A/N: Hello everyone! Look at this! Two chapters in less than a week! I'm just as shocked as you are :)
Anyway, I would like to thank everyone for your kind words and well-wishes. My family and I made it through the storm safely with minimal damage. We were very, very lucky.
So without further ado, enjoy Chapter 41!
Harry gasped as he suddenly awoke in the middle of the night. It felt as though he was being repeatedly stabbed in the arm, though he soon remembered that it was only the Skele-Gro, doing its work to regrow his bones. Taking a deep breath, then, the boy closed his eyes, and silently tried to will the pain away.
But then there was movement from the end of his bed, and Harry immediately sat up in alarm. A second later, he was looking into the large familiar eyes of a certain house-elf.
And suddenly, it was as though he was back on Privet Drive, that night when Dobby had destroyed Aunt Petunia's pudding. And then Uncle Vernon had been there…
"No, don't. Please don't…" Harry began murmuring, immediately scrambling backwards until his head bumped against the wall.
"Harry Potter, sir! It's only Dobby! Dobby only came to check on Harry Potter," Dobby whispered frantically.
"No," Harry continued to repeat. "No, I'll be good. I promise."
And then, quite suddenly, a burst of calming magic was coursing through Harry's body, and his heart rate began to slow.
"Dobby didn't mean to frighten Harry Potter," the house elf said apologetically, when it was clear that his magic had succeeded in calming the young Gryffindor down. "Dobby only wanted to see how Harry Potter was feeling. And to urge Harry Potter to go home before it's too late!"
"Home?" Harry asked, when he eventually found his voice, finally realizing that he was in no immediate danger. "What home? My aunt and uncle kicked me out. They don't want me anymore, Dobby! Why do you want me to go back there so badly? What could possibly be worse than the Dursleys?"
Dobby looked somewhat surprised at this news, but before he was able to comment on it, Harry was speaking again.
"Does this have anything to do with the Chamber of Secrets?"
And suddenly, it was Dobby's turn to panic, as he groaned and whimpered and frantically looked about for something to hit himself with. He was just about to reach for the water pitcher on Harry's bedside table, when the boy lunged forward and grabbed his wrists.
"Dobby, please. One of my best friends is a muggleborn. Just tell me. After getting me into trouble with my uncle, you owe me that much."
But Dobby just shook his head. "Dobby cannot say. But Harry Potter cannot stay here. Dobby had hoped after the Quidditch match—"
"It was you," Harry suddenly realized. "You were behind the bludger."
Dobby nodded sadly, and Harry huffed in frustration. "Dobby—"
But then loud footsteps could suddenly be heard coming towards the hospital wing entrance.
The house elf immediately snapped his fingers, disappearing into thin air.
And Harry had no choice but to lay back down then, and pretend to be asleep.
He had to bite the inside of his mouth to keep from gasping in the next moment, though, when he saw Dumbledore and McGonagall carrying the stiff body of Colin Creevey into the hospital wing.
"It is likely that he was trying to sneak up here to visit Harry," Dumbledore said quietly.
And Harry's stomach dropped. Colin had wanted to talk to him about something. Probably about repairing his photographs. And now it looked as though he had suffered the same fate as Mrs. Norris.
He suddenly felt numb with guilt.
And when McGonagall then ran to fetch Madam Pomfrey, and moments later, the three adults were quietly conversing around Colin's bed, only one thing from their discussion stood out in Harry's mind.
The Chamber of Secrets was real.
Harry turned, relieved to see both Ron and Hermione hurrying towards him from the other end of the corridor. He had been wandering the castle, looking for them, ever since Madam Pomfrey had released him from the hospital wing earlier that morning, his arm a bit stiff, but completely repaired..
"I've been looking for you two everywhere! Listen, last night, Colin was—"
"We know," Hermione interrupted. "The whole school does."
"We decided we needed to go ahead with the plan," Ron said, then. "We've already started."
"The Polyjuice?" Harry asked nervously, glancing quickly over his shoulder to make sure Snape wasn't lurking in the shadows.
Hermione nodded. "We can't just do nothing."
Harry sighed, but then slowly nodded his own head. "Where are you brewing it?"
"Don't worry, Myrtle. It's just us, again," Hermione called out, upon entering the abandoned girls' bathroom.
"And what makes you think you're welcome here?" the ghost of the young girl wailed, as she hovered just above the top of the nearest toilet cubicle. Then, spotting Harry, she quickly demanded "Who's that?"
"This is Harry," Hermione quickly introduced. "He doesn't mean you any harm, Myrtle. None of us do."
"Hello," Harry said awkwardly.
"I'd think you'd like to get some company every now and again," Ron put in.
It was the wrong thing to say.
"What makes you think I don't prefer to be left alone?" Myrtle cried. "Every time someone comes in here, they make fun of me, or throw things at me!"
"But Myrtle—" Hermione began.
But it was too late.
The ghost dove down out of sight, causing a large splash of water from the toilet as she entered into it.
Hermione sighed. "Nice going, Ronald," she commented.
"What did I say?" Ron responded.
