TWENTY THREE

Theo ripped open his bag and grabbed some parchment and quill, obviously planning on taking notes of a duel between upper-classmen.

At a more casual rate, though with equal excitement, Blaise went through his drawers, searching out a pair of Omnioculars he usually saved for Quidditch matches. 'My money is on Flint, he's a year ahead.'

'Wimple's father is on the Committee of Experimental Charms.' Harry spoke up, stretching out his back from too much study on his bed.

'Charms are for girls.' Theo teased.

'You only say that because you couldn't vanish all your mould.' Blaise said snootily. 'Come on. They'll start soon.'

.:Stay here:. Harry hissed to Apep, getting a startled noise out of Theo (though he tried to hide it).

.:Why?:. Apep asked, though he was curled up on his warming stone, so didn't sound too bothered.

.:I don't know how this works, but… Just in case I get involved you-:.

.:Bring me back a trophy:. Apep interrupted, then shut his eyes in dismissal.

Harry snorted.

'Are you sure we can't tell everyone?' Blaise glared at Harry and Apep.

'Not until after the duel. No point in missing out.' Theo interrupted with a grin as they made their way down to the common room.

'We'd get better spots.' Blaise grumbled illogically, as they were pushed to the back of the crowd. Harry rolled his eyes, and conjured a table against the wall for them to stand on. The idea was stolen from the larger Auror meetings. Harry leaned back on the wall to quietly watch.

The atmosphere was almost getting towards the excitement felt before a Quidditch match, and on the other side of the room Flint (supported mostly by the Quidditch team actually, as well as quite a few older students) was having a whispered conversation with his group. The group would occasionally leer or hiss something across the room to Wimple and his smaller group.

Harry took careful note of the declarations, but wasn't too surprised. He was surprised that the argument, whatever it was, had come to a duel. As far as he knew, it was a sort of last resort, when the argument couldn't be resolved by words. He had also thought that Slytherin regarded it as a sort of shameful thing, having to resort to obvious acts, over subtlety. He made a note to drill Blaise on it later. For now he settled in to look bored, even if he was curious on the inside.

'What is the argument over?' Harry asked Blaise.

'Flint called Wimple a Gryffindor.' Rhea Pax answered.

Harry turned to find that Grace's old group had followed his lead, and had conjured a table next to his. Around the room others were slowly following.

'This is over name calling?' Harry sneered. 'I think I'll return to my number charts.'

He didn't move, having no intention of leaving, but Rhea snorted.

'Funny. No, it escalated from there, for some reason they seem to think they can settle who is more Slytherin through this.' She rolled her eyes. 'Boys.'

Harry gave her a sarcastic look. 'I know, right? Dastardly creatures.'

Next to Rhea her boyfriend Alex choked. 'Way to show loyalty to men, Potter.'

Harry smirked and mockingly raised his fists. 'Loyal? Are you calling me a Hufflepuff?'

That got a laugh around the group. Harry smirked internally; He wasn't sure about the ramifications of the duel, but so far it was politically positive for him at any rate.

A moment later there was a disturbance at the back of the room and a group of younger years parted.

'An honour duel?' The Bloody Baron faded into view as he spoke. Harry felt sorry for whoever he'd walked through with no warning, but it was certainly effective at catching the rooms attention. 'Twelve paces.'

There was an argument between the two boys of hissed insults, but The Baron wasn't interested in hearing about modern whining. 'It has been standard twelve paces for the twelve beginning duelling stances for longer than even I can remember. Ready your wands and bow.'

Harry had expected some sort of ritual about it, but before he knew it, The boys had given each other a minuscule nod, and a mocking bow to the waist with flair, then the Baron simply drawled, 'Begin.' The whole thing seemed sort of rushed, out of character with Slytherin to Harry. The Baron didn't seem to be as interested as he could be, and despite the dramatic entrance, seemed to be just wafting vaguely around the edges of the duel.

Neither boy went on attack to begin with, which Harry suspected was due more to the nature of the argument, rather than Flint's susceptibility towards brute force. Harry grudgingly admitted to himself he didn't know enough about Wimple himself (rather than his father) to know what to expect. His hair wasn't one of those on end, so in the very least he had never pissed of the Weasley twins. Harry was a bit disappointed to see Flint must have managed to find the counter potion (or simply swallowed a lily root sliver). A pity, as the duel would have looked spectacular with the added styling.

Nothing appeared to happen for a little longer, until Harry's attention was caught to the back.

'Behind Flint.' Harry hissed under his breath, noticing a disturbance in the magic. Blaise zoomed in on his Omnioculars.

'What is it?'

Harry tried magical sight, but was surprised to find that the dueling area (a stretch of patterned carpet in front of the lounge) was too brightly lit. Only the feel of the parselmagic reacting to something had tipped him off.

'Some sort of delayed hex, I think.'

'Nightmare circle.' Rhea commented.

Harry snapped his mouth shut. It wouldn't do to point out any other gaps in his knowledge. He made a mental note too look that up. It sounded like a ward, though he had never come across it.

Suddenly magic flew at Flint, who dodged, and brought up a golden ward. Harry frowned.

'Is that a Parseltongue ward?' he asked, breaking from his plan, but really.

'An Indian curse, I think; An adaption in Sanskrit. We've been covering them in class.'

