bullying jerk. And besides, you can get stuffed too, I heard you tell him to do it.”
Zabini’s glare turned into a smirk. “You know, Mallory, you should watch that mouth. I hear Solomon Kinney’s for hire… never know when better off people with a grudge might need unnecessary people removed…”
Damien scowled as Zabini’s smirk grew. “And your family in particular can’t afford to lose any more family members either, can it?”
“Ten points from Slytherin, Zabini,” Professor Stratton said from the front of the crowd.
Zabini blinked. “What?”
“You heard me,” Professor Stratton said. “Veiled threats are still threats.”
Zabini scowled now and spent the rest of the trip to the hospital wing in silence. Harriet looked at Damien. He still seemed rattled from Zabini’s taunt, but gave a little half-smile and kept walking.
Once in the hospital wing, Madam Pomfrey and Miss Momori were fluttering around like very aggravated butterflies as they attempted to undo all the jinxes and hexes and put proper ointments and potions on the injuries. Marcus and Thomas were helping Kieran into his hospital wing gown and bed. Harriet distracted herself by looking around the room. It was then she realized just why Madam Pomfrey and Miss Momori looked so flustered.
They were not the only group in the room. There was a big group of second years there as well, mostly Gryffindors and Slytherins but there was also a few Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs who were most likely by-standers caught in the crossfire. Ginny hurried over with some fellow second years. Harriet recognized Luna Lovegood, who was surveying the scene with complete detachment, Katy Tyler of Gryffindor, and another younger Ravenclaw who Harriet didn’t recognize.
“What happened to you guys?” Ginny asked.
“Brawl in the Potions corridor,” Marcus replied. “You?”
“Brawl in the Charms corridor,” Katy said. She had a slightly smug smile on her face.
“What are you smiling about?” Dora asked.
Katy grinned. “Hit Wendy Aarons with the twitchy-ears hex.”
“Nice one,” Ronnie said, nodding in approval.
Harriet turned as two more figures approached. It was Cian Whelan and Ardghal Coghlan, two Slytherin second-years who Harriet remembered helping Kieran after the duelling club incident during her second year.
“Is Kieran alright?” Cian asked.
“Yeah, I’m well enough,” Kieran said through the curtain.
Ginny and Katy were both giving the Slytherin boys scathing looks. “Lemme guess, someone in your house hurt his leg?” Ginny asked, crossing her arms.
Cian looked wounded.
“Hey, not all of us are like that, we helped Kieran last year when he got hurt,” Ardghal retorted.
“Yeah, they did Gin,” said the Ravenclaw girl Harriet didn’t recognize. “And they tried to talk down the other Slytherins, remember?”
“Thanks Addie,” Ardghal said, smiling.
The young Ravenclaw flushed but smiled back.
“And hey, my sister’s a Slytherin,” Katy said.
“Yes,” Luna said.
Harriet jumped, she’d forgotten that Luna was there.
“They are not always very nice, but that does not mean all of them are mean,” Luna finished.
Ginny’s freckles became a bit less distinct as her cheeks flushed. “Sorry,” she said quietly to Cian who smiled.
He was about to reply when Madam Pomfrey swooped down on them.
“Alright, everyone not jinxed, hexed, or otherwise injured, out at once. We need to tend to the afflicted and we can barely move. Get along now!”
“We’ll check on you later, Kieran,” Hermione called as Madam Pomfrey shooed them out.
“See you then,” Kieran called back.
The door slammed shut loudly behind the evicted students. There was a moment of awkward silence before the angrier Gryffindor and Slytherin students stormed off towards their respective common rooms.
“Well, thanks for helping with Kieran,” Marcus said, shaking Thomas Mallory’s hand.
Thomas smiled. “No worries,” he replied.
“And sorry about Dean, he’s…” Harriet said to Damien, her voice trailing off, wondering just how much she should really apologize in Dean’s favour.
Damien shrugged. “I don’t mind him so much… just sick of everyone typecasting everyone else…” he looked at Dora. “Wish more were in our house were like you.”
