Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals 18

Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals: Book Three.
Or, "Aspie Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."

Note: I do not own this. J. K. Rowling does. This is just fan fiction. No money is being made.

Note 2: There may be a few bits and pieces lifted word-for-word from the canon material. I tried to do that as little as possible, though.

Chapter 3: Trouble Smith

Despite having a hard time getting to sleep the night before, Harry found himself awake much earlier than usual. He tried rolling over to go back to sleep, but he wasn't tired enough for it, so he gave up and started getting ready.

When he got to the Great Hall and found breakfast wasn't ready yet, he headed out the front door to take a walk around the grounds. The air was still warm, the grounds still beautiful. He walked around the lake, smiling at the giant squid's lazy tentacles coming out of the water, breathing in the fresh air.

He was farther from the school than he'd been in that direction before when he spotted movement in the trees. Wary, he got out his wand. But then whatever it was moved into the open. He thought it might be a large black wolf at first, but as it got closer, he saw it was just a dog. A skinny, sickly-looking dog with filthy fur.

“Aww, poor boy,” he said, getting closer.

The dog turned out to be happy and friendly despite being a stray. It came right up to him and sniffed him. He held out his hand and the dog licked it. He wasn't quite happy with this, but he let it happen. The dog, seeming to sense his mood, stopped and cocked its head at him. He wiped his hand off on his robes, then cleaned them properly with his wand.

“That's okay, boy. You're still a good pup.”

The dog wagged its tail excitedly.

“You must be hungry. You look like skin and bones. You know, when breakfast is ready, I'll bring you something, okay? Hmm... it should be ready soon. You stay here, I'll be back later.”

He scratched the dog behind its ears and took off. The dog lay down and watched him leave, tongue lolling out.

Harry ate as fast as he could without getting sick, squirreling away some bacon for the dog. A few minutes later, he was out there by the dog again. As he approached, it perked up and stood. He tore some of the bacon and tossed the pieces at the dog, which caught them in its mouth and ate them with great joy.

“If you meet me here later, I can bring you stuff from lunch and dinner, too.”

The dog barked softly and wagged its tail.

“You need a name. What should your name be?”

Naturally, the dog did not answer.

“Well I'll think about it. Wouldn’t do to rush these things.”

When all the bacon was gone, Harry sighed and checked his watch.

“I'd better get back. I have to get to class. I have Arithmancy first, and I still have to go get my things from Griffindor tower. See you at lunchtime, okay boy?”

The dog said “Whuff!” and appeared to smile, its tongue hanging out.

Harry left. After a minute, he turned around and saw that the dog was gone. He hoped it would be there later.

~

“Where were you?” Hermione asked him as he brought his bookbag with him to sit next to her.

“I woke up early, took a walk. Met a dog out by the lake, over by the wooded area. He was unhealthily thin, so I came back here, then took him some bacon.”

“Hey, Potter!” shrieked Pansy Parkinson, a Slytherin girl with a face like a pug. “Potter! The dementors are coming, Potter! Woooooooo!”

Harry ignored her just long enough to show he was ignoring her, then turned toward the Ravenclaw table to look for Luna. She spotted him and waved. He waved back, then he looked over at Hermione, who was examining her schedule.

“Ooh, good, we’re starting some new subjects today,” she said happily.

“Hermione,” said Ron, frowning as he looked over her shoulder, “they’ve messed up your schedule. Look — they’ve got you down for about ten subjects a day. There isn’t enough time.”

“I’ll manage. I’ve fixed it all with Professor McGonagall.”

“But look,” said Ron, laughing, “see this morning? Nine o’clock, Divination. And underneath, nine o’clock, Muggle Studies. And” — Ron leaned closer to the schedule, disbelieving — “look — underneath that, Arithmancy, nine o’clock. I mean, I know you’re good, Hermione, but no one’s that good. How’re you supposed to be in three classes at once?”

“Don’t be silly,” said Hermione shortly. “Of course I won’t be in three classes at once.”

“Well, then —”

“Pass the marmalade,” said Hermione.

“But —”

“Oh, Ron, what’s it to you if my schedule’s a bit full?” Hermione snapped. “I told you, I’ve fixed it all with Professor McGonagall.”

“You have Arithmancy? So do I.”

“Oh really, Harry? Doesn't it sound amazing?”

“It sounds interesting,” he conceded.

Just then, Hagrid entered the Great Hall. He was wearing his long moleskin overcoat and was absentmindedly swinging a dead polecat from one enormous hand.

“All righ’?” he said eagerly, pausing on the way to the staff table. “Yer in my firs’ ever lesson! Right after lunch! Bin up since five gettin’ everythin’ ready. … Hope it’s okay. … Me, a teacher … hones’ly. …”

He grinned broadly at them and headed off to the staff table, still swinging the polecat.

“Wonder what he’s been getting ready?” said Ron, a note of anxiety in his voice.

The hall was starting to empty as people headed off toward their first lesson. Ron checked his course schedule.

“We’d better go, Hermione. Look, Divination’s at the top of North Tower. It’ll take us ten minutes to get there.”

Hermione suddenly looked between Ron and Harry, looking worried.

“Er, yes. Okay, Ron. See you later, Harry.”

He watched them leave. A few minutes later, he got up to go to Arithmancy. It was a lot closer than Divination, and he felt glad that he was taking this instead.

The door was already open, so he went in and sat down. Others filed in over the minutes. Then, to his utter astonishment, Hermione walked in, looking nervously at Harry. She sat next to him.

“I thought you had Divination.”

“Don't worry about it. Like I told Ron, I've got it taken care of with McGonagall.”

Harry nodded, saying nothing. But in his mind, he was already putting things together. Magic could do a lot of things; could it copy a human being and have them rejoin later? Or maybe they had some kind of time machine? No, on second thought, that last was absurd. If they had time machines, they could just go back and stop Voldemort before he'd gotten started. But clearly there was some kind of magic going on here. He would have to check with Ron later to see if she'd been in Divination with him.

The teacher came in at last. She had dark brown hair and brown eyes, and a severe look to her, a little like Professor McGonagall.

“Good morning class, I am Professor Vector, your Arithmancy professor. Put your wands away, this class does not use much wandwork.”

They put their wands away. When that was done, she spoke again.

“For those of you who aren't sure what it is, Arithmancy is the use of numbers and maths to predict the future. Some of this is straight-forward enough, something even Muggles can do, things like using maths to predict the trajectories of flying or thrown objects and that sort. Others are more esoteric, which is a fancy way of saying 'magical.' There is much we can divine about the present and the future using maths.

“A question I often hear is 'how is this different from Divination class?' Well the main difference is that Divination class is really only useful for those who are Seers. Nobody else is going to get much out of it, so it really should be an N.E.W.T. or higher level class, or reserved for those who have the Sight. Whereas with Arithmancy, all you need is a knowledge of maths and how to apply them to making predictions. It is very scientific, very academic and logical, whereas Divination is more intuitive.

“Aside from the obvious applications, Arithmancy is also often used to predict or determine the effects of certain spells, charms, and other magic, especially how these magics interact with one another, and thus is very useful for magical artificers in their work of coming up with magical objects such as Pensieves, Secrecy Sensors, or Sneakoscopes. Arithmancy can also be used in repairing such items, by helping determine what is wrong with the item. Furthermore, it can also be applied to Healing, in determining the effects of mixed hexes or other spells upon the human body, or to potion making, for similar reasons. Thus, as you can see, it is a very useful subject for many magical careers later in life.

“A lot of it will be far beyond O.W.L. level, but that will come later. For the first few weeks, we will be taking a series of quizzes to see how much maths you already know, so we know where to begin to get everyone up to the same level. Do not worry that you haven't studied, these will not be graded. They are simply to determine how much you know. We shall start our first one after roll call. Then, when all the quizzes are done, we shall work on getting everyone up to the same level, so we can then move on to more complicated maths.”

Professor Vector did the roll call very quickly, barely pausing at Harry's name. When that was done, she pulled a large sheath of parchments from her bag and passed out the quizzes.

The quiz started out easy and got more difficult, but Harry still finished so quickly that the only person to finish before him was Hermione. When she saw they were done, Professor Vector came over and collected their quizzes, handing them another to do. By the end of class, Harry and Hermione had both gotten through four quizzes, most other people getting through only two. Harry left class feeling drained but pleased with himself. He knew he hadn't done very well on the last quiz before time had been up, but just the fact that he'd gotten to it was impressive enough.

When he remembered that Transfiguration was next, he groaned aloud. Two difficult classes in a row! Mondays were going to be horrible. Well, at least there was Care of Magical Creatures after lunch.

He had been intending to go to Transfiguration with Hermione, but when he looked around, she was nowhere to be seen. He popped his head back into the classroom to see if she was in there still, but she wasn't. So he shrugged at the minor mystery, and went on to class without her.

She showed up with Ron, the two of them getting in just barely on time. He found this odd, but said nothing, just filed it away with the other weird things about Hermione this year. Then he noticed that Ron was looking worried. He didn't get a chance to ask after him, though, because class was starting. But he noticed other people were looking worried, too. Many of them were looking at him and Ron like they knew the two of them had just been told their best friends were terminally ill. It made it very hard for him to concentrate on what McGonagall was saying about Animagi (wizards that could turn into animals). And he wasn't the only one. Even Hermione looked worried. Ron must have told her something when they'd met up on the way to class.

