The Many Faces of Harry Potter 7

“The Many Faces of Harry Potter: Chapter 7”
By = Fayanora

Chapter Seven: Lurking Dangers

Note: Text in 'Italics and British quotes' is Parseltongue.

Note 2: Once more, I apologize for the bits and pieces of canon dialogue/narration here and there.

Note 3: A Christmas update!

The next day, Harry made sure to ask Professor McGonagall about whether or not Aqua was allowed. She seemed a little surprised, but as it was just a harmless grass snake, the only thing she said about it was “Do try to prevent it eating Longbottom's toad, will you?”

After breakfast, they had Herbology with Professor Sprout, who looked distinctly pestered as she tried to get rid of Lockhart. His immaculate turquoise robes and hat could not have been more of a contrast to her patched, frayed, and dirty clothing if he'd tried. Harry felt a stirring of fancy from Iliana, and got a flash image of Al miming retching.

“Oh hello there,” Lockhart beamed at the students. “Just been showing Professor Sprout the right way to water Mandrakes. Oh, she's quite capable, I assure you, but they can be finicky blighters, and I've run into several wild ones on my many adventures, so I was just offering her the benefit of my unique experience.”

“Greenhouse three today, chaps!” said Professor Sprout, who was looking distinctly disgruntled, not at all her usual cheerful self.

There was a murmur of interest. They had only ever worked in greenhouse one before — greenhouse three housed far more interesting and dangerous plants. Professor Sprout took a large key from her belt and unlocked the door. Harry caught a whiff of damp earth and fertilizer mingling with the heavy perfume of some giant, umbrella-sized flowers dangling from the ceiling. He was about to follow Ron and Hermione inside when Lockhart’s hand shot out.

“Harry! I’ve been wanting a word — you don’t mind if he’s a couple of minutes late, do you, Professor Sprout?”

Judging by Professor Sprout’s scowl, she did mind, but Lockhart said, “That’s the ticket,” and closed the greenhouse door in her face.

Harry glared at the man, wondering what could be so important as to pull him out of class.

“Harry,” said Lockhart, his large white teeth gleaming in the sunlight as he shook his head. “Harry, Harry, Harry.”

Completely confused, Harry said nothing.

“When I heard — well, of course, it was all my fault. Could have kicked myself.”

Harry had no idea what he was talking about. He was about to say so when Lockhart went on, “Taking the Knight Bus to school instead of the train, honestly. Now I know that after that taste of fame I gave you in Flourish and Blotts, taking the train with the rest of those peasants must've felt degrading, but Harry, you're going about it all wrong.”

Harry was feeling such a bizarre mix of emotions from himself, Al, and Iliana that he didn't know where to even begin classifying it, so he just continued to stare, perplexed, at the man as he spoke.

Lockhart sighed, but grinned. In point of fact, he had not stopped grinning the whole time he'd been there, and Harry wondered if his face had frozen that way permanently.

“Now I know you've already got this whole thing with You-Know-Who, and surviving his killing curse and all. I know, I know — it’s not quite as good as winning Witch Weekly’s Most-Charming-Smile Award five times in a row, as I have — but it’s a start, Harry, it’s a start.”

Harry glared deeper at him, feeling his face turn red. Alastair took the opportunity to look into Lockhart's eyes. Whatever he saw there made him hiss like an angry cat Inside and pull back.

“But really, Harry, you're getting ahead of yourself. Besides that and our shared photo in the Daily Prophet, what have you really done? Yet here you are, buying fancy new glasses for yourself, riding the Knight Bus to school, showing up in the Great Hall before everyone else. It comes off just a bit egotistical at this stage. But I can help you work up your image, Harry, because you remind me of me when I was young.”

“I couldn't get through the barrier at platform 9 and 3/4th, sir. That's why I had to take the Knight Bus. And really, I would have preferred being on the train with my friends. I don't even like being famous.”

“Ah yes, that's the cover story you need right there, Harry. You're really quite clever at this, aren't you?”

“It's not a cover story, you twit! And I got the glasses because the others were hideous and I want to get rid of every reminder of the Dursleys that I can. Now if you don't mind – and even if you do mind – I'm going back to class.”

Harry stormed off back into class, leaving that addle-pated nincompoop alone, and apologized irritably to Professor Sprout.

“Sorry about that, Professor. That idiot wanted to bleat at me like a brain damaged goat about some nonsense.”

Professor Sprout snickered at this, and gestured him to get into position.

“We shall be repotting mandrakes today,” Sprout said. “Now, who can tell me the properties of the Mandrake?”

To nobody’s surprise, Hermione’s hand was first into the air.

“Mandrake, or Mandragora, is a powerful restorative,” said Hermione, sounding as usual as though she had swallowed the textbook. “It is used to return people who have been transfigured or cursed to their original state.”

“Excellent. Ten points to Gryffindor,” said Professor Sprout. “The Mandrake forms an essential part of most antidotes. It is also, however, dangerous. Who can tell me why?”
Hermione’s hand narrowly missed Harry’s glasses as it shot up again.