Dora grinned and gave her hair a toss. “I just don’t have a reason to care. My family’s wealthier than all of the oldest families in our house, and just as pure in blood. I can be whoever I wanna be and they can’t say anything without having to look in a mirror.”
Damien actually laughed. “I uh, I guess that’s true,” he said before just turning and walking off after the other retreating Slytherins. Thomas gave them a nod before turning and following his friend.
“Well, it’ll all be over after Saturday,” Hermione said hopefully.
“Yeah,” Harriet said. She grimaced as her nervousness over the match began to well back up inside her.
* * * *
The Great Hall was bursting with news the following morning. From what Dora told them, a fight had broken out in the Slytherin common room that night. Zabini, Crabbe and Goyle had been bullying Damien more when Dora and her friends, with Cian and Ardghal had stepped in.
Marcus whistled, impressed. “Wow, I bet Snape was furious.”
“Livid,” Dora replied, grinning.
“Wait, you and your friends stood up to Zabini, Crabbe, and Goyle, and the rest of the house didn’t turn on you too?” Marcus asked.
Dora shrugged. “Nope, it was a pretty fifty-fifty fight, really,” she said casually. “The refugees I think are finally having an influence. Blood status doesn’t matter to them and they still got in. It’s making half-bloods and muggle-borns bolder and more open about their status. It’s pretty cool, really.”
“Wait, there’s something odd about this,” Scott said changing the subject. “Zabini with Crabbe and Goyle? What about Malfoy?”
“Yeah, that’s a good point,” Hermione agreed “and you know, I don’t remember him being at the fight in the Potions corridor yesterday, either.”
“Yeah…” Harriet said, screwing up her face trying to remember. “He wasn’t there, was he? But he was in class…”
“You know, I didn’t see him in the fight in the common room either,” Dora said.
“He’s been really weird this year,” Atsuko chimed in.
“Yeah,” Tomomi added. “Usually he’s all bluster and throwing his weight around, but this year he’s gotten really withdrawn and doesn’t hang with his usual crowd so much…”
“Well, everyone has rough patches,” Jackson Lee said.
“You’re not defending him, are you?” Marcus said raising an eyebrow.
“Hell no,” Jackson said. “Just saying, maybe there’s home issues.”
“That’s possible, his dad is really hard on him, I know,” Harriet said, remembering the incident in Borgin and Burke’s during their visit to Hogsmeade before second year. “Maybe the issue’s with the Buckbeak case? But why? He hates Hagrid.”
“You got me,” Dora said.
“Maybe we could ask Katy?” Ronnie suggested. “She’s Kenley’s little sister, after all. Maybe she knows something?”
“That’s a good idea, Ronnie,” Hermione said. Ronnie smiled.
Unfortunately, their busy class schedule prevented them from checking on Kieran until that evening. When they arrived, Kieran was arguing with Madam Pomfrey.
“We need to do more observation, O’Brien,” she said sternly as Harriet and her friends approached.
“It feels fine,” Kieran said. “It doesn’t hurt anymore, honest.”
“Of course it doesn’t, O’Brien, that’s because of the treatment we’re giving you,” Madam Pomfrey retorted.
“But I can’t miss the match tomorrow morning,” Kieran pleaded.
Madam Pomfrey crossed her arms considering him. “Very well, we will give you one more check-up and if Miss Momori says you’re alright, you can go.”
Madam Pomfrey bustled off and Kieran smiled over at them.
“Hey you,” Dora said taking a seat next to Kieran’s bed.
“Hey guys,” Kieran replied smiling around at them all.
“Doing okay then?” Scott asked.
“Oh yeah,” Kieran said waving a hand dismissively.
Harriet looked around at the hospital wing. There were many more beds full now than the day before, and most looked to be Slytherins. She recognized Ardghal and Cian, both of whom looked to have wound up on the receiving end of some bad jinxes. Most of them had visitors, like Damien and Thomas who were sitting with the younger Slytherin boys. It was then that something struck Harriet. At the very end bed, all alone, looking on at the other students and their visitors with undisguised jealousy, was Wendy Aarons.
