A House Divided
Disclaimer: No windmills were tilted in this chapter.
A/N: Sorry it’s been so long. The dialogue in part of this was giving me fits.
For the children, October flew by in a whirl of classes, clubs, practices, and detentions.
Harry wrote home about the Bludger incident, and also told Professor Lupin about it. Two days later all three children received necklaces with tiny broom charms on them. Lupin showed them how to expand them into their own, personal, full-sized brooms when needed and shrink them down again after, and if anyone noticed that the first-years had their own brooms, nobody complained. Harry’s broom was upgraded from a Blue Streak to a professional-level Silver Streak. Higgs was green with envy once he saw how it handled. He took this out on Harry by making him his personal “assistant” for Quidditch, having him prep his gear and fetch water for him during practice and so on. Harry didn’t complain, did everything that he was asked to do, ignored rude comments from Malfoy and some of the older boys, and soaked up everything Higgs knew about Quidditch like a sponge. He considered it a fair trade.
Harry’s flying lessons for Neville and Hermione expanded to include several other students from all three Houses who needed practice and found Madam Hooch to be too focused on the acrobatics needed to play Quidditch to give the attention and patient instruction needed by Muggle-borns who were still trying to overcome their fear of heights.
Wednesday was recruited for the Slytherin broom racing team, and Pugsley teamed up with Millicent Bulstrode for Beater practice. Ungainly on the ground, the girl proved to be as elegant as a swan in the air, even if she was flying a school broom. She was also a Quidditch fanatic, with the burning ambition to play for the Holyhead Harpies some day. She had despaired of getting on the Slytherin team because she was both a girl and a half-blood, although really, her Muggle ancestry was so far back on her family tree it wouldn’t matter to anyone who wasn’t totally obsessed with blood purity. With Pugsley on her side, and willing to practice with her, she now had hopes of making the team when the position she wanted opened up.
As for other extracurricular activities, the language club was just the tip of the iceberg. Through Hermione, who had jumped into the social whirl in Ravenclaw with both feet, they discovered a whole network of Clubs, Associations, and Societies, covering everything from the formal class subjects to specialty areas to artistic activities to sports and games. Officially, each club had a staff member supervising it, but in practice the clubs were run by sixth and seventh year students mostly, with the supervising staff member popping in occasionally to see that everything was going smoothly, or sitting quietly in the back of the room grading parchments. As Hermione had noted, the club memberships were composed mostly of Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs; the Gryffindors and Slytherins were both rather standoffish from the other Houses. With Harry and Blaise taking the lead, though, many of the lower year Slytherins joined first the Language Society and then some of the other clubs. Hermione told Padma Patil who told her sister Parvati in Gryffindor who told Lavender Brown who told everybody that Harry Potter was joining clubs, and it suddenly became fashionable for Gryffindors – at least the girls – to join clubs also.
Unaware that he was becoming a trend-setter, Harry joined as many clubs as he could cram into his schedule. The subject-specific ones were his favourites, because there he could learn more advanced spell work from the older students. Combined with the tutoring they were getting from Professor Lupin, he thought, it should keep them well ahead of the curriculum. It wasn’t lost on the Ravenclaws that he and his cousins were working on a second and sometimes third-year level in the practical aspects of several subjects, and higher than that on the theoretical level, and they promptly “adopted” the three as honorary Ravenclaws, inviting them to sit at the Ravenclaw table for meals if they wanted, and bemoaning the whimsy of the Sorting Hat.
Not to be outdone, Neville invited them, and Hermione, to sit at the Gryffindor table when they wanted to. There were a few complaints, mainly from one of the Prefects, who thought the mixing of houses to be highly improper, and Ron Weasley, the red-headed boy who now regretted giving Malfoy back his wand when he fell in the lake. Weasley apparently felt that everything about Slytherin House was evil, and he ostentatiously sat at the other end of the table from Harry and the Addamses whenever they joined the Gryffindors.
The Hufflepuffs were trying to get one of their House members into Harry’s circle so that they would sit at the Badgers’ table as well.
Within Slytherin, things were much less pleasant. The first-years seemed to have divided into three groups. Draco Malfoy, his shadows Crabbe and Goyle, Pansy Parkinson and Daphne Greengrass formed one group; Harry, Pugsley, Wednesday, Blaise Zabini, and the mismatched pair of Millicent Bulstrode and Tracey Davis formed another. Theo Nott and Sally-Ann Perks held themselves aloof from either group. Gradually, some of the second-years started aligning themselves with Harry’s friends, while others gravitated to Malfoy and a few, like Nott and Perks, stayed out of the affair altogether. It was no coincidence that all of the half-bloods were on Harry’s side. As long as things remained at the level of sarcastic comments and name-calling, and the discordance was never shown outside the Dungeons, however, Snape made no effort to stop it.
On October 15, an odd group of individuals converged on a meeting room at Gringotts Bank. The first was a run-of-the-mill goblin, who was almost completely obscured by the stack of ledgers and minutes books he was carrying. He carefully organized the books on a side table, then scurried out and returned with an easel, a stack of parchment, a large bottle of ink, and a dictation quill. While he was setting that up, a second goblin brought in a tray bearing a teapot, a coffee decanter, a platter with a variety of small cakes and pastries, and all the other necessary accoutrements; this goblin left once things were arranged to his liking.
The next to arrive were Morticia and Gomez Addams. Morticia was darkly elegant, as always, in her close-fitting gown and a black lace shawl. Gomez had opted for a scarlet double-breasted suit with green pinstripes, and carried a large leather artist’s portfolio. While they helped themselves to coffee and pastries, they were joined by an elderly witch in sombrely coloured robes, who had a small stuffed vulture perched on her hat.
Gomez introduced Morticia to Augusta Longbottom, who was currently voting the Longbottom shares due to her son’s incapacity.
“Our children are attending school together with your grandson, are they not, Mrs. Longbottom? Both our Pugsley and Harry speak well of him in their letters.”
“They do? But they’re in separate Houses. How—?”
“What are Houses to the likes of us?” said Morticia dismissively. “A purely artificial division. Harry and Neville will have to work together as adults. They’d best start now, and Harry knows this. I believe Harry is coaching Neville on his flying, and Pugsley speaks well of his Potions ability.”
Augusta was politely disbelieving.
“You see, Augusta, the best foundation for a working alliance as adults is laid now,” Gomez cut in. “Both Harry and Pugsley will have sizeable fortunes to manage when they grow up. It wouldn’t be a favour to either one of them to let them grow up ignorant of it and then just drop it in their laps when they turn eighteen.”
