He and Seamus Finnigan had been given scrub brushes and large buckets of soap and water, and the grueling task of making the House tables spotless. Feeling ambitious, they had started with the worst of the lot, the Slytherin table, as it had taken the brunt of the damage in the post-DC-game brawl. Now, Harry was beginning to regret his decision to start here. The magical stains seemed ten times more resistant to soap and water than even the worst cooking disasters in Aunt Petunia's kitchen. He was beginning to wonder if they'd ever come clean. Harry took a brief break from scrubbing and looked around to see how his mates were doing.
Seamus looked as sweaty and bored as Harry felt. Argyle and Gloria were hand-stitching three pennants that had been torn during the melee, and the teen could occasionally hear grumbles when one of them either pricked a finger or lost his or her thread. Jaspine and Matis were hammering out the dents in a suit of armor that had fallen over, and the armor was “helping” by pointing out all of the dents as it issued a constant stream of complaints about being repaired by two amateurs.
Millicent Bulstrode also was repairing torn pennants on the other side of the Great Hall, while Draco Malfoy and Vincent Crabbe scrubbed the stone floor at the far end of the Slytherin table. Draco was complaining bitterly about the injustice of having to do work that was quite beneath him as a Malfoy, while Crabbe lamented that Potter's team had gotten all the "easy" chores. Geoff Hanes, Nathan Quinn and Tobal Montague were fixing and polishing the damaged benches and scrubbing stubborn burn-marks off the walls, all the while grumbling to each other in low, angry voices like a squad of pa-trolls. Unlike Malfoy, however, they didn't complain too loudly, for around the room, like so many prison guards, roamed the Head Boy and Girl, the prefects from all four Houses, and of course, Filch and the ever-present Mrs. Norris.
It was the latter two who caught Harry's moment of inactivity and simultaneously snarled at him, making him jump in surprise and quickly resume scrubbing. Harry thought about grabbing that miserable, grubby cat with both hands and giving it a quick dunk in the scrub bucket, but alas, the aforementioned nuisance was just out of reach, and Filch was still watching. Probably just as well that temptation remained a safe distance away, Harry decided with a frown. After all, Mrs. Norris was not de-clawed.
It was hard to decide which was the most annoying: the work itself, the constant criticizing of the injured suit of armor, the grumbling of Hanes and his chums, or the ceaseless whining from Draco and Vincent. Seamus said it was definitely the tinny complaints of that "overblown hunk of metal and mouth that ought to be melted down and re-forged into silverware." To which Harry quickly replied, "Yeah but would you want your fork criticizing you while you're trying to eat breakfast?" And Seamus conceded the point. Five minutes later, Seamus decided it was definitely the work that irked him most, when his hand slipped while scrubbing, and a splinter wedged in his little finger. Harry was inclined to disagree: Draco's mere presence in the same room being enough to ruin his day. He stole a glance in Malfoy’s direction and glared at the top of the blond teen’s head. That poisonous little prat! It was all Malfoy’s fault that they were all stuck in here until whenever Filch and the prefects decided the place was spic and span… which, knowing Filch, would probably be never.
Malfoy looked up. “What are you staring at, Scarface?” he sneered. "You wish your father were up there in Dumbledore's office threatening to have the school closed down because of these unfair punishments, too?" The Slytherin paused for a moment, letting the words sink in, watching Harry's face for a reaction, then added, "Oh, that's right, you don't have a father."
Harry dropped his scrub brush and stood up, red-faced, rage coursing through him. He fully intended to march straight down the Slytherin table and mash that git's face with his fist, but Sebastian Ulger intervened before the Gryffindor could take a single step. The Slytherin prefect took three long strides, swung out his right hand and whacked Draco across the back of the head with the flat of his hand. The blow made a satisfying snap, but seemed intended more for show than harm.
"Be smart, Malfoy, for once in your life," the prefect snarled. "Shut up!"
Draco leaped to his feet and glared at his House-mate, eyeball to eyeball. "Don't tell me what to do!" he hissed. "You don't have…"
"Yes I do, and you know it! Until I graduate I am still prefect and you…aren't!"
There followed a moment of intense, silent confrontation between the two Slytherins which halted all work in the room as everyone paused to watch. Surprisingly, Draco backed down quickly, if grudgingly. "We'll talk about this again later," he said with sullen insolence, "after I've told my father about this."
"Tell him whatever you want," said the prefect. "Just so long as you do your job and keep your mouth shut."
Harry had the satisfaction of seeing Malfoy’s cheek ridges turn scarlet before he turned back to his own work. Perhaps ten minutes passed without further incident as Harry became fully absorbed in scrubbing out a particularly stubborn blotch of bright orange. He did not notice the increasingly loud scrubbing sounds of Malfoy sneaking up behind him until he felt a sharp rap at his side.
“What…?” Harry exclaimed as he looked around behind him to see Malfoy, now on his knees glaring up at him. The Gryffindor's robes were damp in the spot where the Slytherin’s brush had smacked him, but instead of being irritated, it was almost more than Harry could do to keep from laughing. Here was the proud and haughty Malfoy, on his knees, reduced to slinging scrub water at his enemies because he didn't have a wand, and he'd just been told by his own House-mate to shut his mouth.
Harry's amusement did not escape Draco's notice, for the blond teen whispered, "Laugh now while you can, Potter. Your father laughed too until he got his!"
