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AU. When Sirius and Remus go looking for Peter Pettigrew, they make a wrong turn and someone else finds him first. Eight years later, Sirius owns a book store and Remus manages it for him. When Harry stumbles into the store and they find out the truth, they decide it's time to be Stealing Harry. (SB/RL slash relationship in later chapters.)

Author Notes:

After far too long a period (Ishtar's fault, not Copperbadge's), we rejoin the adventures of Harry, Draco, Neville and Padma already in progress ...

A/N: At one point in this chapter I have used dialogue or description verbatim from The Prisoner of Azkaban. This is intentional, as Laocoon's Children does run parallel to the books. In this instance, Hagrid's brief lecture on the Hippogriff is taken from canon.

***

Thursdays, Harry supposed, were going to be outdoors sort of days.

He had Herbology in the morning, a double-class with Ravenclaw, and then in the afternoon he and Draco both had Care of Magical Creatures with Hagrid. He knew the gigantic gamekeeper well enough to know that Care of Magical Creatures was bound to be...interesting. No one, so far, had been able to get their Monster Book of Monsters open, and most of them had been forced to lock it in a box or tie it shut with various shoelaces and belts. Draco had tied his up with string, which it had then gnawed through and gone on to eat two pairs of socks before he'd been able to get it under control again. All through breakfast that morning he kept glancing apprehensively at his bag, which was moving as the Monster Book inside rattled around restlessly. Neville was gloating just a little that he'd decided not to take the class.

"I'd kill anything I was supposed to care for, anyway," he said. "Dunno how Trevor's survived this long. He's a very hardy toad."

Herbology wasn't really an outdoors class, but it felt like it; all that time in the humid, stuffy greenhouses meant that Harry and Padma showed up to the Great Hall damp and tired -- and not all that interested in lunch after a morning of squeezing various pods and studying diverse saps.

"Ready to go, then?" Draco said, shouldering his bag as lunch ended. "Maybe Hagrid'll let us leave our books with him."

"Doubt it," Harry replied. "See you in Ancient Runes, Padma!"

It was nice to get out of the castle after lunch and stroll down through the grounds to Hagrid's hut near the forest. It was a clear day, slightly windy, and the grass was still wet underfoot, dampening their shoes and the edges of their robes. Hagrid was outside, a cluster of students already gathered around him. Harry heard Theo's voice drift back on the wind.

"...open them!" the Slytherin was saying, sounding injured.

"Yeh haf ta stroke their spines!" Hagrid replied. "Din' anyone get theirs open?"

Harry reached into his bag and stroked the spine on his Monster Book of Monsters, unbuckling the binding around it as he did so.

"I did," he said with a smirk, taking the book out of his bag. It fell open in his hand, making little purring noises.

"Me too," Draco chimed in, fumbling a little with his. Theo looked murderous.

"See? Gen'le as can be," Hagrid said, taking Harry's book in his huge hands and showing it to Theo. It growled a little and made a half-hearted snap at the boy's face. "All right, yehs, put 'em away for now an' follow me!"

"Show-off," Theo muttered as he passed Harry, who smiled serenely and fell into step behind the other Slytherins, just ahead of the Hufflepuffs. To his surprise, Padma appeared at his elbow.

"Did I miss anything?" she asked breathlessly.

"I thought you had Charms!" Draco said, surprised. "Don't Ravenclaws and Gryffindors get Magical Creatures on Fridays?"

"Sure, but Friday I'm in Divs with you," Padma said. She hooked her thumb under the little golden chain around her neck, and Draco's eyes widened. "I'd rather have a busy Thursday and be able to sleep a bit on Friday, so I got permission to take class on Thursdays."

"We have to talk about that -- "

"Don't say it!" Padma said, clapping her hand over Harry's mouth. Then she blushed and pulled back. "We're not supposed to talk about it, remember?"

Harry didn't reply; they'd reached a small paddock at the very edge of the forest, beyond which a clearing cut a swath through the trees. Grazing in the clearing was a herd of what looked like horses, but horses with massively misshapen heads and shoulders. One of them had been cut out of the herd and was serenely strolling around the paddock itself, stopping occasionally to inspect a post or a bit of interesting wildlife.