“Seventeen, dear,” said Morticia. “Remember the age of majority is different here.”
“Right, seventeen. We had assumed that one of the boys would be The Addams in the next generation and the other his second – it didn’t much matter which was which. But now it looks like things may work out differently. If our son will be The Addams at home and Harry becomes The Potter here, it’s our responsibility to make sure both of them know what they’re doing. It’s the same for your Neville, I assume. With his father indisposed, he’ll be expected to pick up the reins as The Longbottom right away.”
“Yes, you’re right. I suppose I hadn’t thought much about it,” said Augusta. “I suppose now that it’s established he’s not a Squib – no offence, but we were worried about it – I should start having him tutored during the summers.”
“Perhaps he can spend part of the holidays with us,” suggested Gomez. “Some lessons, some summer fun. We have more than enough space. What do you say?”
“I’ll consider it. We’ll see how the boys are getting on at the end of the spring term, shall we? I’m still dubious about a Gryffindor being friends with Slytherins. I just don’t see how it’s possible.”
“I believe that the House system is too firmly entrenched in the school,” said Morticia. “The children in the various Houses hardly know each other. What possible sense can it make to have your children cut off from three quarters of the people they will be working with when they grow up?”
Augusta uttered an unladylike sound. “The House system has done very well by us for generations, Mrs. Addams! You’re an outsider, you couldn’t possibly know.”
“Sometimes it takes an outsider to see something differently. I’ve organized a group of other concerned parents – perhaps you would like to come to the next meeting of the Hogwarts Parents Association, where we’ve been discussing this very matter? We have many parents of Muggle-born and half-blood students who would be interested in what you have to say about it. We have a few pure-blood parents, but none from families as prominent as yours.”
“I’ll consider it,” the older woman said stiffly.
At a quarter past the hour, there was no sign of Lucius Malfoy.
“Is he often this late?” Gomez asked Augusta Longbottom.
“Unfortunately, yes,” the older woman replied. “Mr Malfoy is of the opinion that the party doesn’t start until he arrives. It takes two votes for a quorum.”
“But now I hold proxies for two votes and you hold one vote.”
“So we could start the meeting, yes,” she said, her eyes widening as she realized that there was a sea change in the offing.
“Very well, then, I don’t see any reason to continue waiting. As senior member of the Trust, Mrs Longbottom, would you care to call the meeting to order?”
“I would indeed, Mr Addams. I would indeed.”
At half past the hour, the door opened and a tall, aristocratic blond man swaggered in. He carried a black walking stick with a silver serpent’s head, although he showed no signs of actually needing it. On seeing Gomez and Mrs Longbottom, who were working over a set of maps spread across the conference table while Morticia took notes, he stopped abruptly.
“So nice to see you, Lucius,” said Mrs Longbottom. “You were running a bit late, so we decided to start without you.”
“You can’t do that!” exclaimed Malfoy.
“Sorry, old chap, but we can and did,” said Gomez cheerfully. “Guph, read back the minutes, if you please.”
The goblin at the side desk stilled the quill which was busily writing away, and read back from the top of the scroll. “Minutes of Quarterly Meeting of Diagon Alley Trust. Meeting was originally scheduled for morning of 15 September, rescheduled for morning of 15 October at request of Lucius Malfoy. Meeting called to order at fifteen past eleven by Augusta Longbottom with a quorum of two votes. First item of agenda: Presentation of a ratified copy of an alliance agreement between the Houses of Potter and Black. Gomez Addams called on alliance between the Houses of Potter and Longbottom. Augusta Longbottom agreed to act in accordance with alliance. Second item of agenda: Gomez Addams called for election of new Director of Diagon Alley Trust. Potter, Black, and Longbottom votes were cast for Gomez Addams, Malfoy vote was not cast due to absence of shareholder. Augusta Longbottom handed over direction of the meeting to Director Addams. Third item of agenda: Discussion of inequities in rent schedules, certain rents not paid, and maintenance and repairs. Lucius Malfoy arrived at 11:31. Director Addams requested minutes be read.”
Lucius Malfoy’s face turned purple, a colour which clashed badly with his silver-white hair. “You … you … how dare you, you Squib? Augusta, I demand that you cease this foolishness immediately!”
“You’re in no position to demand anything, Lucius,” snapped the old woman. “I’ve been watching you play with the Trust like it’s your own personal domain for ten years now. It’s about time someone else had a chance.”
“Frankly, old man, you’ve been running the Trust into the ground,” said Gomez. “You’ve been pulling funds out of the capital account without replenishing it, there’s been no maintenance done for the last ten years on the parts of the property that need it most, the highest rents are charged to those least able to pay, there are vacant storefronts you’ve made no effort to rent out, and there are at least a dozen occupied townhouses for which no rents have been collected at all. I’m sorry to say one of them is yours, Malfoy.”
“Wha – what?” Malfoy turned from purple to paler than was normal for him.
“Out of courtesy for a Trust Member, of course, we’ll refrain from starting eviction proceedings or changing the locks, but it really doesn’t look good. You will have to make good the deficiency. That’s ten years, interest compounded monthly …”
“I have no intention of …” Malfoy was reduced to sputtering.
“…or else you’ll be reading about it in the financial pages of the Daily Prophet.”
“There are no financial pages in the Prophet!”
“There are now. I made a substantial investment, with a little proviso as to what the money would be used for. This community needs a little financial accountability.”
“I’ll show you accountable, you…!” Malfoy twisted the head of his cane, and it came loose, revealing the shaft of an ebony wand.
It was less than half drawn, however, when Guph, the goblin, snapped, “Mister Malfoy! May I remind you that the fine for any wizard drawing his wand in anger in Gringotts premises is equal to no less than half the contents of his vault? I don’t think you want to be doing that.” His grin was wide, feral, and full of many sharp teeth.
Malfoy pushed his wand back into the body of the walking stick abruptly.
“Do have a seat, Lucius,” said Mrs Longbottom. “After we’ve finished with this, we’re going to move on to the issue of tax liabilities. Do you know, the goblins seem to be under the impression that you told them to pay the taxes out of the Longbottom and Potter shares of income, but not the Black or Malfoy shares? That’s another little matter that will need to be rectified. And back taxes paid, of course.”
Malfoy uttered a noise that sounded like “Gk!” He turned and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
“Somehow I don’t think he’s going to take this lying down,” said Gomez.
“I don’t think so either. Let’s finish this up and see if we can at least get to the taxes before he tries to have us arrested.” Augusta sighed. “Azkaban is such a dreary place this time of year.”
