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"What are you guys doing?" Theodore Nott asked in confusion as he approached the pile of giggling boys wrestling in the grass.
"Teaching Draco not to tease us." Harry said before being pulled back into the wrestling match.
Theodore watched and smiled as Harry and Cherub tried to pin Draco down.
"We could use some help here Nott." Cherub called out as he fought to keep hold of the squirming Draco's arms.
"Okay." Theodore said, then started pulling at Harry, trying to free Draco.
"You're supposed to help US." Cherub said quickly.
"Malfoy needs the help worse than you do." Theodore said with a laugh as he pulled Harry onto the ground beside Cherub and Draco.
"Thanks Nott, I'll remember this." Draco said as he shifted his weight and flipped Cherub onto his back.
"My wings!" Cherub yelped in pain.
"Sorry." Draco said and eased back.
"It's okay. They just don't want to bend that way." Cherub said as he sat up and flexed his wings.
"Guys, it's almost time for DADA." Theodore said as he and Harry stopped wrestling.
"Yeah, I guess we'd better get inside." Cherub said with regret.
All four boys stood and started to brush the grass off their class robes.
After everyone was assured that they were presentable, they walked as a group back toward the school.
"I just wanted to thank you for inviting me today. This is the most fun I've had since I've been at Hogwart's." Harry said bashfully.
"Does that include the game of keep-away I played with you in flying class yesterday?" Draco asked with a smirk.
Harry laughed and said, "I was so mad at you about that. Now I know you were just playing, but I really thought that you were evil and wanting to steal Neville's rememberal."
"Did I miss something?" Cherub asked curiously.
"I'll tell you later." Draco said over his shoulder to Cherub.
"As I was saying, thanks for inviting me. I haven't given you any reason to want to include me and I appreciate it." Harry said seriously.
"Well, I can't promise you anything as entertaining as wrestling in the grass, but if you'd like to study with us tonight, you'd be welcomed to join us." Cherub said with a smile.
"Um. I'm sure Hermione and Ron are going to expect me to study with them." Harry said hesitantly.
"Then let's make it an open invitation. If you find yourself without a study partner sometime and would like to join us, you'll be welcomed. No pressure, no commitment." Draco suggested.
"I'll remember that. Thanks." Harry said shyly.
"Would you mind if I studied with you?" Theodore asked cautiously.
"You're my potions partner Nott, of course you can join us." Cherub said cheerfully.
"You guys can call me 'T' if you want. It's kind of a family nickname." Theodore said shyly.
"Only if you'll call us by our first names too." Cherub said seriously.
"It's a deal." Theodore said with a smile.
"But that's only outside class. When we're on 'official business' it's last names only." Draco said firmly.
Theodore nodded as Harry asked, "Why is that? I didn't think to ask before."
"It's like a signal that play time is over. When we're in class, it's time to be serious and do what needs to be done." Draco said definitely.
"That makes sense. Take some time for work and make it work only, then take some time for play and make it play only. I like that." Harry finished with a smile.
"How do you do it Harry?" Cherub asked curiously.
"Well, I never really thought about it. I guess I'm serious most of the time, there really isn't much time for fun." Harry said in thought.
"Not good." Draco said with a shake of his head.
"Why not?" Harry asked, devoting his full attention to Draco.
"Everyone needs certain things in their life to stay healthy. Food, water, sleep, exercise... stuff like that. It keeps your body healthy, but your mind needs things too. You need routine, work, relaxation and fun. If you don't give yourself those things regularly, then you'll start to stress out. From the way you reacted to today, it sounds like you're only getting relaxation and fun when it happens by accident. It's going to cause you trouble in the long run if you don't let yourself release stress and just have fun." Draco said with concern evident in his voice.
"He's right Harry. I've only known you a few hours but I can tell that you need to let loose more often." Cherub said quietly.
"Thanks guys. I'll try and do that. Maybe we can hook up sometime and do something fun." Harry said hopefully.
"Open invitation, remember?" Draco said with wide eyes.
"Got it. I'll try." Harry said with a smile.
"I guess it's time." Theodore said unenthusiastically as they walked into the school to the clamor of voices exiting classrooms.
"Would you like to sit with us at lunch today Harry?" Cherub asked with a smile.
Harry was about to try and decline when he saw Cherub's teasing smile.
"If Ron and Hermione disown me, I'll be there." Harry said in a teasing voice.
"No chance of that. I'm sure they'll be pumping you for information and looking for any signs of corruption." Draco said seriously.
Cherub slapped his forehead and said, "That's what we forgot to do. We were going to corrupt Harry today."
"We'll have to do it next time." Draco said in a disappointed voice.
Harry laughed, then saw Hermione and Ron walking toward them.
"I'll see you guys later. Thanks again." Harry said with a genuine smile.
"Have fun with your friends Harry." Cherub said, trying to hold in a chuckle.
"They're going to give him hell for days." Draco said offhandedly.
"And prove everything we said to him." Cherub said with a nod.
"Did I miss something?" Theodore asked curiously.
"Nothing worth talking about. Just watch Harry and his friends for the next few days. It might be entertaining." Draco said with a smile.
"I never thought one hour could be so long." Cherub said as he walked with Theodore and Draco out of the classroom, followed by Crabbe and Goyle.