“The cry of the Mandrake is fatal to anyone who hears it,” she said promptly.

“Precisely. Take another ten points,” said Professor Sprout.

Harry listened carefully to the instructions. So did Iliana and Al, which he'd always found helpful. If he missed something, then one of the others would catch it. So when they all got their earmuffs on, he felt very ready. He watched as Professor Sprout repotted a mandrake. It looked like an ugly, muddy baby made of wood.

After the demonstration, she told them that the seedlings wouldn't kill you yet, but knock you out for several hours. Al wondered if a recording would be enough, and was annoyed that there was no way to find out.

“Four to a tray — there is a large supply of pots here — compost in the sacks over there — and be careful of the Venomous Tentacula, it’s teething.”

She gave a sharp slap to a spiky, dark red plant as she spoke, making it draw in the long feelers that had been inching sneakily over her shoulder.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione were joined at their tray by a curly-haired Hufflepuff boy Harry knew by sight but had never spoken to.

“Justin Finch-Fletchley,” he said brightly, shaking Harry by the hand. “Know who you are, of course, the famous Harry Potter. … And you’re Hermione Granger — always top in everything” (Hermione beamed as she had her hand shaken too) “— and Ron Weasley.” (Ron shook his hand, too.)

“That Lockhart’s something, isn’t he?” said Justin happily as they began filling their plant pots with dragon dung compost.

Before Justin could continue on, Al took over Harry's body and spoke.

“He's something, alright. Something nastier than he claims to be. A liar and a fraud, specifically.

Justin blinked.

“What makes you say that?”

Rather than try to explain a gift that was hard to explain, one that he hadn't run by Dumbledore to see if it, too, was a problem in this world, Al said, “A hunch. The way he talks gives me a distinct vibe of 'Egomaniacal blowhard blowing smoke out his arse.'”

Justin looked annoyed by this, but Al interrupted.

“So, Eaton eh? Impressive.”

“Oh. Thanks.”

“I know what it's like suddenly finding out you're a wizard. My aunt and uncle never told me I was a wizard, they never spoke of magic being real. If I hadn't accidentally set a snake loose at the zoo, I'd probably be going to school at Stonewall High right now. Thank god for accidental magic, eh?”

They ran out of time to speak, then, because they had to put their earmuffs back on and repot mandrakes.

When they left Herbology for their next class, they caught sight of Lockhart again. Cutting off Ron mid-sentence with the glow of transformation, Zoey suddenly appeared and ran off without explanation.

Hiding behind things, Zoey snuck up on the man, and pointed their wand at his legs when he was facing away, locking his legs in place, which knocked him over. Then she ran off again and rejoined Ron and Hermione.

“What was that all about?” Ron demanded.

“Oh, just taking care of something.”

They tried getting more out of her, but she clammed up. They were still trying when they got to Transfiguration.

Today, McGonagall had set them to turning a beetle into a button. While Harry or Iliana would have had a hard time with this, Zoey got hers done on the first try, producing a perfect silver button with a leafy design on it. Even Hermione hadn't managed that, and glared mutinously at her as McGonagall awarded Zoey 10 points for Griffindor.

Ron was having worse problems than usual. His hand-me-down wand, which was so worn that the unicorn hair was visible, was beginning to malfunction. Trying to transfigure his beetle resulted in a cloud of smoke that smelled of rotten eggs, and one very distressed beetle. Zoey gave him a Significant Look, and he gave her an equally Significant answering Look.

At the end of class, Ron was cussing out his wand. Zoey pulled Harry back up to the front, transforming them at the same time.

“Write home for another wand, Ron,” Harry said.

“Like my folks could afford one. Even with you paying for the Lockhart books and all.”

“And your damned pride doesn't permit you to ask me to pay for it, or to accept if I offered, so soon after that, I suppose?”

Ron's silence was all the affirmative answer Harry needed.

They went down to lunch, where Ron’s mood was not improved by Hermione’s showing them the handful of perfect coat buttons she had produced in Transfiguration, with a distinct air of trying to either prove herself to them or one-up Zoey. He knew Hermione felt herself a failure if she got anything less quickly than anyone else, but he thought she should have realized Zoey would be a natural at Transfiguration.

“What’ve we got this afternoon?” said Harry, hastily changing the subject.

“Defense Against the Dark Arts,” said Hermione at once.

“Why,” demanded Ron, seizing her schedule, “have you outlined all Lockhart’s lessons in little hearts?”

Hermione snatched the schedule back, blushing.

“Iliana fancied him at first, too. But then Al looked in the man's eyes and saw he's a lying fraud.”

“What's this now?”

“Oh. I don't think I've ever mentioned it to anyone, but might as well mention it to you, Ron, Hermione. Al can look into someone's eyes and usually tell their intentions.”

“What, like mind reading?”

“No, more like heart-reading. Like that old saw about the eyes being the windows to the soul.”

“You know,” Hermione said, her 'I am going to tell you an interesting fact' voice on full, “I've heard that people who've been, you know, abused, or bullied, or both, really, since bullying is abuse, and very few--”

“The point, 'mione?”

