Chapter Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Summary: Draco sends Lucius' package to Narcissa and runs into someone he didn't expect. The Slytherins complete their house unity essays and we get glimpses into the other houses' projects as Draco sees them. By the end, however, Draco's smirk is nearly gone as things start to come unravelled. Features owls, playful serpents, a crotchety Snape, a game of Broom Chaser, and rattled cages.
Beta: cornmouse, evilsource, goneril, oddnari
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Chapter 7 - Letters and Meetings
Early on Sunday morning, Draco awoke with a start. He'd been dreaming about following Blaise around in a maze of corridors. No sooner had the other boy come into view, he'd disappear around another corner. Draco kept trying to call his name, but no sound came from his throat; every time he'd stretch out his arm to grab Blaise, he'd move out of reach. Draco was irritated and cranky when he rose from his bed. He kicked his shoes out of the way and yanked a towel out of his bedside drawer, heading for the bathroom.
He hadn't seen Potter at dinner the previous evening, which didn't improve his mood any. Draco wasn't sure what to do about Saturday's fiasco -- he didn't know if Potter would accept an obviously fake apology. Still, Draco's plan had been thwarted temporarily, and he needed another means of approaching Potter. Maybe...
As he dressed, Draco recalled his conversation with his father and remembered the two-way mirror he was to send to his mother. He peered around to make sure that the others were still asleep. Pulling the mirror out of his pocket, he placed it on the nightstand and considered how he would send it. It would look too big and lumpy in a roll of parchment, and he didn't want to send it openly as a parcel. Draco bit the inside of his cheek, thinking, and then it came to him. Of course. He'd send his mother the box of coconut ice squares he'd bought yesterday, concealing the mirror in it. As far as he knew, the Aurors weren't reading his letters, so he could let her know about the mirror in the enclosed note. Nevertheless, he would be careful in how he worded his letter.
First, however, he had to prepare the package. Draco opened the box and levitated the sweets out before wrapping the mirror in a tissue and placing it on the bottom. He replaced the sweets in the box and surveyed the result. The middle was slightly raised, but it wasn't really noticeable, unless one looked very carefully. He replaced the lid and muttered, "Involvere," at which a shimmering liquid substance issued from his wand, enveloping the box of sweets. Several moments later, the box was covered in clear wrapping and Draco put it aside, taking out his quill and some parchment.
I know I just wrote last week, but I was in Hogsmeade yesterday and I simply had to send you some coconut ice squares, I know you're fond of them. Make sure you try the ones on the bottom of the box first, they say those are always tastier than the ones on top.
Your loving son,
P.S. Send Uncle Duncan my love.
Draco re-read the note with a critical eye and he was sure his mother would understand. He desperately wanted to write, in big bold letters, that he'd seen Dad, but he really didn't want to take the chance that his letter would be read. He hoped he'd been subtle enough, at any rate. He sealed the parchment with a tap of his wand and rose, sticking the box of sweets under his arm. Blaise had stopped snoring and Draco wanted to leave before having to answer unnecessary questions -- he almost never sent anything home.
Draco trudged up towards the Owlery unhappily. Why did they have to have the Owlery so high up, anyway? Couldn't it be nearer to the Slytherin common room? The Gryffindors always had everything more convenient for them. When he walked into the spacious room, trying to sidestep the owl droppings as best as he could, he was startled to see that he wasn't the only early riser. A boy sat on the windowsill with his legs crossed, an owl perched on his shoulder. Draco couldn't see who it was, because the sun was shining straight into the window. The silhouette revealed a slim build, a narrow back, and shoulders that hunched slightly forward, as though under an invisible weight. Draco held his hand up to shield his eyes from the bright light. The boy turned his head towards the owl on his shoulder. Potter.
"What do you think, Hedwig? Should I go visit Hagrid, or will he just want to talk about Sirius again?"
The owl hooted and nipped at her owner's nose affectionately, and he smiled. Draco's breath caught in his throat and he coughed. Potter's smile faded as he turned to look at him.
"Potter. Nice owl," Draco offered, thinking quickly of how to turn the situation to his advantage. Claws sank into his shoulder and he gave a startled yelp, glaring at Pandora -- who had, as usual, chosen to make her grand entrance at the worst possible moment.
"Thanks. Yours is nice, too," Potter said, swinging around and hopping off the windowsill. His owl flew up towards the rafters.
"Listen, Potter, I--" Draco started to say, but Potter shook his head.
"Forget it, Malfoy. You want to play games, I'm not interested. I've got bigger fish to fry."
With that, Potter stalked out of the Owlery, leaving Draco sputtering with indignation. Why, the absolute cheek of the arrogant Gryffindor prat! Bigger fish to fry, indeed! He'd show him, Draco fumed. Potter would beg for Draco's forgiveness by the time he was through with him. Potter's attitude put a serious dent into Draco's plan. He'd have to regroup and start over from the beginning now. He would go over his notes in the evening, he thought, recovering.
Draco remembered his errand and took the box of sweets from under his arm. He tied the parchment to Pandora's leg and demanded that she not drop the package as it was fragile. The owl flew off, clipping the side of his face with her wing as a reward for his insolence. This jolted him out of his angry reverie and he sighed. He'd have to be especially nice to Pandora in the coming weeks -- this was the second time he sent her out in four days, and she hated delivering packages.
He made his way down to the Slytherin dungeon muttering various oaths under his breath. This year was not going well for him, not well at all.
