The Art of War - Gathering Allies
Disclaimer: It seems I completely forgot to put a disclaimer in the last chapter. Oh, well. I didn’t own Harry Potter or The Addams Family or The Wizard of Oz then, and I don’t now. Maybe if I ask Santa really nicely this year.
A/N: This chapter is a bit late because a reviewer reminded me of something that I should have remembered on my own and caused me to rewrite the whole darn thing. Thanks, RedPat! Also I had to finish a very long beta job which I had let hang through most of November. Thanks for your forbearance, Jeconais!
Chapter 12: The Art of War — Gathering Allies
Harry spent Saturday lying face down in the Hospital Wing, with Wednesday and Madam Pomfrey periodically dabbing his back with potion where it hurt the worst. Neville Longbottom had been kept overnight, and was being released just as Harry came in. He looked stricken when Wednesday explained to Madam Pomfrey what had happened, and apologized profusely despite Harry’s muttered assurances that it wasn’t his fault.
As soon as Madam Pomfrey had established Harry in a bed and put another coat of the boil-removing potion on him, she picked up a green folder with his name on it and noted the circumstances of his visit, the diagnosis, and prognosis. As soon as she closed the folder, a quill in a distant tower of the castle sprang into action, writing out a terse note on a piece of parchment. An owl, slightly grumpy at being needed early in the morning, swooped down to pick it up and winged off.
By noon, the Addams family had arrived at Hogwarts.
Professor Dumbledore was rather annoyed at receiving a Floo call from Morticia Addams just before luncheon on a Saturday, and even more annoyed when he realized why she was calling. How on earth had the blasted boy managed to get himself sent to the Hospital Wing on his first weekend at school? According to that damned contract the Addams woman had made him sign, he had to allow a visit. What he hadn’t expected was that the woman, her husband, his brother, and the butler would come spinning through the Floo into his office. The only saving grace was that the cat-eating old woman wasn’t there.
"A pleasure to see you again, Mrs Addams," he said as she stepped, quite unruffled and unsmirched, from his fireplace. "I regret that it must happen under these…."
"We regret it as well," she said coolly. "The circumstances will tell us whether anyone else will regret it. Please take us to the Hospital Wing, Headmaster."
Dumbledore led them by the fastest route to the Hospital Wing rather than the least travelled, with the result that quite a few people, students, portraits and staff included, saw him leading the odd procession through Hogwarts’ halls, and wild rumours began to spread immediately.
Madam Pomfrey was duly introduced to the family; somewhat flustered, she led them into the day ward, where Harry was still lying in bed with a sheet floating in the air over him for modesty. Wednesday was sitting in a chair next to his bed, reading to him, and she saw them enter the room first. "Mom! Harry, Mom and Dad are here! And Uncle Fester! And even Lurch!"
"Oh, great," he groaned. "I really always wanted them to see me naked and all covered in boils."
"But they’re such interesting boils," she said as her parents reached the bed.
"Boils? Someone mention boils?" said her Uncle, with an almost unseemly relish.
"Look!" said Wednesday, pulling back the sheet.
Harry pulled a pillow over his head. "C’mon, Wednesday, what part of naked did you not understand?"
"Wow!" said the bald man, inspecting Harry’s back carefully. "Those are classic!"
The boils were truly spectacular. Many of them had burst and were suppurating, and the skin in between them was raw and inflamed. A layer of boil-curing potion lay over everything. The inflamed area ran from the nape of Harry’s neck, down over his shoulders, back and buttocks, to the tops of his thighs.
Dumbledore blanched. He had been hoping to discover that Harry had been injured in some schoolboy scuffle or an understandable accident. Those things happened. But this — this was far beyond anything he had expected. "What happened, Poppy? Some kind of Potions accident?"
"Oh, the first one was an accident, Headmaster," she said as she drew the sheet back up to cover the boy.
First one? This was getting worse and worse.
"But this was no accident. This was intentional."
"A boy named Longbottom made a potion wrong in class and gave himself boils with it," said Wednesday. "Then last night someone put the potion in Harry’s bed. Pugsley found him on the sofa in the Common Room this morning."
"So someone saved a bit of the potion to prank Harry?" asked Dumbledore, putting the pieces together.
Madam Pomfrey huffed in annoyance. "This was no prank, Headmaster. This was an assault. It would have taken far more than a bit of the potion to do this. Miss Addams tells me Professor Snape announced to the whole class the error that Mr Longbottom made to produce this result. Anyone could have reproduced it. And there are several relatively simple charms that could have hidden it until Mr Potter lay down in his bed."
"How long will it take to heal this?" asked Mrs Addams. "And will there be any long-term effects?"
"He’ll be out of here by tomorrow morning," said Madam Pomfrey. "The boils themselves will be gone by dinnertime. It wouldn’t have taken this long to heal them if getting help hadn’t been delayed. Once the boils are gone, another potion will heal the burns overnight. He won’t even have a scar to remind him of this unfortunate experience."
"Not even one?" asked Fester Addams. "Pity."
