Echoes from the Past
by Valerie Vancollie
valeriev84 (at) hotmail (dot) com
Author's Notes: Since my last update I have received new artwork for this story. If you wish to view it, it has been posted on my website, the link for which is in my profile (the URL has just been changed so if you had it bookmarked, make sure to change it!).
Chapter Ten: "To Lie or Not to Lie?"
"But surely they weren't that bad all summer?" Harry asked as he got on the train.
"Pretty much," Ron countered. "They said they'd gained an investor and had to keep him happy."
"Though I can't imagine who'd want to fund them. Mum wasn't pleased when she heard. Not that she believed them at first, but they have the money."
"Oh," Harry said wincing as Ron pulled open the door to the compartment and entered.
"There has been one good thing about it, though," Ron admitted as Harry shoved his trunk partially under the seat before placing his Firebolt on the rack above the seat. "They bought me a new set of dress robes."
"They did?" Harry questioned as he turned to face his friend, having completely forgotten that he'd asked the twins to do so.
"Yes," Ron declared proudly, opening his trunk and pulling out a medium blue set of dress robes with some gold trim.
"Nice," Harry said. "Do you think we'll need them this year?"
"I don't know, but I decided to bring them along, just in case."
"Where's Hermione?" Harry suddenly demanded as he realized her trunk wasn't in the compartment.
"I don't know," Ron replied scowling. "Perhaps she decided to stay with her boyfriend in Bulgaria."
"What do you mean, you don't know? I thought you'd already seen her and she was just talking to some other people," Harry stated as he got to his feet.
"I'm going to go look for her, let her know where we are."
"Fine. Oh, before I forget, Mum wanted us to send the owls on ahead to Hogwarts as they were making too much noise and we didn't have room in the car."
"Okay, thanks," Harry said as he stepped into the corridor once more.
As he moved to the carriage door, Harry noticed some of the other students giving him funny looks before turning to whisper to each other as he passed. Not again, he thought as he groaned inwardly. It looked like things were going to be like last year and his second year again. Between Rita Skeeter's lies and the Ministry's steadfast refusal to recognize and admit that Voldemort had returned, most of his fellow students probably thought he was crazy.
Well that was just bloody fantastic! As if he didn't have enough on his mind right now, he'd have to watch his behaviour as they were probably going to be looking at him constantly to see if he was going to crack. At least there wouldn't be any new articles in the Daily Prophet about him. Well, none by Rita Skeeter anyway and, seeing how the paper had relied on her so much last year, he hoped that meant they didn't have anyone else quite like her.
At the carriage door, Harry sidestepped what appeared to be a First Year and leaned out, scanning the platform. Since there were only a few more minutes before the train left, it was considerably less crowded than before but there were still quite a few parents standing about. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were easily identified though he couldn't find Hermione or her parents. Perhaps she'd already boarded the train and was searching for them?
"Harry!" the shout came from behind him and he turned to find the twins beaming at him.
"We were hoping to catch you alone," Fred stated as they stopped before him.
"Time to talk business," George added.
"Business?" Harry enquired.
"As our silent partner, you have a say in how we run things," Fred explained.
At least Harry thought it was Fred, he was wearing the jumper with a G on it. "I didn't ask to be a partner."
"We couldn't make you anything else considering it was your money that is getting us off the ground," Fred continued.
"You'd have found a way."
"Eventually, yes," George confirmed. "But it could have taken us a few years to get the funds together."
"Which means work, mate!" Fred declared in horror.
"So what do you have planned?"
"We've talked with one of the store owners who is closing towards the end of the year," George began.
"At which point we'll buy the shop and-" Fred continued.
"Buy?" Harry interrupted.
"We were hoping to," Fred stated.
"It's cheaper than renting in the long run."
"And it assures us a place in Diagon Alley."
"Those who rent can be ousted if a better offer comes along-"
"-which can happen."
"So, if it's so lucrative, how'd you get this deal?" Harry asked, his eyes ping-ponging between the two brothers as he tried to keep up.
"Two reasons," Fred stated.
"First, we heard about it early as the owner is a cousin of Angelina Johnson."
"Second, this cousin began his shop on a dream too."
"Why is he leaving Diagon Alley then?" Harry questioned.
"He married a French gal-"
"-and is moving for love!" George finished dramatically.
"So what do you think?"
"Sounds like a plan," Harry admitted. "But will you have money left over to actually fill the store?"
"That's what we're going to work on this year," Fred said.
"We start selling stuff in school and make sure people know that we'll be in Diagon Alley."
"What did you think of our new products?"
"Did you try any?"
"They all sound great, though, while I left some surprises behind for my family, I didn't get to actually see any of them in action."
"That's too bad, mate," Fred stated.
"But there's a whole year ahead of you to try them all!" George concluded. "Not to mention four houses full of victims!"
"Speaking of four houses," Harry said. "How are you going to let the others, especially the Slytherins, know about your shop?"
"Huh?" the twins said simultaneously.
"You're going to be selling to everyone, regardless of house," Harry explained, realizing that before this summer he never would have thought of this either.
Your house was your family while at Hogwarts. That was where your friends were and, most often, your girlfriend or boyfriend. There were exceptions, as had happened with his parents, but they were rare and mostly happened between Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs as they were less involved in inter-House feuds.
"Especially when they're going to be First Years and you don't yet know where they'll end up."
"We hadn't thought of that," George admitted.
"It would mean four times the profit," Harry pointed out. "Though you'd have to generate or modify some of the pranks for this to really work."
"The hair dying potion," Fred said, catching on.
"Harry!" a shout came from outside causing them to turn and see Hermione rushing towards the train with a trolley, her bushy hair flying everywhere.
"There you are!" Harry said as he jumped down just as the whistle sounded.
The moment Hermione stopped the trolley, he grabbed one end of her trunk while George took the other, hoisting it into the train.
