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Chapter Twenty-One: Potions, Practice, Problems

Snape returned to teaching on the first day back after the holidays. He didn't turn up for breakfast - Harry knew that Snape was probably cautious still, about the rumours and gossip still surrounding the whole event with the vampire. He had good reason to. The hall at breakfast was buzzing with suspicion, and anybody who had a Potions lesson that day was acting, in Harry's opinion, as though they were shortly heading to their doom. Seamus Finnigan delighted in taking bets on whether Snape "would lose it and eat the class", and Neville seemed genuinely concerned about the safety of Harry and Hermione, who had Potions last thing.

"Do you worry about Lupin attacking you every time you step into the Dark Arts corridor?" said Draco, with a raised eyebrow.

"But Snape's a vampire! Lupin's just a werewolf!" said Neville.

"Vampires are actually less dangerous than werewolves," said Draco. "They have greater control over their actions, just as much as a human."

"Professor Lupin doesn't have fangs though," said Luna from across the table, hidden behind her copy of the Quibbler.

"So?" said Draco scornfully. "It's like suggesting that Weasley is about to jump on you and batter you to the floor with his spoon, just because he's got one."

"What's wrong with my spoon?" said Ron, looking up from his porridge.

"Nothing. I'm merely saying how ridiculous the idea of you beating Luna to death with it is," said Draco.

Ron stared at him. "Whoever said I was going to beat Luna to death with a spoon?"

"Wouldn't using a knife be a lot easier?" said Ginny.

"Yes, but he hasn't got a knife," said Draco. "Look, the point is - "

"What do I need a knife for?" said Ron, staring at him.

There was a moment's pause, and then Kainda summed up the whole conversation very well. "Can anybody remember what on earth we were talking about?"

"Killing Luna," said Ron, through a mouthful of porridge.

"Excuse me," said Luna, dreamily, "but I don't actually want to be killed, if it's all the same to you..."

Draco put a hand over his eyes. "Why do I even bother trying to explain things to you people? The opsittop would understand things better."

"What's Sneezy got to do with killing Luna?" said Ginny.

"Nothing! Look, it's that - " Draco just gave up, and covered his face.

There was another pause, then Kainda shrugged. "Not our fault you can't explain things properly. Pass the jam, Ron. Try not to kill Luna with it as you do."

"I thought he was going to use a spoon," said Neville, confused.

Draco sighed behind his hands. "Imbeciles. I'm surrounded by imbeciles."

The day was fairly ordinary. In Charms, Harry was pleased with the grade he'd earned for his NEWT assignment, and in Magical Creatures, Sneezy chattered pleasantly away to him all lesson as he tried to make the nest of a security dragon that was asleep in it at the time. History of Magic was a dull blur as usual, and he and Ron very nearly dozed off, but Potions turned out to be the most interesting lesson Harry had had in a long time.

As usual, the class lined up outside the dungeons, and then Snape beckoned them in. He took the register, and then stood up to address them all.

"Good," he said, vaguely, shutting his register. "We shall be studying theory today. There shall be a homework, and naturally, what you do not finish in this lesson will be carried on as extra class work... your NEWTs are steadily approaching, and I do not need to tell you all how... disappointed I will be if you achieve poor marks, having wasted my time for seven years. Textbooks are at the back. Page 168. Everything is outlined there."

They all shuffled off to get their textbooks. Harry picked one up for Hermione as well, and sat back at their desk, opening his book to find page 168. Hopefully it wouldn't be too long, he had a lot of other homework to somehow get his way through. Though after a few moments of flicking back and forth from 166-167, and 170-171, Harry soon realised that somebody had torn out his page, and he sighed, looking around for another one. He glanced at the back shelf, and realised there weren't any left.

"Can I...?" he began to Hermione in a whisper, but Snape's ever-sensitive ears picked up on it.

"No talking," he drawled.

Harry raised a hand. "Sir?"

"What, Potter?" said Snape, glancing up at him.

"Somebody's vandalised my textbook, Sir," he said. "And there aren't any left."