Harry bemoaned missing his seventh year of defence, as they covered international magics. Though he probably wouldn't have survived through the first lesson anyway, considering the Carrows were teaching.

He hadn't known that there was a way for a non-parselmouth to use the magic. He watched keenly as Wimple's spell reacted with the shield, but couldn't tell if it was of the same variety of magic or not.

'I'll have to get my hands on a seventh year's textbook.' He muttered.

'You can borrow mine.' Rhea offered sweetly.

Harry snorted. 'For what price? No thanks- Ouch, that looked like it hurt.'

Wimple suddenly made a move, causing Flint to throw up a heavy shield, but too late.

'Flint didn't see that coming. What was it?' Rhea frowned.

'A vastly overpowered tickling charm. Wimple better not injure our captain.' Harry replied.

He figured that Wimple would probably win, the simple spells nearly always did in amateur duels. He hoped they kept in mind that Quidditch season was coming up. Harry only hoped Wimple didn't have aspirations on the team.

'You don't want to step into Flint's shoes?' Theo teased, obviously thinking along the same lines.

'Nope.' Harry didn't elaborate. He had too many other things going on to want to be captain. Besides, when Flint toned down the violence, he was actually quite good at strategy.

The two boys had stopped circling, and spells were being exchanged fast-paced in a brilliant show of lights. Wimple, true to his start, was relying on simpler spells that had shorter incantations, and that he obviously knew quite well. He would throw things off with the occasional obscure charm, also as Harry expected. Both boys were steadily moving to darker and darker magic, simple or not, it was getting vicious. Flint was going for the more powerful magic, when he got a hit it was far more effective, but he simply wasn't getting enough hits. As he was blocked or dodged he was getting frustrated. Wimple was going to win easily at this rate.

Harry frowned. Having Wimple on the lounge was a problem. Harry knew very little about Wimple, where as Flint would be easy. As a-

Harry's thoughts planning was broken off.

A soft crack! Had somehow managed to be heard over both the sounds of the duel, and the leering crowd. All the magic in the centre of the room ceased suddenly, and a hushed shock spread around the room. It took Harry a moment to realise what happened. Once he did he couldn't help but stare at Flint in absolute astonishment.

'You broke my wand!' Wimple hissed out. He had a half stunned look, but it was quickly eroding into pure rage.

Harry looked to the Bloody Baron and realised the duel had been forced to a stop by him, not won. Harry could sense that it had been achieved by the ingrained Parselmagic, but was failing to wrap his mind around how the Bloody Baron managed it.

'Just thinking outside the box.' Flint drawled.

Harry frowned, and around the room there was more mutterings of unease and the tension in the room had increased exponentially . Breaking a wizards wand was right up there with the unforgivables (probably considered higher by a lot of wizards). Harry had never felt so lost as when his wand had been broken during the horcrux hunt.

'I was unaware that the word honour had changed so much over the centuries.' The Bloody Baron sounded highly unimpressed, but didn't seem to be stepping in other than holding the duel.

Flint looked completely unapologetic.

Wimple was practically spitting mad, being held back one of his cronies. Harry could see his eyes glazing over with the sort of furious look he knew from Deatheaters.

After a moment of sort of stunned shock the two started trading insults. Wimple's crude and vicious, and Flint's drawled and provoking.

Harry's eyes flicked between the byplay, but his mind was three steps ahead.

'I'll be back.' He whispered.

Blaise had been trying to read the Bloody Baron's lips using the zoom function, as the ghost was obviously trying to salvage the situation quietly, but he nearly dropped his Omnioculars in shock.

'You can't just- just miss this!'

But Harry was already making his way back up to the dorm. The duel, while exciting, was bad enough. He was sure that he had thought correctly that a duel was unusual and generally held to be inappropriate. This one had developed into a huge insult, not just a petty argument. If he still had the elder wand he would have even offered to mend Wimple's wand on principle, possible rival or not. Now, Wimple would be out for blood, and Flint was obviously already game. He wanted to break this up.

.:Apep, come here and hold still:.

Apep hissed an annoyed noise, but obediently slid off his rock. Harry began casting every ward he knew at Apep, layering it twice, as well as some nasty defensive curses and the fears/dreams ward he'd been deconstructing on the Gaunt ring. Finally, he held out his hand in the ritual pose.

.:You can't want to waste your tears on me:. Apep hissed, confused.

.:No:. But Harry carefully made a small rune slit in the back of Apep's neck.

Apep let out a jumbled hiss. Harry leant over and, feeling rather stupid, licked the wound. The blood tingled on his tongue, but didn't taste of anything.

.:If you die I will not be the one explaining to Belleza:.

.:I won't die. Now bite:.

Apparently Apep trusted Harry quite a lot, as there was a sharp burning on the inside of his left wrist. Harry traced the same rune there using his own blood, feeling his magic flare. Suddenly he was, for lack of a better term, aware of Apep.

.:Sorry, I wanted to do this at another time:.

.:I'm not some worried little girlfriend, Harry. Now what is the rush?:.

Harry could feel the magic settling, and scooped Apep up, pulling out his invisibility cloak, and pulling it over both of them.

.:Just an in-house issue I want to solve:.

.:Humans:.

Harry could feel Apep's venom effecting him, and hurried downstairs.

.:Here's what I want you to do…- :.

'Where did you go? You missed- Are you alright?!' Blaise whispered, as Harry dropped the notice-me-not he put up to take off the cloak.

