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Chapter One Hundred and Eighteen—Full Moon Meeting
"And where do you think you're going, Mr. Potter?"
Harry pulled up with a small sigh that he concealed. Then he turned around and patted Dash's neck to keep him from rearing up any further and talking about what a good idea it would be to eat Umbridge right now. "I'm on my way to detention with my guardian, Professor Umbridge."
The woman waddled towards him, her eyes bright. Probably because she thinks she's going to get a chance to discipline me.
That's exactly what she's thinking. I can smell it. Dash darted his tongue out longingly. So many problems could be solved if—
I know exactly what you're thinking, and I'm not going to allow it. Harry merely raised an eyebrow at the woman when she opened her mouth to speak. "You know that it is close to curfew, Mr. Potter."
"Not exactly curfew though, Professor."
"If you are chopping the edges of rules and trying to get away with something, then I should put you in detention right now," Umbridge began, fingering the beaded edge of her pink cardigan and simpering.
"He is on his way to detention with me," Severus said, and loomed out of the shadows in that unnerving way he had. Dash laughed down the bond. Severus stalked towards Umbridge, his robes billowing behind him. Umbridge backed up a step without realizing she'd done so, Harry thought. "If you wish to give him detention on another day, do it when he has done something worthy of it, Madam."
Umbridge stood uncertainly for a second, seeming to hover between her fear of Severus and her conviction that Harry was up to something. Then she said in a soft, kittenish voice, "I hope you intend to have him scrubbing out cauldrons until dawn. All the young need to be reminded of how lucky they are with some manual labor now and again."
Harry held himself still. The words reminded him too strongly of the Dursleys for him to be entirely rational about them.
Dash slid under his hand, and Harry stroked him mechanically, while Severus simply stared at Umbridge as if she was less than the dust on his boot. Then he inclined his head and swept away from her. Harry and Dash followed.
I don't understand her. It's like she doesn't learn. You're almost six meters long now, and she—
She's one of those people who doesn't want to understand. She's convinced of her superiority to the whole world, and she'll smug and swank around until someone actually does eat her. Dash twitched his head to the side. Now that I think about it, I don't want that person to be me. She'll just upset my stomach for months.
Harry choked back a laugh. Does that mean you don't want to eat my uncle anymore, either? Because he'd upset your stomach even more.
Not at all. Fat is nourishing.
Before Harry could argue back, they halted in front of Severus's office, and Severus turned to him with a searching glance that had Harry immediately straightening his back. Severus reached out and quietly adjusted the collar of his robes, eyes incredibly intent.
"You will tell me the moment you think you might be in danger," he said, and glanced at Dash. "Or your basilisk thinks you are."
"But Dash thinks I'm in danger just breathing and walking around," Harry protested. "What if he thinks I'm in danger and I don't think I am?"
"Then you will tell me and I will make the determination."
After a second of struggling with that, Harry nodded. It was the sort of decision guardians were supposed to make, he knew, and Ron and Hermione probably wouldn't have thought twice about their parents saying something like that. Harry liked Severus a lot, but he was still getting used to having someone who cared that much.
"Good." Severus opened the door to his office, and stepped in. Harry followed, and saw the fireplace already glowing the subdued green that meant Severus had put in Floo powder but hadn't activated it to take them to the meeting yet.
Severus held his shoulder for one moment more, and Harry looked up. He thought Severus was going to tell him something else, and so did Severus, from the way his brow furrowed
In the end, though, all he said was, "Be careful," and then he tossed a pinch more of powder into the flames and barked, "Foresthide!" In seconds, he was out of sight as he ducked into the flames.
Harry stepped forwards, too, and Dash wrapped prudently around his body. Harry hugged his basilisk's tail as close to him as he could get it and said, "Foresthide," making sure to throw the Floo powder away from him and not cough out the name. He'd told Severus about the way he'd accidentally gone to Knockturn Alley during the summer between his first and second years. Severus had stared at him for way too long after he'd said that, and then they'd practiced Flooing etiquette and the names of common places for an hour. A really boring hour. Harry had no desire to repeat it.
This time, it worked, and Harry thought Dash's thick scales even cushioned him against the bumps and bruises of the Floo ride. He emerged, coughing, from what honestly looked like a temporary fireplace built of huge stones into the middle of a forest clearing. He blinked and lifted his head.