Later that evening, all the students in Slytherin gathered in the common room for the weekly House meeting. These were a longstanding tradition in the house of Salazar. The prefects took turns each week to make announcements and to highlight individual accomplishments. They never spoke of individual failures -- these meetings were supposed to motivate the other, unpraised, students to strive to be highlighted in next week's meeting. Tonight it was Pansy's turn and she perched atop a tall chair that resembled a bar stool. The fireplace behind her was lit and she looked eerie against its backdrop.
The students from each year assembled in little groups on the sofas and chairs. The second-years came in late and were forced to sit on the floor, by Pansy's chair. The Bloody Baron floated through a nearby wall and hung in the air next to them. Strictly speaking, the House ghosts weren't allowed in the common rooms, but an exception was made in the Baron's case. The ghost reported details of the meetings to Professor Snape, who was technically supposed to be present, but couldn't always make it. Draco frowned, realising that Snape hadn't been present at a single meeting this year, barring the first day of school. He'd made himself available for the prefects to ask questions and present concerns, but he'd been unusually absent from house events.
Pansy gave a little cough and one by one, the Slytherins fell silent. She surveyed the room with a satisfied smile and addressed them.
"Good evening, everyone. Tonight's meeting will be a little different, as it is the due date for the Slytherin House Essays. I hope all of you have submitted yours, because I'm going to check that right now," she said.
Still grinning, Pansy raised her wand and levitated the silver and green collection bin over everyone's heads. The cylindrical bin landed at her feet and Pansy waved her wand in a complicated way, uttering an incantation Draco wasn't familiar with. Draco watched in fascination as a fine silvery mist began to rise from the slit at the top of the bin, shimmering as it coalesced into a serpentine form near the ceiling.
Finally, the mist stopped rising from the bin and the silver serpent hovered in the air for a moment. Quick as a flash, it split into four slightly smaller serpents. They darted through the air to hover above the heads of four students, one of whom was Blaise. Pansy looked around the room.
"Andrew Bartlett, Preston Iven, Rose McNulty, Blaise Zabini," she intoned, "the four of you are not going to bed until your essays are written according to the rules on the noticeboard and placed in the bin."
Draco glared at his Chaser and Keeper, both of whom avoided his gaze. Draco hoped they wouldn't blame Quidditch practice for their failure to get their essays in on time. Laurel, the seventh-year prefect, was giving a death stare to her little brother, who looked like he wanted to fall through the floor and disappear. There wasn't anyone glaring at Rose, a chubby fourth-year girl, but she looked apprehensive anyway.
"Otherwise," Pansy continued, "you'll find that your new pets" -- she pointed at the silver shimmering snake above Blaise's head -- "are going to follow you around for the rest of the school year." She looked around the common room with an air of triumph, and there was some applause. Most people, even Draco, were eyeing Pansy with newfound appreciation. He'd had no idea what she was up to with the collection bin, but this was rather impressive magic.
"That's Dark magic, Parkinson," Nott spoke up from his seat beside Queenie. "You had to have charmed the pretty snakes," he jabbed a finger in the direction of Blaise's serpent, "to recognise the person from the name. That needs a part of the person to work."
"Oh, Theodore," Pansy said in a cold voice, "are you questioning the judgement of Professor Snape? He approved usage of the spell, you see."
Everyone turned to look at the Bloody Baron, who merely nodded. Draco looked over at Liam, who had narrowed his eyes at Nott.
"What did you use then? Did you steal--" Nott began, but was interrupted by Liam.
"Pansy used the goblets from breakfast last Saturday," the Head Boy said with a menacing edge to his quiet voice. "Because they'd only been used recently, she was able to collect residual magical essence for each Slytherin student."
Liam took a look around the room. Sheridan Roper -- a tiny, bespectacled boy in Draco's year -- sat up a little straighter. Sheridan was easily the best at Defence Against the Dark Arts in all of Slytherin. He blinked at Liam from behind his thick glasses, reminding Draco eerily of Potter.
"Since we know where everyone sits at the table, it was the easiest and quickest way of doing it. As Pansy says, our Head of House has approved this, and those wishing to question his judgement will do well to speak to him directly. There will be no more interruptions this evening," Liam said, staring pointedly at Nott, who was studying the carpet with an unreadable look.
Draco smirked. Who did the prat think he was kidding, anyway, with the indignation over Dark magic? If Nott wanted to debate the ethics of magic with his housemates, he should have asked the Sorting Hat to put him into Ravenclaw. His train of thought was interrupted by Pansy, who once again cleared her throat.
"As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted," she said, "you've got until midnight to finish your essays and drop them in here" -- she pointed at the bin near her feet -- "so the four of you had better hurry."
Blaise gave her an ill-tempered look. "How do we know the other houses won't simply try to steal bits of our handwriting to compare the essays with?"
"You really ought to listen in at the meetings, Blaise," Pansy said, and several students laughed. "We went over that when Liam announced the project three weeks ago -- Professor Flitwick will charm the parchments specially, so that it looks like the same person wrote them all."
Blaise grunted in acknowledgement and slumped back against the sofa cushions. The silvery serpent above him hung its head down in front of his face, and Blaise shooed it away, scowling.
"Pansy," Draco spoke up suddenly, remembering yesterday afternoon. "There are spells that can reveal the writer of any piece of text. How do we know that the other houses won't use them?"