Up close, Harry could see that it wasn't a horse at all; what he'd taken for deformed shoulders were furled wings. Instead of a normal horse's neck and head, the creature had an elongated neck covered in soft downy feathers, and the head of some kind of bird of prey -- a hawk, maybe an eagle. Its beak looked razor-sharp, and followed the colouration of the rest of the animal: deep steel grey with white dapples. As they approached, it turned its head sharply to reveal one large, brilliant orange eye.

"Look at its hooves," Draco whispered. Harry looked down. Each hoof was cloven, with a talon above it, and all three looked dangerous enough to kill.

There was also a thick leather collar around its neck, attached to a chain which was hooked on a simple locking ring screwed into one of the posts. Hagrid unhooked the chain and held it in his massive hands, standing on the other side of the fence from the students, who were all leaning on the wooden crossbeams, looking at the animal curiously. It looked back.

"This," Hagrid said proudly, "Is Buckbeak. He's a Hippogriff."

"Oh, wow!" Padma whispered, looking entranced. Harry glanced at her, then turned to Draco; he was watching her too.

"Now, firs' thing yeh gotta know abou' hippogriffs is, they're proud," Hagrid continued. "Yeh always wait fer the hippogriff ter make the firs' move. Yeh walk toward him, and yeh bow, an' yeh wait. If he bows back, yeh're allowed ter touch him. If he doesn' bow, then get away from him sharpish, 'cause those talons hurt."

In demonstration, Hagrid reached into his pocket and took out a sizeable dead rat. Amid cries of "oh, gross!" he threw it into the air and the hippogriff leapt upwards with a flutter of its wings, neatly catching the rat between talon and hoof. It ripped it in half with its other talon and commenced eating it happily.

"So," Hagrid said, turning back to them and rubbing his hands. "Who's first then?"

Everyone looked apprehensive. Harry saw Theo smirking back at him out of the corner of his eye, and was about to volunteer when Padma stepped up onto the lowest bar of the paddock fence.

"I'll go," she said. Draco tugged on her sleeve, but Padma gently shook him off and climbed over the fence.

"Padmer! Good on yeh," Hagrid said proudly, as the rest of the class muttered about what a Ravenclaw was doing in a Slytherin-Hufflepuff class. "Now. Stand there, and remember not to blink too much. Hippogriffs don't trust yeh if yeh blink too much..."

Harry saw Padma immediately blink, then wince. Buckbeak stood very still, studying her with his keen orange eyes.

"I can't look," Draco said, both hands covering his face. "She's going to die."

"She's not going to die, nobody dies at Hogwarts anymore," Harry said, but he knew how unconvincing he sounded.

"There yeh are now. Now bow," Hagrid said, one hand on Padma's back. She bowed deeply, her braid falling over one shoulder, and stopped herself from flicking it back when she stood up. Buckbeak sidled back a step.

"Easy now, easy..."

Padma took a step forward, boldly, and bowed again. This time, Buckbeak screeched a little, but after a moment, when Padma didn't move, he bowed back.

"Righ', now yeh can touch 'im," Hagrid gave Padma a slight push forward, and she slowly stretched out her hand to touch his beak.

"It's warm," she said, startled. Buckbeak closed his eyes as she stroked the fluffy feathers just below where his beak ended.

"Yeh like a ride?" Hagrid said. Padma nodded, entranced. "Righ' then..."

He gestured to Buckbeak and the hippogriff knelt on his front legs, extending both wings. Hagrid gave her a slight boost as she put her foot on the top of Buckbeak's wing and hoisted herself lightly onto his back.

"Where do I hold on?" she asked, and Hagrid grinned.

"Anywhere yeh can!" he said, giving Buckbeak a slap on the rump. Most of the students shrieked as his wings suddenly beat the air and the hippogriff leapt into a running start. Padma looked like she was grinning, but it was hard to tell; her hands were both gripping the long, durable-looking feathers on the back of Buckbeak's neck. Just before reaching the end of the paddock, Buckbeak gave a second mighty leap and pumped his wings furiously, while Padma whooped and clung tight. Harry watched in awe as the hippogriff got fully airborne and pulled into a hairpin curve around the paddock. The other hippogriffs in the clearing looked up and screamed encouragement.

It didn't look like a comfortable ride; Harry watched Padma's braid bounce up and down as she was rocked by the beating of the wings just behind her hips. He couldn't see her face, but her shouts didn't sound like they were in fear.

Buckbeak circled the paddock and dove suddenly, pulling his legs up as he skimmed the clearing ground. Just before he would have collided with the fence, he swung upwards slightly, then crashed down into the paddock with all four feet going.