"That was too close!" Hermione said as she hopped onto the train just before it started to move, forcing the group to brace themselves, though Harry fell onto Hermione's trunk anyway, not yet sufficiently used to his new height to properly compensate for the sudden shift in balance.
"What happened?" Harry enquired.
"Traffic," Hermione explained, trying to catch her breath.
"We gotta go," George stated, a thoughtful expression on his face.
"We'll consider what you said," Fred added as they walked off determinedly.
"When did the world end?" Hermione asked.
"Fred and George Weasley are taking something seriously!"
"Oh, we were discussing their pranks."
"Harry!" Hermione exclaimed, frowning down at him. "Don't tell me you're encouraging them!"
"They don't need any encouragement," Harry replied, deciding that he might as well start practicing his avoidance techniques and skills.
"That doesn't mean that you-" Hermione began and then simply stared in shock as Harry got to his feet once more and she was forced to look up at him. "Wow, you grew."
"Surprise," Harry said before he grabbed one end of her trunk. "Come, Ron and I have a compartment."
"Oh, good," Hermione responded as she grabbed the other end of the trunk. "I'm so glad I didn't miss the train. I told my parents we should have left earlier."
"What happened? I didn't see any traffic. Well, nothing more than usual."
"It was an accident a few miles before the motorway exit. It blocked all the lanes for over an hour."
"Ah. How was Bulgaria?" Harry asked, steadfastly ignoring the looks he was getting. Though the surprise on some people's faces indicated that they might simply be staring due to his altered appearance.
"It was wonderful!" Hermione declared eagerly. "I wish I could have stayed longer. They have so much magical history there and its tinged with all kinds of foreign influences you just don't see here. The amount of Asian and Arabic touches is amazing, especially since they're not really that close to either place."
"Maybe their Ministry is more open to those things," Harry suggested as his conversation with Corinne flitted through his head.
"What do you mean?"
"Does Fudge strike you as the most open minded individual?"
"True," Hermione agreed as they reached the compartment and Harry opened the door. "They definitely seem more accepting of other magical beings there."
"You did make it," Ron observed as they put away Hermione's trunk.
"Hello Ron," the witch said as she sat down across from him. "Did you have a good summer?"
"As well as can be had with Fred and George in full inventing mode. I swear, if I ever discover who their mysterious investor is, I'll curse them till Merlin himself can't help them!"
"Someone funded them?" Hermione demanded in disbelief. "Now they'll never outgrow this phase!"
"You can't honestly have expected that to happen," Harry stated as he looked at her from his seat next to Ron.
"I could hope."
"What did they do to you anyway?" Harry asked his best friend.
"There were several different incidents. Though the ones they pulled on Percy were bloody brilliant! There was this one where he thought he was a dog and followed Ginny around all day on his hands and knees, barking and begging to be pet."
"That's not funny," Hermione declared as Harry cracked up. "Poor Percy, that must have been horrible!"
"Poor Percy?" Ron sputtered, his face darkening. "Poor Percy! Do you even know why he came home at all this summer? He thought that, given the events of last term, we'd all have finally come to our senses regarding Harry and would be willing to apologize to him for our previous behaviour."
"What? He didn't!" Hermione gasped.
"Oh, sure he did. He was also willing to overlook our inappropriate behaviour if we would help him to discredit Harry so that those other 'poor deluded souls' who were still being misled by the Boy-Who-Lived mystique could be shown the truth."
"Well I never," Hermione muttered angrily.
"He really did that?" Harry questioned, hurt.
"You should have seen Father!" Ron continued, a slightly awed expression falling across his face. "I've never seen him so mad before in my life. They actually shouted at each other for a while, Father about family and loyalty while Percy went on about respectability and authority."
"What happened after that?" Hermione asked.
"That's when Fred and George got involved."
"I'm sure that didn't help matters any."
"I don't care," Ron proclaimed. "He deserved it! You should have seen what the whole thing did to Mother."
"I'm sorry," Harry whispered.
"It's not your fault," Hermione declared fiercely. "But what I meant was that such acts will make it harder for Percy to come back when he finally realizes his mistakes."
"If he realizes it," Ron countered darkly. "Besides, who says we want him back?"
"He's your brother!" Hermione exclaimed in shock.
"Family is supposed to forgive and stand by one another."
"You don't see him standing by us, do you?" Ron argued. "Instead of choosing to believe us, who know Harry personally, he takes the word of some pompous, self-important political git!"
"Just because he chooses to ignore his family ties doesn't mean that you should," Hermione reasoned, before she turned to Harry who had gone pale. "You wouldn't want the Weasleys to cast Percy out if he ever comes to his senses, now would you?"
"No," Harry declared quietly, hurrying to continue at Ron's startled look. "Hermione's right, family is too important. We may not be able to chose who we're related to, but denying it won't help or change the fact that we are related to them."
"I guess," Ron said uncertainly. "Speaking of unwanted relations, how are yours?"
"Huh?" Harry replied, a brief flash of panic shooting through him. How could Ron know?
"The Dursleys, did they treat you all right?"
"Oh," relief flooded through him even as Zera's tongue flicked across his collarbone soothingly. "Like they always do. What about you? Did you do anything exciting?"
"No. Even the trip to Diagon Alley was right boring without you two."
"Without us two?" Hermione echoed. "Harry, didn't you go get your school supplies?"
"I wasn't allowed to," Harry explained, choosing his wording carefully. "Dumbledore was quite serious when he told me I wasn't to leave the protection of the wards. He had someone get my supplies for me."
"But how will you be able to go over our books before classes start?"
"He's still got two days," Ron stated. "It's a Friday today so classes don't start tomorrow like they normally do."
"That's hardly enough time to properly go over them," Hermione declared.
"I'm surprised you had the time to even look at yours, what with all that time you spent with your boyfriend in Bulgaria."
"Viktor is not my boyfriend!"
"He's not?" Ron blinked in surprise.
"No, he's not," Hermione confirmed. "We're just good friends."
"We're too dissimilar and Bulgaria is far," Hermione stated matter-of-factly. "Besides, long distance relationships often fail anyway when people are motivated."
