Chapter Ten: Veela
The next morning, everybody woke up fairly early. Harry was very pleased to wake up without the lingering echo of a nightmare in his mind, and for once, his dreams had been void of anything uncomfortable. He got his robes together, and went into the Gryffindor bathrooms to get changed. Ron was already in there, standing in front of a mirror with his shirt open, tie dangling loosely at his chest, messing with his hair.
"Morning," he said, as Harry came in. "Sleep well?"
"Brilliantly," said Harry. He stepped into a cubicle, closed the door, and started to get changed. "You?"
"Yep," said Ron. "Hey, Harry? Do you think I should grow my hair a bit? I've had it short for ages and I fancy a change. Hermione thinks I'd look nice with it in sort of spikes. I dunno. What do you think?"
"Go with what Hermione says," Harry advised. "She's a girl, after all... it's not like I know much about hair, except that mine sticks up at the back."
Ron was still complaining about his hair as Harry came out of the cubicle, doing up his red and gold Gryffindor tie, straightening his robes. He studied himself in the mirror. It had been quite a while since he'd had a good, proper look at himself. He'd certainly grown a lot since he was eleven, and he was quite tall now. Draco was the tallest out of the group, and then it was probably Ron, but only by an inch. Harry turned around, and eyed himself up and down in the mirror. He wasn't quite so scrawny any more, either. Since starting Hogwarts, and spending holidays with the Weasleys, he'd certainly put on a bit more weight and muscle. He looked more like a man now, less like a child. He glanced across at Ron, and smiled, watching his best friend prodding at his nose and rubbing soap onto a spot on his chin.
Ron looked at him sideways, and said, "What? It's really noticeable, isn't it? I think Malfoy's got some weird spot cream, I'll try and get that off him... it must be good, he hasn't got a single spot yet. Lucky git."
"He's a Malfoy, Malfoys don't get spots," said Harry. "And it's not that noticeable. Eloise Midgen was worse."
"Yeah, well, the only thing with more spots than Eloise Midgen was a dalmatian," said Ron, vaguely, now putting water on his hair to make it a little spikier. "There, how's that?"
"Fine," said Harry. "Come on, let's get down to breakfast. I want to see my timetable. Have you got Sneezy?"
Sneezy's little head popped up out of Ron's pocket, and he beamed up at Harry. "Low," he squeaked.
"We think he means hello," said Ron, with a weak smile. "He hasn't quite got the 'he' part yet. You should have heard Hermione trying to teach him 'shirt' at dinner, we got some funny looks from McGonagall, let me tell you."
Harry laughed, and the two of them made their way out of the common room and down the corridors towards the Great Hall for breakfast. It was already half-full of people sitting around, eating plates of bacon and eggs, bowls of cereal, reading their timetables. As Harry and Ron entered the hall, Professor McGonagall stopped them.
"Ah, Weasley and Potter... one moment..." She sorted quickly through a pile of timetables she had next to her on a small table, and after a few seconds, she found Harry and Rons'. "There you are, boys. You've got a summary of your grades from last year on the back, so you can see which subjects you need to work on before your NEWT exams."
Both took their timetables, and headed off to sit at the table near the windows where Kainda and Draco were already sitting. Draco was absorbed in his grades summary, eating a piece of toast with jam half-heartedly. Kainda had a large bowl of cornflakes, and her feet up on the chair to her left. Harry sat next to her, and she smiled to him.
"Hiya," he said, with a return smile, turning his timetable over to study it.
Kainda leant over his shoulder to have a read too, absent-mindedly spooning cereal into her mouth. "Double Potions for you this afternoon... that's never a good thing. And History of Magic. Boring alert."
"What have you got?" he asked, turning to look at her timetable.
"Double Dark Arts," she said, idly, in between mouthfuls of cereal. "Then Pure Arts, Care of Magical Creatures, and Herbology. Hey, look! We've both got double Pure Arts tomorrow morning. And then Dark Arts at the same time too. Brilliant."
"Have any of you got Misc Magic on Wednesday, third thing?" asked Ron, looking up at their timetables. "Yeah, you have... I think we've all got it at the same time or something. That's either really good luck, or all of seventh year will be doing Misc Magic together. That could be a lot of fun."
"What have you got today?" asked Harry.
Ron ran his eyes down the Monday column of his timetable. "Charms, first thing... could be worse, I suppose... then Pure Arts, History of Magic, and double Transfiguration." He took Harry's timetable, and compared them. "So today I'm with you in Charms, and History of Magic... Malfoy, what have you got today?"
Draco, who had seemingly memorised his timetable by now, said promptly, "Potions, Dark Arts, Runes and double Pure Arts."
Harry turned over his timetable as Hermione, Neville, Luna and Ginny arrived, and all of them started comparing their lesson schedules. He had a look at his grade summaries, and was pleased to see that he was doing fairly well. He had received an Outstanding in Defence Against The Dark Arts, an E in Charms, E in Transfiguration, O in Pure Arts, E in Magical Creatures, an A in History of Magic, and -
Harry choked on the piece of toast he'd just bitten into.
