Harry woke up the next morning before everyone, as he always did. He had just gotten out of bed when a sleepy Draco walked up, holding a squirmy Moirai by the scruff of her neck. Confused, he looked at Draco, still in his nightclothes. He was about to ask him why he had Moirai, who always slept with him when the blond spoke first. "I believe this belongs to you."
Harry took the small, squirming kitten from his friend's hand. "How did you get over there?"
"Jumped down and walked most likely," Draco snipped. "And then jumped on my bed and tried to sleep on my head."
Harry chuckled, though Draco did not seem amused. "She does that," he said. "One time, I woke up with her chewing on my hair."
Draco just rolled his eyes. "Let me get changed and wash my face, and I'll meet you downstairs." The blond turned and walked back to his bed at the end of the row.
Harry set Moirai down on the bed, who looked up at him and meowed. It was almost as if she was protesting the fact that she had lost her comfy spot on Draco's bed and had no one to sleep with on this one, either. She meowed at him again. He just gave her a pet, encouraging her to lay down before getting dressed and going downstairs to exercise with Draco.
At lunch, later on, they walked right by Theodore, talking to a short, blonde girl. She was a fellow Slytherin, a couple of years younger than him, but Harry couldn't place her name. He pushed the thought aside as they went and sat down at the table with their housemates. Theodore returned to the table a short while later, getting a very odd glance from Daphne.
"Why were you talking to my sister?" Daphne asked him.
Theodore shrugged. "We've been talking," he said. "I asked her out. She said yes, so we're going to Hogsmeade together next weekend."
Daphne just stared at him, setting her silverware down on the table as she did so. "She's my little sister. You're going out with her?"
Theodore nodded. "Yes, I've enjoyed talking with her during the conversations we've had so far, and I want to get to know her better," he said. "Besides, she's quite attractive, too. She's only two years younger than me, as well. She's thirteen. I'm fifteen. That's hardly the end of the world." He said it in the tone of someone who thought that it should have been obvious.
Pansy elbowed Daphne and changed the conversation. "Speaking of dating, Salenia, I heard that you're dating a Gryffindor." It was clear by the tone of her voice that she did not approve. He had to force himself not to say anything in retort to it - that there was nothing wrong with Gryffindors, that Hermione, Fred, and George were his friends. Instead, he said nothing.
Salenia was sitting off to Draco's right. "Yes, I am," she said. "She's quite fit and intelligent on top of that."
"I always thought you and Marcus -"
Salenia shook her head. "No, that's long over with. We're much better off as friends, best friends," she said. "Besides, Marcus has a boyfriend, and he's in Hufflepuff."
Pansy turned her gaze towards Marcus, who was sitting on Salenia's other side, giving him an interested look. This caused Marcus to give his friend a furious glare. "Gee, what a way to divert attention," he said. Salenia just gave him a bright smile. "And can you not talk about my sister that way, please."
Draco rolled his eyes at the exchange their friends were making. "Can we change the subject, please? Not that your love lives aren't quite interesting." Harry had to chuckle at that. Harry was honestly a bit lost, as amusing as he found the exchange. He was starting to learn and more about this group that he was now hanging out with as the days went on. It was different than his old friends in Gryffindor, but in some ways, it wasn't different at all.
"What?" Tracey asked a smirk on her lips. "Jealous that they have love lives? Or is there something else that you need to tell us."
Draco leveled her with a furious glare. "No," he said curtly, ending the conversation right there. Harry once again felt like he was missing something, but he put it out of his mind as the conversation changed to which classes Umbridge would be using for her last two inspections - Astronomy and Flying if she was going to do Flying. No one expected her to do History of Magic. After all, what was she going to do if she disapproved? Binns was a ghost, after all.
Saturday came soon, and with it, the end of Umbridge's teacher evaluations. Thursday night, she had done the third year Ravenclaw Astronomy class. That was according to one of the younger years who heard it from a friend. On Friday at dinner, the younger years said that Umbridge had evaluated the first year Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff Flying class. That meant that they were at an end, and frankly, everyone was quite grateful.