He was so distracted by their weird looks that he wasn’t even watching when she transformed herself in front of their eyes into a tabby cat with spectacle markings around her eyes.

“Really, what has got into you all today?” said Professor McGonagall, turning back into herself with a faint pop, and staring around at them all. “Not that it matters, but that’s the first time my transformation’s not got applause from a class.”

Everybody’s heads turned toward Harry again, but nobody spoke. Then Hermione raised her hand.

“Please, Professor, we’ve just had our first Divination class, and we were reading the tea leaves, and —”

“Ah, of course,” said Professor McGonagall, suddenly frowning. “There is no need to say any more, Miss Granger. Tell me, which of you will be dying this year?”

Everyone stared at her. Especially Harry, who was confused. Unless she hadn't meant to include herself in that, it seemed like she really was finding a way to be in two places at once.

“Er,” Hermione said. “Ron. And Harry.”

“Me? But I'm not even in that class.”

Professor McGonagall seemed surprised, too.

Two students this time? She's outdoing herself this year. But you should know, Potter, Weasley, that Sybill Trelawney has predicted the death of one student a year since she arrived at this school. None of them has died yet. Seeing death omens is her favorite way of greeting a new class. If it were not for the fact that I never speak ill of my colleagues —”

Professor McGonagall broke off, and they saw that her nostrils had gone white. She went on, more calmly, “Divination is one of the most imprecise branches of magic. I shall not conceal from you that I have very little patience with it. True Seers are very rare, and Professor Trelawney —”

She stopped again, and then said, in a very matter-of-fact tone, “You look in excellent health to me, Potter, so you will excuse me if I don’t let you off homework today. I assure you that if you die, you need not hand it in.”

Hermione laughed. So did Harry. Ron still looked worried, though. Lavender whispered something about Neville's cup, a reference Harry had obviously missed, but seemed to be significant.

When the Transfiguration class had finished, they joined the crowd thundering toward the Great Hall for lunch.

“Ron, cheer up,” said Hermione, pushing a dish of stew toward him. “You heard what Professor McGonagall said.”

Ron spooned stew onto his plate and picked up his fork but didn’t start.

“Harry,” he said, in a low, serious voice, “you didn't say what color that dog was, earlier.”

“Well yeah, it was a large black dog. But it was just a stray. It was friendly. And nothing has happened to me yet.”

Ron let his fork fall with a clatter.

“Like Harry said, it's just a stray.”

“Hermione, if Harry’s seen a Grim, that’s — that’s bad,” he said. “My — my uncle Bilius saw one and — and he died twenty-four hours later!”

“Coincidence,” said Hermione airily, pouring herself some pumpkin juice.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” said Ron, starting to get angry. “Grims scare the living daylights out of most wizards!”

“Ron, that sounds like the same kind of nonsense that used to be centered around black cats during the Black Death.”

Ron looked confused. “Whadda ya mean?”

“I don't know if it reached the wizarding world, but around the 14th century in Europe, in many countries black cats were thought to be spreading a disease called the Black Plague or Black Death, and they were outlawed and killed. Which just made the spread of the disease worse, because the going theory is that the disease was the Bubonic Plague, which was spread by rats.”

“They outlawed black cats? Why? Were they like Grims to Muggles?”

“Pretty sure Grims exist in Muggle lore, too. I seem to recall a story like that in elementary school. Anyway, cats were outlawed because they thought black cats were witches' familiars. Which, to their thinking, made black cats not cats, but cat-shaped demons.”

“But that's bollocks!”

“Yes it is. But it isn't any more absurd than the thing about Grims. It's just a superstition.”

“Maybe,” Ron conceded. “But that doesn't explain Uncle Billius.”

“He just saw the Grim and died of fright, probably,” said Hermione. “Making the Grim the cause of death, not an omen. And Harry’s still with us because he’s not stupid enough to see one and think, right, well, I’d better kick the bucket then!”

Ron mouthed wordlessly at Hermione, who opened her bag, took out her new Arithmancy book, and propped it open against the juice jug.

“I think Divination seems very woolly,” she said, searching for her page. “A lot of guesswork, if you ask me.”

“But Neville's cup!”

“Oh come on, Ron, it doesn't take a seer to know Neville is clumsy, and goodness knows how much Snape complains about him in the teachers' staff-room. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy!”

“And she did tea-leaves for Harry even though he wasn't there, and she saw a Grim!”

“Harry gets into a lot of dangerous trouble, she probably didn't see a Grim at all. She just figured, logically, that predicting Harry's death was a safe bet.”

“She showed me the Grim, remember?”

“And you thought it looked like a sheep. Seamus thought it looked like a donkey. It's just guesswork.”

“Professor Trelawney said you didn’t have the right aura! You just don’t like being bad at something for a change!”

He had touched a nerve. Hermione slammed her Arithmancy book down on the table so hard that bits of meat and carrot flew everywhere.

“If being good at Divination means I have to pretend to see death omens in a lump of tea leaves, I’m not sure I’ll be studying it much longer! That lesson was absolute rubbish compared with my Arithmancy class!”

She snatched up her bag and stalked away.

Ron frowned after her.

“What’s she talking about?” he said to Harry. “She can’t have been to an Arithmancy class yet. It's at the same time as Divination!”

“She was, though. She had it with me.”

“She did? Well maybe you can tell me how she's doing it, then.”

“I wish I could. It's a mystery to me, too. And whatever it is must not be common knowledge if you don't know, either. Or at least, not common knowledge for people our age.”

“If she was with you, why didn't she come to Transfiguration with you? Isn't the Arithmancy classroom closer to Transfiguration?”

“It is. But she disappeared when I wasn't looking. When I saw her with you, I assumed she had met up with you.”

“She and I went straight from Divination to Transfiguration, though.”

“There's still the fact she had two different classes, on different ends of the castle, in the same hour. Maybe she's got a clone?”

“Clone? What's a clone?”

“A copy of herself. Maybe McGonagall knows a spell that can copy a person, and then merge them back together again later. And maybe she taught it to Hermione.”

Ron snorted. “If anyone could master a spell like that, it'd be you or Hermione.”

“Anyway,” Harry said, gathering up the table scraps he'd collected for the stray dog. “I'm off to feed that dog.”

“I dunno, Harry. An ordinary dog getting into Hogwarts on its own?”

“It probably went through the Forbidden Forest or something. Or it could be a magical dog; Hogsmeade is an all-wizarding village, it might've gotten lost from there. Or abandoned. Anyway, catch you later.”

Before leaving the Great Hall, Harry checked for Luna. She was busy eating. He popped over and sat down next to her.

“Can't stay long, I found a stray dog today that's skin and bones, the poor thing.”

“Oooh, that's sad. Glad to hear you're helping it. Here, I'll help collect scraps for it, too.”

He stayed with her while she ate a little faster, setting bits of her meal into a napkin for the dog. When she was done, they left together.

*

The dog had been in the same place when they went looking, and it gobbled up the table scraps greedily, then wagged its tail. Harry spent a few minutes talking with Luna about this and that while he fed and then petted the dog, looking at his watch every now and then. When it finally was time to go to Care of Magical Creatures, he said goodbye to the dog and walked off toward Hagrid's hut with Luna, who split off to go back to the castle. Harry arrived at Hagrid's just in time to see the Slytherins from his year coming toward him. He groaned quietly, but perked up when Draco split away from the group with a sour look on his face and stood over next to Harry.

“Aww, the little blonde blood traitor is hiding behind his littler brown friend.”

“Shut up, Crabbe,” Draco snapped peevishly at him, stepping forward. “I'll take you on anytime. Wizard's duel.”

Crabbe went silent, glaring at Draco. He didn't dare accept the challenge; Draco was much more skilled at dueling than he was, and he knew it.

“That's what I thought,” Draco said, brushing his robes as though they had dust on them.

“'Nuf o' that, you lot,” Hagrid said, coming into view at last, just as Ron and Hermione arrived. “Got a real treat for yeh today! Great lesson comin’ up! Everyone here? Right, follow me!”

Harry worried for a moment that they were going into the Forbidden Forest, but instead, Hagrid took them to a paddock around behind his hut. It was empty.

“Everyone gather ’round the fence here!” he called. “That’s it — make sure yeh can see — now, firs’ thing yeh’ll want ter do is open yer books —”

“How?” Draco said, slipping into his old drawl. At Harry's look, he hastily added, “Professor.”

“What's that?” Hagrid asked.

“I mean, how do we open our books? They attack us when we try.”
He took out his copy of The Monster Book of Monsters, which he had bound shut with a length of rope. Other people took theirs out too; some, like Harry, had belted their book shut; others had crammed them inside tight bags or clamped them together with binder clips.

“Hasn’ — hasn’ anyone bin able ter open their books?” said Hagrid, looking crestfallen.

The class all shook their heads.

