The second day of Hogwarts, and as usual, Alex woke up late. Alex slowly rolled out of her bed and quickly changed into her home clothes. She drifted to the Great Hall by using a spell: "I don't wanna miss my toast, let me drift to the Great Hall like a ghost!" She forgot the way to the Great Hall, so she drifted through walls, ceilings, and finally found it after ten minutes of searching.
She floated and sat in between Harry and Ron, where she assumed the space in between them was reserved for her. Everyone gaped at her, including Harry and Ron. She shrugged, and said while reaching for the table, "I couldn't wake up. Plus, walking here included exercise. I don't do exercise." Harry looked as those he was torn between laughing and ignoring that comment. He chose the latter, but his mouth was turned up in a badly suppressed smile. Ron just looked at her, envious and chuckled slightly.
The toast kept slipping through her fingers and she grew frustrated. "Wha -?" Alex looked at her fingers, and laughed. "I'm still a ghost!" She took out her wand, the only solid object on her. After a while of thinking, she let out a triumphant, "Aha! I'm through being a ghost, let me eat my toast!" She turned back to normal, and everyone gaped at her again. She continued eating her toast, and ignored everyone.
Harry tapped her shoulder, and whispered in her ear, "Um, Alex? Half the school is staring, including the teachers." Alex shrugged. "Then why isn't the other half staring?" Harry let out a snort, before continuing eating.
Then, Alex realised that a few of the whispers weren't about her. They were about Harry too. She sent him a questioning look, as he seemed to have realised at the same point of time. His jaw set, and continued eating his breakfast, a little more forcefully than before.
After breakfast, they headed for their first class, Harry and Ron needing to drag Alex off the bench. Naturally, she complained all the way to the classroom. As it turns out, studying at Hogwarts was a lot of hard work!
They had to study the night skies through their telescopes every Wednesday at midnight and learn the names of different stars and the movements of the planets. Three times a week they went out to the greenhouses behind the castle to study Herbology, with a dumpy little witch called Professor Sprout, where they learned how to take care of all the strange plants and fungi, and found out what they were used for.
Easily the most boring class was History of Magic, which was the only one taught by a ghost. Professor Binns had been very old indeed when he had fallen asleep in front of the staff room fire and got up next morning to teach, leaving his body behind him. Binns droned on and on while they scribbled down names and dates, and got Emetic the Evil and Uric the Oddball mixed up.
Professor Flitwick, the Charms teacher, was a tiny little wizard who had to stand on a pile of books to see over his desk. At the start of their first class he took the roll call, and when he reached Harry's name he gave an excited squeak and toppled out of sight. Professor McGonagall was again different. Alex had been quite right to think she wasn't a teacher to mess with.
She gave them a talking-to the moment they sat down in her first class. "Transfiguration is some of the most complex and dangerous magic you will learn at Hogwarts," she said. "Anyone messing around in my class will leave and not come back. You have been warned." Then she changed her desk into a pig and back again. They were all very impressed and couldn't wait to get started, while Alex rolled her eyes, "I can already do that." Nobody paid attention, for they were still 'gushing' over McGonagall's 'neat spells'.
By the end of the lesson, only Hermione Granger and surprisingly, Alex had made any difference to their matches; Professor McGonagall showed the class how it had gone all silver and pointy and gave both of them a rare smile. The class everyone had really been looking forward to was Defense Against the Dark Arts, but Quirrell's lessons turned out to be a bit of a joke. His classroom smelled strongly of garlic, which everyone said was to ward off a vampire he'd met in Romania and was afraid would be coming back to get him one of these days.
His turban, he told them, had been given to him by an African prince as a thank-you for getting rid of a troublesome zombie, but they weren't sure they believed this story. For one thing, when Seamus Finnigan asked eagerly to hear how Quirrell had fought off the zombie, Quirrell went pink and started talking about the weather; for another, they had noticed that a funny smell hung around the turban, and the Weasley twins insisted that it was stuffed full of garlic as well, so that Quirrell was protected wherever he went.