When he finally stopped, Padma half-slid from his back and staggered towards Hagrid. Her usually tidy hair was windblown and wispy, but she looked ecstatic.

"She didn't die!" Draco said, in a tone of utter disbelief. Harry laughed.

"That was brilliant!" she called, running back to the fence. "I nearly fell off like a dozen times!"

"AWrigh', everyone around to the clearing," Hagrid said, gesturing them towards the other hippogriffs. The rest of the class, reassured by Padma's success, began slowly approaching the animals, bowing so often that Harry, who could see the whole clearing, nearly laughed. He grabbed Draco and pointed to an enormous black hippogriff that nobody else had approached yet.

"Let's take that one," he said. "Hey Pansy!"

Pansy Parkinson looked around.

"You partner with Padma!"

Pansy looked put out -- she'd been gesturing at Millicent Bulstrode to be her partner -- but still obeyed, walking over to where Padma was once more bowing to Buckbeak.

Harry approached the enormous black hippogriff, trying not to blink, and bowed slowly. Next to him, Draco followed suit. Its bright green eyes flicked back and forth between them, and then it bowed low. Harry put out a hesitant hand and stroked its beak. Draco touched the feathers below its eye.

"They're not so scary up close," Harry said calmly.

"Speak for yourself," Draco replied. As if to prove his point, the hippogriff jerked backwards with a start.

"That one's a bit testy," Hagrid said. "Come over an' try Buckbeak, Padmer's gentled him a treat."

Harry and Draco joined Padma and Pansy, who were looking uneasily at each other over Buckbeak's shoulders as they scratched his wingjoints. Harry hung back while Draco bowed, received his bow in turn, and was allowed to come closer.

"That was some good flying," he said. Buckbeak's eyes rolled and he pulled away, nearly knocking Pansy over. Draco froze, startled. Padma stepped backwards while Pansy ran for the comfort of the paddock fence.

"Bow again," Hagrid said, looking worried. Draco bowed. Buckbeak whistled, then bowed.

"There's a good -- hoo!" Draco leapt deftly backwards as Buckbeak turned and snapped.

"One more try," Hagrid said encouragingly. Draco put out his hand and Buckbeak allowed him to smooth over some ruffled feathers on his neck. For a few seconds, all was well.

"That's better," Draco said. At the sound of his voice, Buckbeak lashed out again with his hooves, and this time Draco couldn't pull away in time. He went over backwards, knocked down by a blow from a wing, and cried out when Buckbeak's talon ripped into his arm. The other hippogriffs crowed, and most of the students ran for the relative shelter of the paddock.

Hagrid darted forward with surprising speed for a man his size and pulled Draco away from the flailing Buckbeak, who looked like he'd enjoy trampling Draco underfoot. Draco himself was curled into a ball around his arm and had to be dragged a little before Hagrid could pick him up. Hagrid turned, Draco held upright in one arm, and smacked Buckbeak in the beak. Surprisingly, the hippogriff merely snorted and trotted off.

"Class dismissed," Hagrid roared. Everyone fled except Harry and Padma, who waited for Hagrid to get clear of all the hippogriffs before running forward.

"Ow ow ow ow ow," Draco was whimpering, trying to walk as he was half-carried, half-dragged to the fence. Hagrid leaned him up against a post. Both teacher and student were white-faced, Hagrid with worry, Draco with pain.

"We got ter get yeh to the hospital wing," Hagrid said. "Can yeh walk?"

"No -- if we go they'll tell mum," Draco gasped.

"Draco! Now is not the time to worry about your bloody mother!" Padma shouted. A couple of the hippogriffs screamed agreement.

"No no no..." Draco gulped a deep breath. Padma rolled her eyes, took out her wand, and tapped it against his forehead with a muttered "Ibuprofi!"

He sagged backwards.

"Thanks," he said, breathing a little easier.

"No problem."

"If they tell mum, she's on the Board of Governors," he continued, still breathless. "She'll get Hagrid in trouble. Plus she'll have Mr. Macnair come after Buckbeak. My fault, my fault..."

"It wasn't, I saw," Harry said. "He attacked you for no reason."

"Nah, I scared him," Draco answered. "Just, okay -- you know any healing charms?"

"We're taking you to the hospital wing," Padma insisted. "We'll -- we'll say you fell down some stairs."

"And gashed his arm open?" Harry asked.