“Yeh’ve got ter stroke ’em,” said Hagrid, as though this was the most obvious thing in the world. “Look —”

He took Hermione’s copy and ripped off the Spellotape that bound it. The book tried to bite, but Hagrid ran a giant forefinger down its spine, and the book shivered, and then fell open and lay quiet in his hand.

Draco's face turned sour, like he couldn't believe what he was hearing. Mumbling something about Professor Kettleburn, he stroked his own copy. Only when it shuddered and relaxed did he take the rope off. It remained relaxed.

“Oh what a laugh,” Goyle said sarcastically. “Books that attack us unless yeh stroke 'em. Har har.”

“I — I thought they were funny,” Hagrid said uncertainly to Hermione.

“It's okay, Hagrid, they are. You just should have included instructions in the letter,” Harry said.

“Righ’ then,” said Hagrid, who seemed to have lost his thread, “so — so yeh’ve got yer books an’ — an’ — now yeh need the Magical Creatures. Yeah. So I’ll go an’ get ’em. Hang on …”

He strode away from them into the forest and out of sight.

Crabbe and Goyle looked at each other, and began talking in whispers. Harry caught the word 'Smith,' but nothing more. He had a suspicion, though, what the context was. He expected them to say something, but if Zacharias Smith was supplying their wit, they had run out of it, and since he wasn't in either of their Houses, he wasn't there to give them ideas.

“Oooooooh!” squealed Lavender Brown, pointing toward the opposite side of the paddock.

Trotting toward them were a dozen of the most bizarre creatures Harry had ever seen. They had the bodies, hind legs, and tails of horses, but the front legs, wings, and heads of what seemed to be giant eagles, with cruel, steel-colored beaks and large, brilliantly orange eyes. The talons on their front legs were half a foot long and deadly looking. Each of the beasts had a thick leather collar around its neck, which was attached to a long chain, and the ends of all of these were held in the vast hands of Hagrid, who came jogging into the paddock behind the creatures.

“Gee up, there!” he roared, shaking the chains and urging the creatures toward the fence where the class stood. Everyone drew back slightly as Hagrid reached them and tethered the creatures to the fence.

“Hippogriffs!” Hagrid roared happily, waving a hand at them. “Beau’iful, aren’ they?”

Harry could sort of see what Hagrid meant. Once you got over the first shock of seeing something that was half horse, half bird, you started to appreciate the hippogriffs’ gleaming coats, changing smoothly from feather to hair, each of them a different color: stormy gray, bronze, pinkish roan, gleaming chestnut, and inky black.

“So,” said Hagrid, rubbing his hands together and beaming around, “if yeh wan’ ter come a bit nearer —”

“Er,” he said quietly to Hagrid. “aren't they a bit, well, advanced for our first ever class?”

Hagrid's face fell a little, and he considered the hippogriffs. “Er, yeh may have a point there, Harry. But well, I wanted something impressive fer yer first class.”

Harry smiled wanly. Of course Hagrid would go for the impressive creatures first.

“Now, firs’ thing yeh gotta know abou’ hippogriffs is, they’re proud,” said Hagrid. “Easily offended, hippogriffs are. Don’t never insult one, ’cause it might be the last thing yeh do.”

Harry looked over at Crabbe and Goyle. Surprisingly, they seemed to be getting ideas. He could almost hear the grinding of gears and the smoke of burning oil from here.

“Yeh always wait fer the hippogriff ter make the firs’ move,” Hagrid continued. “It’s polite, see? Yeh walk toward him, and yeh bow, an’ yeh wait. If he bows back, yeh’re allowed ter touch him. If he doesn’ bow, then get away from him sharpish, ’cause those talons hurt.

“Right — who wants ter go first?”

Most of the class backed farther away in answer. Even Harry, Ron, and Hermione had misgivings. The hippogriffs were tossing their fierce heads and flexing their powerful wings; they didn’t seem to like being tethered like this.

Harry turned to look at Draco. Draco snorted at him, saying without words 'You must be joking.'

“No one?” said Hagrid, with a pleading look.

“I’ll do it,” said Harry.

There was an intake of breath from behind him. Parvati and Lavender said something about Trelawney's predictions. Harry ignored them.

“Good man, Harry!” roared Hagrid. “Right then — let’s see how yeh get on with Buckbeak.”

He untied one of the chains, pulled the gray hippogriff away from its fellows, and slipped off its leather collar. The class on the other side of the paddock seemed to be holding its breath. Malfoy’s eyes were narrowed maliciously.

“Easy, now, Harry,” said Hagrid quietly. “Yeh’ve got eye contact, now try not ter blink. … Hippogriffs don’ trust yeh if yeh blink too much. …”

“Eye contact?” Harry nearly shouted, panic-stricken. “No, no. Forget that, Hagrid. Sorry.” He backed away. He hated making eye contact with humans. He didn't think eye contact with a cruel-looking monster would be any better.

“No?” Hagrid said, sounding dispirited.

“S-sorry,” Harry said. “I don't like eye contact.”

Harry couldn't stand Hagrid looking so disappointed.

“Does it have to be direct eye contact?” Harry asked him. “Can't I look between his eyes or just above?”

Hagrid sighed. “No, Harry. He'll know the diff'rence, Beaky will.

Crabbe and Goyle said something to each other, snickering. Harry had a suspicion why.

“Well alrigh' then, I'll jes pick someone else, if there's no volunteers. Ron, yeh do it.”

“Me?” Ron said, sounding anxious.

“Yes you, Ron,” Hagrid said.

“Well, okay I guess.”

Harry watched as Ron nervously stepped forward, looking into the creature's eyes while also bowing, which looked very difficult. There was a moment where Hagrid thought Buckbeak was going to attack, but then it knelt in an unmistakable bow. Hagrid rewarded it with a dead ferret.

Ron seemed to feel better about this, and reached forward tentatively to pet it. The large animal seemed to enjoy it.

The class applauded, except for Crabbe and Goyle. Even Draco clapped, looking impressed, though somewhat disappointed that it hadn't attacked Ron.

“Righ' then, Ron, I reckon he might let yeh ride 'im now!” Hagrid said, pulling Ron up onto its back and hitting its backside.

Ron looked terrified as he clutched Buckbeak's neck to keep from falling off as it flew around. When Buckbeak landed again, Ron still looked scared, and scrambled to get off.

“Nothing like a broom,” Ron said. “Terrifying, that was. Thought I was gonna fall off.”

“Good work, Ron!” roared Hagrid as everyone except Crabbe, and Goyle cheered. “Okay, who else wants a go?”

Emboldened by Ron’s success, the rest of the class climbed cautiously into the paddock. Hagrid untied the hippogriffs one by one, and soon people were bowing nervously, all over the paddock. Neville ran repeatedly backward from his, which didn’t seem to want to bend its knees. Ron and Hermione practiced on the chestnut, while Harry watched, his fear of making eye contact with the hippogriffs excusing him.

Crabbe and Goyle took over Buckbeak, looking nervous as Ron had. Crabbe tried three times before giving up. Goyle tried twice, looking annoyed.

“Why you giving me trouble?” Goyle asked Buckbeak. “Just bow, you stupid beast!”

It happened in a flash of steely talons; Goyle let out a strangely high-pitched scream and next moment, Hagrid was wrestling Buckbeak back into his collar as he strained to get at Goyle, who lay curled in the grass, blood blossoming over his robes.

“I’m dyin'!” Goyle yelled as the class panicked. “I’m dyin', look at me! It’s killed me!”

Hagrid, reassuring Goyle that he wasn't dying, picked the large boy up as easily as lifting a suitcase and took him back to the castle in a fireman's carry. Meanwhile, the reaction of the class was mixed. Some people, even some of the Slytherins, thought it served Goyle right for insulting the creature. Others were upset and calling for Hagrid to lose his job.

“That was a really bad thing to happen in Hagrid’s first class, though, wasn’t it?” said Ron, looking worried. “Trust Goyle to mess things up for him.”

They were among the first to reach the Great Hall at dinnertime, hoping to see Hagrid, but he wasn’t there.

“They wouldn’t fire him, would they?” said Hermione anxiously, not touching her steak-and-kidney pudding.

“They’d better not,” said Ron, who wasn’t eating either.

Harry was watching the Slytherin table. A large group including Crabbe was huddled together, deep in conversation. Harry was sure they were cooking up their own version of how Goyle had been injured. Another group – Harry's friends – were glaring daggers at Crabbe.

At the end of dinner, Harry took more table scraps out to the dog. But since it was getting dark, Ron and Hermione insisted on coming with him. Luna followed along too, with her own contribution.

“So this is the dog, is it? You're right, Harry,” Ron said, “he really doesn't look like he's doing very well.”

“We shouldn't be out here after dark, Harry. What if Sirius Black comes looking for you?”

It may have been his imagination, but the dog looked sad at these words. Maybe it was just wondering what the hold-up was, re: food. Harry fed it, and it looked happier.

“Well if I run into Sirius Black, I'll get my wand out and be ready in case he attacks, but I'll ask him for his side of the story, and I'll listen. Oh look at that, he's loving the food. You like pork chop fat, do you boy?”

The dog's spirits were much higher than they'd been all day. If not for his matted fur and his skeletally thin appearance, he would almost be a normal, happy dog.