"One scar’s enough, Uncle Fester," said Harry, finally emerging from under his pillow.
"And he’ll be back in the dorms with the very students who did this? I want to talk to their head of house," said Gomez Addams. "And we’re going to leave a little guard for the boys."
"Really, I’m sure there’s no need —" said Dumbledore.
"You may be sure, but I’m far from it. It’s either that or we take them back to Salem," said Mrs Addams.
"I will remind you, Madam, of the contract we signed…."
"… Which requires that you take reasonable steps to ensure the children’s safety while they’re in your care," she said in an icy tone. "You’ve had them for less than a week, and this happens. We will leave a guard until and unless we are assured that this won’t happen again, or else hold you in breach of the contract and remove the children. All three of them."
They had him there. "Who did you have in mind?" Dumbledore said uneasily, imagining the difficulties of having an adult Addams — or worse, the butler — in his castle day in and day out.
"Let’s get his Head of House up here, and all will be revealed," said Mr Addams.
There was nothing for it; Snape was duly summoned, and Dumbledore wondered just when he had lost control of the entire situation.
Snape arrived shortly, accompanied, to his apparent annoyance, by Professor Lupin, who he had encountered on the way up.
"Gomez! Morticia! How nice to see you again," said Lupin, as if it had been far longer than two weeks since he had seen them. "I heard a rumour that some vampires were chasing the Headmaster through the school, and I knew it could only be you."
"We came as soon as we had notice that Harry was in the infirmary," said Morticia. "I was surprised that you hadn’t heard."
"I’m not completely plugged into the gossip network yet," said Lupin, shrugging. "So what happened?"
Introductions were performed, explanations were made, and Harry’s back was displayed again, although this time the sheet was only pulled down to his waist. Lupin was horrified, Snape maintained a dispassionate demeanour.
"Mr Snape, do you have any idea who might have done this?" asked Mr Addams.
"I haven’t inquired," said Snape coolly.
"Why on earth not?" asked Lupin.
"As you are well aware, Lupin, any pranks done to any Slytherin routinely go uninvestigated and unpunished. It was so twenty years ago, it is so now. Why should I bother when nothing will be done?" He looked down at Harry’s inflamed shoulders again. "He is Slytherin. He must learn, as all of us have, what it is to be Slytherin."
"This was not a prank, Snape. This was an attack," Lupin said, inadvertently echoing Madam Pomfrey’s earlier comment.
"I could list a series of personal attacks over the course of seven years that went unanswered, Lupin. Culminating with attempted murder on my own person. I fail to see the difference."
Snape and Lupin were now glaring at each other, ignoring everyone else in the room.
"Gentlemen!" said Dumbledore, sharply clapping his hands together to attract their attention. "May I remind you that we are not here to discuss you. Either of you. Severus, regardless of what happened or did not happen twenty years ago, we must deal with this now."
"Of course. He is a Potter, therefore something must be done."
"Professor Snape," said Mrs Addams in an ice cold tone, "there is one thing you forget. Harry’s name may be Potter. But he is, and has been raised as, an Addams. You don’t know what that means now, but I assure you, you will shortly. He will not take this lightly."
"Damn straight I won’t!"
"Language, Mr Potter," said Madam Pomfrey absently.
"Snape," put in Mr Addams again, "you still haven’t answered my question. I didn’t ask if you had inquired, I asked if you had any idea who did this."
"Idea? Oh, yes, I have ideas. Potter has enemies, you know. There were many who felt themselves hard done by when their Lord and Master disappeared, apparently at Potter’s hand, ten years ago. Some of those people have children in school now, who have grown up hearing stories about the power that could have been theirs if it wasn’t for Potter. And many of those children are in Slytherin. If we go along with the Sorting Hat’s recommendation of Slytherin for Potter, we must accept the consequences."
"Very well," said Mrs Addams. "As long as that means you accept all the consequences. One consequence is protection. Harry must be able to study and sleep without fear of being attacked. Like it or not, those most likely to have perpetrated this attack are those who will be sharing a room with him for the next seven years. Therefore, we will be providing protection of our own. Someone to watch over both of the boys and their belongings to prevent tampering, to defend them, and to summon help if it is necessary."
She snapped her fingers sharply, and a hand — an extra hand — popped out of the big butler’s jacket pocket. It waved its fingers in greeting and leaped — Dumbledore wasn’t sure how, but it did — onto Harry’s bedside table. Madam Pomfrey screamed and fainted. Lupin caught her and laid her down in the next bed over. Both Dumbledore and Snape were aghast.
Harry and Wednesday appeared delighted. "Thing!" the boy said happily. "How ya doin’?" The hand flipped up on its wrist and waved again, then rapidly made a series of complex signs with its fingers. "Yeah, isn’t it great? Wait till you see our Common Room! It’s got a window into the lake!"
"What? What on Earth is that … that thing?" asked Dumbledore, pointing at the hand.
"Ah. I forgot you hadn’t met before. Headmaster, this is Thing. Thing, Headmaster Dumbledore."