Alex strongly supported this rumour, and even joked that it was not garlic, but rotten cheeseburgers. To make matters worse, Draco's creepy flirting had gotten even more repulsive. When he found out Alex was a "half-blood", he stopped the flirting for a while much to Alex's relief. After a few months, the flirting continued and Alex grew more and more frustrated with the homework and Draco's never ending flirting.
One day, she finally cracked. She pointed her wand at Draco. "Have fun on Mars! Buh-bye! Transportium Nextorbitorium!" Draco disappeared with a flash.
Harry and Ron looked at her in shock. When they asked where he went, Alex shrugged and said, "Mars". Ron laughed so hard his face became red. Harry chuckled, then his eyes widened in realisation. "Alex, please tell me he can breathe! As much as I hate him, I don't think he should die."
Alex scoffed, "Pfft, you think I'd let him die just like that? This spell ensures that he can't die! I think, but let's not focus on minor details!" Harry gave her a disapproving look. "Fine! I'll bring him back… BUT it was unwillingly, feel free to tell him that!" Harry shook his head in amusement, and with a wave of her wand, Alex brought him back. She narrowed her eyes at a trembling, pale-faced Draco. He scurried off, looking like he going to pee his pants. Ron roared louder at this, and fell on the floor laughing.
"What have we got today?" Harry directed this question at Ron as he poured sugar on his porridge. "Double Potions with the Slytherins," said Ron. "Snape's Head of Slytherin House. They say he always favours them - we'll be able to see if it's true."
"Wish McGonagall favoured us," said Harry. Professor McGonagall was head of Gryffindor House, but it hadn't stopped her from giving them a huge pile of homework the day before. Just then, the mail arrived.
Alex snorted and exclaimed, "I don't see why you guys can't just use mailius spontaneous! All these owls cost so much people can just use the money to buy presents! For me!" Harry and Ron snorted at that.
Today, Hedwig fluttered down between the marmalade and the sugar bowl and dropped a note onto Harry's plate. Harry tore it open at once. It said, in a very untidy scrawl: Dear Harry, I know you get Friday afternoons off, so would you like to come and have a cup of tea with me around three? I want to hear all about your first week. Send us an answer back with Hedwig. Hagrid
Harry borrowed Ron's quill, scribbled Yes, please, see you later on the back of the note, and sent Hedwig off again. It was lucky that they had tea with Hagrid to look forward to, because the Potions lesson turned out to be the worst thing that had happened to them so far - especially Harry.
At the start-of-term banquet, Harry had gotten the idea that Professor Snape disliked him. By the end of the first Potions lesson, he knew he'd been wrong. Snape didn't dislike Harry - he hated him.
When Alex heard, she laughed and said, "If my mum hears about this, she's gonna flip!" Curious, Ron asked, "Why?" "Because! I don't exactly have a spotless reputation, and she'd probably think I'm going to England jail!" Ron chortled, and Harry's shoulders shook with silent laughter. "England jail?" Ron asked through his laughter. "Well my dad would just assume I'm going to jail for zapping on A JACKET!" Alex almost shouted, voice laced with sarcasm. When Harry and Ron looked at her in disbelief, she shook her head. "Don't ask."
It was colder in the dungeons than up in the main castle, and would have been quite creepy enough without the pickled animals floating in glass jars all around the walls. When they walked in, Harry and Ron immediately sat next to each other, leaving Alex to sit next to Hermione as a last resort. Ron mouthed, "Sorry." and Harry gave her a pitying look.
She shot both of them a dirty look before reluctantly sitting next to Hermione. She gave Alex a scathing look, while Alex stuck her tongue out at her when her back was turned. Snape, like Flitwick, started the class by taking the roll call, and like Flitwick, he paused at Harry's name. "Ah, Yes," he said softly, "Harry Potter. Our new - celebrity." Draco Malfoy and his friends Crabbe (sounds like crabby) and Goyle (just plain stupid, I mean, who names their kid GOYLE?) sniggered behind their hands. Snape finished calling the names and looked up at the class. His eyes were black, but weren't filled with warmth like Hagrid's. It was creepy.