She huffed, annoyed.

“Anyway, I've heard that people who've been abused can often read people like that, even without magic. People – humans, anyway – give away a lot of information about their emotional state in their body language, especially their eyes. They can't help it, there's no way to train yourself out of it, because it's just something the body does. It makes sense, too, that people who've been abused would develop the ability to read those signs.”

“Yeah, come to think of it, I can always tell when Vernon is about to go into a screaming fit. I got good enough at it to sometimes manipulate his emotions to calm down, usually by diverting his attention to something that he didn't feel as strongly about.”

His friends looked at him with mixed emotions in their gazes.

“Well, thank goodness I won't need to do that with him again. Nor with any of the Dursleys, come to that. Hey, what's for lunch?”

After lunch, Hermione was reading one of Lockhart's books, and Ron and Harry talked about Quidditch. During the course of it, Harry explained that though he sucked at finding the snitch, he did enjoy flying, the soaring feeling it gave him. But then he felt eyes watching him, and looked in the direction it came from.

Looking up, he saw the very small, mousy-haired boy he’d seen trying on the Sorting Hat last night staring at Harry as though transfixed. He was clutching what looked like an ordinary Muggle camera, and the moment Harry looked at him, he went bright red.

“All right, Harry? I’m — I’m Colin Creevey,” he said breathlessly, taking a tentative step forward. “I’m in Gryffindor, too. D’you think — would it be all right if — can I have a picture?” he said, raising the camera hopefully.

“No,” Harry said. “I don't like my picture being taken. Sorry, Colin.”

“B-but... but you were in the paper the other day!”

“Yeah, and that one was taken against my will. I don't like being famous. I'm famous for something I can't even remember, famous for not dying when my parents did, and it was brand new information to me. How would you feel if, after being told you were a wizard, you were told you were famous for being some kind of weird, unkillable orphan?”

Colin turned redder. “Oh. Hadn't thought of that.”

“But hey, if you hang out with us, maybe we can be friends. I wouldn't mind getting in a group picture with friends of mine.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Come on, sit down, Colin. We were just talking about Quidditch.”

Colin did sit down, but mostly stared, silent and awestruck, at Harry as he and Ron spoke. It was a little unnerving, but not as bad as having his picture taken.

Halfway through the conversation, Malfoy ambled by with a group of other Slytherins.

“Well if it isn't Hairy Potty,” Malfoy sneered. “Smarming up to your fanboys, are you Potty? Maybe I should go fetch the Weasley bird, I hear she's got a shrine to you in her bedroom. You can start a fan club.”

Harry raised an eyebrow as Malfoy and his admirers laughed at his poor excuse for wit.

“You know, Malfoy, from the first time I met you, you reminded me of my cousin Dudley, only a lot smaller. You're spoiled rotten just like him, and every time you talk I get this strong feeling of 'Why can't everything always be about me?' from you. You're worse than Lockhart in that respect; at least he's got his books to gain him attention, whereas you're just a homesick kid who's out of his element and lonely because of it. If you want me to be your friend, Malfoy, I suggest you stop bullying people, especially me and my friends.”

Malfoy glared at this. The other Slytherins snorted with repressed laughter, which didn't help his mood. He glared first at them, and then sneered at Harry. “I wouldn't want to be your friend, Potty; you associate with Muggles and their half-breed spawn,” he said, indicating Colin and Hermione.

Recalling the conversation he overheard between Draco and his father, Harry smirked.

“Oh, I see. How could I forget that you always want your daddy's approval? And the fact that Daddy Malfoy expects better of his high-born son than to be outperformed in classes by a Muggle-born witch?”

Draco went deathly pale at these words. “How did you...? I mean...”

“Accidentally ended up getting out at the wrong grate over the summer, overheard a very interesting conversation involving your father, you, and a certain store clerk after hiding in a cabinet.”

“Figures you would be hiding and eavesdropping on other people's conversations, Potter.”

“Well it was either that or be at the mercy of two – possibly three – people who hate me, in an unfamiliar place. What would you have done?”

He sneered again. “I thought you Griffindors were supposed to be brave?”

“Brave yes. Stupid, no. Your father was suspected of being in league with Voldemort. Couldn't risk being around him in a situation like that. I thought cunning was a Slytherin trait. Aren't you a Slytherin?”

“Are you making accusations against my father?”

“Figures that would be the only part of what I said to get your attention. Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. But paranoia is a survival trait, when there are people after one's blood. So I'll gladly err on the side of paranoia, even if it means you take offense at it.”

“Ho ho, what's all this now, boys?” a disgustingly familiar voice cut in. They all looked up to see Lockhart's grinning git face. “What seems to be the disturbance?”

“Nothing, Professor,” smarmed Malfoy. “Just having a conversation with Potter. Talking about his fan club.”

“Fan club? Oh Harry, Harry,” Lockhart said sadly. “And here I thought our earlier conversation had gotten through to you.”

“He's making stuff up, Professor. I don't have a fan club, and I don't want one.”