"What?" said Ron. "You haven't got all Ts or something, have you?"
"I got an O in Potions!" said Harry, showing Ron the back of his timetable. Ron raised his eyebrows.
"Blimey, Harry, how much did you pay Snape for that?"
"Nothing," said Harry, still amazed. "I earned it."
"Maybe Snape's going senile," mused Ron, idly, picking up the jam pot.
"Or maybe he isn't," said a cold voice from behind Ron. Ron froze instantly, and both of them turned around. Snape stood there in all his bat-like glory, not looking impressed. Ron blanched. Snape sneered, upper lip curling. "Ten points from the school's collection, Weasley... and that now puts us into minus figures. I do hope you're proud of yourself."
Harry couldn't help but feel this was a little unfair, and he glanced at Snape, wondering if he could possibly convince the professor to give back the points. Snape glanced at him, and in the same instant that their eyes met, a voice growled behind his left ear.
"Dangerous Mind Techniques. My quarters. Nine o' clock tonight. Do not be late."
Harry gave the tiniest hint of a nod, and Snape turned on his heel, sweeping away across the hall to sit at a table alone. The moment Snape was out of site, Ron burst into an angry tirade about him, slapping jam onto a piece of toast.
"Who does he think he is? Ten points, just for speaking the truth! We haven't even started the year yet, and we're already in minus numbers, all because of him." Ron reached out for the pumpkin juice jug, and far too aggressively than he should have done, tugged it towards him. The jug caught a snag in the table cloth, and tipped forwards.
Draco leapt up with a cry of indignation as the sticky pumpkin juice sloshed all over the front of his robes, soaking the silver shirt and dripping off his hands. His face worked furiously, and he turned on Ron, grabbing him by the front of the shirt.
"What do you think you're playing at?" he snarled.
Ron pushed him away, getting to his feet. "Get off me!"
"Ron!" squeaked Hermione. She jumped up, and hurried round the table to try and stop him from launching himself at Draco. Ginny got up and grabbed Draco by the arm.
Both boys just glared at each other, the pumpkin juice still trickling off Draco's shirt, Ron's robes still crumpled around his neck from where they had been grasped. For a moment, Harry was absolutely certain that a fight would be coming, before Draco shook himself out of Ginny's grasp, and stormed out of the hall.
Ron sneered after him, before he fell back into his chair, tugging his robes straight and setting the pumpkin juice upright again. The people who had turned to stare looked away, restarting their conversations. Ron was now in an even worse mood, and hardly spoke for the rest of breakfast. Draco did not return.
The first bell went a few minutes later, and Harry and Ron headed off to Charms. Ron's bad mood lessened slightly, and by the time second bell went and he was heading off towards Pure Arts, he was in a perfectly good mood. He waved goodbye to Harry, and hurried after Neville, asking him how his holiday had been, as Harry made his way out into the grounds for Care of Magical Creatures. It was a dry, sunny morning, and Sneezy was whistling away in his pocket. Hagrid was outside in the paddock, waiting for everyone, and as he turned to the castle, spotting Harry, he flung his arm up and waved.
"Hiya Hagrid!" Harry shouted, hurrying down the lawns towards him. As Harry reached him, Hagrid grabbed him in a tight bear hug, ruffling his hair and laughing.
"Oh, I've missed yeh, Harry... s'good to see yeh again. How's Sneezy doin'?"
Harry broke back from the hug, grinning, and scooped the little opsittop out of his pocket. Sneezy beamed up at Hagrid. "Low."
Hagrid grinned, and took Sneezy off Harry, holding him in one massive palm. "How've yeh been doin' teachin' him to talk?"
"Fine," said Harry. "Watch this... Sneezy! Sneezy!"
Sneezy turned around to peer at Harry from under his little acorn hat. "Harry?"
Harry pointed up at the castle across the lawns, and said, "What's that, Sneezy?"
"'Ogwarts!" Sneezy squeaked.
Hagrid laughed. "Brilliant work, Harry... ten points teh the school, for that. Yeh've done a great job. I'll just purr'im with the others, so he can teach 'em a bit..." He took Sneezy over to a box just by the cabin wall. In there were all the other opsittops in a cluster, eating sunflower seeds and conversing in the few words of English they knew. As Sneezy was lowered in, all were greeted with, "Low!", and he was greatly welcomed, with many offerings of seeds.
"So, what's been happening with you over the summer?" Harry asked Hagrid interestedly, as they watched Sneezy greeting his friends again.
"Oh, loads," said Hagrid, smiling underneath his bushy black beard. "I've got so much teh tell yeh. Tell yeh what, come down to me cabin when school's over, and we can have a good chat, eh?"
"Sure," said Harry. "Can I bring Ron, Hermione and Draco?"
