Something Grim This Way Comes
Something Grim Is Here To Stay
Title: Something Grim This Way Comes
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, Maxwell Atoms, and various publishing houses, animation studios and the like. No money is being made (how I wish it were otherwise) and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author’s Note: Sod it. This is the crossover plot bunny that refused to lay down and die like all good one-shots are supposed to. I suppose that was probably Mandy’s doing, or perhaps Grim. Wouldn’t put it past either of them. In fact, it might even have been Harry (I think Mandy’s been having a positive influence on the lad). Still, here it is. Who knows, there might even be some more in the future.
IMPORTANT NOTE – THE STORY BELOW WILL FOLLOW THE ORIGINAL CANON PLOT CLOSELY.
So, please, don’t bitch about it as that’s the point - to see what would happen in predefined circumstances now that several... ah,... outside elements have been added into the mix. I’m fully aware that the introduction of Mandy, Grim, Eris, Junior, Hoss and everything else would completely throw off the timeline, but that would prevent us from seeing what would happen to known events as those events would likely never happen. If you want something completely original, then my alternate take on this situation; Masters of Death, should be more to your liking.
Summary: Harry, Mandy and Grim settle in for their first year at Hogwarts. Before too long they uncover a secret treasure hidden within the school walls, one that Voldemort seems to have an interest in. Naturally, they decide to get their hands on it before he can.
“Once upon a time. The end.” - Mandy, reciting her version of a nursery rhyme.
Chapter Two - Something Grim Is Here To Stay
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore was wondering when he was going to wake up. And he was hoping, very much so, that it would happen sooner rather than later.
The causes of the great wizard’s... distress, for lack of a better word, were currently sitting at their house tables. All of them were blissfully unaware of the strain they were putting on Dumbledore’s heart and nerves. This was the only reason he could not bring himself to resent their presence at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
It had all begun several years ago when Dumbledore had suddenly and inexplicably felt a sense of sheer and utter dread wash over him. That feeling had not diminished since then and had, in fact, only grown in intensity. Unable to explain this phenomenon, which he privately thought of as ‘Encroaching Doom Syndrome’, Dumbledore had little option but to wait until something came his way and provided some enlightenment.
Said enlightenment had arrived on the Hogwarts Express a little less than a month ago.
This year was supposed to have been a very special year, marking the return of the Wizarding World’s saviour from his isolated childhood with his Muggle relatives; the Dursleys.
Harry Potter, however, had not come to Hogwarts alone.
Indeed, the famed Boy-Who-Lived had arrived with four decidedly... unique companions.
Eris Kallisti Discordia, the first of Harry’s friends to reveal herself, just so happened to be the Goddess of Chaos, Discord and Strife. The young girl, quite striking in appearance with her thick mane of golden hair and the skimpy white wraps she wore under her school robes, had apparently grown bored at some point and decided to come to Hogwarts in an attempt to alleviate that boredom. Suffice to say she was already living up to her reputation.
Then there was Harry’s cousin; Junior. The boy was of no true blood relation to Harry, but was actually the progeny of Vernon Dursley’s sister; Marge, and a strange demon-like creature from the centre of the Earth, called Nergal. From what Junior said, his mother had sent him to Hogwarts in an attempt to provide him with an education in proper etiquette. Just what could be considered ‘proper’ for a child who had a habit of eating the other students’ familiars had not yet been determined. The Hufflepuffs were still in the process of recovering from Junior’s placement in their house, particularly his fellow first-years.
Most worrisome of Harry’s friends, however, was the very personification of death itself; the Grim Reaper. The black shrouded figure, who was taller than anyone in the school save Hagrid and sported a delightful Jamaican accent, had caused quite a stir upon announcing his presence at Hogwarts. That he was nominally one of Harry’s best friends, despite being a walking skeleton, was the only reason Dumbledore had any hope that his students might survive the year.
Dumbledore paused in his retrospection.
No. Grim, he decided after a moment, was in fact only the second most worrisome new arrival. First place, undoubtedly, was reserved for the person Harry happily declared to be his best friend of all. Her name was Mandy Maxwell, and she was unlike any other child that Dumbledore had ever encountered. Considering the presence of Eris and Junior, that was definitely saying something.
Her eyes were the deepest and darkest blue he had ever seen and left Dumbledore with the feeling that she was reading his mind as easily as if it were an open book, despite the fact that he was a master of Occlumency. Her short blonde hair gave the impression of a pair of horns when viewed from the right angle, something that provided her with a formidably menacing aura. Oddly enough, she tended to wear rather bright clothing - usually pink dresses, instead of anything that the Muggles might consider part of gothic angst. Taken from afar you could easily mistake Mandy as being a cute young witch, despite her being an acerbic, conniving sociopath. It was an interesting dichotomy, all things considered.
Harry himself was only vaguely as Dumbledore had expected, but considering his friends, that was understandable. The newly-minted Gryffindor seemed completely inured to the various oddities of those around him. His memories of her had been enough to send the Sorting Hat into a state of gibbering terror, yet he acted as if this were perfectly reasonable. Indeed, he not only accepted but apparently encouraged Mandy’s stated goals to gain unlimited prestige, influence and power. And Grim’s daily death threats were ignored as if they were all in good fun.
Dumbledore had never imagined the existence of children like these. They were all proving to be intelligent, independent and easy-going. All these things were traits he would have encouraged in any other students. Save that young Mandy was possibly a greater menace to the Wizarding World than Voldemort could ever hope to be. And the others trailed not very far behind her. And it was only a month into the school year.
Still, he had to admit; they did liven the castle up a bit.
They even seemed to already know the new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor; Hoss Delgado.
That was a story in of itself, wherein Hoss had somehow found his way into Hogwarts (despite being a Muggle) and in short order had discovered that Professor Quirrell was playing host to the disembodied spirit of Lord Voldemort. The ensuing battle, which had run from on end of the castle to the other, had ended with an impressive amount of collateral damage and sent a badly brutalized Quirrell fleeing into the Forbidden Forest. Dumbledore had offered Hoss the newly vacant Defence position on the spot.
Since then things had proven anything but dull, as Harry, Mandy and Grim quickly stamped their presence throughout the school. Eris and Junior were likewise making their presences felt. The most notable incident had been the day following the Sorting, wherein the entire student body had discovered that they had literally seen Death and could now discern the Thestrals that drew the school’s supposedly horseless carriages. Dumbledore had received well over a hundred Howlers the following morning; the students’ parents expressed their displeasure at having the children suffer something so traumatic.
There had also been something of an episode during one of the first-year Potions classes, most notably with the combined Gryffindor and Slytherin group. Of course, the entire incident was perfectly understandable, more-or-less, provided you were aware that this had been the first Potions lesson of the year for Harry, Mandy, Grim and Eris...
The first-year Gryffindors and Slytherins were waiting, well, perhaps not eagerly, but certainly filled with an odd sense of anticipation. Their first class in the art of brewing potions was about to commence. The Potions classroom, located in the Hogwarts dungeons, was a cold and dank locale of the sort that Grim usually made use of for storing his trunk.
Professor Snape stepped into the room as the chimes of the school’s Great Bell sounded, not a second early or late, but exactly on time. The door slammed shut behind him with all the finality of a coffin closing.
His robes somehow billowing impressively as he walked, Snape crossed to his desk to collect the sheet of parchment that contained the role. Skimming briefly over the list of names, he then looked up at the assembled students. He immediately took notice of Grim, who was sitting next to Harry and Mandy. He did not say anything about the Reaper’s presence in his classroom, but settled for glaring balefully at the skeleton. Clearly the events of the Sorting were not forgotten, nor forgiven.
Returning his attention to the parchment in his hands, Snape began to take role. He called out name after name in a slow and steady monotone, working his way down the list. This indifference only lasted until he came to one particular name. Oddly enough, it was not Harry’s.
“Eris Discordia,” called Snape, uttering the name with a displeased curl of his lips.
“Here, Sevvie-poo!” replied Eris with a cheerful wave.
This answering call was so unexpected, not to mention insolent, that it took the professor several seconds before he properly comprehended the manner in which he had just been addressed. Suffice to say, Snape blew his top with impressive speed and fury.
“Oh, come on, dahling,” said Eris, exaggerating her accent. She was sitting by herself --all of her fellow Slytherins too afraid to sit next to her-- and dismissed Snape’s righteous anger with a languid wave. “No need to get so uptight about things - it’s all in good fun!”
Snape’s normally pallid cheeks flushed a deep pink as he glared murderously at the youthful goddess. Eris remained utterly unperturbed and unconcerned. With a furious hiss, unable to bring himself to deduct points from his own house, Snape turned back to the role.
Continuing past Eris’ name, Snape called off the remaining students. He promptly encountered another problem when he called the name of his favourite student, Draco Malfoy. When no immediate reply was forthcoming Snape peered about the classroom in search of the youngster in question.
“Um, that might be a problem, Professor,” said Pansy Parkinson finally.
“Meaning?” asked Snape, directing his stare towards the puggish witch.
With an unhappy wince, Pansy leaned over and reached into her book bag. In a manner not unlike a Muggle illusionist pulling a rabbit out of a top hat, she promptly produced a silver-furred ferret, and deposited him on the desktop in front of her.
Snape took one look at the morose animal and immediately knew who was responsible. He rounded on Eris, his cheeks tinged pink once more. “Discordia!” he spat angrily, pointing at Eris and then to the ferret, “You will return Mister Malfoy to his natural form! Now!”
“Uh uh, not going to do it,” Eris refused, shaking her head resolutely. “Not until he learns to be polite.”
Snape made a sound like a kettle boiling, but could do nothing to change Eris’ mind. She was, after all, a goddess. There was also the fact that she might use one of her golden apples of chaos on anyone that bothered her. Or even those who did not. Even the headmaster, the most powerful sorcerer on the planet, could not hope to stand against a recalcitrant deity. Resigned to this fact, at least for the moment, Snape moved on to the next name on the class register.
“Mandy,” corrected Mandy.
Yet again Snape paused and directed his gaze at one of the students. Mandy met his stare with a bland impassiveness, not unlike how she normally appeared. The only indication that she was even aware of the ire being directed towards her was the fractional narrowing of her dark blue eyes.
“What did you say?” demanded Snape, his voice deceptively soft.
“I prefer to be called Mandy,” repeated Mandy patiently. “Not ‘Amanda’.”
As the young blonde witch was not one of his Slytherins, nor a goddess, Snape did not hesitate to stomp over and loom imposingly over her. He was both perturbed and delighted by how she matched his gaze and stared right back at him. It perturbed him by how readily she shrugged off his look; without fear, wariness, disquiet, unease or any other kind of emotion. Her eyes held the same flat, blank and lifeless stare of a shark. He was delighted, however, by this seemingly god-given opportunity. His eyes almost cut to where Eris was sitting as he remembered her presence in the classroom. He silently amended his statement. This was a lucky happenstance.
Everyone in the castle, himself included, wanted to know more about Harry Potter and his... unusual friends, but no-one had yet worked up enough courage to ask. One possible solution would be legilimency, but even Snape knew better than to try prying into the Grim Reaper’s thoughts, no matter how brow-beaten the skeleton might appear. Likewise, the workings of Eris’s mind was definitely not something he wanted to experience. Mandy Maxwell on the other hand...
Calling on his magic, Snape focused on the girl’s dark blue eyes and struck.
As she had no mental shields to speak of, it took only an instant for him to gain entry into her mind.
It took only an instant after that for Snape to unleash a piercing squeal of unadulterated terror. As his mind recoiled in numb horror his body acted on its own by falling to the floor and curling itself into as tight a ball as it could manage. Thankfully he did not soil himself in any way, but that was only because every muscle in his body was clenched tight enough to prevent any release.