“I should ask Madam Pomfrey if I can get, like, some kind of potion for you, boy. You're probably malnourished.”

“He seems fond of my green beans,” Luna said.

“I hope nothing we feed him makes him sick.”

“Why would it make him sick?” Ron asked.

“Well aside from the fact that dogs can't have things like chocolate, I read somewhere that people and animals that are starving can get sick if they eat too much at once. I think it was called Refeeding Syndrome, and it can be deadly.”

Hermione nodded absently. She was looking off in the direction of Hagrid's hut. “There's a light on in Hagrid's window,” she said. “We should see how he's doing.”

“Yeah, I think it's still early enough. We should see if he's okay. Sorry boy, that's all of it. I'll bring you more tomorrow morning, okay?”

“Whuff!” said the dog.

He waved goodbye to the dog, and led his friends over to Hagrid's hut. When they reached it, they knocked, and a voice growled, “C’min.”

Hagrid was sitting in his shirtsleeves at his scrubbed wooden table; his boarhound, Fang, had his head in Hagrid’s lap. One look told them that Hagrid had been drinking a lot; there was a pewter tankard almost as big as a bucket in front of him, and he seemed to be having difficulty getting them into focus.

“ ’Spect it’s a record,” he said thickly, when he recognized them. “Don’ reckon they’ve ever had a teacher who lasted on’y a day before.”

“You haven’t been fired, Hagrid!” gasped Hermione.

“Not yet,” said Hagrid miserably, taking a huge gulp of whatever was in the tankard. “But ’s only a matter o’ time, i’n’t it, after Goyle.”

The next few minutes passed with the three of them trying to convince Hagrid that it wasn't his fault, that Goyle was to blame, and that Goyle was lying when he said it still hurt. Harry felt sure that Smith had given Goyle that idea.

“I think you’ve had enough to drink, Hagrid,” said Hermione firmly. She took the tankard from the table and went outside to empty it.

“Ar, maybe she’s right,” said Hagrid, letting go of Harry and Ron, who both staggered away, rubbing their ribs. Hagrid heaved himself out of his chair and followed Hermione unsteadily outside. They heard a loud splash.

“What’s he done?” said Harry nervously as Hermione came back in with the empty tankard.

“Stuck his head in the water barrel,” said Hermione, putting the tankard away.

Hagrid came back, his long hair and beard sopping wet, wiping the water out of his eyes.

“Tha’s better,” he said, shaking his head like a dog and drenching them all. “Listen, it was good of yeh ter come an’ see me, I really —”

Hagrid stopped dead, staring at Harry as though he’d only just realized he was there.

“WHAT D’YEH THINK YOU’RE DOIN’, EH?” he roared, so suddenly that they jumped a foot in the air. “YEH’RE NOT TO GO WANDERIN’ AROUND AFTER DARK, HARRY! AN’ YOU THREE! LETTIN’ HIM!”

Hagrid strode over to Harry, grabbed his arm, and pulled him to the door.

“That was quite loud,” Luna commented. Hagrid ignored her.

“C’mon!” Hagrid said angrily. “I’m takin’ yer all back up ter school, an’ don’ let me catch yeh walkin’ down ter see me after dark again. I’m not worth that!”

Guess I'm not going to get to feed that dog after dinner from now on, Harry thought miserably as Hagrid frog-marched them back up to the school.

*

The next morning, Harry fed the dog again. Luna, though she ate alone at breakfast, came out to help feed the dog, too.

“He needs a name,” Harry said.

Luna considered that. “How about Adalbert?”

“Adalbert?” Harry asked her.

“It means 'noble or intelligent.'”

The dog whined.

“He doesn't like Adalbert.”

“Hmm... Casnar? It means 'legendary nobleman.'”

Again, the dog whined.

“Strike two,” Harry said with a smile.

“Xanthus?” Luna suggested.

“What's that mean?”

“It means 'yellow, blonde.'”

Harry laughed. “He's black! No white or yellow on him at all.”

She shrugged. “I like the color yellow.”

“Well I can tell he doesn't like that either. You know what? I think I'll go for simple and call him Shadow.”

The dog woofed happily.

“Ah, he likes it. Shadow he is, then.”

They talked and petted Shadow for a few more minutes before heading back to the castle to go to class. He wondered, as he went to class, which class Luna had.

*

Goyle didn't come back to classes until Thursday, when the Slytherins and Gryffindors were halfway through double Potions. He lumbered into the dungeon, his right arm covered in bandages and bound up in a sling.

“How is it, Goyle?” simpered Pansy Parkinson. “Does it hurt much?”

“Yeah,” said Goyle, putting on a brave sort of grimace. But Harry saw him wink at Crabbe when Pansy had looked away.

“Settle down, settle down,” said Professor Snape idly.

Harry and Ron scowled at each other; Snape wouldn’t have said “settle down” if they’d walked in late, he’d have given them detention.

Because of his poor position in Slytherin, and an unpopularity in his own year, Draco had sat down next to Ron and Harry. Which turned out to be lucky, because Goyle glared at Draco like he'd taken the large boy's seat.

“Great lump probably wants someone to do his work for him,” Draco said. “Partnering with him is a nightmare, honestly. Crabbe and Goyle have the collective intelligence of a slug.”

Harry couldn't help notice that there was a note of sadness in his voice as he spoke.

“You miss their friendship, don't you?”

“Yeah. They're not big on talking, but they listen well. They didn't understand half or more of what I told them, but they still listened.”

“Well I hear you're getting new friends, though.”

“Yes, I am. Still...”

Snape glared at them, and looked at Draco with what looked like disappointment.

“Potter,” Snape snapped. “Five points from Griffindor for disrupting class. Keep quiet and focus on your work.”

“Yes, sir.” Harry answered.

Goyle had taken the seat behind them, though, something they only just now realized as Draco tapped them on the shoulders to point it out to them.

“Sir,” Goyle called, “sir, I’ll need help cutting up these daisy roots, 'cuz of my arm —”

“Weasley, cut up Goyle's roots for him,” said Snape without looking up.

Ron went brick red.

“There’s nothing wrong with your arm,” he hissed at Goyle.

Goyle glared at Ron. “Do it, Weasel. Or I'll give you a wounded arm to match mine.”

Ron seized his knife, pulled Goyle's roots toward him, and began to chop them roughly, so that they were all different sizes.

“Professor,” whined Goyle, “Weasley's doin' it wrong on purpose!”

Snape approached their table, stared down his hooked nose at the roots, then gave Ron an unpleasant smile from beneath his long, greasy black hair.

“Change roots with Goyle, Weasley.”

“But, sir — !”

Ron had spent the last quarter of an hour carefully shredding his own roots into exactly equal pieces.

Now,” said Snape in his most dangerous voice.

Ron shoved his own beautifully cut roots to Goyle at the other table, then took up the knife again.

“And, sir, I’ll need this shrivelfig skinned,” said Goyle.

“Potter, you can skin Goyle's shrivelfig,” said Snape, giving Harry the look of loathing he always reserved just for him.

Harry angrily resisted making a comment about kicking Goyle in the shrivelfig, and just went to work as Ron tried to repair his mangled daisy roots.

“How's your big pal?” Goyle asked maliciously.

“You mean Hagrid? Yes, I've seen him. What of it?”

“He's gonna be sacked soon, I figger,” Goyle said.

“I doubt it,” Harry said.

“Keep talking, Goyle, and I'll give you a real injury,” snarled Ron.

“My dad knows Draco's dad, you know. And Mr. Malfoy knows the minister, and the school gov'ners. My dad says Mr. Malfoy is talking with 'em all about my arm, for dad.”

“So that’s why you’re putting it on,” said Harry, accidentally beheading a dead caterpillar because his hand was shaking in anger. “To try to get Hagrid fired.”

“Partly, Potter,” said Goyle, “But there's other good things too. Weasley, slice my caterpillars for me.”

“Goyle, you overgrown gorilla,” Draco said to him, before turning back to Harry. “Don't worry, Harry, I'll talk to father for you.”

“Ain't gonna work, Draco,” Goyle said. “He don't listen to you no more.”

Draco grumbled at this, but didn't answer. Which was answer enough.

A few cauldrons away, Neville was in trouble. Neville regularly went to pieces in Potions lessons; it was his worst subject, and his great fear of Professor Snape made things ten times worse. His potion, which was supposed to be a bright, acid green, had turned —

“Orange, Longbottom,” said Snape, ladling some up and allowing it to splash back into the cauldron, so that everyone could see. “Orange. Tell me, boy, does anything penetrate that thick skull of yours? Didn’t you hear me say, quite clearly, that only one rat spleen was needed? Didn’t I state plainly that a dash of leech juice would suffice? What do I have to do to make you understand, Longbottom?”

“Maybe be a halfway decent teacher?” Harry muttered just loud enough for Ron to hear. Ron fought to suppress his giggles.

Neville was pink and trembling. He looked as though he was on the verge of tears.

“Please, sir,” said Hermione, “please, I could help Neville put it right —”

“I don’t remember asking you to show off, Miss Granger,” said Snape coldly, and Hermione went as pink as Neville. “Longbottom, at the end of this lesson we will feed a few drops of this potion to your toad and see what happens. Perhaps that will encourage you to do it properly.”

