Chapter Fifteen: The Lion and the Snake
"Voldemort's forces raid muggle museum in Yorkshire," Hermione announced, as Ron and Harry sat down at the breakfast table the following Wednesday. She brandished a copy of the Daily Prophet. The front was covered with a large picture of what had once been a museum exhibition, but was now just an empty room with boxes and smashed glass everywhere. "It was just a little place, in the middle of a forest somewhere, but they had an extensive Egyptian section. It's all been completely raided and taken, in the middle of the night. The muggle police don't know how the thieves could have got in, but it looks as though they just apparated in and out. The muggles are in total confusion, because the donation box wasn't even touched."
"What sort of stuff did they have?" asked Harry, as he started to butter himself a piece of toast.
"Lots of little artefacts," said Hermione. "Jewellery and beads mostly, but they had some big things too. They had a real Egyptian sarcophagus. That's gone."
"What does Voldemort want a sarcophagus for?" said Ron, incredulously, taking the paper from Hermione and studying it with a frown. "What's he doing, starting up his own museum?"
"I have the feeling that he's up to something slightly more ambitious that that, Ron," said Hermione. "Maybe he's going to try and use some of the ancient Egyptian magic. They had some really vicious curses. Oh, that reminds me! I think that we're going to be starting some actual work in Miscellaneous Magic today. I saw Professor Pebblebank carrying big boxes of scrolls down from her office earlier, she put them in a back room somewhere near the hall."
"Excellent," said Ron, adding liberal amounts of syrup to his pancakes. He flipped open the paper, scanning it. "Doesn't look as though anybody was hurt. Well, it was at night, so there wouldn't be anybody there, would there? Hey, if all Voldemort can do is steal sackyphoguses - "
"Sarcophaguses," said Hermione.
"That's what I said," Ron said, pleasantly. "If all he can do is steal those, then I'm not worrying about him today at least. Pass the pumpkin juice, Harry."
Harry handed over the jug, but couldn't help but wonder exactly what Voldemort was up to. He knew that Voldemort wouldn't be raiding museums to strike terror into people's hearts, and it was hardly a major problem if a few Egyptian beads went missing. What was bothering Harry was why Voldemort was storming museum after museum. It was becoming more and more obvious to Harry that Voldemort was looking for something, and though Harry hadn't seen hide nor hair of Khepri since their meetings, he had the feeling that if it weren't for the Dreamless Sleep Draught, Khepri would be pestering him nightly.
The doors of the Great Hall opened, and Professors Lupin and Pebblebank came in. Professor Pebblebank had abandoned the traditional black robes of Hogwarts teachers long ago, and preferred to hang around in dungarees and baggy blue trousers. She looked more like somebody's elder sister than a teacher. She and Lupin were talking quite happily as they took seats at the other side of the table to Harry, Ron and Hermione. Hermione's ears almost visibly pricked up as Pebblebank started to discuss the lesson she was planning.
"Oh, it should be good," she said, beaming, and adding several large spoonfuls of treacle to her pancakes. "Sevvie wasn't too happy when I had to ask him to draw out some Chinese symbols for me on large pieces of paper, because obviously, I couldn't charm them on. Maybe if I could speak Chinese."
"Severus speaks Chinese?" said Lupin, mildly suprised at this.
"No, but he knows the symbols," said Pebblebank. She was now adding sugar and chocolate sauce to the sticky pancake mixture on her plate. "You'd be amazed how many languages and stuff he knows. He should teach Runes. Oh, but our teacher didn't like him, did she?"
"I believe she called him an insufferable little know-it-all," said Lupin. "After he corrected her on her pronunciation for the eighth time that lesson."
"Well that's not a bad thing," said Hermione, apparently so shocked she just had to join in the conversation. "If she was teaching you incorrect information, why shouldn't he put her right?"
Lupin smiled at Hermione. "Severus was not quite as polite as you are when pointing out mistakes, Hermione. Our teacher was rather sensitive when it came to her lessons, and Severus had quite a habit of making her out as a fool."
"What was she called?" asked Hermione, interestedly.
"Professor Drewitt," said Pebblebank, grinning and flashing her small teeth. "I think Sevvie scared her sometimes."
"Why did you need some Chinese symbols for today's lesson?" asked Ron. Harry noticed that was eating nearly as much sugar as Professor Pebblebank was, though Professor Pebblebank hadn't got a large blob of cream inching sneakily down her top.
"We're doing some Dragon Magic today," she said, beaming, and taking the cream from him to squirt a smily-face on her pancakes. "I went down to see Hagrid earlier, and we've got some scales and shed skin from the security dragons to use. Though all the incantations and enchantments are supposed to be said in traditional Chinese, and I knew that Sevvie can do all the symbols. I just hope he's given me the right ones and I'm not going to end up turning you all into pigs or something."
Harry smiled. If Pebblebank had been a friend of his father, then it was precisely the sort of thing that Snape would do. He imagined Snape's face if he found out that Professor Pebblebank referred to him as Sevvie, and snorted into his cereal.
"What's up with you?" said Ron.
"Nothing," said Harry, grinning.
They were brewing their potions again today. Harry was tending to his veritaserum as usual, sitting on one of the high stools and stirring it gently with a long wooden spoon to avoid getting any splashes of it on his robes. Every now and then, he had to add a pinch of something or a dab of something else. Hermione was sitting next to him at her cauldron, practically dancing round it in panic.
"Oh no..." she was intoning, over and over again. "Oh no, oh no, oh no..."
"What is it?" said Harry.
"It's fuschia," she moaned. "And it's supposed to be rose, look at it! I don't know what I've done wrong, I added everything perfectly..."
Harry leant over to peer into her cauldron. He glanced at the recipe, and after a moment's thought, he said, "You've added too much seaweed, it always intensifies colour and it might affect the potion... you'd better throw in some sand and it'll dull a bit."
Hermione went dancing away towards the back of the class looking for sand, and Harry was just reaching for another pinch of salt into his veritaserum when the door opened. Professor Pebblebank bounced in.
"It's a bit dark in here, isn't it?" she announced, looking around.
Snape looked up at her wearily from his desk. "It needs to be," he replied, coldly. "Most of the class are working with potions which require - "
"Oh, right," she interrupted, clearly not bothered about potions at all. She crossed over to his desk, and only when she passed the glow of his cauldron did Harry notice that she had a small, very nervous looking first year with her. "Malcolm got hit by a Viking War Cry hex, I need some sort of potion to fix him."
Snape raised an eyebrow, and said, very dryly indeed, "Do I look like a viking, Pebblebank?"
"Yes, but that's not the point, Sev. I need a potion."
He glared at her for a moment, with an expression that suggested he'd just swallowed a lemon, before sweeping to his private supply cupboard and sorting through jars. "Smith! Get over here!"