“Professor Snape!” exclaimed Hermione and most of the Slytherins. Draco was still a ferret and thus unable to say anything aside from some high-pitched squeaks and hisses. Eris threw her head back and cackled insanely. Nobody moved to help the fallen figure of their professor, however.
“Uh, was that ‘aaaaeeeii’ with one ‘i’ or two?” Harry asked Grim, continuing to transcribe the lesson even though it had not yet properly begun. He never once bothered looking up.
“Bloody hell,” whispered Ron in awe.
“Is he... sucking his thumb?” asked Seamus Finnegan, staring with appalled curiosity.
Closer examination revealed that, yes, Snape had at some point jammed his right thumb into his mouth and was sucking on it with all the desperation of a starving newborn. Having this dreadfully embarrassing fact pointed out to all and sundry was enough to shake the trembling professor out of his terror induced stupor. Removing his thumb with a pop, Snape scrabbled to his feet. Once upright, he drew himself up to his full height and found himself unable to do anything but stand in place and seethe.
Never in his life had he been so utterly humiliated, not even by James Potter and Sirius Black at their worst. Of course, the fact that he was still scared half out of his mind only served to drive him to greater heights of anger. The reason for this was simple; his rage at what had just happened was just about the only thing strong enough to dull the unmatchable dread and sheer panic that his brief encounter with Mandy’s mind had caused to surge through him.
A low growl from the back of his throat was all the articulation that Snape could manage in the face of Mandy’s defiance. He tried to stare her down, but the girl’s cool and unrelenting posture deflected his attempt as readily as a ping-pong ball bouncing off a concrete slab. The only movement made during this standoff, other than the twisted contortions of his face, were the clenching and unclenching of his hands. Murder was undoubtedly on his mind as he glared at Mandy, incapable of forming coherent speech, his expression one of such furious hatred that some of the students were tempted to replicate his earlier actions.
“Wow, I didn’t know anyone could turn that shade of purple,” Ron whispered to those around him, even as Neville Longbottom silently slipped off his stool and sought refuge under the table.
Mandy sat perfectly still the entire while, her gaze unwavering as she examined the professor with the same dispassion a Muggle scientist might reserve for scrutinising a bacteria culture. The standoff grew longer, as did the tension that seemed to almost crackle between the two.
Finally, swallowing convulsively, Snape whirled round and retreated to his desk. “Very well,” he ground out through clenched teeth, “I shall note your preferred manner of address on the role, Maxwell.”
The blonde girl’s only reply was to incline her head the barest fraction, as if giving him permission to do so. Seeing that he had lost this round, which seemed to be the trend for the day, Snape skilfully hid a relieved sigh and settled behind his desk. He reclaimed the parchment role and, with only a trace of pink in his cheeks, resumed reading through the students’ names. Moving past the remaining ‘M’s, he proceeded quickly through the ‘N’s and ‘P’s, until...
“Ah, yes, Harry Potter...” sighed Snape very softly. He sounded tired.
“Yes sir?” said Harry, though it was more a question than a confirmation of his presence.
“...The only normal one of the lot,” Snape concluded.
“Yes sir,” Harry readily agreed.
Snape stared at the boy that he had spent the last decade cultivating a deep loathing for. The boy had an open and earnest expression on his face, exactly what the professor had been expecting. Unbidden, his eyes darted from Harry to Grim, then to Eris and finally to Mandy, sitting placidly at the black-haired wizard’s side. It took great effort not to piss himself as he was assaulted by memories of what he had just endured. He gave the Boy-Who-Lived one final look, a weak and lacklustre glare that would not have intimidated a puffskein, before calling off the last few students without interruption.
Deciding not to tempt fate any further and refrain from his usual interrogation of some hapless first-year, in this case it would have likely been Harry, Snape rose to his feet and approached the blackboard.
“Get out your quills and start writing this down,” he began, forgoing the carefully prepared speech he had ready.
As soon class was over though, he would be visiting his office where a well hidden bottle of Black Pearl Rum was waiting for him.
All things considered, the entire episode could have gone a great deal worse. Especially for Professor Snape, who seemed prone to bouts of uncontrolled tremors whenever Mandy was present, as well as having developed the habit of gnashing his teeth whenever the other first-years were mentioned. Apparently he had gotten off on the wrong foot with Nergal Junior as well, though that was a story in itself. Suffice to say it had taken the rest of the staff nearly an hour to get the Potions Master down from the ceiling. Even now, weeks later, nobody was quite sure how the seemingly timid boy had managed it and Snape was certainly unwilling to say on the matter. He was also prone to bouts of uncontrolled tremors whenever Junior was present too.
Dumbledore turned his gaze to Hoss Delgado.
The school’s latest Defence professor was an entirely different kettle of fish. In fact, Hoss was more a kettle of some strange creatures that had yet to be identified.
While normally very outspoken and energetic in his quest to stamp out anything that could be considered even remotely evil, Hoss was currently sitting almost peacefully at the high table and eating his dinner. Seated next to him was a slightly pale Professor Sinistra, who was struggling to keep her dinner down as Hoss regaled his colleagues with tales of hunting down stalker Sasquatches in the back alleys of suburban America. Thus far it seemed that only the irrepressible Professor Flitwick was paying any attention to the graphic and doubtless untrue story.
While the man’s sanity was definitely questionable, the fact remained that he was proving to be extraordinarily popular amongst the students. Dumbledore could not recall the last time that Defence Against the Dark Arts had been such a hot topic of conversation during meals. That the students were often reduced to little more than gibbering wrecks seemed somewhat secondary to the fact that they were actually paying attention during their classes. Of course, that may have had more to do with their professor’s teaching methods than any desire to learn, but one took what one could get.
Rapt attention was something of a must in the Defence classroom, as Hoss had the odd, some might say lunatic, habit of shooting things at his students in an attempt to ‘keep them on their toes’. Normally this would not be considered too much of a problem, indeed, several past Defence professors had done something similar. The trouble lay in the fact that Hoss occasionally forgot where he was and subsequently used his wrist-mounted crossbow to fire off petrol-powered chainsaws at his students.
Madam Pomfrey had already experienced two separate nervous breakdowns, having found herself in the unenviable position of having to reattach various arms, legs and other body parts on an almost hourly basis.
To make matters even more complicated was the fact that Hoss was essentially a Muggle, despite whatever experiences and skills he had regarding supernatural phenomena. As such, it was next to impossible for the robust man to teach any of his students any practical applications of defensive magic.
Hoss had thus far managed to circumvent this failing by having the children read through their textbooks, generally in the form of homework assignments, and then later practice on each other while he stood back to observe. Most lessons consisted primarily of theory, with the occasional anecdote thrown into the mix, some degree of duelling between the students and one grand finale where Hoss would ‘volunteer’ a student to help him demonstrate some of the techniques he used to combat ‘ultimate evil’.
Nobody, not even Dumbledore, was certain if the Longbottom boy would ever fully recover...
It was with a healthy amount of trepidation that the students entered the classroom where they would be learning the one branch of magic that was more... energetic... than anything else in the curriculum. This, of course, would be Defence Against the Dark Arts - as taught by Professor Hoss Delgado.
The reason for the students’ caution was not the subject matter, but rather the person that would be teaching it to them. After all, they had all been witness to Hoss’ manic pursuit of the school poltergeist (Peeves had still not recovered from that traumatic event) and his subsequent wrestling match and lightsaber duel with Grim. Any doubts they might have had about the scruffy man’s sanity had been firmly cemented over the past few days after hearing stories from those students that had already had the misfortune to attend one of his classes.
“The man’s mad,” Fred Weasley had concluded.
“Utterly bonkers,” agreed the other twin, George.
The pair had then confirmed the rumours about their own sanity by sharing a grin and chorusing, “It’s so cool!”
Harry and Mandy were the only two first-year Gryffindors to enter the Defence classroom without pausing at the threshold, as if expecting to be attacked. They were closely followed by Ron, who despite any misgivings felt that he would probably be safer if he did not stray too far from the odd couple. Hermione and the others were a tad more hesitant to step inside, but eventually made their ways to their desks in time for the lesson.
Grim decided to wait outside, rather than risk becoming a target for Hoss’ fervour yet again.
Finding their professor waiting for them, leaning back in his chair with both feet propped atop his desk, the students waited uncertainly for class to begin. Several minutes passed in an uneasy silence, which for obvious reasons failed to affect either Harry or Mandy, before Hoss pulled his feet off the desktop and rose upright.
“The name’s Delgado,” he rasped, looking out with his good eye from beneath a thick fringe of red hair. His eye skimmed over the assembled students. “Hoss Delgado.”
Once he had their attention, Hoss turned his gaze to a sheet of parchment on his desk and began to read through the role. Not to anyone’s surprise, he seemed to take some measure of satisfaction in seeing that Harry and Mandy were going to be students in his class.
After confirming that all the Gryffindors were present and accounted for, Hoss moved to stand in front of the massive blackboard at the front of the class. Clasping his hands behind his back and regarding the waiting students with obvious scepticism, he began, “Now, I’m sure you’re all wondering what makes me qualified to teach you the Art of Defeating Ultimate Evil!”
“Actually; no,” called Grim from outside the classroom. “We were wondering why you haven’t been locked away in a nice, padded cell.”
Hoss responded to this remark by shifting his cybernetic hand into a rather rotund looking cannon, the fuse of which he promptly lit with a matchstick that he struck against his chin. A few short seconds later there was an impressive bang, followed by the door to the classroom having a dinner-plate-sized hole blown through it. A few pitiful groans from Grim could barely be heard over the sound of falling wood debris.
Turning back to the now dumbstruck class, Hoss continued as if there had been no interruption. “As I was saying; I’ve been bitten by ghosts, haunted by werewolves, and chased by vampires,” he listed, counting off a finger for each monster he claimed to have faced. He ended this short speech with a bellow of, “So you better not go thinking that I don’t know my stuff!”
“Oh, we’re going to die!” lamented Seamus, already recalling the horror stories told by the older students.
Mandy looked solemnly at the Irish boy and nodded, “Yes, you are.”
Hoss was by now looking over the class, attempting to size up the students one at a time. He paused briefly to give both Harry and Mandy a broad grin and two thumbs up, at which point his attention fixated on the pale figure of Neville.
“Largebottom!” he ordered. “Front and centre!”
“Er, it’s Longbottom, sir,” mumbled Neville as he nervously left his desk and shuffled to the front of the classroom, his every step filled with trepidation.
“That’s what I said, son,” nodded Hoss.
“Ah, yes sir.”
“Now, Shortmiddle,” Hoss clapped Neville on the shoulder, “I called you up front here to make a man outta you.”
“Aye carumba,” muttered Mandy, already knowing where this was going.
“First things first,” proclaimed Hoss, looking Neville up and down with a critical eye. “That funeral dress you’re wearing has to go. No hero worth his cahones fights ultimate evil while cross-dressing.”
“Um, these are my school robes,” Neville protested weakly.
“I don’t care, son,” insisted Hoss. “The only thing right about that getup is the colour.”
With great reluctance, Neville divested himself of his robes. The instant the cloth cleared his body, Hoss was in motion. The class was treated to a brief flash of pale flesh as the professor tore Neville’s shirt away and quickly replaced it with a dark grey muscle-shirt.
“Drink this,” commanded Hoss, handing the flustered boy a potion flask. “I got it from the greasy Chemistry teacher.”
With even greater reluctance than before, considering the concoction was evidently one of Snape’s brews, Neville sniffed at the drink and then quickly gulped it down. There were a few moments of quiet expectation, as everyone watched to see what would happen. To the students’ surprise, Neville promptly burped up a small storm of purple bubbles with orange polka dots.
“Excuse me, sir?” called Hermione, raising a hand into the air.
Hoss ignored her, focused as he was upon Neville. He regarded the now furiously blushing boy, his face set in a grimace of concentration.