"Oh," Ron repeated.
"Since you weren't allowed out of the house this summer, I take it the shirt is a birthday gift?" Hermione questioned as the little golden snitch came to flutter across Harry's chest and hovered over his heart.
"Yes, Ron gave it to me," Harry replied, pausing briefly before plunging on. "Speaking of birthday gifts, there's someone I need to introduce you guys to."
"You got another pet?" Ron asked, looking questioningly at Hermione.
"It wasn't from me," the witch stated.
"Hagrid gave Zera to me, actually," Harry said.
"Hagrid?" Ron repeated with a slight edge of disbelief. "And you want to keep said monster why?"
"Not every animal Hagrid likes is dangerous," Hermione interjected though her voice held a slight uncertain edge to it.
"Exactly, he got me Hedwig," Harry agreed.
"So where is Zera?" Hermione asked.
"Zera, can you come out now?" Harry hissed in Parseltongue, making his two friends jump slightly.
"Sssure," Zera replied, poking her head out of his shirt, startling Ron and Hermione once more. "Are they your friendsss?"
"Yes," Harry stated as he reached up and let her slither onto his arm.
"A snake!" Ron exclaimed, sliding sideways across the seat a little to put some room between them as Zera's thin body slowly slid into view.
"A red milk snake," Harry commented.
"She's beautiful," Hermione said as she leaned forward for a better view. "But, Harry, snakes aren't allowed at school."
"Hagrid already asked Dumbledore and he said it was okay."
"Is she venomous?" Ron demanded, eyeing Zera uncertainly.
"No, she's a constrictor."
"Oh that's a right comfort that," Ron retorted though he looked more relaxed.
"Don't worry, she won't hurt you, she's already promised me not to bite anyone at school."
"That's right, you can really communicate with her," Hermione said as she glanced at him. "She must have been a big comfort during the summer."
"It was wonderful to have someone to talk to at night," Harry confirmed. "Do you want to touch her?"
"Would she mind?"
"No, just hold your hand out and let her smell you first."
Hermione reached forwards as instructed and her fingers twitched as Zera's tongue flickered out and grazed them. "That tickles," she commented.
"Yes, but I kinda like it," Harry responded. "Now go ahead and run your fingers over her head and body, she really likes that."
"Wow, I'd have expected her scales to be rough and stiff."
"They're not?" Ron questioned as he slid closer once more.
"No, they're smooth."
"They're a little rougher along her underside," Harry told them. "Do you want to do it too?" he asked the redhead as Zera hissed in pleasure.
"She's going to be in our dorm room, isn't she?"
"Well, then I guess I'd better get used to her," Ron declared as he held out a hand to her.
"He'sss nervousss," Zera stated as she smelled him.
"He's a little afraid of you," Harry explained. "Give him some time to get used to you."
"She's cool," Ron said as he ran his fingers over her.
"That's because she's a reptile and reptiles are cold-blooded," Hermione said in her lecture voice. "She probably likes it underneath your shirt."
"At times," Harry replied as she slithered back up his arm to coil loosely around his neck like exotic jewellery.
"Is that her full size or is she going to grow more?" Ron asked.
"She still needs to grow some, though she's already lengthened by several centimetres since I got her."
"I have some more Arithmancy reading to do," Hermione declared as a silence fell between them and she opened her trunk.
"We've got two days before classes start!" Ron stated. "And you don't even know whether you'll have it the first day or not."
"But I could," Hermione replied. "Besides, two days isn't really all that much time."
"Let her read," Harry interjected. "I've got a book you'll want to look at, Ron."
"Oh?" Ron questioned, an undertone of disbelief quite clear.
"It's what Sirius gave me for my birthday. Well, him and Remus."
"Professor Lupin," Hermione corrected, not moving to dig out her book as she watched Harry open his trunk and shift through it.
"He's told me to call him Remus," Harry replied smiling, knowing that she wanted to see the book that could possibly hold Ron's attention. "Here it is."
Purposefully, Harry made sure that neither of them could see the front cover as he got it out. Then he waited for a second before he turned it around for them to see.
"Wicked!" Ron declared, his eyes going wide as he read the title. "Where'd they find that, mate? Fred and George searched for something like that once."
"Oh, for Merlin's sake, will you forever find ways to distract yourselves from your studies?" Hermione demanded.
"Actually, this is one prank book you'll be looking at too," Harry returned.
"And why would I?"
"To see the list of protection charms and spells on it. Or because of all the information it contains on Hogwarts that isn't in Hogwarts: A History."
"That book has everything about the castle in it that's worth knowing."
"I wouldn't be so sure," Harry replied. "Who knows what the Ministry has altered or taken out of it completely."
"What?" Hermione exclaimed. "Why would they do something like that?"
"Because they don't want something known or because they don't approve of or don't want to admit something."
"Like with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?" Ron asked with sudden understanding.
"For instance," Harry agreed. "We can't just believe everything we hear or read."
"I suppose," Hermione admitted slowly and then continued when the two boys looked at her incredulously. "Well there are instances of governmental censoring of books in Muggle history."
"Ah," Harry said, surprised at how readily she conceded the point, though, after Lockhart's books, she was probably a little more wary.
"But that still doesn't say anything about why your prankster's guide might be more accurate or less censored."
"Because the Ministry's never had the chance to touch it," Harry said, handing the book to Ron who clearly wanted to see it. "It was never published and is the only copy in existence. It was also created by some of the first students to ever attend Hogwarts."
"What?" Hermione exclaimed just as Ron gasped, having found the corresponding page.
As he'd predicted, Hermione was instantly on her feet and twisting her head to get a look at the book herself. Harry smiled as he scooted towards the window so that Hermione could sit next to Ron. As they glanced through the book, he found his thoughts drifting.
The realization that he was returning to Hogwarts, and was actually on his way there, hit him once more. In addition to the usual jubilation and excitement he always felt on the first of September, he was now also very nervous. He would be seeing Severus again today. Just thinking of his father caused his pulse to increase and he felt Zera shift slightly.