A full moon beamed down from between the trees overhead-which of course it did, Harry thought, Lucius had set the meeting for the time of the full moon. Dark shapes darted around the edges of the clearing, between trees that gleamed the color of blood and obsidian in the moonlight. Several cloaked figures already waited in the middle of the glade. Harry could see a huge stone behind them that looked unnervingly like an altar.
You won't be the sacrifice, Dash reassured him as he loosened his hold on Harry and slid to the ground. More than one person, or cloaked figure, or dark shape, suddenly pulled back with a hiss of their own. Most of them act like they've never even seen a basilisk before, imagine.
Harry bit his lip to hide his smile, and said, Maybe none of them have seen one that was your size.
They ought to know I'm this big. I'm sure they have their own spies in Hogwarts.
Harry winced a little. That was something he hadn't thought about. Do you think we ought to be concerned?
Of course. But concerned is not the same as afraid.
Dash lazily wound his way into the center of the clearing, and Harry straightened his shoulders and followed. He caught more than one astonished, staring glance, but each time, the person who'd met his eyes looked away again. Was that a good sign? Harry hoped it was a good sign.
When he got to the altar stone, or whatever it was, Dash was curled on top of it. Harry stroked the plume on his head and looked around at the gathered figures. Severus stepped up on his right side, a quiet shadow.
Lucius moved in front of him. Draco was standing behind his father, and he met Harry's eyes expressively. Harry smiled back. Lucius must have thought Harry was smiling at him, because he lifted his hands and gestured grandly. "Welcome to the Full Moon Meeting of the Basilisk Alliance!"
At least he had the good taste to name it after me. Dash lifted his head so that he was as tall as Harry, and could rest his chin companionably on Harry's shoulder. I'll give him a quick death if I ever have to kill him.
Harry said nothing to that, because there was nothing to say when Dash was being Dash. He just shifted to the side so that Draco could stand on his left. There were some murmurs at that. Harry ignored them. He knew he was probably going to get murmurs no matter what he did.
"We have many allies here," Lucius said, turning in a circle so that he had the possibility of meeting everyone's eyes at least once. "Creatures considered outcast from 'normal' wizarding society." He sneered the words. "Vampires, werewolves, Dark wizards, speaking serpents, and..." He gestured dramatically at the far side of the clearing.
Harry turned, along with everyone else, to see a small cloaked figure framed by two trees that looked like the opposite sides of a gate. He raised his eyebrows a little. Dash would probably say that was also good taste, to have that dramatic timing down so pat.
Did they name an alliance after me? Then no, I wouldn't.
The figure moved forwards. Harry thought it must be a woman when he spotted a long curl of grey-brown hair sticking out of its cowl, but he didn't actually know. After all, he had heard some vampires kept their hair long, too.
"We are going to welcome the boy that we hope to ally with," said the figure in a strange, clipped tone, as though it was speaking the words through teeth that were shaped differently than most human teeth. "You may call me Susana, Mr. Potter." And she lifted her hands and pulled the cowl down from around her face.
Harry gasped softly. He had heard Lucius speak about Susana, and so he knew that he could expect someone non-human, and not a vampire, either. But it was different to see her small, sharp teeth, and the black webs that spread out on either side of her face in place of ears. There were soft scales embedded under her skin. The webs clapped to the sides of her head as she bowed to him.
Is she something serpentine? Harry asked Dash as he bowed back, a little unnerved. Lucius was staring, too, which didn't help.
No. She smells like fish.
Something out of the sea, then, Harry thought. He straightened back up from the bow and saw Susana gesturing some of the dark shapes forwards. All of them had their cowls down, and the long hair and sharp teeth and other features that she had. And now that Harry was looking for it, he saw webs on their hands, too, connecting their fingers.
"What do you want?" he asked. "If you live in the ocean, are you even affected by things that happen on the land?"
Severus shifted as if he wanted to reprimand Harry for asking that about allies, and even Draco stiffened. But Susana only smiled, as if she'd anticipated and maybe even approved of the question. "We left the seas long ago," she replied. "We are partially human, you know, and we maintain some loyalty to that side of our ancestry."
"And the other part of you is—siren?"
"Merrow." Susana looked unruffled. "We sometimes spend time in water, and our skins can get dry. But otherwise, we're part of the land. And the Ministry is threatening us, along with the Dark Lord, just like everyone else here."
Harry blinked. He hadn't thought her people had joined because they saw a sense of threat, more because they had an opportunity. "Voldemort wants you to join him?"
More than one person hissed at the name, or clutched at their left arms. But Severus didn't, which Harry thought meant the rest of them ought to get over it.