“Missing something... ah ha!”
With a flourish, Hoss slipped an eye patch onto Neville’s head and settled it in place over the boy’s right eye. Neville only managed to blink in both surprise and confusion - having by now fallen into an almost trance-like state. That he now bore a vague resemblance to the professor was noted by all.
“Sir! Professor Delgado!” called Hermione insistently, wildly waving her arm back and forth.
“Call me Hoss, little lady,” Hoss commanded, finally moving away from Neville and to his desk. He began to rummage about through one of the drawers. “What d’you want to know?”
“What was that potion you gave Neville, uh... Hoss?”
“Pain Killer,” replied Hoss absently.
“Pain Killer?” repeated Hermione.
“Pain Killer?” squeaked Neville, rapidly emerging from his trance-like state and into a state of nervous panic, which promptly increased as Hoss pulled several yards of surgical tubing into view.
“I may be making a man outta you, Thintop,” explained Hoss, advancing on his victim. “But right now I don’t think you’re tough enough to take it like a man.”
Grabbing Neville’s right arm by the wrist, Hoss lifted it high into the air over their heads. He directed a piercing blue-eyed gaze at the trembling boy and ordered, “Hold it up and keep it up, son,” before deftly tying the length of rubber tubing around Neville’s wrist as a sort of crude tourniquet. “When I say so, pull it tight,” explained Hoss. “We want to minimize the blood loss.”
“B-b-b-blood loss!” repeated Neville, his uncovered eye growing wide.
Hoss stepped back, giving himself some room, and retracted his cybernetic hand into his wrist mount. A second later the artificial limb was replaced by a wicked, but functional-looking crossbow. Most of the students were at a bit of a loss as to why the professor would need such a device, but its purpose became clear when Hoss produced what all the Muggleborns instantly recognised as a petrol-powered chainsaw and loaded it onto the crossbow.
“All right then, hold still,” Hoss ordered, taking careful aim. He leaned in, grabbed the chainsaw’s pullwire between his teeth and pulled. A deep grumbling roar filled the Defence classroom as the Muggle device came to life, its jagged steel blade whirling round at a furious pace.
“YEEEAAAARRRRRGH!!” bellowed Hoss, triggering the crossbow’s release and sending the chainsaw flying.
“AAAAAAAEEEEIIII!!” screamed Neville, instantly dropping to the floor and losing control of his bladder.
“AAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!” shrieked the watching students, who were all seated behind where Neville had been standing. With him now out of the line of fire, the chainsaw was heading straight towards them. As one, with the sole exception of Harry and Mandy, the Gryffindor first-years dropped to the classroom floor and sought refuge underneath their desks.
Of the entire group Parvati Patil had the misfortune of being slower than her classmates, as well as being almost directly in the path of the careening chainsaw. The whirling blade missed slicing into her neck by less than an inch. It was close enough, however, to buzz its way through the young witch’s long ponytail. A second later the chainsaw slammed into the rear wall of the classroom, imbedding almost the entire length of its blade into the ancient stone.
“My hair! My hair!” screeched Parvati, reaching up to her shorn locks. “He cut off my hair!”
“You could’ve been decapitated... killed... and you’re complaining about your hair?” asked Dean incredulously from where he was cowering beneath his desk.
“But he cut my hair!” wailed Parvati insistently.
“Pity he missed,” said Mandy blandly, having not even twitched in her seat.
“Ha! Soon I’ll have my sidekick! Then all I’ll need is a corndog with relish and some pepper spray!” exclaimed Hoss, happily oblivious to the fact that Neville curled into a ball of miserable terror at his feet, while almost his entire class were in a vaguely similar state.
“I think all he needs,” grumbled Hermione, cautiously peeking out from behind her desk as Hoss prepped and loaded up another chainsaw, “is a couple of men, or ten, in white suits with the best straitjacket money can buy.”
It was now approaching the end of September, and by all accounts Harry had just finished his first flying lesson in spectacular fashion. Professor McGonagall was practically glowing with satisfaction and had earlier threatened Dumbledore with his life should he not grant permission for Harry to become the Gryffindor Quidditch team’s new Seeker.
Dinner that evening started off rather quietly, at least by recent standards. Eris had not used her golden apple of chaos to transform her fellow Slytherins into Leprechauns astride beaver-tailed babies. Junior was eating quietly with his ‘friends’ at the Hufflepuff table, his multitude of black tentacles retracted. Professor Delgado was actually sitting at the high table and eating with the staff, rather than chasing after the castle’s various ghosts...
Dumbledore turned his attention to the Gryffindors. From what he could make out, Harry was chatting eagerly with Ron Weasley about his placement as Seeker. Hermione Granger was sitting opposite them and trying to scold them both. Grim was next to her, with a night edition of the newspaper; The Evening Oracle in front of him. And Mandy... appeared to be playing with a doll?
Dumbledore blinked and took a second look. He could not believe that such a taciturn girl as Mandy would deign to play with dolls of any sort. Especially in such a public setting. Closer inspection, however, revealed that the stuffed doll was dressed in a crude imitation of school robes, trimmed in green, and had a tuft of platinum blonde hair stuck to its head. Mandy was also determinedly and frequently poking the doll with what looked like one of the needles the first-years had recently made in Transfiguration, using matchsticks as a base object.
Understandably curious, Dumbledore quietly cast a Hearing Aid Spell on himself, which would allow him to surreptitiously listen in on the conversation taking place.
“Ah, my favourite part of de newspaper,” Grim announced cheerfully.
“The funnies?” asked Ron.
“The crosswords?” asked Hermione.
“De obituaries,” revealed Grim.
Draco Malfoy chose this moment to interrupt. His first week at Hogwarts had been spent as a silver-furred ferret, thanks to Eris’ apple of discord. After recovering his human form, only because Dumbledore had politely requested it, the young Slytherin had used every spare moment he had trying to avenge himself upon the goddess. His second favourite activity was causing trouble for Harry and his friends, most likely because Eris was technically counted as a part of the group.
Having heard the details about Harry’s first time on a broom, and how he had rescued Neville Longbottom’s remembrall, it was easy for Dumbledore to discern why Draco was looking so unbearably smug. He swaggered over to the Gryffindor table, flanked by his bodyguards Crabbe and Goyle, clearly under the belief that Harry was in trouble for his actions.
“Having a last meal, Potter?” gloated Draco. He looked over at Mandy, who had paused her attentions to the doll upon his arrival. His face twisted into a sneer and he asked, “When are you getting the train back to the rest of the freaks?”
Mandy frowned at the insinuation, which caused many nearby Gryffindors to pick up their plates and edge away. It wasn’t that Mandy was scary. The OWLs and NEWTs were scary. But the blonde-haired young witch that never strayed far from Harry Potter made those particular scholastic trials look comforting by comparison. Even Grim had a difficult time matching the menace she could exude. To sum it up; when Mandy was about, and particularly when she frowned, those around her were too busy being terrified to be scared.
“You’re a lot braver now you’re back on the ground and you’ve got your little friends with you,” retorted Harry, indicating the lumbering Crabbe and Goyle.
“Cowards and bullies are like that,” observed Mandy calmly.
“How dare you?” hissed Draco, flushing red at the insult.
“Very easily,” Mandy informed him. “Harry’s obviously more than a match for you.”
“I can take him whenever I like, mudblood!” Draco spat angrily.
Harry’s wand was instantly in hand, drawn from its place in his robe pocket in a quick move that Mad-Eye Moody would have greatly approved of. The wand’s tip jabbed sharply under Malfoy’s chin as Harry snarled, “I told you not to call her that, Malfoy.”
“You want a fight, Potter?” asked Draco, though obviously unnerved at the speed of Harry’s reaction as well as the fact that he was not nearly as protected by Crabbe and Goyle as he had assumed. He glanced towards the professors and asked, “With the teachers watching?”
“If you don’t apologise,” promised Harry coldly.
“Why bother?” asked Mandy.
She gently pushed Harry’s arm aside, rotated round and promptly drove her knee into Draco’s crotch. There was a dull thwack, which caused every male present to wince, and then a moment of silence. The two remained perfectly still, frozen like statues, before the platinum-haired boy collapsed in a heap, tears streaming down his rapidly purpling face.
Crabbe and Goyle utterly failed to react and instead stared dumbly down at Draco, much as they had done the first time Mandy had taken such action against their patron. As with most incidents revolving around Mandy and the others, none of the professors made a move towards them. It was possible that Snape might have said or done something, but the potions master had become increasingly reluctant to share meals with the rest of the school and was thus not present.
Hermione was the first to speak. “You really shouldn’t do that, Mandy,” she said sternly, though her cheeks were tinged pink. “You could seriously hurt him if you hit him the wrong way.”
Mandy arched an eyebrow and replied, “I’ll try to remember that.”
Grim, who had watched the exchange from over the top of his newspaper, remarked, “If only so you can do exactly dat de next time de boy bodders you.”
Not to anyone’s great surprise, conversation at the Gryffindor table promptly resumed as if the interruption had not taken place. A few moments passed before the other houses did likewise, including the Slytherins, though one and all cast the occasional glance at Draco’s huddled form.
“Fine,” Draco finally gasped, still recovering and yet to fully regain his breath. Mandy’s blow had been a forceful one, even discounting the sensitive region she had targeted. After dragging himself upright, using Goyle as an aid to pull on, he turned to Harry and challenged, “A duel. Wizard’s duel. Tonight.”
“Accepted. Where and when?” said Ron, speaking up before his friend could reply.
“Midnight,” said Draco. “We’ll meet you in the trophy room, that’s always unlocked.”
Draco then did an about-face and returned to the Slytherin table, though his walk was somewhat bowlegged. Crabbe and Goyle stayed a moment longer, staring blankly at the Gryffindors, before following.
“Ron,” said Harry, watching his nemesis depart. “Did you just get me involved in something I should know about?”
“He’s arranged for you to fight Malfoy in a duel. An illegal one, I might add,” said Hermione.
“Don’t worry,” Grim assured him. “Almost nobody dies in dese tings.”
Those who had heard what was going on turned to stare at the Reaper, who was once again thoroughly engrossed in his newspaper. Nobody was quite sure how to take his apparent lack of concern for Harry’s wellbeing.
“Almost?” asked Mandy.
“Well... not anybody as young as you lot,” said Grim after a moment’s consideration.
“How the devil am I supposed to duel him?” asked Harry. “I don’t know any spells for that!”
“Throw your wand at him and then punch him in the nose,” suggested Ron.
“You really shouldn’t go wandering about the school at night,” insisted Hermione unhappily. “Think of the points you’ll lose if you’re caught.”
“It’s a matter of honour,” countered Ron staunchly.
As his two newest friends, the most normal of the bunch, began a heated argument over the merits of midnight duels, Harry absently jabbed his fork into the upturned rear end of Malfoy’s discarded effigy.
“AAAAHH!!! MY ARSE!! MY ARSE!!”
Everyone stopped whatever they were doing and stared in amazement as Draco writhed and scrabbled about in pain, clutching his buttocks as he screamed. Harry’s eyes eventually turned to the fork-speared doll. Noticing his distraction, everyone in the immediate vicinity was also soon focused on the object of his attention. He contemplatively pulled the fork free. Draco promptly collapsed with a sigh of relief. At least until Harry jabbed the doll again, this time with an audible poink.
“AAAAHH!! NO! NOT AGAIN! MY ARSE!”
Harry removed the fork and Malfoy again breathed a sigh of relief. Harry’s eyes switched from the fork, which he was staring at intently, to the doll and then to Malfoy. He repeated this process several times as the connection was made. Then his gaze settled on Mandy.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” she prodded. “Jab him again!”