The hand leapt off the table and firmly grasped Dumbledore’s hand in a parody of a handshake. Dumbledore shook it off frantically and sent it flying. It hit the screen on the far side of Harry’s bed and tumbled to the ground. A moment later it crawled out from underneath the bed, walking on its finger tips, none the worse for wear. It turned towards Snape, almost as if it were looking hopefully at him.
"Don’t even think it," the dour man snapped.
The hand flipped and snapped its fingers in a disappointed fashion.
Wednesday picked it up, cuddling it in her arms. "Don’t worry, Thing. We’ll play with you when we’re alone, okay?"
Thing flashed an â€˜okay’ hand gesture at her.
"Thing is one of our most trusted family members," said Mrs Addams. "As for what he is, exactly, we’re not sure. We found him on our doorstep one winter morning, shivering and holding a business card that said â€˜Will Work for Gloves.’ We took him in, of course, and he’s been with us ever since."
Dumbledore was still shaking. "I will not allow that … that … whatever it is … in my school! It could be a necromantic construct! A Dark creature!"
"I assure you, Professor, Thing is completely harmless — to anyone who means no harm. He is incredibly hard to damage, by either physical or magical means. He does not eat nor sleep. You won’t need to provide him with a room; as you can see, he takes up very little space. All he’ll need is a place to keep his gloves."
"If he goes outdoors in the winter, he will need to wear a glove. This is Scotland, is it not?"
"He can use a corner of my sock drawer," volunteered Harry.
"There, see? It’s all taken care of. If you want, you claim that Thing is a valet or something of the sort — he’ll help the boys out with things, anyway," said Mr Addams. He put his arm around Snape’s shoulders and drew him aside in a confidential fashion, but completely neglected to lower his voice, so that all in the room could hear him. "Now, then, Snape, I know you may not be able to prove anything about who did this. You did say you had ideas. I’m sure you could, perhaps, pass the word along to some of those people you have ideas about that it would be an excellent idea for them to admit it and apologize. The word will get around to the correct individuals, I’m sure."
"You don’t know much about Slytherins if you think anyone will ever apologize, Mr Addams."
"Oh, I sort of figured that. But you don’t know much about Addamses if you think this will go unanswered, one way or another. I’m just trying to save you a little trouble, but if you’re not interested …" He shrugged and turned briskly from Snape to Dumbledore, leaving Snape to fume at the abrupt dismissal. "Now then, Headmaster, while my wife is visiting with Harry, I’d like to talk to you about a little legal matter that’s come to my attention. You are involved with the Wizengamot, I believe …"
The first week set the pattern for the weeks that followed. Except for the â€˜spending the weekend in the Hospital Wing’ part, anyway. The majority of classes were ridiculously easy for the American-raised trio. Potions was the only one in which they did not get good grades, no matter how much work they put in. All three of the trio took to filling extra vials of their potions and sending them off to Grandmama for verification of their quality, since Snape kept marking points off for them. Persephone was very happy to stretch her wings and make multiple trips.
The three feet of parchment on why unknown substances shouldn’t be brought into the potions class room were duly produced, accompanied by five or six feet of supplementary explanations that the substances in question weren’t unknown, analyses of the inks and paper, and citations of scholarly journals in which said analyses had previously appeared, just in case the learned Professor had missed them in his reading. The three of them received another detention for â€˜cheek’, and were informed that they were to use quills, parchment, and traditionally approved inks in the future. (In contrast, Professor Lupin encouraged them to use whatever pens and notebooks they liked, and the Muggle Studies teacher asked them to demonstrate for the upper-year classes.)
The presence of Thing in the first years’ dorm was disquieting at first, and all of the other boys stayed well away from the hand when he was going about his duties: making Harry and Pugsley’s beds, laying out clothes and pyjamas, and organizing their books and school supplies for them in the morning. Soon, however, the Slytherins got used to Thing and accepted him as an odd sort of a personal servant; Malfoy even wrote home to request that his own house elf be sent to him at Hogwarts, because if a Potter could have a servant, surely a Malfoy could have one as well. Whatever response he received from home, it was not to his liking, and he spent the next several days glaring at Thing or at Harry, whichever was available.
Any real discomfort with Thing among the Slytherins was dispelled when Harry accidentally knocked a glass vial off the edge of his worktable in Potions class. Thing, who had taken to riding quietly in Harry’s book bag, leapt out and caught it in midair, then jumped up onto Harry’s chair to present him with the vial. Dean Thomas, one of the Gryffindor boys, on seeing Thing, gave a positively girlish shriek and fled the classroom, bumping into several other people and knocking over a cauldron (fortunately holding nothing but water) in the process. Snape took ten points from Gryffindor, and Thing (and by extension Harry) became an instant favourite with the Slytherins. Snape then gave Harry a detention and informed him that he was not to bring Thing to Potions class any more. Harry agreed, and from then on, Thing rode in Pugsley’s school bag.