"Course yeh can," said Hagrid. He beamed at Harry for a moment, and then glanced to the left, seeing the rest of the class trailing down from the castle, chattering. "We're doin' somethin' dead interestin' today," he told Harry, brightly. "Been settin' it all up for ages."
"What are we doing?" Harry asked, almost worriedly, having had good experience of Hagrid's view of what was interesting.
"Buildin' nests," said Hagrid, gleefully.
"Um... what for, Hagrid?" said Harry, but the rest of the class had already approached, and Hagrid was distracted by their arrival.
"Come on, come on! Gather round now! Got a great lesson planned fer tehday. Follow me then, we're headin' tehwards the school gates!"
Curiously, the class all started to wander towards the gates, following behind Hagrid in a huddle. Harry wasn't exactly sure what he hoped to find there. After all, Hagrid's idea of interesting was giants, acromantulas, hippogriffs, and anything else that had claws or fangs or lethal venom excreting from every pore. Though as they turned around the corner and the gates came in sight, Harry could only see what looked like the world's largest litter tray, sitting next to the entrance, and a small mountain of hay.
"Yeh see the boxes?" Hagrid called to the class. "And all the straw? We'll be makin' nests, tehday. All yeh've gotta do is tear up the straw, and throw it in clumbs inteh the trays. Once we've done that, we're gonna start makin' food for 'em, so they'll have somethin' teh eat when they get 'ere."
"When what get here, Hagrid?" asked Ernie Macmillan from the front.
"The security dragons, 'course," said Hagrid, beaming.
"Security dragons?" half the class squawked.
"Yeah!" said Hagrid, quite defensively. "The school's gotta have more protection, ain't it? And we're gettin' in some trained security dragons from all over the world. They'll be sittin' at the gates, mostly, just looking out for anythin' suspicious."
"But... you can't train dragons," said Ernie, worriedly. "They're wild creatures. Aren't they more likely to attack the school instead of invaders?"
"Not if yeh train 'em right from bein' babies," said Hagrid, in a wise voice. "They're only wild when they're in the wild, yeh see. If yeh get 'em right from bein' eggs, or when they're born, yeh can look after 'em and teach 'em teh be good. Look at Kibbles! He was a lovely dragon. And Norbert, and Sly, and 'er baby."
"How exactly do you get the eggs from the mothers without being cooked?" asked a Hufflepuff next to Harry.
"Well, it's often mothers that've been killed by poachers," said Hagrid. "The people bring in the eggs, or the babies, and the authorities look after 'em. Most dragon species give birth teh eggs, and they're easier to find and bring in, but one sort give birth teh live young. Sly's one of 'em. So it's hard teh get baby Romanian Longhorns."
"What sort have we got coming in now?" asked Ernie.
"We've got Hebridean Blacks," said Hagrid, proudly. "Three boys. Right then, everybody start shredding straw, we got a lotta work teh do, and they're comin' in a week!"
Harry spent a rather enjoyable hour chatting to Ernie and his friend Hannah, while they tore the bundles of hay apart and spread it all around the trays. One of the Slytherins tried to use severing charms, and one of the bales of hay caught fire, though they managed to beat it out fairly quickly. Ernie introduced Harry to some more of his friends, including a girl named Gehad who even helped Harry with the homework question Professor Flitwick had set in Charms, before the bell went. Harry promised Hagrid he would be back the moment school finished, then he hurried off to break back at the castle. Next, he had History of Magic, which was as boring and uneventful as always, then lunch in the Great Hall.
He had just sat down at one of the tables, pulling over his plate of chicken pie, when Draco swept into the hall. He'd changed since breakfast, and glanced around the table for a moment before he came over. Kainda was behind him, gliding smoothly along without touching the wheels. She slid into place next to Harry, as Draco sat opposite and started on his pie without a word. Harry opened his mouth to ask Draco what was wrong, but Kainda got there first.
"He's still angry with Ron," she muttered, under her breath. "He thinks Ron poured juice on him on purpose."
Harry nodded quietly, and handed her a plate of pie. Draco gave a quiet sigh, adding salt to his plate. Thinking a change of subject was in order, Harry said, brightly, "How was Dark Arts?"
"Pretty good," said Draco, dully. "It was mostly admin though... we were sorting out schedules and so forth... when we have Ivy, when we have Lupin..."
"What's Ivy like?" asked Harry.
Draco finished his mouthful of pie, before replying in the same, flat tone. "She seems to be a good teacher. She just sat on the edge of Lupin's desk, handing him pieces of paper now and then. He doesn't seem to like her much."
"Yeah, I noticed that too," said Kainda, frowning in a puzzled sort of way. "Though there's nothing wrong with her, and it's not like Lupin to get angry over nothing, is it?"
"It's not like Lupin to get angry at all," said Harry. "Maybe they were at school together and they didn't like each other?"
"Maybe," said Kainda, idly.