He wasn't, his arm was burning like nothing else, and the world was swaying a bit and blurry around the edges.

'I'll give you twenty galleons for your Bezoar.'

'What makes you think I have one?' Blaise sneered, though he looked very startled.

Harry raised an eyebrow. 'I know you so well.' He parodied Blaise's comment from earlier in the day.

'Three Favours.'

Harry snorted. 'Forty galleons, think quickly; the opportunity is slipping away.'

Blaise's look shifted to outright alarm. 'Who did you poison?' He hissed.

Harry let his lips smirk, even as the small movement made his world tilt. 'Me.'

Blaise gaped at him for a second, and looked rather worried, and skipped the middle offers, but he was still a Slytherin.

'One favour. Final offer. I don't need galleons.'

Harry reluctantly nodded. 'Nothing to do with the Dark Lord, Light Lord, or at their bidding.'

Blaise's look of alarm didn't decrease. 'Will that be a problem?' His voice was slightly higher than usual.

Harry grimaced. 'Probably, so choose your timing wisely.'

Blaise sighed, but flicked a secret compartment on his watch, pulling out a Bezoar. 'Why do I feel like I am the one getting the dud end of the deal?'

Harry didn't answer, only focusing on swallowing the Bezoar. He was pretty sure he hadn't let on, but his vision had gone almost completely blurred and he was feeling terrible.

'Boa Constrictor my arse.' He muttered as his vision slowly began fixing itself.

'You aren't making sense.' Blaise still sounded worried. 'Oi, Theo.' He pulled Theo inside the muffliato Harry had set up.

'What?' Theo grouched, tearing his eyes away from the fight. 'Wimple just wandlessly broke whatever ward stopped the duel and took a swing at Flint!'

'Yeah,' Blaise said in an overly calm tone, 'Well Harry here just attempted suicide.'

'I did not.' Harry grouched softly. He was still trying not to move his head too much.

'You- What!?'

'Calm down. I'm fine. Now watch.'

Harry indicated to the lounge. It was being ignored, for the most part, but never entirely. A second later there was a loud squeal, and a second year girl jumped backwards, knocking over three sixth years and a conjured table, pulling the rest of Slytherins attention away from the fight.

'What did you do?'

This time Blaise sounded awed, rather than worried. Harry didn't really need to answer as Apep was quite plain to see. He was sliding across the floor clearing a path to the lounge as students scrambled to get out of the way.

Harry tended to let Apep return to full size only when no one was around, so not even his dorm mates had seen him at full size since the previous year, and he had grown. Apep said it was something to do with Harry's magic reaching a certain level, but had denied it being related to strength of aura, and refused to explain further when Harry asked.

Harry watched carefully, as Wimple and Flint broke off their argument to stare warily at the snake making it's way through the middle of the duelling area and to the lounge. They cautiously approached Apep where he had taken up residence stretched along the back of the lounge. The room had fallen silent, as everyone watched the unknown player enter the game. Across the room Harry noticed the rest of his year mates were the exception, staring at him.

As instructed, the two boys were allowed up until seven feet from the lounge, at which point Apep reared up and hissed through open fangs. Harry gleefully noticed they still had some of his blood on them. Beside him Blaise was checking out Harry's bandaged wrist silently. Harry tucked his arm into his robe with a smirk, but didn't take his eyes off the lounge.

Flint raised his wand, and Theo drew in a sharp breath, 'He's going to kill him.' He hissed at Harry.

'I didn't know you cared. Apep will be honoured.' Harry said sweetly.

Theo looked scandalised. 'You can't just let him kill your familiar!'

'He can't kill him.' Harry drawled.

Flint seemed to have come to a similar conclusion, though no doubt hadn't recognised the blood ward as anything more than volatile.

'Blaise.' Harry sent Blaise a significant look.

Blaise frowned. 'You want me to issue the challenge?'

Harry nodded.

'I would say you were acting like a Gryffindor, but…' He whispered, before stepping out of the muffliato and speaking loud enough for the whole room to hear.

'What, aren't afraid of a snake, are you boys?'

It was a little less refined than Harry would have liked, but then Blaise only had half the plan. Fortunately, the Slytherins weren't dense even at the worst of times.

'We won't ask where it comes from, Zabini.' Wimple sneered, implying that Blaise would, in fact, be in for a heavy questioning once this was over.

'How curious.' The Bloody Baron's voice drifted across the room, and the wards dropped.

'He will have an advantage, with a wand.' Wimple immediately sneered, though he didn't look as if it bothered him too much.

'Rule one! You weren't planning on hurting it, were you?' Theo called out, he obviously didn't trust in Harry's wards. Harry remained silent, but only just refrained from rolling his eyes.

The house wasn't stupid, however. The two voices blatantly belonged to him.

'Potter!' Flint yelled.

'Problem, Flint?' Harry drawled.

'You are aware, that the school letter states a cat, owl, or toad?'

'Perfectly.'

'Three points.'

Harry raised one eyebrow. Around the room the house bristled. Flint sneered, he had obviously lost his patience. 'For purposely remaining obtuse. I know it's yours.'

Harry inclined his head. 'Familiars aren't always cats.'

'Come and tell your familiar to move.' Flint ordered. 'This isn't your game.'

Harry didn't deny it, but couldn't help but play.

'Tell, Flint?'