Snape moved away, leaving Neville breathless with fear.

“Help me!” he moaned to Hermione.

It became a tense class after that, with Hermione furtively helping Neville fix his potion. Personally, Harry wasn't sure it could be done, given how bad it was already. So he was surprised when Snape later gave the potion to Neville's toad, and it shrunk the toad down to a tadpole.

“That's not shrinking, that's de-aging,” Harry muttered.

The Gryffindors burst into applause. Snape, looking sour, pulled a small bottle from the pocket of his robe, poured a few drops on top of Trevor, and he reappeared suddenly, fully grown.

“Five points from Gryffindor,” said Snape, which wiped the smiles from every face. “I told you not to help him, Miss Granger. Class dismissed.”

As they started getting ready to leave, Harry came up with an idea. Next potions class, he'd hopefully have things rearranged so he could partner Neville. Ron could take Draco; they didn't like each other much, but they could be civil to one another. And he and Neville would be nearby anyway, he vowed.

“Five points from Gryffindor because the potion was all right! Why didn’t you lie, Hermione? You should’ve said Neville did it all by himself!”

Hermione didn’t answer. Ron looked around.

“Where is she?”

Harry turned too. They were at the top of the steps now, watching the rest of the class pass them, heading for the Great Hall and lunch.

“She was right behind us,” said Ron, frowning.

Harry frowned, too. More weirdness from Hermione to add to the list.

“Hey, there she is,” he said, spotting her.

Hermione was panting slightly, hurrying up the stairs; one hand clutched her bag, the other seemed to be tucking something down the front of her robes.

“How did you do that?” said Ron.

“What?” said Hermione, joining them.

“One minute you were right behind us, the next moment, you were back at the bottom of the stairs again.”

“What?” Hermione looked slightly confused. “Oh — I had to go back for something. Oh no —”

A seam had split on Hermione’s bag. Harry wasn’t surprised; he could see that it was crammed with at least a dozen large and heavy books. Harry took his wand and repaired it for her.

“Thanks, Harry.”

“Why are you carrying all these around with you?” Ron asked her.

“You know how many subjects I’m taking,” said Hermione breathlessly. “Couldn’t hold these for me, could you?”

“You should get a magically-expanded bookbag.” said Harry. “I think they sell them at the place we get our trunks.”

“That sounds like a good idea. Thanks, Harry.”

“But —” Ron was turning over the books she had handed him, looking at the covers. “You haven’t got any of these subjects today. It’s only Defense Against the Dark Arts this afternoon.”

“Oh yes,” said Hermione vaguely, but she packed all the books back into her bag just the same. “I hope there’s something good for lunch, I’m starving,” she added, and she marched off toward the Great Hall.

“D’you get the feeling Hermione’s not telling us something?” Ron asked Harry.

“Yes. She must have a good reason, though.”

*

Professor Lupin wasn’t there when they arrived at his first Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson. They all sat down, took out their books, quills, and parchment, and were talking when he finally entered the room. Lupin smiled vaguely and placed his tatty old briefcase on the teacher’s desk. He was as shabby as ever but looked healthier than he had on the train, as though he had had a few square meals.

“Good afternoon,” he said. “Would you please put all your books back in your bags. Today’s will be a practical lesson. You will need only your wands.”

“Hope this goes better than the pixies last year,” Harry said, referring to their moronic DADA teacher from last year, and the memorable incident when he released wild pixies into the room.

“Right then,” said Professor Lupin, when everyone was ready. “If you’d follow me.”

Puzzled but interested, the class got to its feet and followed Professor Lupin out of the classroom. He led them along the deserted corridor and around a corner, where the first thing they saw was Peeves the Poltergeist, who was floating upside down in midair and stuffing the nearest keyhole with chewing gum.

After a brief exchange with Peeves, who was ruder to Lupin than he usually was to teachers, Lupin showed them a spell that shot the gum up the poltergeist's nose, then led them on to their destination, which turned out to be the teachers' staff-room.

The staffroom, a long, paneled room full of old, mismatched chairs, was empty except for one teacher. Professor Snape was sitting in a low armchair, and he looked around as the class filed in. His eyes were glittering and there was a nasty sneer playing around his mouth. As Professor Lupin came in and made to close the door behind him, Snape said, “Leave it open, Lupin. I’d rather not witness this.”

He got to his feet and strode past the class, his black robes billowing behind him. At the doorway he turned on his heel and said, “Possibly no one’s warned you, Lupin, but this class contains Neville Longbottom. I would advise you not to entrust him with anything difficult. Not unless Miss Granger is hissing instructions in his ear.”

Neville went scarlet. Harry glared at Snape; it was bad enough that he bullied Neville in his own classes, let alone doing it in front of other teachers.

Professor Lupin had raised his eyebrows.

“I was hoping that Neville would assist me with the first stage of the operation,” he said, “and I am sure he will perform it admirably.”

Neville’s face went, if possible, even redder. Snape’s lip curled, but he left, shutting the door with a snap.

“Now, then,” said Professor Lupin, beckoning the class toward the end of the room, where there was nothing but an old wardrobe where the teachers kept their spare robes. As Professor Lupin went to stand next to it, the wardrobe gave a sudden wobble, banging off the wall.

“Nothing to worry about,” said Professor Lupin calmly because a few people had jumped backward in alarm. “There’s a boggart in there.”

Most people seemed to feel that this was something to worry about. Neville gave Professor Lupin a look of pure terror, and Seamus Finnigan eyed the now rattling doorknob apprehensively.

“Boggarts like dark, enclosed spaces,” said Professor Lupin. “Wardrobes, the gap beneath beds, the cupboards under sinks — I’ve even met one that had lodged itself in a grandfather clock. This one moved in yesterday afternoon, and I asked the headmaster if the staff would leave it to give my third years some practice.

“So, the first question we must ask ourselves is, what is a boggart?”

Hermione put up her hand.

“It’s a shape-shifter,” she said. “It can take the shape of whatever it thinks will frighten us most.”

“Couldn’t have put it better myself,” said Professor Lupin, and Hermione glowed. “So the boggart sitting in the darkness within has not yet assumed a form. He does not yet know what will frighten the person on the other side of the door. Nobody knows what a boggart looks like when he is alone, but when I let him out, he will immediately become whatever each of us most fears.

“This means,” said Professor Lupin, choosing to ignore Neville’s small sputter of terror, “that we have a huge advantage over the boggart before we begin. Have you spotted it, Harry?”

“Er, because there's so many of us, it won't know what it should turn into?”

“Exactly! It’s always best to have company when you’re dealing with a boggart. He becomes confused. Which should he become, a headless corpse or a flesh-eating slug? I once saw a boggart make that very mistake — tried to frighten two people at once and turned himself into half a slug. Not remotely frightening.

“The charm that repels a boggart is simple, yet it requires force of mind. You see, the thing that really finishes a boggart is laughter. What you need to do is force it to assume a shape that you find amusing.

“We will practice the charm without wands first. After me, please … riddikulus!”

Riddikulus!” said the class together.

“Good,” said Professor Lupin. “Very good. But that was the easy part, I’m afraid. You see, the word alone is not enough. And this is where you come in, Neville.”

Lupin asked Neville what his worst fear was, and after a false start, they found out it was Professor Snape. A bit more questioning about Neville's grandmother’s clothes, and Harry was starting to get an idea what was going to happen. He was not amused. When the boggart-Snape ended up in a dress, a woman's hat, and a handbag because of the Riddikulus charm, Harry alone did not laugh. He thought of Antigone, and how she would probably be mortified. He didn't know how many people knew her secret, after all. He didn't know who knew she was a trans girl.

After Neville, others took turns. But Harry's greatest fear was the dementors, and he had no idea how to make that funny. One by one they took turns, until finally it was Harry's turn. Lupin, however, moved in front of him, and the boggart became a glowing orb. Harry stared at it; it looked familiar, but he couldn't place it, in the brief time between its appearance and Lupin turning it into a cockroach.

Neville got a second crack at it, and this time he laughed at the boggart, which exploded into a thousand wisps of smoke before disappearing completely.

Lupin gave points to everyone who faced the boggart, and points to Harry and Hermione for answering his questions correctly. Harry, while glad he wasn't going to have to face another dementor, was annoyed that Lupin hadn't given him a chance to face the boggart. Did Lupin think, after the train incident, that he was too weak to face a boggart?

But no one else seemed to have noticed anything.

“Did you see me take that banshee?” shouted Seamus.

“And the hand!” said Dean, waving his own around.

“And Snape in that hat!”

“And my mummy!”

“I wonder why Professor Lupin’s frightened of crystal balls?” said Lavender thoughtfully.

“That was the best Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson we’ve ever had, wasn’t it?” said Ron excitedly as they made their way back to the classroom to get their bags.

“He seems like a very good teacher,” said Hermione approvingly. “But I wish I could have had a turn with the boggart —”

“What would it have been for you?” said Ron, sniggering. “A piece of homework that only got nine out of ten?”

*

Later that day, after dinner, Harry went back to Lupin's office and knocked on the man's door, hoping he was in there, since he hadn't been at the staff table. To his luck, the door creaked open and Professor Lupin looked out in astonishment at Harry.