The first year shuffled forward. Snape found the correct jar, uncorked it, and handed it rather brusquely to the first year. The boy nervously glanced around the room, then drunk the potion, wrinkling his nose. The moment it was all down his neck, Snape swiped the phial off him and took it away to the sink to be washed. As Professor Pebblebank left the room again, Snape called after her, "I am not a paediatrician, Pebblebank, the next injured first year you bring into my classroom will be told to grin and bare it!" He sat down at his desk, furiously, then jumped up again, shouting as an afterthought, "And do not refer to me with that foolish little nickname!"
The rest of Potions passed without much incident. Snape came round towards the end of the lesson and had a look at all of their work. Harry got another ten points for the school, which was surprising enough, but when Snape reached Hermione's cauldron, something even more startling happened.
Snape reached down with a ladle and scooped out some of her potion, holding it to the light. The few grains of sand swam lazily around the surface. "Did you add this sand, Granger?" he asked, quietly.
Harry felt his stomach twist. He was sure that sand didn't do anything wrong to the potion, and if he'd ruined Hermione's project, he was going to take the blame for it rather than let her suffer. "I did," he said, quickly. "I thought it would dull the colour a bit. I thought that Hermione had added a bit too much seaweed."
"Mm," said Snape, raising an eyebrow. "Granger, be more careful with your measurements in future. If Potter were not here, your potion would have been an A, for such a foolish and simple mistake. I expect first years to be able to count strips of seaweed."
The bell went. Harry quickly dragged his cauldron through a side door into the next chamber for storage, then went to tidy up his things. He didn't know what had shocked him more: that Hermione had done something wrong, or that he had done something right. Luckily, Hermione wasn't holding anything against him, and even thanked him before she hurried off towards Charms. Harry went off to History of Magic, feeling rather pleased with himself.
History of Magic was one of the few lessons that Harry had where he was not with any of his best friends. A lot of people had taken History of Magic. It was seen as one of the easy, throw-away subjects at NEWT level, because no major jobs wanted a History of Magic qualification. Without Hermione's notes to copy, Harry hardly did any work in the lessons. The first half of today was no different. They all sat in a dull stupor at their desks, tapping their quills on the sides of their faces, watching minute after minute tick past. Harry only really woke up when sheets were suddenly handed round, detailing their NEWT project - "Ancient Egyptian muggles were ruled over by a wizengamot, which were seen by the muggles as gods. Produce a guide to the most important and well-known members of the Egyptian wizengamot, their achievements, and how muggles perceived them. You have two months."
Harry folded up the sheet of paper and tucked it into his bag. Within a few minutes, they were all snoozing again, as Professor Binns started to read from his notes about the Egyptian wizengamot.
Harry spent break out in the courtyard with all his friends. Because September was drawing slowly to an end, and winter was making its presence known once more, they would all have much rather stayed inside in the Great Hall, though because next lesson was Misc Magic, Professor Pebblebank was setting things up in there and they weren't allowed in.
Hermione's mouth seemed to have locked on talk mode. She was asking Draco question after question, then answering them herself and referring to about eight books per minute. Draco just sat and smiled bemusedly as she talked at him.
"I mean, Chinese magic and Chinese Dragon magic are completely different, aren't they? Chinese magic's the stuff they do at the moment, just charms and things like that but with enchantments in Chinese. Viktor was telling me about some of the specialist Bulgarian magic, with no English equivalent, it's really - "
"Viktor?" said Ron, who looked up from his game of gobstones with Harry so fast that he cricked his neck. "What about him? You're still writing to him? I don't - "
"Oh, Ron, don't worry," she said, soothingly. "He's knows I'm unavailable, we just write to each other as penpals. Honestly, there's nothing to worry about."
Luckily, the bell rung at that moment and Ron couldn't ask anymore suspicious questions. Ginny and Luna went away across the grounds to Herbology, while Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Kainda and Draco all made their way back inside, down the corridor and into the Great Hall.
Harry stepped in through the double doors, and for a moment was too dazzled by all the colours to do anything but stand and stare. It was like a cross between Christmas and the end of term feast, everything strung with red, green and gold streamers and banners decorated in Chinese symbols. A large circular platform had been set up in the middle of the hall, and Professor Pebblebank was standing on it. The rest of the year were all standing around the platform in a great crowd with their wands out, talking eagerly.
"Hey, Harry! You lot, over here!" Ernie Macmillan was standing over in a corner, with the rest of his Hufflepuff friends. Harry made his way over, followed by the rest of his own friends. Ernie grinned. "Hi everyone."
"Hi," everybody said, except Ron and Draco, who momentarily cast each other dark frowns, before they realised they still hated each other and promptly looked away, scowling. Ernie's Head Boy badge was winking at them on his chest.
"So, Harry, are we reforming the team this year?" asked Ernie, in a jolly sort of way. "Take the cup two years in a row? We haven't got Zabini buzzing around anymore either, so that's a load off our minds."
"I am right here you know," said Kainda, frowning.
"OH no, not you! The other Zabini, the one in Azkaban," said Ernie, apologetically.
She smiled. "Mm, you'd better be thinking that too, Ernie. So are you guys going to start the team up again?"
"I don't see why not," said Ron. "I mean, we'll need a new Beater... but everybody else is still here, right?"
Harry was about to say that he was all in favour of it. He'd been secretly longing to start flying again, ever since they shut him away in Grimmauld Place for the summer, and now that the moment had come he thought nothing could stop him at all. The cup would be easy this year, and it would take all the stress and strain off him.
But then he saw Kainda's expression through a gap in the crowd of people. She was smiling, but sadly, as she gazed around at them all. The fingers of her left hand curled tighter around her wheelchair for a moment, as though trying to comfort herself. Kainda couldn't fly. She probably never would again, after what her brother did to her. Harry felt a horrible twinge inside his stomach, imagining all the team and her friends playing Quidditch and zooming around on broomsticks, while she just had to sit in the stands and watch.
"Um..." he said.
Everybody else turned to look at him sharply. For the second time in as many hours, Ron's neck gave a cricking sound. "What?" he said, staring at Harry.
"I... don't think I'm going to play," said Harry, quietly.
There was an instant and universal gasp, then everybody jumped on him at once, asking why. Even Hermione was saying, "Oh, Harry, it won't interrupt your revision, you can still play!"
"No, no, it's not that," said Harry. "It's just that... well, Kainda." She looked up, and he met her eyes. "It's not fair on her if we're all playing and she's not, is it? I can think of loads of matches last year that we would have lost if it weren't for her, and now she's just expected to sit and watch us all having fun..."
There was quiet for a moment, and then Ernie turned to Kainda, and said, "You don't mind, do you?"
"I do," said Harry. "I don't really want to play, if Kainda can't. It's really unfair. Sorry guys, but... well."
"I take Seeker," said Draco, so quickly that nobody even caught what he said properly. "If Potter's not playing any more. I'm Seeker. And captain."