"Ooh, good question, Draco," Pansy said, beaming at him. "Laurel's going to place a jinx on the parchments after Liam duplicates them." She paused, taking a look around the room. "Let's just say anyone who tries to use magic to find out the writer's identity will find themselves in dire straits indeed."
Draco nodded and settled back down. There were murmurs of approval all around the common room.
"Finally, a reminder -- the first essays will be read out immediately after the Halloween Feast. Hopefully, we can look forward to many house points that evening." With that, Pansy levitated the collection bin back to its original location below the noticeboard and began to highlight the week's achievements by Slytherins. Draco tuned her out: he wasn't interested.
After the meeting broke up, Draco cornered Nott before the other boy had a chance to retreat to his dormitory, which he shared with Sheridan Roper and two fifth-year boys. Nott stared at Draco from beneath his long black fringe. He licked his lips and shifted his weight.
"Look, I didn't mean to upset your girlfriend, Malfoy--"
Draco held up a hand, silencing him. "This isn't about Pansy. Walk with me," he said and walked out into the dungeon hallway. Nott followed -- he didn't really have a choice, Draco thought with a self-satisfied smirk. They walked in silence all the way to the staircase that led to the entrance hall. The Bloody Baron followed them for part of the way, then disappeared through a wall.
As they reached the stairs, Draco took a quick look around and turned to face Nott. The other boy looked pale and gaunt in the scant light of the wall-mounted torches, and Draco felt a twinge of guilt pluck at his insides -- here was a fellow Death Eater Child, only Nott was much worse off than Draco. He shook the thought off; now wasn't the time to get sentimental.
"What gives, Malfoy?" Nott asked, his eyes glittering in the torchlight.
"I thought it might interest you that your father is free," Draco said without preamble.
He was regretting his decision to walk with Nott: something felt off about him. Draco suppressed a shiver. There was an edge of desperation in Nott's face that Draco wasn't comfortable with. However, as he spoke, he noticed the desperation fade away and turn into something different, something that made the other boy look somehow more human.
"You... how do you know?" Nott's voice was trembling with emotion, and Draco's heart skipped a beat. He sighed.
"I have my sources."
"Why hasn't he told me?" Nott demanded.
"Honestly, Theodore, your father's a convicted criminal, but he's no fool. How would he know that our post is not being read by Dumbledore or his underlings?" Draco asked, not bothering to conceal his bitter tone. "At any rate, he was injured in the escape and he's still recovering, that's why he hasn't contacted you."
"How do you know all this?"
"I told you, I have my sources. I'm not at liberty to disclose them, but rest assured that my information is accurate," Draco said. "At any rate, I thought you might like to know," he finished and turned to leave.
"Hey," Nott called softly and Draco turned around with a quizzical look. "Thanks... Draco," Nott said, looking straight at him.
"Don't mention it," Draco said somewhat gruffly and walked away. They both knew everything had a price, and he'd just bought Nott's favour; it wasn't a sentimental gesture but a calculated one. Still, it felt good to be appreciated. Draco reached the common room and spoke the password. Inside, the crowd had dissipated, though a lot of the students still remained sprawled out on the sofas and chairs. Vincent and Gregory were playing chess: a white pawn was clubbing a black one in the middle of the board.
Blaise was lying on his stomach atop one of the sofas, a piece of parchment in front of him, a quill in his hand. Four first-years were sitting across from him, staring at the silvery snake above Blaise's head. Draco noted with amusement that the snake seemed to enjoy the attention -- it was performing complicated acrobatic tricks in the air, much to the first-years' glee. One girl giggled and clapped as the serpent performed a backflip. Blaise glared at her and Draco walked over, shooing the children away. Blaise looked up at him with a dejected expression.
"I don't know what to write about," he complained. "There's too much I don't want others to know."
Draco nodded. "I had the same problem. You'll figure it out, I'm sure. I'll be right back, going to get my Arithmancy book," he said. Blaise nodded absentmindedly, turning back to his blank parchment. Draco walked through the curtain that separated the common room from the hallway leading to the boys' dormitories. Retrieving his book, he walked back to the common room. Vincent and Gregory were talking excitedly to their chess pieces, and Blaise was sitting up now, his parchment still blank.
Above him, the shimmering serpent gave a demonstrative yawn and curled up. Draco took a seat beside his friend, opening his book. He peered up at Blaise's snake, which opened one beady black eye at him, and winked slyly. Draco shook his head, smiling. Pansy had really gone all out -- he'd just made a mental note to ask her about the spell when she emerged from the direction of the girls' dormitories on the opposite side of the common room.
Seeing Draco, Pansy bounded over and flopped down on the sofa beside him, startling Blaise. He gave her an irritated look and went back to staring at his parchment. Draco turned to Pansy.
"Pretty impressive," he said, nodding at the serpent above Blaise's head. It was flinging the tip of its tail from left to right, much like a cat would.
Pansy beamed. "I know. They're a piece of work, aren't they?"
"Where did you learn how to cast it?"
"In an old book Mum gave me, but Granger turned me onto the incantation that would animate them."
"Granger?" Draco gave her an incredulous look.
"Well, I had to talk to her about something when you wanted to speak with Potter in Potions. I figured I might as well get something useful out of it," Pansy said with an impish grin.
"That's my girl," Draco said, pulling her close and kissing her on the cheek. "So what did you write about in your essay?" he asked, jerking his thumb in Blaise's direction.
"Ooh, I think it'll be fun if we try to guess as they're read out, don't you?"
"I guess," Draco said, not particularly disappointed.