Somewhat less than an hour later, the door slammed open again and Malfoy stormed back in, this time accompanied by a rotund individual in eye-searing green robes, topped with a matching bowler hat, and two rather unhappy looking Aurors.
“Back so soon, Malfoy?” Gomez asked. “I really had hoped you’d stay away. We’ve been getting so much accomplished.”
“You’ll accomplish nothing, Squib!” said Malfoy, coldly.
Gomez looked at him with an expression of polite puzzlement, followed after a moment with a look of dawning enlightenment. “Ah! You intended to insult me! I hope you won’t mind if I don’t take offence, Malfoy. Being a Squib is of no relevance to me. First, last, and in between, I am an Addams. Now, what was it you wanted?”
“I want you to give up this charade. You have no authority here. The Minister here will confirm it, and then the Aurors will put you where you belong. In Azkaban!”
“Minister? Minister Fudge!” Gomez said in apparent delight. “Malfoy, I take back anything I’ve said about you. Mr. Fudge is just the man I want to see!”
“Yes, and he’ll put you … what?” said Malfoy.
Gomez hurried around the table and was shaking Cornelius Fudge’s hand vigorously. “Minister Fudge! I can’t tell you how glad I am to meet you! I’ve been trying to get an appointment with you for weeks now. My name’s Addams, Gomez Addams. And let me introduce you to my wife, Morticia, and this is Mrs. Augusta Longbottom – oh, of course, you must have met already – and this is Guph, who’s been helping me out with the books for the Trust.”
Propelled by the human dynamo that was Gomez Addams, Fudge shook hands all around, even kissing Morticia’s hand and somehow winding up shaking the hand of the goblin. Judging from the speed with which he let go of the clawed appendage, he had no idea how that had happened and wasn’t particularly happy with it.
“Now then, Addams,” Fudge said, clearly meaning to take charge of the situation, “my good friend Lucius tells me you’ve used forgery and chicanery to take over the Trust. The Ministry will not stand for this!”
“Forgery? Chicanery? You wound me. I didn’t even need any chicanery – your friend Malfoy made it so easy!”
“So you admit to the forgery?”
“On the contrary. Guph, the papers, if you will?” The goblin handed over a folio of documents to Gomez, which he then passed one by one to the Minister. “Here is a copy of my proxy from Harry Potter, complete with his magical signature confirming it. Here are copies of the alliance documents between the Houses of Potter and Black and the Houses of Potter and Longbottom. And a copy of the resolution approving my election as Director of the Trust. Take your time to look them over, Minister. I believe you’ll find everything’s in order.” Gomez drew a cigar from his suit pocket and stuck it in the corner of his mouth.
“I wasn’t present to vote on the resolution! It doesn’t count!” said Malfoy.
“You knew when the meeting was due to start. It’s not my fault you were late,” said Gomez, removing the unlit cheroot so he could speak clearly. “But if you insist, I’ll let you cast your vote now.” He nodded to the goblin.
“On the matter of the election of Gomez Addams as Director of the Diagon Alley Trust, how does the House of Malfoy vote?” asked Guph, formally.
“Malfoy votes NAY!”
The goblin nodded, recording the vote. “That makes the vote three for, one against. Gomez Addams is confirmed as Director.”
“You can’t do that!”
“Malfoy, I thought we’d already been over this,” said Gomez, wearily. “If you want to hold another election, put it on the agenda for next quarter. In the meantime, we have some very important matters to discuss with the Minister. You can stay and add your input, or you can leave – but don’t blame me for how things work out later.”
“I’ll stay,” Malfoy said, flinging himself into a chair.
Gomez seated Fudge in the chair next to his own at the head of the table. “Minister, Augusta and I have been discussing ways to undo some of the damage that’s been done to the Alleys in the past few years, and …”
“What damage?” asked Fudge.
“For almost three hundred years,” Gomez said soberly, “the rents from the Alley properties have been used to maintain the properties, rebuilding or adding new buildings where necessary, applying fireproofing charms, paying taxes to the Ministry and then paying a small, but steady, income stream to the Trust Members. Only the tribute from Gringotts is more than the taxes paid by the Trust to the Ministry. The more valuable properties, of course, had the highest rents, and the least valuable – the carts in Marjin and Knockturn Alleys – paid the least. The Trust was run by competent people who were trained for years by their parents before taking the wheel themselves.
“Ten years ago, however, there was a massive change in the membership of the Trust. The deaths of the heads of the Black, Potter, Malfoy and Longbottom families all within a span of five years left four very young and inexperienced men at the helm of the Trust. Lucius Malfoy was the oldest, although James Potter inherited first, causing disputes as to which of them had seniority and should be the Director. In the course of one month, Potter was killed, Black arrested and imprisoned, and Longbottom rendered permanently incompetent. The Potter and Longbottom heirs were both infants, and the control of the Black family was never passed on since Black was incarcerated but not dead and never stripped of his rights as Head of the family. Lucius Malfoy claimed Directorship by right, since he was the only one holding his family’s interest directly.
“Almost immediately, he made some major changes in how things were done, as well as some large withdrawals from the capital fund. First, large amounts were paid directly to your predecessor in office, Minister, as well as to several other individuals in the Ministry. This was, coincidentally, just about the time Mr Malfoy was exonerated from charges of being a Death Eater.”
“It wasn’t my fault! I was under the Imperius!” snapped Malfoy.
“Yes, and I’m sure you had dozens of witnesses who could say that you were acting spaced out and dreamy during the entire period,” said Gomez. “Although it’s strange that I couldn’t find anything about it in the public record. In any event,” he said, returning his attention to the Minister, “in subsequent months, Mr Malfoy changed the rental system, charging the lowest rents to pure-bloods and the highest rents to Muggle-borns or half-bloods. He failed to collect any rents for townhouses occupied to himself and his friends, but spent considerable capital on maintaining them. He has allowed storefronts to become vacant and not found new businesses to occupy them. And he’s cut back on the amount of taxes paid to the Ministry, instead making personal contributions of considerably lower amounts directly to, I regret to say, someone highly placed in your own office. This began under Minister Bagshot and has continued under your regime.”
Fudge merely gaped. Malfoy jumped up from his seat. “What! How can you possibly know any of this?”