"At least he died a hero and a man, not a spoiled rotten, half-wit, teenage prat!" Harry hissed back viciously, relishing the look of fury on Draco's face.
“Stop yakkin' and get back to work, ya slackers!” Filch yelled testily as he glared at the two teens.
"You'll pay for this, Potter! Someday, you're going to be sorry!" Malfoy hurled, in spite of the angry caretaker behind him.
"That does it, Malfoy," said Filch. "You and Crabbe get over there and scrub around the Gryffindor table. And I want that floor spotless, yeh hear?"
Harry snorted contemptuously as he turned back to his work while Filch escorted the grumbling Slytherins over to the other side of the Great Hall.
“What did he say, mate?” Seamus whispered, leaning across the table to face Harry. "I couldn't catch a single word."
Harry shrugged in irritation. “Nothing special. Same old threats. Just forget it.”
“Harry, you'd better watch your back. I know how he talks, but I don't think it's just talk anymore. Everyone says how he's changed in the last few months, and you know they never did find out what happened to Snape or whether Malfoy was involved."
"Well, if you believed every rumor, then you'd know I have nothing to fear because I can kill a Death Eater just by crossing my eyes."
"I'm serious, Harry. If you don't believe me, then look at Quinn over there. Haven't you noticed how he shudders and jumps at every sound? He didn't used to be like that. You remember how he stood up to Draco during the game! Now? Afraid of his own shadow, he is. And you haven't heard the latest rumors…” Seamus suddenly fell silent and became very interested in a large, bluish-gray stain on the table. Harry half-turned and saw Seamus’ reason for his sudden fascination with cleaning. Angelina’s accusing eyes were glaring at them both.
Harry hastily cleaned up the remnants of the bright orange stain and worked with Seamus on the bluish one, scrubbing at the part closest to his side of the table.
“What have you heard?” Harry whispered once Angelina had wandered over to supervise Jaspine and Matis.
“Well, as I said, it’s only a rumor,” Seamus said, “but I believe it’s true. I heard that Dumbledore, McGonagall and Flitwick all paid a surprise visit to the Slytherin common room and dorms to search for illegal potions or something.”
“No way,” Harry said skeptically. “I don’t believe it! Not that the Slytherins have loads of illegal stuff, I mean,” he clarified quickly. “But wouldn’t a search and seizure of that sort be the responsibility of the prefects or the Head Boy and Head Girl?”
“That depends,” Seamus remarked, shooting a suspicious glance toward the Slytherin prefects who were standing over Argyle and Gloria and criticizing their needlework.
“On what?” Harry asked.
“On whether or not the prefects were in the loop.”
“Oh,” Harry exclaimed, suddenly understanding. “Of course! If Malfoy were up to something, they’d have to know, wouldn’t they?”
“Oh yeah,” Seamus agreed, nodding vigorously. “But they wouldn’t tell the Heads of House, now, would they? Slytherin cronyism and all that! Just because Snape left doesn’t mean that the snakes are ever going to stop being snakes.”
“That explains why Ulger told Ferret Boy to shut up. He doesn't want Malfoy getting into any more trouble right now, because it makes him look bad too. I'll bet he's mad the Headmaster’s surprise visit implicates him and Madora in whatever Malfoy has been doing.”
“Exactly,” Seamus said sagely.
“So did they find anything?”
“No, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything for them to find. It just means that Draco hid it well enough that even Dumbledore couldn’t find it.”
“Do you have any idea what they were looking for? Oh, you said illegal potions, right?”
“Well, that’s a separate rumor entirely, but I think it fits with the first one. I have heard that Malfoy got his greasy hands on some very nasty stuff and had been using it on other Slytherins, like Quinn.”
“On other Slytherins? But then that would mean you’re wrong about the cronyism, Seamus. Unless…cronyism isn’t enough to silence some of the ones who know what’s going on, and Malfoy and his friends had to resort to… Wait a minute, what sort of ‘nasty stuff’ has he been using anyway?” Harry asked, his dark eyebrows knitting together.
“I don’t know. It depends on who you talk to,” Seamus replied. “That’s why I don’t entirely trust the rumors. Some say it’s snake juice; others say it’s Necro, or some sort of venom. Mortgona’s Wrath, I've even heard, but that’s rather far-fetched.”
“Mortgona’s Wrath? What’s that? I’ve never heard of it.”
“Well, it’s not the sort of thing you’re going to find in a N.E.W.T.-level textbook, that’s for sure. Maybe not even in the Restricted Section in the library. It’s more highly illegal than dragon eggs, and more dangerous than a manticore,” Seamus said. “Get caught with that stuff and you’re going to Azkaban for a good long time. But if you’re the one unlucky enough to have it used on you…well, that’s even worse. One whiff of its fumes, and you’re supposed to relive your worst nightmares.”
“Been there, done that,” Harry said acidly. “Dementors, Shrieking Shack, et cetera.”
“Yeah, it’s like having a close brush with a dementor I’ve heard…only worse. More intense. You can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy…it’s like ultra-reality. Absolute hell. And it lasts for hours. There have been cases of wizards dying or going barking mad after being exposed to it.”
Harry shuddered as he dipped his scrub brush into the foam-filled wooden bucket and started scrubbing at the bench. How could anything be worse than dementors?