Suddenly, a spitting noise came from the floor and Herbert launched himself at Blaise's head, pawing at the silvery snake. Blaise uttered a string of curses in English and Italian as he attempted to get the cat off. The sight of Blaise with a hissing cat on top of his head was too much to bear. A moment later, Draco was laughing silently, shaking and covering his mouth while Pansy was giggling hysterically beside him. Blaise got Herbert off and shook his head, grinning sheepishly.
"S'pose I should finish this up, or that cat will have my head," he quipped, causing Pansy to burst into a renewed fit of giggles.
"It's a pity we don't have a camera, a picture of that would have been priceless," Draco added with what he hoped was an innocent look.
Blaise rolled his eyes. "Go on, take the mickey. I'll get you back yet, you'll see," he muttered, still grinning. He picked up his quill and started writing. The silver serpent, which had retreated near the ceiling during the cat attack, floated gently down and curled into a coil again, pretending to be asleep.
Draco immersed himself in Numerology and Grammatica, searching for an interesting topic to focus on for his term essay. They were supposed to have a topic ready by Monday afternoon and Draco was undecided between the magical properties of the number thirteen and practical applications of Arithmancy in interior decorating. After about an hour, he decided on interior decorating, just as Blaise let out a loud sigh and proclaimed that he was done with his essay. Draco looked up at the silver snake above Blaise's head, but it was still there, swishing its tail around lazily.
Blaise got up, stretched, and walked over to the collection bin, dropping the essay through the slit at the top. At that precise moment, the snake exploded into mist, which seeped languidly into the collection bin. Blaise watched it intently until the last speckle disappeared, then turned to look at Pansy.
"There, happy?" He walked back to the sofa and recapped his ink bottle, yawning.
Pansy yawned as well, glancing at the clock above the mantelpiece. "Almost half past nine -- I hope the others are almost done, it's nearly bedtime for the first-years, and Preston's in first year."
Just then, tiny Preston Iven walked in from the boys' dormitories, followed by a disgruntled-looking Laurel. The snake above his head was coiled into a spring and bouncing up and down as he marched towards the noticeboard. After the boy deposited his essay, his snake disappeared just as Blaise's had. Laurel ruffled her brother's hair and walked off towards the girls' dormitories.
Draco got up, slamming his textbook shut. He hadn't realised how tired he was until then -- his head spun briefly as he rose to his feet, and he had to grab Blaise to steady himself.
"Oh, but I'm knackered. Going to bed. Night, pet," he said, bending down to kiss Pansy. As he straightened up, he was startled by the gaunt figure of the Bloody Baron hovering right behind the couch.
"Professor Snape wishes to see you at seven o'clock tomorrow morning, Mr Malfoy," the ghost said in his booming voice.
"Did Professor Snape say why he wishes to see me?" Draco asked with no small amount of irritation.
"Didn't," came the reply, and the ghost glided out of the common room as soundlessly as he'd come in.
Draco rolled his eyes. "That settles it, then. I'm off." He flashed Pansy another grin, put his book under his arm, and walked off towards the boys' dormitories.
On Monday morning, Draco really didn't feel like getting out of bed. He lay in the darkness afforded by the drapes around his bed and stared above him. A tiny iridescent spider was crawling near the top of one of the bedposts. He waited for it to pass out of sight and opened the drapes. The dormitory was pitch-dark and the only sounds were being made by Gregory, who was snoring, and Vincent, who was making strange whistling noises. Draco glanced at the silver-encased clock on his bedside table -- it was six-thirty and Snape expected him by seven. He groaned, throwing off his blanket fully and swinging his legs off the bed. He felt around for his slippers, which were under the bed.
Shivering a little, Draco got washed and dressed in a semi-catatonic state. He debated waking the others, but decided against it. The moment he left the room, they'd just go back to sleep again. He'd wake them when he returned. He shuffled out of the dormitory, through the common room, and made his way to Snape's office, gazing idly at the flickering shadows on the walls. When he arrived outside the Potions master's office, he gave three sharp knocks then a soft one; that was how they let their Head of House know that it was a Slytherin at the door.
"Enter," called Snape's voice from the other side of the door, and Draco let himself in. He stood off to the side, waiting for Professor Snape to acknowledge him. The Potions master was seated at his desk, writing in a thick leather-bound book. He glanced up at Draco and gave a tiny nod, letting him know that he'd be with him shortly. Draco nodded in response and occupied himself by staring at a jar of strange star-shaped eyes on a nearby shelf. The eyes moved around in a viscous amber liquid, blinking occasionally. After five minutes, Snape coughed. Draco turned his head to face him and found the professor staring at him pointedly.
"You wanted to see me, Professor?" Draco said, trying to mask his nervousness. He knew that Snape was a Death Eater, and he was likely to have heard from Draco's father. When Draco hadn't given up his father to the authorities, he'd committed a crime: yet another reason to keep his meeting with Lucius from as many people as possible.
"Yes, Draco. You will post these," -- he held out a sheaf of multicoloured parchment -- "on the common room noticeboard immediately."
Draco took the scrolls from him, not believing what he was hearing. Snape summoned him at seven on a Monday morning to give him an errand to run? The Head of Slytherin House regarded him darkly from between two sheets of greasy hair that hung limply on either side of his face.
"Is... is that all, Professor?" Draco managed. The hand holding the scrolls was shaking ever so slightly.
"Yes, Draco, that is all," Snape said, dark eyes glinting. "Unless there is something else you wish to speak to me about."