Draco sighed, and apparently, he had slumped back into his rather annoyed state. Harry mentioned going to see Hagrid after school, and Draco agreed half-heartedly, before he left ten minutes early for Pure Arts. Harry helped Kainda down the steps of the castle so she could head off for Magical Creatures, and then he made his way to the dungeons for Potions.
It was icy cold, and dark, as always. A few torches were fixed to the walls here and there, though they only served to lengthen the endless corridor and make it seem even more gloomy and grave. A group of first years were coming out of one of the classrooms, and they all looked a little pale and clammy. Harry remembered his own first Potions lesson with a small smile - Snape had made it incredibly clear that there would always be great dislike between them. All that seemed a million miles away now. Hermione was standing outside the classroom talking animatedly to a few of the Ravenclaw boys, and just as Harry joined the end of the line, the door creaked open. Snape's voice drifted out.
They all filed in, sat down at their desks in silence, and started to get out quills and their wands. Snape was leaning on the edge of his desk, shoulders hunched, very dark and intimidating as always.
"This year is the most important of all in your magical education," he said, as way of greetings after the summer. "Your NEWT exams will take place closer towards summer, though as you all should know by now, the exams account for 80% of your grade. The further 20% will be of your work during this final year, graded personally by me, and if you do not meet the standards, you will find yourself at a very hopeless situation indeed when the exams finally come. I intend to start straight off with your first piece of NEWT work - long term drafts. These are potions which take a month or more to brew completely. You will all research various drafts which could be made, choose which you shall attempt, and then make them. During classes, Madam Pince has kindly given you all permission to go to the library and use the restricted section for research. I expect a report on all your research, the method of making, essays on the ingredients needed, and a full analysis of your potion once it is complete. The more work you do, the better your grade, though you have no guidelines to work on. This will be all your own planning, preparation, and work. You have two months, starting with this lesson. Anybody who fails to hand in their report and their potion at the end of the two months will be given a T, and anybody who receives a T can kiss goodbye to a possible O or E in their final exam."
He glanced around at them all, every face staring at him as though waiting for more information. He raised one slim black eyebrow.
"And why, may I ask, are you all still sitting here? The answers are not written on my face."
Hermione was the first to break to spell of silence. She shot her hand straight into the air, and Snape glanced at her contemptuously.
"Can we go to the library now?" she asked, eagerly, as though she couldn't wait to get started.
Snape gave an impatient sigh. "I believe I just wasted valuable breath on you all, detailing how you all have permission to visit the library during lessons. And then, Miss Granger, you have to ask me whether you may visit the library. Use your brain."
Hermione, completely unbothered by Snape's clear contempt of her, bounced to her feet and grabbed her bag. The rest of the class slowly got the idea, and started packing away their things, discussing what potions they could make. Harry had barely put his ink bottles into his bag before Hermione grabbed him by the elbow and hauled him out of the room towards the library.
"I've been dying to start on the NEWT work ever since we were in sixth year," she said, eagerly, as they stepped in through the main doors. "And we get to do it all ourselves! This is a real opportunity to show just what we're capable of, Harry... perhaps I can boost my summary grade from an E to an O..."
"You got an E?" said Harry, startled.
"Well, yes," said Hermione, waving this aside. "Though we didn't finish the syllabus, did we? We still have a whole year to go before we know everything in the NEWT course, and I don't think anybody got an O in their summaries of sixth year."
Harry didn't think it wise to tell Hermione he had beaten her in something. She wasn't the jealous type, though he had the feeling he would never hear the end of her guilt over not achieving an O in Potions when it was actually possible.
Madam Pince let them into the restricted section rather begrudgingly, as though worried they would do something dangerous in there, and Hermione managed to locate Moste Potente Potions within a matter of moments. She handed it to Harry. Five more very thick and very heavy books later, Harry was staggering out of the restriction section, followed by Hermione, who was talking eagerly about all the different potions they could make.
"I mean, we could both do Polyjuice Potion, we've got experience with it and we know how to make it well... or Veritaserum, that should get us a lot of marks. I've heard Snape has quite a fondness for it, so that would be good. I'm pretty sure that a lot of really dangerous poisons take about a month to brew. We could try one of those."
Harry dropped all the books onto the table, and the two of them sat down. Harry opened up Moste Potente Potions, flicking past familiar drawings of people with their insides falling out of their ears and other lovely things. A few recipes caught his eye, and he noted them down on a piece of parchment from his bag. A few minutes of comfortable silence passed, before Hermione gave a squeal.
"Oh, look at this one! It's perfect! Nicely complicated... I'll have to go into the forest to pick some of the plants, but apart from that, everything's fairly easy to find... I'm definitely going to do this one."
"What does it do?" asked Harry, noting down another potion name.
"It's a very useful antidote," she explained, neatly. "It coats the stomach and can guard against most potions. Commonly known as an anti-food poisoning draft."
"It took him a month to make?" said Harry, suddenly, leaning over Hermione's shoulder to stare at the page.