Whether Professor Snape ever extended a warning to the other Slytherins or not was unknown; certainly no one ever admitted to putting the boil-causing agent in Harry’s bed, at least not in Harry or Pugsley’s hearing, but Malfoy did take an unholy glee in the whole incident, which Harry considered good circumstantial evidence. There were several more â€˜pranking’ attempts on both Harry and Pugsley, but both boys were far too wary now to let anyone get in back of them. Professor Lupin taught them some simple alarm charms to put on their beds, and both boys finally mastered the spell to detect magical traps. "Nothing like having some incentive," Harry grumbled.
Harry took to layering simple hexes with his alarms, and one morning woke to find that Crabbe was utterly bald. Crabbe blamed Harry, because the hex had gone off when he tried to open Harry’s bed curtains. Harry claimed, quite logically, that nobody would ever have known the hex was there unless they were trying to do something they shouldn’t. Professor Snape decreed that Crabbe was punished enough by the hex, which meant his hair would have to grow back in normally, and that Harry would have detention because he used a hex which would expose a member of his own house to ridicule outside the house.
Two nights later, everyone in the dorm was awakened by Goyle rolling on the floor, laughing hysterically, until Malfoy rather grumpily broke the spell. Though no lasting damage was done, Goyle reported the occurrence to Professor Snape, who gave Harry a detention. Pugsley came forward to say that it was a hex on his bed curtains that Goyle had triggered. Snape gave him a detention and let Harry’s stand for giving him the idea.
"Do you detect a pattern here?" asked Pugsley as they polished awards in the trophy room.
"I’ll say. We might as well make a standing appointment with Mr Filch," said Harry. "I figure by the end of seven years, we’ll have polished everything in the castle."
"Either that, or we’ll have polished these enough that the words don’t show any more," said Pugsley, starting on a silver plaque. "Hey, look at this. â€˜Awarded for special services to the school to Tom Marvolo Riddle, May 1943’. Think that’s the same Riddle that built our house?"
"Maybe. Same family, anyway. Remember that big tombstone in the middle of the graveyard? The one Wednesday took the rubbing from, where everybody died the same day? That was a Thomas Sr. and his wife and a Thomas Junior, but I don’t remember the middle initial. Pretty sure it wasn’t M, though. That was in 1944. The year after he got this award. If this Tom was related, it might explain the ritual thing we found. Maybe he was Muggle-born, and using that room for practice."
"He set up something that backfired and killed everybody?" Pugsley was excited; this was better than Wednesday’s â€˜mad aunt’.
"Remus said that ritual was never actually started. So it must have been something else — something he was going to do, but never got the chance. That was at the end of World War II — and they were dealing with Grindelwald in Europe, weren’t they? Perhaps it was connected with that. I can look it up in Hogwarts: A History when we get back to our room."
But although Hogwarts: A History had a footnote duly recording the special award to Tom Riddle at the end of his fifth year, and also noted that he was a Slytherin Prefect in fifth and sixth years and Head Boy in his seventh, it completely failed to indicate what the special award was for. Harry, Pugsley and Wednesday speculated what it all might mean, dreaming up a complex plot in which agents of the mad Austrian wizard Grindelwald attempted to assassinate Albus Dumbledore and were foiled by the efforts of a single wily and heroic Slytherin, and the boy’s parents were later killed in revenge and the boy himself hidden away in safety. They also considered the role, if any, of the wizards who lived in the little shack in the woods, and what connection the ring might have had to it all, but in the end, it was all guesswork. It was an excellent way of passing the time while polishing things, though.
Malfoy talked a lot, but never did anything that could be traced to him directly. After listening to Malfoy describe, at length, how he was going to run Harry out of the school, Harry wrote home to request that something be sent to him. The next day, Persephone flew in at the morning mail call with a small package. "Oh good, it’s here," he said, stripping off the wrapping. "Hey, Malfoy, catch!" he said, tossing a paperback book several places down.
Malfoy caught it clumsily. "Machiavelli? What’s this, Potter?"
"I thought it might be helpful if you read it. I’m afraid it’s the Italian version, but you’ve had a proper education, right?"
"Er, right. Of course. Why are you giving it to me, though?"
Harry let off with a carefully rehearsed stream of Italian. He was really only beginning to study the language, but had learned one sentence by heart for just this occasion.
Malfoy was obviously clueless, but Blaise Zabini laughed so hard he almost fell off his seat.
"What? What did he say?"
"He said … he said â€˜I don’t want to have a battle of wits with an unarmed person.’"
Malfoy flushed an angry red and threw the book back at Harry before storming out of the room, followed by Crabbe and Goyle.
Several of the upper-year Slytherins watched him go, and looked thoughtfully at Harry, who picked up the book and began reading it with every evidence of enjoyment.
The by-play also attracted the attention of Hermione, who was sitting at the Ravenclaw table next to the Slytherins. "Harry, can you really read that?"
"Well, I read it in English first, but yeah, I can follow the Italian. I’m working on it to improve my vocabulary. Why?"
"We have a language club," she said, gesturing at the Ravenclaw table. I was thinking that you could join us for practice. I’m sure somebody speaks Italian."
"Would that be okay with the rest of your house? You know, me being an evil Slytherin and all?"
"As long as you promise not to hex anybody."