"Uh, no, Sir, there isn't," Draco said resolutely.
"Very well. See you at breakfast, Draco," Snape said with the slightest hint of a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. He picked up his quill again and paid Draco no more attention. Murmuring goodbye, Draco hightailed it out of the office, relieved. When he reached the common room, he applied Sticking Charms to the backs of the scrolls he got from Snape and affixed them to the noticeboard.
Looking at the notices, he was a little startled. Fourteen all told, they were the member lists for the Defence Association groups and the Ravenclaw study groups. Immersed in the details of the Slytherin house unity project, he'd completely forgotten about what the other houses were doing. Two scrolls for each year -- one in Gryffindor colours and one in Ravenclaw colours -- they listed neat rows of students in all four houses. Draco searched for his name on the red-and-gold scrolls.
DEFENCE ASSOCIATION -- GROUP 1 -- MONDAYS -- 19:00 -- CLASSROOM ELEVEN
Potter, Harry (leader)
Draco rubbed his forehead tiredly. Potter and Granger? Potter as group leader? He couldn't even have ended up with Blaise; it had to be Nott, of course. Not that he wasn't going to use the presence of Potter to his advantage, but he'd actually have to defer to Potter, or risk Liam's displeasure. At least there were only two Hufflepuffs in the group. He scanned the other group lists for Blaise and Pansy. Blaise was in the same group as Queenie and Millicent (Tuesdays), and Pansy was with Vincent and Gregory (Thursdays).
There were four groups for the sixth-year students altogether, and Draco noted that each group was led by a member of a different house -- Sheridan Roper of Slytherin led the Wednesday groups. Of course, Roper was a shoo-in for any Defence against the Dark Arts-related activity. Draco glanced at the blue-and-white scrolls for the study groups, searching for his name again.
RAVENCLAW STUDY GROUP 1 -- MONDAYS -- 18:00 -- CLASSROOM EIGHT
Longbottom again, though no Potter this time. Bones again -- she was the new Minister's niece -- Draco made a mental note to be nice to her, Hufflepuff or not. He could definitely use being in both groups to his advantage. Thankfully, no Nott this time, but Draco wasn't exactly thrilled about being in the same group with Millicent. Searching for Blaise again, he found that Blaise was in Potter's group and he felt an unpleasant twinge, remembering Blaise's words about Potter on Saturday. Pansy was in the same group as Granger, and Vincent ended up with Weasley. Draco couldn't help but chuckle -- this was going to be one very interesting year.
A groggy-looking Blaise stumbled out of the doorway on the left, dragging his schoolbag across the floor.
"Morning," he muttered, "what's with the awful decorations on the noticeboard? And what did Snape want from you?"
"He wanted me to post these. House unity group lists, come and see," Draco said.
Blaise stopped a few inches behind him, and Draco felt the other boy's hot breath on the back of his neck. He moved slightly to the side as though to let Blaise see the lists better. Blaise found his name quickly and crouched down beside his schoolbag. There was a strange grin playing across his face that Draco didn't like at all.
"Both on Tuesday," Blaise said grouchily, extracting his timetable, a quill, and an inkpot.
Draco nodded. "I've got mine on Monday... Wait a minute," he suddenly said, frowning. Searching for the names of the Slytherin Quidditch team members on the lists, he saw that they were scattered all over the week. "Oh, great. Wonderful. Bollocks," he fumed.
"What?" Blaise stopped writing on his timetable and blinked up at him.
"Quidditch! We're all over the place -- and we have to keep practising." Draco scanned the lists again suspiciously but realised that all the house teams were in similar situations. "Gotta go, see you at breakfast," he said over his shoulder, and sprinted to the dormitory to get his schoolbag, yelling for Vincent and Gregory to get up before they were late. Draco was going to go right back to Professor Snape and ask him to book the Quidditch pitch for eight o'clock every other night of the week, plus for three hours every Saturday afternoon. There was just no way the Slytherin Quidditch team would suffer because of the house unity project. No way.
On Saturday, Draco was making his way downstairs from the library when he heard excited shouts and music coming from the direction of the Charms corridor. Instead of walking over to the next staircase that would take him down, he went to investigate -- he was a prefect, after all. The sounds originated down the hall from the Charms classroom, and Draco saw shadows dancing across a wall further up ahead.
The source of the noise was a normally disused classroom. Draco checked that his prefect's badge was in place and strode over, ready to hand out punishments. He'd been in a bad mood all week -- their Quidditch practices were sloppy, there was too much homework, and he saw less and less of Blaise every day. Draco was itching to take out his irritation on someone other than the younger Slytherins, who had all been avoiding him since Wednesday.
As he stopped in the doorway of the classroom, he was greeted by a curious sight. He first noticed Liam Baddock and Trista Morgan. Liam was sitting on top of a desk, laughing and clapping. Trista was playing a children's tune on a rickety piano in the corner, her glasses down on her nose. Brock Logan, the seventh-year Hufflepuff prefect, sat beside Liam, grinning and pointing at something. The room was full of first-year students -- there were about twenty of them all together, from all four houses.
Little Preston Iven was gliding backwards on a broomstick, chasing a dark-haired Ravenclaw girl, who was squealing and laughing. Preston managed to bump the broom handle into the girl's side, nearly sending her flying across the floor. She scrambled up and grabbed the nearest Gryffindor, whom Preston proceeded to bump with the broom handle. He raised his arms triumphantly and cried "Broom Chaser!" then promptly fell off the broom, laughing. Several first-years cheered, and Liam clapped enthusiastically. Nobody seemed to notice Draco standing in the doorway.