"I don't think even Harry could have gotten one sentence of notes out of that lecture." Draco said in a tired voice.
"I doubt he heard one sentence of the lecture with those two on either side of him." Theodore said frankly.
"One point for T." Cherub said in agreement.
"Someone needs to call the circus and tell them one of their freaks got out." A red headed boy said with a sneer.
"Yeah, it must have got out of it's birdcage." Another identical red headed boy said with the same expression.
Crabbe and Goyle came around either side of the group to defend Cherub.
"You got a problem with our friend, you got a problem with us." Goyle said firmly.
"Like a bunch of first years can do anything to us!" The first red head said with a laugh of derision.
"Don't you Weasleys have anything better to do than mess with first years?" Draco asked, speaking the name Weasley as if it were filth in his mouth.
"Oh, so that's what Weasleys are." Cherub said as he looked at the two boys as if weighing their worth, and coming up short.
The twins looked at Cherub curiously.
"You mentioned that they were ignorant, low-class rabble but you didn't tell me they were spawned in litters." Cherub said in a superior and snotty voice.
The two red headed boys stared at Cherub in astonishment.
"Come along, we should be going to lunch. We wouldn't want people to think we associate with..." Cherub trailed off with a shiver of revulsion and walked away.
Draco, Theodore, Crabbe and Goyle followed immediately behind Cherub, trying to hold in their laughter.
As soon as Draco was able to stop laughing he said, "I've never seen you do the stuck-up snob routine before. You were great."
"You had me believing it." Theodore said in an impressed voice.
"It was all I could think of to do short of using magic. I didn't want Crabbe and Goyle to get in trouble over someone like that." Cherub said with a smile.
"What did you guys do? The Gryffindors are looking over here like you murdered someone." Pansy asked as she sat at the table.
Everyone turned to look at the Gryffindor table to see a group looking back at them angrily, most notably a collection of four red heads.
"I guess I might have mentioned their lower station in the social scheme." Cherub said as he faced away from the Gryffindor table again.
"And that Weasleys spawn in litters." Theodore chuckled.
Pansy let out a full laugh at the statement, drawing even more attention from the Gryffindors.
"Now comes the good part." Crabbe said and motioned to the doorway.
Harry walked into the room, engrossed in conversation with Hermione.
"That Granger girl sure can talk." Pansy said as she watched.
"I've heard that." Draco said absently as he watched Harry and Hermione sit at the Gryffindor table.
After a moment of animated conversation, Harry got up and walked around the end of the table and approached the Slytherin table.
"May I speak with you for a moment?" Harry asked Cherub seriously.
"Here or privately?" Cherub asked casually.
Harry looked around the table and considered before saying, "I just want to hear your side of the story that I've just been told."
"Oh, that's easy. The two identical Weasleys were taunting me, saying that I was a freak that escaped from a circus and belonged in a cage... things like that. So I responded in kind with the only thing I knew about them, their social class." Cherub said simply.
"So all that stuff they said you said... you said?" Harry asked carefully.
"I think we need to work on your language skills, but yes. Cherub was attacked verbally and fought back. I think you would have been proud of him if you'd been there." Draco said as he looked Harry in the eyes.
"I've got some thinking to do guys. I'm going back to my table now. Sorry if I sounded like I was accusing you of something. I really wasn't. That's why I came over, to find out what really happened." Harry said, pleading with his eyes for them not to hate him.
"Harry." Cherub said, drawing his full attention.
Harry looked at Cherub hesitantly.
"Open invitation." Cherub said seriously.
Harry smiled and nodded before leaving the table.
"I think he's beginning to see it." Draco said in a considering voice.
"Yes. Sometimes you just have to beat someone over the head with the obvious a few times before they notice." Cherub said with a smile.
The food appeared and everyone started making their selections from the feast before them.
"Would you guys mind if I joined you?" Harry asked, surprising everyone in the area.
"Please do, scoot down everyone." Cherub said and made a place for Harry between him and Draco.
"Are you sure no one will mind?" Harry asked hesitantly.
"Does anyone have a problem with my friend sitting here?" Draco asked the people surrounding them.
"Are you going to lecture us about how evil we are or how bad it is to have money?" Pansy asked curiously.
"No. I promise I won't." Harry said shyly.
"Then sit down. The cucumber sandwiches are extraordinary today." Pansy said as she grabbed two more.
"Thank you." Harry said with a smile and accepted an empty plate that was handed down the table to him.
"Is there anything I need to know about the flying class coming up? No one's mentioned that I need to study anything in advance of it." Cherub asked casually.
"Can you ride a broom?" Draco asked as he pulled some sliced meat and cheese cubes onto his plate.
"Yes, I'm not very good, but I can ride one." Cherub said in thought.
"Then you'll be fine. We only hovered a few feet off the ground yesterday. You may not even have to do that if Madame Hooch will let you fly without a broom." Draco said seriously.
"So you can fly?" Theodore asked curiously.
"I sure can. I tried it for a few minutes today. It was great." Cherub said with a smile.
"Aren't you guys going to ask why I came over here?" Harry asked curiously.
"I can guess." Draco said flatly.
"We'll be interested to listen if you want to talk about it. But no, we're not going to ask." Cherub said from his other side.