Once again Draco began to howl in protest, this time jumping up and running round in small circles, clutching both hands to his bottom. This continued for several seconds before Harry pulled the fork back, at which point Draco relaxed. After a minute passed without a repeat, the greatly embarrassed and blushing Slytherin returned to his seat amidst sniggers from the rest of the students.
“What did you stop for?” asked Mandy, seemingly disappointed.
“Yeah,” agreed Grim. “Dis is hilarious.”
“I thought you might like a go,” answered Harry, offering the fork to Mandy.
“AAAAHH!! MY ARSE!!”
Dumbledore sighed and tried to ignore Draco’s screams, focusing instead on his gravy soaked Yorkshire pudding. Perhaps if he ignored the spreading chaos and mayhem, it would be kind enough to go away. Or at least exclude him from the inevitable carnage that would surely follow.
If not, then it was going to be a very long seven years.
It was fast approaching midnight, and five students and one skeleton were creeping through the halls of Hogwarts. Well, they were trying to creep that is, but were having some slight difficulty. This was mostly because Hermione was reading the riot act to the group, expounding at great length about how utterly against the rules this course of action was. Grim, Ron and Neville were desperately trying to shut her up, or at least get her to yell at them a little less loudly. Mandy and Harry, on the other hand, had solved that problem quite easily. They had simply stopped listening.
“You know, Harry,” said Mandy casually, “I’m surprised.”
“Why’s that?” asked Harry.
“Because usually it’s Dudley that would do something stupid like this,” observed Mandy.
As they had just turned the corner leading up to their destination, the trophy room, Harry did not bother replying. Personally, though, he had to agree with his friend. This was stupid, but Ron had been painfully insistent. The only hope Harry had for getting any sleep tonight was to go along with the redhead.
“He’s not going to come,” said Mandy after they had been left waiting several minutes. “It’s a setup.”
“Maybe he’s chickened out,” suggested Ron.
“No,” said Harry. “Mandy’s right.”
“I told you this was a bad idea,” said Hermione.
“Only if we get caught,” retorted Ron.
Harry and Mandy winced at this statement, even as Grim hung his head in resignation. The skeleton looked up from beneath his robe’s cowl and grumbled, “Now you’ve done it, child.”
Ron looked blankly at them and asked, “What?”
“You just jinxed us,” explained Mandy.
“Thanks, Ron,” said Harry sarcastically.
Suddenly a familiar and already greatly disliked voice cut through the quiet of the night. The school’s caretaker, Argus Filch, was out and about.
“Sniff around, my sweet,” they heard him coo, most likely to Mrs Norris. “They might be lurking in a corner.”
“It’s a setup,” confirmed Mandy.
“Quick,” ordered Harry, waving for the others to follow him. “This way!”
The group fled the trophy room at a brisk jog, and would probably have escape detection. Unfortunately, however, Neville was unlucky enough to trip on a suit of armour, which promptly toppled over with a resounding crash. The resulting racket alerted Filch to their location.
“I’m sorry!” sputtered Neville, stumbling over the fallen armour.
“Longbottom, you yutz,” accused Mandy tiredly.
“There! Come Mrs Norris! After them!”
“Run!” barked Harry.
And run they did. The students and Grim sprinted wildly down corridors and around corners, not really keeping particular track of where they wee going.
“I - told - you,” huffed Hermione as they ran, clutching at a stitch in her side. “I - told - you!”
“Shut up and keep running!” insisted Harry.
As fate would have, their luck did not improve. They rounded a corner, leading to one of the staircases, and promptly bumped into Peeves. The resident poltergeist took one look at Grim and descended into a state of panic not unlike that of their own. Fortunately the apparition had enough sense to flee in the opposite direction, which meant there was a chance Filch would be led away from them.
“AAAAAAAAEEEEII!! THE GRIM REAPER!! PEEVES DON’T WANNA DIE!!”
“Shut up, you idiot!” yelled Mandy over her shoulder as Peeves fled.
“This way!” called Ron.
In too much disarray to consider doing otherwise, everyone followed after the bolting redhead. This proved a mistake, as Ron in due course led them down an unlit corridor that proved to be a dead end, as the only door there was firmly bolted shut.
“It’s a dead end!” wailed Neville.
“Way to go, Ron,” sniped Mandy, glaring venomously at the poor boy.
They could hear Filch catching up to them, his stomping footsteps echoing loudly behind them. From the sound of it, he would be right on top of them in less than a minute.
“What are we going to do? What are we going to do?” Neville asked Grim, tugging frantically at the nonplussed skeleton’s robes.
“This is it!” moaned Ron. “We’re done for! This is the end!”
“Oh, move over,” snapped Hermione, pushing her way between Ron and Harry. She grabbed Harry’s wand from out his hand and took aim at the lock. “Alohomora!”
With a click the latch came free. Not wasting a moment, lest Filch round the corner before they could hide, Harry pushed the door open and urged his friends through it. “Quick - inside!”
They piled in, shutting the door behind them and leaning against it, holding their breaths. It was quiet and they could hear Filch’s hurried footsteps grow louder and then slow. He was close enough that his laboured breathing seemed to blow against the backs of their necks.
“Where’d they get to?” Filch asked. “Do you still have the trail, my lovely?”
“He thinks this door is locked.” said Harry, breathing a sigh of relief as Filch’s footsteps began to recede. “I think we’ll be okay - get off, Neville!” Neville had been tugging on Harry’s sleeve ever since they had entered their hiding place, and it was starting to get on the black-haired boy’s nerves. “What?”
Harry, Mandy and the others directed their attention to what Neville had already spotted and had been trying to alert them to. The realization suddenly came that they were not in just any room, but a corridor. The forbidden corridor on the third floor. And know they knew why it was forbidden.
It was a dog.
A giant, three-headed dog.
Its massive, hulking form seemed to fill the entirety of the room they were currently in. Six eyes, each one as big as a human head, gleamed in the low light and stared intently at them. And who could fail to notice the three sets of steak-knife sized fangs?
“Ai-Chihuahua!” exclaimed Grim, understandably horrified. “Somebody call de dog catcher!”
This only served to draw the beast’s attention to the unfortunate skeleton. Grim’s history with the canine species was liberally populated with bad experiences. In fact, the only dog he got along with to any reasonable degree was Saliva, Mandy’s pet and partly the reason he had been trapped as Harry and Mandy’s friend.
Unfortunately, the three-headed monster in front of them had more in common with Grim’s own dog, Cerberus, than Mandy’s perpetually drooling cowardly dog. It took only one good look at Grim, who was pressing back against the stone wall behind him with such force that he was surely going to leave an impression. After that, Grim’s fate was more or less sealed. With surprising speed for so large a creature, the hound’s left head snapped forward and plucked Grim from where he was cowering.
The left head tossed Grim into the air, where he was snatched by the middle head. The hound shook the protesting skeleton back and forth with great vigour before the left and right heads joined in. In a matter of moments Grim’s robes had been shredded and his limbs separated from each other.
“No! I need dat! Oh, de agony! My legs! I can’t feel my - GAK!!”
Grim’s tortured wails cut off abruptly as the right head clamped its jaws over the Reaper’s skull and deftly worried it free from its place on Grim’s spine. With the irritating noise gone, the giant dog settled down and its individual heads began to gnaw on the bones they had liberated.
“We’re going to die. We’re going to die. Oh God, we’re going to die,” chanted Hermione in terror.
“How?” asked Harry. “Grim’s not exactly in any condition to reap us.” He was not really worried about either Grim’s safety or his own. After all, a giant three-headed dog was rather tame compared to some of the things he and Mandy had encountered over the years.
Hermione, Ron and Neville stared at him as if he had completely lost his marbles. Hermione’s eyes were so wide that they seemed in danger of popping out of her head. Ron was in much the same condition, though he was so pale that his freckles stood out in stark contrast against the rest of his skin. Neville, for his part, had not only wet himself but was also on the verge of passing out from fright.
Mandy, on the other hand, stomped fearlessly up to where the reclining dog was chewing Grim. Harry let her go, as he had some idea of what she had planned, and instead tried to calm Ron and Hermione as they panicked and started hissing for her to come back.
“Okay, dog, you’ve got three seconds to return Grim,” commanded Mandy sternly.
“What’s she doing?!” Ron asked Harry in an alarmed whisper.
“Shh!” replied Harry.
Annoyed at the interruption, the dog’s left head turned and lowered itself until it was level with Mandy. It then gave a deafening roar - so furiously loud that it actually managed to muss the blonde girl’s normally meticulous hair.
“Fine,” said Mandy calmly. “We do this my way then.”
Mandy promptly slapped an open hand firmly across the offending head’s nose. The animal was understandably startled that such a relatively small creature could hurt it and scrabbled up onto its feet. The injured head whined softly and pawed at its nose with one massive paw.
“Okay, now you’ll do as I tell you and heel.”
The two unharmed heads leaned in and snarled at her, but Mandy did not even flinch. Instead, she repeated her earlier response and slapped the middle head in identical fashion. The entire dog reared back this time and all three heads exchanged nervous looks between themselves.
“HEEL!” bellowed Mandy, for that instant sounding more like a high-pitched drill-sergeant than a pretty little girl. To nobody’s surprise, the hound immediately dropped to the floor. Neville, Ron and Hermione did the same. Harry looked down on them with some amusement. Mandy regarded the dog for a moment and nodded with satisfaction. “Good dog,” she said, before commanding, “now spit out the skeleton.”
Exchanging another look, the hound began to reluctantly spit out the bulk of Grim’s skeleton. The arms and legs seemed mostly intact, if a bit disconnected from each other. The ribcage and spine were in even worse condition, resembling an unfinished puzzle, and Grim’s skull was notably missing.
“But - but how?” asked Hermione, staring from the now compliant dog to Mandy in shock.
“Mandy’s good with animals,” shrugged Harry. “Probably because she’s at the top of the food chain.”
Having examined the body parts strewn on the floor before her, Mandy glared ominously up at the waiting dog and ordered in a voice that demanded full obedience, “All of him.”
With a hacking cough, the left head deposited Grim’s skull at Mandy’s feet. Nobody bothered to comment that it had been the right head which had originally devoured this particularly body part.
“Well,” sputtered Grim. “At least he doesn’t need to be dewormed.”
“Ew,” grimaced Mandy.
It was soon Halloween, several weeks since the attempted duel with Malfoy and the subsequent incident with the giant, three-headed dog. The aftermath of the Gryffindor groups’ little adventure had been more subdued than most would expect.
Neville, for instance, was treating the entire episode as if it were a bad dream, one that he fully intended to forget upon waking up. Harry and Ron thought it had been a great deal of fun and spent most of their free time speculating as to what the dog was guarding. Mandy was more-or-less apathetic to the incident, as was Grim. Hermione, on the other hand, seemed very put out with Harry and Ron, refusing to speak with them unless forced to do so. She was perfectly willing to converse to Mandy, oddly enough, as well as Grim, which was perhaps even stranger.
Things finally came to a head that very morning, when Professor Flitwick tried his best to test the first-years how to properly cast a Levitation Charm. He met with limited success, particularly in the case of Seamus Finnegan; who quickly developed the odd habit of causing his feathers to explode in miniature fireballs. The only student to properly master the charm was Hermione, who demonstrated her ability while lecturing Ron on the proper pronunciation of ‘Wingardium Leviosa’.
“It’s no wonder no one can stand her,” complained Ron for all to hear. The lesson had just ended and they were filing out of the classroom. “She’s a nightmare, honestly.”
It was shortly after this pronouncement that Hermione rushed past, head ducked down and tears in her eyes.
“I think she heard you,” commented Harry as they watched her flee the scene.
“So?” asked Ron, looking only slightly guilty. “She must’ve noticed she’s got no friends.”
“What’re we; chopped liver?” demanded Mandy.
Ron grimaced at the thought and said, “Urh, liver - yuck!”