Of course, Draco realised that he was witnessing a Hufflepuff party. There were goblets and plates scattered on a table further inside the classroom. It was slightly unnerving to see all these children from the different houses playing so amicably together. Draco experienced a kind of morbid fascination as he watched -- he still remembered how firmly the lines between the houses had been drawn in his first year. Liam noticed him then and waved him over. Draco edged along the wall, trying to dodge the running children. He took a seat beside Liam.
"Found us, did you? Isn't this cute?" Liam asked.
"I suppose that's a word for it. What on earth are they doing?"
"It's a game called Broom Chaser. See, our Preston's drawn a black marble from a sack of white ones, and he's the Broom Chaser. He has to tag people with the broom handle while flying backwards -- they then belong to his team," Liam explained seriously.
Beside him, Logan noticed Draco and nodded in greeting, then turned back to watch the game. Liam continued. "The team members grab the other kids and hold them, long enough for Preston to come tag them. When there's only one person left, they become the Broom Chaser."
Draco shook his head in amusement. "Who comes up with these?"
"The Hufflepuff prefects," Liam responded. "I think Cuthbert Stebbins contributed this one." Stebbins was the fifth-year prefect and the new Hufflepuff Chaser -- his older brother had left the school the year before, Draco remembered.
"Jolly. I can't wait to play Broom Chaser whenever it's my turn to party," he said dryly, rolling his eyes.
Liam laughed, clapping him on the back. "The games are different for each year, and they're different at each party, don't worry."
Draco snorted. He didn't think anything the Hufflepuffs came up with would be worth participating in, but he kept that opinion to himself, seeing as Logan was sitting right there. The first-years continued running around and shouting gleefully. Draco had to admit that it was reasonably clever to come up with a game involving broomsticks for the first-years, seeing as they weren't allowed broomsticks normally. You had to participate in the game if you wanted a chance to fly.
"How do they manage to get everyone together on such short notice?" Draco asked, remembering that the invitations went out only ten minutes before the parties began.
"I've been wondering about that myself," Liam answered, frowning suddenly. "It has something to do with Harry Potter, that's all I know. He's got a magical device of some sort, I gather."
Draco furrowed his brow in puzzlement. There were rumours that Potter had an Invisibility Cloak -- Draco didn't believe them, but they'd persisted since first year -- but what kind of a device would help him locate people in the castle? For a moment, Draco seriously wished that he could just find Potter and ask him. He shook his head, bemused. Would that things were that easy.
On Monday after dinner, Draco spent some time in the Slytherin common room, making an outline for his Arithmancy essay using Numerology and Grammatica as well as two books on magical interior decorating that he'd checked out from the library earlier. The clock above the mantelpiece was showing twenty minutes to six, and Draco got up reluctantly. He figured he'd need writing materials at the study group meeting, so he dropped his books off in his dormitory but took his schoolbag with him. On his way out, he remembered that Millicent was in his group, and he hollered her name into the hallway leading to the girls' dormitories, pushing aside the thick green curtain.
Millicent poked her head out from her room, looking irritated. "What do you want?"
"Study group in fifteen minutes, so move," Draco snapped. A puzzled look came over her face, then she realised what he was talking about.
"Oh, bloody hell," she complained, and disappeared. Five minutes later, she came out, carrying her schoolbag as well.
They hurried up the stairs to classroom eight, which was on the second floor. They arrived just in time. There were eight desks standing in a half-circle in the middle of the room. Trista Morgan sat in the corner, regarding them from over the top of her glasses as though they were interesting specimens in Herbology class. Draco tugged at his robe's collar uneasily. As they all settled down, Trista rose unsmilingly and walked over to the blackboard, turning to face them.
"Welcome to your first study session. These Monday meetings will mostly be used as homework sessions during which you can ask your peers for help or advice," she lectured.
Draco felt a shiver go down his spine -- he didn't think he'd ever get used to that voice.
"All right," Trista droned, "everyone please write down their classes on a piece of parchment, and underline your strongest subject. I'm going to prepare lists for each of you. These will hold student names with their strongest subjects -- you should never hesitate to contact your fellow group members for help in these subjects." She paused, regarding them indifferently. "You are all, of course, expected to cooperate. If a group member seeks you out with a help request, you will make yourself available at your earliest convenience."
Draco scribbled down his class list, got up, and handed his parchment to Trista with a mock little bow. He sat back down and stared around the room. One by one, they all finished and handed in their lists. Draco noticed that he and Longbottom were the only pure-bloods in the group: Finch-Fletchley was a Mudblood and the rest, including Millicent, were half-bloods. He wrinkled his nose in distaste, wondering who had drawn up the student lists for the groups. He supposed he should be grateful; after all, he might have ended up with a group full of Mudbloods. Trista had retired to a spare desk in the corner and was poring over the lists submitted.
"All right, so we're supposed to figure out which classes we all have together," Susan Bones spoke up hesitantly. Draco gave her an encouraging smile, which made her sit up slightly straighter, apparently in shock. Recovering, she brushed a piece of lint from her robe and continued.