Harry chuckled and shook his head.
"What's so funny?" Theodore asked curiously.
"The Gryffindors interrogated me about everything we said and did all morning. And even when I told them things, they acted like I was lying to them." Harry said with a smile.
"Why is that funny." Cherub asked with concern.
"Because you guys, who are supposedly evil, just want to listen if I feel like talking. My so called friends, the good guys, want to pump me for information that they can use against you." Harry said as he fought to keep from laughing.
"I don't get the part that's supposed to be funny. It sounds terribly sad to me." Cherub said in confusion.
"It's just ironic. I was so sure I was right and believed everything I was told. I can't believe I was so stupid." Harry said as he shook his head.
"The Gryffindors are staring at us again." Pansy said in warning.
"Of course they are. We've corrupted their bright and shining star." Draco got a look of dawning realization and said, "Nott, get the prefects and ask them to come down here."
"What's wrong?" Cherub asked with immediate concern.
Draco held up his hand in a 'wait' gesture until the prefects arrived.
"Widget, Prang, this is Harry Potter. As you can tell from his robe, he's a Gryffindor. I'm concerned that some of the Gryffindors are going to either incite violence or openly attack members of the Slytherin House because they think we're corrupting him." Draco said seriously.
"Okay. No one leaves this room in groups of less than four, the more the better. I'll let Professor Snape know what's going on so he can keep an eye open for signs of trouble." Widget said firmly.
"Understood. Just make sure everyone knows. We were confronted on the way into lunch by two third years, and that was before Potter sat down to eat with us." Draco said in a completely business-like tone.
"Noted. Enjoy your meal, then get to your next class." Widget said quickly, then hurried away with Prang at his side.
"If my being here is causing you trouble, I can leave." Harry said weakly.
"It won't make any difference at all. Like Malfoy said, they confronted us before you sat down with us. This was going to happen anyway." Cherub said seriously.
"Widget was right. Let's eat, enjoy, then get to our next class. Just stick with us Potter, I'm not even sure that you'll be safe from a bunch of Gryffindors who are fighting for a cause." Draco said in an icy voice.
Harry's eyes went wide as he thought about Draco's words.
The first year Slytherins and Harry moved as a single group from the dining room to the flying class outside.
"Are you going to switch houses now Harry?" Ron Weasley asked in a mocking voice.
"Once sorted, you stay in your assigned house for the remainder of your time at Hogwart's. You really should get your facts straight before you speak." Draco said coldly.
"No one asked you Malfoy. Why don't you just leave Harry alone. He's not one of you." Ron said with a sneer.
"No, he isn't. Potter is a person with his own mind and own will. I find that I enjoy his company, so he is welcomed to spend time with me if he chooses to do so." Draco said simply.
"You just want to turn him into a dark wizard like you-know-who. I bet you serve you-know-who already, don't you." Ron said in an increasing voice.
"Why do you bother to ask a question when you won't believe my answer?" Draco asked curiously.
"See? Did you see that? He didn't deny it! He serves you-know-who! I knew it." Ron yelled loudly enough for all to hear.
"Mr. Malfoy, Mr. Potter, and Mr. Nightshade. Headmaster Dumbledore would like to speak with you." Widget said as he walked onto the flying field.
"Ha! Dumbledore's figured it out! He's going to throw them all out!" Ron yelled at the three boy's departing forms.
"Your friend has a big mouth." Cherub said as the group entered the building.
"Cherub, I think it's safe to say that Ron can't be classified as my friend any longer." Harry said quietly.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry for whatever we did that caused you to lose a friend. I promise that it was never my intention when I invited you to go outside with us." Cherub said seriously.
"I know. And I'm not mad at you guys at all. I am just disappointed in the Gryffindors." Harry said sadly.
"People will disappoint you Harry. We might even disappoint you someday. Try to learn from it, but don't let it make you bitter. That doesn't improve anything." Draco said quietly.
Widget moved to a statue of a gargoyle and whispered a word. The gargoyle moved aside to reveal a set of stairs.
"That's new." Cherub said in surprise.
"Headmaster Dumbledore's office is at the top of these stairs." Widget said and extended his arm, indicating for the boys to go on.
"Come in, come in. Do have a seat." Dumbledore said from behind a huge desk.
All three boys nervously took seats and waited expectantly.
"I have been told that quite a fuss is erupting as a result of you three becoming friends. What do you have to say about it?" Dumbledore asked as he focused on Harry.
"Yes sir." Harry said quietly.
"That wasn't quite the detailed answer I expected from a Gryffindor. Would you care to try again?"
Harry thought carefully before saying, "Malfoy and Nightshade were kind enough to invite me to go outside with them when we had some free time. We started talking and I realized that I had misjudged them based on some things I had been told on the train and shortly after my arrival. When I tried to explain that to Hermione and Ron they... well, they kind of thought I was under a curse or mind control or something. I can't say I really understand just why they're behaving the way they are."
"Yes, yes. That's more what I expected. Well done." Dumbledore said, then seemed to trail off into thought.
"Mr. Potter, would you put on the sorting hat? It's right over there." Dumbledore said and pointed.
Harry walked to the corner and carefully picked up the hat.