"Who?" said Hermione, frowning.
Harry realized his mistake just then, and the heat rose in his cheeks. After a moment, he said, "The guy who invented it."
"Seriously," she said, looking suspicious.
"I am serious," he said, trying to sound as honest as he could. "Why, what do you think I meant?"
She frowned ever so slightly, but let the subject drop, turning back to her book. After a while, they started to talk again, and to Harry's relief, Hermione had no reason to be suspicion again for the rest of the lesson. After two hours, the end bell rang out through the corridors. They packed up some of the books, put the spare ones back, and then hurried out of the library. Ron and Draco were standing in the entrance hall when they emerged from the library.
"Hiya!" said Hermione, brightly. "How were your last lessons?"
"Transfiguration," said Ron, with a shrug. He showed them his hands, and he had mysteriously grown webbed skin between his fingers. "McGonagall says if I go down to her office after dinner, she'll sort them out."
The four of them made their way out of the main doors in the grounds, heading towards Hagrid's hut. Draco and Ron were walking on either side of Harry and Hermione - nobody thought it wise to try and provoke any kind of civil conversation. Draco wasn't really a big fan of the visits to Hagrid, as he'd always been quite a pain during Care of Magical Creatures lessons, had dropped the subject instantly at NEWT level, and made no secret of this. Though Draco and Hagrid seemed to tolerate each other for Harry's sake, and Fang no longer tried to tear off Draco's legs when they came face to face.
Harry raised his fist, and knocked on the door. There was movement from inside, and next second, the door swung open. Hagrid beamed out at them all. "H'lo you four! Come on inside, just got the kettle on. did yeh have good days?"
"Yeah," said Harry, as they all stepped inside and sat down around the table, taking off their ties and cloaks. "Potions was sort of boring but we've just started NEWT work. So where's Charlie today?"
"Oh, he's out in Hogsmeade," said Hagrid. He started pouring them all mugs of steaming tea, and offered around a plate of cake. "Just makin' sure everythin's perfect fer when the dragons arrive..."
"When are they coming?" asked Ron, with a mouthful of cake.
"In about a week," said Hagrid, proudly. "Can't wait..."
"So what else has been happening over the holidays?" Hermione asked. "I mean, the grounds have been cleaned up after the siege."
Hagrid nodded. "Yep. The ministry were all in here, doin' spells, conjurin' grass and trees and everythin'... yeh know that courtyard, near the greenhouses? They've got a new statue in there, just teh remember everybody we lost. They was gonna put in a graveyard, around the back of the school, but Dumbledore told 'em that he didn't want anythin' like that. He said we should remember the good things, an' forget the bad."
Hermione nodded, taking a sip from her tea cup. "I know I'd want to be remembered like that."
"Yeah," said Hagrid. "S'been really quiet 'round here, apart from that. Well, few things 'ave happened. The centaurs made a real polite request, and... well, they've moved Grawpy outta the forest." He looked down into his tea cup sadly, but then said in a bracing sort of way, "It were best for him, 'course. He's gone to one of the colonies in Europe."
"Sorry," said Draco, "but who exactly is Grawpy?"
"Me brother," said Hagrid. "He was livin' in the forest fer two years, but time's come for him teh move on..." He sighed, and took another reminiscing glance into his tea cup. "It was the best thing teh do though, not just fer Grawpy. We wanna keep things nice with the centaurs, yeh see. After we've made up with 'em an' all."
"What?" said Harry. "The centaurs? Are they being okay now?"
"Oh yeah!" Hagrid beamed up at the four of them. "I knew there was summet I had teh tell yeh! We're all on good terms now, 'course we did 'em a big favour."
"Moving Grawp?" asked Hermione. "Did they really not like him then?"
"No, no," said Hagrid. "Grawpy went after we started talkin' to 'em again."
"So how come you've settled everything?" said Ron, mouth still full of cake. He glanced at Draco's, and asked, quietly, "Are you going to eat that?" At Draco's disdainful shake of his head, Ron took his cake and grinned. "Wahey."
"Well," said Hagrid, sitting back in his chair. "Me and Charlie were just out with the opsittops one mornin', when suddenly Magorian comes gallopin' outta the forest. All rushed, lookin' pretty scared. 'Course, I asked him what were wrong, an' he said he wanted some help. Asked if we knew anythin' about centaur births, said he'd consider revokin' the ban on humans in the forest if we could help him out. Well, centaur births I know all about, so we told him we'd help. An' he says his mate's in a bitta trouble. She were havin' twins."
"They're rare in centaurs, aren't they?" said Hermione.
Hagrid nodded. "Yeah, really rare. An' it's a big problem, cause centaurs are hefty things teh give birth teh. Really hard for the mother. But hey, me an' Charlie said we'd give it a go, an' Magorian leads us into the forest, showed us teh his mate. Poor thing, she were really havin' trouble. But me an' Charlie helped her out, and she were fine after it all. Bit tired, but fine, an' the foals were too."