Harry made his way down to the Chamber for his training with Severus, and as usual, Hermione was already there. After their greetings, they got down to business. "I told Ginny, and she's going to spread it around carefully to some of the other people in other houses," she said. "And of course, I told Fred, George, and Ron."
"You talked to Ron?" Harry asked. He was curious because, as far as he knew, they had only spoken for Prefect-related things.
Hermione shrugged. "Just to tell him about the new defense club. I knew he'd want to be in on it, though he was a bit put out that we've been talking about it for a couple of weeks, and he's just now finding out." She rolled her eyes, and Harry had to agree with her on that one. He had gotten himself into this situation, and he had made no move to change anything between them. Hermione seemed content to stand by him, and while he may have felt guilty at first, he no longer held those feelings at all.
"Oh, yeah, and by the way… I told Draco."
A look of shock crossed Hermione's face. "You did what? You told me you weren't going to tell him!" She gave him a look that clearly said that she did not appreciate being lied to.
Harry just shrugged. "Actually, I didn't," he said. "I said, 'Sure, Hermione, whatever you say.' That is not telling you that I would not tell him."
Hermione stared at him for a moment before rolling her eyes. "Slytherins…" she muttered. Harry chuckled. "So, you're sure he won't tell… the wrong people?"
Harry nodded, knowing that was coming once he had told her about the other Slytherins. "We discussed it," he said. "He took a Vow of Secrecy with me, so he can't say anything unless I tell him to." He still had some misgivings about that, but it was said and done.
Her eyes widened in shock. "He agreed to that? That doesn't sound like Malfoy at all…" She seemed clearly confused by his comment, and he didn't blame her. If he hadn't been there, he never would have believed it himself. It seemed out of character for him, but Harry saw more and more that he didn't know Draco as well as they had assumed. There was another side to him, and that other side was who he had become closer to.
"No, he didn't agree to it," Harry said. "It was his idea. He saw how concerned I was when I was making him promise me not to tell anyone else, and suggested that to prove his sincerity. I'd honestly never heard of them."
His bushy-haired friend looked taken aback. "I've read about them," she said, and Harry almost had to stop himself from saying that was no surprise. He didn't blame her for being shocked at this development. He hadn't told her what he was going to do, and Draco willingly taking a Secrecy Vow to prove a point to him was even more shocking. "I heard that they could be dangerous."
"He said the one we took wasn't dangerous, just a basic Secrecy Vow," Harry explained. He tried to remember the words that Draco had used because he hadn't known about vows involving magic at all before Wednesday night. "He said it wasn't anything like a Wizard's Vow; it won't cause him pain or kill him. He'd just be physically unable to break the terms of our vow. And don't worry, we agreed not to tell Pansy, or Crabbe and Goyle."
Hermione nodded, though she didn't seem wholly convinced. "Well, I suppose there's nothing that can be done about it now," she said. "And it's not a bad idea. Maybe I shouldn't have been against it, but the Slytherins haven't been kind to us in the past."
"They seem to stick to themselves, but not all of them do. They're not all bad," Harry explained. "I'm seeing that now."
Hermione nodded. "Yes, I know," she said. "And the hat did stress house unity. This will be all four houses together for the first time in who knows how long. Who did you and Draco tell?"
"We haven't told them yet," he said. "We're planning on doing that slowly over the next couple of days." He rattled off the list of students that they had agreed on. Hermione nodded at some names, asked questions on others, and didn't even know some of them. He admitted that he didn't know all of them, and he had taken Draco's advice on those.
"The question is," Hermione said once they finished discussing the Slytherins, "where are we going to hold the initial meeting? I was thinking about the Hog's Head. It's out of the way, and we're less likely to be found out."
"My father had told me something about that," Harry told her. "He said that we should hold it in a loud place, somewhere public and not be fooled by meeting somewhere more private, because we think it's secluded. I think the Hog's Head would qualify for that."
Hermione nodded. "Where else then? A large group out in the grounds would be suspicious," she said. He nodded in agreement because she had a point about that. "The Three Broomsticks?"