"Go on." Dumbledore prompted as he turned in his chair to watch.
"Gryffindor, as I said before." The sorting hat said indignantly.
"Yes, yes. I didn't doubt you. But I wanted to see if perhaps Mr. Potter is one of those rare few..." Dumbledore prompted.
"Not as rare as you might think. But few have wit and will to claim the burdens of two house names. A Gryffindor he will always be, but a Slytherin as well if he judges it to be what is good and right." The hat said fiercely.
"As I thought." Dumbledore said with a nod.
"How can he be in two houses?" Draco asked as he watched Harry taking off the hat.
"Well he can't of course. He will have to choose either Gryffindor or Slytherin." Dumbledore said seriously.
"Harry, you can't abandon your house. It's at the core of your hero thing to be loyal." Cherub said in a pleading voice.
"You misunderstand. Young Mr. Potter doesn't have to make a choice between which house he will continue with. He has to choose which house he will represent at any given time. Students wear their house emblem on their robes and wear scarves with the colors of their house... some even show enough spirit to adorn their wings." Dumbledore said with a wink at Cherub.
"Mr. Potter may choose which house he is representing at any given time by the emblem and colors he is wearing. Would you gentlemen happen to have sufficient Slytherin attire that you could allow Mr. Potter to borrow some until he can buy his own?" Headmaster Dumbledore asked carefully.
"Of course. I wear my colors all the time so you can borrow anything I have." Cherub said quickly.
"Thank you Nightshade." Harry said seriously.
"Then if there is nothing else..." Dumbledore said as he focused back on the scroll on his desk.
"Aren't you worried about the violence that's going to erupt when people think Harry switched houses?" Cherub asked carefully.
"There is no way to avoid what is to happen. Trust in my way of dealing with this. If young Mr. Potter will be honest in his feelings, everything will work out the way it is meant to." Dumbledore said with assurance.
"Thank you Headmaster." Cherub said unsurely as he turned to leave.
Harry and Draco made their obligatory respectful comments then followed Cherub down the stairs.
"Hey Widget, thanks for waiting for us. Would you mind walking us down to the Slytherin rooms so we can get something for Harry?" Cherub asked hopefully.
"No problem. Is everything okay?" Widget asked with concern.
"Yes. At least I think it will be." Cherub said in thought.
"Do you know what you're going to do?" Draco asked Harry quietly.
"I'm not sure. It's like I'd be betraying Gryffindor one way, but I'd be betraying myself the other way." Harry said seriously.
"Harry, you heard Dumbledore. You're both. If you're really a Gryffindor at heart, then do what a Gryffindor does best. Do what you believe is right. Don't worry about what Draco or I think, or Hermione or Ron. Do what you need to do to be true to yourself." Cherub said with passion.
"Thanks guys. When you put it that way, it's already decided." Harry said in thought.
"Should we tell him the password?" Draco asked as they approached the hidden door.
"We'll ask Professor Snape. I think it should be his decision." Cherub said carefully.
"Are you guys sure about this? I mean, if the others find out you let a Gryffindor into the Slytherin Dorm it might cause trouble." Widget asked from ahead of them.
"Yes, I'm sure. If anyone objects, have them talk to me. We're doing this on orders from Dumbledore himself." Draco said in a full voice.
Widget whispered the password, keeping an eye on Harry the whole time.
The door revealed itself and opened to the group.
"I never would have guessed this was here. I think all the other houses are hidden behind portraits." Harry said as he entered.
"Too much information Potter. We not only expect you to keep our secrets, but Gryffindor's secrets too. What you don't tell us can't be used against them later." Draco said with a note of hardness in his voice.
"Sorry. I wasn't thinking." Harry said in a mumble.
"We'll have to help you with that. When you're in Slytherin, it's best to watch what you say at all times..." Draco began but was cut off.
"...except for the room rule." Cherub cut in.
"What's that?" Harry asked as he looked around at the luxurious room.
"Come to the room and we'll tell you. Widget, we'll be right back." Draco said quickly.
"I'll be waiting." Widget said as he took a seat.
Harry walked into the bedroom and found it to be nothing like what he expected.
"It's so bright." Harry said in surprise.
"You expected a dungeon?" Cherub asked, only half jokingly.
"Well, to be honest, yeah." Harry said timidly.
"Look at this." Draco said as he stood staring.
Cherub looked around and was surprised to find that their dressers had been moved together and another bed had been put in the space.
"Is that for Harry?" Cherub asked carefully.
Harry walked to the trunk at the foot of his bed and opened it.
"My things are in here." Harry said in surprise.
"It looks like you're going to be our roommate." Draco said with astonishment.
"Welcome to Slytherin. Let's get you your things so we can get back to flying." Cherub said and walked to his wardrobe.
"Here... oh. Unless you have wings, then my robes aren't going to work for you." Cherub said with regret.
"No need. I have robes here, and they have the Slytherin crest on them." Harry said in surprise.
"Someone must have been busy." Draco said as he looked at the robes with Harry.
"This isn't my robe. This is new. Feel it." Harry said as he pulled a freshly starched robe from the wardrobe.
"Is all your stuff here, or maybe like half of it?" Cherub asked cautiously.
Harry walked back to his trunk and looked again.