Just then, Professor Deveroux walked into the Great Hall with Professor Sprout. They were talking in animated fashion, most likely about the small potted plant that Sprout was carrying. The plant had green and gold leaves, with small clusters of red flowers.
“She’s looking better,” Harry remarked, half to himself.
“Huh?” Seamus asked absent-mindedly, eyeballing the soapy puddle in front of him and deciding that the table was clean enough even though a hint of blue-gray remained beneath the suds.
“Professor Deveroux,” Harry said, and he nodded towards the dais. “She’s looking better.”
“Yeah,” Seamus said with a half smile, looking up. “She's finally getting over whatever was wrong with her. Do you suppose any of the rumors about her and Snape were true? You know, like Trelawney's prophecy?"
You wouldn't believe half the things I could tell you, but promised Dumbledore I wouldn't, thought Harry. "Could be," he said, shrugging. "But I guess Lupin's coming here cheered her up."
"Professor Lupin," Seamus mused. "I remember him. I wonder why he didn't stop by and visit us? Do you suppose he only stayed a couple days when Professor Deveroux was gravely ill?"
"I think he's still on campus somewhere, but I haven't seen him," Harry remarked, wondering if Lupin might be angry with him because he'd heard about what happened to Snape. Why else wouldn't the former teacher have visited or at least sent a note?
"Oh look, here comes clueless Karkaroff, the dungeon's new interior decorator,” Seamus quipped with a grin.
"Renovator," Harry said.
"Excavator, you mean," Seamus corrected.
"Annihilator!" Harry retorted, laughing.
"You win," said Seamus, joining in with his own laughter. He then looked down the length of the Slytherin table and sighed miserably. "Blimey, we've got a long way to go."
Harry watched Karkaroff make his grand entrance in a swirl of sleek, fur-lined robes. He seemed to like showing off his new wardrobe, now that he'd cleaned up and settled in. Harry rolled his eyes. If anything, he was trying almost too hard to impress. And all that fur on his robes, despite the fact that temperatures were finally beginning to warm up! Was he going to wear that fur all summer, even in eighty-degree weather? He watched as Karkaroff sidled up to Deveroux and Sprout on the dais, with his typical unctuous smile. He looked very much like an overgrown fox attempting to put forth a most unconvincing innocent reason for his presence in the henhouse. He spoke a few ingratiating words to Deveroux, who looked up irritably and spat something sharp in reply. Karkaroff winced and slunk angrily away. The fox had narrowly missed losing one of his feet to a steel trap, and he resented it.
Although he could not hear the exchange, Harry could imagine what Deveroux had said, having witnessed many of Snape and Deveroux's sensational quarrels last semester. The Defense teacher seemed to take an immediate liking or disliking to most people, and a great amount of time and persuasion seemed to be required before she would change her opinions one way or the other. He wondered what on earth Snape had said or done that had so changed Deveroux's attitude toward him. Perhaps he'd confessed his true feelings toward her before the night the students had forced it out of him. But if Karkaroff was applying the same approach in an attempt to form a comfortable rapport with Deveroux, then it didn't seem to be working.
Seamus followed Harry's gaze to the teachers' table and grinned. “He'd better stay away from Deveroux. After what she did to Snape in that duel, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if someday she hexes him so bad he can't sit without wincing.”
Harry almost smiled at the thought of Deveroux having a go at Karkaroff in a no-holds-barred duel, then sighed miserably. If only he hadn't gone and ruined everything for Snape and Deveroux…
“Have you heard any word about DC?” Harry asked, changing the subject. "Fred and George said they've been in Filch's office since the ban, but they couldn't find anything."
Seamus’ face fell. “Sorry, mate, I don't know any more about it than you. McGonagall wants to extend the ban of course, but everyone knows that. And if Fred and George haven't had any luck, then I think we’ll never see those cards again.”
Harry sighed, found a new stain, then resumed scrubbing, his spirits lower than before. "I told Professor McGonagall that I borrowed a lot of cards from people," he said, "including an extremely rare one from Neville. But it didn't seem to make any difference. I think she wants to burn them."
"I wouldn't know, mate," Seamus commiserated, shrugging. "Wouldn't bet against it."
Then, as if things couldn’t get worse, more students started filing in for lunch. Some looked away, but others stared and more than a few pointed and snickered. Harry scowled. "Go on, have a go at us," he grumbled. "You helped make this mess too, but since you weren't actually playing the game…"
"Aw, let it go, mate," Seamus said. "At least we have the consolation of knowing that the Slytherins are enjoying this just as much as we are."
“Listen up, you destructive brats!” Filch shouted out. Most of the students in the Great Hall looked up at this pronouncement, since they weren't sure whom he was addressing. “Those of you in detention are allowed a twenty minute break for lunch, starting right now. Put down your scrub brushes and tools, and get over here.” He looked very unhappy to make this announcement. The old caretaker obviously would have been delighted to starve the students until the work was done, Harry thought bitterly.
The buzz of student chatter slowly resumed as Filch went over by the teachers' dais and brought out a small rectangular table that was just the right size for twelve people. Harry straightened up and plopped his brush back into the bucket, which vanished a moment later. More students and professors filtered in for lunch as he and the other DC players made their way over to Filch's table as ordered. Meanwhile the supervising prefects drifted away toward their respective tables, several of them complaining to their House-mates bitterly about the amount of free time this "babysitting chore" was costing them, and all because of "that dumb game".