"Oh, that's great!" said Hermione, smiling. "I've never really seen a female centaur, or any babies..."
"No, they stay outta sight mostly," said Hagrid. "We only really see the males 'round the forest. The females stay back in the dens an' nests, lookin' after foals an' havin' more. Centaurs don't really think females are up teh much else."
"So things between Hogwarts and the centaurs are okay now?" asked Harry, prompting Harry to continue his story.
"Oh yeah," said Hagrid, smiling at him from under his beard. "Really great. Magorian were really grateful, told us we was always welcome. Friend of the centaurs an' all that. He said we could come an' see the babies any time we liked, too. Hey, we could do that now, if yeh like! I'm sure Magorian wouldn' mind yeh all comin' teh visit... yeh haven' got anythin' teh do fer a while, have yeh?"
"No, we'd love to!" said Hermione, brightly. "Are they deep into the forest?"
"Nah, not really," said Hagrid. He put down his tea cup, and stood up, whistling to Fang and getting his crossbow from a hook by the door. "Come on, we can go now and get yeh back teh the castle in time for yeh teh get somethin' teh eat."
They all put down their cups and plates, and followed Hagrid out of the cabin, with Fang padding along behind them. Harry glanced across at Draco, and remembered the last time he'd been into the forest with the Slytherin, all the way back in their first year. Just like that time, Draco was sticking very close to Harry and Fang. Clearly, he didn't approve of this whole idea of going into the forest, though didn't want to say anything.
They only had to walk for a minute until the trees on all sides were so thick that they cut out light completely. Despite the sun high in the sky somewhere above the thick black canopy overhead, it felt as though night reigned perpetually in the forest. As always, Harry felt that eyes were watching him from every single patch of darkness. Every now and then there would be a soft snap from a branch, a rustle of leaves, that was very close by, though Harry was sure it was not made by feet. At least, not the feet of any creature he had ever encountered. The forest was full of life, Harry knew, some bad and some good. The only real dangers he had ever encountered in the forest were the acromantulas, though apart from those, he had yet to face anything truly dark. There were the centaurs, the unicorns, and the forest was the only place that opsittops were found living naturally. He found himself wondering why the forest was considered so dangerous, if he had been able to enter it so many times, and encounter only one deadly creature.
"Hagrid?" he said, hurrying to catch up with the huge shape moving before them. "What dangerous things are in the forest apart from the acromantulas?"
Hagrid reached out to scoop some branches aside as he answered. "Couldn' ever name yeh them all, Harry. There's too many things teh count. Things that yeh won't find nowhere else in the whole wide world. Yeh've got yer centaurs, yer opsittops, unicorns, things like that... there's a kneazle pride in there somewhere, I reckon, and bowtruckles 'course. But the thing about the forest is that yeh don' get yer usual dangerous creatures in there. Why d'yeh think Dumbledore warns yeh all every year teh stay out? S'because we dunno just how dangerous the stuff in 'ere is. If we knew, we could move 'em teh new homes somewhere, and the forest would be safe."
"There are werewolves," said Draco, from Harry's elbow, which he was now half-clutching. "Really deep in. My father told me."
"Why would there be werewolves in the Forbidden Forest?" said Hermione, dismissively. "Professor Lupin is a werewolf, and he lives with what he is. Besides, they would be regular humans for most of the month, then turn into a werewolf at the full moon. They'd probably be killed long before then."
"Yeh've got different types of werewolf though," said Hagrid. "Yeh've got yer morphic werewolf, like Professor Lupin, then yeh've got yer non-morphic. The sort that are half-human, half-wolf, all their lives. They're born though, not made. S'only somethin' passed on through breedin'."
"It's them," said Draco, definitely panicky now. "That's the sort that's in here. Hiding in the trees and killing people who go in. Father told me so. When he was at school, a boy had to go in for a detention, and something dragged him off the path. He was never seen again. That's what I heard."
"That's a load of old codswallop," said Hagrid. "Nothin's gonna drag anybody off the path. If yeh stick close teh me, yeh'll be absolutely fine."
"But Father said - "
"Oh, will you shut up about your father?" Ron snapped. "He wasn't the world's expert on absolutely everything, you know."
Draco opened his mouth to argue back, but he was cut off as an arrow flew through the air from the darkness behind them, and stuck hard into the tree in front. Draco zipped closer to Hagrid and Fang, and they all turned, just in time to see the black-bodied and bearded Bane step out from an archway of leaves and dead branches.
"Ah, it's you, Hagrid," he said, lowering his bow. He glanced around at the four children, and smiled ever so slightly. "You are here to see Magorian, I believe?"
Hagrid smiled from behind his wild beard. "Yeah, we are. D'yeh know where he is?"
"Just this way," said Bane, dolefully. "I shall take you to him... follow me..."