“Now now, Harry, there's no need to lie to Gilderoy Lockhart. I know how seductive fame can be, boy. But you're getting ahead of yourself, as I said before.”

Malfoy glanced at Colin's camera.

“You don't know the half of it, Professor Lockhart. Colin came here to get signed photos from Potter.”

“Signed photos? Well, Mr. Creevy, if you must. But here, let's get the both of us, make the picture even more valuable.”

Oh you wanna play that game, do you? Harry heard Zoey think.

“But Harry doesn't want--” Colin began to say.

“Nonsense, my dear boy, nonsense! Why--”

But whatever he was going to say got cut off as Zoey appeared in a glow of white light. She stood up primly, the picture of innocence.

“Professor Lockhart, sir. Mr. Malfoy just didn't want to admit to being a huge fan of yours, because otherwise your attention would surely leave him very embarrassed. He's always talking about how brave you are, how handsome you are, and how he wants to be just like you when he grows up. He was hoping that getting a signed photo from Harry would give him the excuse he needed to get one from you, but he's not really interested in Harry, just in you, Professor.”

She wrinkled her nose in concentration, then pulled from behind her back a parchment that hadn't been there before.

“Look, see, he was having us proofread some fanmail he wanted to send to you,” she said, handing Lockhart the parchment.

“Oh my, really?” Lockhart beamed. Malfoy looked confused, then angry as a wolverine at Zoey, who grinned innocently back at him. “Well,” Lockhart continued, “I am touched. Thrilled to meet such fans as you, Mr. Malfoy.”

“Read the letter aloud, Professor, I know he'd want you to.”

“Really? Oh okay, if he wants it so badly I guess I have no choice,” Lockhart said, beaming like never before.

Malfoy's face went panicky, and he ran to try to grab the parchment out of Lockhart's hand. The other Slytherins turned their noses up at this undignified display of panic. Lockhart smiled indulgently, holding the letter higher than Malfoy could reach.

“Now now, Mr. Malfoy, you'll get it back when I've read it and signed it for you. Let's see, yes,” he began, reading out.

“Dear Gilderoy Lockhart, I am your #1 fan. I own every book you've ever written, and the walls of my bedroom at home and my dorm room in Hogwarts are simply plastered with posters of your amazing face. I even wear your personal brand of underpants every day of the week...”

Ron and Hermione began laughing so hard that they were both beet red and having difficulty breathing. Colin just stood there, transfixed. Zoey took the opportunity to drag her two friends away from the fiasco, even though she wanted to stay and listen, and watch as Draco's face went red enough to set the grass on fire, still desperately trying to get the fake letter away from Lockhart.

Not being able to get them all the way back into the castle, Zoey settled for getting them into Hagrid's hut; even that seemed to be assisted by wandless magic. Hagrid looked at them as they came in, bewildered, and tried to speak, but Zoey hushed him politely, telling him they needed time to recover from a hilarious sight.

“Oh my god, Zoey,” Ron said at last, clutching a stitch in his side. “That was brilliant!”

“I agree... though you shouldn't have,” Hermione said, once she got her wits about her. “Malfoy's bound to be furious, now.”

“I did it as a diversion, to get us away from Lockhart and Malfoy both,” Zoey explained. “And who knows? Maybe if he's mortified enough, he'll think twice before picking on us.”

“I dunno. He's pretty thick, mate.”

Zoey transformed back into Harry, and they left for Defense Against the Dark Arts.

Lockhart's idea of a Defense class turned out to be a ridiculous waste of time. He started out giving a quiz about his books, supposedly just to see how much they'd already taken in, which turned out to be all about him, with nothing at all about Defense. Even Iliana was starting to feel Lockhart was a blowhard, and was rapidly losing interest in his ridiculous egotistical face. Hermione, however, was still under the man's spell, getting every question right and appearing smitten by him still, which figured; Hermione had an unhealthy level of respect for rules and authority, such that they wondered if she realized that authority comes from people, and that people are fallable and thus are often wrong. And anyone who wrote a book, no matter how obviously full of tripe they were, was automatically an authority to Hermione. The fact that Dumbledore had, for whatever reason, decided to let this strutting, brainless peacock in as a teacher just made it worse. It made Harry feel better for not having even looked at the books once since getting them.

Dumbledore must be mad as a hatter to let this guy teach anything, let alone Defense, Alastair thought snidely at Harry. Harry privately agreed.

Lockhart was now bending over a covered cage. Very dramatically, building up their suspense and nearly scaring Neville off his chair, he finally tore off the cover to reveal... Cornish pixies.

Like tiny winged, blue people with odd faces and squeaky voices, the pixies looked very excitable. But, as Seamus Finnegan pointed out in near hysterical laughter, they didn't look terribly dangerous. However, when the idiot released them into the room, they began flying everywhere destroying everything they could find, resulting in utter bedlam. Lockhart tried dealing with them himself, but the only effect his spell had was to annoy one of the pixies into stealing his wand and chucking it out the window, at which point he just took off running.

Harry ducked behind some furniture with Ron and Hermione, and took advantage of Al's fascination with hexes to blast the little things out of the air with a spell he was fairly sure wouldn't hurt them much, but there were so many of them that even with Hermione doing the same spell, that didn't help much.