"It's okay," Harry hissed, dimly aware that his two friends stopped talking to look at him before they returned their attention to the book. "I'm just thinking of Father."
"You'll sssee him today, yesss?" Zera asked sleepily.
"Yes," Harry said. "He'll be there for the opening feast. But after that it could be a few days before I see him again unless I go to him."
"I don't know. I still can't figure out how best to tell him or even how to approach him. It might be best to wait a few days, though."
"Let thingsss sssettle and impressssss him with the essssssay?"
"You'll know when it isss the right time," Zera reassured him as she rested her head on the tip of her tail.
"I hope so," Harry replied. "I really hope so."
His meagre breakfast turned to acid in his stomach as Harry tried to calm his nerves. How was he to tell Severus the truth if he couldn't even figure out how to get the man alone for the conversation? He'd considered going to his office, but the man could refuse to let him enter without a valid reason for being there or, even worse, there could be other students present when he went. He could only imagine the scenario if Malfoy or some other Slytherin was with Severus when he entered. What would he say then?
Harry let his head drop to rest against the window, causing all the movements of the train to rattle him as the Hogwarts Express sped along. He dearly wished that he could just skip straight to Severus' reaction, fast forward time to that point so that he remembered how he'd gotten there but he didn't actually have to do it. That would be nice. Perhaps there was such a spell? It'd probably be highly restricted or illegal if it existed and he doubted he'd have any luck finding it on his own and he couldn't think of a way he'd manage to get Hermione to help him without her getting suspicious and demanding to know why on Earth he would want such a spell.
He was so caught up in his thoughts and worries that it took Harry a few moments to notice the sudden tense silence that had fallen across the compartment. Glancing at his friends he saw that they were eyeing him uncertainly, their postures full of worry and tension. Frowning, he was about to ask them what was wrong when he caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eye. Turning towards it, he felt his heart leap into his throat as he saw Cho Chang standing in the entrance of the compartment.
"C... Cho," Harry finally managed to say after several eternal seconds.
What did she want? The mere thought of her had been enough to dredge up images of the horrifying end of the Tri-Wizard Tournament during the summer, her actual presence... The memories threatened to overwhelm him along with all the nightmares he had experienced about the event. Gone were any feelings he'd had for her last year, replaced with sorrow, grief and a deep seated worry that she would accuse him of killing Cedric as so many people apparently seemed to believe.
"Harry," Cho stated as she glanced at him before her eyes flickered to Ron and Hermione. "I... I was hoping to... to talk with you. Please?"
"I... uh," Harry began.
He really didn't want to deal with this now! He was already nervous as hell and didn't want to complicate the situation even further. Nor did he want the reminder of last year's events. But could he simply turn Cho down? She was one of the few people who deserved an explanation. At least he sincerely hoped that she wanted an explanation. It didn't look like she was angry at him. She looked heartbroken.
"Yes," Harry finally answered, looking to Hermione for help.
"I should get changed," Hermione finally said, clearly misinterpreting her friend's glance.
'No!' Harry's mind screamed silently. 'Don't leave me!'
Hermione didn't hear his plea as she picked up her black school robe and turned to Ron. "Come, you should get changed too."
"Sure," Ron replied, his eyes flickering between Harry and the Ravenclaw as he fumbled to open his trunk and pull his robe free, proving that he was every bit as untelepathetic as Hermione.
"Thank you," Cho said softly as she stepped further into the compartment so that Ron and Hermione could get by her.
"You're welcome," Hermione said with a forced smile as she slid the door shut.
Harry shifted in his seat as Cho sat down across from him. He glanced up at her quickly before looking down once more. To think he'd found it difficult to approach her last year when all he wanted was to ask her out! How did one start a conversation like this? How did one talk to a girl they'd liked after one had brought back the body of her dead boyfriend under mysterious circumstances? A brief flash of panic and horror coursed through him at the thought. She didn't think that he'd done it on purpose, did she? There had been those at the end of last year who thought that he'd killed Cedric...
"Harry," Cho began with as much nervousness in her voice as he felt. "Harry... I..."
"Yes?" he managed to ask as he glanced at her again, wincing at the pain and anguish he saw there.
Cho seemed to be as unsure about the whole conversation as he was; as unable to start it. Yet she'd come to him nonetheless. Could it be that this had been bothering her as much as his upcoming conversation with Severus had been haunting him? He hoped not but it was a distinct possibility.
"About... how did..." Cho tried again, her hands twisting the hem of her shirt. "Cedric," she finally forced out, looking up at him just in time to see his involuntary flinch. "Can you tell me what happened to Cedric. Please? I... really need to know. How did he die? Was he in pain? Who killed him?"
Harry was a bit taken aback by the sudden flood of questions once she got over the stumbling block. The last one, though, was able to sooth some of his nerves, but not nearly enough of them.
"I... yes, I can tell you," Harry replied, steeling himself as an image of the churchyard scene flashed before his eyes once more.
A glance up at Cho revealed a small, forced, smile on her lips. "Thank you," she whispered. "I really need to know."
That was a sentiment Harry could relate to. Not knowing could be torturous even if knowing could cause pain too. At least then there was no possibilities and the mind could conjure up all manner of horrendous alternatives if left unchecked.
"It... it started in the heart of the maze," Harry began, looking down at his hands once more as he decided that she didn't need to know that Cedric had experienced the Cruciatus. "I had just gotten past a sphinx and caught sight of the Cup when Cedric appeared on the path in front of me, running towards it. He would have gotten there first but there was a huge spider coming up on his left. I called out a warning and he managed to avoid it but he tripped in the process and lost his wand."
"That's what Cedric admired about you," Cho whispered. "You never let the competition get in the way of what's right."
"Huh?" Harry questioned, startled at being pulled out of his memories.
"Most people would have let him get caught by the spider so that they could get the Cup."