Flint actually growled. Beside him Harry could see Wimple caught between anger and amusement.

'Surely,' Blaise spoke up, 'For a true Slytherin, charming over a snake shouldn't be that hard.' He glanced at Harry, carefully avoiding looking at his wrist. 'Apep's not that poisonous.' Harry sensed the worried right?, but it was beyond subtle.

Wimple glared at Flint, and in an almost choreographed move, the two boys silently took a step closer to the lounge.

'Not taking very good care of what's yours, Potter.' Flint sneered, pulling out his wand with a flourish aimed at Wimple's empty hand. Flint's first attempt had Harry's wards flare to life, and the stunner was absorbed harmlessly. Wimple looked like he was going to throw a punch again, at the veiled insult, but before he could, one of his friends threw him a wand.

Apep watched them lazily from half shut eyes.

Harry was mostly focusing on Flint; he couldn't figure him out. Flint was just looking for an argument. It was completely out of character for him. He did, however, have one eye on the wand movements Wimple was shielding on Flint's blindside.

'Are you, a Slytherin, threatening my snake?' Harry leered as Flint's first slew of spells failed.

'This is nothing but a test of bravery' Flint dismissed, taking another step forward, just out of reach of Apep's lunge. Harry felt as Wimple broke through the last of his wards, and could sense magic settling in over Apep. It was a pretty botchy job of an advanced calming charm, but then Wimple was using someone else's wand.

'Well that settles that argument.' Harry shrugged, turning away from Flint and the centre of the room in dismissal.

Harry felt Flint's magic flare, but for once let it just wash over him, even without his Aura out, Harry still had no problem in ignoring the weaker one.

'Potter! You-'

'Problem, Flint?' Wimple drawled.

The remaining part of the house hadn't noticed Wimple's sneak attack. Harry suspected he had used a notice-me-not, though he hadn't seen him cast it. As he was attacking Harry's familiar whatever it was didn't seem to effect Harry. Wimple was now in a relaxed pose on the lounge, Apep still draped over the back. He leered at Flint. Harry was rather impressed. He suspected Wimple had managed to cast a distraction or second, altered notice-me-not of some form. Impressive, on an animal.

'I shall expect full reimbursement for my trip to Ollivanders.'

Flint looked like he'd been hit. It was an outright win, however, which he couldn't deny.

No one ever said he was a rational loser, however.

Harry almost stumbled, and it was only Apep's extreme alarm, that warned him of the curse flying towards his back.

Harry spun and there was a rumble like thunder as the curse hit Harry's hasty shield.

Flint looked very surprised that Harry blocked that, which made Harry wonder how dark the curse had been. He had just reacted on instinct, using a grade one Auror Shield.

A moment later, Harry's wand was in his hand and the space between him and Flint was cleared completely of all students.

'One duel per evening, boys.' The Bloody Baron drawled, though he didn't sound particularly bothered, and neither Harry nor Flint lowered their wands. Harry's wand was gripped a lot more loosely than Flint's. He was still trying to figure out what was bothering him about Flint. It was also odd that he had switched targets so easily too.

'King's ransom.' Flint retorted. 'He led Wimple.'

Harry cursed himself for dismissing the duels and not looking into the etiquette more. Judging by the sudden outburst of whispering and furtive glances, this wasn't a small claim.

'The Bloody Barons cold laugh sent involuntary shivers down Harry's spine.

'Oh, now that's more like it.'

Harry didn't want to admit he didn't know what it meant, but was sure he wouldn't be coming out of the duel anything but the winner. Besides, he had a feeling that Flint wouldn't let this drop right now.

He tilted his head to the side, and slowly let his blank mask bleed into a smirk. Fake it until you make it right? 'Agreed.'

'Hey! You can't call King's ransom unless one of you holds the lounge!' Wimple whined.

Harry's attention flicked to the side. Flint looked pissed off by that, but his attention didn't waver from Harry. Harry had still been inclined to just let it go until he figured out what was wrong with Flint (and there was something odd happening), but he had just figured out which curse had been sent at his back. Harry had issues with that curse. They would be duelling. His eyes flicked to Apep.

He focused on the new link. He wasn't quite sure how to control it, but had read quite a lot, and figured focusing too much magic on it might overload it like a flooding a ward. A second later he was rewarded, and whatever was calming Apep broke. Apep lunged at Wimple, (who moved faster than Harry had given him credit for) missing him, but still succeeded in vacating the lounge.

'Mine now.' Harry sneered.

He had been happy for Wimple to beat Flint to the lounge. While Wimple was an unknown, and frankly unexpected threat, he didn't have even close to Flint's backing (Harry wasn't sure Wimple had any backing, except for the short blond boy who had lent him a wand). On the other hand, Bellatrix had sent Sirius through the veil with a blood-freezing curse. Flint was his.

Quite a lot of the house was, amusingly, looking at Flint, not Harry, with worry. Despite Harry being Flint's three years junior. Flint was rolling up his sleeves, ready to fight.

Harry was calm, but beginning to realise that whatever he had got himself into, it was big. Really, if anyone was being a Gryffindor, it was probably him. He should let it go, having issues was the sort of thing that lost political battles. But it was part curiosity too.

He sighed to himself. So: back to rushing in without a plan then? Oh well, there was always parseltongue if this went pear shaped, though he was kind of hoping to win the lounge without it.