“Yeah, she got hit bad after taking a jinx for Pansy,” Dora said, noticing Harriet looking.
“She and Pixie seem so grateful, don’t they?” Marcus muttered.
“Maybe they came and visited earlier in the day?” Scott said. He flushed as everyone gave him sceptical looks. “Not defending them, just, you know, I guess a benefit of the doubt…”
“A benefit of the doubt for Pansy and Pixie?” Ronnie said scathingly.
“Judging by the look on Wendy’s face, I don’t think so,” Hermione said. There was a distinct note of sympathy in Hermione’s voice that for once, Harriet agreed with.
“Heh, admirable Scott, but unfortunately in this case everyone else is right, they haven’t shown,” Kieran said.
“Alright, O’Brien, let’s have a look,” Miss Momori said stepping over with her ever-present clipboard.
Kieran nodded and sat up straighter in the bed, pulling back the covers and revealing his leg. Harriet just barely kept herself from gasping out loud, while Ronnie failed entirely. For the first time ever, Harriet saw Kieran’s knee. It wasn’t a short, zagging lightning bolt like on her forehead. It was a jagged black line, running across his knee from front to back. The rest of his knee, up to a few inches up his thigh and down his calf, was a pale, sickly yellow.
Kieran flushed as he saw the looks on everyone’s faces.
“It-it’s not usually this bad,” he said sheepishly. “It’s usually just the black scar,” he said, as though that made it all better.
“Well, the swelling has gone down considerably,” Miss Momori said, inspecting it. “But I still don’t like that colour. I’m sorry, O’Brien, I can’t let you go like this.”
“B-but Miss, it’s the final match,” Kieran said pleading. “Harriet’s going to win the Cup back for Gryffindor for the first time in seven years!”
Harriet flushed brightly at Kieran’s confidence in her skill.
Miss Momori gave him a searching look. “The match is at eleven, O’Brien. One more night for observation. At this rate I’m sure by tomorrow morning you will be well enough to go to the match. Is that acceptable?”
Kieran nodded, though he didn’t look happy about it.
“Well we’ll stay with you a bit longer until curfew and help you with your homework,” Hermione said in a cheerful tone.
Kieran smiled and finally looked cheered.
Later that night, after returning to the Gryffindor common room, the tension over the match was palpable. Fred and George were up to their usual antics, though they seemed to be putting more effort into noisemaking than usual, which Harriet took as a sign they were trying to cover for their own nerves. Oliver meanwhile was deeply engrossed in his model Quidditch pitch, while Angelina, Katie, Alicia, and Erica were laughing at Fred and George’s jokes. Not even Hermione could bring herself to study, such was the anxiety over Gryffindor’s chance to reclaim the Quidditch Cup once more.
Eventually Angelina broke off from Fred and George’s antics and made her way over to Harriet.
“Doin’ alright, Potter?” she asked.
“Yeah, okay,” Harriet said.
“How’s your friend, Kieran?”
“He’s okay, he should be well enough to come to the match tomorrow,” Harriet said.
Angelina laughed. “I’d like to see them try and keep him there,” she said.
“What?” Harriet asked, taken aback.
Angelina rolled her eyes. “Well he follows you everywhere like a lost puppy, I’m sure he’ll find some way to sneak out.”
“Kieran? He’s not exactly the sneakiest,” Ronnie said, having overheard.
“Eh, you’d be surprised,” Harriet said remembering the previous summer. “I mean, he’s no Scott but he can get around the woods.”
“No Scott, eh?” Angelina asked with a strangely sing-song tone.
Harriet blinked. “What?”
Angelina just smiled enigmatically. “Well, I’ll turn in, you better get to bed soon too, Potter. If I see a single bag under your eyes tomorrow morning because you didn’t get enough sleep I’ll pummel you, got it?”
Harriet rolled her eyes but smiled. “Got it.”
“Good,” Angelina said smiling.