"About half. Everything with my Gryffindor colors is missing. How did you know?" Harry asked as he looked at Cherub in question.
"I think your stuff has been split between the two houses. That way you can stay either place. Your Gryffindor robes are still there and you have new Slytherin robes here." Cherub said in thought.
"Here's a Slytherin scarf. You can keep it, I have several. Now come on. I don't want to miss out on too much flying, they're probably already in the air." Draco said impatiently.
"I'll just change my robes then I'll be ready." Harry said quickly.
"Are you ready to go?" Draco asked as he led Harry and Cherub to the Slytherin common room.
"Sure, ready when you are." Widget said as he stood.
"Then we're back to flying class." Draco said as he walked toward the door.
"You can't do that." Widget said as he stared at Harry.
"We didn't. The sorting hat said he was both Slytherin and Gryffindor. He has a choice." Cherub said, a bit defensively.
"And you chose Slytherin?" Widget asked cautiously.
"Yes." Harry said with confidence.
"Why?" Widget asked incredulously.
"Because I've learned some hard truths. One of them is that even though I believe in what it means to be a Gryffindor, I don't agree with how they are behaving. Now I understand that I believe in what it means to be a Slytherin. The two things aren't mutually exclusive, I believe they CAN exist together. I'm going to prove it." Harry said firmly.
"Well, this should be interesting." Widget said as he led the group out into the hallway.
"Get down here this instant... Mr. Longbottom! I do NOT want a repeat of yesterday's incident. Do you hear me?" Madame Hooch bellowed, then mounted her broom to try and retrieve the terrified Neville.
"Hey guys." Cherub said with a small smile, anticipating the reaction.
"Harry! What are you wearing?" Hermione gasped.
"I told you! I told all of you!" Ron screamed.
"Mr. Weasley. Be quiet immediately or I will have you escorted to the Headmaster's office." Madame Hooch said as she guided Neville down to Earth.
"But, he switched houses. He can't do that, can he?" Hermione asked in a begging tone.
Madame Hooch looked at Harry carefully, then asked, "Mr. Potter, it is an infraction of the rules to wear another houses emblem. What is the meaning of this?"
"Headmaster Dumbledore had me wear the sorting hat again. It said that I could be either, I have a choice. I choose Slytherin." Harry said, trying to sound confident.
"You corrupted him. You turned him evil. Denfizia Mariposa!" Ron screamed as he waived his wand at Cherub viciously.
Cherub belched and spit out a butterfly.
"Is that what you were trying to do to him?" Draco asked, trying to fight down a laugh.
"That's enough! You there, Mr. Widget. Come over here!" Madame Hooch called as she waived her arm.
Widget walked to the class group cautiously.
"Mr. Weasley, it was made very clear that use of magic against another student is strictly forbidden. Accompany Mr. Widget to the Headmaster's office at once." She said to Ron, then in a lower voice said to Widget, "Tell him I'll be up directly."
"Of course. Right this way." Widget said professionally and motioned for Ron to follow him.
After a moment of silence as everyone watched Ron and Widget leave, Madame Hooch said, "One day someone besides Mr. Longbottom will get airborne before we have a disaster... no, I mean we'll have a class without a disaster. No flying! I'll be right back."
Madame Hooch stomped away toward the school as if each blade of grass she came to had offended her personally.
"Harry, how could you?" Hermione asked in an appalled voice.
"How could I what?" Harry asked with a furrowed brow.
"We were your friends. How could you abandon us. Look what they did to Ron." Hermione said in a pleading voice.
"Ron attacked Cherub... for no reason." Harry said in confusion, not understanding her problem.
"No reason! Look what they did to you. You're one of them now! You're even starting to talk like them!" Hermione said in a voice that was going up in volume as well as pitch.
Harry looked at Hermione curiously and asked, "Am I really?"
"The old Harry would be worried about Ron right now. He'd be trying to figure out what the Slytherins had done to cause this." Hermione said, back to pleading.
"But I don't need to worry about Ron and I don't need to figure anything out." Harry said simply.
"Why aren't you worried about your friend who got in trouble trying to defend you?" Hermione asked, on the edge of rage.
"What's to worry about? He attacked another student without provocation in front of witnesses. He clearly broke the rules and Headmaster Dumbledore will deal with Ron in whatever way he believes is best. I trust the Headmaster's judgment." Harry said in a logical tone.
"But he did it to protect you!" Hermione screeched.
"From what? My other friends?" Harry asked slowly.
"You can't be friends with them! They're Slytherin!" Hermione bellowed, now red in the face and on the verge of tears.
"They're people. You really need to calm down, we're in these houses to allow people of similar interests and personalities to room together. They didn't have their souls removed when they entered the Slytherin dorm, they're just like us. The Slytherin just live with a different philosophy." Harry tried to explain.
"I won't listen to your lies Harry Potter. You know they're evil, at least you used to know it." Hermione said angrily.
"Yes. I thought I knew because I listened to what you and Ron told me. When I took the opportunity to talk with these guys I found out that we're more alike than different." Harry said and smiled at Draco and Cherub who were looking back with pride.
"I don't believe you. They're evil. He stole Neville's rememberal and said some really mean things about the rest of us." Hermione said as she pointed at Draco.
Harry rolled his eyes, he was getting tired of this.