'No unforgivables.' The Bloody Baron jumped in. Harry let his eyes leave Flint. The Baron looked far more interested in this duel than he had at the earlier one (for which he had looked mildly annoyed, but mostly bored).

'We are under Dumbledore's wards.' Flint nodded.

Harry felt the foreboding sense of being in too deep creep up on him again. He still had every expectation of winning, but he had not wanted to show his hand this early. Then again, he should have known his tease-act couldn't last. The spot of King always went quickly.

'No outside influences.'

'Do familiars count?' Harry asked. Flint's Deadpan stare gave Harry his answer, so he flicked his wand and the wards around Apep flared back to life, three times as strong. Even Voldemort would struggle to get through those.

'Sabotage is expressly forbidden.' This the Bloody Baron addressed to the house in a drawl, probably acknowledging Harry fortifying a weakness Flint couldn't take advantage of. The Ghosts dour face broke for a second, into a terrifying smirk. 'Upon penalty of stripping of house colours.'

Harry had a weird moment when half of his brain thought 'Maybe I could get resorted into Gryffindor', and the other half thought 'Waaay too deep here!'. He looked across at Flint, but he had a perfect mask. Harry let a slight frown cross his. Something was off.

The Baron didn't mark the paces, only catching each of their eyes. 'Begin.'

'Expelliarmus!'

Harry sneered at Flint, stepping to the left and letting the spell bounce harmlessly off the ground. He flicked his wand once.

The colour of Flint's robes changed to Gryffindor red. Flint now sneered at him.

'Time is past for little pranks, little Potter.'

Harry shrugged, using the movement to hide the complicated wiggle his transfiguration needed.

Flint had to dive to the side at the last minute as the Transfigured Bull went raging towards his red robes.

Harry missed the compulsion Flint sent, but just vanished the bull before it reached him as it switched targets. He had nearly a whole second to dodge as Flint's arrow spell flew in behind it. Harry was quite impressed, and made a note to ask Flint how to do that later.

Flagrate! Harry thought, choosing non-verbal magic specially, it was the spell Hermione used to mark the doors in the department of mysteries, but Harry had first seen it used by Tom Riddle. He set his wand in a spiral, picturing a long single line. Tom Riddle had written in the air, Harry kept the continuous line, then thought of images, and sent it spinning away from him with far more power than usually needed. He knew it was a relatively harmless Flagrate, but to everyone else, as it spread the further it got from his wand, it looked like-

'Are you crazy Potter!?' Flint yelled, 'Aguamenti maxima!'

As he expected, Flint thought he'd called Fiendfire. Unlike Fiendfire, Harry could easily drop the Flagrate, banishing the wave of water back towards Flint, then sending a freezing charm after it.

Flint hadn't been ready, and stumbled back a few steps under the impact of the block of ice.

'Expulso!' The hex was whispered, but there must have been a great amount of intent behind it, as Harry had to hastily conjure a solid shield to prevent being impaled on shards of ice.

Both of them let the ice fall to the floor, but Harry didn't like Flint's smirk. He couldn't help but feel his skin chill too. For a moment Harry thought Flint might have actually hit him with a blood-freezer, but then he heard a feint sound of a woman screaming as he caught the last movement of Flint's final spell.

'Depluso!' Flint yelled. Trying to cover it.

Harry sent that back with a shield, still concentrating on the dementor effect. He really needed a chat with the Weasley twins again.

'Serpensortia!' Harry called. Flint paled drastically, but Harry just let the snakes be. He was leeching power from the parselmagic in the room, and it clustered around the snakes.

Harry was still trying to figure out how Flint had called the effects of a dementor. He sent an inverted cheering charm, hoping to affect Flint with something similar to his own spell, but it didn't take effect.

'Elepsio.'

Harry dodged the violet spell. He recognised it, but couldn't remember what it did, so let it pass.

Both of them sped up as their attempts at subterfuge mutually failed and they were forced into the open. Harry got four hits on Flint with successive welt hexes, but was having more and more trouble focusing as he started hearing Voldemort send the killing curse, then that broken scream. He got nicked by two of the three silent hexes Flint had finally switched to because of the distraction. He frowned. The screaming was getting louder, but parts of conversation from discovering the Potters had been added, and he wouldn't be able to concentrate for much longer at this rate.

Harry took off the kid gloves, and sent a solid bone breaker at Flint.

It made him step back, with the impact on his shield but didn't hit. Harry growled, and went on the true offensive. He sent hex after hex at Flint, but Flint was managing to both dodge and send a few back. It lasted a minute or so, Flint's magic getting darker and darker, and Harry's getting more and more varied.

They were both getting nicks, but neither got another good hit. Like in his duel against the diary, Harry suddenly changed tactics, switching to all light magic, purposely avoiding anything that involved even a hint of sacrifice. This was more successful, as Flint was mostly Dark, and tired quickly. After thirty seconds of Light magic, Harry suddenly sent the darkest curse below unforgivables that he knew.

'Balso!'

Finally Harry got a good hit, and Flint went down. His wand clattered to the side, and Harry summoned it before Flint could try the same wandlessly.

Harry felt the world form itself back around him. Slytherin were hissing to each other, settling bets and making comments. Harry bounced on the balls of his feet, as Flint rolled over to his back and let out a groan. Both he and Harry had significant bruises and cuts, but only Flint was showing it. He was truly down.