"I'm captain," growled Ron, turning to Draco, and seeing the first few flickers of a fight, Harry leapt between them. Neville looked rather reluctant for a moment, then stepped in too.
"Look," said Harry. "If you're going to fight, then I'll make Ernie the captain."
"No!" Ron and Draco both whined at once.
"Then don't fight!" said Harry. "Look, here's what I'll do... I'll coach you. Okay? I'll train you up and sort out all the captain stuff like practices and teaching you new moves, but I won't play in the games. I'll just stand on the sidelines yelling at you all. You just need a new Chaser and a new Beater. Then you can all start playing again, and no problems."
"That's so sweet," said Hermione, smiling at Harry with rather dewy eyes. "Giving up your place on the team..."
"You don't have to, you know," said Kainda, looking a little surprised. "Honestly, Harry. I know you love Quidditch... come on, you can't give it up, just for my sake. I'll be fine watching."
"It's okay," he said, smiling. "It's my NEWT year too, I could do with the extra study time. I need top grades to start my auror training."
Ron stared at Harry. "Are you feeling alright? First you give up Quidditch, then you start thinking about NEWTs before Hermione! Maybe you should go to the hospital wing, Harry."
Suddenly the sound of a whistle filled the hall, and they all turned around to see what it was. Professor Pebblebank was waving for quiet and beckoning them all other. "Gather round!" she called, brightly. "Got a brilliant lesson planned for today, everyone!"
They all went over and stood around the platform in clumps, looking up at Professor Pebblebank eagerly. Hermione was practically trembling with excitement next to Harry.
"Right then," said Pebblebank, beaming around at them all. "How many of you are there here today? Well, split yourself into four groups, however many we've got, and let's try to get things vaguely even. Mixture of girls and boys in each group please, everyone! Ready? Oh come on Miss Parkinson, you don't have to marry him, just be in the same group as him. All okay? Excellent, we'll get started then. We're doing Chinese Dragon Magic today, as you all know. Anybody here ever seen or done some Chinese Dragon Magic?"
Draco's hand shot into the air. A few other people vaguely raised a finger or so, though the feedback wasn't overly high.
"Well, don't worry, we'll be taking things pretty slowly anyway, so you'll all pick it up," said Pebblebank, cheerily. "You're in groups of four, so one lot will be doing some potions, and we've got three separate enchantments for the remaining groups to have a go at it. And I know I said that Professor Snape would be helping me today, but he's unfortunately chickened out, so - "
There was an outbreak of laughter and clapping. Even Harry couldn't deny himself a grin. Professor Pebblebank hopped down off her platform, and strolled around the four groups, making sure they were all roughly even. She set Pansy Parkinson and her other Slytherins as the group making potions, then moved onto Harry and the rest of his friends.
"Right then," she said, brightly. "We've got a luck and fortune charm, a wealth charm, or a love charm for you all to try out. Any preference which?" There was a general murmur of 'wealth', and so she handed over a long scroll of parchment to Harry. "All your instructions are on there, but if you've got any problems, feel free to stop me and ask what's going on, alright? Draco, you said you've done some of this before, so you can probably help everyone out if there are any major problems."
"I don't think we'll need it," said Ron, rather brusquely, as Professor Pebblebank walked away.
Draco's face darkened in a frown. "Very well... why don't you show us all how a wealth charm is done then, Weasley?"
Ron glared at him, snatched the scroll off Harry, and put it down on the floor to unroll it. Everybody else knelt or sat down around it, wands at the ready, as Ron started to read.
"Right..." he said, slowly. "This doesn't look so hard after all, just like an English charm. You have to swirl your wand in a loop like on that diagram there, flick it at somebody, and just say the magic word."
"Which is?" said Draco, raising one contemptuous eyebrow.
Ron pointed at the Chinese symbol in the middle of their sheet. "Duh, Malfoy. We just say that."
"And how do we say that?" asked Draco.
Ron was quiet, then said, "Look, Malfoy, if you want to keep all your teeth intact, then shut your mouth."
Draco smiled. "Fair enough. Have fun blowing yourself up, Weasley, because you're getting no help from me."
"Will both of you just stop arguing?" said Hermione, so suddenly that Ron and Draco were both shocked into silence. "You're like primary school children! Neither of you are proving anything, just be quiet. And for your information, there's a phonetic translation of it underneath!"
There was quiet for a moment, and then Ron asked, quietly, "What's a primary school?"
"It's like Azkaban for muggle children," said Neville.
Hermione sighed. She reached up her sleeve, drew out her wand, and studied the phonetic translation of the Chinese symbol for a moment. She then swished her wand, pointed it at Ron, and announced a complex phrase Harry didn't quite catch. There was a noise like coins clinking together, and an odd golden glitter shone around Ron for a moment or so.
"It should start taking effect in a few minutes, according to the parchment," said Hermione, promptly. "So we'll have to wait and see whether I've done it right."
"Do you ever do anything wrong?" said Ron, with a slight smile.
Harry glanced around the hall, getting a little bored now. Professor Pebblebank was now at the potions group, carefully handing out chunks of dragon egg-shell. Harry gave a sigh and rested his hands in his head, vaguely listening to Hermione teach Ron the proper incantation, and the constant tinkle of coins. He was just wondering whether he could wander off and see how the other groups were doing when he became aware of an odd noise. He turned around just in time to see a trail of green and red sparks glide past his nose, and when he stepped back, he saw that it was a little dragon made entirely of glittering sparkles. He blinked, wondering if he was seeing things properly, then a blonde head blocked his view of the dragon.
Draco smirked. "Nice, isn't it?" he said, idly, as the dragon went looping over to him and did a few laps of his head.
"Did you make that?" asked Harry, surprised.
Draco nodded. They both leant against the platform so they could talk without a paranoid Ron listening in. The dragon continued to flicker playfully around them, occasionally nipping off to do a lap of the platform.
"It's fairly easy, but it can go very wrong," said Draco, absent-mindedly. "Takes practice."
They watched the rest of the hall laughing and chasing each other around. Draco had a very world-weary expression in his eyes. Harry was just bored. After a few minutes of comfortable quiet, Harry spoke up with something he'd been wondering for a while.
"Can I ask a question?"
"If I may ask one in return."
Harry took this as a yes. "The veela charm you have... if you can use it to control anyone you like, why don't you? You could do anything at all, in the whole world, but you don't. Why?"
Draco thought about this for a moment, and then replied, in a rather wise tone, "There are two reasons for that, really. Shame, mainly, at having the power. It reminds me of what I am. What purity my family lost. Then there's just the feeling of... well, cheating I suppose. I want to achieve things through my own doing and my own ambition, not just flicking on the puppy-eyes whenever I want something. Think about it. In my Pure Arts exam, I could just breeze through it with a flutter of my eye-lashes and get an O without trying at all. That's not what life's about for me. It's more about being able to achieve using all of your talents, and not just relying on one."