Harry thought about that for a moment before responding. "I think that would work," he said. "A large group of students wouldn't go unnoticed there." It wasn't a bad idea. "Oh, and Severus also had a couple more pieces of advice. He said we should be careful about who we let in, but I think we already are. He also said, for the meetings themselves, that we should use the Room of Requirement."
Hermione looked both surprised and confused at the same time. "I've heard about that room," she said. "It's supposed to give you whatever you want if you knew where it is and how to get in. How did you find it? When did you find it?" He knew that it must irk her that he knew something that she didn't.
"My dad," he said simply. "He knew where it was." He explained to her how Severus had taken him to see Sirius and Remus at the room, and where it was located. He told her how he got in and filled her in on what transpired that day. "He said as long as we're specific, we shouldn't get caught."
"For instance, no one is allowed in unless they're in our group?"
Harry nodded, smiling at her. "Yes, something like that would work well, I think." The conversation ended soon after, though, as his father walked in, and they went down into the Chamber for training. He showed her the Room of Requirement afterward before they parted ways.
The next week went by rather quickly. Harry and Draco had met up with Hermione later on that day to study, as was their usual. The next day, Severus asked for his homework to make sure that he was keeping it up to par, just as Harry had predicted. The only work he didn't check was the Potions homework because, as the teacher of that class, he felt it would seem like special treatment if he checked it over before everyone else's. Harry had to admit that was a decent point, though he certainly wouldn't have minded having him look it over real quick.
Harry's school week was meals, studying, and classes. They slowly told all of the Slytherins they were bringing into the secret defense club of Hermione's, stressing secrecy and making sure that they knew what Umbridge would do if she found out. Harry was fairly confident that no one would gain access to the room unless they were in the group. He was sure that one word to her, though, and things would still get difficult for them very quickly.
Saturday arrived, and with it, the first Hogsmeade weekend. That also meant the first meeting for the defense group. They needed to come up with a name for that. "Are you nervous?" Harry asked her that morning, seeing that she seemed a bit off.
Hermione nodded. "A bit," she said. "I mean, I'm not… I don't do this sort of thing…"
"Break the rules, or stand up and try to convince a bunch of other people to break the rules?"
Hermione rolled her eyes at him. "I've broken the rules before, which you should know since it was usually done to help you," she said. She gave him that "you know I'm right" look before continuing. "It's just, this is different… I'm going to be convincing a bunch of people that don't really know me that I'm qualified to teach them."
Harry put a hand on her shoulder and shrugged, trying to give off an air of nonchalance to make her feel more confident. "It's no big deal," he said. "Just remember why you wanted to do this and say that we're going to help each other learn because if Umbridge won't teach us, we'll do it ourselves."
Hermione nodded. "Yes, that's good, I might use that." Harry just chuckled as Severus walked in.
Later that morning, Harry and Draco met Hermione in the Great Hall. The three of them headed into Hogsmeade, and then over to the Three Broomsticks. There were students already there, a few of which Harry knew were meeting them there. "I don't know," Hermione said. "This is too public. Anyone could just walk by. Maybe we should -"
"No," Harry said, cutting her off. "A group of students, even a large one, wouldn't go that unnoticed."
"Jacob's right," Draco agreed. "If anyone sees us walking towards a place like the Hog's Head, that would be strange and might get us in trouble. As a fellow Prefect, I know you wouldn't want that."
Hermione shook her head, but she sent Harry an expression he couldn't quite read. They took some seats near the other students, who moved closer to them once they were seen. Hermione pulled up a chair next to the booth that Harry and Draco sat in. "I just think more people could fit in, you know? If I sat over here," she said, wringing her hands together.
"You'll be fine," Harry reassured her. He elbowed Draco in the side when he saw the blond rolling his eyes. "I'll go get some drinks. It seems like you need it." He got up and ordered three butterbeers from Madam Rosmerta before going back to his seat next to Draco. He noticed a few more people had shown up. So far, it was mostly Gryffindors - Neville, Parvati, Lavender, and Dean. Parvati's twin sister, Padma, was here, along with Cho and one of her giggling girlfriends, as well as another Ravenclaw that Harry didn't know with a dreamy expression on her face.