"Yes. Draco took Neville's rememberal, but you seem to forget that after a rather exciting chase, we landed and he gave it to you. No harm was done, and if you think about it, it was quite a bit more fun than standing glaring at each other while Neville was taken to the infirmary." Harry said reasonably.
"You really are one of them now." Hermione said in a disappointed voice.
"I guess I am. But only because you won't let me be anything else." Harry said in a measured tone.
Hermione looked at Harry curiously but didn't ask.
"Cherub and Draco are my friends. They've never said a word against you or Ron. They've never discouraged me from spending time with you and have gone so far as to encourage me to work on keeping your friendship, even if it means not spending time with them. The reason I'll be staying in Slytherin house for the time being is that they'll allow me the freedom to discover who I am and encourage me to be myself. Even if that means being a Gryffindor." Harry said as he tried to will Hermione to understand.
"You're talking nonsense. Of course you're allowed to have whatever friends you want, but that doesn't include Slytherin. They must have used their dark magic on you to make you think like them." Hermione said angrily as she walked away.
Cherub and Draco walked up on either side of Harry.
"Well said." Draco commented with a nod.
"I couldn't have done better." Cherub said from his other side.
"Is anyone else ready to get into the air?" Madame Hooch asked as she walked briskly onto the flying field.
A murmur of agreement went through the assembled students.
"Madame Hooch?" Cherub asked carefully, not wanting to incur her wrath.
"Mr... Nightshade, is it?" Madame Hooch inquired curiously.
"Yes Ma'am. I was wondering if I have to use a broom." Cherub asked carefully.
Madame Hooch looked surprised by the question so Cherub extended his wings.
"Oh, my. Well, I don't recall anything in the rules stating that you have to use a broom. Let me see you try to fly." Madame Hooch finished, sounding sure of herself.
Cherub concentrated on the words in his mind and flexed his wings dramatically as he made the subtle hand gestures of the Leviosa Spell.
With one graceful leap, he flew into the air.
"Beautiful." Madame Hooch gasped as she watched him glide and flow as if he'd been doing it all his life.
After a minute of flying, Cherub landed gently beside Madame Hooch and asked, "May I fly without a broom?"
"Yes. I think that's a very good idea." Madame Hooch said in a distant voice, then came back to herself and said to the group more firmly, "If everyone is ready, follow me."
Madame Hooch mounted her broom and slowly rose from the ground, overly dramatizing her every movement for her students to see, so they could repeat it.
One by one the other students took to their brooms and began to fly with varying ability.
Cherub watched them go until he noticed Draco and Harry waiting beside him.
"After you." Draco said with a dramatic waive of his arm.
Cherub smiled and took flight, followed closely by Harry and Draco.
"We need to talk." Hermione said in a growl after putting her broom away.
"Then talk." Harry said simply.
"Privately." Hermione said, with a glare at Draco.
"Hermione. Draco and Cherub are my friends. Whatever you have to tell me, you can say in front of them." Harry said seriously.
"I suppose it doesn't matter. You'll probably tell them everything I said as soon as I leave anyway." Hermione said snottily.
Harry waited, not seeing a need for a response to her comment.
"They've changed you Harry. You used to be a good person. I liked you. Now they've done this to you, made you one of them. I don't know you anymore. You don't talk to me or... I thought I could trust you, but now..." She said, then broke down into tears.
Draco, Cherub and Harry exchanged a questioning look with each other before Harry said, "Hermione, you and Ron were my first friends when I arrived here, but I don't want you to be my only friends. Draco and Cherub have never asked me not to talk to you. They've never once asked me about anything your or Ron have said to me. And they never asked me to stop being your friend. You and Ron made the ultimatum, you forced me to choose. I'd be happy having all four of you as friends. But as long as you can't or won't allow that, I'm going to stay where I'm free to be friends with whoever I want."
"We're going to be late to transfigurations if we don't hurry." Draco whispered.
"You're welcomed to walk with us if you want Hermione." Harry said gently.
Hermione glared at Harry, then stomped off toward the school.
"Lovely girl." Cherub said in a casual tone as he started walking.
"Perhaps we should invite her to have dinner at the Slytherin table sometime." Draco said absently.
Harry looked from Draco to Cherub and started laughing.
"That's what I like to see. As long as you can still laugh, everything is going to be okay." Cherub said with a smile.
"It's hard not to laugh with you guys around." Harry said as he moved to walk between the two.
"I can't believe McGonigal docked her own house." Cherub whispered as he walked beside Harry out of the transfigurations classroom.
"Well, in her defense, Granger was being awfully snotty. She couldn't just let it go unanswered." Harry said in thought.
"But twenty points? That could take some time for them to make up." Draco said from Harry's other side.
"I don't know, I've made 48 points myself in two days and I had a hand in the sixteen that you and T earned." Cherub said in a hushed voice.
"The Slytherins earned 64 points in two days?" Harry gasped.
"From us. The students in other years are probably earning points too." Draco said frankly.
"But I only earned those eight you helped me get, and Hermione got five of them deducted." Harry said quickly.
"Heroes do love a good competition don't they?" Cherub said with a smile.