Harry nodded. This all made sense to him, in a very Draco sort of way. They both watched the little firework dragon swim lazily around in a loop, then go gliding off after Neville, before the Slytherin broke the silence.
"May I ask my own question now?"
"You're not afraid of me, Potter, even when I look you in the eye. The others don't trust me, but you do. Why?"
Harry shrugged. "I just guess I know you won't try to control me. Just because you've got veela blood doesn't mean that's the only thing about you... and blood isn't the most important thing." He thought of all his friends or a moment. Hermione, a muggleborn; Hagrid, half-giant; Lupin, a werewolf; Draco, part-veela; Snape, a vampire; Kainda, sister to a murderer; Alrister, cousin of a murderer... "If I stuck to pure-blood human friends with a family of saints, I'd be a very lonely person," said Harry, wisely.
"You're an odd breed, Potter," said Draco, glancing at him, his eyes glittering slightly. "I don't know whether you're still the most insufferable goody-goody I've ever met, or just being you."
"Both, probably," said Harry, grinning.
"Doesn't it get boring being such a hero sometimes?"
"I'm not a hero. Well... oh, stop laughing! I don't try to be a hero anyway."
"Of course you are, Potter... come on, saviour of the world, popular, teacher's pet, girlfriend, you've got the lot."
"Well, you've got Ginny," said Harry, pleasantly.
Whatever reaction he'd been expecting from Draco, it certainly wasn't the one he got. Draco actually grimaced and looked away.
"Mm," he said.
"But..." said Harry, frowning. "Don't you...?"
Draco's silvery eyes flickered up to Harry. For a moment, he looked puzzled, as though Harry's reaction was odd, before he smiled. "Oh come on, Potter... you're not telling me you're that stupid..."
Harry's frown deepened. "What are you talking about?"
Draco gave a little laugh. "Potter, Potter... clearly I over-estimated you... come now... you don't believe it's all real, surely?"
Harry was silent. He felt oddly cold and clammy. "You don't like her at all, do you? You're... you're faking, you've just got her charmed! Why?"
Draco grinned, searching Harry's face with his sparkling eyes and speaking in a low, playful murmur. "Can't you think of any reason why I might want to...? Believe me, this isn't for her benefit. This is for nobody's benefit."
"Ron," Harry whispered. "You're just doing it to get at Ron, aren't you?"
"Well done..." said Draco, quietly.
"But... you can't!" said Harry.
"Oh? And why not?" muttered Draco. "Weasley got to me in the worst way he could think of... my family. Isn't it only fair to return the favour, and attack his own family?"
"But what about Ginny?" said Harry, angrily. "What about her? You're going to break her heart doing this. She cares about you so much, and you're just... you're just faking! When are you going to tell her it was all a sham, huh? A month? A year? The day you think you've hurt Ron enough? How far are you going to take this?"
"As far as I need to," said Draco, simply.
"I won't let you do this," said Harry. "This isn't right, Draco. I'll tell her."
"Don't waste your breath," said Draco in a cold voice. "Do you honestly think she'll believe you?"
Harry glared at Draco, unable to believe what the Slytherin was doing. He had been so sure that Draco had changed. He said, "I won't let you do this. I'll find a way to make her see, if it's the last thing I do. Or I'll make you tell her! Can't you and Ron just drop it all?"
Draco raised his eyebrow. "Oh, I see what's going on here... you're on Weasley's side, aren't you? Poor financially-challenged Weasley and his inbred family. And when Weasley tells the entire school that somebody else has a different background to most, well, that's okay. But poor, tragic Weasley when that person dares to get revenge."
"It's not like that," Harry snarled. "Ginny hasn't done anything to you! If you want to get at Ron, fine, I'll even help you! Because what Ron did wasn't right, and maybe you deserve revenge, but Ginny's innocent! She doesn't deserve to get hurt so badly!"
"Potter... dear, foolish Potter..." Draco leant forward, looking at Harry over his steepled fingers. "If you can think of even one thing that would make Weasley as angry as seeing me with his precious sister, you deserve a medal. But until then, I'm going to carry on with what I'm doing, and there's nothing you can do to change my mind or stop me."
"I'll tell Ron," Harry growled. "He'll kill you, you know. If you think you've seen him angry when you're dating his sister, you've seen absolutely nothing. You just wait until he finds out you did it purely to get at him, and how you used his little sister as though she's a toy. He'll tear you limb from limb."
"Then tell me another way to get my justice," said Draco, angrily. "Just suggest something to me, Potter, anything you like. Who knows? I might prefer it to "using Ginny as though she's a toy". Just try me."
Harry shrugged, vaguely, angrily, still furious at Draco and what he was doing. "Do anything you want, but to Ron! Not his family! If you want to get at him in the same way, tell everybody that he's got a crush on a teacher or something, just leave other people out of it!"
Draco was silent for a moment. Then the merest hint of a smile curled his thin lips, and he said, quietly, "I'll do that, Potter... very well... I'll break up with Ginny."
There was something that Harry just didn't like about the way Draco was smiling.
"And don't you dare start anything about Hermione!" said Harry, warningly.
Draco just smiled at him. "Oh, no... don't worry. I'm done with taunting Weasley about women. I think it's time to move onto something much better, don't you?" He smiled again, that same eerily-sweet little smirk, like the Christmas tree angel that never sold because it just looked wrong. "Thankyou for this little talk, Potter... now, I think I'll go and show Professor Pebblebank my work with the dragon..." And with that, he strolled away out of the crowd, heading towards Pebblebank, with his firework dragon following loyally behind him. Harry didn't like the feeling he had lodged in his chest at all.
Harry wasn't surprised at all that night when, just after dinner, Ginny burst into the Gryffindor common room, crying that Draco had finished things with her. Hermione instantly jumped up and ran to comfort Ginny, and after one or two "I told you so", Ron went to sympathise too. It wasn't long before Ron and Ginny were both bitching about Malfoy, Ginny still sniffling into tissues, both of them sharing chocolate frogs as though they'd never had a fight.
"I'll kill Malfoy tomorrow, for being so mean to you," Ron assured Ginny, kindly, unwrapping another frog. "Here, you can have the card as well."
Harry said nothing. He knew Ron would probably grab his wand and go racing to Slytherin Tower if he ever found out why Draco had dated Ginny in the first place. He also couldn't stop thinking about Draco's sweet little smile, and his lingering words - "I think it's time to move onto something much better, don't you?" Whatever Draco was planning, Harry knew it would not be nice and Ron was not likely to ever, ever forget it.