"Who here has Charms?" Everyone raised a hand. Susan grinned. "All right, how about Transfiguration?" Again, everyone raised a hand. Jana Moon, a petite Gryffindor girl with dark brown curly hair, giggled into her sleeve. Susan grinned wider and tried again. "Defence Against the Dark Arts?" Everyone raised their hands, and most people were laughing now, except for Draco. "Okay, let's try... Potions?" This time, only four people raised their hands -- Draco, Susan, Millicent, and Lisa Turpin.
All but Jana Moon had Herbology, and only three people had History of Magic -- Draco, Moon, and Longbottom. Draco rolled his eyes. Three of them had Arithmancy: Draco, Lisa, and Michael Corner. Draco wasn't surprised: Arithmancy was a tough subject and there were only a few students in Professor Vector's advanced class who weren't from Slytherin or Ravenclaw.
Trista walked over from her desk in the corner, placing a blue-tinged parchment in front of each of them.
Draco stared down at his parchment.
Bones, Susan -- Charms
Bulstrode, Millicent -- Care of Magical Creatures
Corner, Michael -- Transfiguration
Finch-Fletchley, Justin -- Defense Against the Dark Arts
Longbottom, Neville -- Herbology
Malfoy, Draco -- Potions
Moon, Jana -- History of Magic
Turpin, Lisa -- Arithmancy
"These are the lists of everyone's strongest subjects," Trista said, as though she hadn't just explained what she was doing five minutes ago. "Now, have you got a list of which classes you have together?"
They murmured their assent. Draco was beginning to feel like a monkey in a cage, performing a set of instructions he neither understood nor cared for. "Transfiguration, Charms, and Defence Against the Dark Arts," he said, impatient to get out of there.
Trista nodded. "I will assign you the Defence Against the Dark Arts group project, then. You'll all receive details by owl post tomorrow morning; you may begin work on the project as soon as you want. It will be due sometime before end-of-term examinations begin in June."
"Please, Trista," Susan Bones broke in, "is this project to be done individually?"
"Oh no," the Head Girl said, smiling strangely. "You'll see when you receive your instructions. There will be other assignments, of course, but this one is special."
Draco wanted to run away -- the combination of her voice and that smile wasn't just unnerving, it was downright terrifying. He was grateful when she told them they could leave. He now had to rush to the ground floor for the first Defence Association meeting... and Potter. He waved at Millicent and hurried out.
Ten minutes later, he strode into classroom eleven. The centaur Firenze usually taught Divination here, and the scent of burnt mallowsweet permeated the room. There were no desks or chairs save a solitary desk opposite the door. A bunch of red cushions were piled haphazardly into a corner. Granger and Macmillan sat on the floor near the lone desk, talking in hushed tones. Draco walked over to the wall opposite them and leaned against it, examining his fingernails while trying to overhear their conversation. One by one, the other members of Monday's group started to come in; most sat down near Granger and Macmillan.
Nott meandered in and looked around uncertainly. Draco motioned him over and he complied, walking to stand beside him and dropping his schoolbag beside Draco's. Potter walked in right after that, looking frazzled, his black hair sticking up at wild angles. Draco pursed his lips, resisting the urge to attack Potter's hair with a comb. He wondered lazily if Potter ever got any action, looking every part the scarecrow. Potter picked up the desk and carried it to the middle of the room, setting it down carefully. Draco smirked.
"Honestly, Potter, haven't you ever heard of levitating objects with your wand?" he drawled, unable to resist the temptation.
Beside Draco, Nott sniggered. Potter shot them a dark look but said nothing, hopping onto the desk with agility that belied his otherwise ungainly form.
"Neville, can you please close the door?" Potter said, and Longbottom scrambled up from the floor and ran over to do as he was told. Draco rolled his eyes. Potter and his minions.
"Thanks, Neville," Potter said with a grin. "All right, well, most of you were in the DA last year, so you all know me. For those of you who weren't here last year, I'm Harry Potter of Gryffindor, and I will be your group leader this evening," he said with an impish grin, turning around to look at Lisa Turpin, who was standing off to the side near the entrance. He didn't look at Draco or Nott, which suited Draco just fine. The rest of the students in the classroom beamed at him.
Great, Draco thought. I've been put into a group with Potter's fan club. He snorted.
"Have you got a cold, Malfoy?" Potter asked icily, drawing giggles from several students.
"Oh no, but thanks for your concern, Potter. I just find your Junior Auror antics amusing," Draco said slowly, looking straight at Potter, who seemed to flinch slightly.
Good. Draco had thought that all the subtle hints he'd been dropping over the years were always lost on the great prat. Potter looked away, apparently determined not to let Draco get to him. Draco congratulated himself for rattling Potter's cage; he'd been growing steadily worried that Potter's indifference wasn't feigned, after all.
The meeting was short. Potter explained the goals of the group -- to learn effective defence against the Dark Arts beyond what they were taught in class. The new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Eaton, was a former Ravenclaw who decided to focus on magical theory in class, given that the DA meetings were now staff-approved and mandatory. He also led the first-year and second-year DA groups. Group leaders from other years would meet with him each week to discuss lesson plans.
Draco watched Potter intently as he spoke -- he looked comfortable and not in the least bit intimidated by his audience. Of course, Potter was always a sucker for attention -- this kind of thing was right up his alley. At several points during Potter's monologue, people interrupted him to clarify details about the group's activities. The DA in fifth year had been learning hexes, curses, and jinxes along with their counter-spells, but the new DA would practise defensive spells only. The meeting broke up after roughly thirty minutes of this.
As they were getting ready to leave, Nott spoke up from beside Draco.