Hermione just shook her head as she led the way over to the small cauldron set up in the middle of the bathroom floor. It was already bubbling away, some of the ingredients already swirling around inside.
"We're going to need to add a few more things in the coming days," the girl stated. "Only…"
"Only what?" Harry asked, still not sure how he felt about going through with this plan.
"We're going to need to get them from Snape's potions storeroom."
Harry immediately felt nauseous. "No," he said, shaking his head. "I can't."
"Don't worry, Harry. We wouldn't send you in there," Ron reasoned. "We know how much trouble you'd be in if you got caught."
"I'll do the actual taking," Hermione continued. "You two just need to help create a distraction."
"I don't know…" Harry said slowly. "We could get in a lot of trouble."
Hermione seemed to recognize her friend's growing anxiety, for she quickly placed her hand on Harry's shoulder and spoke again. "It'll be a few days before we need those ingredients, anyway. Just think about it. If you still don't want to go through with it when it's time, then we won't. Deal?"
Harry sighed, but nodded. "Yeah."
Ron looked slightly confused, but any comment he otherwise would have made would have surely been drowned out by the long, pitiful moans that were suddenly emanating from the nearest toilet bowl.
"Concentrate, Potter!" Snape snapped, for the umpteenth time that Tuesday night. "Remember the technique!"
"I'm sorry, sir," Harry answered once again, breathing hard from yet another failed attempt to properly block the potions master from his mind.
Snape crossed his arms. "Sit down, Potter. You look as though you are about to topple over."
Harry complied, practically collapsing onto the nearest stool and grasping the table in front of him for support.
"You were supposed to have improved this week, Potter," Snape reminded the boy with a sneer.
"I'm sorry," the boy responded. "It's just…"
"It's just what, Potter? Losing the bones in your arm does not give you a pass to forget about practicing. This is far too important."
"I know," Harry replied, sighing. "But with everything that's going on…"
"Such as?" Snape prompted impatiently.
"Mrs. Norris, and Colin…The Chamber of Secrets."
Snape raised his eyebrows. "What about the Chamber?" he demanded.
Harry sighed yet again, but eventually decided to tell the truth. "I know it's real."
"Is that so?" Snape questioned. "And how, pray tell, did you come to that conclusion, Mr. Potter?"
"I overheard Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall talking in the hospital wing," Harry answered.
A look of exasperation crossed the potions master's face then as he momentarily turned away, muttering something to himself that sounded an awful lot like "Fools."
And when he turned back to face Harry a moment later, he made sure to adopt his most commanding and authoritative tone.
"If I am given any reason to so much as suspect that you are looking for, or otherwise concerning yourself in any way with that Chamber, Potter, I will have you in detention for the remainder of your youth. Is that clear?"
Harry suppressed a shiver, his thoughts immediately going to the bubbling cauldron sitting on the floor of Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. But he finally nodded. "Yes, sir," he answered quietly.
"I cannot hear you, Mr. Potter."
"Yes, sir," Harry spoke up.
It was several seconds then, before the potions master finally looked away. "Good. Now collect yourself and we shall try again."
Harry had to suppress a groan.
"Have you seen the notice board?" Fred asked excitedly, dropping down into a seat between Harry and Ron at the breakfast table later that week.
"No," Ron answered, around a large mouthful of bacon. "Whazitzay?"
"Honestly, little brother," George said, shaking his head as he plopped down on Ron's other side. "What would our mother say about your deplorable table manners?"
Ron quickly swallowed as he glared at his older brother. "What's it say?" he repeated, more intelligibly this time.
"There's a new Dueling Club starting!" Fred responded, rubbing his hands together excitedly. "First meeting is tonight. Should be fun."
"Are you three signing up?" George asked. "Could be useful. After what happened to the Creevey kid and all…"
"It sounds interesting," Hermione answered, looking up from her copy of the Daily Prophet. "What do you say, Harry?"
And despite everything that had been going on, Harry couldn't help but to smile just a little bit. "I wouldn't miss it for the world."
"I wonder who's going to be teaching us," George said.
"Oh, I already know that," Harry answered. "It's Lockhart."
Ron nearly spit out his pumpkin juice. "Lockhart? Why in the world would you want to go to this thing if you know he's going to be in charge?"
Harry smirked. "Because I also happen to know who his assistant is going to be."
"And who's that?" Hermione questioned.
"Snape," Harry answered. "And he hates Lockhart."
"Ah, this will be fun," George said, starting to laugh.
"We'll make sure to… spread the word," Fred said with a wink.
And with that, the twins jumped back up and were gone.
Nearly the entire student body decided to attend the Dueling Club that evening. Apparently, many of the students were convinced that tonight would mark the end of the great Gilderoy Lockhart, and they were all hoping for a front row seat to witness the show.
"Snape is going to absolutely murder him," Parvati Patil whispered excitedly to a friend as they neared the Great Hall. "You should have seen how he looked at Lockhart after the whole "bat" incident at Halloween."
"Oh, for goodness sake," Hermione spoke up, having overheard the conversation. "Is there anybody attending this club in order to actually learn something?"