He hated to admit it, but Harry was inclined to agree with the prefects. They really shouldn't be here as they had had little or nothing to do with the Dark Cauldron brawl. It didn't seem fair. But he supposed that helping to supervise detentions like this was simply one of the more unpleasant responsibilities of being a prefect. Harry decided that Seamus was right about one thing, though. As long as Draco was suffering through the detention as well, then he supposed he could endure it.
Harry, Seamus, and the other ten students serving detention reluctantly took seats at the special punishment table, next to the teachers’ dais. Malfoy and his gang of Slytherins sat on one side, glaring hatefully at Harry, while the others, including Jaspine, sat on Harry’s side. A pale and queasy looking Nathan Quinn sat alone at one corner on Draco's side, looking as though he were alone in his own world. And Greytalon reluctantly occupied another corner on Harry's side, looking rather embarrassed to be at this table of shame.
“Nathan?” Jaspine called out softly across the table, but Quinn ignored her and instead picked listlessly at the ham sandwich and crisps that Apparated on the plate in front of him. His mind seemed to be very far away.
Harry looked a question toward Seamus as they each picked up their sandwiches and started eating.
“Now you see what I mean? I'll just bet it was Draco,” Seamus remarked with a shrug.
But before Harry could ask another question, he suddenly let out a yelp and dropped his sandwich. A black scorpion crawled out of the sandwich as it hit the plate, and the scorpion lashed its tail at Harry’s hands. Reflexively, Harry leapt from his seat and reached for his wand, belatedly remembering that his wand had been confiscated prior to the detention.
“Ick!” Gloria exclaimed, thoroughly repulsed. Seamus made a horrified face. Argyle jerked backward, and Jaspine’s jaw nearly hit the table in shock.
Harry shot a glance at the teachers' dais to see if anyone had noticed the commotion. Karkaroff briefly looked over. His face flushed, and he turned away in an obvious attempt to pretend not to notice. Harry glared at Karkaroff for several seconds before he realized that Deveroux, too, was looking daggers at the new Potions professor.
Harry turned his attention to Draco, who was stealthily sliding something back into his robe pocket and sniggering with his friends. What was he hiding? A wand? But that was not possible, because their wands had been taken away!
“What’s the problem now, Potter?” Filch growled as he came over to see what was causing this latest uproar. He spied the scorpion, and his weathered face twisted into a scowl. “So…you think it’s funny do you?” The caretaker glared at Malfoy as he said this. “You think bringing poisonous things into the school is all a game of hide-and-seek, do you?”
“Don’t look at me…Squib,” Malfoy snarled. “It’s not my fault Potter invites trouble wherever he goes.”
Filch ground his teeth at the insult, but before he could respond, the scorpion suddenly jumped from Harry’s plate onto Mrs. Norris’ dusty back. The cat screeched and ran down the hall toward the main entrance with her poisonous hitchhiker. The caretaker let out a holler of fury as he ran after Mrs. Norris. Malfoy and his friends sniggered and howled with glee as they watched Filch frantically chase his cat out of the Great Hall.
“That’ll teach that stupid Squib,” Harry heard Malfoy whisper to Hanes and Montague.
Harry loathed Filch and his cat intensely. How many times each day did he dream of kicking that repulsive feline? Yet even so, Harry couldn’t help feeling a bit of sympathy for them today. Draco thought he was so clever, bullying animals and Squibs, but when it came to real threats like dementors and dragons, Draco ran like the coward he was. Harry was just about to say as much, but Angelina came over from the Gryffindor table and interrupted his thoughts.
“Congratulations, Malfoy! You’ve just earned yourself another detention,” Angelina snapped at the blond teen. “And I think I’ll have twenty points from Slytherin as well.”
Malfoy merely rolled his eyes and made a rude gesture once the Gryffindor prefect’s back was turned. Angelina whirled suddenly, but not soon enough to catch him in the act and added, "By the way, Malfoy, it's a shame Professor Snape isn't here to get you off detention this time, isn't it?" And with that she walked away.
Draco glared hatefully at her back and muttered, "Karkaroff will soon see things my way. You'll regret that remark."
The rest of the brief break passed uneventfully, punctuated by the sniggers of the other students and the stern comments and gazes from the professors. Afterwards, the buckets and brushes reappeared with fresh soap and clean water, and Harry and the others resumed their cleaning and repair duties in relative silence. By five o’clock, he was surprised to note that they had put a sizable dent in the mess. Perhaps by tomorrow evening, they would be finished and free. And maybe if he and Seamus looked miserable enough, Dean would feel sorry for them and let them copy his homework, so they wouldn't be too far behind in their classes on Monday. Harry thought about how much better Hermione's grades were, and how much better the quality of her notes had been and sighed. But it wasn't only the help with homework he was missing. It was the companionship of his best friends. How he missed Ron and Hermione!
“Well, I’m glad that’s over with, at least for now. It's so unfair making us do all this cleaning and repairing without magic. We could have been done ages ago!” Seamus complained as he wiped his brow with the back of his hand and picked up two grunge-filled buckets to take back to Filch’s supply closet. The prefects and the rest of Harry's team had already left the Great Hall with Filch, leaving Harry and Seamus behind to pick up the rest of the cleaning supplies around them. Across the room Team Slytherin was finishing up and leaving as well.