Classes continued for the day, though Hermione did not attend any more of them. It was obvious that Ron’s harsh words were the cause of her disappearance. It was only at the end of the day, while on their way to the Great Hall for the annual Halloween feast, that the small group of Gryffindors learned what had happened to her.
“Don’t you feel even the least bit guilty?” asked Harry, after they heard Parvati telling Lavender about how Hermione was crying in the girls’ toilet.
“No,” asserted Ron as firmly as he could, though anyone could tell his heart really wasn’t in it.
“Do you know what a Philistine is, Ron?” asked Mandy sarcastically.
“Of course I do,” Ron confirmed with a confident nod. Seeing that Mandy seemed surprised by his answer, he explained, “My Aunt Aggie takes it in her tea when she’s constipated.”
Mandy groaned and pinched the bridge of her nose while muttering, “Hermione’s not a know-it-all; you’re an idiot.”
“Come on,” insisted Harry as he grabbed Ron by the elbow. “Let’s get this over and done with.”
“Eh? What? Hey! Where’re you taking me?” asked Ron as Mandy took hold of his other arm.
“To the girls’ toilet,” Mandy told him.
“So dat you can apologise, boy, like you should.”
“You don’t have to come with, Grim,” said Harry, suddenly remembering that the Reaper was accompanying them.
“Why not?” asked Grim, surprised. The children usually expected him to follow them everywhere, regardless of whether he thought it a good idea or not.
“I don’t think Hermione’ll appreciate a skeleton looming in the background right now,” explained Harry.
“I suppose not,” agreed Grim, stroking a bony finger along his pronounced jawbone.
“Get going,” commanded Mandy, still dragging Ron along. She glanced over her shoulder at him and ordered, “And save our regular places at the table.”
“All right,” Grim acquiesced. “I can tell when I’m not wanted.”
Grim promptly dropped out of the small group and made his way to the Great Hall, while the three children proceeded down one of the side corridors that lead to the appropriate girls’ toilet. After only a short walk, they arrived at Hermione’s refuge, though Ron was understandably reluctant to proceed.
“I don’t know,” Ron muttered, “We should leave - I’m only going to make things worse.”
“Get on with it, you coward,” insisted Mandy.
“But... What should I do? What should I say?”
“That you’re sorry, of course,” Harry suggested.
“You should tell her that you’re a ‘prat’ and she’s not really a nightmare,” explained Mandy in slightly more detail than her friend. “Then get down on your knees and beg her to forgive you.”
“On my knees? Beg?”
“Would you rather I punish you instead?”
“NO!” Ron loudly exclaimed, clamping both hands over his groin, doubtless recalling Mandy’s preferred means of dealing with Malfoy.
“Don’t worry,” Harry assured him. “I’m sure Hermione’ll understand.”
“And if she doesn’t?”
Harry paused to consider before answering, “Well, then I’m glad I’m not you.”
It was then that Mandy unexpectedly asked, “Say, do you smell that?”
The trio turned around to find that a massive creature of some sort was lumbering towards them, having somehow managed to sneak up on them undetected. It stood a good twelve feet tall, was covered in dull grey skin and had a build not unlike a boulder. It was also carrying a gnarled wooden club that was almost longer than the children were tall.
It took several moments before they recognised what this imposing beast actually was. Hoss’s classes in Defence tended to focus on the more eclectic monsters and dark creatures, such as Dancing Dinosaur Skeletons, but there had been a short section on the various species of trolls in chapter five of the prescribed book.
“Ron?” asked Mandy with amazing calm.
“Yes?” asked Ron in a petrified squeak, his wide blue eyes not leaving the troll for a second.
“When we get out of this, I’m going to hurt you.”
The troll decided to properly announce its presence with a loud snort of, “GLORFT!!”
Ron, naturally, reacted as expected.
“Get inside! Now!” urged Harry, grabbing Mandy by the shoulder and shoving her towards the door.
The three children ducked frantically into the bathroom, Mandy first, Harry second and Ron trailing in the rear. It was a close thing as the troll made a lumbersome swing with its massive club and almost flattened the boy before he could clear the threshold.
Pushing on the door, Mandy yelled, “Shut it! Lock it!”
“What’s going on? Mandy?” asked Hermione, exiting one of the stalls to see what all the commotion was about. She paused to take in the sight as Harry helped Mandy to push the thick oak door shut. “Harry? Ron? What are you doing in here? This is a girls’ bathroom!”
Neither boy had a chance to offer any explanation, as the troll promptly burst through the door, literally tearing the thick oak off its hinges. Harry, Mandy and Ron jumped out of the way as the huge creature squeezed its way into the room.
Hermione promptly let out a shriek of terror; a sound loud and piercing enough to match the Hogwarts Express. This had the unfortunate effect of drawing the troll’s limited attention away from the others and to her instead. Hefting its massive club, it lumbered further into the bathroom - directly towards the now panicking Hermione.
“Look out!” cried Harry. “Duck!”
With a wild swing of its club, the troll shattered the sink closest to it. Fragments of porcelain and plumbing were sent flying through the air. Hermione recovered enough to flee to the far corner of the room and cower under the last sink in the row, but the troll continued to advance, destroying the sinks one by one.
“It’s going to kill her!” yelled Ron. “We have to do something!”
“Where’s Grim when we need him?” grumbled Mandy, climbing back on to her feet.
Looking about for something, anything, that might help, Harry finally picked up a fallen tap and tossed it at the troll. His aim was true and it struck the back of the troll’s head, bouncing off and clattering to the floor. Sadly, however, the troll did not even notice the impact.
“Confuse it,” Harry told the others.
“Oi, pea-brain!” called Ron, hefting a length of pipe to throw.
“Well, I don’t have a better idea,” Mandy relented, flinging a sizable chunk of shattered porcelain.
“Come on, Hermione, move! Move!” shouted Harry, waving for the bushy-haired witch to duck past the troll and join them on the other side. Hermione, however, was petrified with fear and didn’t budge an inch, pressed up against the wall. Seeing that the troll was almost upon her, Harry made a running jump onto its back. Naturally the troll was a tad agitated by this and began to twist and turn in an attempt to buck the annoying little human off.
Harry, not really able to cast a spell from that position, ended up jabbing his wand into the troll’s right nostril. This only succeeded in angering the troll further, causing it to drop its massive club and attempt to grab hold of him with both hands. Luckily its arms were too thick and muscular to allow it to reach behind it like that.
“Now Mandy! While it’s distracted!”
Mandy dashed forward, ducking in close to the troll as it was distracted by Harry’s actions, leaving it to Ron to grab Hermione. She headed straight to the dropped wooden club and hefted it up with both arms. It was a remarkable display of strength, considering her relatively small size and petite figure.
“Uhn, heavier than it looks,” she grunted.
“Mandy!” yelled Harry, still clinging desperately to the troll’s back. It had nearly snagged him on three occasions already, its stubby fingers just brushing over his robes. “Hurry!”
Positioning herself in front of the troll as it twisted about in its attempts to reach Harry, Mandy spread her legs in a credible approximation of a golfer’s stance. Using all her strength, she swung the massive club back and then round in a perfect stroke. The club buried itself in the troll’s privates with a meaty thunk.
Unsurprisingly the troll continued to grab for Harry, taking several seconds for the impact to register in its dull mind. It promptly froze in place, with an oddly puzzled expression on its face. Then its eyes crossed and rolled up into its head. With a thunderous crash the troll collapsed forward onto the bathroom floor.
Quiet descended as the four students remained in place, the dust settling slowly around them as they stared at the now comatose troll. Hermione and Ron stepped in for a closer look as Harry climbed off his perch, pulling his wand from the creature’s nose once back on his feet.
“Is it - dead?” asked Hermione timidly.
“Dunno,” replied Harry, using the hem of his robes to clean his wand of the greyish goop it had acquired during its stay inside the troll’s nasal cavity. He nudged the fallen creature with a toe. “I don’t think so.”
“I think we should let Grim be the judge of that,” said Mandy, leaning casually against the troll’s club.
It was into this interesting situation that Professor McGonagall, Professor Snape and Hoss Delgado intruded. They stood riveted to the doorway, drinking in the scene with disbelieving eyes. Well, Professor McGonagall did. Hoss graced the four students with a proud grin and a thumbs-up with his cybernetic hand. Snape took one look at them and, spotting Mandy, turned on a heel and fled in the direction he had come from.
“What on earth were you thinking?” asked McGonagall, clutching a hand over her heart. “That’s a mountain troll! You’re all lucky to still be alive - you could’ve been killed! Why aren’t you in your dormitory with the rest of Gryffindor?”
Faced with a livid head of house, the four children could not immediately think of anything to say. Hermione took a step forward from her place in the corner, drawing the professor’s attention to her. It was obvious, just looking at her, that she was about lie through her somewhat oversized front teeth and divert the blame away from her three saviours.
Unfortunately, Mandy beat her to the punch.
“It’s all Ron’s fault.”
November arrived and time flew by with unusual speediness. Before anyone knew it, Quidditch season was upon the school and Harry found himself in need of a broom. He had been practicing diligently on an aging Cumulon Six, which Lee Jordan was kind enough to loan for his use. He did not yet have a broom of his own, thanks to Grim’s assurances that he would be able to supply Harry with a customised broom before the big event.
The Reaper’s exact words were, “It’ll be out of dis world, mon.”
That, however, had been a month ago and Harry had yet to see a single bristle of his promised broomstick. Considering it was now the morning of Gryffindor’s match against Slytherin, this was causing something of a commotion. Especially for Oliver Wood, the Quidditch team’s captain and Keeper.
He had cornered Harry at breakfast and demanded to know where the promised broom was. Upon hearing that Grim had yet to actually produce the broom, he had grabbed Harry by the arm and dragged the younger boy out of the Great Hall. Mandy, Ron and Hermione had followed in their wake.
“Bloody hell, Potter,” bellowed Wood, “We’ve got less than an hour!”
“Don’t worry,” Harry assured his captain. “It’ll be ready before then.”
“How d’you reckon that?” demanded Wood, as they rushed up to the first-year boy’s dormitory. “Even if you went down to Hogsmeade, which you’re not allowed to do, it’d take more than an hour to go, buy the broom and get back.”
“Bonehead’s fast when he needs to be,” said Mandy.
Reaching the top of the stairs, Wood did not delay and immediately tried to enter. To his displeasure the dormitory door was locked, something that was supposedly not possible. He began to pound a fist against the wood in hopes of gaining Grim’s attention.
“Open up in there!” he yelled, hammering the door hard enough to rattle its frame.
“I’m coming, I’m coming! Hold yer thestrals!” called Grim. The door swung inwards and Grim’s tall and imposing figure appeared in the doorway. “Who dares to disturb de Grim Reaper?” he demanded ominously.
It would have been a daunting sight... were the skeleton not wearing a cream-coloured dressing gown, with fuzzy pink bunny slippers. Wood was too worked up about Harry’s broom to take much notice of Grim’s clothes, but Ron and Hermione did blink at the Reaper in disbelief. This was despite the fact that, as Harry’s “pet”, the Reaper was nominally the sixth occupant of that particular room and thus spent a fair amount of time around Ron and the other boys.
Wood leaned in close to Grim, coming off as being quite intimidating despite the fact that he was a full head shorter than the skeleton. “Potter’s broom - the one you were supposed to be getting,” he began sweetly, before roaring like an angry lion, “WHERE IS IT?!”
“Is it dat time already?” asked Grim, scarcely bothered by Wood’s belligerence. He reaching into his dressing-gown and pulled out an hourglass shaped pocket watch.
“YES!!” thundered Wood.
“The match against Slytherin is this morning, Grim,” Harry reminded.
“Fifty-two minutes from now,” confirmed Mandy, having checked her own wristwatch.