Then matters were made worse when Ron tried to help, for instead of knocking out the pixies, the spell from the aging wand backfired on him, knocking him out. Several people, Harry included, tripped over Ron before they realized what had happened, which distracted them long enough that the pixies picked up Neville by his robes and hung him from a chandelier. Harry was astonished; he hadn't thought the pixies knew how to cooperate and focus on something long enough to do that.

Hermione focused on trying to rescue Neville while Harry kept knocking out pixies. Dean, who had also lost his wand, went around picking up the pixies Harry had knocked out and returning them to their cage.

Once Neville was freed, Hermione and Harry worked double-time until at last the pixies were all contained. They woke up Ron with a few shakes, and together they left the room.

“Can you believe him?” roared Ron as they walked the corridor.

“He just wants to give us some hands-on experience,” said Hermione, immobilizing two pixies at once with a clever Freezing Charm and stuffing them back into their cage.

“Hands on?” said Harry, who was trying to grab a pixie dancing out of reach with its tongue out. “Hermione, he didn’t have a clue what he was doing —”

“Rubbish,” said Hermione. “You’ve read his books — look at all those amazing things he’s done —”

“He says he’s done,” Ron muttered.

“I agree,” Harry said. “If he couldn't even handle pixies, I don't see him being able to handle werewolves, trolls, or vampires. And anyone can write a book, doesn't make it true. Even if someone's duped into publishing it.”

Hermione blushed, but said nothing more.

On Friday morning, Ron's decrepit wand, which hadn't done anything right in days, malfunctioned in a truly spectacular way as it shot out of his hand and gave Professor Flitwick a nasty green boil between his eyes.

“Okay, that's it,” Harry said, “you need a new wand.”

“Yeah, I do. But we can't get one anytime soon. If only it'd started doing this before school started. But we're not old enough to go to Hogmeade yet, and the next chance to go to Diagon Alley isn't til the Christmas holidays. But I think I can last til then.”

“Ron, that wand is a menace to everything and everyone around it. I can owl-order you a new one.”

“Ollivander says the wand chooses the wizard,” Ron said.

“And yet here you are with a hand-me-down wand, that was working fine until recently. But that thing is so dangerous now that everybody knows it. The other day, you pointed it at Scabbers, and he woke up from his nap right away and took off running. So even your rat knows to avoid your wand.”

“No, Harry. It works sometimes. You just don't notice when it does because--”

“Because I'm so focused on the times when it nearly destroys something or someone?”

“Well I have to at least discuss it with Mum. They might have the money to replace it themselves, and as it's not exactly an emergency...”

“When is it going to qualify as an emergency, though? When it takes someone's leg off?”

But Ron was insistent that it still wasn't an emergency, and therefore didn't need replacing yet. Harry sighed, wondering how Ron could be so delusional, but saying nothing more.

On Saturday, the three of them planned to go down to Hagrid's, but Harry found himself being shaken awake at the asscrack of dawn by Oliver Wood.

“Quidditch practice!” Wood barked. “You need to be Iliana.”

Grumbling, Harry said, “Don't worry. We know how to control it now. But I need breakfast first.”

“Forget that, Harry, you can eat later. We need to get ahead of everyone else to win this year, and that means getting onto the pitch as early as we can. Don't waste time, just get dressed, transform, and come down to the pitch.”

Harry considered hexing Wood, but did as he was told. Zoey whined at being woken up so early, but triggered the transformation to Iliana with an annoyed grunt all the same. She got on her Quidditch robes, grabbed her broom, and headed down to the pitch.

As she left, she ran into Colin Creevy, who was saying something about Harry. He fell short when he saw her, then stared at her scar, his eyes going wide.

“Oh, you're Iliana Potter, aren't you? I haven't met you yet. I'm Colin Creevy. Hey, do you mind if I go down with you and take some photos? I've never seen Quidditch before!”

Oh lovely, she thought. He's a morning person.

Damn, and I left the rifle at home, Al thought back at her.

“Yeah okay, I suppose I can't stop you.”

“You were the youngest House player in a hundred years, weren’t you, Iliana? Weren’t you?” said Colin, trotting alongside him. “You must be brilliant. I’ve never flown. Is it easy? Is that your own broom? Is that the best one there is?”

Iliana didn’t know how to get rid of him. It was like having an extremely talkative shadow. All she could really think to do was to answer his questions as succinctly as possible. But when he ran out of Quidditch questions, he began asking about their collective.

“So I know you and Harry, but who else is in there? Do you think there'll be any more people showing up? Why are there so many people in one body anyway? How does that work?”

“No idea why we're a Multiple collective. I really hope no more are going to show up, it's already crowded enough in here with five people.”

“Who--” he began, but she cut him off.

“There's me, Harry, Alastair – he's older looking and has long black hair, then Zoey – who's younger, about 6 years old, and finally Tier. He doesn't seem to have his own specific appearance, at least not so far.”