"Pity I didn't," Harry replied bitterly, catching the surprised expression on her face. "He'd still be alive if I had."
Momentary silence fell between them as Harry's words hung in the air. Swallowing hard, Harry forced himself to continue his tale before she could question him further.
"I tried to take down the spider but all I managed was to alert it to my presence and it decided to attack me instead. By working together, Cedric and I managed to stun it. I was injured in the process and could hardly walk, let alone run, so I told him to go get the Cup but he refused to. He said that since I'd saved him, I deserved the Cup. I refused. Cedric would have gotten to it first if he hadn't decided to be noble and that's how it was supposed to go.
"I suggested instead that we should both take the Cup as it would mean a Hogwarts victory either way. Cedric agreed and helped me towards the Cup which we then grasped at the same time. It wasn't until we landed in the middle of a graveyard that we realized that the Cup was a Portkey," Harry said, pausing briefly to look at her face.
Cho had gone pale and her hands were clenched into fists. Her eyes were brimming with tears which were, at the present, still unshed but it wouldn't be long now.
"At first we assumed that it was a part of the task, I mean what were we to think?" Harry demanded, pushing down the horror that was threatening to overwhelm him.
If only they had simply thought to grab hold of the Cup again, Cedric would still be alive today and Voldemort incorporeal... or would he? It was possible that the Dark Lord would have insisted to use his blood anyway and would simply have come up with a new plan, but it was also possible that he would have gone with that of another enemy. He wasn't sure if Voldemort would have persisted in wanting his if it meant delaying until another plan had been formed and put into action.
"We got our wands out and waited until we saw someone approaching us. It was carrying what seemed to be a baby, which caused us to hesitate," Harry continued, pausing briefly. He didn't know how much of Skeeter's articles Cho believed but he hoped not much. "I... my scar suddenly hurt and I dropped my wand. What happened next is still a little hazy but I heard someone say 'Kill the spare' and the next thing I heard was the killing curse."
"Oh Merlin!" Cho exclaimed, her hands flying to her mouth in horror as the tears streamed from her large dark eyes. "Spare? Kill the spare?"
"Yes," Harry replied timidly, shifting uncertainly at the hysteria in her voice.
"They called him a spare?"
"It was a trap meant for me."
"Vol... He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named needed a specific spell done to be resurrected and he required my blood as an ingredient. That was why the Triwizard Cup was converted into a Portkey in the first place. He and the Death Eater that carried him were expecting me, as that was how they had arranged it with Crouch. Cedric was not supposed to be there."
"Crouch?" Cho repeated after a few seconds of silence.
"Bartemius Crouch Junior. He was a Death Eater who was captured and sent to Azkaban during the first war but he got out. He then managed to find You-Know-Who and they came up with this whole plan. In order to get my name into the Goblet of Fire and to assure that I made it through the Triwizard Tournament and managed to get hold of the Cup, Crouch attacked and captured Moody and then impersonated him for the whole year."
"Professor Moody was a Death Eater?"
"One using polyjuice," Harry confirmed, surprised that she was able to take it all in so fast. But then, it wasn't like Cedric had just died, and she was a Ravenclaw.
"Cedric was just an inconvenience to them," Cho whispered, horrified.
"He was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Silence enveloped the compartment once more in its uncomfortable embrace as Cho cried and tried to come to terms with the terrible truth. Harry watched her briefly, wondering what to do. He wished to comfort her but didn't know how. If it had been Hermione, he would have hugged her but he wasn't sure that Cho would welcome such an action from him and he didn't want to make the situation any worse than it already was. It was obvious she had loved Cedric and while any feelings he had once harboured for her had long since withered away in light of all that had transpired, she didn't know this.
"I... I-" Cho finally started to say as her tears slowed. "Thank you... thanks for telling me."
"Sure," Harry replied awkwardly.
"I need... I need to go," Cho declared as she got to her feet and fled the compartment.
Harry looked at the open doorway, unsure of what to do. The memories of last June ran rampant through his mind and the image of Cedric's lifeless body floated before his eyes. He tried to force them aside as he got to his feet to close the door. He had hardly taken a step when it was opened wider and Hermione appeared.
"Is she okay?" Hermione asked worriedly as she entered, her clothes under one arm as she motioning in the direction Cho had gone.
"I don't know," Harry responded as he sat down once more. "But I wouldn't know what to do if I went after her."
"Neither would I, mate," Ron stated as he entered the compartment, dropping his clothes carelessly into his trunk.
"Hopefully she's gone to her friends," Hermione said as she too put her clothes away.
"Yeah," Ron said, an uncomfortable silence falling over them.
"What is that?" Hermione questioned as her eyes fell on some of the papers in Harry's open trunk.
"What? Oh, those, I'm not sure what they are," Harry admitted as he followed her gaze. She was looking at a handful of parchment sheets from the vault that were covered in strangely elegant and curly symbols he had never seen before but which reminded him of Chinese characters in a way, though they definitely weren't Chinese. "They're written in some weird language I've never seen before."
"That's odd," Hermione commented as she picked up a sheet and examined the writing. "It looks gorgeous."
"True," Harry said, having admired the symbols already.
It hadn't taken him long to realize that it didn't seem to be done in his mother's handwriting. Despite this fact it had still seemed hauntingly familiar and a quick comparison with the scathing comments Snape had often covered his potions essays with had revealed a definite similarity. Not that he expected Hermione to realize that as she didn't have the contextual information he'd had to make that connection.
"Is this where you got Nista from?" Hermione questioned, not looking up.
"Eh," Harry began hesitantly, not wanting to lie.
"Nista?" Ron enquired as he looked up from the pranksters' guide.
"It's a word Harry asked me to look up this summer," Hermione explained. "He had come across it and didn't know what it meant."
"Did you manage to find out?" Harry asked, hoping to distract her from her original question.