"Only if someone hexes me first," he promised solemnly. "What languages does this club of yours cover?"
"Anything anybody knows. We share. I’ve only been to one meeting so far, of course, but I think we’ve got most of the European ones covered. Padma’s going to teach us some Hindi, and between Cho Chang and Su Li, we’ve got three different dialects of Chinese."
"Cool. Can Pugsley and Wednesday join, too? We all read and write Latin and Greek, and we speak French and German and some Russian. I’m doing Italian and Swahili. Wednesday knows Spanish and some Chinese — Cantonese, I think — and Pugsley learned Portuguese and a little bit of Cherokee."
"Cherokee? Really?" Her eyes went round.
"Yeah. It’s great for casting spells if you don’t want the other person to know what you’re saying," said Pugsley.
"Can anybody join this club of yours?" asked Blaise.
"I don’t see why not. So far the club is Ravenclaws and a few Hufflepuffs. The Gryffindors and Slytherins don’t seem to join things much. But I’m sure you’d be welcome. We meet on Saturday afternoons in the lecture room by the library. May I tell the others who to expect?"
"Beg pardon. Blaise Zabini," he said, holding out his hand. "Italian, French, German, Rumanian and Arabic. Plus Latin and Greek."
"Hermione Granger," she said, shaking his hand. "That’s an impressive list. I only speak French … and English, of course."
"We moved around a lot," the black boy said. "English was actually my third language. Italian was my first. Your pronunciation on that was very good, Potter."
"Thanks. Call me Harry, please. â€˜Potter’ makes me think Professor Snape is talking to me. I practiced that a lot, just in case Malfoy could speak Italian after all. But he didn’t look the type to be a polyglot."
"He isn’t. You’ll find that a lot here. Either people know a bunch of languages or they only know one. Except for Latin, of course. All the pure-blooded types know Latin."
"Great for spells, not so good for ordering a hamburger," said Harry, and in their laughter, the walls between the houses started to weaken.
Flying lessons were held with the Gryffindors towards the end of September. For once, Harry didn’t have to worry about Malfoy. The blond boy had made one smart comment about the Americans’ presumed lack of experience on brooms, only to find out that both Harry and Pugsley had played Junior Quodpot, which differed only from regular Quodpot in that the ball made a loud ringing noise instead of exploding, and Wednesday had taken third place in their year for the Steeplechase (with real steeples). They also weren’t impressed with Malfoy’s stories about being chased by helicopters, pointing out that helicopters were so noisy any idiot could hear them from a mile off, and even Grandmama on a broom could get away from one.
Malfoy picked Neville Longbottom, Pugsley’s Potions partner, as his target of the week. The boy was obviously nervous about flying lessons, and had made the mistake of telling Pugsley, in Malfoy’s hearing, that his grandmother had never let him ride one of the family brooms, being afraid that he would fall off. Malfoy homed in on the weakness, making sure that Longbottom overheard him telling Crabbe and/or Goyle about horrible broom accidents that had happened to people of his acquaintance, then loudly â€˜reassuring’ Longbottom that he didn’t have to worry at all, because of course he would never get off the ground. Pugsley tried to give the other boy some tips, but by the time the first lesson came around, Longbottom was frankly terrified.
The result was predictable, and the class ended early as Longbottom was taken off to the Hospital Wing to nurse a broken arm, while Malfoy cackled maliciously. Abruptly, he ran to the spot where Longbottom had fallen, and picked up something shiny from the grass. "Look, it’s that thing of Longbottom’s. Wonder what he’ll give to get it back?"
Harry sighed. He hated bullies, and Malfoy seemed cut from the same cloth as Neil back in grade school. "Give that to me, Malfoy. Pugsley will give it back to Longbottom."
"Why should I give it to you? Why don’t I just leave it somewhere so he can find it … say, on the roof!" He jumped onto his broom and took off.
"Great," muttered Harry under his breath as he kicked his own broom into the air. Pugsley and Wednesday followed right behind him. The three of them rapidly surrounded Malfoy. "Give me that, Malfoy! It doesn’t belong to you!"
"You want it? Here, you can have it — if you can catch it!" Malfoy said, throwing the sparkling bauble as hard as he could.
Without thinking about it, Harry veered up and after it, catching it just before it smashed against the side of the castle, and barely managing to avoid smashing into the castle himself. Malfoy had been forced to the ground by Pugsley and Wednesday, with the result that Harry, returning to the group, was the only one in the air when an irate Professor McGonagall came charging out of the castle.
"Mister Potter! Just what do you think you were doing, making such an unseemly display?"
"Oh, Professor, just the person I wanted to see!" Harry said brightly, interrupting her rant before she got properly warmed up. "Here, give this to Longbottom, would you?" He passed the small shining sphere over to her. "It fell out of his pocket and, er, someone was playing with it, but I didn’t think he’d want it to be smashed."
"That’s … very admirable, Mr. Potter. Thank you. Three points to Slytherin. Now get back to your class and stay on the ground until Madam Hooch comes back!" She turned and stormed back into the castle.