"Yes," Susana said, and shrugged. "We can transform ourselves with a magic that is not Transfiguration—unless it's akin to becoming an Animagus. The Ministry classifies our gifts as Dark. The Dark Lord thinks that makes us his. We don't want to serve anyone. We can be allies. But never servants." She smiled fully, and it was a little unnerving. "We fought wars hundreds of years ago to keep that from happening. We aren't about to go back now."
Harry nodded slowly. He didn't understand all the nuances of what Susana was saying, and he'd probably want to investigate it more closely later. "All right. So what do you want to be my allies?"
"Protection if we're attacked, and a guarantee that we can freely exercise our magic and proclaim our history."
"What does proclaiming your history mean?"
Smart Harry, to ask about something like that. Dash hugged him with the upper half of his body, which resulted in part of his own lower body toppling off the stone. Harry kept his face as calm and pleasant as he could when he wanted to laugh so badly that he could taste it in his mouth.
"It means that we're allowed to reveal ourselves, and transform ourselves to look like humans or merrow if we wish," Susana said. She was watching Dash with the kind of complacency that Harry didn't usually see on anyone except Draco or Severus, and sometimes not even then. "And that we can show the transformation to other humans."
That caught Lucius's attention. "You can teach others to transform?"
"If we gift them with a small portion of our blood." Susana smiled a little, her teeth so sharp that it seemed as if they were shearing off pieces of the firelight coming from the center of the clearing. "Or mate with them."
"Why would anyone want to transform to look like that?" Draco muttered, softly enough that he probably thought it wouldn't be heard. But the webs on the sides of Susana's face twitched towards him.
"You have never known the glory of the undersea, silly little boy, or you would not ask that question."
Draco flushed and opened his mouth in a way that Harry knew would only lead to trouble. He reached over and firmly pinched Draco's mouth shut, giving him an apologetic look and then turning to Susana. "So you go back into the water sometimes? And you can bring humans with you?"
"Wizards," said Susana, still watching Draco as if she thought he would have an outburst again at any moment. Cautiously, Harry removed his hand from Draco's mouth. He was flushing furiously, but at least he didn't say anything. "It doesn't work with Muggles. And it works best when we share our transformation, instead of just trying to take them with us."
"We have our transformations, too."
Harry turned. There was a woman walking towards him who had the shaggy hair and amber eyes that he associated with Remus, but she couldn't be an actual werewolf, or she would already have changed. She had long scars down one arm, though. Harry supposed she might have been bitten or clawed by a werewolf who wasn't transformed.
She sat down on the grass in front of Harry and said, "My name is Erica Kelleth. I was a witch, once."
"Did the attack take away your ability to use a wand?" Harry asked, startled. He knew Remus could use one, so he'd just always assumed that all werewolves could be wizards if they wanted to.
"It took away my ability to get away with using a wand. I didn't transform into a full werewolf, but that didn't matter." Kelleth bared her teeth. "The minute that someone realized what I was, they went around whispering. I've lost every job I ever had. I find more acceptance in the packs than I did in wizarding society."
"I'm sorry that happened," Harry muttered. He knew Remus had it bad, but he was a full werewolf and that was supposedly the reason for the prejudice. But Kelleth didn't turn into a monster, and she was still hated.
"Yes, you are sorry," said Kelleth, after a moment. "Your pardon. It's been so long since I heard words of sympathy that a wizard meant that I had trouble believing them."
Harry nodded. "So you want to join our alliance and—what?"
"I want you to promise that you'll fight for werewolves and people like me to have jobs. And peace. And a place in the wizarding world, if we want it. Although I might be one of the ones who won't take it."
"This is an alliance to combat the Dark Lord," Lucius said, and his voice was so frozen that Harry thought it would break up into glittering ice shards in a second. "And it has no place for people to make demands like that."
"You already know it's more than that, Lucius, or you wouldn't have recruited people like the vampires to join it."
Lucius stared at him, affronted. Severus shifted in a way that Harry knew meant he was amused. And a figure stepped out of the trees, almost touching Susana, and walked towards him, stooping his head a little. Eyes redder than Voldemort's met Harry's.
"I am Sanguini, leader of the vampires. Lucius told me that you will give us more freedom than we have been given so far."
"What kind of freedom is that?" It was hard to hold the vampire's gaze, but Harry did it. He didn't have to ask Dash to know that if he backed down now, he would lose whatever respect they'd given him. As it was, Dash was silent, although he swayed next to Harry and kept his lidded eyes locked on Sanguini.