"Cherub's right. It's just a game. We'll earn points when we can, but it's not important in the grand scheme of things. And besides, you're with us now. Those sixty-four points are yours too." Draco said as he patted Harry on the back.
"Are you going to kiss him now?" One of the Weasley twins sneered while the other one made kissy noises.
Cherub rolled his eyes and said, "Please leave us alone. You don't have anything to do with us."
"You're stealing members of our house..." The first said.
"...so that makes it our business." The second continued.
"I wonder, when you jerk on yours does his squirt?" Cherub asked in a serious voice.
The Weasley twins stared in shock at the graphic question.
"We're going to be late." Draco said quickly and the three boys ran off to their next class.
"What happened Widget?" Draco asked as he walked into the common room.
"Percy Weasley caught me when I wasn't looking. That's what I get for letting my guard down." Widget said irritably as he prodded his blackening swollen eye.
"Don't listen to him. He was busy watching out to be sure we were going to be alright when Percy clocked him." Pansy said with anger in her voice.
"Come on Widget." Draco said firmly.
"You're a first year, you can't tell me what to do!" Widget said in a grumpy voice.
"You come with me to talk to Professor Snape or I talk to him myself. Your call." Draco said firmly.
"Nightshade, Potter, Nott, Crabbe, Goyle, you're with me. Parkinson, get Prang and make sure all the Slytherin are accounted for. Get as many as you can locked in where they'll be safe." Draco said in his commanding voice.
"I'll take care of it." Pansy said, then ran down the girls hallway to get the female prefect.
"Mr. Malfoy, to what do I owe the pleasure?" Professor Snape asked from his desk.
"Slytherin business." Draco said from the doorway, then entered followed by the rest of his group.
Widget walked in with Crabbe and Goyle on either side.
"I assume you know who caused this." Professor Snape asked seriously.
"On many levels." Cherub said as he met Professor Snape's eyes.
"Do tell." Professor Snape said as he rested back into his chair.
Cherub lifted his hand, then thought better of it and pulled out his wand and closed the door. Next he invoked a spell of silence over the room to keep from being overheard.
"On the surface level of things, Percy Weasley attacked Widget without provocation before witnesses. On the next level, the Weasley twins have been verbally harassing Potter, Malfoy and I all day, threatening violence and trying to provoke a fight, still further we have Ron Weasley who was escorted out of flying class this afternoon by Widget at Madame Hooch's request after he said some particularly cruel things about Potter... and made some unfavorable generalizations about Slytherin. If you go to the innermost level, there seems to be a hysteria growing in this school that Slytherin is trying to... well, I don't actually know what we're being accused of, but we've been found guilty by most if not all of Gryffindor." Cherub said seriously.
"Perhaps you could explain why Mr. Potter is wearing a Slytherin robe." Professor Snape asked in a suspicious voice.
"Potter, Malfoy and I talked after your class this morning. We cleared the outstanding issues between us and just spoke honestly with each other. After some discussion, we came to realize how the other Gryffindors were going to behave at the idea of Potter being our friend. After it came to Headmaster Dumbledore's attention, he had Harry wear the sorting hat again and it agreed that Harry has the Slytherin qualities as well as the Gryffindor ones. Headmaster Dumbledore gave Harry a choice of which house he would be in, he chose Slytherin." Cherub said frankly.
"I am familiar with the practice of split houses. I recall a Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw girl ten years ago. That situation caused some discord in the school and disrupted the learning environment for many weeks." Professor Snape said in thought.
"Professor, going back to Gryffindor is not an option for me, even if I wanted to. They think I've been corrupted and that I've changed into some kind of dark wizard or something. Honestly, I don't think I'd be safe there if I tried to return." Harry said quietly.
"I wasn't going to suggest that you do. I was only stating that this difficulty has presented itself before, and we survived it. Perhaps we will be able to learn from the incident. For now, I believe steps should be taken to safeguard the Slytherin students." Professor Snape finished firmly.
"Parkinson is getting Prang to gather and account for all the Slytherin and keep them in the dorm where they'll be safe." Draco said professionally.
"Well done Mr. Malfoy. And I presume that the number of your companions is another security feature."
"You presume correctly. We couldn't face down a lynch mob, but we could hold our own against some angry Weasleys if we had to." Draco said firmly.
"Let's hope it doesn't come to that. Let's take Mr. Widget to the infirmary to have that eye attended to, then have a word with the Headmaster." Professor Snape said seriously.
Cherub released the seal on the room. Then everyone followed Professor Snape to the infirmary.
"Yes Headmaster, I do believe it is that serious. Although the root of the problem may be beyond our reach, I believe we can prevent further violence from erupting by removing the most disruptive influences from the school." Professor Snape said as he watched Madame Pomfrey healing Widget's eye.
"In most circumstances I would disagree with your suggestion, but things being as they are... I will call a faculty meeting. You may present it to them for their review. Perhaps they will be able to find an alternative that is less... extreme." Dumbledore said in thought.
"I will see my students safely to the Slytherin Dorm, and return before the meeting." Professor Snape said seriously.
"Yes, yes. And well done boys. It's good to see you watching out for the interests of your prefect as well as he watches out for you." Dumbledore said with pride in the boys.
"Widget is like our big brother. We couldn't ask for a better prefect." Draco said firmly.