“Harry? Is something wrong?”

“I want to talk with you.”

“Oh. Now?”

“Preferably. But I could come back later.”

“Oh no, now is fine. Come in, come in,” he said, opening the door wider. “I was taking my dinner in here tonight. I didn't feel like putting up with Sev---er, Professor Snape staring at me. Please, sit down.”

Harry sat down in front of Lupin's desk. The man did indeed have a dinner plate, his meal half finished, on his desk.

“What did you want to talk about?”

“Well mainly... I, er... I wanted to say that the boggart-Snape wasn't very funny. We have students here that are transgender, and making fun of a man in a dress just strikes me as mean. Because, well... clothes are just clothes, for one. And also, some people might think trans girls are boys in dresses, and that boggart kinda supports that bigoted notion, whether that was the intention or not.”

Lupin blinked. “I'm sorry, Harry. I didn't think of that possibility.”

“Plus, it was kinda mean to Snape. I'm not saying he doesn't deserve a bit of meanness in his direction at times, because he bullies Neville horribly in class, but, well... I can't see this helping at all. Word will get back to him. He'll be worse than ever to Neville.”

Lupin sighed and rubbed his face with his hands. “You're right, of course Harry. It was stupid and childish of me. Severus and I... well, we went to school together, and we had a rivalry. I was one of your father's friends.”

“Ah,” Harry said, nodding. “That explains it. I figure Snape had to have known my dad, to hate him so much. At first, I thought he hated me because he was racist, but the way he talks about my dad... you don't talk that way unless you hate someone on a deeply personal level.”

“Yes, that's right. Your father and Professor Snape were enemies in school, and I was one of your father's friends, so I got... involved at times. Hence Professor Snape's hatred of me as well.”

“Okay. Well, just try not to do anything like the boggart-Snape again. It could hurt someone other than Snape.”

“I understand, and I agree to keep my childish ideas to myself from now on,” Lupin said with a grin.

Harry sat there a moment in thought before speaking again. “Professor?”

“Yes, Harry?”

“If you were friends with my dad, you must have been friends with Sirius Black as well.”

Lupin's face turned pale. It was lucky he hadn't been eating or drinking.

“What makes you say that?”

“Well one of my friends is Draco Malfoy. Don't look at me like that, he's not like his father. He was at first, but I won him over. He's unlearning his bigotry. Anyway, he told me that he and his father discussed Black, and that as far as Lucius knew, Sirius wasn't a Death Eater. And Lucius was, apparently, right in Voldemort's inner circle, so if anyone would know, it'd be him, right?”

Lupin was frowning.

“Harry, what are you saying?”

“I'm saying I know all about how Black supposedly was my parents' secret-keeper, how he's said to have betrayed them. But he never had a trial, so he could be innocent.”

“I... Harry... I wanted him to be innocent, too. He was my second-best friend in Hogwarts, after all. But if you know that much, surely you know he murdered Peter Pettigrew, another friend of ours?”

“I know that part of the story, yes. But the only witnesses were Muggles, who don't know about magic. Maybe they didn't see what they thought they saw. Is there any way Peter could have gotten away? Maybe he was the traitor, and set up Black?”

A strange look came over Lupin's face then, sort of thoughtful but also something else. Then he shook his head. He looked like he was about to speak, but then he didn't. He was gaping like a fish out of water for a minute before closing his mouth.

“I... I'd have to think about that for a while, Harry. But... well... Peter wasn't the secret keeper.”

“Hmm... people keep saying that. But the Fidelius Charm sounds like a very complicated charm. If anyone could do it, the war wouldn't have gotten very far last time. Sounds like only someone like Dumbledore or Voldemort could do that charm. So can you really know?”

“Dumbledore gave evidence against Sirius, though. There wasn't a trial, of course, but there was a... some sort of meeting of important Ministry and Wizengamot people, about his case. Nothing official, mind you. But Dumbledore gave evidence that Sirius was your parents' secret-keeper. If anyone would know, it would be him. I think if there was any doubt, he would have mentioned it.”

“Maybe. It's just... weird. From what I know, Sirius was disowned by his family for going against their bigoted ways. And he looked so happy at their wedding. Not like he was plotting murder at all.”

“What does someone plotting murder look like, eh?”

“I don't know. But not like that.”

“Mmm. Well, Harry, there's also the fact that Sirius broke out of prison. Why'd he do that, then? And how, if not with dark magic?”

“I have no idea how. But the why... Draco says the Ministry thinks Black is after me. Wants to snuff me out. And just in case they're right, I'm avoiding the man and being careful. But something doesn't sit right about the whole thing.”

“You have a good heart, Harry. It's commendable to want to give people the benefit of the doubt. But Sirius Black was deranged when they brought him in. The whole street blown apart, and he was laughing like a maniac.”

“Yes... but there's lots of reasons people laugh. Not all of them are because they're amused. All they found of Pettigrew was a finger, and I just find it awfully weird that they stopped looking after that.”

“There was a hole in the street, Harry. And Muggle bodies everywhere. In... in pieces. If we weren't hiding from Muggles, maybe a more complete investigation could have been done, but as it was, most of the pieces of Peter were likely lost in the clean-up process.”

“Yeah, others have said that, too...”

“Anyway, Harry, this discussion is putting me off my dinner. Could we change the subject? Or better yet, talk another time? It's getting late, and you should probably head back to your common room and get a start on your homework.”

Harry sighed. “Okay. Sorry to put you off your food, Professor.”

“It's okay, Harry. My appetite will return. Now run along. It was nice getting to know you, by the way.”

“Can I ask one last thing before I go?”

“I suppose so. I retain the right to refuse to answer, though.”

“Agreed. So my last question was... er... how come I never heard anything from you when I was younger?”

“I would have contacted you at your aunt and uncle's house before, but, well... Dumbledore was keeping your mail held at Gringott's. The whole point of having you there, after all, was the keep you away from your fame. That, and protecting your life from Death Eaters. So nothing was getting through. Including, if I'm correct, an awful lot of fan mail.”

Harry's eyes went wide. “Fan mail?”

“Yes. In fact, I think most of your mail is still being held at Gringott's. Only mail from friends and the school are allowed through.”

“Sounds like I need to look into that.”

“You want to read all that fan mail?”

“No. But people might have sent gifts, too. And something should be done with it instead of just sitting around.”

“You'll have to take that up with Dumbledore, then. By the way, Harry, I have those books I mentioned before. Got them out for you from the library. Where are they? Ah, here they are,” he said, pulling half a dozen books from a shelf. “Here you are, Harry. Books about the old religions and the tradition of Samhain.”

“Wow, thanks! Professor,” he added hastily.

“Not a problem, Harry. Anyway, you should get going now.”

“Okay. Thanks again, Professor,” Harry said, carefully stowing the books under his arms.

“You're welcome, Harry.”

Harry nodded, and left the office.

*

The next morning at breakfast, Harry went around to the different House tables to talk with members of Muggle Academics Club, and to see if the posters they'd been putting up had been attracting any more members. He soon had a nice long list of members old and new. Along with Ron, Hermione, Draco, Luna, Antigone's lot, and himself, the members included Neville, Ginny, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Dean Thomas, Colin Creevy, several Ravenclaws whose names Harry barely knew, that Willem Stone boy from Slytherin, and another Slytherin girl he didn't know yet from first year, a girl named Qintar Contee. There were also a few other Hufflepuffs like Susan Bones and Ernie McMillain. Harry was quite pleased at the size of the group. The only problem was that they would have to switch to a larger classroom to get everyone inside it. He had contemplated using the Room of Requirement, but he wanted somewhere they could go without him in case he ended up in the hospital again. Plus, he was still keeping that snake from last year in there, and Netty was helping take care of it. Which reminded him that he should find somewhere to set the cobra free, which meant doing some research.

Between different Quidditch practices, classes, and other scheduling conflicts, the first MAC meeting was going to be Sunday after lunch. Not everyone would be able to make it even then, but most of them would be there. He spent most of his free time til then planning out what to do, and working out where they should move to.

On Sunday, they all met at the original classroom, where he explained they were going three doors down the corridor to a classroom three times the size of this one. They left a sign on the door for any stragglers, and then went over to the new classroom.

“Welcome, everyone, to Muggle Academics Club. I've decided this first meeting will start out with us all working out what to do first. I can run some ideas past everyone if need be. But before we do that, we should all go around introducing each other, with names and maybe one fact about ourselves. I'll start. I'm Harry Potter,” he said, as though they didn't already know. “I really like reading about dinosaurs, though I haven't for a couple years, now I think about it.”

From there they went on to Hermione, who told the room that her favorite class was Arithmancy. Ron went next, saying he wanted to know more about atoms. Luna then told everyone her name, and told the room that aside from being the editor of the Quibbler, her father was also a cryptozoologist. She had to define the term for everyone.

Then it was Antigone's turn.

“Antigone Dreyfuss,” she said. “Slytherin, fifth year student. Halfblood and blood traitor. Might have to stop coming to this later, I have O.W.L.'s later on. Anyway, my great-grandparents are from India, and I really like pomegranate ice cream. Angela?”