"I hear you, mate," Harry agreed. "Are you going to take those down to Filch?"
"Yeah," Seamus grunted, lugging the heavy buckets toward the main entrance.
"Are you sure?" Harry queried, thinking that Seamus was never going to make it.
"Yeah. I'll manage if you'll just go around one more time and make sure you've got the rest of the rags and whatnot. You know how Filch is about his stuff."
"Will do," agreed Harry as he picked up the scrub brushes and all the dirty rags from the tables and floor. The Gryffindor listened to his friend's retreating footsteps accompanied by the slosh of filthy scrub water and the occasional grunt as Seamus lurched out. Suddenly, several filthy wet rags flew up off the floor and smacked Harry in the face. Harry staggered and nearly fell over backwards.
"What the…?" he muttered.
Draco's malicious laughter was all the explanation needed.
Harry wiped the grime from his glasses then whirled, furious, but Draco was facing him coolly with his wand drawn and pointed directly at Harry's head. The Slytherin wore a triumphant expression as though this had been the moment he'd been waiting for all day. "Well, well, Potter, I think rags are an improvement on you. Maybe you should wear them more often. Maybe you will when my father…"
"Draco…" Crabbe interrupted in a warning tone, coming up behind his friend and giving him a not-so-subtle poke.
"Get back to work, Vincent," Draco spat nastily, not taking his eyes off the Gryffindor across the room. "This is between us."
"But, Draco…" Crabbe tried again.
"I said, back to work!" Draco snarled, whirling on his friend.
Crabbe trembled but stood his ground. "Draco, we're already in enough trouble. Leave Potter for another night. Sebastian said…"
"I don't care what Sebastian said. He's not here now, is he?"
"No, but Draco, if he complains to your dad…"
"But if… You know what your dad said."
Draco froze momentarily, seemed to think over whatever Crabbe had been implying, then slowly put his wand away while Harry watched the whole exchange with mingled curiosity and surprise. Why, oh why, did it seem as though Crabbe was somehow defending him? Or was it merely a matter of keeping Draco from making a big mistake? And what in the world had Lucius Malfoy said?
"Fine," Draco said nastily. "You may have a point. But I'm going to go have a word with Sebastian." Then he threw a contemptuous look at Harry and said in a menacing tone, "I'll deal with you later, Potter."
Harry matched Draco's contempt with his own and said, "I look forward to it."
For an instant, Draco looked as if he might change his mind and draw his wand on Harry again, despite Crabbe's warning. But instead, he merely whirled on his House-mate and snapped, "Pick up the rags, and make sure you get all of them. You know, rags might look good on you, too!" And with that he stormed out, leaving Crabbe to gather up the rest of the Slytherins' cleaning supplies.
As the blond teen left the Great Hall, Crabbe glared at Draco's back in a way that reminded Harry very much of the way Draco used to look at Snape only a few weeks ago. This realization made Harry wonder… could Crabbe be persuaded to turn against Draco, the way Draco had turned against Snape? The way Snape had turned against Voldemort? Quinn had been very useful to Harry's team as a supposed member of Team Slytherin. How much more useful would Crabbe be if Harry could win his friendship?
While turning over this new idea in his head, Harry dumped his armful of cleaning rags into an empty box in the middle of the Great Hall, then rushed over to the Gryffindor table where Crabbe was on his knees on the other side, reaching under one of the benches for a discarded rag. Thinking to help the Slytherin, and thereby gain an opportunity to offer an olive branch, Harry dropped to his knees as well and reached. But just as he did so, he spied a tarnished Sickle lying next to one of the table's legs, and he reached for it instead. Crabbe spotted the coin at the same time from his side, and he abandoned the rag and reached over toward it as well. Harry was faster, but as he curled his fingers around the Sickle, Crabbe slapped his meaty hand on top of his and squeezed.
"That's mine, Potter. I saw it first. Give it up."
"Leggo! If you saw it first, then how did my hand get there before yours?" Harry retorted sharply, all prior thoughts of forming a friendship with the trollish Slytherin vanishing. "Besides, it's my table."
Crabbe squeezed harder and retorted hotly, "Not today. I was cleaning here, so it's mine."
Harry tried to pry Crabbe's hand off with his other hand, but the Slytherin's grip was almost as strong as Hagrid's, and as painful. Harry worried that the bones in his hand were going to break any moment.
"Let go!" he shouted. "Let go, or I'll tell Draco what you did to him in Jaspine's workshop!"
Crabbe let go immediately, and his eyes widened with shock. Then, as though suddenly catching himself, the Slytherin's expression rearranged itself into one of phony bewilderment. "What…what are you talking about?"
"How many other times have you used the Calming Charm on Draco, Crabbe?" Harry queried softly, relishing the sudden discovery of his advantage over the larger, stronger Slytherin.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Potter," came the unconvincing reply. Crabbe licked his upper lip nervously. "And even if I did, it wouldn't be any of your business. Got that?"
"No, I guess it wouldn't be any of my business." Harry smiled as he drew the Sickle out from under the table. "But I wonder what Draco would do if he knew that his friend had put a Placidus on him behind his back…?"
"Shut up, Potter!" Crabbe snarled, clearly frightened. "Shut up! He won't listen to your pathetic lies, so don't waste your time!"
"Oh sure, he'll pretend that he doesn't believe me, but he'll know that I told him the truth. He'll know it because it is the truth."