"Have you got a better idea? No? Then hop to, Potter," Padma snapped. Harry, startled, helped Draco to stand upright and peeled back his shredded shirt-sleeve. Blood dripped down Draco's fingers. "Hagrid, carry him!"

"She's a sharp 'un," Hagrid said to Harry, as Draco protested that he could walk. All four of them made their way slowly back to Hogwarts, where Madam Pomfrey was standing on the steps, shading her eyes.

"What happened here?" she said. The rest of the class was gathered around her. "Merlin, did one of those hippogriffs maul the boy?"

"I saw it!" Pansy said shrilly. "It knocked me over too!"

"It did not, Parkinson," Harry said. "Draco fell," he added to Madam Pomfrey. "And -- and cut his arm on a sharp root."

"All right, everyone run along," the mediwitch said, shooing the rest of the class off. "Potter, Patil, you'd better come with me..."

"All my fault," Draco repeated. "I fell. I slipped."

Then his eyes rolled up in his head and he passed out, landing squarely in Padma's arms.

"Wow, where's Creevey and his camera when you want him?" Harry asked, as Padma staggered under his weight.

***

"Well," said Pomona Sprout lightly, "never let it be said that Hufflepuffs aren't determined, at any rate."

Draco, sitting on a bed in the hospital wing, set his jaw and rubbed his arm, which had been wrapped in white bandage. "I fell," he repeated.

"Of course you did, dear," she replied. "After the hippogriff cut your arm open almost to the bone. I would too."

"Sharp root," Draco muttered.

"It was," Harry and Padma chorused supportively. Madam Pomfrey looked disapproving.

"Ah, Headmaster," Professor Sprout said, as Dumbledore appeared in the doorway. "We were hoping you could have a talk with young Malfoy here."

"Of course," Dumbledore replied, smiling at Draco. "Humbug?"

Draco took the small peppermint sweet, putting it in the pocket of his ripped school robe.

"Now then. We're having lovely weather for this time of year, don't you think?" Dumbledore continued. Draco blinked. "I hear Puddlemere United played last Sunday; aren't they your team?"

Draco stared at him. "Um, yes...sir..."

"Mine too. I hear their Seeker rides a Nimbus two thousand and one; a very good broomstick -- "

"Headmaster," Professor Sprout said, sternly.

"Hmm?" Dumbledore turned to look at her.

"A talk about his injury," she prompted. He gave her a small smile.

"Of course. How silly of me. How did you hurt your arm? I hope it isn't serious."

"Nosir," Draco said. "I fell, sir. Tripped and cut it open on a sharp root."

Dumbledore glanced at Pomfrey. "Seems rather open and shut, to me."

"There are several students who claim he was attacked by a hippogriff," she said.

"Ah. These students here?" Dumbledore said, pointing to Harry and Padma. "You disagree with Mr. Malfoy's tale of these events?"

"No, sir," Harry said. "We saw him fall."

"Very sharp root," Padma added.

"Ah. Well, it would seem to be the word of he who was injured against the word of several...invisible students?"

Pomfrey threw up her hands and rubbed her forehead. Professor Sprout sighed.

"Hm, yes, mass invisibility, that will have to be seen to," Dumbledore said, winking at Harry and Padma. "For now, however, I suggest Mr. Malfoy be sent to his dormitory for some well-earned rest, and Harry and Padma continue on to class. Ancient Runes, isn't it? Very stimulating for the mind."

"But Headmaster..."

"Well, I have enjoyed our chat," Dumbledore interrupted, "but I'm afraid I must be going. Do come say hello any time," he added to Draco, who was smiling. "Good day, Madam Pomfrey, Professor Sprout."

As he left he presented each of them with a humbug. The two women sighed, and Madam Pomfrey shrugged.

"The Headmaster knows best; off you go, then, Draco. Harry, Padma, I'll give you slips for class."

"That was the best thing ever!" Draco whispered to Padma and Harry, as they left the hospital wing.

"I don't know," Padma said dubiously.

"It was your idea!"

"No, that was just keeping stuff from your mum, I think it's good practice for you. I mean, Dumbledore covering for Hagrid that way. What if he really is dangerous, as a teacher?"

"Well, then he's learned his lesson," Draco said. "Bet you we're stuck with really boring animals all year."

"Hey, where're you going?" Harry said, as Padma turned off towards the staircase. "Ancient Runes is this way!"

"I know! I'll see you there," she said, disappearing up the staircase. "Draco, I'll take notes for you!"