Harry ran back to the others. The Gryffindors were grumbling that Harry hadn’t been punished for flying, and tried to fink on him when Madam Hooch came back, but once the explanation had been made, he got off with a single detention, to be spent doing maintenance on the school’s fleet of elderly brooms. Malfoy tried to laugh at him, only to be turned on by the rest of the Slytherins, who felt that the points Harry had earned for the House outweighed Malfoy’s attempted (but failed) put-down of a Gryffindor on some unspoken social scale.
The rest of the class was uneventful. Madam Hooch got everyone in the air and led them on several test flights around the Great Lawn (with Harry quacking quietly to himself on seeing the string of students following her like baby ducklings). Then she put them through harder and harder aerobatics and speed tests, grounding the students one by one as they reached their level of incompetence, until only Harry and Wednesday were in the air.
Professor McGonagall, on seeing Professor Snape at the dinner table, snapped, "You have no idea what you’ve lucked into, Severus. But I want you to know Gryffindor won’t be letting you walk away with the Cup. We’re going to fight you every inch of the way."
Snape blinked, caught totally off guard by the unexpected comment. "Cup? Which Cup? What are you talking about, Minerva?"
"She’s probably talking about the little display Potter put on during flying class," said Madam Hooch, leaning around Professor Quirrell to speak to Snape. "While I was gone, taking a student to the Hospital Wing, there was a little altercation of some sort among your snakes, which resulted in several of them taking to the air. One of them threw something that Potter decided to catch — which he did after performing a steep climb, steeper dive and rapid pullout, with a turn and roll to avoid being flattened against the side of the castle. The Weasley boy knows his Quidditch moves; I overheard him saying it was an almost perfect Wronski Feint, except for the castle being in the way."
"A Gryffindor saying something good about a Slytherin? I fear the world is coming to an end."
"Quidditch comes before Houses sometimes, Severus, especially with boys that age. Although I think if you asked him, he’d deny it. I tested all of the students to find out what they needed to learn. Both Potter and that cousin of his passed everything I threw at them. Get them up to speed on Quidditch rules this year, and next year they’ll be unstoppable."
"Which cousin?" asked Snape.
"The girl. Wednesday. Boy’s not bad either, he’ll be right up there with them by next year."
McGonagall snorted. "Maybe then you’ll have a team that won’t have to cheat to win," she said.
Snape ignored the calumny, mainly because he knew it was true. Gryffindor had talented players who took insane chances, Ravenclaw a fancy playbook and precision timing, Hufflepuff sheer dogged determination and unparalleled teamwork. That left aggression and dirty tricks for the Slytherins, and they had served the team well for the past several years. But he had to admit, it would be nice to know they’d won — just once — because they were really better than the other team. He supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised about Potter; he took after his blasted father in most other things, why not this? He drummed his fingers on the table. He hated to do anything that might further expand the boy’s already over-large ego, but there was House loyalty to consider. And the Quidditch team was mostly composed of older students; they’d be leaving school in a year or two and he’d need replacements anyway. The thought of James Potter rolling in his grave from having his son be on the Slytherin Quidditch team decided him. The boy’s next detention (and he was sure there would be one, since he had Potter for Potions the next day) would be very different indeed from the last.
"Thank you, Rolanda," he said to Hooch. "I’ll have Flint take a look at them on Saturday."
"If you’ve q-q-quite finished your conversation, I’d l-like to eat n-now," stuttered Quirrell, who had pushed back from his place to allow Snape and Hooch to talk across him.
"Sorry, Quirinius," said Hooch.
Snape muttered something that might have been an apology, but then snapped, "For Merlin’s sake, man, wash that turban. It reeks of garlic. I can’t smell my own food!"
"K-keeps vampires aw-way," said Quirrell.
"There aren’t any vampires within miles of Hogwarts!"
"W-works, d-doesn’t it?"
Snape groaned at having been caught by that old chestnut, and turned to his dinner, with dreams of the Quidditch Cup dancing in his head.
The next day, during free study time in the Great Hall, Harry overheard Pugsley trying to reassure a despondent Longbottom.
"I’ll never be a proper wizard," the pudgy Gryffindor moaned to Pugsley. "Even with you helping in Potions, I’m only just passing, and I’m sure that’s only because Snape’s too busy trying to catch your cousin out at something to really pay attention to me. I’m no good at spells, and now I can’t stay on a broom. The other Gryffindors won’t even talk to me because I’m an embarrassment. Maybe Malfoy’s right, and I won’t even last till Christmas, and Gran will make me go live with the Muggles."
"Malfoy hasn’t been right about anything so far," said Harry, moving over to sit next to them. "I bet he’s not right about you, either." The Gryffindor’s eyes flickered upwards toward Harry’s scar, something Harry was beginning to find quite annoying. "Look down here, Longbottom, that doesn’t talk." The other boy at least had the grace to look abashed as he met Harry’s gaze. "You’ve got Pugsley working with you on Potions, so you’re bound to get better there. Give it a little time. We don’t share any other classes, but you’re probably covering the same things we are, so we could practice together. And I could help you with the flying."