“Oh, I hope that’s enough time,” said Hermione fretfully.
“More dan enough, child,” Grim assured her.
“Can we watch?” asked Ron.
“Forget watching - the broom!” insisted Wood, waving his hands about.
“Let me change first,” Grim relented.
Grim summoned his mystical energies, which swirled around him in a wild vortex of purple, green and black light. Once the magic faded away, it revealed that Grim’s dressing-gown had been transformed into his black ‘work’ robes.
“...have the time?” Wood trailed off in surprise. He blinked. “That was quick.”
“Told you,” nodded Mandy.
“Let’s first go down to the common room,” suggested Harry.
“Why?” asked Hermione, as the group turned to follow the Boy-Who-Lived, who had already begun to climb down the narrow staircase.
“I like my dormitory the way it is.”
“I’m not dat bad!” protested Grim.
“Oh, yes, you are,” said Mandy flatly.
“You make it sound as if something bad’s going to happen,” noted Hermione warily.
“Something probably will,” Mandy confirmed.
“I knew I should have just had McGonagall get a broom for you,” grumbled Wood, angrily stuffing his clenched fists into his trouser pockets. “You could’ve had a Nimbus Two Thousand, but noooooo... wants his pet skeleton to make the broom!”
“Oi, what’s this?” asked Fred, who was waiting in the common room with his twin.
“A gathering in the common room?” asked George.
“And we weren’t invited?”
“Shut up, you two!” snapped Wood. “We’re getting Potter’s broom!”
“Oh, this we...”
“...have to see!”
The group of Gryffindors moved away from the stairs and towards the centre of the common room; where there was the most space to work with. Joined by the twins, they arranged themselves to one side of Grim, who took centre stage.
“Well? Come on!” prompted Wood impatiently.
Grim reached out a hand and his scythe materialized with a flash of black light and a crackle of dark energy. “Just don’t interrupt me once I’ve started and make sure dat nobody interferes,” he said seriously. “Bad tings happen when people do dat.”
Hermione, ever inquisitive, immediately asked, “Such as?”
“De extinction of de dinosaurs, for one,” supplied Grim blandly.
“We’ll be quiet,” promised Ron.
“...the grave,” said the twins.
Ron turned to his older brothers and scowled. “Did you have to say ‘grave’?”
Fred nodded solemnly and said, “Yes, otherwise there...”
“...would’ve been grave consequences,” finished George.
This pun was so terrible that everyone groaned out loud, even Grim. Mandy went so far as to slap a hand over her face, which twisted in a pained grimace. After taking a short while to shake the moment off, Grim began to swing his scythe about. Everyone took a few steps back, not wanting to risk accidentally being nicked by the weapon.
“Boom shakalakalaka,” chanted Grim. “Room chakalakalaka! Voom whakalakalaka!”
“Get on with it!” yelled Mandy unexpectedly.
This slight interruption succeeded in nearly scaring the others out of their skins. Especially as a bolt of energy burst from the top of scythe’s haft and blasted a smoking hole in the common room ceiling. Fortunately nothing else happened, save for everyone staring in disbelief at Mandy for doing such a thing despite Grim’s warning.
“Just getting me mojo flowing,” said Grim after a beat.
That settled, Grim stood in a more stately posture and raised the scythe up high. His empty eye sockets burst into otherworldly flames and his deep voice began to reverberate unnaturally, as if from a great distance.
“By de powers of de cold, dark netherworld,” he intoned, “I summon thee; Zarathos, steed of Mephisto. Come, take form and ride once more!”
With this proclamation, Grim slammed the scythe against the floor, unleashing a flash of swirling energy that quickly enveloped the common room and those waiting therein. A shrieking sound, not unlike an approaching jet engine, filled the air and caused those present to slap hands over their ears. The noise reached a crescendo and abruptly cut off with a brilliant burst of light.
Blinking away the spots that filled their vision, everyone found themselves staring in wonder at the broom now hovering at waist height just in front of a smug-looking Grim.
“What the flipping heck is that?” demanded Wood after a moment.
“Dis be de best broom you’ll ever find, mon,” declared Grim proudly. “A genuine underworld original.”
“It’s not haunted or possessed by an evil force, is it?” asked Mandy suspiciously.
“Of course not... well... I don’t tink so.”
“What’s it called?” asked Harry, stepping forward.
It was most certainly an otherworldly creation, unlike any broom to come before it. Its shaft was made from a glistening black and sinewy-looking metal, polished to a gleaming mirror finish. A small silver skull, with long vampiric fangs, sat at the tip of the shaft, its sockets filled with a flickering fire. The tail was made from gnarled and twisted ebony bristles that burned with perpetual but silent flames, giving the impression that the broom was moving even as it hovered in place.
“Cor,” breathed an awe-filled Ron. “What I wouldn’t give for another one of those.”
“If you’re willing to part wit your soul, I can arrange one for you,” Grim informed.
“You can?” asked Ron eagerly.
“I don’t see what all the fuss is about. It’s just a broom,” said Mandy.
“Are you off your rocker?” asked Ron. He jabbed a finger at the broom and declared, “Anyone in their right mind would sell their soul for a broom like that!”
Mandy merely raised an eyebrow and asked, “What makes you think I have one?”
Wood, in the meantime, had been closely scrutinizing and evaluating the demonic broom. He circled round it, scratching his chin thoughtfully as he moved. “I dunno,” he said, some doubt evident in his voice. “Is it any good?”
“Look dere,” said Grim, points at the broom’s handle. “See dat? It’s de mark of de beast.”
The spot the Reaper was indicating was just before the broom’s tail, where a small bronze plaque was attached to the shaft. Everyone leaned in to have a closer look and found that the plaque had the words ‘Beastmaster © - Original’ engraved on it in a bold and vaguely sinister gothic script.
“Well, can’t be worse than any of the school brooms, can it?” said Harry with a shrug. He reached out and plucked the Ghost-Rider from where it was floating. “Let’s go.”
“I only wish you had time to give it a test flight first,” muttered Wood as he followed Harry to the portrait hole.
“No time like the present, eh?” asked Fred.
“First time’s the charm and all that rot,” agreed George.
“In dis case, it’s more an issue of trial by fire,” observed Grim.
“Considering that broom’s tail,” said Mandy, “that’s a distinct possibility.”
After Harry, the twins and their maniacal captain left to join up with the rest of the Quidditch team, Mandy lead the remainder of the group to the pitch. The Gryffindor section of the stands was not all that hard to find, what with the brilliant red and gold banners, flags, rosettes, scarves and other paraphernalia that was being waved about.
Looking at the rest of the stands, they could see that Hufflepuff seem to be supporting Gryffindor with almost as much enthusiasm as the Gryffindors themselves. There were even a couple of banners urging Harry and his team-mates to victory, doubtless a result of Junior’s presence in that house. The boy in question had corralled his fellow first-years, by means of his tentacles, into cheering loudly and frequently for his favourite cousin.
By contrast the Ravenclaws seemed somewhat neutral on the matter, whereas the Slytherins were very vocal in support of their own team. To avoid any chance of rioting breaking out between the rival houses, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw had made a point of settling down between them, thus leaving the two seated on opposite sides of the oval pitch.
Climbing the steps up to a respectable altitude to watch the upcoming match, they found the other Gryffindor first-years waiting for them. Dean, Neville and Seamus had only minutes before finished setting up a large banner proclaiming ‘Potter for President’ with a large Gryffindor lion underneath.
This was something they had spent whatever free time they could find over the previous week working on, as a surprise for Harry’s first game of Quidditch. Dean had done the artwork, quite willingly at first, but with a frightening enthusiasm after Mandy commanded him to do a good job. Hermione had applied the finishing touch, a charm that made their banner flash different colours - but principally red and gold.
Only Lavender and Parvati greeted the group’s arrival, as the three boys were in the midst of a lively conversation. From what could be heard, it appeared that they were discussing Dean’s thus far failed attempts to ‘woo’ Mandy.
“You really should stay out of her way,” cautioned Neville.
“I’m telling you, she likes me, yo!” Dean insisted passionately.
“Not even a little,” disagreed Seamus.
Neville weighed in on the matter. “Well, maybe a little, Seamus,” he offered. “After all, she hasn’t tossed him off the Astronomy Tower yet.”
Seamus shrugged and noted, “We’re only a couple of months into the school year.”
“So, honeybunch,” cooed Dean as Mandy settled into her seat. “What d’you say we--”
Mandy cut off whatever smarmy comment Dean had planned by grabbing his head and slamming him face-first into the railing in front of them. He promptly collapsed, barely conscious, but with a disturbingly happy grin.
“Honestly, he never learns,” sighed Hermione, surprisingly unconcerned by Mandy’s actions.
“Boy’s a masochist,” concluded Grim.
After several minutes of impatient waiting, the teams finally walked out of the changing rooms. They were greeted to loud applause from their respective houses and strode pridefully to the centre of the pitch, where Madam Hooch was waiting. The Gryffindors were quickly able to find Harry amongst his scarlet and gold robed team-mates. He was, after all, the shortest player on the field.
After the captains, Wood and Flint, made a credible attempt to crush each other’s hands into pulp, the flight instructor released the balls and blew the starting whistle.
Lee Jordan, a close friend of the Weasley twins, immediately began his commentary.
“And the Quaffle is taken immediately by Angelina Johnson of Gryffindor - what an excellent Chaser that girl is, and rather attractive too--”
His censor, Professor McGonagall, immediately began her censure.
“Sorry, Professor,” apologised Lee, not sounding the least bit earnest.
The game had barely started, with Gryffindor making a deep stab at the Slytherin goals, when a familiar voice called out not far from where they were watching.
“‘Scuse me, ‘scuse me, pardon, coming through,” Eris rattled off, pushing her way through the throngs of Gryffindors that stood between her and Harry’s friends. She glanced up into the air, where Harry was circling on his new broom and happily exclaimed, “Oh, I say, just in time. Marvellous.”
Everyone was honestly surprised to see that Eris obviously intended on setting up camp in the Gryffindor portion of the stands, rather than with her fellow Slytherins. Oddly enough nobody seemed to be surprised that the blonde-haired goddess was accompanied by Crabbe and Goyle, who appeared to have abandoned Malfoy and were now keeping company with Eris instead, though more in the capacity of pack mules than bodyguards.
“Come on you two,” urged Eris, cheering loudly for Harry and encouraging her thickly built companions to do the same. “Cheer!”
“But--” Goyle tried to protest.
He was cut off as Eris leaned over him and bellowed like an enraged demon, “CHEER!”
The two former-bodyguards turned to the game and began frantically yelling, “Go Potter go! Go Gryffindor! Yay!”
“What’s that all about?” asked Ron.
“Looks like Eris has some new ‘bodyguards’,” said Mandy.
“You mean Crabbe and Goyle are now Eris’ toadies? Ah-hahahaha!” Grim said, breaking into laughter. A few seconds later he paused. “Wait. Dat’s bad. For dem. Ah-hahahaha!”
Meanwhile, Lee was continuing his lively commentary. If he was a bit distracted and concentrating more on certain players than others, well, nobody was complaining too loudly.
“And Johnson back in possession of the Quaffle, a clear field ahead and off she goes--”
Everyone watched intently as Angelina skilfully ducked and weaved her way through the opposition and scored the first goal of the game, putting Gryffindor on the board. Ten - zero.
“Budge up there, move along.”
“Hagrid,” greeted Hermione with a nervous smile. None of the students knew the groundskeeper that well, but he had spoken to them several times since the start of term and had struck up a quick friendship with Harry.
Hagrid squeezed his way across the stands, trying his best not to squash any of the children in his way, with marginal success. Reaching the spot where the Gryffindor first-years, Grim and Eris were camped, he dropped into place next to them, pausing briefly to give Grim a curious stare. Though he was friends with Harry, and by association Mandy, he had never had a chance to speak to the skeletal Reaper before.