Snape stood up, and left the room, heading for his office to get Harry another book. The moment that Snape left though, the sound of giggling caught Harry's attention from across the room, and he glanced over at the Ravenclaws by the door. They were apparently discussing something very funny, though Harry couldn't quite see what. A boy with dark blonde hair shaved very short that Harry recognised as Andrew Waterhouse was grinning, and all his friends around him seemed to be trying to persuade him to do something, whispering, "Go on, Andy!"

"He'll kill me if he catches me," said Andrew, smirking.

"He won't, Andy, go on!"

"Alright..." The whole class was now watching as Andrew took his wand from his bag, and swished it at Snape's desk. There was a tiny pop, and several bulbs of garlic appeared lying amongst Snape's papers. Andrew swished his wand again, and covered the bulbs up with some of the scrolls. Harry felt a flush of both anger and panic. Was garlic harmful to real vampires? He was just reaching into his bag to draw out his wand and get rid of the bulbs before Snape came back, when the door opened, and the Potions master swept in.

The entire class was holding its breath as Snape handed Harry the textbook, sat down at his desk, and frowned at the disturbance in his papers. He moved the scrolls aside and uncovered the garlic bulbs. They all braced themselves for the almost certain tidal wave of fury about to engulf them all, and Harry actually scraped his chair back an inch or two through instinct.

But Snape didn't even look angry as he surveyed the garlic. He sat back in his chair, leisurely, reached out and picked up one of the bulbs. He studied it with almost interest for a few moments, and then curled back his upper lip. There was a gasp from the whole class as they caught a flash of long, needle-sharp fangs, before they sunk into the garlic with a loud crunch. They all stared at him in alarm. Snape chewed, idly, and even licked his lips before throwing the remainder of the bulb over their heads into a bin at the back.

"Wands out, please," he said, so quietly it wasn't even a hiss. "And line up against the wall."

They all did as they were told without a word. The tension in the dungeon was so taught it could have killed somebody. Even Harry, who hadn't done anything, felt scared. Andrew Waterhouse stood at the furthest end of the wall, two spaces down from Harry, so he would be last in line. He had turned chalk white, shivering from head to foot, holding his wand as though it was keeping him alive.

Snape started to move slowly along the line of terrified students, taking each wand in turn and murmuring, "Prior incantato..." He observed what came from the wand's tip, and then moved on. After a few minutes, Snape had reached Harry. He held out his hand, and Harry gave him his wand calmly, looking up at the professor. Snape met his eyes, and though his lips didn't move his voice spoke from behind Harry's ear.

"Such an interesting first lesson back..."

Harry smiled a little, as Snape tested his wand. Harry watched his last charm come out of the end in a little smoky plume. "It was Andrew Waterhouse," he thought, as Snape returned the wand.

"I know," Snape's voice drawled in his mind, whilst the professor moved onto Hermione. "I just like watching the little parasite sweat."

Harry gave an amused huff. Hermione cast him a quizzical expression. He shook his head, too busy watching Snape. The professor was now facing Andrew, standing before him, looking down at him with an expression of greatest triumph.

"Well then," he breathed. "Time to see whether the process of elimination has its merits or not... wand, Waterhouse."

Andrew held it out. He was turning a colour that was a rather interesting mix of sour milk, pistachio nuts and lime jelly. Snape took the wand off him, lifted it up so the entire class could see, and growled, "Prior incantato..."

The unmistakable shadowy form of a garlic bulb burst from the end of the wand. It hovered there for a few moments, before Snape waved it away. Andrew looked as though he might faint. Snape glanced down at the doomed boy, with an expression that suggested all would be forgiven.

But then the Potions master's face contorted in rage, and he grabbed Andrew by the front of the robes, shouting so loudly they all jolted. "GET - OUT!!!"

Andrew didn't need telling twice. He ran for the exit, faster than anything Harry had ever seen in his life, grabbing his bag, knocking over a desk in his haste to get out, wrenching the door open and slamming it shut behind him.