“Me?” the shy Asian girl asked. “Oh, okay. Angela Whitechapel. Also Slytherin, also fifth year. My mom's family are from Japan, my dad's side are white and British all the way back. I want to train to become an Artificer.”

“Are you in Arithmancy?” Harry asked.

“Yes. It's one of the required courses for becoming an Artificer.”

“Cool. Maybe you can help me with my homework when I get stuck. That is, if Hermione is also stuck.”

Laughter went around the room at that. Then Angela nudged Danzia, whose strawberry-blond head swiveled to look at Angela.

“Ah, me? Okay. Danzia McCullough. Slytherin, 4th year. Me and these two goofballs helped Harry, Ron, and Hermione against Quirrell in Harry's first year. But you knew that already, so... new fact... um... I wear reading glasses,” she said, pulling said glasses from a pocket in her robes to show people. “Not a huge fact, I know, but hey.” She shrugged.

Then they went around to Ginny and the other Griffindors, through the Hufflepuffs. Harry was anxious to get to the two Slytherins he didn't know well yet. His patience was eventually rewarded, though.

“Hi everyone,” Willem said. His brown hair was a little long, some of it going over his eyes; in the back, he had his hair in a ponytail. But Harry saw the boy's eyes well enough through the bangs to see that they were bright violet, which he understood to be quite a rare eye color in humans. The second-year boy still had a nice tan from the summer.

“So,” he continued, “I'm Willem Stone. Slytherin, second year. Fun fact about me: The Sorting Hat almost put me in Hufflepuff. Not sure quite why I ended up in Slytherin.” He shrugged, looking confused.

Even Harry picked up on something in Willem's manner of speaking that said 'Probably very gay.' Nobody was rude enough to comment on this, though.

Now, however, was time for the last new MAC member. She was very striking, a black girl with green eyes and red hair; the top of her hair was in cornrows, while the back was in Afro-puffs, which would have looked like pigtails except that her hair was naturally very bushy, like Hermione's. She also had freckles; most of her skin was hickory colored, while her freckles were much lighter, a tawny color.

“Is it my turn? Goody! It's been very hard, waiting so long. I'm Qintar Contee,” she said (her first name said 'kin-tar') in an American accent, “Slytherin first-year. My family moved here from the states recently, cuz my dad got a job here. Nobody in my family has ever been in Hogwarts before! My mom and her parents moved from Namibia to the states. My dad's family doesn't know their heritage, though, because their ancestors were, well... they were slaves. But I looked into it, and though we don't know what part of Africa they came from, my great-great grandparents bought their freedom and moved up to Maine to start a family. I'm Muslim, too, so you might see me doing prayers sometimes because we do them five times a day, plus another on Fridays. Um... and I really like puns.”

Her voice had been breathless and bubbly; she was clearly excited.

“Should I say something related to MAC?” she continued. “Well my dad is a contractor, and I'm really curious how wizards make buildings. Do they do it the same way? Or, well, probably with magic. But there might still be similarities. Though you probably don't build many buildings anymore, since yours are so old. But I dunno, maybe you do... too?” she trailed off, looking down at her feet in sudden embarrassment.

“What does your mom do?” Harry asked her amicably.

“What? Oh, she's a wandmaker.”

“Cool. So Ollivander's gonna have competition, then?”

“Harry,” Ron said, exasperated, “Ollivander already has competition. But he's the best. Er... unless Qintar's mum turns out to be better.”

“If you're a Muslim,” Ernie McMillain asked, “How come you don't have one of those head scarf things?”

“Well, it's because those are optional, and I decided not to wear one.”

“Oh,” Ernie said. “They are? Well. Okay. Live and learn.”

There was a lull in the conversation then, and one of the Ravenclaw girls said Qintar's name.

“Yes?” Qintar asked.

“Oh, I just wanted to say I adore your hair. Tell me, what charm do you use to color it?”

“None. I don't color my hair. This is my natural color.”

“Ah, okay,” said the girl, in a way that sounded very sarcastic even to Harry.

Qintar frowned. “I mean it, I don't color my hair. I was born with this hair color.”

“I believe you, Qintar,” Harry said. “Malcolm X – a famous black American – had light hair and freckles. It's not a very common color combo, I think, but it's natural. The dyes look much different than her hair does. I don't know how many of you were here before for the talk about DNA, but just like red hair and freckles in white people, red hair and freckles occurs in black people, too. There's a lot more color combos among humans than most people think. For instance, most black people have brown or hazel eyes, but Qintar and I both have green eyes. And there are black people with blue eyes. In non-white populations, blue or green eyes is usually a form of albinism that affects only the eyes.

“There's even people in China who have the usual Chinese facial features and skin colors, but have blond hair, and it's an entirely different mutation than blond hair in white people. Which means those Chinese blond people don't have any European heritage at all.”

“What's a mutation?”

“What's DNA?”

Harry smiled. “Okay, so this looks like a good direction to go in. Anyone who's already heard this, please bear with me. Maybe even help me if you can.”

And so the first MAC meeting got underway, as Harry began to explain about cells and molecules and atoms and DNA, and how that relates to coloration and 'race.'

*

After the meeting, Harry was practically all talked out, but he stuck around to speak with his Slytherin friends. Willem and Qintar not being more than acquaintances at this point slipped out, but he made a mental note to try to get to know them better.

It was a lot of fun getting back into the swing of things with Antigone and the other girls. They talked about Danzia's trip to Oregon, Antigone's trip to Rome, Hermione's trip to France, and Harry and Ron's trip to Egypt.

In the middle of a conversation, Angela let loose a very loud and smelly fart. Everyone hurried to stand up and get away from the smell as Angela – normally shy and quiet – guffawed at them.

When he was done gagging, Ron goggled at Angela. “You farted!”

She giggled. “Yes. Sorry.”

“And then you laughed like a lunatic!”

“Yes, I did.”

“But... but you're so quiet usually!”

“This is more what she's like in one of the dorms when we're together,” Antigone said. “She's shy and quiet until she gets to know you really well, then she starts to get louder and stinkier. You should see her part of her dorm, it's a mess. She's a right slob!”

“But you're always so organized and neat looking in public!” Ron said.

Angela shrugged. “I am a woman of many facets.”

“Yeah. And give her half a chance, once she's comfortable with you, and she'll talk your ears off about the things she loves. My little geode,” Antigone said, kissing Angela on the lips.

Ron's eyes got big, and he turned away, his face going beet red. “Oi!”

“Oh Ronald,” Hermione said, slapping his shoulder, “leave them be.”

“I don't care that they're, well... together. I just don't want to see it. And by 'it,' I mean people getting all kissy in front of others. Doesn't matter who it is.”

“Grow up, Ronald.”

Danzia was laughing so hard her eyes were watering. “Yeah, Ronald,” she teased, “get with the 20th century.”

Antigone and Angela looked from Ron to one another, then Angela flowed onto Antigone's lap and the two began to snog very heavily. Harry could feel the heat from Ron's face from feet away. Ron was pointedly not looking at them.

Danzia laughed at Ron again. He turned to look at her. “What, aren't you gonna snog someone in front of me, too? Everyone join in the laugh at my expense, why not?”

“Well A. I don't have a partner, and B. I don't have any interest in sex or romance. Cuddling I enjoy. But snogging or more... maybe I could enjoy those, too, but I don't have any interest.”

“None at all?” Ron asked.

“None whatsoever.”

“Don't you, y'know... get crushes on people?”

“Haven't so far, no.”

“Oh. Well... I mean, you're only 14, right?”

“Not til November 3rd.”

“Still...” Ron said, trailing off.

“I concede that things might change. But most people I know – including my older sister and older brother – were putting up pictures of people they fancied as young as 11. And here I'm almost 14, and I've never seen the appeal. Some people are easy on the eyes, I'll grant that, but I've never wanted to snog anyone before, nor date anyone. But I've definitely been visited by the puberty fairy. You can't see 'em well in these school robes, but I've got a nice pair of boobs growing. And I had my first period on my 11th birthday. So for now, I think it's just how I am.”

“But I've seen you flirt with people!”

She shrugged. “So? You think I'm gonna be a total antisocial cold fish or something just because I don't want to snog people? If that was true, little kids would be antisocial cold fish. I'm a people person, friendly. I flirt with them as a way of saying hello. But if anyone takes my flirting seriously, they're barking up the wrong tree.

“Anyway, it's entirely possible I might never get interested in sex or romance. My biological mom is exactly the same way in that regard. She and Papa only had sex cuz she's Daddy's sister and Papa and Daddy wanted a kid. Which, despite not being sexually attracted to anyone, is something she did for them three times.”

“Your mom doesn't want... you know... either, but she still did it?”

“Just because she's got no sexual desire for anyone doesn't mean she can't still have sex for whatever reasons. Hell, who knows? She might even enjoy it; I've never asked. And I like to flick my button on occasion. No idea if she does or not, though, since she doesn't live with us.”

“Eww, too much information! WAY too much information!”

Danzia laughed a great big belly laugh at Ron's discomfort.

“Oooh,” said Luna, wide-eyed and looking thoughtfully at Danzia. “You do that too, Danzia? And here was me thinking I'd found a new body part.”