The Slytherin completely lost all restraint and dove at Harry under the table. The Gryffindor backed away easily, leaving the ungainly larger teen sprawled on the floor. It would have been so easy, so gratifying to simply grab the box of rags and walk out in triumph. To leave Crabbe lying on the floor with the threat of Draco's vengeance hanging in the air behind him. Easy, he knew, and yes, gratifying. But it would also be petty and unfair. Crabbe had only been trying to keep the peace. Harry thought again of Jaspine's workshop, of the mob of Slytherins with wands drawn and expressions of excitement and anticipation on their faces. If Crabbe hadn't secretly encouraged Draco to back down, then there would have been a fight that evening, every bit as vicious as the fight in the Great Hall. There would have been injuries for sure, and Jaspine would have lost the workshop, probably even her future at Hogwarts.
Telling Draco what Crabbe had done would definitely be the wrong thing to do. Even letting Crabbe think that he was going to tell Draco would be wrong. And he had already done enough wrong things this year. No, this time he was going to do the right thing even if it cost him. He fished the Sickle out of his pocket and returned to the angry Slytherin who was now trying to extricate himself from underneath the table. Harry pulled the bench back to give Crabbe room to stand, and then held out the Sickle.
"You can have it," he said. "And I wasn't going to tell Draco. I only wanted you to know that I could have."
"Why? So you can threaten me any time you want?" The Slytherin slapped the proffered Sickle away, sending it rolling off to a new resting place. "Go ahead, Potter. You go ahead and tell him, but I swear you'll be sorry. I'll make you regret it!"
"Vincent, I'm not going to tell him," Harry insisted. "Not now, not ever. Because I think…I think you did the right thing."
"That's Crabbe to you, Potter. We're not friends, and I don't care what you think."
"Fine, we don't have to be friends. But should we be enemies simply because Draco says so?"
"Get one thing straight, Potter. Draco has nothing to do with why I hate you and your loser friends. It's more a matter of history."
"All right, I know we've had our share of conflicts…"
"You bastards drugged Greg and me, and locked us in a broom closet! Don't even try to deny it."
"All right, yeah, I'll admit it. I suppose Snape told you. But he couldn't have told you that we did it for a good reason. We were trying to find out who was behind the Chamber of Secrets scare. We thought it might be Draco."
"Snape didn't have to tell me anything, and I figured out why you did it. I'm not as stupid as you think, Potter. But that doesn't mean I hate you any less for it."
"Why can't we forget the past? Or at least have a truce? You know what's happening out there. There's going to be a war. And it's going to affect us here. Do you really want to be on Draco's side when he's liable to sacrifice anything and anyone to get what he wants? Do you think your life and your loyalty really matter to him?"
"Save the speech. You're not going to threaten, bribe, or persuade me into being your friend. You're not much better than Draco. You just put on a better act. Well, you can save it for your fan club, because I'm not joining."
"I don't really like being so popular, Crabbe, and I never wanted a fan club. I just want peace."
"Oh sure. You want peace, Draco wants peace, Dumbledore wants peace, You-Know-Who wants peace. Everyone wants peace, but they want to have it their way, and so there's only more fighting. Well, I'm sick of it, Potter. I'm sick of pretense. I know what you really want. You want to show Weasley that you don't need him anymore. That you can even make friends with Slytherins if you want."
Harry gaped in surprise. "This has nothing to do with Ron! You don't…"
"And I know what you've been doing in the dungeons with Jaspine Greggs."
"What?" Harry shouted, outraged. "I don't know what you've heard, but we're not doing anything but Potions Workshops. We're just friends. Got that? Just. Friends."
"Troll shit! You're lying!"
"I'm not lying! No, you know what? Forget it! Just forget it! Be Draco's toadie for all I care! And the next time you put a Calming Charm on him, I hope he catches you and puts a scorpion in your lunch!"
"Sod off, Potter!" Crabbe shouted, just in time to be overheard by an unexpected arrival.
“Hey, what's taking you two Streelers so long?” Roger Davies called, poking his head through the great wooden doors. He glared reproachfully at Harry and Crabbe. “Filch is down by the supply closet with everyone else, and we've got everything dumped, rinsed, and put away. We're all ready to go, but he won't dismiss us until the rest of his rags and such are accounted for. Everyone else is waiting on you! Come on already!”
"We were just coming!" Harry snarled, deliberately pushing past Davies in the doorway, Crabbe trudging angrily behind him with a face as red as a Gryffindor banner.
The others who had either served or supervised the detention were waiting around outside Filch’s supply closet as Harry and Crabbe finally showed up.
“Come on, Potter, how long does it take to pick up a few rags?” Madora queried irritably. "I'm surprised someone as slow as you made the Gryffindor Quidditch team, much less Seeker."
"Why don't you mind your own House?" Harry retaliated sourly, wishing Filch would get on with dismissing them already. "I'm not the one who wasted the last ten minutes checking under the benches for loose change!"
"Why you snotty, sniveling, tale-telling…" Crabbe started up, his face flushing to its earlier ruddy hue, and his hands balling into fists.
But before the Slytherin could finish his litany of put-downs, Filch broke in with an irate growl, "Listen up, you brats! I don't give a Knut what ya think about each other, or how ya spend yer free time so long as ya don't leave me any more messes to clean up. If ya wanna bicker and squabble, then go bicker and squabble, but do it somewhere else! And don't break nothin' or mess nothin' up while yer fightin', or yer gonna get another detention on top o' what ya already got!"