Transfiguration and Care of Magical Creatures had passed remarkably quickly for Harry. Normally, he really enjoyed Magical Creatures because it was one of the few lessons he had in Kainda's company, without the rest of his friends all around, though it had gone past in little more than a blur. Draco had been bitter-sweet to everybody at dinner, passing people things they wanted, chatting to absolutely everybody, and feeding Bucket with eerily polite little laughs. Harry had decided to try and address the subject with Draco again, right when they were all planning to go back to their common rooms. He'd cornered Draco just leaving the hall and dragged him away from everybody else.
"Tell me what you're planning to do," he said, darkly.
Draco smiled. "Why, I'm taking your suggestion, of course. Now, if you don't mind Potter, I have something to do... Ginny, can I have a word?"
Now Harry had the feeling that maybe leaving Draco to date Ginny hadn't been such a bad prospect after all. He sighed, and put down his quill, unable to concentrate.
"Harry? Are you okay?" asked Hermione, coming over to him and sitting down. "You look really distracted."
Harry glanced at her. Hermione would give him a logical, level-headed answer to his problem, and he could always count on her to keep the secrets he wanted her to. Deciding that her advice would definitely be useful, he opened his mouth to tell her everything Draco had, but he hadn't even started when there was a scream from upstairs.
He jumped, and turned around in his chair just as Neville came tumbling down the staircase to the dormitory, looking horror-struck.
"She's up there again!" he squawked. "Professor Trelawney, she's sitting on Seamus's bed!"
Seamus Finnigan, who was sitting across the room and working on a Herbology essay, looked up in alarm. "What?" he said.
"Professor Trelawney's sitting on your bed!" said Neville, almost delirious, pointing his finger up the stairs. "I've seen her there before!"
"Professor Trelawney's dead, Nev," said Dean Thomas, slowly.
"Her ghost!" squeaked Neville. "She's there, I swear, just go and have a look!"
Dean and Seamus stood up, but Harry got to his feet first. "I'll go," he said, glad of the excuse to stop trying to work.
Neville trembled along after him as Harry climbed up the spiral staircase to the dormitory. "She was saying something this time," Neville tremored. "But... I don't understand what... she was saying something about a prophecy, and I think it was the one that smashed at the Department of Mysteries, but I didn't understand a word she was saying..."
Harry tried to ignore the cold feeling he got at the back of his neck, as he always got whenever anybody mentioned prophecies. "Well, nobody ever did when she was alive, so nothing's changed there," he said.
He paused in front of the dormitory door, and pulled it open. The dormitory was completely empty. Sitting on the bedside cabinet next to the bed in the corner, the one that was once Harry's, was a little hawk with a red ribbon around his neck. As Harry came in, the hawk gave a shrill "Fweeeeeee!" of delight, and fluttered over to him.
"Hello Cupid," said Harry, smiling, and petting the hawk's feathery chest as the little bird landed on his shoulder. Cupid cooed in Harry's ear, and started to preen himself and show off his ribbon. "This is nice," said Harry, softly, playing with just the end. "Where's your owner, mm? Not escaped, have you?"
There was a soft whistle from outside. "Cupid!" Alrister's voice could be heard calling. "Cupid, come on!" Cupid sat up, gave a last affectionate nip to Harry's ear then swooped away out of the window to rejoin Alrister.
Harry smiled, and then turned to Neville. "It might have just been Cupid, casting shadows or something Neville."
"It was definitely Trelawney," said Neville, miserably. He sat down on the end of his bed and sighed. "Why won't anybody believe me? Just because they can't see her doesn't mean I'm going mad or something..."
Harry was about to make a light-hearted joke about maybe Neville should go with the majority vote, when he remembered something. His mind was cast back to that day at Grimmauld Place, when Khepri had first appeared, and nobody would believe him when he tried to explain the creature. Harry glanced at Neville, and sat next to him. "I believe you, Nev," he said, encouragingly. "If you've seen her, and you're sure that you have, then I can't see why you would lie."
Neville looked up at him with wide eyes. "You believe me? Really?"
Harry nodded. "Of course I do, Neville."
Neville's face split into a smile. "Thanks, Harry," he said. "Even if just you believe me, that's good enough... but..." He sighed. "Well, nobody else will. I don't know why she's only following me around though, and there's nobody who can prove it."
"How about one of the ghosts?" asked Harry. "We could go and see Nearly Headless Nick, or - "
The timing couldn't have been much better. There was a white shimmer next to Harry, and a third boy appeared out of nowhere. Neville squeaked and fell off the bed in surprise, but Harry had been expecting the new arrival. He turned to Peter and smiled. "Hi."
"Yo," said Peter, smirking and ruffling his hair. "Yo Nev."
Neville stared at Peter for a moment, and then said, "You're... you're Peeves's alter-ego, aren't you?"
Peter chuckled. "Some call me that. I prefer to think that he's my alter-ego though. So, got a little spiritual problem, have we?"
"Yes," said Harry. "Peter, you know who Professor Trelawney is, right?"
"The dragonfly with bangles?"
"Yeah, her. You haven't seen her, have you?"
"Recently, or in a life time?"
"But... you can see the whole castle, can't you? Absolutely everything?" said Harry. He desperately wanted to at least get some proof that Neville was right, even just a little glimmer.
"Well... in theory," said Peter. "I can't see into the Astronomy Tower or the dungeons, because the wards are too strong there, and Dumbledore's office is out of range too. But even everywhere else..." He sighed. "It's complex, Harry. Imagine you're a single security guard, and you've got an entire castle to monitor bit by bit, and only one video screen to view cameras through. It's a hard job. Though I'll keep a look out for Trelawney, if you want."
"She only turns up in here," said Neville. "In this dormitory... I've never seen her anywhere else."
"Gryffindor seventh year boys' dormitory," said Peter. "Gotcha. What do you want me to do if I find her?"
"Tell her to stop picking on me," said Neville, glumly.
"Neville? Can I just have a word with Peter for a minute?" asked Harry. "Alone?"
Neville nodded, and with a last, "Thanks!", to both Peter and Harry, he headed away down the staircase, closing the door behind him.
Harry turned to Peter and smiled. "So how was summer?"
"Boring," said Peter, idly. He reached into the pocket of his school robes and took out a packet of wizarding cigarettes. "You don't mind, do you? Jinx is being a nightmare, she won't let me smoke for love or money."
"Go on," said Harry. "It's okay."
He watched Peter light the cigarette, then put away his lighter and lift the cigarette to his lips. Peter closed his eyes in a grimace. "Eugh, I hate this. Next time, I'm definitely not going to die in a fire. Well, I suppose it could be worse. The Ravenclaw ghost, The Grey Lady, she drowned. She has to drink about fifty glasses of water a day. If you popped a hole in her with a pin, she'd be a fountain."
"Did you find that... that thing?" asked Harry, getting straight to the point. "You know, the thing in the cloak."
Peter shook his head. "I followed it down a few corridors, into the entrance hall, then it just disappeared down into the dungeons. I only managed to breach Snape's first ward before he appeared and threw me out."