"To drink from willing victims. The Ministry would forbid us even that, the same way that it tries to deny Wolfsbane to werewolves willing to register." Sanguini bared his fangs and made no sound, even though Harry had expected a snarl. Harry thought that made him scarier.
It doesn't when you consider that I'm still able to open my jaws wide enough to swallow him.
A meal that thin wouldn't nourish you, Harry said absently, and nodded. "I could probably be willing to provide that, if it was willing donors. I wouldn't let werewolves just run around turning people into other werewolves, and the same thing applies to you."
Severus tightened his arm as if he thought he would have to bring his wand around in front of Harry and defend him that way, but Sanguini only laughed and licked at his fangs. "Agreed."
Then he turned abruptly and examined Dash where he coiled next to Harry. "Will you tell me the secret of how you control the basilisk?"
"I don't control him. I'm just bonded with him," said Harry, a little wearily. It seemed everyone had asked him this question for years, starting with Draco in third year when he was trying to make himself into a Parselmouth to bond with a basilisk. And then Viktor Krum and the people who had thought he could give them a basilisk egg. "It's totally his choice to stay with me or do what he wants."
"Is that so." But Sanguini didn't make it a question, which made him less annoying than some people. He examined Dash intently. Harry didn't think anything passed between their minds, but he stared as if something did.
I would tell you in an instant if something did, Dash reassured him, and Harry relaxed and nodded a little.
"Then I suppose that you may be a human it would be right to leave in charge of an alliance of Dark creatures," Sanguini said, and bowed his head a little, and moved away.
Harry turned back to Kelleth. "And will the werewolves agree to abide within certain limits?"
"We will." Kelleth was considering Dash and him with the same quiet, critical gaze. "You must realize that we are not used to trusting humans. That is the source of my reluctance. That, and what my pack may say when I return."
"I understand," Harry said, although he was wondering why they'd bothered coming to the meeting at all when they distrusted people too badly to trust his word. He sighed and slung an arm around Dash's neck as he watched Kelleth melt into the shadows again, and turned to face Susana.
"We will cause you the least trouble," said Susana, as if she already knew all he was thinking. Harry concentrated on building up his Occlumency shields, just in case she did. He really had to start practicing the art with Severus on a regular basis again. "We want free water to swim in, and the ability to share our magic and transformation. Nothing else."
"If no human would be pressured into accepting the transformation against their will…"
"Why would we want unwilling converts?" Susana sounded baffled. "That is for the Dark Lord alone."
Harry nodded. "Then I think we can begin negotiating." It was one of the phrases that Severus had told him to use when he was unsure what to say, and from the way Susana smiled, she might know that. But she also appeared to accept it.
"Then I will carry the good news to those of my people who are not here tonight." Susana gestured at one of the women—or Harry thought it was a woman because of her long hair—and she stepped forwards. As Harry watched, the black fins sank into the sides of her head, and she looked like an ordinary, blonde human with pleasant, if slightly bulging, blue eyes. "This is Ellen Fairwater. She will remain with you as a guide and guard."
"I don't need any guards with Dash around, though. And how is going to be discreet in a school?"
"It's so rare to meet a young human who cares about things like discretion," said Susana, although from the way her eyes sparkled Harry thought she might really want to say something else. "You are to handle her however you wish. I understand there is a lake on Hogwarts's grounds. Ellen can live there until you have need of her advice."
"There are merfolk in the lake. Would they treat her well?"
Ellen and Susana exchanged a look that Harry couldn't interpret, although since Dash remained relaxed beside him, he thought it must not contain a threat to him. Then Ellen nodded and faced Harry and spoke on her own. "We have no quarrel with that particular branch of our family. Yes, I could stay there until something better came along."
"Okay." Harry found himself relaxing without thinking about it. "Then I accept."
Ellen came forwards and clasped his hand with still-webbed fingers that became unwebbed even as he watched. "There are others here who want to speak with you, so I will only take the chance to say thanks."
Harry nodded and opened his mouth to say something else. Then Dash hissed and lunged away from his side.
Dash, what are you—
Harry stared down at the woman who lay in Dash's hold. She resembled one of the merrow-people on first glance, but Dash hissed something and tightened his coils, and the illusion faded away from her, leaving a dark-haired woman there who glared at him with eyes full of liquid hatred.
Lucius was the one who identified her, with his own stare of hatred. "Bellatrix."