“Mr Malfoy, it’s obvious that while you know quite a bit about magic, you know nothing of financial management or double-entry bookkeeping. Every transaction has been carefully recorded by the goblins, and the cumulative impact is clear. Income from the high-end areas of the Alleys has dropped. Income from the low-end areas has risen, but it’s a higher percentage of overhead for the businesses. Some have closed, unable to turn a profit. New ones require higher investment costs. The only people that can afford to start businesses now are pure-bloods, and they’re the ones least likely to, since innovation at every level comes from the Muggle-born and half-bloods. Storefronts now stand empty and deteriorating. Some of them have been taken over by squatters – homeless people who do what they can to eke out a bare living and pay ‘protection’ to Malfoy’s goons in order to be allowed to stay in filthy, crumbling firetraps of buildings.”
“Baseless accusations!” roared Malfoy, at the same moment as the Minister snapped, “The Wizarding World has no homeless!”
“The books don’t lie, Malfoy,” said Gomez, tapping the leather-bound ledger sharply. “And you do have homeless, Minister. In Marjin and Knockturn it’s mostly Muggle-born and half-bloods who can’t get jobs in either world. Up by Hogsmeade, you have a small werewolf colony living in shacks in the Forbidden Forest. There are probably more in the Muggle world.”
“They’re naught but shiftless layabouts,” said Fudge. “The Wizarding World isn’t going to support anyone who’s not willing to work for a living.”
“Most of them are,” Gomez said, “but most Wizarding businesses won’t hire Muggle-born or werewolves, and they don’t have the skills or the documentation to get jobs in the Muggle world. I’m arranging jobs for some of them, and harder workers I’ve yet to meet.” He shrugged. “But that’s only part of the problem. Finances can be worked out. But the current management has turned Diagon Alley into a death trap.”
“WHAT?!” cried Malfoy and Fudge in unison.
“The building standards of Diagon Alley haven’t changed since before the Great Fire in 1666. Where the Muggles have gone on to use stone, brick, and concrete, here you still use wood for building and roofing. Origin Alley and Parti Alley use gas for heat and light, but Diagon, Knockturn, and Marjin Alleys still use open fireplaces, wood and coal stoves, candles, and oil lamps. Fireproofing runes have been used for years to keep the buildings safe. But such spells have to be maintained, and most people don’t know how to do it. You have to hire specialist Rune Masters. That’s not cheap. The rents from the lower Alleys go to pay fireproofing for the upper Alleys, and the owners of businesses in Knockturn and Marjin are expected to provide their own fireproofing. Most of them don’t, because they can’t afford it or because Pure-blood Runes Masters – the only kind the Trust licenses to do the work – won’t lower themselves to work in there.”
Gomez turned a map of the Alleys so that the Minister could see it. “I had a survey done on my own dime. The buildings marked in green are protected with fireproofing, flood proofing, insect proofing, you name it. Buildings marked in yellow have basic fireproofing, but not high-grade. Buildings marked in red have no protections at all.” The map was clear enough: Knockturn and Marjin Alleys were almost entirely red, with a few flecks of yellow and green; Diagon was a mixture of red and yellow, except for Gringotts, which was green; Parti Alley was part yellow and part green; and Origin Alley was solidly green.
“To make it worse, there used to be entrances at the ends of each Alley to allow for easy access and easy escape. Over the years, these have been closed to keep Muggles from stumbling in. The only ways in now, other than designated Apparation Zones, are through the Leaky Cauldron, and a remaining gate at the end of Origin Alley. There’s a locked gate connecting Origin to Diagon, so that exit isn’t accessible by the general public. If a fire starts in Knockturn or Marjin – which it will, sooner or later – it will spread from building to building rapidly. By the time it bursts out of Knockturn onto Diagon, it will be magically fuelled by burning artefacts, brooms, potions ingredients, and whatever illegal things are being sold in there. It will overwhelm the low-end fireproofing charms in Diagon. If it spreads to the Leaky, whoever is in Diagon will be trapped. If it doesn’t spread to the Leaky, hundreds of people will be trying to get through it and spilling out onto the streets of Muggle London. At the other end of Diagon, people will be cut off by the fire. The gates will prevent them from getting into Origin Alley and London from that end. Meanwhile, the fire will be spreading to Muggle areas. They won’t be able to extinguish it for hours, if at all, because they’ll have no idea where it’s coming from.”
“Think of it,” he said, waving his cigar in emphasis. “Knockturn Alley in flames! Roofs along Diagon catching fire! People splinching themselves trying to Apparate out in a panic. Hundreds of people being trampled at the Leaky and crushing themselves against the gate at Origin. Sparks flying into London and igniting fires all around! Magically charged smoke poisoning everything from here to the Thames! And at the end … Nothing standing but Gringotts and maybe some of the townhouses on Origin Alley … Secrecy destroyed, hundreds dead, the Muggles up in arms …” His eyes glowed with an almost manic light. “It would be glorious!” He stuck his cigar back in his mouth and took a puff. “Glorious!”
“It would be a disaster!” cried Fudge, who was almost as green as his robe.
“That too,” said Gomez cheerfully. “Fortunately it can be avoided. It will take a little work, but it can be done.” He reached into his large artists’ portfolio and removed a poster, which he set up on the easel. It showed a large, idealized portrait of Minister Fudge, and announced the inception of a new Public Safety Project, funded by the Ministry under the leadership of Cornelius Fudge and (in much smaller letters) the Directors of the Diagon Alley Trust.
“The first thing is to get the fireproofing back on every building in all of the Alleys. Then we need to reverse the rental schemes, so rents are affordable, and back rents have to be collected at the correct rates. We need to tear down dilapidated buildings, replace them with new ones using modern building techniques, then work through all the other buildings in turn. The Trust can do it by itself in five years. With the Ministry’s assistance, two. There will be almost no profits for the first few years since all revenues will be ploughed back into the project, but in ten years, everyone can get back to the business of getting rich again. And by that time, I’ll have taught Harry Potter and Neville Longbottom how to manage the Trust – something Malfoy’s father apparently never taught him. I’ll be willing to give lessons to your son, too, Malfoy, if you’re interested.”
“Nonsense! We can’t entrust the wellbeing of the wizarding public to a Squib!” exclaimed Malfoy.
“A wizard almost destroyed it,” said Gomez. “A Squib can save it. My father made sure I knew how to manage a property before I came of age. One of my majors at Yale was finance. And I also know a few useful things like carpentry and plumbing. Now, I could just buy the Alleys from the current Trust and deal with it myself,” he said, casually dismissing the stunning cost of such a venture, “but I doubt you’d want to sell to an outsider. I can just sit back and watch it happen. Minister, it’s your country and your constituents. It’s your name that will be attached to the disaster. Or to its solution.” He took another puff on his cigar, sending up a cloud of noxious smoke. “Well?”