Much grumbling, eye-rolling, and glaring followed this pronouncement, accompanied by more behind-the-back gestures from Malfoy, but the caretaker's speech had its desired effect. The group broke up into four different clumps by House and quickly melted away under Filch's stern glare. Ordinarily, Harry would have still been seething over Crabbe's remarks, but tonight he was too tired and too happy to be done with detention to care.
"Come back here, Potter!" Filch's voice snarled at his back.
Harry whirled, anger flaring up suddenly and without warning. "What!" he said rudely, glowering at the caretaker.
Filch locked the closet door and stuck his jingling key ring back on his belt. "Don't you take that tone with me, Potter. Ya might be tight with the Headmaster, but ya ain't solid gold in my book! Yah've got a mouth an' an attitude, and ya need to learn respect!"
"Whatever," Harry retorted, rolling his eyes. He really didn't feel like going another round with Filch tonight, but he was also angry at the injustice of the detention, at the Slytherins' put-downs, at Draco's plotting and scheming, and the prank at lunchtime. Suddenly, he was all out of charity, and he wished that Draco's scorpion had picked a different target.
Filch seemed to pick up on the general idea of Harry's impulsive wish, for he scowled even more intensely and said, "My office. Now."
"Yes, sir," Harry retorted venomously. He couldn't help but add, "I notice nothing is being said or done about Malfoy's attitude or that scorpion he brought in. I wonder why?" The injustice was so galling that the words burst out of him, even though Harry knew they would probably only make his situation worse.
"Malfoy will get his later, but that ain't yer business."
Harry felt doubtful that anything would be done to Draco other than another useless lecture. It infuriated him to no end the way Draco always seemed to get away with lying, bullying, cheating, killing familiars, using illegal potions, and just being a git in general. But what good would it do to complain? Filch seemed determined to dump his bitterness on Harry tonight, and it was just one more part of the unfairness the teen always seemed to have to put up with. Harry was thinking very hard along these lines, contentedly nursing his grudge against the world, when suddenly, a very different sort of thought broke in unexpectedly.
If I keep on like this, how will I be any better than old Filch?
Close on the heels of that thought came the sudden realization that life had not been very fair to old Filch either. Every day he had to watch the students learn to use powers he could never have, never master. Every day he spent hours doing jobs that would have taken seconds with a wand. Every day he had to put up with student laughter, hatred, pranks, and snide remarks pouring in from every direction…
How well Harry knew what that felt like! Last year during the Triwizard Tournament, he had never felt more alone. But at least he had the hope of graduation, of leaving this place and making something of his life in the Wizarding World, of waving farewell to the Dursleys and signing up for the war with Voldemort. What did Filch have to look forward to?
The black-haired teen chewed on that thought the rest of the way to Filch's office, but by the time he arrived, he was no wiser as to what he ought to do about it. Certainly coming right out and talking to the musty old caretaker about his revelation was out of the question! He'd probably only get another detention for impertinence.
Hermione would understand, but he was not on very good terms with Hermione anymore. Not since… he sighed. He could really use a friend like Hermione right now, but all he had was Seamus, and Seamus was not the sort who would understand. Jaspine, perhaps, but she was in Slytherin, and how would they ever manage to talk tonight, since the Potions Workshop had been cancelled on account of the detention? And by the time they could arrange some time together, Harry knew he'd be out of the notion to talk. He sighed again, wishing for the umpteenth time that he hadn't gone along with Jaspine's plot, wishing he hadn't blown up at Ron in the library, wishing he knew what to say to put things right between them again.
Filch heard the sigh and, naturally, thought that it was directed at him. This only served to fuel the fire and prolong the expected lecture about following orders, respecting school property, listening to adults, and so forth, ad nauseam. It was at least half an hour before the old caretaker ran out of venom and let Harry go.
When Harry finally returned to the common room, tired, disgusted, and thoroughly out-of-sorts, all he wanted to do was collapse in bed. The scorpion sandwich had been hours ago, but Harry thought he'd rather skip dinner and sleep for ten or twelve hours straight. His House-mates, however, had other ideas.
Most of the other Gryffindors, including Ron and Hermione, had already gone down to the Great Hall, but the ones who remained in the common room seemed to be waiting for Harry as he emerged from the corridor behind the Fat Lady.
"Harry, what happened? Where've you been?" Seamus wanted to know. "Dean and I waited for you to get back before we went down to dinner. Going with us?"
Harry shook his head. "No thanks."
Seamus shrugged. "Suit yourself, then." He and Dean exchanged glances and left without looking back.
Harry hadn't gone more than two steps toward the stairs leading to the boys' dorms when Angelina swooped in on him.
“Why were you trying to pick a fight with Crabbe, Potter?” the prefect inquired heatedly.
“What?" Harry exclaimed defensively. "I wasn't trying to pick a fight with anyone!"
“Rubbish!” she said sharply. “Davies heard the last thing Crabbe said to you. And I'm sure he didn't say it without good reason. And why else would Filch have drug you off to his office after letting the rest of us go?”
“Because no good deed goes unpunished,” Harry said testily as he continued toward the dorms. “And why do you care, anyway?”