Wearily answering more questions than she ever wanted to hear, Iliana was very glad when she was able to leave him behind to go into the changing rooms, even though she had already changed, in more ways than one.

Alas, she had traded an exasperating little kid for an older boy who was exasperating in a whole other way, and boring to boot, as Wood got them all together in front of a chalkboard and began regaling them with Quidditch tactics til several people on the team were falling asleep. This did not please Wood at all.

“I’ve got a question, Oliver,” said George, who had woken with a start. “Why couldn’t you have told us all this yesterday when we were awake?”

Wood wasn’t pleased.

“Now, listen here, you lot,” he said, glowering at them all. “We should have won the Quidditch Cup last year. We’re easily the best team. But unfortunately — owing to circumstances beyond our control —”

Iliana felt both guilty and annoyed. Guilty because she'd been knocked out and that had cost them the game and the Cup. Annoyed because A. She couldn't help that, and B. It was Wood's own fault for not training a reserve Seeker.

“Wood,” she said. “I'm not going to be made to feel guilty just because you couldn't be arsed to train a reserve Seeker.”

The Weasley twins snickered at this.

“Is that you, Al?”

“No,” Iliana said. “He and I just have similar attitudes after being dragged out of bed at Bugger O'Clock in the morning to listen to something we could barely understand when properly awake.”

Wood glared at her, and everyone else for laughing. When they'd stopped, and he'd regained control of himself, he spoke again.

“Anyway, this year, we train harder than ever before. … Okay, let’s go and put our new theories into practice!” Wood shouted, seizing his broomstick and leading the way out of the locker rooms. Stiff-legged and still yawning, his team followed.

'What is going on, human?' asked Aqua, startling Iliana, who had forgotten she still had the snake on her arm. She fell back and looked around carefully, then whispered, 'Sorry, explain later. Maybe you should go hunting.'

'Okay,' the snake agreed, slithering down onto the ground.

Iliana looked around again. Nobody appeared to have seen or heard anything unusual, which was good.

They'd been in there so long the sun was properly up all the way, and Ron and Hermione had joined Colin in the stands.

“Aren't you done yet?” Ron asked.

“Haven't even started yet,” Iliana grumbled. “Wood's been going over tactics with us.”

They began practice, the wind from flying making Iliana feel loads better, more awake. She went immediately into the act of hunting for the snitch, ignoring the clicking of Colin's camera. Wood, however, could not ignore it, and eventually commented on it. She had to reassure him that Colin was a Griffindor. He had been convinced the boy was a Slytherin spy.

The Slytherins didn't need a spy, however, because the whole team was headed right for them. Smelling danger, the Griffindor team followed their captain to confront Flint, the Slytherin captain.

“Flint!” Wood bellowed at the Slytherin Captain. “This is our practice time! We got up specially! You can clear off now!”

Marcus Flint was even larger than Wood. He had a look of trollish cunning on his face as he replied, “Plenty of room for all of us, Wood.”

“But I booked the field!” said Wood, positively spitting with rage. “I booked it!”

“Ah,” said Flint. “But I’ve got a specially signed note here from Professor Snape. ‘I, Professor S. Snape, give the Slytherin team permission to practice today on the Quidditch field owing to the need to train their new Seeker.’ ”

“You’ve got a new Seeker?” said Wood, distracted. “Where?”

And from behind the six large figures before them came a seventh, smaller boy, smirking all over his pale, pointed face. It was Draco Malfoy.

Why am I not surprised? thought Al.

Little shit bought his way onto the team, thought Harry. Look, his father's bought the whole team new brooms. Puts them at an unfair advantage.

Iliana nodded, forgetting only she could hear them at the moment.

The argument continued, and Iliana wasn't surprised when Ron and Hermione joined to see what all the fuss was about.

“What’s happening?” Ron asked Iliana. “Why aren’t you playing? And what’s he doing here?”

He was looking at Malfoy, taking in his Slytherin Quidditch robes.

“I’m the new Slytherin Seeker, Weasley,” said Malfoy, smugly. “Everyone’s just been admiring the brooms my father’s bought our team.”

Ron gaped, openmouthed, at the seven superb broomsticks in front of him.

“Good, aren’t they?” said Malfoy smoothly. “But perhaps the Gryffindor team will be able to raise some gold and get new brooms, too. You could raffle off those Cleansweep Fives; I expect a museum would bid for them.”

The Slytherin team howled with laughter. But Al was grinning internally with a sudden inspiration.

The idiot's just given me a great idea, Al thought at the others. 'Perhaps the Griffindor team can get new brooms too.' Yes, Malfoy, we're going to do exactly that. Same make and model, too. Don't tell him, though, I want it to be a surprise.

And better yet, let's get new brooms for all the school teams, nullify their advantage completely.

Great thinking, Harry.

“At least no one on the Gryffindor team had to buy their way in,” said Hermione sharply. “They got in on pure talent.”

The smug look on Malfoy’s face flickered. Iliana grinned.

“No one asked your opinion, you filthy little Mudblood,” he spat.

Well that sounds like a very rude word, Al thought.