He lead them silently away from the forest path, and then down a small slope into a hollow cleared of trees. There was a surprisingly large hut in the middle of the hollow, made skilfully of leaves and branches, and before it there was a small fire. There were an odd collection of stones placed around the fire, etched with runes and carvings that Harry didn't understand, but Hermione started to translate under her breath.
"Magorian!" Bane called. "Hagrid is here to see you, with his young."
"I thought he would be," said a voice from inside the hut. The fabric draped over the door was pushed aside, and Magorian the centaur stepped out, smiling at the five humans on top of the ledge. "How are you today, Hagrid?"
"Fine, thanks, Magorian," said Hagrid, smiling back. "How's yer mate?"
"She is well," said Magorian. "We have named our sons - Dionysus and Oedipus. I see you have your own young with you on this visit."
Hagrid nodded. "Yeah, I brought 'em teh meet yeh... this is Harry, Ron, Hermione an' Draco."
Magorian smiled, strolling towards them, his hooves trailing through the leaves littering the ground. "Yes, I had the feeling I would be seeing Harry Potter and Hermione Granger once more... such a shame that our first meeting was in dark times... and Ronald Weasley. I met your second eldest brother, Charlie." His dark eyes then rested on Draco, and he tilted his head just a little, with a tiny frown. "Draco... both a face and a name I am unfamiliar with."
"Malfoy," said Draco, with the merest hint of a quiver in his voice. "Draco Malfoy, son of Lucius and Narcissa."
Magorian was stepping closer, now making his way up the slope towards them, his eyes fixed on Draco in a rather un-nerving way. "Malfoy is a name that I indeed recognise, though from second hand information." He tilted his head again, eyes ever so slightly narrowed. He was about a metre before Draco now, and to Harry's great surprise, Magorian took a few silent sniffs of Draco. "Mm," he murmured. "What are you, boy?"
Draco stared at him as though Magorian had just asked him what flavour he was. "A student?" he said, unsure.
Magorian shook his head slowly. "No. Species."
Draco now looked thoroughly scared, and was silent for a few moments, before saying in a very level voice, as though suspicious of a trick question, "Human..."
Bane was now standing behind Draco as well, one hand curling around his shoulder, and he wore the same expression of dislike as Magorian. "I last smelt this on the girl who came three years ago, Magorian. The Delacour girl."
"Ah, yes..." said Magorian, slowly. "I remember well."
Draco's eyes were as round as golf balls. He started at both centaurs, frightened, and then at Harry. Harry stared back at him. Ron was standing between them both, swapping them glances, and Harry could tell that Ron was slowly, gradually putting two and two together in his mind.
Magorian's frown deepened, and he said, slowly, "Lying to a centaur is a most foolish act... tell us... what are you?"
"I..." Draco looked up at Magorian, dithering, glancing at Harry and silently begging him to help. There was nothing Harry could do. Draco looked back up at Magorian, and mumbled something so quietly that nobody could hear. Magorian's frown dropped, and he looked almost angry. Draco clenched up, and whispered, hurriedly, "Part veela..."
Harry glanced at Ron. The expression on his face was something he would never really forget.
Magorian refused to let Draco take another step closer to the young. As they were being shepharded out of the forest, and Bane was sternly warning Hagrid not to bring Draco into the trees again, Magorian was saying something about the evils of mind control and manipulating human desires. Ron didn't say a single word. Hermione was oddly quiet too. Draco was being shunted along by Bane and Magorian, and had no opportunity to speak at all.
Once they were pushed out into the grounds, now washed with an amber sunset, Ron just turned and walked towards the castle without a word. Hermione glanced just once at Draco then followed after Ron. Harry didn't quite know what to say. He said goodbye to Hagrid, who went off into his cabin. The moment the door shut, Draco turned to him, looking very stony-faced.
"You have to stop him."
"Stop who? Doing what?" said Harry.
"Weasley. Telling the school." Draco gripped Harry's shoulders. "You must stop him."
"I don't think there's anything I can do to stop him," said Harry, biting his lip and glancing up at the figures of Ron and Hermione in the distance. "Look, Draco, it's - "
" - my whole social life we're talking about here," Draco finished.
"Maybe if you go and talk to Ron," Harry suggested, limply.
"Oh, Potter, use your head!" said Draco. "He won't listen to me anyway, and if word gets out that I'm..." He struggled for a moment. "... part-veela, then I'll just be finished. Veela are only counted as beings in Bulgaria, everywhere else they're classed as beasts. That's why I can exist. My grandfather wasn't having an affair with a being, it was a beast. A baby could be born that way."
Harry gave Draco a sympathetic, pained look. "Alright... but maybe if you just tried to explain - "
"Go, Potter, there's no time," said Draco, desperately. "Use a silencing charm if you have to. Turn him into a shrew. Cut off his tongue. Just go!"
Harry turned, and ran up the sloping lawn towards the castle. He knew that he could at least try, even if Ron wouldn't listen. The expression on Ron's face, back in the forest, told Harry that Ron was not just shocked, but actually angry about something. He didn't even look gleeful to hear the news. It was just anger, disgust, outrage.