He wouldn't be lying if he didn't deny it and let her assume that he'd found it on one of those sheets. That wasn't lying, it was just not answering her. That she drew the wrong conclusions from it wasn't his fault. Was it? Harry pushed the thought aside. He had known that it would be hard to conceal the truth from his friends and that he might have to lie to them at some point, so he should be happy that he could get out of this instance by simply letting Hermione assume. Things would get harder later and he'd have to actively misdirect his friends if he didn't want to lie to them so he'd better get used to it.
"It took a really long time, but I finally did manage to find one translation," Hermione said as she looked up from the sheet with a small frown. "Though I don't think it's correct."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you said that Nista was written with a capital N and the translation I found doesn't really have that. It can be written with a capital letter, but only when it's at the start of a sentence, so I think it's more of a coincidence that it means something in Croatian."
"Croatian!" Harry exclaimed, had his parents spoken that?
"Yes," Hermione replied. "Nista means nothing in Croatian."
"Nothing? But you said it meant something," Ron said confused.
"Yes, it does mean something. It's the Croatian word for nothing," Hermione explained.
"Nothing?" Harry repeated. "Are you sure?"
"That's strange," Harry muttered, frowning.
Why in Merlin's name would his mother have called Severus 'nothing' as a pet name? That didn't make any sense whatsoever! Considering what she had said in her letter to him, his father's sense of self worth hadn't been the best when they started dating so there was no way that she would have given him that as a nickname no matter what the need for secrecy was. It had to mean something else.
"So was it at the beginning of a sentence?" Hermione asked.
"Huh? Oh, no, it wasn't," Harry replied. "It was in the middle and it was always written with a capital."
"So it is coincidental. Besides, Croatian doesn't look anything like this writing," Hermione said as she tapped the parchment before handing it back to him. "Where did you get this parchment anyway?"
"It was among some of my parents' things," Harry answered truthfully as he put the parchment back, silently cursing his stupidity at not making sure that the sheets had been out of sight. At least he was telling the truth even if they would assume that he was referring to his mother and James.
"Your parents' stuff?" Ron demanded as he looked at him. "Your aunt and uncle had some of their things all this time and never told you? How dare they!"
"No, the Dursleys didn't have it," Harry corrected, his mind desperately seeking for a way out of this situation without lying. "It was among some stuff my mother put together in case she didn't survive the war."
"Ah, so she left it with Sirius then?" Ron asked. "Why didn't he give it to you last year?"
"He's hardly been able to go where he pleases," Hermione said. "He probably couldn't get to it any earlier."
"Actually, my Mum wanted me to get it this summer," Harry stated. "Here, look at this," he continued as he dug into his trunk until he found his father's carving.
In order to protect it, Harry had wrapped the statue in one of Mrs. Weasley's jumpers. Unwrapping it, he held out his hands to Hermione so that she could see it.
"Wow, it's gorgeous," Hermione said as she picked it up.
"It was a gift..." Harry trailed off with a frown as he watched her examine the carving. Neither the lion nor the snake were moving.
"A gift?" Hermione asked looking up.
"For my Mum from Father," Harry finished. "But it's supposed to move."
"Yes. Let me see."
The moment Hermione put the statue in his outstretched hand, the lion roared and the snake hissed, moving along its companion's back.
"That's odd," Harry said, his frown deepening though he was relieved that he hadn't managed to break it somehow.
"Maybe not," Ron countered as he looked at the carving. "Let me see it."
Harry complied, watching the lion pace on his friend's hand for a moment before becoming immobile once more.
"Just what I thought," Ron declared. "A familial spell."
"A what?" Hermione asked, eagerly leaning forwards.
"A familial spell. Harry's father must have charmed it to react only to members of his own family."
"But he gave it to Mum before their marriage."
"I reckon he spelled it for her family too then."
"I've never heard of such spells before," Hermione said.
"They're not very common, but we have a music box at home that'll only play for a Weasley."
"A music box?" Harry asked, his eyebrows rising.
"It's a special music box," Ron defended. "A family heirloom."
Through the door came the distinct sound of a snort and muffled laughter.
"What in Merlin?" Harry questioned before he got to his feet and opened the compartment door. "Malfoy," he growled as he realized just who was standing in the corridor.
"Potter," Draco shot back, though the effect was ruined by the half-laugh that slipped out. "A music box, Weasley? That's your family heirloom?"
Crabbe and Goyle, standing behind Malfoy, started snickering once more, though it sounded more like someone suffocating to Harry. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Ron's face grow as red as his hair before it darkened several shades in anger as he rose. A soft creaking from behind him alerted him to the fact that Hermione had gotten to her feet as well.
"Why you," Ron sputtered, indignant.
"That's downright pathetic!"
"No one asked for your opinion, Malfoy," Harry declared as Ron went for his wand.
"Ah, ah, ah, ah," Draco scolded as he flashed a small gold badge at Ron, though Harry could see he held his wand ready with his other hand. "Do you really want to loose House points before the year has even started?"
"What?" Harry demanded as Ron paled, looking at the badge.
"Prefect," Draco stated smugly as he let Harry see.
"Impossible," Ron uttered. "You're just pretending."
"Are you calling me a liar?" Draco demanded, stepping closer with Crabbe and Goyle following. "Five points from Gryffindor for disrespecting a Prefect."
"No," Hermione said calmly.
"No?" Draco questioned, turning to her with a sneer.
"You're not allowed to take points until the school year has officially started," Hermione replied. "Which you'd know if you'd bothered to read the Prefect rules."
"What would you know about it, Mudblood?"
"More than you, obviously," Hermione retorted, colouring at the insult even as her hand emerged from her pocket holding an identical badge.
"All right, Hermione!" Ron exclaimed, beaming at Malfoy's disgruntled expression.
"So much for only the worthy becoming Prefects," Draco stated before he turned his attention to Harry and Ron. "What about you two, either of you make Prefect?"