The answer was obvious, although it was several hours before Malfoy and Fudge agreed on the details.
If asked, Draco Malfoy would have said, with complete honesty, that he had nothing against mudbloods, half-bloods, or Squibs – as long as they stayed in their places. And those places were far away from Hogwarts in general and Slytherin House in particular.
Muggle-borns didn’t belong in the school at all, he thought. They had no sense of etiquette or tradition or respect for history; in fact, they came into the wizarding world and demanded that changes be made to suit their own plebeian standards. They had far too much influence. Why, even the school “robes” worn at Hogwarts were just Muggle-style trousers, shirts, ties, and jumpers, with an open hooded robe, too heavy to be comfortable indoors and too light to be much good outdoors, taking the place of a proper cloak. Draco’s parents had been absolutely livid when they found out – in their day, of course, student wear had been proper black robes. Madam Malkin had made some excuse about a fad a few years ago for turning people upside down and dangling them by their ankles, necessitating the switch to trousers in the name of decency. Draco’s father called that a likely story; it was clearly an excuse to justify the Headmaster’s Muggle-loving ways. Draco agreed. He didn’t like the feeling of the cloth covering his legs, and he was convinced his tie hated him. Thankfully it was charmed to tie itself, because he didn’t think he’d ever figure out that knot. It was all the mudbloods’ fault, and they were just lucky there were none in Slytherin. That know-it-all, bushy-haired, bucktoothed Ravenclaw that Potter and the Addamses hung out with was the worst of the lot, and if she knew what was good for her, she’d stay out of his way.
As for the half-bloods, he was well aware that the great majority of wizards and witches were the half-blood tradesmen who worked in the workshops that produced all the goods consumed by pure-bloods, and in the shops that sold them. Most of them were home-schooled, apprenticed, or attended one of several magical day schools, all of them with far less prestige than Hogwarts. Some of them became wealthy and influential enough to send their children to Hogwarts, but in Draco’s opinion, which he knew was correct because he’d heard it from his father, they all belonged in Hufflepuff and shouldn’t rub shoulders with their betters in Slytherin. Accordingly, he ignored Millicent Bulstrode and Tracey Davis, both daughters of merchants, who no doubt were only attending Hogwarts in the hope of snagging a pure-blood husband.
Squibs, of course, couldn’t be educated at Hogwarts at all, but they were technically pure-bloods. Some of them had influential relatives, and even though they couldn’t inherit family fortunes, they could amass their own private fortunes and receive gifts and personal bequests. Many of them, and the weak wizards and witches occasionally born to them, found work in the wizarding world that didn’t require magic; they were solicitors, barristers, financial advisors, estate managers and household managers. The women, if they were pretty enough, could become mistresses to rich pure-bloods. Draco wasn’t quite sure what a mistress did – it was apparently some kind of personal servant, and it was very important to a pure-blood man to have one, but it wasn’t discussed around women and children. Draco had only heard about them when eavesdropping on his father and some of his friends.
Although Potter was technically a half-blood, he actually fell in a category all his own, and Draco didn’t know how to handle him.
If Potter had been brought up with his parents, his father would have made sure he knew everything about history and tradition and so forth, and his family prestige would have made up for his mother’s unfortunate ancestry. In a generation or six, nobody would have remembered it, particularly if he married well.
If he had been brought up by Muggles, he could have been harassed or ignored, like any Muggle-born, or possibly seduced with the offer of acceptance into proper society.
But he’d been brought up by Squibs in an unknown country. He had the usual knowledge of magic that a pure-blood student had before starting school (or maybe more – his Blocking spell had considerable kick, Draco acknowledged), but who knew what else he knew or how he’d been trained? He certainly knew how to fly. He carried himself like a pure-blood, and his Squib family apparently didn’t lack for money – everything they owned was of the best quality – well, except for his bed decorations. Although he’d been somehow Sorted into Slytherin, Potter didn’t seem to appreciate the honour done him. On the night table was a large snake skull with a candle mounted on it; on the curtain at the head of his bed hung a ratty old dead serpent twisted into a letter “S”. Its bones peeked through its scaly hide in some places. In Draco’s mind, these artefacts showed a distinct lack of appreciation for the symbol of their House.
But if Potter’s knowledge of wizarding niceties sometimes had gaps, he also knew the Muggle customs, like how to tie his tie without almost strangling himself, and without a charm to do it for him. And he knew languages – Draco was still smarting from the humiliation of the Italian Incident, although his mother had assured him in her most recent note that anybody could learn languages, and Potter was probably making up for his shortcomings as a wizard by showing off with something else. But Potter didn’t seem to have shortcomings, really. He was tops in his classes, except for Potions, where Professor Snape kept him in his place despite his insistence that he was something called a “class monitor” – which really seemed to be Potter’s excuse to poke his nose into other people’s business.
His clothing sense, however, was execrable, and Draco felt himself justly superior in that regard.
When Draco had come to London to spend the last few weeks of summer in the family town home on Origin Alley and allow himself to be seen by the plebs on Diagon Alley, he had found to his dismay that everyone was talking about Harry Potter – whether he would or would not attend Hogwarts, and then going on about the rather odd family he’d turned up with. Nobody was interested in Draco at all, which made him no end of miffed. Worse, Draco’s father had told him to make a connection of some sort with Potter as fast as possible – befriend him if possible, dominate him if not. Draco had tried the former, on the train to school, and been thoroughly rebuffed and humiliated. Subsequent efforts at domination were inconclusive. He’d put some of the boil potion he’d stolen from Longbottom’s cauldron in Potter’s bed on a whim, only to find that the stuff wasn’t as effective as he’d hoped. It put Potter in the Hospital Wing, true, but he hadn’t seemed in as much pain as Draco had expected. He suspected Potter knew who was responsible, but there had as yet been no retaliation. Crabbe and Goyle, at Draco’s orders, had attempted to jinx Potter and his cousin, but both of them were now on the alert. He’d made a new batch of the boil potion and put it in the bed, this time in a capsule which would keep it fresh, then dissolve from body heat and release its contents, but nothing had happened at all.
Draco had expected Potter to try to get back at him. What he didn’t expect was being ignored. The whole thing was very disappointing.
He decided that the combination of Harry, Pugsley and Thing was too hard a nut to crack, and went after “easier” prey. Wednesday.