Next, Katie, Angelina, and Alicia walked in, along with Colin and Dennis Creevey. Daphne walked in after that, along with Tracey and Blaise, who settled in across from them. "How did you get rid of Pansy and Elizabeth?" Draco said, leaning closer to Daphne and Tracey over the table.
Daphne shrugged. "Just that we were going to Hogsmeade with Blaise, and we would catch up with them later," she said.
"They didn't seem bothered. They wanted to shop, and we just said we would meet up with them later," Tracey echoed. "It'll be fine as long as they don't walk in and see us." She waved it off.
Salenia and Marcus walked in next. Salenia was holding hands with a tall, curvy dark-haired Gryffindor girl who must be the girlfriend mentioned last week and Marcus's sister. A tall, broad-shouldered dark-haired boy had his arm around Marcus, so Harry assumed that was his Hufflepuff boyfriend. A slightly taller boy stood next to him, so he assumed that he must be Hufflepuff as well. Theodore walked in after that, his arm around Astoria Greengrass, Daphne's younger sister. Millicent was right behind him.
Other people were walking in, as well. Some Harry knew - Ernie MacMillan, Hannah Abbott, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Ginny Weasley, and a few Ravenclaw boys whose names he thought were Anthony Goldstein, Michael Corner, and Terry Boot. There was also Fred and George Weasley, along with their friend, Lee Jordan. And of course, Ron, who sat next to Dean and Neville. There was also a tall, blond Hufflepuff boy that Harry knew had been on the Hufflepuff Quidditch team but whose name he couldn't place.
Hermione looked even more nervous now, as everyone turned their faces towards her. Harry was surprised that this many people had shown up. Granted, most were Gryffindors who were friends with her, like Ginny, Fred, George, and Neville. The others were friendly enough to give her the benefit of the doubt, which was pretty much everyone else. He noticed all the Prefects were there, minus Pansy, of course. Most everyone had gotten drinks before coming over and now stared at Hermione, waiting for her to say something.
Hermione cleared her throat. "Er, well… hi." The faces looking at her just blinked. "Er, well… you all know why we're here. I just had the idea that it might be good for those of us who wanted to study Defense Against the Dark Arts - and I mean, really study it, because let's face it, what Umbridge is teaching us is rubbish." Her voice got a bit stronger there, and Harry noticed some people nodding. "No one can call that Defense Against the Dark Arts."
"Hear, hear," said Anthony Goldstein, and Hermione beamed.
"I thought it would be a good idea if we did it ourselves," Hermione said. "If she won't teach us, then I say, we can teach ourselves."
"How are we going to do that?" said a Ravenclaw boy that Harry didn't know. "Don't we need a proper teacher?"
"I've done it myself plenty of times," said Hermione, turning to Ron, who nodded in agreement. "If I can do it, we all can. I can help you. I mean, we can help each other, too! We need to practice real spells, not just theory."
"You want to pass your O.W.L, though, right?" said Michael Corner, who was watching her closely.
"Of course I do," said Hermione. "But it's about more than that. We have to learn to defend ourselves, because…" She took a deep breath. "Because Lord Voldemort is back." Several people were flinching, Cho's friend screamed, and even a couple of yelps. It was rather predictable. "So if you want to join us, I have some ideas -"
"Where's the proof?" asked the blond, Hufflepuff Quidditch player. "Where is the proof that You-Know-Who is back?"
"Dumbledore believes it," Hermione said.
"Yes, because Potter said so," he said.
"Who are you?" Ron asked, speaking up for the first time.
"Zacharias Smith," he said. "And I might add, Potter's gone and runoff and disappeared."
"Dumbledore told all of us exactly what happened to him," Ron said, and Harry was surprised that he was defending him. Meanwhile, as soon as his name had been mentioned, Harry had begun to feel very uncomfortable.
"Where is Potter anyway?" Smith asked. Everything about him was aggressive, from the way he looked at Hermione, to the tone of his voice.