“Bin watchin’ from me hut,” he commented as he made himself comfortable. “But it isn’t the same as bein’ in the crowd. No sign of the Snitch yet, eh?”
“Nope,” replied Ron with a shake of his head. “Harry hasn’t had much to do yet.”
As if prompted by Ron’s words, Harry broke into a blindingly fast dive.
“Wait a moment - was that the Snitch?” cried Lee, perking up excitedly. “It is! And Potter’s already in pursuit! Look at him dive!”
Harry was moving so quickly that the Slytherin Seeker, Terence Higgs, was not even in contention. In fact, he came to a complete halt as the blazing streak of hellfire that trailed behind the Ghost-Rider almost set the green-clad boy’s Quidditch robes afire.
“Sweet Merlin, Potter’s setting the pitch on fire! Literally!”
“Grim, I must admit,” allowed Mandy, obviously impressed despite herself. “You outdid yourself with that broom of yours. It’s the fastest thing out there.”
“I’m de Grim Reaper,” said Grim, puffing out his ribcage. “I always deliver on my promises.”
The Slytherin captain, Marcus Flint, unexpectedly rammed into Harry to prevent him from catching the Snitch, sending him spinning out of control. He recovered with a preternatural quickness, thanks to both his own skills and his demonic broom, but his target had disappeared in the few seconds it took to right himself.
The Gryffindors were all on their feet, booing and crying foul at Flint’s actions. Even Eris seemed put out by it, as she admittedly had something of a soft spot for Harry. Dean was insistently calling for a red card and Hagrid was muttering something about cheating Slytherins.
It was Mandy’s reaction, however, that gave her fellows pause. Unlike the rest of the house, she remained impassively in her seat. The only indication of her displeasure was that her dark blue eyes narrowed the barest of fractions and tracked after the Slytherin Captain for several seconds. Some of the nearby seventh-years edged away slightly, as her normal aura of foreboding darkness became tinged with a hint of cold displeasure.
“So - after that obvious and disgusting bit of cheating--”
“I mean, after that open and revolting foul--”
“Jordan, I’m warning you--”
“All right, all right,” a disgruntled Lee acquiesced. “Flint almost kills the Gryffindor Seeker, which could happen to anyone, I suppose...”
The game resumed not much later, when Alicia Spinnet took the penalty shot Madam Hooch had awarded them. It was then that Harry caught sight of the Snitch again. Higgs was almost literally on the other side of the pitch, wary of getting too close to his opponent for fear of the Ghost-Rider’s flaming tail. With both luck and the advantage on his side, Harry immediately tore after the tiny golden ball.
“Potter’s spotted the Snitch again!” yelped Lee, bouncing eagerly in his seat as he watched the spectacle. “And it hasn’t been even five minutes since he was fouled by that over-grown thug Flint!”
“For the last time, Jordan!”
Harry was moving so fast that the spectators were left watching little more than a scarlet blur with a trail of unholy fire following behind it. The Snitch seemed aware that it was in danger of being caught, and was darting about in a frenzy. Play across the field ground to a near halt as the other players paused to watch the chase, the sole exception being Flint, who began yelling and swearing at Higgs for being out of position.
Ducking under a wandering Bludger and then corkscrewing round Adrian Pucey, Harry was slowly but steadily gaining ground on his elusive prey. After another minute of daring aerobatics, the Snitch was almost within reach. He stretched out with one hand, the other hand keeping a firm grip on the Ghost-Rider’s shaft. He strained forward, leaning low over the broom, and could feel the flutter of the Snitch’s wings against his fingertips. It was so close.
The unexpected impact of several small objects against his body almost knocked him off his broom. At first he thought it was a Bludger, but quickly realized that he was being assaulted by things too small and too soft. Also, Bludgers did not tend to stick around and repeatedly beat upon their victims. They were certainly not a bright yellow in colour and did not chitter frantically while they flocked around him.
“Bloody hell,” bellowed Lee, jumping to his feet. “Potter’s under attack by a flock of canaries!”
“Now dat’s someting you don’t see every day,” commented Grim, arching an eyebrow.
“Where th’ devil did they come from?” Hagrid wondered as they all stared incredulously at the sight of Harry being driven away from the Snitch by a dozen or so canaries. Even Mandy reacted in surprise to this unexpected assault, though her eyes quickly narrowed and glared across the pitch to where the homicidal birds had first appeared.
“That was near the Slytherin section of the stands,” she noted icily.
“So?” asked Neville, cringing at her tone of voice.
“I don’t believe in coincidence.”
Mandy immediately grabbed Hagrid’s oversized binoculars out of his massive hands and handed them to Hermione. The bushy-haired girl already knew what was being commanded of her and began using them to search through the stands.
“Er, what are you doing?” asked Ron.
“Looking for Malfoy,” answered Mandy, allowing Hermione to continue searching without interruption.
“Found him,” Hermione exclaimed, locking onto a spot more-or-less directly opposite from where they were sitting.
“Does he have his wand?” Mandy quickly asked.
“I can’t see... no, wait... there it is,” Hermione nodded before lowering the binoculars. She turned to Mandy and reported, “He’s looking unbearably smug and the students around him seem to be congratulating him. He must have conjured the birds and sent them into Harry’s flight path.” She paused and grudgingly admitted, “Very impressive for a first-year. I don’t think I could’ve done that.”
“That’s illegal! What should we do?” asked Ron.
“Leave it to me,” said Mandy. She held out her hand and commanded, “Grim, scythe.”
“Here,” said Grim, handing it over without pause or thought.
Mandy calmly accepted the scythe, levelled it at the Slytherin portion of the stands and took aim.
Hermione looked on with mounting alarm and began to ask, “Um, Mandy? What are you--”
Words cannot sufficiently describe the blast of eldritch energy that streaked across the pitch. The only thing anyone would ever agree on was that it had been an impossibly luminescent shade of black. Something of a contradiction in terms, to be sure, but perfectly understandable when taking into account the source of the blast.
Once the glare of the explosion faded, pieces of debris began to rain down over the Quidditch pitch and stadium. Harry, having by now escaped his feathery attackers, looked on curiously. He then turned to where he had seen his friends cheering him on and graced Mandy with a thankful grin and a thumbs-up. He was the only one to react though, as all of the other players, Slytherin and Gryffindor alike, were frozen in shock. So was almost everybody else, with only a few notable exceptions.
“Full on friendship!” cheered Junior, crushing Ernie and Justin to him with his tentacles.
“AH-HAHAHA! CHAOS!” cackled Eris madly, utterly unconcerned by her fellow Slytherins’ fates.
“I tink you just hideously maimed several dozen of yer schoolmates,” observed Grim dispassionately.
“So what?” said Ron blithely. “They’re only Slytherins.”
“Oh, Mandy, you’re going to be in so much trouble,” moaned Hermione fretfully, but with a hint of resignation. “What are you going to do?”
“Finish watching the game,” replied Mandy, returning the scythe to Grim.
“Fine by me,” said Grim.
“Yeah,” agreed Hagrid.
“Me too,” nodded Ron.
The remainder of the Quidditch match was not nearly as exciting. Mandy’s near total annihilation of the Slytherin section of the stands was a very hard act to follow. With both the Gryffindor and, especially, the Slytherin teams in a state of stunned disbelief, there was not much in the way of game play. Even Oliver Wood, obsessive-compulsive that he was, could barely manage to do more than follow the motions.
Eventually, after several minutes of searching, Harry located the Snitch and chased it down once again - this time without interruption. Lee Jordan, who was inordinately smug over Professor McGonagall’s earlier outburst, counted the final score as being one hundred and ninety points to ten. The Gryffindors were understandably delighted, though their enthusiasm over such a resounding victory was tempered by the sight of the smouldering Slytherin stands.
Eris was the first to depart, but only after wrapping Harry up in a rib-cracking hug and planting several dozen overly dramatised kisses on both cheeks. Ignoring the furious glare Mandy was directing at her, she left for the Hospital Wing to get a better look at the devastation wrought upon the rest of her house. Crabbe and Goyle, having been forced to also congratulate Harry (though fortunately without the hugs and kisses) followed dutifully behind her.
“Barmy that one,” commented Ron, as Eris flounced away.
“Chaotic,” corrected a slightly flushed Harry.
“Friendly though,” said Junior, as he walked up to them. Justin and Ernie were following dutifully behind him, fully aware that if they tried to depart, Junior’s black tentacles were never far away. “She would have made a wonderful Hufflepuff... if she weren’t completely insane.”
“She’s a clingy tramp,” muttered Mandy.
“Good game, cousin,” Junior congratulated, giving Harry a firm and enthusiastic handshake. A wave of his hand prompted Justin and Ernie to extend their own appreciation of the day’s Quidditch spectacle.
“Yeah, you completely destroyed the Slytherins,” said Ernie.
“Literally,” added Justin, making sure to keep his companions positioned between him and Mandy. Apparently he was now more afraid of her than he was of Junior.
The Hufflepuff trio departed shortly after that, giving one final round of congratulations, as Junior dragged his two reluctant friends back to the Hufflepuff dormitories. Apparently he had a small batch of scones prepared for afternoon tea and intended to share them with his housemates, whether they wanted to or not.
“Y’know,” said Ron as they watched Junior lead a despairing Ernie and Justin away, “I always thought I’d die of embarrassment if I was ever sorted into Hufflepuff.”
“Now you don’t think it would’ve been that bad?” asked Harry.
“Hell no!” exclaimed Ron. He shook his head vigorously and said, “Now I know I’d die... just not from embarrassment. That cousin of yours is scary, mate. A duffer through and through, but still; scary.”
“He is part demon,” said Hermione, the closest she would come to agreeing.
“Junior may be a yutz,” observed Mandy, “but I’d rather be in Hufflepuff with him, than in Slytherin with Eris.”
“Here here,” agreed Grim.
“They’re not that bad,” said Harry.
“Did dose canaries knock someting loose in your head, boy?” asked Grim, looking at him incredulously. “Of course dey’re dat bad!”
“Well... maybe they are a little...”
“Bloody bonkers,” asserted Ron.
Hagrid, who had been watching in silent bemusement, clapped his hands together and asked, “Who’s up fer a spot o’ tea to celebrate?”
Grim instantly raised a bony finger and proclaimed, “Just what I need, my good man!”
Once everyone had affirmed their desire for a quick cuppa, the group began to depart the Quidditch pitch and wind their way to Hagrid’s hut. They were just passing by the stairs leading up to the teacher’s box, when loud voices caught their attention. It seemed that the professors were arguing over the events leading to Gryffindor’s victory, in particular Mandy’s assault against the Slytherin stands.
“She was only acting out of defence for her friend,” defended McGonagall.
“She’s a raving, power-hungry sociopath,” Snape interjected hotly.
Dumbledore paused to consider this and then shook his head. “Miss Maxwell does not ‘rave’.”
Snape glared furiously at the headmaster and actually began to wave his arms about in agitation. “This isn’t a joke, Albus! The girl blew up almost every student in my house! Over a flock of birds! We’re damn lucky nobody was killed!”
“Luck had nothing to do with it,” said Mandy flatly as they walked by
The teachers and professors paused in their discussion as the group of the first-year Gryffindors, including Grim and Hagrid, passed them. Mandy, aside from her initial observation, ignored them entirely. The others, somewhat intimidated by the blistering glare Snape was directing towards them, did much the same. Harry gave them an apologetic but unrepentant shrug, coupled with a somewhat embarrassed smile.