He’d decided to spend some time watching his targets, and noticed that while Potter seemed to be good at everything, and Pugsley Addams was strong and fast if not skilful, Wednesday was struggling in Charms and Transfiguration. It took her a long time and many tries to achieve her desired result, and often her Transfigurations were flawed, just good enough to pass. She spent a lot of time studying and writing, but Daphne had managed to get a look at some of the grades on her essays and saw that she was only pulling A’s. Clearly, she was not going to be a very powerful witch. And that made her a possible weak link.
Draco’s opportunity came on the last Saturday morning in October. Potter and Pugsley Addams left to go to their pathetic little flying class, accompanied by Bulstrode. They’d be gone for the rest of the day, since Potter had Quidditch practice afterward, in preparation for the first match next weekend. Zabini and Davis were working on something in the Library. That left Wednesday alone in the Common Room, in her customary seat by the lake window, reading a rather large book and seemingly unaware that she had none of Potter’s little gang to hand.
Draco gave it long enough to be sure that the girl’s brother and cousin would be safely on the other side of the castle, then sauntered casually over toward where she sat. He leaned over the back of her chair to see what she was reading, and was surprised to find it was a book he knew well. “The 500? Since when are you interested in the history of the Pure-blood families? Trying to fit in?”
She ignored him and kept reading.
“You’d be better off with a more current book,” he said, walking around her chair to stand in front of her with his back to the window. “That family you’re reading about now, the Dees, well, they were great in their day but they’re long gone. Not that they were quite respectable in the first place,” he said with a sniff.
She glared at him; well that was good, at least she wasn’t ignoring him. Nobody ignored a Malfoy!
“My family’s been here since the Conquest. As a matter of fact, it’s safe to say that there wouldn’t have been a Conquest without Guillaume de Malfoy. And we’ve been leaders in Society ever since. Attending Hogwarts is only a start. If you want to stay here after finishing school, you’re going to need sponsorship. Otherwise you’re just going to go back to that log cabin or whatever it is you live in back in the Colonies.” He waved his hand dismissively, in a gesture he’d learned from his father. “Your brother and cousin will learn that. They’ll need help, if they want to get anywhere with their careers. I offered them my help once, and was treated most rudely in return. But I might be willing to overlook that,” he said magnanimously. “If you asked nicely.”
“Nicely,” said Wednesday in a flat tone.
“Nicely. I think we can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. Your brother and cousin seem to have abandoned you already. I’m willing to introduce you around to all the people you should know. They’ll accept you if I say so. I know you’ve been having difficulty in some classes. I can help you out – maybe even tutor you myself. Then later, when we’re done with school and they realise they’re having difficulties, then they’ll come to you and you can come to me and I can help. Or not, if you feel like it. The choice will be entirely yours.”
“And what do you want from me?”
“At first, nothing – you have to agree you have a long way to go before you can begin to move in the correct circles. When we’re older, well, you’re not a bad looking girl, you know. But your hair and clothes are dreadful,” he said disdainfully, looking at her plain braids and boring black Muggle clothes. “If you’re trying to compensate for Potter’s lack of colour sense, it doesn’t work. Daphne and Pansy will work on that with you. And when you’re fit to be seen with me, we’ll work something out. You could be my secretary. Or my mistress,” he said, trying to sound both casual and sophisticated at the same time. “Something like that.”
“You’re offering to let me be your mistress?” she said, slowly.
“Yes,” Draco said, wondering if she was always this slow to grasp the obvious. “Well, maybe, anyway.”
Wednesday slowly got up from her chair. “I am Wednesday Friday Addams, the daughter of Gomez and Morticia Addams. My ancestors built castles in Wales and Spain while yours were still peasants in France! I am the heiress to the Dee fortune, and when I marry, my husband will be the richest wizard in England. And you graciously offer to let me be your mistress! MAYBE!?” Her fists were clenched, her cheeks flushed, her eyes wide and dark.
Everyone else in the Common Room was staring at them, mouths agape.
It occurred to Draco that perhaps making that offer in public hadn’t been the best idea he’d ever had. The next thing that occurred to him was that making that offer at all hadn’t been the best idea he’d ever had.
She stalked towards him slowly, deliberately.
Draco felt his hair standing on end, and a strange buzzing sound filled the air. He could scarcely breathe, held transfixed by a vision of outraged, malevolent femininity.
Suddenly the tension was shattered, as Pugsley appeared behind Wednesday, pulling her away, and Potter seemed to materialize between the girl and himself. He wasn’t sure this was an improvement, however, since the other boy’s green eyes were burning with anger.
“How dare you?” Potter hissed. “How dare you approach my betrothed and offer to make her your mistress? I demand satisfaction for this insult!” He struck Draco across the face with the Quidditch gauntlets he held in his hand.
“Satisfaction?” replied Draco in what he had hoped would be a sneer, but was closer to a squeak.
“Satisfaction. I challenge you to a duel!”
“Fine! I’ll meet you in the Trophy Room at midnight!”
“So I can get caught by Filch? Not hardly,” scoffed Potter. “We’ll settle this here and now. Wednesday, go get your sword. Pugsley, get mine.”
“S-sword?” Draco gulped as the Addams siblings ran off immediately to do Potter’s bidding.
“Of course, Malfoy. The weapon of the gentleman. Even a wizard. Surely you’ve been taught?”
“Of course,” said Draco, and this time it was the truth. He’d been learning the basics of swordplay, but had thought it would be a few more years before he would get a chance to show off. “But I’m afraid I didn’t bring my blade to school.”
“I figured as much. That’s why I had Wednesday go get hers.”
Wednesday had already returned, carrying a rapier in a belted scabbard cradled in her arms like a baby. “Harry! You can’t let him use Dulcinea!”
“Of course not. I will. Malfoy will use Rocinante.” Pugsley returned from the boys’ dorm with a similar weapon.
Potter gestured, and Pugsley presented the sword, with some reluctance, to Draco, who took it awkwardly. “You give me a piece of junk and expect me to use it?”
“That’s my own sword,” said Potter coldly. “It’s over a hundred years old, it’s Toledo steel, not junk, and its name is Rocinante. Treat it with honour, Malfoy.”
Wednesday knelt at Potter’s side and carefully buckled her sword to Potter’s waist. Draco looked toward Pansy to do the honours for him, but for some inexplicable reason she was disinclined to cooperate, so he buckled Rocinante on himself, although it was a somewhat tight fit.
“Now, then, Malfoy,” said Potter. “Draw. Your. Sword.” Somehow, he’d acquired a British accent.