When Harry arrived at class, after walking Draco to the Hufflepuff common room, he found Padma already seated with an empty desk next to her and a pile of Arithmancy homework at her elbow.

"Got here early, saved you a seat," she said with a grin.

***

Harry met Draco in the corridor outside the Great Hall the next morning, falling easily back into the habit of early breakfasts. Padma and Neville showed up before long, Neville with his tie askew and hair still a mess from sleep.

"Don't look at me," Harry said, as Neville tried to flatten it down. "My hair's always a mess."

"Yeah, but it's a nice mess," Padma said. "I mean, it looks sort of good that way."

"Oh, sod it," Neville sighed, taking out his wand and pointing it at his head.

"Don't -- " Draco and Harry chorused, but Neville had already spoken the charm.

To be fair, his hair did now lie in a flat and orderly manner. The fact that it was also bright purple was lost on Neville, who couldn't see it. Padma rolled her eyes.

"Capellum fuco," she said. Neville's hair changed mostly back to brown. He mumbled a thank-you around the hot pastry the house-elves had delivered to the end of the Hufflepuff table where they sat. Hedwig, Remus and Sirius' snowy white owl, fluttered in through one window and looked around in perplexity when she found the high table empty.

"Poor Hedwig. It'll be good when Sirius has a real address again," Harry said as she spotted him and soared across the Great Hall, dropping off a Daily Prophet. "She isn't sure whether to bring things here or to Remus' rooms or to the Three Broomsticks."

Hedwig stole a sausage and flapped away while Harry unrolled the paper.

"Looks like Fudge finally made it to Azkaban," he said, studying the photograph of the Minister on the front page. Fudge looked pale even in monochrome, and didn't move except to shake his head from side to side at the camera.

"Says he's staying in Hogsmeade for another few days until the Aurors set up an office there. What do they want to do that for?" Draco asked.

"High time if you ask me. Hogsmeade hasn't got any security at all, and someone's got to keep an eye on the Dementors besides," Padma said. "Maybe Professor Tonks'll get reassigned here!"

"Doubt it," Neville said, looking glum. "She's a hero. She got reassigned to diplomatic last week. She's off running round the continent."

"Bet Professor Snape hates that," Harry said with a grin. Neville grinned back.

"Well, she does get whole weeks off at a time, 'cause they never know how long she'll be on."

"Guess you'll know when she's home," Padma snickered. "Professor Snape'll actually give nine of ten on a paper."

"Not mine!" Draco laughed.

"Uh oh -- Prefects on the way," Neville said, shoving his toast in his mouth and preparing to dash for Gryffindor. It was a standing joke that Percy Weasley hadn't yet removed whatever was stuck up his arse, and hated to see Neville fraternising in other houses.

"Nah, it's just Eddie Carmichael," Padma said, craning her neck. "He's in the year above me. He's a twit," she added. "And his girlfriend Marietta. Ugh, don't make eye contact."

Eddie Carmichael was a plain, studious-looking boy who was followed by a handful of girls in Ravenclaw blue. Harry guessed that the curly-haired girl at his elbow was probably Marietta.

"Hey," he called, spoiling Padma's plans to studiously avoid him. "Hey, Malfoy!"

Draco, looking resigned, raised his head.

"Yes, Carmichael?" he asked.

"I hear you passed out in class yesterday," Carmichael said. Marietta giggled. "Swooning over hippogriffs, eh? About your calibre, I suppose."

"What's that?" came a new voice from the other side of the room. A couple of sixth-years with Gryffindor ties had filed in. "Who passed out?" one asked mockingly.

"Draco Malfoy!" Carmichael called.

"What, the little spawn of Lucius Malfoy?"

"Oh, that's it," Neville said, standing up. All the Ravenclaws made fearful, sarcastic noises, but the Gryffindors hesitated. Two years before, a couple of students had paid dearly for turning Neville green. "Don't think I can't knock you down, Carmichael!"

"Getting your boyfriend to defend you, Malfoy? I hear your dad does the same thing," Carmichael taunted. Neville would have vaulted the table and gone for him, but Padma caught him by the shirttails and gestured to the doorway. Professor Snape had just swept through.

"But they're getting away with it!" Neville fumed.

"No they're not," Harry said calmly. "Come on, we'd better go."