And look at them all shouting in rage, that must be the wizarding equivalent of the n-word, thought Harry.

The whole fight happened so quickly that almost as soon as Harry stopped thinking those words, Ron had attempted to hex Malfoy, but his aged and doddering old wand blew up in his own face, leaving him puking up slugs onto the grass.

“Shit,” Iliana said, grabbing Ron and dragging him off toward Hagrid's, hoping the large man would know what to do.

“What happened, Iliana? What happened? Is he ill? But you can cure him, can’t you?” Colin had run down from his seat and was now dancing alongside them as they left the field. Ron gave a huge heave and more slugs dribbled down his front.

“Oooh,” said Colin, fascinated and raising his camera. “Can you hold him still, Iliana?”

“This isn't the time or place, Colin!” Iliana snapped at the boy.

Between her and Hermione, they managed to drag the increasingly green looking Ron to Hagrid's hut.

They were within twenty feet of Hagrid’s house when the front door opened, but it wasn’t Hagrid who emerged. Gilderoy Lockhart, wearing robes of palest mauve today, came striding out.

“Oh hell no,” Iliana and Al said in unison, trying to figure out a way to avoid Lockhart and get to Hagrid at the same time. They managed to duck behind some weeds to wait the buffoon out. Once he was gone, they continued on to Hagrid's.

Getting there at last, they knocked urgently.

Hagrid appeared at once, looking very grumpy, but his expression brightened when he saw who it was.

“Bin wonderin’ when you’d come ter see me — come in, come in — thought you mighta bin Professor Lockhart back again —”

“We feel your pain, Hagrid. But right now we're more concerned with Ron's,” Iliana said.

“Better out than in,” he said cheerfully, plunking a large copper basin in front of him. “Get ’em all up, Ron.”

“I don’t think there’s anything to do except wait for it to stop,” said Hermione anxiously, watching Ron bend over the basin. “That’s a difficult curse to work at the best of times, but with a malfunctioning wand...”

“So what was that word that got everyone so riled up? Must've been pretty bad.”

“It was bad,” said Ron hoarsely, emerging over the tabletop looking pale and sweaty. “Malfoy called her ‘Mudblood,’ Hagrid —”

Ron dived out of sight again as a fresh wave of slugs made their appearance. Hagrid looked outraged, and verbally abused Malfoy for using the word.

“It's a vile word,” Ron said, explaining. “Means 'dirty blood,' because Muggles are scum to people like him. Load of rubbish, of course. There aren't any true purebloods left, if there ever were any to begin with; everyone has some Muggle in them. If we hadn't married Muggles, we'd have died out ages ago. And anyway, blood purity doesn't affect ability at all. Look at Neville, he's a pureblood, and can hardly do anything right. And Hermione's Muggle-born and probably couldn't fail at anything if she tried.”

Hermione blushed at this and tried to protest, but Hagrid – who hadn't noticed – but her off.

“Well, I don’ blame yeh fer tryin’ ter curse him, Ron,” said Hagrid loudly over the thuds of more slugs hitting the basin. “Bu’ maybe it was a good thing yer wand backfired. ’Spect Lucius Malfoy would’ve come marchin’ up ter school if yeh’d cursed his son. Least yer not in trouble.”

“Not any more trouble than belching slugs, anyway,” Al quipped with Iliana's voice.

“Anyway, Iliana,” Hagrid said in a blatant attempt to change the subject, “got a bone ter pick with yeh. Heard you've been giving out signed photos. Why ent I got one yet?”

She felt her face go hot, and began stammering a response when Hagrid laughed.

“Jus kiddin! Nah, I don't believe a word that Lockhart says bout nuthin.”

They continued with some idle chitchat for a while, about Lockhart mainly, in which they found out from Hagrid that literally nobody else wanted the DADA job because of rumors it was cursed. After Quirrell dying, Iliana didn't blame them. She felt panic start to rise in her at the thought of Quirrell, and the thought of how she'd been forgetting about what she'd done, how she should be atoning more for her sins. Luckily, the conversation continued, and Iliana – feeling horrible no matter what – went along with the change and tried to put the thought of Quirrell out of her mind, which wasn't easy.

At some point, Hagrid showed them some enormous pumpkins that he'd apparently been using his pink umbrella (that was, by this admission, obviously an illegal wand) on. Iliana found herself wondering what Hagrid had done that was bad enough to get expelled and his wand snapped in half, and him forbidden to use it legally, but of course he wouldn't discuss it, so she didn't bother to ask.

But the thoughts of Quirrell wouldn't go away. They were drowning her. Her heart was racing, and she was breathing too fast. Hermione looked at her curiously, and that look was like the proverbial straw on the camel's back. Unable to cope, she retreated to her hiding place within, which forced a transformation back to Harry.

Hagrid, who still hadn't gotten used to these transformatons, gave a start at this. But Ron and Hermione barely even blinked.

“Well you've done well on your pumpkins,” Hermione said, continuing where she'd left off.