Snape’s face rapidly coloured to a shade of red that could match an embarrassed Weasley and he took a threatening step forward. He stumbled for a moment, his right leg buckling for the barest of instants, before standing straight and glowering hatefully at the group. His advance, likely with the intention to commit murder, was halted when Mandy glanced briefly in his direction. For just a fraction of a second, they locked eyes and matched each other’s gaze.
“AAAAEEEII!!” the Potions Master squealed, falling to the ground by Dumbledore’s feet in a quivering heap and sucking desperately on a thumb.
“Never learns,” mumbled Grim as they continued to walk by.
“Severus! Severus!” exclaimed Dumbledore, kneeling beside his friend and trying to shake him out of his stupor.
Ron and Hermione exchanged glances. This was the second time now that Mandy had completely debilitated Snape with nothing more than a glare.
After they had passed well out of earshot of the professors, who were all crowded round their downed colleague, Harry turned to Mandy and, making sure to keep his voice low, asked, “Did you see Snape’s leg?”
“What about it?” asked Hermione, blinking at this apparent non sequitor.
“It’s wrapped in bandages,” said Mandy. “Bloody bandages.”
“You don’t think...” Ron trailed off.
“Snape let the troll into the castle as a diversion,” said Harry.
“To get at whatever the dog’s guarding,” finished Mandy.
“But, he’s a teacher,” Hermione protested, though not as strongly as she would have for any other member of staff.
“And Grim’s Death,” Harry shrugged. “Who would you rather meet in a dark alleyway?”
“Either, as long as it wasn’t Mandy,” was Hermione’s candid reply.
Smirking by way of response, Mandy looped an arm around Harry’s elbow and continued to lead the group on to Hagrid’s hut. They arrived in short order and quickly settled inside, Harry and Mandy taking seats next to each other in one of the gamekeeper’s oversized armchairs. The others settled down wherever they could find a spot and their conversation continued to focus on Snape, rife with speculation as to the nature and cause of his injury.
“Snape’s hurt, yeh say?” asked Hagrid, hefting the steaming teapot in one hand. “Wonder how that happened? Musta been a potions accident.”
“But it was his leg that was bleeding, Hagrid. I can’t imagine how a potions accident would do that,” observed Hermione.
“I say it was that three-headed dog on the third-floor,” said Harry as he absently prodded the rockcake Hagrid had served up before setting the kettle to boil. “He must’ve been trying to get at whatever it’s guarding and got bitten for it.”
Upon hearing this, Hagrid dropped his teapot, but it was so large and sturdy that nary a drop spilled out. The large man looked at the children in pure surprise and asked, “How do yeh know about Fluffy?”
“Fluffy?” repeated Ron disbelievingly.
“Yeah - he’s mine,” nodded Hagrid.
There was a moment of absolute quiet as the children, and Grim as well, stared at Hagrid in sheer disbelief. It was Harry that broke the silence, asking, “You named a giant, three-headed monster dog Fluffy?”
“You’re not exactly right in de head, are you?” asked Grim simply.
Before Hagrid could defend himself, Mandy cut in and asked, “Where’d you get him? And why?”
“Bought him off a Greek chappie I met in the pub las’ year,” Hagrid readily explained. He stooped down a bit to reclaim the teapot. “I lent him to Dumbledore to guard the--” He trailed off abruptly, realizing that he had inadvertently revealed something he shouldn’t have.
“Yes?” urged Harry eagerly.
“Now, don’t ask me any more,” said Hagrid staunchly. “That’s top secret, that is.”
“Come on, Hagrid! Snape’s trying to steal it!” Harry implored.
“Rubbish,” Hagrid scoffed. “Snape’s a Hogwarts teacher - he’s one o’ the people guarding it!”
The was a brief pause in the conversation as Hagrid went round to pour everyone their tea - the sole exception being Mandy, who considered coffee to be a far superior drink. Harry would have argued the point with her, but as he knew Grim also preferred coffee over tea he kept his peace on the matter.
“It must be something very valuable,” mused Mandy, “considering Dumbledore isn’t willing to trust Gringotts with it.”
“Some mystical artefact, I’ll bet,” put in Grim.
“I wonder what, though,” said Hermione.
“And who are they guarding it from?” asked Harry. “Can’t be any ordinary thief, that’s for certain.”
Mandy nodded in agreement. “Hoss chased off Voldemort--”
At the mention of this Hagrid dropped his teapot again and Ron dropped his teacup in his lap. This was not a good thing, as the freshly poured drink was scalding hot and quickly soaked through his trousers. Ron promptly squealed in pain and jumped out of his chair, hopping round Hagrid’s cabin and patting frantically at his soaked groin.
“Gah! Hot! Hot!”
“‘Ere now! Don’t be saying tha’ name!”
“What? Voldemort?” asked Grim, causing Hagrid to flinch and Ron to stumble over his own feet. The skeleton seemed to enjoy their reactions to the dark lord’s name.
“Makes sense, I guess,” said Mandy thoughtfully.
“Now, listen to me, you lot,” said Hagrid, sounding surprisingly stern. He wagged a finger the size of a pork banger at them. “Yer meddling’ in things that don’ concern yeh. You forget about Fluffy, an’ you forget what he’s guardin’, that’s between Professor Dumbledore an’ Nicolas Flamel--” Yet again Hagrid cut off abruptly.
“Aha!” exclaimed Harry triumphantly.
“Nicolas Flamel, whoever he is, has something to do with this,” concluded Hermione.
“De name does sound familiar,” admitted Grim, stroking his chin.
“He must own whatever it is that Dumbledore’s keeping hidden here at the school,” concluded Mandy.
“I don’ suppose yeh’d be willing to forget I said that?”
“Not likely,” said Harry. He turned to his friend and prompted, “Grim?”
“Let me see now,” said Grim.
The Reaper lifted up an arm and reached his opposite hand down the sleeve of his flowing black robes. He rooted about for several minutes, during which time he managed to produce; a rubber chicken, a Horadric staff, some well aged Brie - that promptly began to crawl across the tabletop, a plain gold ring that had an air of incredible heaviness about it and a pair of saucy pink lace knickers that caused Ron to once again drop his refilled teacup in his lap.
“Gaouwch! Hot hot hot hot!”
“Ah! Here it is,” Grim finally declared. With a flourish, he pulled a large and mouldy tome from out of his sleeve and deposited it on the table before them with a thud. It was a very large book, so much so that even Hagrid looked impressed by its bulk.
“Important Dudes of the Wizarding World, 1138th Edition,” read Hermione, leaning in to look at the front cover. She then turned to give Grim an incredulous look.
“A book that thick, there better be an index,” said Mandy, eyeing the tome and ignoring the title.
Grim licked a finger in preparation and started flipping pages at the book’s front. “A... B... C, D... here we are; F,” he paused expectantly and asked, “Now, we’re looking for... who was it?”
Hermione immediately answered, “Flamel, Nicolas.”
“Right,” Grim nodded and ran his bony finger down the list. “Frankenstein, Victor... Fredburger, Fred... Fronkonsteen, Froderick... a page or two back, I tink.”
“‘Ere now,” protested Hagrid weakly. “This really is none o’ yer business.”
“AHA! Flamel! Page 10191.”
Everyone leaned in to have a look as Grim turned to appropriate page. Even Hagrid, though he clearly had some misgivings about their investigation.
“Shouldn’t be doin’ this.”
“Nicolas Flamel,” Hermione read over Grim’s shoulder. “Born in... that can’t be right.”
“1325? That would make him... six hundred and...” Harry trailed off.
“Six hundred and sixty-six years old,” stated Mandy, having no trouble calculating the dates.
“Whoever he is, he’s older than dirt,” observed Ron.
Mandy almost immediately found herself focused on a highly detailed diagram drawn alongside the small picture of Flamel himself. Sensing that this was important, she poured over the text and read out loud for all to hear. “Maker of the Philosopher’s Stone, an alchemical construct capable of turning any metal into pure gold...”
“So that’s what’s being guarded in the third-floor corridor; the Philosopher’s Stone,” said Hermione. She then frowned and asked, “But why would You-Know-Who want it? I mean, what use is gold to a spectre?”
“There must be something...” said Harry.
“Now I remember,” said Grim, snapping his fingers. “De Stone can be used to make de Elixir of Life.”
“A legendary potion that makes the drinker immortal,” Mandy read from the book.
“One of those hard-to-get clients, eh, Grim?” asked Ron teasingly.
Grim glowered and grumbled, “Man’s a menace. Worse dan Elvis.”
“He’s not after the Stone because it can make gold,” concluded Harry.
“He wants to use it to bring himself back to life,” finished Mandy.
A tense atmosphere settled over Hagrid’s hut as the import of this revelation slowly sank in. Ron and Hermione were the most perturbed by it all, as was their host. Harry and Grim both seemed rather impartial, as if it were nothing out of the ordinary. Considering their past adventures, a magical stone was par for the course and scarcely worth such concern. Mandy, on the other hand, had a strange gleam in her dark blue eyes.
Finally the silence was broken.
“So,” Hagrid hefted his massive teapot. “Who wants a refill?”
After finishing their tea with Hagrid, and pretending the same with the rockcakes, the four students and Grim returned to the castle. It was still relatively early in the day, only a little past lunch, but their fellow Gryffindors had already arranged an enthusiastic victory celebration in the common room.
On their way back to Gryffindor Tower, Harry waited until they were in one of the less-travelled corridors, where there was little chance of being overheard, before turning to his long-time friend. He gave her a quizzical look and asked, “So, what’s the plan?”
“Plan? What plan?” asked Mandy, affecting a puzzled expression.
“Mandy, I might not be a genius like Hermione or an evil genius like you, but I’m not a moron,” said Harry dryly.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mandy reiterated.
“A magical object that can give limitless riches and immortality?” asked Harry, raising his eyebrows. He shook his head, chuckling with bemusement, and said, “Of course you’re going to steal it before Voldemort does.”
Mandy did not exactly grimace, but her frown deepened a fraction and her lips curled down slightly. Harry was correct in his assumption. She sighed softly and, essentially admitting her culpability, asked, “I suppose you want me to leave it alone?”
Harry looked up at the arched stone ceiling as they slowly climbed their way up the staircase leading to the Fat Lady’s portrait. After a minute or so of deliberation, Harry shrugged and asked, “You still want to rule the world, don’t you?”
“Of course,” Mandy nodded curtly.
“Well then,” Harry grinned roguishly, “what are we waiting for?”
Mandy did not smile. Ever. But she did occasionally smirk. Receiving carte blanche from Harry to proceed with her plans, however, brought the ghost of a self-satisfied grin to her face.
Author’s Note: As stated above; here it is. The last part of the year is mostly done and just needs to have a couple of scenes fleshed out. Anyways, I hope you enjoyed reading this little drabble and hope to someday add a few more to the list. Be seeing you.
A Little Extra
Eris was reclining lazily upon the divan she had conjured up inside the Slytherin common room. Greg Goyle and Vincent Crabbe stood behind her, one fanning a massive palm leaf and the other peeling grapes and hand feeding them to her.
“I’m bored,” she declared, a golden apple appearing in one hand.
Draco Malfoy, who had been making a show of ignoring her and her new retainers, wet his trousers. This was quickly followed by a girly squeal and a frantic sprint to the exit into the dungeons, apparently uncaring that this would reveal to the rest of the castle the large wet spot growing round his crotch.
While the blonde boy’s reaction was perhaps the most extreme, everyone else made rather hurried departures as well.
A bored goddess of chaos and discord was never a good thing.
“Come on, boys,” she commanded, hopping to her feet. “Let’s go visit little Ronny-Wonny.”
“Uh, why?” asked Goyle as he set down the palm leaf fan.
“Because,” explained Eris patiently, “I want to have another look at his big... hands.”
With resigned sighs, the two young wizards trailed after their patron. It was moments like these that had them almost -almost- miss working for Draco instead.
Unfortunately it was not like they had a choice in the matter.