"You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion making," he began. He spoke in barely more than a whisper, but they caught every word - like Professor McGonagall, Snape had the gift of keeping a class silent without effort." "As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses... I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death - if you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach."
More silence followed this little speech. Harry and Ron exchanged looks with raised eyebrows. Hermione Granger was on the edge of her seat and looked desperate to start proving that she wasn't a dunderhead.
"Potter!" said Snape suddenly. "What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?" Powdered root of what to an infusion of what? Okay, now Alex was getting mad at him. Harry glanced at Ron, who looked as stumped as he was; Hermione's hand had shot into the air. "I don't know, sir," said Harry. Snape's lips curled into a sneer. "Tut, tut - fame clearly isn't everything." He ignored Hermione's hand.
"Let's try again. Potter, where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?" Hermione stretched her hand as high into the air as it would go without her leaving her seat, but Harry didn't have the faintest idea what a bezoar was. He tried not to look at Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle, who were shaking with laughter. "I don't know, sir."
"Thought you wouldn't open a book before coming, eh, Potter?" Harry forced himself to keep looking straight into those cold eyes. He had looked through his books at the Dursleys', but did Snape expect him to remember everything in One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi?
Snape was still ignoring Hermione's quivering hand. "What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?" At this, Hermione stood up, her hand stretching toward the dungeon ceiling. Alex couldn't take it anymore. She stood up, despite Hermione's disapproving hisses in her ear. "Hey dude, stop being so mean to him! Why don't you ask Hermione? I bet she knows! Plus, you're interrogating him like you expected him to learn the entire textbook! I bet most people here haven't even opened their textbooks! That's just mean, cruel, and stupid!" she lectured Snape.
A few laughs rang through the dungeons, but Snape, however, was not pleased. "Sit down," he snapped at Hermione and Alex. "For your information, Potter, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are the same plant, which also goes by the name of aconite. Well? Why aren't you all copying that down?"
While everyone rushed to get out their parchments and quills, Alex crossed her arms with a huff and refused to copy anything down. After Hermione's constant nagging though, she took out her parchment and quills reluctantly, and started to scribble it all down. Snape approached her, and she looked up with all the hate she could muster in one look directed at him. "One point from Gryffindor for your cheek, miss… Russo. Ah, I see, the… American. And one more for Potter's arrogance, seeing as he is unable to open a simple book." He spat.
Alex seethed, and balled her hands into fists. Just before she was about to stand up in anger and tell him off again, Hermione grabbed her hand, pulling her down, and hissed in her ear, "Don't! You'll just get more points deducted from Gryffindor!"
Snape put them all into pairs and set them to mixing up a simple potion to cure boils. He swept around in his long black cloak, watching them weigh dried nettles and crush snake fangs, criticizing almost everyone except Malfoy, whom he seemed to like. He was just telling everyone to look at the perfect way Malfoy had stewed his horned slugs when clouds of acid green smoke and a loud hissing filled the dungeon.
Neville had somehow managed to melt one of Harry's roommates, Seamus's cauldron into a twisted blob, and their potion was seeping across the stone floor, burning holes in people's shoes. Within seconds, the whole class was standing on their stools while Neville, who had been drenched in the potion when the cauldron collapsed, moaned in pain as angry red boils sprang up all over his arms and legs.
"Idiot boy!" snarled Snape, clearing the spilled potion away with one wave of his wand. "I suppose you added the porcupine quills before taking the cauldron off the fire?" Neville whimpered as boils started to pop up all over his nose. "Take him up to the hospital wing," Snape spat at Seamus. Then he rounded on Harry and Ron, who had been working next to Neville. "You - Potter - why didn't you tell him not to add the quills? Thought he'd make you look good if he got it wrong, did you? That's another point you've lost for Gryffindor." This was so unfair that Harry opened his mouth to argue, but Ron kicked him behind their cauldron. "Don't push it," he muttered, "I've heard Snape can turn very nasty."