Neville pointedly sat as far from the others as possible at the Gryffindor table, though he glared daggers at them all throughout breakfast. Padma did likewise at her own table, muttering audibly under her breath about Marietta. Harry dawdled at Slytherin until Towler and Pucey arrived.

"Hey Towler," he said, pretending to eat a muffin in front of him.

"Yah, pipsqueak?" Towler asked, spinning a sickle idly on the table.

"You know Edgecomb and Carmichael?"

"Not well. Why?"

"You know anything about Edgecomb she doesn't want public?"

"She'd hardly confide in him," Pucey said. "What gives, Potter? Got a crush?"

"Just playing a little game," Harry said.

"I hear she's a gossip," Pucey volunteered. "And she talks down other girls in her House."

All three boys shook their head, tsking. There was often no love lost amongst Slytherins and they'd stab other houses in the back soon enough, but you stabbed your family, at least, in the front.

"Well, that ought to do it. Who are the fourths in Ravenclaw?"

"Oh well, there's Edgecomb of course, Cho Chang -- god, you know Chang?" Towler asked Pucey. "Ravenclaw Seeker, nice hair?"

"Nicer legs," Pucey observed with a leer.

"Edgecomb, Chang, Gill..." Towler scrunched up his face in concentration. "Dunno the rest."

"That's enough, I think. Hey, you played cricket before Hogwarts, didn't you?"

"Sure. I'd play it here if they had it."

"Will you have a word with Malfoy? He wants to go out for beater and he's a keen batsman."

"Right-o," Towler said agreeably. "Only don't tell Flint, he'd call it traitorism."

"Sure," Harry said. "Now, watch this."

The hall was crowded now, and nobody else noticed as he made his way to where Carmichael and Edgecomb were sitting with the rest of the Ravenclaw fourths. Carmichael was doing an exaggerated imitation of someone having a fainting spell, which drew a lot of laughs. Harry stopped, facing them across the table, and leaned forward between two other students.

"Can I have a word before class, Edgecombe?" he asked. Carmichael howled with laughter.

"Are you going to beat us up too, Potter?" he asked.

"I don't think this is any of your business," Harry replied.

"Oooooh. Wee Potter's got his knickers in a knot."

"What do you want?" Marietta asked suspiciously.

"In private," Harry said gravely.

"Pull the other one," she said. She smiled, but it was an uncertain smile.

"I really think you should," Harry insisted.

"Go on, Potter," Carmichael said, making a shooing motion. Harry ignored it, staring at Marietta.

"Yes," she agreed. "Go on, Potter."

Harry straightened and shrugged. "All right. It's your funeral, not mine."

Then, very deliberately, he grinned at Cho Chang. "See you on the practice field, huh, Chang?"

She smiled back, looking confused but pleased. Marietta's eyes darted from her to Harry. Satisfied, Harry turned, winked at his teammates, and left the Great Hall. Even if she didn't come running after him, the uncertainty on her face was enough for now --

"Harry! Harry Potter!"

Harry stopped on the threshold of the front entrance, smiled to himself, and turned around. Marietta had come after him, just as he'd hoped. He wondered if Towler and Pucey were as amused by the bluff as he was.

"Go on, Edgecombe," he said, imitating Carmichael's shooing motion. She stopped, looking stricken.

"All right, what is it you wanted to say?" she demanded. He waited as she drew closer.

"Oh, that." Harry shrugged. "Nothing much. But I know what you said about Cho Chang."

She froze. Harry wondered if he'd hit more pay dirt than he knew.

"What -- what about her?" she stammered.

"We both know that, Marietta," he said, leering a little.

"What are you going to do about it?"

"Well, that depends on you, doesn't it?" he asked, giving her his best Snape smile. "It's not really any of my business, I'm just a third-year Slytherin. But, after all, I don't gossip about my own House."

"Harry, come on now, we were only teasing Malfoy a little."

"And if you tease him a little again, I'll talk a little to Cho Chang. She'll get the words right from my mouth. Just like I got them from Towler," he added, in a moment of inspiration.

"Towler knows?" she practically howled.

"Oh, he'll keep quiet if I ask him," Harry said. "Cho never has to know, really. But if you tease Malfoy again -- or if any other Ravenclaw teases Malfoy again -- "

"I can't police the whole House!"

"Find a way," Harry said ruthlessly. "Because otherwise Cho and I could get to be really good friends, y'know?"

He left her in the hallway and had almost made it all the way to his morning Potions class before he burst out laughing.

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