Severus Snape both enjoyed and dreaded weekends. He enjoyed them because he didn’t have to have classes with any of the little dunderheads, and could spend his time either quietly reading or grading papers, or, preferably, working on advanced projects in his own workroom. He dreaded them because, invariably, his reading, grading, or brewing would be interrupted by one of the students banging on his door and demanding that he settle some bit of childish nonsense.
It was the weekend after the full moon, so he was taking the opportunity to closely question Lupin about the efficacy of the latest batch of Wolfsbane Potion, making notes so that he might be able to improve it for next month. He didn’t particularly like Lupin and had no altruistic interest in improving the potion, but as long as he had to live in the same castle with the man he was going to make sure the potion was as effective as possible. If he could, he would have included a sedative to render the wolf completely unconscious for the entire night of the full moon, but unfortunately he hadn’t found one yet that was safe in combination with the Wolfsbane.
In the middle of the session, he heard a frantic banging on the door of his office. “Excuse me a moment. Duty calls,” he said, and strode to the door, yanking it open abruptly. “All right, Miss Abercrombie, what is so important that you couldn’t wait for my regular office hours?”
The girl was panting with excitement. “Potter … and Malfoy … duelling … in the Common Room!”
“Well, at least they can’t use any dangerous spells in the Common Room. Have one of the Prefects pull them apart and I’ll be there momentarily to assign detentions.”
Miss Abercrombie managed to collect herself a bit. “They’re not using spells, sir. They’re using swords!”
Snape bit back an expletive; he refused to swear in front of the students. Glancing over at Lupin, he found the man exhibiting a marked lack of astonishment. “Why am I not surprised that you’re not surprised?” he snarled. “All right, Miss Abercrombie, I’m coming!”
The girl turned and ran back down the corridor toward the Common Room door, with Snape just behind her and Lupin following in a more leisurely fashion behind them.
Snape found a crowd of students blocking the entrance to the Common Room, some inside trying to get out, and some outside trying to see what was going on within. The ring of steel against steel, and occasional crashing noises, came from inside the room.
The Head of House’s authority won out even against curiosity, however, and Snape soon pushed his way inside.
The Common Room was in a shambles. Furniture was tipped over or pushed out of the middle of the room, the throw rugs had been thrown, and one of the green glass lamps hanging from the ceiling was swaying wildly on its chain as if someone had recently been swinging from it. Potter and Malfoy were indeed duelling, if by “duelling” one meant that Potter, with a huge grin on his face, was slicing Malfoy’s robes to ribbons with a rapier while chasing him around the room backwards. Malfoy was ineffectually waving a sword of his own in Potter’s general direction while attempting to defend what was left of his dignity. Neither sword, Snape noted absently, had buttons on the tip.
Pugsley and Wednesday Addams were cheering on their cousin, and other students had pressed themselves into the corners of the room or were hiding behind chairs while attempting to simultaneously get a good view. Some of them had also taken sides, and there were cries of “Potter!” and “Malfoy!” from various quarters.
“POTTER! Stop this foolishness immediately!” roared Snape, reaching out to grab the boy and just missing as he dashed past. Potter showed no inclination to stop, and Snape wasn’t fool enough to step into the middle of a confrontation with live, and probably edged, steel. The fight ended a few moments later when Malfoy got wedged beneath an end table and Potter cut an initial “H” in the previously unsullied cloth covering his rear. Malfoy’s sword was lying on the floor a short distance away, having been abandoned in Malfoy’s search for sanctuary.
“Do you yield, Malfoy?” he asked. “Will you apologise to my lady?”
“Yes, yes!” came a muffled voice from under the table. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”
“Come out here and do it properly!” Potter commanded, just before Snape snatched the sword from his hand.
“Potter, what do you think you’re doing?” Snape asked, glaring down at him.
“Working out the pecking order, sir,” said the boy, seemingly unaffected by either the glare or by the trouble he was in. “I was just finishing, so if I could have my sword back …”
“I think we’ve had quite enough of you waving this thing about, Potter. I think even the Headmaster won’t tolerate you attempting to murder another student.”
“There isn’t a scratch on him,” Potter protested. “If I wanted him dead, he’d be dead. And I was entirely within my rights to issue a challenge.”
“You have no right to endanger other students!”
“No one was in danger,” the arrogant boy insisted. “And I have every right to defend my lady’s honour!”
“Oh, is that what you were doing? That’s no excuse—”
“No, actually I was saving his life,” said Potter, jerking his thumb at Malfoy. “Not to mention everyone else in the Common Room.”
That was so unexpected that it brought Snape up short. “What on earth could humiliating someone have to do with saving his life?”
“Well, I was on my way to flying practice when I realized I’d forgotten my Quidditch gloves and I was going to need them later. So Pugs and I doubled back and came in just in time to hear Malfoy lay a whole series of insults on Wednesday.”
“I did not either! I was just trying to be friendly!” yelped Malfoy.
“You have a funny way of showing it,” said Wednesday. “You started off by insulting my family, my ancestry and my home, then went on to specifically insult my brother and my cousin, insulted me, and finally went on to offering to make me your … your mistress. And then you implied I wouldn’t even be good enough for that!”
Snape glanced around at the assembled witnesses, surprised to note that many of the students were nodding their agreement with Wednesday’s summary of what had happened. Even Pansy Parkinson agreed, and the thunderous look on her face made it clear what she thought of Malfoy’s apparent intention.
“And that,” said Potter, interrupting the girl before she could get wound up again, “is when I saved his life. There’s a Betrothal Contract in force between her parents and my guardians. It is my right, privilege and obligation to defend her honour from such an insult. So I got in the middle of it and challenged him to a duel before she could do anything really dangerous.”
“And how dangerous can a half-powered witch be?” sneered Malfoy.
“Careful, or I’ll have to challenge you again,” said Potter. “When Wednesday gets mad, she breaks things. You were standing in front of a plate glass window with an entire lake on the other side of it. And it was buzzing. I don’t know that Wednesday could have broken it, but I don’t know that she couldn’t – and I don’t think that flooding the Common Room would improve the décor any.”
“And how often does your little cousin go mad?” asked Malfoy.
“Get mad, not go mad,” said Pugsley. “And I’m getting a little mad myself, so you’d better quit while you’re ahead.”
“When Pugsley gets mad, he explodes things,” said Potter helpfully. “That gets kinda messy.”
“And just what do you do when you go mad, Potter?”
Potter stalked over to stand face to face with Malfoy. “I don’t get mad,” he said in a low, dangerous voice. “I get even.”
Snape turned to Lupin. “Is there really a Betrothal Contract in effect?”