"I don't know," Hermione said. "If you've come for me to tell you secrets about what Harry's doing, I don't know. He can't tell me anything like that." Ron nodded in her defense. "I know he defeated You-Know-Who last June and saw Cedric Diggory got killed because he saw it. And that's the only thing he did. I know because he told me. He's not here now, but that's not important because what's going on here right now is important. If Harry were here, he would be doing this with us."
"Also, if you think the only reason to learn Defense is because of You-Know-Who, you're an idiot," said Draco from next to him. "Even if he isn't back, I don't plan on allowing myself to be defenseless, not to mention failing my O.W.L's because of short-minded idiots like you."
Smith's eyes narrowed. "Why are you here, anyway?" He motioned towards the Slytherins, all of whom were sitting together. "Especially him. He's Snape's son!" Smith glared right at them.
"Excuse me?" Harry said, almost jumping out of his seat if it hadn't been for Draco's hand on his arm. "You don't even know me. In fact, except for Hermione, Fred, and George, none of you outside of Slytherin House have even bothered to try! Get to know me before you make judgments."
"Besides, Draco's right," said Blaise. Harry sent him a grateful look for changing the subject. "Even if You-Know-Who isn't back, being defenseless is just stupid."
"Dark Wizards don't just disappear because one of them does," said Tracey.
"A Slytherin would know," said a voice, but Harry couldn't see who said it.
"Stop!" Hermione said, and Harry was thankful for the volume of the Three Broomsticks. In addition to the normal patrons and the other students who were there, he doubted anyone could hear what was going on in their group. "If you don't like it, you can go. No one's forcing you to be here." Smith turned and got up, walking straight out. Another student that Harry didn't recognize went with him. "As I was saying, are we all agreed? If Harry can do it, we all can. I know he's not here, but we can do this. He didn't know anything special. He did everything - getting through to the Sorcerer's Stone in our first year, fighting the Basilisk in our second, the dementors in our third - because had to. We can do the same. The Ministry cracking down on Hogwarts, sending Umbridge, right after what happened this summer. That's not a coincidence."
"That makes perfect sense to me," said the dreamy-eyed, Ravenclaw girl.
"So, where exactly are we going to do this at?" Ginny asked, and Hermione told her that she had an idea and that she would send a message around to anyone who was interested. Harry thought that was a good idea because just blurting out about the Room of Requirement here might not be such a good idea.
"And how often?" asked Lee Jordan. "Once a week?" When that was agreed to, Quidditch practices were also mentioned, but Hermione waved them off.
"We'll work around it," she said. She pulled out a sheet of parchment. "I think we should all sign this, so we know who was here. We also agree that by signing you agree not to mention this to Umbridge or anyone else." She signed her own name before handing it and a quill to Harry, who didn't hesitate before signing Jacob Snape on the list. Draco signed next, and all the Slytherins and Gryffindors followed. Cho didn't hesitate, either, but when she handed it her friend, she did hesitate before Cho elbowed her. Harry thought briefly about how odd it was that he felt nothing for her before Ernie MacMillan spoke up.
"What if this is found, though? We're Prefects, after all," he said.
"You can go, then," Hermione said. "Do you honestly think I'd just leave it lying around?"
"No, of course not," he said, before signing. One by one, everyone did.
After that, everyone started getting up and leaving, except for Terry Boot, who let his friends leave. The Ravenclaw came over and said something to Hermione. She said something back that he didn't hear before he went and sat down in his seat. "I think that went well," she said, as she got off her chair and settled in across from Harry and Draco once Blaise, Daphne, and Tracey had left. Draco had assured them that the two of them would be along shortly. "I mean, sure, Michael Corner and his friends only came because he's dating Ginny and because Terry's going out with me, but -"
"Wait, what?" Harry said. "When did that happen?"
"What? Oh! I didn't tell you. Earlier this week, Terry asked me out, so we're going out today," she said. "He's waiting for me now. Anyway, we'll talk later, okay?" She got up and walked back over to Terry. The two walked together, side-by-side out of the Three Broomsticks.
"Well, isn't that interesting," Draco said as they got up. "I always thought Granger fancied Weasley, but I guess not." He shrugged and then turned to Harry. "Shall we meet up with our friends, then?" Harry nodded, and the two of them made their way out.