"Why didn't you tell him you were doing something for me?" said Harry.
"Snape doesn't believe me," said Peter, gravely. "He's not really that fond of me. Did you guess?"
"Why?" asked Harry.
Peter smiled around his cigarette, and blew out a plume of smoke. "The thing is he tolerated me at first. When you were just a baby, and we were both made your guardians. Snape was quite different then to how he is now. It was just after he'd been taken from the Death Eaters and offered a job at Hogwarts, Dumbledore brought him back to our side. He probably thought he could have a whole new life, start things over again. He was twenty-three then, I think. His first year teaching at Hogwarts wasn't too bad really, a lot of students liked his sense of humour. He was really dry, really sarcastic. Then more than a decade of teaching the same job, going absolutely nowhere in life, being patronised and imprisoned by Dumbledore... I think it got to him, Harry. He gave up being nice. Because we had to work together so closely, he started taking out his stress and anger on me. I don't mind though, I guess the guy's got a right to. He's had a hard life, Harry."
Harry felt rather guilty, though he couldn't think why. He glanced at Peter, and his guardian smiled, before carrying on.
"But it's not all doom and gloom anymore, Harry... quite the contrary... you see, you might not have noticed, but since you've been warming to him, I think we're getting a little bit of Severus back rather than Snape."
"What do you mean?" said Harry, a little surprised.
Peter's smile widened. "I don't know if you've noticed, but Snape's suddenly developed a sense of humour, hasn't he?"
Harry raised an eyebrow, thinking about this. "Yeah, he has... and that's just because I'm talking to him?"
"It's because he's got a reason," said Peter, smiling still. "It's psychologically proved than some people can't live and exist without a reason to do so. And since you've known about the bond, Snape's had a reason - to look after you and guide you. If he's got a reason, he can see the point in waking up every morning. Get me?"
Harry nodded at this, and smiled a little. "Just because of me?"
"Yeah, you should ask him to let you off your Potions assignment," said Peter, smiling widely. "Listen Harry, I've got to get going. I want to be in poltergeist form before dark, so I can catch any couples making out in the Astronomy Tower. Shame Ginny and Draco won't be there, they're always fun to spook. Anyway. See you later, Harry, and remember to call if you need anything."
With a last grin, Peter disappeared from view. Harry saw the curtains of Ron's old bed ruffle slightly as something sped past them and sunk through the wall, then was gone.
"Pure Arts today," Ron said, brightly, whacking the end of the ketchup bottle and splattering sauce all over the sausages.
It was Friday morning. Thursday had passed with little significance, except Harry's fuzzy fungus arriving through the post. It still hadn't grown. Neville said he'd talk to Professor Sprout about it, and Draco was quick to suggest it was in fact a mutant that would kill them all, though nobody listened to a word of this. Harry couldn't quite take Draco seriously, not after he'd heard the Slytherin say, "I think I have something special with Ginny", then promptly ditch her.
"You're in a good mood," Harry noted, idly.
"Yep," said Ron. Another whack, another splatter. "Pure Arts today."
Harry gave Ron an odd look. Normally, Ron pretended to dislike Pure Arts because of Hermione's fondness of Alrister.
"What?" said Ron, raising his eyebrows. "Is something wrong with Pure Arts?"
"You mean, apart from the maniac chasing us around the classroom with a stick...?" came a cold voice from behind Ron, as with a black wave of robes, Draco slid into a chair at the table,
Ron rolled his eyes, stood up, and left immediately. Draco smiled, picked up the abandoned ketchup bottle, and tapped it lightly on the end, coating his sausages.
"Pure Arts today," he said, brightly.
Harry frowned, with a suspicious feeling of doubt that he couldn't quite explain. "And therefore...?" he said slowly.
Draco said nothing, but the smile on his face told Harry all he needed to know. Draco was planning whatever it was for Pure Arts. As the Slytherin started to slice up his sausages and eat, still with that knowing little smile, Harry got up from the table.
"Going somewhere?" asked Draco idly.
"Need to see Professor Snape," Harry lied. "Potions essay problems."
He hurried away across the hall, and slipped out of the doors into the main corridor. It was still fairly early, and hardly any of the teachers had come down to breakfast yet. They always spent a long time preparing their first lessons in a morning. Harry decided to try and catch Alrister before he left his office, though he hadn't even started up the marble staircase before the Pure Arts master appeared at the mouth of the corridor.
"Morning, Harry," said Alrister, with a warm smile.
"Professor," said Harry quickly. "I need to talk to you."
"Oh?" said Alrister, his expression fading into concern. Cupid tweeted merrily on his shoulder. "About anything in particular?"
Harry nodded. He wasn't quite sure how to word his problem. "Um... I kind of wanted to warn you. You know that Ron and Draco don't really like each other, but they've been fighting for a while and I've got the feeling that Draco's going to do something to Ron during Pure Arts. I don't know what it is, but I just thought I should mention it."
Alrister nodded understandingly. "Don't worry, Harry," he said, reassuringly, with a paternal smile. "I'll keep an eye on them both, if you come and have a word with me if you think either of them are up to something. Good man for telling me. I've got you third thing, haven't I?"
"Second," said Harry.
"Ah, yes," said Alrister. "I need to keep track of time more... the timetable here is horrific, I'm teaching thirty-one periods in a twenty-five period week, it's madness."
"How on earth do you manage that?" said Harry, staring at him.
Alrister smiled, and tapped his nose. "Hogwarts staff secret, Harry, though between me and you, I manage to find the extra time here and there, even if I have to make myself some."
He winked. Harry smiled, guessing what Alrister was talking about - time-turners. Alrister padded away into the Great Hall, and Cupid cooed his goodbyes to Harry, before they were gone. Harry was wondering about time-turners as he strolled back down the marble staircase towards the dungeons, thinking of trying to persuade Snape to let him in early and nurse his veritaserum. It was a moment before he realised he was actually seriously considering doing Potions in his free-time. He smiled - Hermione would be proud.
Draco was oddly cheerful all throughout Potions. He was working at the cauldron next to Harry and adding bits of twigs and mushrooms to his cauldron with the air of somebody expecting a big treat soon. He was humming something as he worked, and his smile didn't even falter when Snape shouted at him for using a whole rat's spleen in his potion and wasting most of it. He just smiled at Snape, picked up the remains and danced off to the bin with them. Snape looked quite startled as Draco's little happy mood.
"What have you done to Malfoy?" he muttered to Harry, pretending to read through the recipe of Harry's potion.
"Cheering charms," said Harry, with a mild smile. "I figured the dungeons could do with a little blonde skipping around the place."
Snape eyed Draco as he came back, flashed them both a beaming smile and did a neat twirl around his cauldron, scattering more grass across the surface, then pattering off to talk to some of the Ravenclaws. Snape sighed. Harry smiled weakly and cut another lump off his mangled roots, before tossing it into his cauldron with a soft splash.