Lupin nodded. “I’ve seen it; it’s in the Old Form. Harry was obligated to act, or the Contract could be declared broken. He was perfectly within his rights to demand whatever satisfaction he could get from Malfoy. The boy is lucky Harry decided to take it out on his robes instead of drawing blood.”
Snape had heard enough. “Malfoy, take that ridiculous sword belt off and go get changed. I’m going to be speaking to your father later in the day about your appalling lack of manners.”
“As for you, Potter, Contract or no Contract, you handled this with an appalling lack of discretion! The Headmaster will be most displeased—”
Potter had the nerve to interrupt. “I thought what happens in Slytherin stays in Slytherin? Or does that not apply to me?”
“I think we can arrange things satisfactorily in-house,” said Lupin before Snape could respond. “There are all sorts of ways this story could turn embarrassing if it gets out, and I don’t think anyone wants that to happen. Although it wouldn’t be Harry and Wednesday’s reputations that would suffer if it did.”
The point was not lost on Snape. It was clearly Malfoy, as the offending party, who would suffer here, and his own authority as Head of House might be called into question. It was bad enough that the students would be talking about this for years inside the House; he didn’t want anyone outside of it finding out about Malfoy’s indiscretion if they could help it. “Very well. But there will be no more swordplay in this Common Room,” said Snape. “As a matter of fact, I’m going to confiscate and destroy—”
“Two heirlooms that are probably worth more than your pension?” asked Lupin. “Why don’t I just take those? That way nobody inexperienced can get hurt using them, and I can oversee Harry and Wednesday’s practices in my classroom. I can tell you’ve been slacking, Harry, you weren’t keeping your wrist straight.”
Snape would probably have made a fuss about the swords, except that a piercing shriek rang out from the boys’ dorms at that moment. Both teachers dashed in, to find Draco Malfoy rolling on the floor of the room in pain. He was still clad in rags, and his back was covered with boils. A stain of the now familiar green colour of the potion was smeared across his bedclothes, along with the gooey remains of a Zonko’s Patented Dissolving Pouch.
“It hurts!” he wailed. “Make it stop! Please, it hurts!”
“Calm down, Mister Malfoy. We’ll take care of it. Addams, does your sister have any more of that potion?”
“I used it all on Harry, sir, and you wouldn’t let me use the potions room to make more. Sorry,” said Wednesday as she eeled through the crowd of gawkers. She didn’t sound sorry at all.
Snape cast a numbing charm on Malfoy’s back and prepared to levitate him. “I’ll be taking him to the Hospital Wing. Lupin, see if you can find out who’s responsible.”
“What, he doesn’t have to learn what it is to be Slytherin?” Harry grumbled as Snape carefully floated Malfoy out of the room. He clearly remembered how much every step had hurt as he had walked to the Hospital Wing, even with Pugsley and Wednesday supporting him. Harry was an Addams and no stranger to pain, but that didn’t mean he liked it.
Lupin shooed the rest of the students out before turning to Harry, Pugsley and Wednesday. “Well, do we know who’s responsible?”
Harry shrugged. “Draco himself would be my best guess. Thing’s been finding things lying around and I always tell him to return them to the person that lost them. My guess would be Malfoy put that in my bed, and Thing ‘returned’ it this morning. Then Malfoy probably sort of flopped on the bed to feel sorry for himself instead of getting changed right away, and, well,” he shrugged again. “That stuff’s nasty on bare skin.”
“But you didn’t see Malfoy put anything in your bed, or Thing put anything in his?”
“Well, I think we’ll just have to chalk this up to a person or persons unknown, like the last one. Now then, don’t you have people waiting for you down at the Quidditch pitch?”
Wednesday never did get her apology, but everyone in Slytherin knew the result of the trial by combat. Despite the code of silence protecting Slytherin interests, hints and rumours spread, and it was widely understood that you didn’t mess with Wednesday Addams unless you wanted to get on the bad side of Harry Potter – and you did not want to be on the bad side of Harry Potter. Even Crabbe and Goyle gave him a wide berth.
Malfoy stayed in the Hospital Wing until Tuesday night, and Professor Snape tasked Harry to take notes for him in all their classes. Even when Malfoy returned to the Common Room, he displayed signs of lingering pain and tenderness, and Professor Snape told Harry to carry the other boy’s books to classes and sit with him to help him if need be. In most classes, this wasn’t a problem, but in Defence Against the Dark Arts, Malfoy liked to sit right up front. Whatever it was that Professor Quirrell had wrapped in his turban, the odour gave Harry blinding headaches every time the man came close to him. He would be very glad when he could abandon Malfoy and retreat to his usual desk at the back of the classroom, as far away from the Professor as possible.
Outside of classes, the early part of the week was very busy, as the first Parents’ Weekend was to be held the weekend after Halloween. Mr. Filch had more work to do to ready the castle than he had elves to do it, and any student unfortunate enough to cross his path ran the risk of being drafted into one of his cleaning squads. All students had to help clean their own dorms and Common Rooms as well. Most of the teachers assigned their best students – and that included Harry in almost all cases – to do special presentations for the parents during the weekend, and those required research and spell practice in advance.
On Halloween morning they woke to the delicious smell of baking pumpkin wafting through the corridors. Harry wasn’t quite sure why the British wizards were so hooked on the stuff. He liked pumpkin juice well enough, but it seemed like everybody else couldn’t get enough of it.
Class went well that day, especially Transfiguration, where he successfully transformed a ball into a bell. The formation of the moving clapper was particularly tricky, and he was rather proud of himself. At lunch a story spread about the Gryffindor Charms class, at which someone had managed to make a feather explode instead of levitating it. For a wonder, it wasn’t Neville who’d done it.
The afternoon seemed to pass excruciatingly slowly, but eventually it was time for dinner and the Halloween feast. The decorations were truly spectacular. The usual floating candles had been replaced with jack-o-lanterns that cast eerie shadows across the tables. A thousand live bats fluttered from the walls and ceiling while a thousand more swooped over the tables in low black clouds, making the candles in the pumpkins stutter. Hogwarts’ many ghosts circulated through the Hall, singing spooky ballads, and a thick layer of mist covered the floor.
Harry was just helping himself to a baked potato when Professor Quirrell came sprinting into the Great Hall, his turban askew and terror on his face. Everyone stared as he reached Professor Dumbledore’s chair, slumped against the table, and gasped, “Troll – in the dungeons – thought you ought to know.”
He then sank to the floor in a dead faint, as panic broke out in the Hall.