"As it should be. Go with Professor Snape now. You should be studying for tomorrow's classes." Dumbledore said as he patted Widget on the back in passing.
"The freak got more bodyguards." One red headed twin said.
"But it ain't gonna help you." The other twin said with a sneer.
Both boys simultaneously threw pouches toward Cherub and his friends.
Cherub held up his hands and began chanting a variation of the Leviosa Spell mixed with the Camborie Cambolis containment spell.
"Gentlemen, stop right there." Professor Snape said as he walked from behind Cherub's group where he hadn't been seen by the Weasley twins.
Both the twins started running in opposite directions.
"Hit them in the legs." Professor Snape said as he handed Harry and Draco each a vial of potion.
Harry and Draco ran off, each following a twin.
Professor Snape looked at the floating pouches and said, "I believe they are impact sensitive. If you can put them down gently, there shouldn't be a problem."
Cherub carefully adjusted his concentration to focus on directionality for the spell and slowly guided the two pouches toward the floor.
"Widget, Crabbe and Goyle. Go to the Headmaster's office and ask anyone there to come immediately." Professor Snape said calmly as he watched Cherub ease the pouches within inches of the floor.
"When they've come to rest, alter your spell to be a full containment spell. It's no different than what you did in my potions lab." Professor Snape said in a toneless voice.
"I got mine. He's stuck outside Professor McGonigal's classroom." Harry said as he hurried to Professor Snape's side.
"Very good. Would you go with Mr. Nott and see that Mr. Malfoy is not in trouble.
"I'm right here." Draco said, out of breath.
"I got him. He's stuck to the first staircase." Draco said breathing heavily.
"I have the only solvent to that adhesive so they won't be going anywhere." Professor Snape said as he kept his focus on Cherub's handling of the pouches.
"Severus, what is the matter?" Dumbledore asked as he was followed by Professor McGonigal and Madame Hooch.
"The Weasley twins attacked this group of students as I was escorting them back to their dorm. They threw these pouches at them and we can only assume that it was something that would cause harm from the manner in which it was delivered." Professor Snape said carefully.
"What is Mr. Nightshade doing?" Dumbledore asked as he moved closer.
"He's using the Camborie Cambolis to protect us in the event of explosion or poisonous gas." Professor Snape said seriously.
"Brave lad. Let me relieve you of that burden." Dumbledore said, then made a gesture at the two pouches.
In a flash, the two pouches were suspended in a solid, transparent block.
"The students who threw these... weapons... are incapacitated." Professor Snape said as he looked up from the pouches.
"We'll deal with them in a moment. For now..." Dumbledore said and waived his arm. The transparent block and pouches disappeared.
"Would you boys return to your dorm room. Once we have this sorted, Professor Snape will be down to tell you of the outcome." Dumbledore said firmly.
"Yes sir." Widget said to Dumbledore, then turned to the boys and said, "Come along. Let's wait in the common room for the decision."
Somewhat reluctantly all the boys followed Widget away from the scene of excitement.
As soon as the group returned to the Slytherin dorm, all the boys except Widget went directly to the bedroom.
A few minutes later Cherub came out of the bedroom and said, "Widget, could you come here for a minute?"
Widget got up from his chair and followed Cherub down the hall.
As he walked in the room he found all the boys sitting around on beds.
Once Widget was inside the door, Draco said, "We've been talking. Since we've come here, we've all become friends. It started out with me and Crabbe and Goyle. When Nightshade moved in, we kind of clicked. Now Potter and Nott have joined us. After everything that happened today we thought we should let you know that we appreciate everything that you've done for us."
Cherub sat beside Harry on his bed and said, "We know you did some of the stuff because you're a prefect. But you didn't have to be nice about it or go out of your way for us. We were just wondering if..."
"...if you'd like to be an honorary member of our group of friends. We know you're a fifth year student and probably have lots of friends already. But we just thought that if you wouldn't mind, we could call you our friend too." Harry finished hopefully.
Widget smiled and looked down at the floor for a moment before speaking.
"Guys. I'm a fifth year student, but I don't really have any friends. In the past four years no one has taken the time to try and get to know me. If you're really serious about this, I'd be honored to be your friend." Widget said in a voice that sounded like he was about to cry.
"Then we need to fill you in on the rules of the room." Draco said seriously.
Widget looked up in question.
"What is said in the room, stays in the room. We can talk about whatever private stuff we want here and it goes no further." Draco said firmly.
"We're on a first name basis in here. Outside, it depends on who's around and what we're doing. If it's class business, then it's last names." Cherub said in a business-like tone.
"No demanding that someone not have other friends outside the group. Just because you're friends with us doesn't mean you can't have other friends too." Harry said seriously.
"Make time for work and time for play." Theodore said with a smile.
"Protect your friends." Goyle said with a growl.
"And they'll protect you." Crabbe said and glanced at Cherub.
"Wow. You guys really have it down." Widget said with a grand smile.
"It's a work in progress." Draco said with a shrug.
"So you're in?" Harry asked hopefully.
"Yeah. I'm in." Widget said with a contented smile.
Draco stood and walked to stand before Widget.
"Malfoy, Draco Malfoy." He said as he extended his hand.
Widget took it and firmly shook as he said, "Eldon Widget."