As they climbed the steps out of the dungeon an hour later, Harry's mind was racing and his spirits were low. "Cheer up." said Ron, "Snape's always taking points off Fred and George. Let's go meet Hagrid!" At five to three they left the castle and made their way across the grounds. Hagrid lived in a small wooden house on the edge of the forbidden forest. A crossbow and a pair of galoshes were outside the front door. When Harry knocked they heard a frantic scrabbling from inside and several booming barks. Then Hagrid's voice rang out, saying, "Back, Fang - back."
Hagrid's big, hairy face appeared in the crack as he pulled the door open. "Hang on," he said. "Back, Fang." He let them in, struggling to keep a hold on the collar of an enormous black boarhound. There was only one room inside. Hams and pheasant were hanging from the ceiling, a copper kettle was boiling on the open fire, and in the corner stood a massive bed with a patchwork quilt over it.
"Make yerselves at home, said Hagrid, letting go of Fang, who bounded straight at Alex and started licking his ears." This is Ron," Harry told Hagrid, who was pouring boiling water into a large teapot and putting rock cakes onto a plate. "Another Weasley, eh?" said Hagrid, glancing at Ron's freckles. I spent half me life chasin' yer twin brothers away from the forest."
The rock cakes were shapeless lumps with raisins that almost broke their teeth, but Harry and Ron pretended to be enjoying them as they told Hagrid all about their first lessons. Meanwhile, Alex pretended to chew it, but spit it out on the floor when Hagrid's back was turned. Fang rested his head on Harry's knee and drooled all over his robes. Harry and Ron were delighted to hear Hagrid call Fitch "that old git." "An' as fer that cat, Mrs. Norris, I'd like ter introduce her to Fang sometime. D'yeh know, every time I go up ter the school, she follows me everywhere? Can't get rid of her - Fitch puts her up to it."
Harry told Hagrid about Snape's lesson. Hagrid, like Ron, told Harry not to worry about it, that Snape liked hardly any of the students. "But he seemed to really hate me." "Rubbish!" said Hagrid. "Why should he?" Yet Harry couldn't help thinking that Hagrid didn't quite meet his eyes when he said that. "How's yer brother Charlie?" Hagrid asked Ron. "I liked him a lot - great with animals."
Harry wondered if Hagrid had changed the subject on purpose. While Ron told Hagrid all about Charlie's work with dragons, Alex picked up a piece of paper that was lying on the table under the tea-cozy. It was a cutting from the Daily Prophet: GRINGOTTS BREAK-IN LATEST Investigations continue into the break-in at Gringotts on 31 July, widely believed to be the work of Dark wizards or witches unknown. Gringotts goblins today insisted that nothing had been taken. The vault that was searched had in fact been emptied the same day. "But we're not telling you what was in there, so keep your noses out if you know what's good for you," said a Gringotts spokes goblin this she showed it to Harry, his eyes widened and Alex envisioned clogs turning in his head.
Harry remembered Ron telling him on the train that someone had tried to rob Gringotts, but Ron hadn't mentioned the date. "Hagrid!" said Harry, "that Gringotts break-in happened on my birthday! It might've been happening while we were there!" Alex's eyes widened as she soaked in the facts. She was at Diagon Alley that day!
There was no doubt about it, Hagrid definitely didn't meet Alex or Harry's eyes this time.
He grunted and offered them another rock cake. Both Harry and Alex read the story again. The vault that was searched had in fact been emptied earlier that same day. Hagrid had emptied vault seven hundred and thirteen, if you could call it emptying, taking out that grubby little package. Had that been what the thieves were looking for? As Harry and Ron walked back to the castle for dinner, their pockets weighed down with rock cakes they'd been too polite to refuse, while Alex was muttering about brushing her teeth.
Harry thought that none of the lessons he'd had so far had given him as much to think about as tea with Hagrid. Had Hagrid collected that package just in time? Where was it now? And did Hagrid know something about Snape that he didn't want to tell Harry