Harry considered Flint for a moment. While Harry could have claimed complete victory by rubbing it in, instead he went for a more Slytherin method. He also wasn't convinced Flint had been in his right mind, so it was both somewhat fair, and an opportunity too good to miss.

He walked over and offered Flint his hand.

'You will have to show me how to embed conjured arrows with curses.' Harry ordered. He was offering Flint a lifeline… that would come at a price, of course.

Flint stared at Harry's hand for a second, and Harry couldn't even imagine what his thought process might be.

Their eyes met, and Harry saw acceptance, and noted the hint of confusion.

'Aren't you in third year?' Flint moaned, but it was good naturedly, and he took Harry's hand.

So he would choose to keep his reputation, at the cost of his loyalty. Ouch. Harry would have taken the hit. Slytherins always did have too much pride.

'Who is the bookworm now, eh?' Harry teased.

Flint glared at him. He'd complained of that the previous year one Quidditch practice, when he'd discovered Harry hadn't been floating up high searching for the snitch, he had in fact been reading a book he'd borrowed off Rebo Nott on warding.

Harry's arm was beginning to throb where Apep had bitten him (despite the Bezoar), but he didn't let it show, slipping into a relaxed stance and switching his mask to bored.

Apep slid across the space and wound himself up Harry's leg and around his shoulders.

.:I don't know what you did to break that compulsion, but don't ever even think of doing it again:. Apep grouched.

Harry twitched, but didn't answer.

Flint edged slightly away from Harry, or more likely, Apep.

'Apparently we have all been underestimating Mr. Potter.' The Baron drawled, stepping into the duelling space. 'Silent casting, Potter?' He added under his breath.

Harry shrugged. He could feel the adrenalin leaving him, and he had already been exhausted before the whole fiasco. He needed to talk to Blaise and Theo, and find out the ramifications of what he'd just done, but he suspected he would have to sit and claim the lounge. Unless…

'Do us a favour, Flint.' Harry said with a smirk. 'Keep an eye on Apep, would you.'

Harry walked over to the lounge and deposited Apep on the lounge.

.:Brat:. Apep sniped.

Harry rolled his eyes, and cast a basic long lasting warming rune in magic on the seat.

He then left Flint standing awkwardly next to the lounge he couldn't claim as his, and headed back to the dorm.

Only Blaise and Theo followed him.

'You are-' Blaise struggled for words.

'-an idiot.' 'Amazing!' Blaise finished right as Theo spoke.

Harry looked at them amused.

Theo turned on Blaise. 'Did you not see that duel?!'

Blaise glared, 'Did you not hear the King's Ransom?' he parroted.

'Harry just knew what he was doing.' Theo argued back.

'What is King's ransom?' Harry asked mildly. The two boys turned to stare at him, masks broken.

'You are-' Blaise struggled for words again.

'-amazing.' 'An idiot!' Blaise finished right as Theo spoke again, switching, though Blaise's was very sarcastic this time.

Harry rolled his eyes, but the whole thing seemed off.

'Did either of you think Flint was acting strangely?' he wondered aloud.

'He called ransom.' Blaise said, nodding. 'But then you didn't even know what it was.'

Harry just raised one eyebrow.

'Flint can never be king.' Theo explained.

'Never?' Harry's eyebrows flew up. Well, wasn't that interesting.

'Anyone can call out the King. Whoever looses forfeits the right to stay or challenge.'

Harry frowned. 'So why isn't it used more often?'

'Because the winner doesn't guarantee King, he just permanently blocks their opponent.'

Harry tipped his head back and contemplated the evening. Flint had first challenged Wimple, then him. In neither case did he have enough to gain for the risk. Wimple wasn't really a player, and ransom sounded like a terrible idea unless you knew you would win. To top it off, despite both clearly being in the running, he and Flint usually got on quite well. Quidditch alliances were sidelined in the battle for king, but not usually completely ignored. And Flint hadn't recognised Apep at all, not even just in suspicion of Harry being someone who owned a snake.

'Very well.' Harry stated, pulling his Arithmancy notes back out and dismissing the matter externally. Internally he was running over everyone who might have something to gain in manipulating Flint. It was a long list, but one which Harry would be sorting out very quickly.

'That's it?' Blaise spluttered. 'That's all you're going to say?!'

'What would you like me to say?' Harry offered.

Blaise huffed, but didn't have an answer.

Harry appeared to go back to study. He knew they wanted a bit of an explanation, but he had other things on his mind. With Flint out of the running entirely there was a shift in power bases. Harry's biggest threat would be Draco, as always, but if Harry was correct, and Draco had been influencing Flint externally, then he might have already won. After all, sabotage meant stripping of house colours.

Harry only looked up from the charts he'd been going over as Draco, Vince and Greg came back for the night.

'Hey Draco, do you know much about Jessica Greengrass?'

Theo was reading with his head hanging over the end of the bed, and fell off as he tried to turn to pay attention.

'Sure.' Draco said warily. 'Why do you ask?'

Harry was mostly asking to assess his behaviour, though it might help on two fronts.

'Your favourite team is the Harpies, right?'

'No.' Draco denied, his cheeks tingeing red.

Theo let out a snort, which Harry ignored. He also ignored Draco's answer; he had admitted it to Harry in Diagon alley before first year.

'Does your dad have much influence in the team?'