Harry clenched his jaw as he knew what was coming next. Truthfully he'd never had any desire to become a Prefect and he'd even completely forgotten about the fact that two of his Yearmates would become Prefects. Malfoy, however, was sure to make a big deal of it and Ron would take it hard if he wasn't a Prefect. Not only would he hate for Malfoy to have made it and not him, but also because it would have been expected of him at home due to his brothers' achievements. Judging by the rapidly colouring face, his friend hadn't become a Prefect.
"Excellent," Draco declared, smug once more.
"I'd rather not be a Prefect than to be one only because I'm a teacher's pet," Harry snapped, stepping forwards slightly to block Ron's line of sight before he lost it and cursed Malfoy. His own hand, however, did slip to his wand, just in case he needed it.
"You're just jealous," Draco sneered before his eyes dropped to Zera. "Nice necklace, by the way. Very Slytherin."
"You have no idea."
"Careful, Potter," Draco warned, leaning in close. "You wouldn't want people to start thinking you're the next Dark Lord, now would you?"
Harry knew his own face was reddening at the remark but before he could formulate a coherent reply, Zera let out a threatening hiss and lounged forward, snapping at Draco. The Malfoy heir let out a startled cry as he back pedalled, colliding with Crabbe and Goyle and causing all three of them to tumble to the floor. Harry heard Ron snort with laughter even as he suppressed his own.
"I don't think Zera likes you very much," Harry commented nonchalantly as he reached up to stroke the bottom of her jaw and body as she'd repositioned herself so that the end of her body was wrapped securely around his neck while the front end was suspended in the air so she could hiss at Malfoy. "Oh, before you say she isn't allowed, let me assure you that she is."
"Draco Malfoy," Zera hissed angrily. "Isssn't he?"
"Yes, he is," Harry confirmed with surprise as he watched Malfoy's eyes widen as he paused in trying to get up. "How did you know?"
"He sssmellsss like hisss father."
"Ah," Harry said as he closed the door before Malfoy could recover.
"That was awesome," Ron concluded as Harry turned around. "Tell Zera she was great."
"That wasn't great, it was dangerous," Hermione countered. "I thought you said she wouldn't attack anyone."
"She didn't," Harry replied as he sat down. "She merely scared him. Trust me, if she'd really wanted to bite him, she would have."
"You didn't tell us you'd become a Prefect," Ron said as he looked at Hermione. "This ruins everything!"
"Ruins?" Hermione asked. "You just found it good."
"Yes but now you can't help Harry and me do some of these pranks," Ron replied as he indicated the Pranksters' Guide.
"Or wander about at night," Harry added.
"How about a 'Congratulations, Hermione' or a 'You deserve it, Hermione'?" Hermione demanded as she grabbed some supplies from her trunk. "I've worked quite hard for this position, thank you very much. Now, I have to go. I've got a Prefects' meeting to attend."
"What's wrong with her?" Ron questioned as she stormed out of the compartment. "It's true."
"I reckon we should have congratulated her," Harry said. "I wonder who the second Gryffindor Prefect is."
"Someone willing to take on Malfoy, I hope. Otherwise we're in for a rough year."
"Yeah," Harry agreed gloomily. And he'd thought things couldn't get more complicated! If Malfoy decided to follow him to catch him when he did something wrong, he'd never be able to talk to his father! "What the," he muttered as his eyes fell on a thin book in Hermione's trunk.
"Huh?" Ron queried as Harry leaned forwards and picked it up.
"It's a driver's manual," Harry said as he flipped through the book.
"A book with the rules of the road and an explanation of the signs and fines for breaking the rules," Harry explained as he stopped on a random page.
"Black ice," Ron read one of the section headers. "What does that mean?"
"Black ice is a type of ice that forms under certain conditions and is hard to see due to its colour. If people are driving too fast they can loose control when they hit a patch of it."
"Why does Hermione need the book?"
"Muggle law requires people to take a theory test before they can get a Provisional Licence. She must be preparing for it, though why I don't know... oh, right, she's a year older than us."
"Yes, but I think Hermione is still too young."
"I can't wait until next year," Ron declared. "We learn to Apparate then."
"Now that will be useful," Harry stated as he dropped the book back into Hermione's trunk.
Absently he turned around and pulled a school robe out of his own trunk and quickly changed, hastily folding his clothes before stuffing them into his trunk. Briefly Harry frowned as he saw that the robe was obviously too short for him but there was nothing he could do about it. He sincerely hoped that Dumbledore had been able to get him some new robes as he didn't want to parade around the school like this.
Since Ron had taken to looking through the book once more, Harry sat back down and stroked Zera as his thoughts turned to the upcoming meeting with his father. Despite his anxiety, the lack of sleep he had been getting lately must have caught up with him because the next thing he knew it was completely dark outside and Hermione was back, her Prefect's badge displayed prominently on her robes next to the Gryffindor shield.
"You're awake," Hermione said as she looked up from her book. "Haven't you been sleeping well lately?"
"Visions," Harry explained as he stretched. "And nightmares."
"Sorry to hear that," Ron said, holding out a chocolate frog. "We got you one from the trolley."
"Thanks," Harry said before he laughed as Zera, who'd leaned forwards to inspect what he had, pulled back in surprise as the frog jumped.
"You sssaid you didn't eat live prey," Zera hissed in annoyance.
"Humans don't. This frog shaped chocolate has just been spelled to act like a real one. Like your food."
"We did expect you to wake sooner," Hermione admitted as Harry looked up in shock as a voice stated they would arrive in ten minutes.
"That's okay," Harry said as he popped the last of the chocolate into his mouth. "I needed it."
Quickly Harry rummaged through his trunk until he found his Vision Journal. Pulling it out, he shrunk it and put it in a pocket. Perhaps he'd be able to give it to Dumbledore after dinner. He then grabbed the bag of snake treats and, before he could open it, Zera had already slithered down his arm to it.
"Hungry?" Harry enquired as he laughed.
"Are those mini-owl treats?" Ron asked.
"They're snake treats," Harry corrected, pulling one out and offering it to Zera. "She loves them."
"I can see," Hermione stated as she watched Zera snatch it up before flicking her tongue at the bag again.