“Okay, I'm going now. This is too much for me,” Ron said, his whole face red as a tomato.

“It wouldn't hurt us all to do research into sex education,” Harry said. “It's a very neglected area in our education.”

“'It's a very neglected area,'” Danzia quoted Harry. “That's what she said!”

Harry started at her, confused. She sighed, leaning back in her chair.

“Never mind, Harry. Bad joke.”

Harry looked over at Hermione, and saw – difficult as it was with her skin tone – that she, too, was red with embarrassment. But she wasn't trying to leave.

“Something to add to the growing list of things to research, then,” Harry said, taking out a piece of parchment and making a note of it, as Ron left.

“Hey Harry,” Angela said, from her position on Antigone's lap, “I just realized, where's Draco? I thought he was coming to these?”

Harry frowned in thought. “You're right. I know he was there when I was telling you lot about the meeting. He didn't show up.”

“Do you think he was late?”

“Even if he was, we left a sign.”

“Yeah... and Peeves could easily have removed the sign.”

“Damn,” Harry said, getting up and putting his things together.

“What are you doing?” Danzia asked him. “It's been hours since the meeting began. He might be back in the Slytherin common room, or his dorm. Who knows where he went when he missed the meeting.”

“Or why he missed it,” Hermione added. “Harry, don't you remember him saying he was having problems with Crabbe and Goyle?”

“Oh yeah. Damn,” he cussed again. “Let's go find him.”

It didn't take long. They found Draco in the previous MAC classroom.

“There you are, Potter,” Draco said, slipping into the formal again in his annoyance. “Where were you? Was the meeting canceled?”

“No. It was down the hall. Too many people for this room. Peeves must have removed the sign we left behind. Guess we should've left a person behind instead.”

“Oh. Well that explains it, Harry.” Draco said.

“You've been here this whole time?” Danzia asked.

Draco shrugged. “I waited without doing anything for about half an hour. Then I decided it must have been canceled. But I was already sitting at a desk, I already had my schoolbag with me, and going back to the common room meant avoiding Crabbe and Goyle, so I just stayed here doing homework.”

“Well let me show you to the room the meetings are in now, okay?”

“Okay. Just let me dry this ink out first,” Draco said, using his wand to dry the ink. He put his things away in his bag, put it over his shoulder, and stood up.

“Lead the way, Harry.”

Later, in the Griffindor common room, Harry found Ron sitting at a table doing homework. He sat next to his friend and began working on his own homework. Both boys were silent for several minutes before Ron broke the silence.

“I didn't want to say anything about it around them,” Ron said, “in case they got offended, but Danzia has put on some weight. She's still really pretty, just, well... she's filling out, and it's not just because of puberty.”

“So?” asked Harry, who was working on homework.

“Er... nothing, I guess. I dunno. Just something I noticed, is all.”

“It's her business, not anyone else's. But thanks for letting me know; if anyone tries making fun of her for it, I'll hex them.”

“I wasn't--”

“I know you weren't, Ron. Relax.”

“Good. Because I don't care if she's a little on the heavier side. I just... it's new. I mean, she's never exactly been, y'know, real skinny or anything. Just...” he trailed off.

Harry, not knowing what to say either, said nothing at first. Then something occurred to him, and he smiled.

“You're trying to picture her naked, aren't you?”

Ron's face went instantly fire-engine red, and he sputtered, unable to speak.

“I think Danzia would find it amusing. Heck, she might even be willing to give you a show if you ask nicely.”

Ron frowned, and muttered something.

“What was that?”

“I said 'shut up,' okay? I can't... this conversation...”

Harry patted Ron on the back. “Okay, Ron. I'll go back to my homework.”

“No, that's okay. Let's just change the subject.” Ron cast around in his mind for a topic. “Hey, where was Malfoy today?”

Harry sighed. “Peeves must have stolen the sign we left behind. It wasn't there, but Draco was. He waited for us for a while, then when nobody showed, instead of looking for us, he started doing homework.”

“What, in the classroom?”

“He didn't want to risk running into Crabbe and Goyle.”

“Ah, that explains it.” There was a pause of a few beats, before he continued, “He was still there? We must've been in there for hours. In fact,” he checked his watch. “Blimey, it's almost dinner!”

Ron hurried to put his things away. Harry was a little more careful with his own things, but he too put his things back in his room before following Ron to dinner. He realized with a pang of guilt that he hadn't fed the black dog since dinner the night before. He hoped it would still be there. He also knew he might get in trouble going out at night again, so he tucked his invisibility cloak into his robe pocket before leaving for dinner.

Keeping his scraps-gathering secret from the others wasn't easy, but he managed it. He left early, claiming to be going to get something at the library. As soon as the coast was clear, though, he whipped his cloak over his head and headed out the front door to the spot where he always met Shadow.

To his surprise and relief, the big black dog was there, waiting patiently. It couldn't see him, of course, but it began to sniff the air as he approached, plainly smelling the table scraps. Harry pulled the cloak off when he was still several feet away, so he wouldn't startle the dog. When it saw him, it said “Woof!” in a happy tone.

“Sorry I forgot breakfast and lunch today, boy. Hope you're not too hungry.”

“Woof!” Shadow barked, smiling his doggy smile. Then it turned its head up at the moon, then looked to one side of him.

Harry blinked. “Are you trying to tell me that Luna brought you food earlier today?”

“Woof!”

“Wow,” Harry said. He gave the dog a searching look. It stared impassively back, but kept glancing at the food in Harry's pocket. Harry wasn't sure how smart dogs were, so he didn't know if this was was normal for dogs or what. But he figured that even if it wasn't, it might be a magical dog, and magical creatures did tend to be smarter than Muggle animals.

Satisfied with that answer, Harry pulled the table scraps out of his pocket and began feeding Shadow a piece at a time.

When the dog was done eating, it woofed gently again, and jumped up to put its front paws on Harry's shoulders, putting its head on Harry's own, making Harry chuckle. He petted the dog, and it went back to all fours, its tail wagging. It then lowered its head and began to sniff Harry all around, focusing on Harry's other pocket.

“There's nothing for you in there, boy. No, really. No-- okay, fine, I'll show you. It's just my two-way mirror. I use it to communicate with Luna. She's in a different House than me. She's a Ravenclaw, I'm Griffindor.”

The dog climbed up on Harry again, sniffing his chest, then trying to sniff down the front of his robes.

Laughing, Harry pushed the dog gently aside. “What're you looking for? Oh there you go again. Fine, I'll pull that out, too.”

Harry pulled on the chain around his neck, showing Shadow the odd little necklace she'd given him for his birthday.

“It's a gift from Luna. Each stone plays a different tone. Here, this one supposedly chases away Scrabjabbles,” he said, pressing the green gem. Airy, tinkling music came from the necklace.

“And this stone, the purple one, I'll show you.”

Pressing the purple stone, it made a noise like rock grinding against rock. The dog regarded the sound curiously.

“You don't want to hear the red stone, trust me on that. That just leaves the blue one. You probably won't like that one, either. Animals don't like it.”

Harry pressed on the blue stone. The dog just looked curiously at the stone, then at him. Harry let go of the necklace.

“Er... didn't that bother you? It made my owl go nuts when I pressed it. Though I suppose it could be broken. Or... well... I don't think it works on all animals. Scabbers – that's Ron's pet rat – couldn't hear it either.”

Shadow immediately began barking, loudly, over and over again.

“Okay, okay, stop, I'm not supposed to be out here this late, stop please” Harry begged, managing to grab the dog's muzzle and hold it shut.

“Crap,” he said.

Harry had heard something from the castle. He tossed the invisibility cloak over himself and stood behind Shadow. The dog didn't follow Harry with its head, but instead whined, looking over at the front doors of the school, which were wide open. Filch was coming this way.

“Shit. Filch. See you later, Shadow.”

At Harry's words, the dog disappeared into the woods. Harry blinked at this in confusion before heading off towards Hagrid's hut, hoping he could get back inside the castle without running into either Filch or Mrs. Norris. He found himself wishing he knew how to become an Animagus, preferably something with wings, so he could fly back to the school.

If Mrs. Norris was with Filch, Harry couldn't see her anywhere. But she could still be in the building, waiting for someone to sneak in. Filch could've left the door open as a trap for miscreants; it was the sort of thing he would do.

Peeking inside, Harry didn't see Mrs. Norris anywhere. Figuring she must be out in the grass with her master, he made his way through the shortcuts he knew to get as close to the Griffindor common room as he could, looking around one more time before taking off his cloak and hiding it in his robes again. As nonchalantly as possible, he gave The Fat Lady the password and went inside, glad that he'd not gotten caught.

End note: I'm probably going to stop making Slytherin OC's now, after Qintar, except for the occasional minor character like relatives. But I reserve the right to change my mind later. :)

End note 2: Reminder that “snogging” is British for “making out; kissing passionately.”

End note 3: Yes, Danzia is asexual and aromantic. Also, while we're on the subject, Danzia reminds me of Amythest (from Steven Universe) in some ways, mostly personality-wise. She's also becoming a heavier girl. Taller than Amythest, though, I think. I don't think Amythest's height is established anywhere, really, beyond “She's short.”



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