Harriet bid her friends goodnight and followed Angelina up the stairs to the girls’ dormitories. She stopped at her dorm and bid Angelina good night as Angelina headed up towards her own dormitory. She changed into her pyjamas and climbed into bed, slowly drifting off to sleep.
Unfortunately, her sleep was far from restful. She had several bad dreams. The least panicky was one in which she overslept for the match so Neville took her place as Seeker. The darkest was one where Professor Snape had pulled strings and instead of Nimbus Two-Thousand Ones the Slytherins were all flying on miniature dragons, all copies of Hagrid’s vicious dragon, Norbert. Harriet had just managed to outmanoeuvre Malfoy’s dragon when she realized she forgot her Firebolt and fell plummeting to the ground. As she fell, her skin chilled, her mind fogged, and she saw the ground looming towards her turn into hundreds of grasping, scabbed, and rotted hands.
Harriet sat bolt upright at the end of that nightmare. She was panting heavily and it took her a moment to remind herself that there was no way the dream could have happened and that instead she was still safe in bed. She quietly swung her legs out of her four poster bed, put on her glasses, and poured herself a glass of water from the jug under the window. The clock on her bedside stand said it was just after three in the morning. The cold water from the enchanted silver jug hit Harriet like a small shock, but she appreciated it. It cleared the cobwebs from her mind and she felt her anxieties from her nightmares drain away.
She looked out on the grounds. The skies were clear and the moon was still high enough to light up the grounds. She could see the lump of sleeping Epeius curled up near Hagrid’s cabin. She assumed he was sleeping, but his tail was flicking. He was very peaceful to watch from way up here; serene and quiet.
Just then, Epeius’ head lifted and he looked across the grounds. Harriet scanned the grounds and saw what must have woken him. A squat form was moving across the lawn, heading towards the Forbidden Forest. Harriet squinted and recognized the tall, bottle-brush tail of Crookshanks.
She watched him moving towards the forest when once again she was distracted by Epeius. The horse scrambled to his feet, his tail swishing even more rapidly than before. Harriet turned her attention back to Crookshanks. He’d reached the edge of the forest now and what’s more, he was no longer alone. Something else was moving just inside the edge of the trees. She leaned out for a better look. Finally, the entity moving in the forest emerged.
It was a massive, shaggy, black dog. Even at this distance, Harriet immediately thought of the Gurt dog she saw the night she left the Dursleys the previous summer. It looked to be about the same size, and shape. It trotted over to Crookshanks and lowered its head, its tail wagging. Something about the sight made Harriet feel a swell of relief inside her. If Gurt dogs were good signs, then surely seeing one before such an important match was a good sign.
Just then, Harriet remembered something she’d long forgotten. The very first Quidditch match of the school year, the big black dog she’d seen in the stands, sitting with a small hooded figure. She then connected in her mind the drawing Dora’s sister, Emma, had drawn. The realization hit Harriet’s mind like a lightning bolt.
It must have been Emma sitting in the stands with the dog at the match. If it was a Gurt dog, perhaps it had come to Hogwarts sensing the dangers from the myriad of threats against the school now. Between the dementors, Sirius Black, and Solomon Kinney, Harriet supposed Hogwarts was in as much danger as it had ever been. That realization in particular made Harriet feel a strong twinge of guilt over her last unauthorized excursion into Hogsmeade.
The guilt passed quickly and Harriet smiled once more. She wondered if the Gurt dog had sensed Emma’s quiet nature and so was looking out for her more. Either way, she supposed for now she would keep Emma’s secret.
Then, it happened. Just as Crookshanks and the dog were starting to head back to the forest, Epeius gave a whinny. She looked back just in time to see the horse vanish in a blur across the grounds and out of sight. She turned back to the dog and cat and saw both vanishing into the shadows of the castle. She blinked in surprise. What could have frightened a dog that large?
Then, she saw it.
Another massive form was skulking along the edge of the trees. It was moving so smoothly that it seemed to be floating as it moved along parallel to the ground. Finally it came out into the open of the grounds too and paused where the dog and Crookshanks hand been standing. Harriet gasped. It was the unmistakable form of a jet black, tiger-sized cat.