“That’s what yer little sister said,” said Hagrid, nodding at Ron. “Met her jus’ yesterday.” Hagrid looked sideways at Harry, his beard twitching. “Said she was jus’ lookin’ round the grounds, but I reckon she was hopin’ she might run inter someone else at my house.” He winked at Harry. “If yeh ask me, she wouldn’ say no ter a signed —”

“Oh shut it,” Harry snapped, making everyone laugh.

Then, suddenly remembering something, he said, “Be right back,” and went running back to the Quidditch pitch, hunting around for Zoey's snake. After several minutes of looking, and calling out for her in Parseltongue, Aqua finally emerged.

'There you are, human. I've been looking all over for you. I ate a mouse, and then came back and you weren't here.'

'Sorry about that, Aqua. My friend Ron got sick. As soon as he was taken care of, I came back looking for you.'

'I am glad. You are warm. I think next time I will fly with you instead of hunting, though.'

When they got back into the castle later, Ron had the misfortune of running right into Filch and having a slug attack all over the man's clothes. After a lot of yelling and screaming, Filch grabbed both him and Harry and dragged them into his office. Harry tried to protest that he'd done nothing wrong, and that Ron couldn't help his slug attack, but the man was too livid to listen, even if he'd ever been so inclined. He assigned them both detentions, cleaning the trophies in the trophy room without magic. He would listen to no protests, so they went to McGonagall.

Finding her in a corridor, they explained everything. Most unfortunately, Lockhart overheard and insisted on taking Harry's detention, to help him answer his fan mail. Harry tried to beg McGonagall not to allow it, but she did. Their detentions would be served tonight.

As time was wont to do whenever he had something unpleasant ahead of him, the afternoon slipped away all too quickly, and Harry found himself in Lockhart's office, set to the mind-numbing task of addressing envelopes. What was most annoying was that if it had been cleaning, Harry could have just set a part of his mind he'd taken to calling the Automaton to the task, and just daydreamed about whatever he wanted as it toiled away. He'd gotten through many tedious hours at the Dursleys that way, trading in the tedium for a sort of fast-forwarding of time from being barely aware of what his body was doing. But this task required more thought than the mindless Automaton could manage, so time was going to drag on like a zombie begging to be put out of its misery.

Still, there was a different sort of coping mechanism for the tedium, as his brain became torpid and stupid under the crushing weight of the tedious task and Lockhart's pointless nattering. He set the Automaton to nodding and making noncommittal noses in the right places as he focused on addressing the envelopes, and as such, not a single word Lockhart said got past the ramparts of his Automaton and into the castle of any of their conscious minds.

And then the Automaton was poking them to get their attention, for it was hearing something its simplistic programming couldn't identify. Not the sounds of the candles, and not Lockhart's prattle, it was a cold, cruel voice that chilled them all to the marrow.

'Come … come to me. … Let me rip you. … Let me tear you. … Let me kill you...'

He gave a start, looking around for the source of the voice.

“What was that voice?”

Lockhart blinked. “Sorry? What voice?”

“That — that voice that said — didn’t you hear it?”

Lockhart was looking at Harry in high astonishment.

“What are you talking about, Harry? Perhaps you’re getting a little drowsy? Great Scott — look at the time! “We’ve been here nearly four hours! I’d never have believed it — the time’s flown, hasn’t it?”

The brain torpor from earlier had evaporated completely, and now all five of them were on high alert. Tier was so keyed up that Harry heard himself growl, which got a strange look from Lockhart.

“Harry?”

But Harry wasn't in control anymore. Tier was more alert than any of them, and Harry's body glowed, but didn't outwardly change, as Tier took over. The animal-like Tier sniffed around, unnerving Lockhart, and took off out the door.

Tier was hunting. For what, he knew not. But that smell... dusty and old, yet alive. It smelled of venom, it smelled of decay and blood, it smelled of great power. It was dangerous, whatever it was.

But then the smell was gone. The voice was gone. Tier waited, still as stone, for he knew not how long. Finally, though, he gave up. With an annoyed huff of air, Tier changed the body back to its normal sensory configuration, and put Harry back in the driver's seat. Frightened, Harry bolted for the Griffindor common room.

Ron began regaling him with the tale of his own detention and how he'd vomited slugs over some of the trophies, blithe at first to Harry's upset, but eventually he noticed and asked about it. Harry explained what happened as well as he could, quietly enough to not disturb the other boys, who were asleep.

“And Lockhart said he couldn’t hear it?” said Ron. Harry could see him frowning in the moonlight. “D’you think he was lying? But I don’t get it — even someone invisible would’ve had to open the door.”

“I know,” said Harry, lying back in his four-poster and staring at the canopy above him. “I don’t get it either.”

End note: Thanks, everyone, for all the praise, the follows, and the kudos! I'm glad to know so many people are having fun reading this. I sure am having fun writing it. In fact, as of the time I'm writing this end note, I've already got chapter 8 done, too, and started on chapter 9. Chapter 8 just needs proofing. Though I'm not going to release these chapters any faster than once a week, just in case I hit any writer's blocks or depressive episodes. That way I might be able to work up a backlog to release until I get my mojo back, if that happens.



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