"Really?" There was a trace of hope in Longbottom’s voice.
"Really," said Pugsley. "Harry’s a good coach. I had a horrible list to port when I started flying, and he helped me fly straight. He’s going to coach our friend Hermione from Ravenclaw, too. She’s having the same trouble as you."
Harry nodded in confirmation, although this was the first he’d heard of it.
"Why would you want to do that for me, though?"
Harry shrugged. "Our families have been allied for a long time, so I hear. Allies do things for each other."
Neville looked blank.
"Diagon Alley? The Trust?" Harry asked.
Still no recognition.
"Never mind for now, then, but ask your grandmother some time. I think my uncle’s already met with her about stuff. You should know about it too. Anyway, regardless of being in separate houses, we’re both on the same side." He stuck out his hand. "And maybe someday you can do me a favour, and we’ll be even. Okay?"
The pudgy boy grinned and took his extended hand. "Okay."
"Great. Now the first thing is that you have to do is convince the broom that you’re the boss …"
Early Saturday morning, Harry, Wednesday and Pugsley went out to the Quidditch pitch to serve their "detention" — for the crime of breathing too loudly in class — with Marcus Flint, the Slytherin Quidditch captain, and Terence Higgs, the Seeker. It was barely past dawn, and mist still lay across the pitch. Harry stood quite still and tried not to look intimidated as the two older boys walked around him, looking him up and down from every angle. "He’s got a good build," commented Flint. "Light, speedy. Just right for a Seeker. Chaser, maybe."
"Couple years, anyway. We’ll have to see if he gets all tall and weedy," said Higgs, who was on the short and slim side himself, despite being a seventh year. "The girl looks good, too," he said, looking appraisingly at Wednesday.
"Have to see how she develops, though. Not gonna be good if she gets all busty," said Flint.
"Haven’t been any girls on the team in ages. Maybe time to try one again. Seeker?"
"Or Chaser. We’ll try them out for both."
Harry and Wednesday exchanged glances and Harry smiled ruefully, wondering if the older boys were going to look at their teeth next. Their assessments were impersonal and frank, making Harry feel as if he were a piece of Quidditch equipment they were evaluating.
Flint reached out and squeezed Pugsley’s bicep, to which Pugsley responded by slapping his hand away. "Ooh, this one’s got a temper on him," said Flint, grinning at Higgs. "A little muscle, too. Might make a good Beater. We won’t really need one for a couple of years, but that’ll give him some time to build himself up."
"Let’s get â€˜em on brooms and see if Hooch was right," said Flint. Both of the older boys had brought their own brooms, and Flint had borrowed a third one from somebody else. All were vast improvements over the beaten-up Shooting Stars the school provided. Harry leapt into the air on Higgs’s broom, and Wednesday and Pugsley were right behind him on the others. "Okay, we want three laps around the pitch, slalom between the goalposts at each end on each lap, then touchdown back here. Go!"
The three cousins were off like a shot. Harry finished the course first, but he wasn’t sure if that was because of the broom he was riding, a brand-new Comet, which might have been a little faster than the other two.
"Not bad," said Flint. "Any of you ever play Quidditch before?"
"Nope. Pugs and I played Quodpot, which is kind of like it. Except the ball explodes," explained Harry.
"Okay, we’ll explain it, then," said Flint, and he launched into an exhaustive explanation of the rules — "because you can’t break the rules until you know what they are," he said. "Let’s try you two for Chaser first." He tossed a Quaffle at the cousins and had Harry and Wednesday pass it between them while flying around the pitch, then take a few shots at the goal hoops with himself acting as Keeper. "Not bad," he said when they grounded. "You’ll both need a little more muscle for Chaser, but we’ll put that on you. Terry, try that Seeker practice you do."
Higgs had a small bucket with him, which proved to contain about a dozen old golf balls. "If we let the Snitch go for real, it could take an hour or more to catch. These will do as well, and we can get more tries in. I’ll throw, you catch. Be careful you get these, now, I don’t want to lose â€˜em. I nicked â€˜em from the Gryffies — don’t know where they got â€˜em, but they’re good for practice."
Harry laughed. "You want some new ones? We can get some sent from home by owl. Uncle Gomez is a golfing fiend — loses a couple dozen balls a day. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind sending us some."
"That’d be great!" said Higgs. "But don’t think you can bribe your way onto the team with just some practice balls."
"Oh, no, I’m sure it’s much more expensive than that," said Harry, seriously.
Higgs looked at him askance, not quite sure if he was being made fun of or not. "Up in the air, babbies," he said, roughly. He started throwing the golf balls in every direction, instructing Harry and Wednesday to catch as many of them as possible. After a few minutes, he called Wednesday down. "Okay, I’ve seen enough from you. You’ve missed more than you’ve caught, but you did better with the Quaffle. Maybe with enough practice, you could make a decent Chaser. Potter, let’s try some more of these," he said, chucking another series of golf balls into the air.