In the ringing silence that followed, it was generally accepted by everyone present that Andrew Waterhouse would never dare to set foot in the dungeons again.

Snape turned to the rest of the class. "Back to your seats," he hissed. "And anybody else who wishes to play anymore amusing jokes is perfectly welcome to join Waterhouse in the land of no return..."

They scurried back to their seats, and nobody dared even to breathe loudly for the rest of the two hours.

After school, Harry had Quidditch practice with the rest of his team out on the pitch. Their first match would be in a week's time, and according to the slip of parchment that had been delivered to Harry at breakfast, they were facing "Abracadabra".

"I found out from the girl who works next to me in Herbology," Kainda explained to them all, as they sat out on the pitch in their Quidditch robes. "Abracadabra are fifth and sixth, a mix of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. They've all been on house teams at some point, and their major weakness is their Seeker, Wes Harris, he's a fifth year. But they've got three sharp Chasers, to make up for it. Look out for the black-haired girl, she's called Rachana Fabiola. She's sixth year, the team Captain, and she's vicious."

"I know Rachana," said Ginny, with a grimace. "She's in my Charms class and she's horrible. She really thinks she's everything. Swanning around like she invented magic herself."

"What about the Beaters?" asked Harry.

"Alex and Alan Mairwen," said Kainda. "Ravenclaw twins, fifth year. They won't be a problem, Harry. They're both pretty strong, but they're not aggressive and they don't ever pull off any special moves."

"They're in my Astronomy class," said Luna, mystically. "They are very similar..."

"They're twins," said Ginny.

"Ah, yes... that could explain it..." said Luna, her voice fading from normal volume to a half-whisper by the end.

"Well, with enough practice, we'll be able to beat them," said Harry. He stood up, and straightened out his Quidditch robes. Kainda's gloves were firmly in place on his hands. "Come on everybody, up into the air. Neville, try to stay on your broom this time, alright? Draco, stop messing with your hair, there's nothing wrong with it! Ginny, Ron, stop telling him there is! Hermione, can you look after all our stuff? And Kainda?"

"Yes?" she said, as she looked up from her homework.

Harry blew her a kiss, grinned, and flew off across the stadium, feeling distinctly playful.

"Come on, Casanova!" Ron shouted. "Stop being such a romantic and showing the rest of us up!"

Harry laughed, and sped over to them, corkscrewing round a few times just to show off. He could now hardly believe he had made the decision to stop playing at the start of term. With all the trouble and chaos going on in his life, the idea of banning himself from Quidditch too was horrible.

"Okay... Hannah, Neville, Ginny? Are you all ready down there?" Harry called. "Ron, ready? Draco? Ernie?"

"Ready!" they all shouted.

"Okay. Luna, release the balls!" yelled Harry, and down on the pitch below, Luna flipped open the trunk and let the Quaffle, Bludgers and Snitch take off into the air. Hannah shot forward to grab the Quaffle and went zooming down the pitch towards the goals, with Ginny hot on her tail and Neville floundering along behind. Ernie went off after one of the Bludgers, and Harry quickly found the other one, chasing Draco around the goal posts. He flew over to it, flicked the front of his broom upwards to brake sharply and almost slide through the air, as he hit the Bludger with all his might, sending it reeling off in the other direction. There was no more time to think though. He was after it again, as if chasing a heavy and slow Snitch, constantly flying and hitting.

Their practice lasted two and a half hours, until it was just past five o' clock, and everybody was weary and hungry. Harry and Ron rounded up all the balls, even if it took a few minutes to get the Snitch, and then Ron took the crate off towards Madam Hooch's office. Everybody else, changed and clean, was heading towards the castle. Harry landed in the stands, dismounting his broom, and wiping his forehead. He wondered why nobody had stayed behind to wait for him, until he realised that somebody had.

"Your bag, Boss," said a sly voice from behind him. He turned around, and saw Kainda there, holding it out for him. He grinned and took it.