"Because your selfishness is hurting this entire House, Potter! But maybe you haven't noticed because you've been too busy feeling sorry for yourself!"
All conversation between the remaining Gryffindors in the room had ceased at this point. It was so quiet that as he turned back at the foot of the stairs, Harry could actually hear the crimson grains of sand sinking through the hourglass on the mantel. "What!" he exclaimed in outraged disbelief.
"Obviously you haven't noticed," the Gryffindor prefect said dryly. "So I'll refresh your memory. Who cost us the match against Ravenclaw, Potter?"
Harry wanted to shout that it was Snape, and how dare she blame him for that unfair detention? But the memory of him losing his temper in Snape's office that day, and later when he'd gone to see McGonagall brought him up short. Even Ron and Hermione had seemed to think that the detention was his own fault, and that was before Snape had vanished.
"And who drew wands over the game in the Great Hall?"
That charge Harry could answer, at least. "Ron," he said without hesitation. "And then Malfoy. Oh, yeah, and then me. Yeah, I was in there somewhere, so it must have been all my fault."
"You could have stopped it instead of escalating it though," said Angelina. "But you didn't try."
"No, I didn't. Because there was no point. Malfoy didn't want a game; he wanted a fight. And he kept insulting people until he finally got one. I suppose he thought I would be blamed for the fight. Looks like he thought right."
"Well, you did participate in the fight. And you did agree to play Draco in the first place."
"Yeah," Harry said waspishly, "I agreed to play a game. I drew my wand to defend my friend. And I got a detention when the first person to draw a wand got off without even a warning. Shame on me."
"And you were trying to provoke Crabbe in the Great Hall tonight."
"No. That's not what happened. I said something he didn't like, that's all."
"Uh huh, and what did you say?"
"That's between Crabbe and me. Go ask him if you want to know, because as far as I'm concerned, it's over and done with."
"But it's not just your concern, and is that what you told Mr. Filch too?"
"Filch is mean and unreasonable, and he loves to have any old excuse to drag students into his office and yell at them. Why do you care what I said to him? Are you trying to be like him?"
"I'm trying to do what's best for everyone, Harry. Are you? Because you talk like you are, but the results say otherwise."
"Well, from now on I'll stop trying so hard."
"All I'm trying to tell you is to think about how the things you say and do will affect the rest of us."
"I'll keep that in mind," Harry said sarcastically, turning away. "Goodnight, Angelina."
"Think about what I said, Potter. You're a Triwizard Champion. Act like it. And don't forget, Quidditch practice before breakfast tomorrow, 6 a.m. sharp."
"And more detention all day after that," Harry muttered. "I can't wait."
The black-haired teen marched up the stairs to his dorm, and closed the door. He could vaguely hear the conversation below in the common room start up again. Sighing, he walked over to his bed and sat down cross-legged on the mattress. The teen yanked the curtain closed, took off his glasses, put his elbows on his knees and scrubbed at his eyes.
Why is everything always my fault? Harry thought miserably. I thought I was doing the right thing! But whenever I try to do the right thing, look how it turns out…
It was then he noticed the plain cardboard box at the end of his bed. Curious, he reached for the box and saw that a rolled sheet of parchment paper was tied to it with a length of purple ribbon. "What's this?" he murmured, untying the ribbon and unrolling scroll. The letter was short and neatly penned in a familiar hand:
“Sacrifice does not come easily where it concerns one's enemies, even though it may only involve the smallest things. You may feel free to disagree with me, but I would put selfish pride in the same category as dirty rags and tarnished Sickles. You will be much the better for letting go of it, as you have begun to do today.
"There is another kind of pride, however, that is much more beneficial, and that is the pride that I have when I think of how much you've grown up today. I’m sorry your actions were not well received by Vincent or your friends. But take heart, you did a wise and generous thing in offering an olive branch to an enemy, despite the fact that you were not immediately rewarded for it. Your intentions were good, and they show that you've matured.
"Perhaps now, you are wondering if your enemies need always be enemies, if your efforts to make peace with them will always be as fruitless as they were this evening. To that I can only say that time will tell. And I encourage you not to give up. After all, Professor Snape was not won back from the side of Voldemort after the first attempt, or the second.
"At any rate, well done, Harry. I think you've earned the right to have this returned to you."
The letter ended here, and there was no signature, but then none was needed. Harry knew who had written the letter, and he knew what was in the box even before he pulled open the lid and saw the Invisibility Cloak nestled inside. He fingered the fluid, silvery folds of the cloak, and he was surprised when a shiny new Sickle tumbled out onto his bed. Harry picked up the coin and grinned. Leave it to Dumbledore to think of a small but meaningful detail like that!
Feeling much more cheerful and contented than at any other time in the past several weeks, Harry drew the protective material over his head and stretched out on the bed, not even bothering with the covers. He lay that way for a long time with the cloak over him as he listened to the other boys come up the stairs and turn in one by one. He almost called out when he heard Ron shuffling around next to him, but at the last moment, he changed his mind. He'd talk to Ron some other time. Tonight he just wanted to think.
And so, mingled with the deep, even breathing of his slumbering dorm-mates, Harry listened to the sounds of the night wind and the hunting owls calling in the night. He didn’t remember falling asleep, but when he woke early the next morning with the cloak still covering him, he felt buoyant and well-rested.
End of Chapter 53