Now that he didn’t have to worry about dodging Wednesday, Harry zipped about and caught all of them. Flint whistled. "Hooch was right. You’re a natural. Okay, I’m going to talk to the Professor about getting you on the team as reserve. We’ll have to see about getting you a broom, though."
"Oh, I’ve got one at home. I just couldn’t bring it because of that rule."
"It’s a Blue Streak. An American model," he added helpfully.
Flint nodded. "Okay, we’ll get permission for you to use it. Addams, tough luck. Better next year, maybe. Get some practice in and you might have a shot. While we’re out here, let’s check both of you boys as Beaters. Addams, up!" Wednesday switched with Pugsley, and Flint tossed bats to both boys before freeing one of the Bludgers, which were almost quivering with their eagerness to be free of the Quidditch chest.
As soon as Flint released the Bludger, it shot into the air and came rocketing back, making a bee-line for Pugsley, who bashed it with his bat. "Not a bad arm," Flint murmured.
Then the ball came back again, aiming at Harry this time. He gave it a bash and it swooped out, in a much shorter arc than Pugsley had managed, then came barrelling back at him. "Whoa!" Another bash, another arc, and it was back at him again.
Flint was laughing uproariously. "I think it likes you, Potter!"
"Dodge it!" yelled Pugsley.
Harry took off at high speed, and the Bludger followed him. It zipped around and made a try for his head, and he swung the bat but the Bludger swerved at the last minute and hit his hand. The bat fell from his nerveless fingers and landed on the grass of the pitch, while Harry and the Bludger commenced a wild flight around the pitch. Higher and higher Harry climbed; he looped and swooped, spiralled, zigzagged, and rolled.
Pugsley hefted his bat and took off after Harry. He intercepted the boy and the attacking ball in midfield, and bashed the Bludger toward the stands. It swerved around and came back at them, trying to get at Harry from the other side.
Wednesday was hopping up and down frantically. "Flint! Go after them!"
"Huh? Oh!" Flint belatedly realized there was a real problem. He swooped down and grabbed the other bat where Harry had dropped it, and went after the two younger boys. Between the two of them, and with a lot of fancy flying on Harry’s part, they kept him from being any further damaged, but they would eventually tire and the Bludger wouldn’t. Worse, it was beginning to learn how to dodge around Flint and Pugsley. Only the fact that Harry could change direction faster than it could, and could roll and manage to fly hanging upside down from his broom for brief periods, kept it away from him. "Higgs!" Flint yelled. "Go up to the castle! Get help!"
Before Higgs even reached the exit from the pitch, a sizzling curse shot through the air and impacted on the Bludger. All three of the boys ducked instinctively as the wood and iron ball disintegrated in a shower of splinters and rust. A tall, dark figure emerged from the shadows under the stands as the boys slowly descended to the grass and Wednesday ran out to meet them.
"Professor!" Flint gasped in relief. "The Bludger … it just went mad …"
"I know. I saw," said Professor Snape. "How’s the hand?" He bent and picked up a splinter and inspected it closely.
Harry wiggled his fingers. "Nothing broken. It just grazed me."
"Good. I’d hate to have to explain to your relatives why you were in the Hospital Wing again," Snape said. He tossed the splinter away. "A simple enough Tracking Charm, but on a Bludger the effects can be lethal. You have worse enemies than I thought, Potter."
"Not my roommates again?" asked Harry.
"Not this time. The Quidditch equipment is professionally charmed to prevent people from putting unauthorised spells on the balls. No student would have the strength to break it, and few adults would have the skill. Whoever did this meant business."
"Are you going to tell my Aunt and Uncle?"
"I’ll tell the Headmaster. It’s his job to tell them."
"Oh. He’s not going to tell them, then. I’d like you to, please."
"Why don’t you think he’d tell?"
"He won’t tell because he wants me here for some reason. He won’t want me to be pulled out of the school, which he thinks might happen if Aunt Morticia is displeased with him. I think they should know. We’ll have to work out what to do about it, after all."
"You sound like a Gryffindor now. Charging in to face who knows what?"
"I have a very good idea of what," said Harry darkly, keeping his public face on despite his desire to scream in frustration and grind the splinters of the Bludger into dust. "And I’m not charging in to anything. I knew this was going to be coming. I just didn’t know it was going to be so soon."
Higgs had rejoined them, so Harry handed him back his broom. "Thanks for lending this to me. It’s a good broom; it probably saved my life. I owe you." He turned to Flint, who was standing next to Snape. "And thanks for your bat work. You and Pugsley were great. I owe you, too." He turned to Snape. "And you, sir. That was a cool spell. What was it again?"
"Thanks. I hope I’m strong enough to use it someday. I owe you most of all."
Snape stared down at him, his eyes blank for a moment. "No, call it even. I … owed your father one, from many years ago."
Harry nodded. "Even. Thank you."
The two older boys escorted the three first-years back to the castle, leaving Snape out on the pitch, staring at the remains of the shattered ball. It was several hours before he came back in again.
A/N: Thanks to Jeremy DuCharme for the idea about Machiavelli, which got me thinking about Sun Tzu.