"Problems, Potter?" said Snape, idly.
"Feuding friends," said Harry. He flicked another slice into his potion. "Can I just check something? Did Lucius Malfoy hold grudges at school?"
"Lucius Malfoy could hold a grudge for centuries," said Snape, mildly. "Until he had his revenge, of course. Who is Draco feuding with?"
"Just let them fight it out," Snape advised. "Or lock them in a room on their own to fight it out. My old Head of House did just that. They managed to reattach Black's nose in the end."
Harry was sure to seat himself neatly between Draco and Ron at the start of Pure Arts. If there was going to be any heavy-duty fighting, Harry didn't exactly want to be in the middle of it, but neither did he want either of his friends dead or worse.
Ron was blissfully unaware of the sweet smile on Draco's face as they got out their things. Draco and Harry were now two of the very few people still sitting at regular desks, and not red ones, as Alrister had yet to kill either of them. The scarlet wood of Ron's desk clashed horribly with his hair, so he was almost painful to look at, but Draco kept dropping him glances anyway and smiling. Ron had arranged all his things neatly on the desk and was working on his script for their final exam, even before the door opened, and Alrister strolled in.
"Morning everyone," he said, cheerfully. "No stick today, seeing as though so many of you are already dead. I do aim to get those last few stragglers by the end of the week though, even if it means stalking you outside of the classroom."
Harry smiled weakly, hoping he didn't go through with this promise. There was already a vampire, that cloaked figure and Khepri sweeping around school. The last thing Harry needed was Alrister hiding behind suits of armour, leaping out and beating him with a large stick.
Harry turned to Ron to tell him this, but saw that Ron was sitting up in his chair, watching Alrister intently, as though waiting for instructions. He frowned. He'd never seen Ron act like that in a class, even when they were learning how to blow things up. Harry glanced quickly at Draco, who gave him another bitter sweet smile.
"You've already done something, haven't you?" Harry muttered, angrily.
As the blonde's lips curled upwards again, Harry firmly decided that the next time Draco answered a perfectly good question with that infuriatingly sweet smile, he would break his jaw.
"Tell me," Harry hissed.
"And spoil all the fun?" said Draco, his eyes sparkling.
Alrister clapped his hands for attention, and brought an end to the discussion. "Now then," he said pleasantly. "Glad you're all here, because I need to split you into groups... I'm planning to have a look at your exam pieces now, just to see how you're doing. I'll do as many of you as I can today, then the rest of you tomorrow or whenever I next have you... damn timetable... somebody remind me to start a campaign about this. Right. Back row, stand up and queue outside my office, I'll be in there waiting for you. The rest of you can work on your pieces, but no setting fire to anything or conjuring animals. It's only funny until somebody gets eaten and I get the blame."
The back row all stood up, and filed out of the classroom, looking nervous, while the rest of the class started practicing again. About three quarters of the lesson had gone by when Alrister poked his head through the door, and called, "Front row now, please!"
Draco got up and strolled out of the classroom with his chin held high, perfectly arrogant as always. To Harry's surprise, Ron bounded after him, gabbling something about wanting to go first. Harry met Alrister's eyes, and Alrister nodded, then took the side door through into his office, shutting it after him. Harry left the room and joined the queue, just after Draco. Draco had his sleeve over his mouth, and was quivering slightly, in silent laughter. Harry frowned and glanced around to see what was so funny. Ron, at the front of the line, was peering through the gap between Alrister's door and the wall, hopping nervously from one foot to the other.
Harry skipped up the queue to slide in behind him. Ron jumped and turned round, grinning when he saw who it was.
"I hope I do well on this," he said, now knotting his fingers. "He's had a hair-cut, did you notice?"
Harry frowned suspiciously. "No... and I don't think he has, Ron."
"Oh?" Ron shrugged. "He just looks different somehow. Listen, do you think I should try some love magic? He said it's kinda flashy and I do want to impress him... I-I mean the examiner. Heh." Ron grinned and hopped again.
Harry's eyes narrowed. Gradually, the pieces of the puzzle were sliding together. He glanced at Draco, and the Slytherin was still trembling with anticipation, watching Ron and biting his lip.
"First candidate, please!" Alrister's voice called from inside.
Ron jumped, and shaking like a jelly, he opened up the door of the office and slid inside. The door closed behind him. Draco was actually giggling now.
"What is it?" said Harry, angrily, turning to glare at him.
Draco giggled harder than ever, like a schoolboy that had put itching powder in somebody's shoes. "This is going to be so funny... I was worried at first, I thought he'd seen me slip it into his pumpkin juice..."
"Slip what into his pumpkin juice?" demanded Harry.
Draco grinned. He seemed nearly ecstatic with mischievous joy. "Oh, Potter, you just wait. You just wait."
The door suddenly flew open. Harry jumped backwards, wondering if Ron had blown up the office by accident, but a split-second later, Alrister had come shooting out and slammed the door behind him. He looked oddly shocked, and a lock of his sleek brown hair had worked out of its ponytail in a tuft. Harry was alarmed to see that the laces of his tunic had been tugged, as though somebody had grabbed him.
Alrister blinked a few times, then reached up, straightening out his clothes. "Ah... Mr Potter... I think I've located the... ah... problem. Kindly go down to Professor Snape and ask for an anti-love potion, if you would."
Harry's jaw fell. He turned around to Malfoy, who broke down into near tears of laughter, thumping his fist on the wall. Ron could be heard in the office, pushing on the door and calling, "Or we can wait until I've graduated, whatever's easier!"
Harry approached the door of the Potions laboratory, feeling as though his legs had turned into long ropes. He knocked, and after a moment's pause, the door open.
"Yes, Potter?" said Snape, raising an eyebrow. "Pebblebank hasn't sent you, has she? Tell her that I don't care whether the entire school has sprouted antlers, I - "
"It's Professor Alrister, sir," said Harry, dazedly. "He wants an anti-love potion."
Snape managed to twist his shocked expression into a frown. "Oh? Who for?"
"For Ron," said Harry in a very mild sort of voice.
"And who has Weasley fallen in love with?" asked Snape, frowning.
Once Snape had stopped snickering long enough to actually give Harry the potion, he thanked Harry for something he could mention at the next staff meeting, and sent him on his way. Harry tottered back to the Pure Arts classroom. Alrister was still braced against the door, and Ron was still knocking to come out. Draco was still cackling.
"Good man, Harry," said Alrister. "Now... I'll ask you to, ah, administer it. Better if I don't take any more chances." He stepped away from the door quickly, then ran to hide behind one of the Hufflepuff girls, who looked quite alarmed.
Harry stepped into the office, and instantly, Ron pounced on him. Harry yelped and shouted, "Get off, you prat!"
"Where's Romeo?" asked Ron, sounding worried.