"Thanks," he said. "I'm going to have a shower, I might be a few minutes. You can go up to the castle without me, I won't make you wait."

"And abandon you here?" she said. "Never."

He turned around, and sat on the bench in front of her. She reached forward in her wheelchair, took the towel off him and wiped his brow for him. He grinned. "I'm just tired, I'm not going to die..."

"I was a Beater for seven years, Harry," she said wisely. "There's a very fine line between the two, y'know."

"I don't know how you could have kept yourself going in the match against the Dragons last year," he said. "I can hardly hold a bat after an hour..."

"Practice," she said. "And a good incentive. Once you've been playing for a long time, you'll be a brilliant Beater. Promise you. One more thing, you need to make these gloves looser, it's restricting your movement..." She gently loosened some of the buckles for him, until they fit snugly over his hands. "There. Just try not to flick your wrist, you don't want to break it. Or worse." She smiled at him, and reached up, running his fingers down the side of his neck. "Hey, no collar..."

"I've got a chain now," he said, smiling and blushing a little. He slid the dog tag out from under his Quidditch robes and showed her it. "Nice, huh?"

"Oh yes... haute couture," she said, smiling bemusedly. She put it back under his robes. "It's time for dinner, you know. And you still smell like a muggle farmer."

He grinned. "And what do you think of muggle farmers, may I ask...?"

Kainda's smile spread, as she leant forward. "I love them."

Harry sat in the Owlery window later that evening. It was about half an hour to lock-out time, and he was just getting some air, as he finished off a sketch of a post-owl for Care of Magical Creatures. He was smiling while he did - it had been a very good day. Seeing Snape reaffirm his authority over the class, and then the Quidditch practice, had definitely given him something to smile about. Andrew Waterhouse had only appeared from the Ravenclaw bathrooms at dinner, looking very shaky and white, and when Snape asked Professor McGonagall to pass him some more garlic, Andrew nearly fainted.

Chuckling at the memory, Harry glanced up at the owl he was sketching. It peered back at him curiously, tilting its head, clicking its beak. He smiled.

"I won't be long," he said. "I just want to draw you. See?" He showed the owl the piece of paper. "I don't think I've got your beak right."

The owl hooted mildly, and fluttered a little, settling itself on the perch again. Carefully, he jotted down a small note next to his drawing, then looked out of the window across the grounds. One of the security dragons was rumbling along underneath the window, tail sweeping back and forth as it walked, rippling the dark satin lawns into an ocean of moon-lit green. Harry watched the night-sky for a few long moments. It was only then that his ears picked up the footsteps coming up the stairs of the Owlery. He turned around, and to his surprise, it was Hermione who stepped in.

"Oh! Harry!" she said, surprised. "What are you doing here?"

He showed her the sketch. "Care of Magical Creatures. What about you?"

"Oh... I'm just patrolling. Making sure there aren't any couples in here, you know," she said, blushing a little.

"Hermione!" called a voice from down the stairs. "Who are you talking to up there? I thought you said the Owlery would be deserted now!" Ron came into the room. He saw Harry, and put on a huge fake grin. "Hiya Harry! Who would have thought you'd be here, huh? What are you doing here?"

"Homework," said Harry. He smirked. "I'll leave you two to it, shall I? Half an hour to lock-out time though, don't get stuck in here for the night."

"Oh no, what a terrible thing to happen," said Ron, mildly.

Harry slid off the window ledge, put his notepad under his arm, and then left, grinning. He still couldn't quite get used to the idea of Ron and Hermione. He made his way down the widing staircase, and out into the corridor. It was dark as usual. Harry was getting well accustomed to Hogwarts at night, even if he didn't want to be, and it was only a short walk to Gryffindor Tower. He put his hands in his pockets, and headed down the corridor, with nothing in his thoughts apart from Quidditch and Kainda.

He was so caught up in his dreams that he didn't notice the object blocking the corridor before him, until it was only a few metres in front of him.