"I've noticed you haven't mentioned the June trial by fire in the Department of Mysteries, Potter. Care to give us an insider's look into fighting Death Eaters?"
Everyone fell silent. Potter turned to stare at Nott, his expression suddenly hard. "I don't talk about that," he said quietly.
"Why not?" Nott asked with a sneer.
"That's none of your business. We're not here to talk about me, anyway." Potter's chest was rising unevenly, as though he was having trouble breathing.
Granger got up and put a hand on his shoulder. Draco shook his head and looked away. Potter's heroics had nearly got her killed, and yet she was running blindly to his side. Gryffindors. He noticed that Longbottom was looking up at Nott with his eyes narrowed slightly -- it was a mildly disturbing sight. Rumour had it that Longbottom had come out of the June fight sporting a broken nose, Draco remembered, and he wondered how that had happened. He looked over at Nott, who had a disdainful expression on his face, still watching Potter.
"Much as I loved this little gettogether, I really must be going now," Draco drawled, deciding he'd had enough. This, surprisingly, seemed to break the tension in the room. Potter looked away from Nott, who walked out immediately. Draco shook his head.
"You'll want to control your housemate, Malfoy," Granger called to him. "As a prefect, it's your duty to ensure--"
White-hot anger seared up inside Draco. "When I want an opinion from you on how to carry out my duties, I'll give you one, Mudblood," he spat. Several people gasped, staring at him in shock. He didn't care. He'd been itching to bring her down a notch for weeks...
"You will not call her that again, Malfoy," Potter said quietly. "Not during one of these meetings, anyway."
"You and what army will stop me, Potter?" Draco asked with an indulgent smile.
"I will personally make sure the Head Boy knows you're being deliberately uncooperative," Potter ground out.
Draco could all but stare at him in shock. Potter, tell on Draco? This was news. He managed to force a smirk.
"Fine, but only because you look so pretty today, Potter," he said slowly, relishing the way Potter's face went red at the remark.
Granger gawped at Draco with her mouth slightly open and her eyes narrowed. Draco winked at her and walked out. Taunting Potter had never been as easy as this year. Still, his moment of anger only reinforced the need to make a new plan regarding Potter.
On Friday after the prefects' meeting, Draco was making his way down to the dungeon from the Astronomy Tower. Pansy had gone off to help Liam and Laurel with something and Draco was strolling along the corridor that led towards the stairwells.
The meeting had been dull as usual. The house unity projects were rumbling along: the Hufflepuff parties were a runaway hit, the Ravenclaw study groups were turning out in record numbers, and the Gryffindor DA sessions were the most popular topic of discussion among the students in lower years. Draco thought he noticed strange looks being cast at the Slytherin prefects during the meeting. The sods were probably trying to figure out which essays had been written by the Slytherins present.
Draco reached the Entrance Hall and decided he'd take a walk outside instead of heading straight to the dungeon. He turned left as he descended the marble staircase and passed the stairs to the dungeon. Walking past classroom eleven, he thought back to Monday's DA meeting and his stomach clenched with uncertainty again. In his mind's eye, he could see Potter sitting atop the teacher's table, leaning on his arms as he talked to the group. Draco shook his head, firmly banishing the vision. So Potter had grown a spine over the summer -- what did Draco care?
He was still arguing with himself mentally when he pushed open the door to the courtyard, walking out into the surprisingly pleasant October evening. The air had a strange stillness to it, as though everything was lying in wait for something. Looking up at the sky, Draco decided that it was probably going to rain that night. The courtyard was usually deserted outside class hours these days -- it was in a dip that seemed to create a wind tunnel. Fallen leaves danced continually across the ground here, little whirlwinds of their own. Students opted for the lawns instead, enjoying the last of the mild weather. Draco caught movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to look. The scene he beheld was certainly not something he was prepared for.
Blaise was straddling one of the elaborately carved arches that bordered the courtyard, half-concealed by a large willow tree. Blaise's forehead was pressed against that of another boy. Blaise's right hand was caressing the other boy's cheek in an entirely more-than-friendly manner, and Blaise himself was smiling fondly at the other boy. A very blond boy. A very blond Hufflepuff boy. Zacharias Smith.
Draco backed away towards the door quietly, then stalked off in the direction of the Slytherin common room.
Draco Malfoy's Diary, October 18th
I cannot believe Blaise. I absolutely cannot believe him. He's been sneaking around with Zacharias Smith. Not only is Smith a bloody Hufflepuff, but he's also on their Quidditch team, which makes Blaise a double traitor. I can't believe him!I haven't been this angry since Potter landed my father in prison last year, and I was very angry then. How dare he keep me in the dark? They were obviously quite comfortable together, happy as you please, so what was Zabini trying to do all this time, lead me on? Is he just trying to make me jealous? I'm going to stay up and wait for him to return tonight, and he better have a good explanation for all the sneaking around he's been doing. I just can't believe him! I'm so livid I can't see straight. Sodding prat. How dare he? With a Hufflepuff!
1. Involvere -- Involvare: Latin, to wrap. This form of the verb means "Be wrapped up!" The spell produces a clear, pliable substance that securely wraps an object at which it's directed. Eternal thanks to entangledbank and jdm314 at latin for their advice and guidance.
2. The name of Millicent's cat is from the brilliant (but scary) mind of gibbous. I do believe I forgot to mention this before.
3. I am indebted to Party Game Central for the idea of Broom Chaser, except I modified it to be more wizardy.