'You should be talking to Daphne.' Draco said confused, but Harry noticed he was still wary. 'My mother was in the same class as Jessica.'

'Interesting.'

In the original timeline there had been a bit of a scandal when Jessica remained a Greengrass, instead of becoming a Peneus. Harry hadn't realised that Dorian Peneus was related to the Greengrass family so closely, assumably through Daphne's mother. If Narcissa was involved, then Harry could only assume that the reason Daphne and Blaise didn't pair up against Draco was because the Malfoy family must have broken off the Zabini engagement somehow. Harry would look into it, but for now Draco's behaviour was a little too confused for the random topic.

It hadn't looked like Draco was surprised by being questioned in general.

Harry glanced across at Draco, catching Draco glancing back. He almost let out a grin. He really hoped Draco was who had been influencing Flint.

The next morning Harry woke up early, but he couldn't figure out why. It took a few minutes lying perfectly still in the dark to figure out that he could hear a feint breathing that didn't sound like any of the boys in his dorm. Harry flung back the curtains to find an awkward looking Flint standing with his arm outstretched a few centimetres from where his curtain had been a moment earlier.

Harry blinked up at Flint a few times in surprise.

'Do you usually sleep with the snake wrapped around you like that?'

Harry blinked at Flint a few times more. He hadn't woken when Apep came back, but Apep had taken to claiming as much body heat as possible.

'Yes.'

Flint winced.

Slowly Harry's brain fully woke up and kicked into gear.

'Tempus.' Harry glared down at the time. He looked back up at Flint and was about to demand why he had woken him at four thirty, when he noticed what Flint was wearing. Quidditch robes. Harry brightened up immediately.

'Sorry for waking you. I just-'

'Actually, can you go and wake Draco?' Harry cast a notice-me-not on himself and shut the curtains of his bed, padding over behind Flint.

Flint gave him a confused look, but pulled back Draco's blinds silently and shook him awake.

'Draco, get up. Quidditch meeting in ten.'

Draco woke a lot quicker than Harry had, but as soon as comprehension cleared his eyes his mouth turned to a sneer. Under the notice-me-not Harry grinned.

'Why are you acting like you have any say at all Flint? I don't know what you were thinking, but the only person it paid off for was Harry.'

Draco didn't sound particularly pleased about that.

'I'm still your captain.' Flint growled, but then glanced where he thought Harry was standing.

'What's a captain without any power?' Draco smirked as Flint cracked his knuckles. Harry had seen enough, stepping around to the side of the bed Draco wasn't watching, he dropped the notice-me-not.

'It isn't you he hasn't got any power over.' Harry made it sound cheerful, but Draco flinched and Flint looked relieved.

'There hasn't even been a notice about trials!' Draco complained. 'We still need to find a new beater and-'

'What did you think the meeting would be about?' Flint drawled.

'At-' Draco glanced at his watch 'twenty to five!? Seriously.'

'I heard Wood talking about trialling for their seeker after dinner last night.' Flint

Harry was instantly suspicious. 'After dinner? Weren't you already arguing with Wimple? How did you have time to-'

'What is the point of a meeting before we know who is on the team?' Draco interrupted.

Harry took note that Draco only suddenly took interest.

Flint glared. 'I know that some people get in through cracks in the system, but usually Slytherin team rules out any problem players before we trial. It may be a week or two early this year, but Gryffindor is our biggest threat, and we need to be prepared. Besides, I feel like a fly.'

Draco responded by huffing and burying himself below his sheets. Harry rolled his eyes and stripped to change. Flint turned away, but seemed to hover. Harry suspected that the whole thing had little to do with hearing Wood talk about a seeker, and more about wanting to assess where he sat with Harry away from they eyes of the house.

'We'll talk on the way to the pitch.' Harry nodded to the seemingly sleeping other boys. Harry took note he couldn't hear Greg's snores, and Blaise was laying awfully still, unlike when he was actually sleeping.

Once on their way to the pitch Harry broke the silence they had been walking in.

'So last night was rather rash.'

Flint winced. 'In hindsight, yes.'

Harry nodded. 'What can you tell me about Wimple?'

Flint winced. 'Practically nothing. He's quiet, keeps to himself, and is only really in Slytherin because of his ambition to be better than his older brother at Charms.'

Harry frowned. 'That's it?'

It didn't seem like enough. Unless Flint wanted to throw his chips behind someone else, Harry was sure that he would have got all the information Flint had.

Harry came to a stop just as Graham and Loki emerged from the stands and waved them over.

'Just a thought,' Harry said, pulling out his broom and mounting it, 'but are you sure that you really thought it was a good idea to pick on someone who didn't declare any interest in the lounge, had little to no backing, and few allies... then get angry enough to break their wand?'

Harry took off into the air and left Flint on the ground frowning blankly at his broom handle.

No one spoke much outside of Quidditch while they were in the air, and Flint remained almost completely silent the whole practice, but when they landed a more complete awkward silence fell. The other boys all glanced between Flint and Harry warily.

Loki made the first move, switching to Harry's side of the circle with a sigh.

'So when are we going to make a move for the end of the table?'

Harry was rather amused, but just raised one eyebrow. 'We?'

Loki faltered.

Harry tilted his head to the side and assessed Flint. 'Is it a we, Flint?'

Flint looked up from where he'd been contemplating the ground.