"Just one more," Harry hissed at his familiar as he handed it to her. "You should probably hide yourself again. We're going to be leaving the train soon and it'll be best if people don't see you during the opening feast."
"Okay," Zera hissed as she slipped under his sleeve and made her way to his upper arm.
Unable to think of anything else that he needed now, Harry picked up the Prankster's Guide that Ron had put beside him into his trunk and closed it.
"Hermione, aren't you still too young to get a Provisional Licence?" Harry asked as he leaned back in his seat.
"What?" Hermione said as she looked up from her book. "Oh, I figured that I might have some time to start preparing for it this year. You can never be too prepared."
"Speak for yourself," Ron stated. "When can you take that test anyway?"
"When I'm seventeen."
"I'm surprised you're worrying about that at all," Harry said. "What with our O.W.L.s at the end of the year."
"Don't remind me!" Ron groaned.
"I only brought it along in case," Hermione replied as she put the book she was reading into her trunk and closed it. "You never know."
The train, which had been gradually slowing, stopped with the usual jerk just as the voice told the First Years to leave their belongings on the train.
"Don't," Ron warned as he saw the frown cross Hermione's face. "Let's go get a carriage before they fill up."
Harry released a soft sigh as Hermione simply got up and left the compartment instead of launching into another House Elf rights lecture. He really hoped that she wouldn't be as insistent about the whole issue as she had been last year.
As he followed Hermione out of the compartment, Harry decided he really liked being able to see over the heads of most people. Only the Sixth and Seventh Years were taller, but not all of them. As he stepped onto the platform, he waved at where Hagrid stood surrounded by a sea of First Years. The half-giant gave a start before smiling and waving back at him.
Harry's smile faded a little as he noticed the looks he was receiving from most of the people around him. He lost the smile entirely and his mouth dropped open in shock as he caught sight of the carriages.
"Ouf!" Ron said as he walked into Harry who'd frozen on the spot. "What's up, mate?"
Instead of replying, Harry simply pointed.
"Yes, the horseless carriages," Ron said as Hermione, who'd been in the lead, noticed they were no longer following and returned to them.
"But they're not, horseless I mean," Harry said as he stared at the skeletal horse-like creatures standing before the carriages, their wings flapping restlessly as they stamped at the ground and shook their heads, white glowing eyes looking around. "Well, I guess they are horseless, but... what are those things?"
"Those animals before the carriages!"
"Harry, there's nothing there," Hermione said softly, looking between him and the carriages.
"Yes, there is!" Harry insisted, not liking her tone. It sounded too much like it had when he'd first told them he heard a voice from the walls back in Second Year. "They're just fading in and out of view a little."
"I don't see anything either," Ron stated after squinting at the area for a moment.
"I do," a soft voice declared from behind them.
"Neville!" Harry exclaimed as he turned. "You do?"
"Yes, they're thestrals."
"What?" Harry asked as Ron sucked in a sharp breath. "What are thestrals?"
"They're Dark Creatures," Ron explained. "Meat eaters who aren't too picky about whether their food is dead or alive."
"Why can't you or Hermione see them?"
"Because we haven't seen someone die," Hermione explained.
"What?" Harry demanded, stunned.
"Only someone who's seen death can see a thestral," Neville stated. "I saw my grandad die."
"And I saw Cedric," Harry added before he frowned. "Wait a minute, I saw my Mum die too, why couldn't I see them before?"
"Did... did you actually see her die?" Hermione asked tentatively. "Or did you just hear it all?"
"I... I'm not sure," Harry admitted.
"That could be it," Neville said.
"We need to get a carriage," Hermione stated as the crowd around them lessened.
Since they knew all of the close carriages would already be occupied, they headed for the ones standing further away. Both Harry and Neville gave the thestrals a wide berth with Ron following their example as he muttered about mad headmasters and insane half-giants.
"It can't be that bad," Hermione said as they found an empty carriage and climbed in.
"Not that bad?" Ron questioned in disbelief. "This is Hagrid we're talking about!"
"But Professor Dumbledore approved it, if it was even Hagrid who started using thestrals."
"I still say they're both barking mad," Ron declared.
Harry snorted at the description as the carriages started to move, Dumbledore's sanity was highly questionable at times.
"Did you have a good summer, Ron and Harry?" Neville asked.
"Nope," Harry replied, startling the other boy. "I wasn't allowed to leave the house."
"For your own protection," Hermione stated.
"Your own protection?" Neville repeated, confused before his eyes opened wide. "Oh, yes, I see."
"You believe me and Dumbledore?" Harry questioned, hopeful.
"Of course," Neville replied. "My... my parents stood with the Headmaster when he was around before."
"Yes, I heard about them," Harry said.
"Y... you did?" Neville questioned, seeming to shrink a little in his seat.
"Yes. They were very brave," Harry replied, seeing him straighten a little. "I'm sorry."
"Thanks," Neville whispered.
"You're a Prefect!" Ron suddenly exclaimed as he noticed the golden badge on the chubby boy's robe.
"Yes," Neville said proudly. "My grandmother was so excited. Apparently my father was a Prefect too."
"Congratulations," Harry said, remembering Hermione's reaction from earlier.
"You're going to have to help us with Malfoy," Ron declared.
"Ron! Just because Malfoy may be willing to abuse his Prefect power doesn't mean that Neville and I shall do so!" Hermione scolded.
"But if you don't counter him, we'll loose heaps of points!"
"I'm sure the professors won't allow him to do that."
"Yeah, right, Snape will probably reward him for it," Ron retorted, not seeing Harry's slight wince.
"There are more professors than just Professor Snape," Hermione stated.
"And if Malfoy does it anyway?"
"We'll see what happens first."
"She'll help us if we really need it," Harry told Ron as he smiled at Hermione who scowled at him but made no attempt to deny it.
Please let me know what you think of the story so far (especially if you can see any of the myriad of clues I've hidden throughout this fic that no one seems to have found!).
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