He stopped, looking up, and his heart fell. The two things he least wanted to see in the whole world were there. One was Khepri, leaning against the wall, smirking at him as usual. And lying in the middle of the corridor, bitten in the neck and losing blood fast was Draco. His arms were around something that Harry first thought was a jumper, before he realised it was Sylus, Draco's owl.

"Draco!" Harry ran over to him, falling to his knees.

Draco was still conscious, but barely. He tilted his head up, gazing at Harry through bleary eyes. "P-Potter...?"

"Who was it?" said Harry. "Are you alright?"

"I... I didn't see," croaked Draco. He was going paler and paler with every second, and as he breathed in, Harry heard a horrible rasping sound. "Wearing... wearing a cloak. Long. B-black. I was... was j-just coming this way... and I f-found Sylus... lying here."

Harry turned his eyes down to the owl. He had been bitten badly. Blood was soaking down his sleek feathers, and his eyes were closed. Harry touched the owl gently, and knew by how cold Sylus was that there was no hope. It was gone. Draco didn't seem to know it. He was trying to sit up, despite the gore soaking his robes, holding Sylus in his arms like a child.

"Take... take him to H-Hagrid," Draco choked. He handed the owl to Harry. Harry didn't know whether he should say or not. He decided quickly on not, and reached out, taking Sylus. "Don't let him d-die, Harry..."

"I won't," whispered Harry. He swallowed, and then reached out, taking Draco under the arm. "Come on, let's get you to the hospital wing..." He drew his wand, just in case. Sylus had been laid as a trap, for the vampire to get Draco. If it was still lurking somewhere, Harry could well end up as the next victim.

Harry only managed to get Draco to the nearest staircase before loss of blood took over, and the Slytherin blacked out, falling against Harry. Harry quickly performed a levitation spell, and hurried down the corridors with Draco floating along behind him. He still held Sylus in one arm. Harry knew there weren't many things Draco would have risked a vampire attack for, and Sylus was perhaps the only one. Malfoys had no care for other people's things, but over their own they were fiercely protective.

As he approached the hospital wing, he paused. For a moment, he experienced a momentary flush of worry, the same he had felt when taking Snape, but this time he had learnt his lesson. He wasn't going to leave Draco. Gryffindor courage surged up in him, and he headed straight for the doors, pushing them open and leading Draco through.

"Madam Pomfrey!" he called. "Madam Pomfrey!"

She came rushing over from a bed at the end of the ward. "Mr Potter, do you mind? There are patients in here!" As her eyes fell upon Draco, Harry could tell what she was thinking, even if she didn't say it. After a moment, she sighed, "Oh dear... second attack tonight... bring him down then, Mr Potter... what's that you've got there?"

"His owl," mumbled Harry. "It's... it's dead. He was trying to protect it when the vampire got him."

Harry levitated Draco carefully down the ward, and together, he and Madam Pomfrey got the Slytherin into a bed. Madam Pomfrey was looking very flustered.

"Did you say he's the second attack tonight?" said Harry.

"Yes," said Madam Pomfrey with a sigh. "There's a house-elf been killed just outside the kitchen corridor. Poor thing didn't stand a chance." She glanced at the clock above her desk. "It's nearly lock-out time, Mr Potter. You'd better hurry to your dormitory, and keep your wand out as you do. We don't want you as the third attack tonight, locked out until morning."

"Okay," said Harry. He handed Sylus to her awkwardly. "Could you just... put it somewhere...? Or whatever has been done with the other owls... don't let him see it. He'll be really upset."

She nodded, and took Sylus away to her office. Harry left the hospital wing, heading into the dark corridors. Once or twice on the way to Gryffindor Tower, he thought he saw something move in the blackness behind him. It was only when he reached the portrait hole did Harry realise something important - Khepri. He had been standing right there when Harry went to help Draco, and hadn't stuck around to chat. It had been the perfect opportunity to get answers about the Shani Theoris out of Khepri, and he had bypassed it for Draco and Sylus. Though Harry had the feeling Khepri would be planning a return visit very soon - and he was not looking forward to it.


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