Harry grimaced. "Sorry about this. You'll thank me later." He leapt at Ron, and practically tackled him to the desk, forcing the bottle of anti-love potion down his throat. Ron choked and spluttered, struggling to get out of Harry's hold, but soon enough, the potion seemed to be taking effect. The rosy blush in his cheeks was fading away, and after a few more moments of thrashing and kicking, Ron managed to throw Harry off.
"What are you doing?" he demanded, angrily, wiping his mouth and flecking anti-love potion all over the floor. "Trying to poison me?"
"Malfoy gave you a love potion," said Harry.
Silence fell. Ron stared at him in horror. "And... who did I...?"
"Alrister," said Harry.
The bell went the moment the word had left his mouth. It was hard to tell what Ron was thinking or feeling. His expression was very neutral and bland, as though too shocked and alarmed to register any emotions, as they got their things, and left the classroom. Ron didn't even dare to look at Alrister as they passed him, while he was shouting at Draco, dishing him a week's worth of detention, and then reporting him to see the headmaster and his Head of House.
Rumour and gossip, as it always did at Hogwarts, was practically racing Harry and Ron down the corridors as they headed towards the Great Hall for lunch. Ron was still eerily quiet. Even as they stepped in through the double doors of the hall, people were muttering as somebody from their Pure Arts class darted from table to table, spreading the word. A lot of people were laughing and turning to gape at Ron. A group of first years nearby actually seemed to be taking notes.
Ron and Harry sat down at one of the tables. Ron had a hollow sort of horror on his face. Harry handed him a plate of pizza, which Ron didn't even glance at, as he was too busy staring into the pumpkin juice jug.
"You okay?" said Harry, tentatively.
"I'll kill him," Ron murmured. He twitched. "Show him once and for all that nobody makes a fool out of me."
"Look, Ron," Harry said. "This has gone on long enough. Just let it drop. He's had his revenge now, and you can both just leave it and get on. How long is this going to go on for if you don't? Weeks? Years? I don't want to spend my life sitting between you and sharing my attention, neither does anybody else."
The doors of the Great Hall opened. Draco swept in, looking immensely pleased with himself. Ron got up, quietly, and just said, "Sorry about this, Harry. But some things need to be sorted out." He pushed in his chair, and headed towards Draco.
Harry instinctively knew what was going to happen split-seconds before it did. He leapt up, and shouted, "Ron, NO!!", but it was too late, as Ron leapt at Draco with such force that both of them went flying into one of the tables, knocking food and cutlery all over. Several people screamed and backed away. Ron had Draco by the throat and was trying to strangle him, but Draco was putting up a terrific fight, and next second there was a crash as the table gave way under their combined weight. More and more dishes and metal plates rained down, and then out of the mass of cutlery, Ron went flying backwards and hit the floor. Draco was onto him in a heartbeat, fists flying and both of them tearing at each other's throats like wild dogs. Some of the onlookers were cheering Ron or Draco on, others were backing away, while most just stood and watched, horror-struck, as the two boys fought viciously. Professor McGonagall ran forward from across the hall, looking extremely angry, and brandishing her wand.
"Stop this IMMEDIATELY!!" she cried, though neither Ron nor Draco took the slightest bit of notice. Draco had now pinned Ron to the floor and grabbed one of the goblets, using it in place of his fists, though it wasn't long before Ron was fighting back and going for his wand. Draco drew his own with a swish like a sword, but Ron managed to seize the split-second's opportunity.
"Scoritis!" he roared, and Draco gave a cry of pain as a huge, red shiny burn suddenly bloomed across the side of his face. He staggered backwards, blinded by agony, and crashed into another table, bringing more food cascading onto the floor. Harry had finally got over the shock of what Ron had done, and had now drawn out his wand, trying to think of something that he could possibly do to stop them fighting. His first thought was to stun them, but with the crowd swarming around now, he was far more likely to hit an on-looker than Ron or Draco.
Ron had raised his wand for another curse, but Draco was faster this time. He seized a bowl of soup off one of the students and flung it at Ron, showering him from head to foot in the scoldingly hot broth, then battering him over the head with the bowl. Ron grabbed it off him, threw it aside and Draco was knocked backwards to the floor again.
Harry had no idea who was winning. At this rate, they'd just kill each other at exactly the same time. Over all the shouts of the crowd and the clattering of metal as it hit the floor, Harry could hear Ron and Draco yelling at each other, hatred pouring from every single word.
Then Ron curled his fingers around Draco's neck, and slammed him into the wall. There was a nasty crack and Draco gave a cry of pain, before silence fell. Draco closed his eyes, panting hard, and Ron just glared at him. Both were covered in cuts and bruises, and the burn was slowly spreading across Draco's face. After a moment, Ron shook Draco, and snarled, "Don't you ever try to mess with me again."
Draco told Ron to do something that made Professor McGonagall splutter, and instantly take away ten points.
"Who gave you the right to humiliate me?" Ron shouted, angrily, shaking Draco again and making him seethe with pain.
"I could ask the same thing," Draco snarled. He took a deep breath, coughed, and a little trickle of blood made its way down his chin. "You might have started this, Weasley, but I'm not going to let you finish it."
"You're just a stuck-up arrogant half-breed," whispered Ron, though everybody in the hall caught every word. "I hate you. I always hated you. I always will hate you. But I'm only ever going to have a go at you when you mess with me. Clear?"
"Fine," spat Draco.
"Fine," Ron growled. He let go of the front of Draco's robes, staring at him with a mingle of hatred and disgust, before he put an arm around the Slytherin's shoulders, and held him up. "Let's get you to the hospital wing before you die, you stupid idiot," he said, vaguely, before they both limped out of the hall.
There was stunned silence for a moment, where everybody just stared at each other. Then there was a little cough, and McGonagall said, weakly, "Twenty points from the school total..."
And that was that. Two days later, when Ron and Draco both came out of the hospital wing with their black-eyes and bloodied noses all fixed up, they seemed perfectly happy. They sat next to each other at the dinner table, and Draco listened with almost enthusiasm as Ron told him about some of the Quidditch games he'd been to with his brothers. Harry even found that Ron seemed nicer in general. He didn't snap at anybody anymore, and could have a conversation without complaining about something. Hermione explained the reason for this to Harry one evening, when Ron was out at the library with Ginny.
"He was worried that he was losing you to Draco," she said, kindly. "He's used to you taking his side in everything, and when you weren't doing that, he just got a little panicky. He really does care about your opinion, Harry. Start spending a little more time with him than Draco, if you can. Draco won't mind."
Harry did this, and Ron seemed happier than he was throughout the whole year so far. Without the constant fighting and arguing, Harry didn't have to worry about where he sat at dinner or watch his words around Ron, and with his social life a great deal calmer, the days started to zip past, until one evening when Harry found himself walking down to the dungeons, holding a box under his arm.
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