He rushed in through the doors of the entrance hall, starting to get out of breath, and saw Ron and Hermione standing by the bottom of the marble staircase, muttering to each other. As Harry burst in, Hermione beckoned him over. "Harry!"
"That bloody hypocrite!" Ron seethed. "He's such a liar! So the Malfoys have been strutting around like gods for all those years, claiming to be pure-blood, and they're just... just... animals!" he spat. "All those jokes about my family, and yours, Harry, and look at him! Who does he think he is?"
"Ron, look," said Harry, quickly. "You can't tell people. Please."
Ron gave Harry a sickened expression. "Give me one good reason why not."
"Draco's life will be made absolute hell," said Harry. "Nobody knows, not even Snape, I don't think even Dumbledore knows. People will just make fun of him and - "
Ron's frown deepened dangerously. His ears were going red now. "I think he deserves a taste of his own medicine, you know. Seven years he's been tormenting people, Harry, and now it's his turn to learn just what it's like to have your blood and your family laughed at. You can go off and side with Malfoy the Mudblood if you like, but I know what people have a right to hear, and I'm going to tell it."
With that, he turned on his heel and stormed into the Great Hall, looking determined. Hermione sighed. "Oh dear..." she muttered. "This is all going to end in tears. I just know it."
"Why does he just have to go and tell everybody?" said Harry, shaking his head. "Just to get back at Malfoy. Can't he let it drop?"
"Probably not," she sighed. "It takes a lot for both Ron and Draco to admit they're wrong and to just put the past behind them. They probably won't ever, completely. I wish they'd just give it up though. It's hard enough on all of us... well. I've got homework to start on, Harry, I want to write out the first part of my Potions project. I'll be in the library."
She walked away across the entrance hall, through a door to the library, and Harry was left feeling decidedly worried about what to do. Ron would be telling people about Draco in the hall at this very moment, and Harry knew that he'd be plagued by people asking questions all the time he was trying to eat. He considered going to the library with Hermione, before somebody came out of the doors to the Great Hall that Harry was subconsciously relieved to see.
"Ron's just told me," Kainda said, raising her eyebrows with a weak smile. "I thought I'd find you out here. Where's Draco?"
"Still outside," said Harry. "He's probably gone for a walk or something. He won't want to come back to the castle, at least not for a while."
"Yeah," she said, nodding. "Well... have you had anything to eat? You'll be hungry, huh?"
"A bit," he admitted.
"We could go to the kitchens, and catch dessert in its tracks. Nobody pestering you there anyway. What do you say?" She gave him one of those casual and yet sympathetic smiles she did so well. He was suddenly struck by how soothing her presence was to him. It felt as though whatever terrible problems he had, Kainda could explain it all away with a wave of her hand and a little smile.
"Sure," he said, gratefully. He took the handles of her wheelchair, and feeling decidedly calmer, he took her down to the kitchens.
A few ice cream sundaes later, and the candles in the food corridor were burning low. It was nice just to talk to somebody, alone, for an hour or two, about things that didn't really matter. Harry found that being around Kainda pushed his darker secrets clean out of his mind. The fact that he would someday be murderer or murdered was just a little blot on the horizon at times like this. On Saturday, he would be learning how to kill with Professor Lupin. He now had to deal with a warring Ron and Draco.
"More ice cream, Harry?"
He smiled, waking out of his thoughts. "I'd love one."
Kainda handed him over another sundae, still tucking into her own, cherries and banana. It was comfortably dark now, and quiet. It must be getting closer to nine o' clock by now, but Harry had no desire to go all the way to Gryffindor Tower and worry some more about whether Ron had ruined Draco's life yet. However, there was an odd feeling in the back of his brain that there was something important that he'd forgotten.
"So how was Pure Arts?" he asked, spooning some more ice cream and sauce into his mouth.
"Pretty good," she said. "We were just doing some revision of last year, really. He said he's going to start the main project with us tomorrow. The whole thing we have to do for our NEWTs, you know." She scooped some of her sundae up from the bottom with a satisfying slurp, and offered it to him.
He smiled, and let her feed him it, licking his lips. "Mmhmm, nice."
She grinned. "How was your last lesson?" she asked, idly.
"Pretty boring," he said. "We've got our NEWT work to start on, two months making a long term potion for - " He dropped his spoon with a clatter, and jumped to his feet suddenly. "Oh no! What time is it?"
Kainda frowned, and checked her watch. "Ten past nine. Why? What's wrong?"
"I've got a lesson to go to," he panted. "Snape's going to kill me... I've got to go, now. Sorry about this."
"Hey, it's alright," she said, smiling. "Night then, Harry."
"Night," he said, hurriedly, putting down the glass of half-eaten ice cream, kissing her on the forehead and then he went tearing off along the corridor, heading for the dungeons, and praying that Snape was in a good mood.
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