'You think someone pushed me into duelling last night?' The other three boys gasped, but Harry kept his mask blank. 'And you know who it is too, I bet.' Flint stated angrily.

Despite only guessing, Harry tilted his chin in acknowledgement.

Flint scowled. 'I wonder what Lucius Malfoy will think when Draco gets his Slytherin tie stripped?'

Harry was pleased to see it wasn't just his future bias coming to that conclusion.

'Would you still run against me for King?' He really wasn't sure whether the rules would still apply after it became clear the fight had been sabotaged.

Flint considered Harry for a moment, but eventually shook his head. 'I still got beat by a third year. His Bloodyness wasn't the only one who noticed your silent casting' Flint paused and winced. 'I didn't even recognise all of your spells.'

Flint sounded part resigned, and part curious. From the lack of reaction, Harry suspected the others had been up even earlier talking tactics. The leaders of Flints support were on the team.

'And your friends?' Harry half addressed the question to Flint, and half to the other boys.

'We don't mind, exactly.' Loki spoke up, after a nod from Flint, 'But there are quite a few wary to support another light wizard.'

Flint glared at Loki for a moment, but before he could complain he stopped, glancing at Harry. He shifted a little from foot to foot.

'Draco is a prat... but-' Flint winced.

'You're dark.' Harry finished.

'It might be different if you were going to be a Lord, but Dumbledore has an iron grip on life.'

Harry frowned slightly, that had been the second illusion in as many days that you couldn't have two of the same Lords at once.

'And you can't have two Light Lords.' Harry stated, but almost as a question.

'Exactly.'

Harry hummed. Clearly he needed to do some research. Apart from anything else he needed to find out more about whether Transfiguration made Dumbledore Dark, because perhaps he could take over as the Light Lord, though the thought made his skin itch, as he would have to deal with people he would rather avoid.

'I will have to think on it.'

'You would consider going Dark, just for the lounge?' Flint seemed surprised.

Harry frowned, then a smirk twitched at the corner of his mouth.

'You really think that position is free either?' Harry shrunk his broom and slipped it into his pocket. 'For today you will have to sit at the outside of my group. Order yourselves as you please, but do not sit in Theo, Blaise, or Daphne's seats in the very least.'

They all seemed more than a little wary over the implications of Harry's declaration, but with a glance and silent conversation seemed to decide to leave that for the second half.

'But... You're forming a court in the middle of the table?' Loki asked, startled. 'But then, Draco has been hexing the end of the table for no reason!?'

Harry turned to survey Loki with a grin. 'He has, has he? How amusing.'

As Flint really had been far too early, they were some of the first Slytherins into the great hall. The few others that were arriving paused as they entered, many eyes watching and taking note of the fact they were in Quidditch robes. At the Gryffindor table Katie bell snorted milk out her nose, then proceeded to glare daggers at them. Harry couldn't help himself, and winked at her.

Harry took his usual spot without hesitation, and Flint paused, leaving space opposite Harry, but sitting opposite one over. Loki, Graham and Miles spread out together in that order to Flint's left. Harry ignored the stares, but took note of the reactions as each new Slytherin entered the hall. It seemed Loki wasn't the only one who had finally caught on that Harry was changing the status quo in the hall, not just ignoring it. Slowly the seats on either side of his group were taken, slight bickering or stare-downs rearranging the order as people took note. Blaise obviously hadn't made it back to sleep, and towing a sleepy Theo, surveyed the table before taking the spot next to Harry with an heir of royalty.

'You do realise it is a Saturday?' He drawled quietly. Harry suspected those further towards the ends of the table couldn't hear, and would be getting the feel of Harry's plan best.

'Perhaps I wanted to make the most of the weekend.' Harry teased.

'You have plans?'

'A morning in the Library will do us both good.'

Blaise stumbled over cutting his toast, but his glare held little effect on Harry. He sighed.

'I will be reading the paper.' He stated defiantly. 'The next essay isn't due for three days!' It turned to more of a whine towards the end.

Harry smirked into his breakfast.

Daphne chose that moment to join them 'There was a quiet sort of desperation in Wood's voice as I passed him in the hall. Do you think he tried to actually ask out the fourth year?'

Harry glanced across the hall to notice Katie was gone, and there were no signs of the other Quidditch team members. He nodded to Daphne in acknowledgement. His eyes followed his old table down assessing each student, until his sight fell on Ginny. She too was focusing on the Slytherin Quidditch robes, and blushed, but tiled her chin as her eyes met Harry's.

'You had an announcement, Marcus?' Flint looked at him surprised as Harry usually called him by his last name (old habits die hard). He looked confused, but only for a half second.

'Trials will be early this year. The last evening of the calendar month. Just Beater.'

'No doubt we should expect some excellent competition from our Slytherin witches or wizards.' Harry added. There was a ripple of surprise down the table, and several girls sat up straighter. Harry had always thought it stupid that Flint wouldn't allow girls on the team. Flint looked across the table at Harry sharply, but his mask was blank, and he was still perceived too far in submission to retort. Harry doubted that a girl would make beater, as they had to be exceptional to outmatch a boys natural strength, but next year there would be a spot for chaser, as this time Flint wouldn't be so focused on sabotage from Draco that he'd remiss on study and fail out. He'd already lost. Besides, Harry would make sure to point out that every premier league Quidditch team expected a minimum of four NEWTS.