Harry opened his mouth to respond.
But another voice quickly interrupted him.
Harry turned to see Malfoy walking towards him then, his usual Slytherin entourage closely following behind.
"What do you want, Malfoy?" Harry asked, crossing his arms.
"You know, you never gave me an answer," the Slytherin drawled.
"Well, I'm giving you one now. No," Harry responded.
"What's he talking about Harry?" Hermione questioned.
"He wants to duel," Harry rolled his eyes.
"Well, this is a Dueling Club," Malfoy pointed out. "So what do you say, Potter?"
"I say I already beat you at Quidditch, Malfoy. If I were you, I wouldn't want to embarrass myself any further. You might hurt your head again." And with that, Harry began to turn away.
Malfoy's eyes flashed with anger, but he didn't immediately respond.
"Well, don't just let him walk away, Draco!" Pansy Parkinson exclaimed.
"What's the matter, Potter?" Malfoy asked then. "Scared?"
Harry froze in his tracks. And then, after a brief moment of silence, he very slowly turned back around.
"Alright, now. Settle down! Settle down!" Gilderoy Lockhart called out to the crowd of students pushing and shoving each other, trying their best to get closer to the long, raised platform in the middle of the hall upon which both the Defense and the Potions professors were standing.
Next to him, Snape watched the chaos with a blank expression, arms crossed, and a white-knuckled grip on his wand. He allowed the flustered Defense professor to proceed for a few moments more, uselessly calling out to the masses, before finally deciding that, as expected, he was going to have to take control of the situation.
"Silence!" he commanded, his menacing voice traveling throughout the hall.
And instantly, everyone froze.
"Ahh, thank you, Severus," Lockhart said, smiling, as he took a moment to glance over the crowd. "Well, I must say, I didn't expect the turnout to be quite so large. I am truly honored that so many of you came out tonight, seeking my advice and guidance in the wonderful art of dueling—"
"Don't you think we should begin, now?" Snape interrupted. And around the hall, many students, including Harry, had to do their best to stifle their laughter.
"Yes, of course!" Lockhart responded. "Shall we begin with a quick demonstration, Severus? Don't worry. I'll only use a simple disarming charm."
"Of course," Snape answered, his lip curling as he turned to head towards the opposite end of the platform.
"Now, in a proper duel," Lockhart was explaining, "both opponents begin by bowing towards each other." And with that, the man made a show of doing a sweeping bow in Snape's direction.
At the opposite end of the platform, Snape didn't even move. And suddenly, Harry was convinced that Lockhart really was crazy. How could he not see the pure loathing and hatred in the potions master's unblinking eyes? It should have been enough to send a shiver down anybody's spine.
"On the count of three, then," the oblivious Defense professor continued speaking. "One…two…three. Expel-"
It was quick and somewhat terrifying. Because before Lockhart even had a chance to finish his spell, a light exploded from Snape's wand and blasted the man back several feet into the wall.
For a moment, there was stunned silence. And then all around the hall, there was a mixture of gasps and quiet laughter.
Harry himself exchanged a gleeful grin with Ron.
And then Lockhart was back on his feet, brushing off his robes and chuckling somewhat nervously. "Ahh, well, that was a bit more than was required to block a disarming spell, Severus."
"Was it?" Snape asked, his voice as silky as ever. "You must forgive me, Gilderoy. When you said you were going to use a disarming spell, I rather feared you were planning to remove my arm altogether."
The laughter was louder this time, and many people were now looking over to Harry, clearly understanding the reference to the Quidditch incident.
"Yes, well," Lockhart responded, and Harry rather thought that there was finally a bit of understanding in the man's expression. "I think it's time we let the students practice, don't you?"
"If that is what you wish," Snape replied coldly. "This is, after all, your club. I am merely your assistant."
"Right. Pair up everyone!" Lockhart called to the crowd. "Start practicing with disarming spells only!"
There was suddenly mass movement as everyone excitedly began looking around for partners.
Harry turned to see Malfoy standing several feet away, wand already raised in his direction.
He didn't even have a chance to respond or raise his own wand then, before Malfoy was casting his spell.
A long, black snake suddenly shot out of the Slytherin's wand, landing just inches from Harry's feet.
There were gasps and cries of shock as people caught sight of the creature. And soon, all eyes in the immediate vicinity were on Draco, Harry and the snake in between them.
The snake suddenly raised itself up, then, ready to strike.
But rather than move towards Harry, it suddenly began slithering across the floor in the opposite direction, back towards Malfoy and the other Slytherins, who now looked slightly alarmed. The serpent ended up pausing, however, in front of Justin Finch-Fletchley, the second-year Hufflepuff, who happened to be standing nearby.
And Harry jumped into action.
"Leave him alone!" he shouted at the snake.
The snake hissed angrily as it turned to look back at Harry.
"Leave. Him. Alone." Harry repeated.
And the snake, miraculously, complied. It started to turn away again, and Harry breathed a sigh of relief.
But then the snake paused again in front of somebody else. Pansy Parkinson.
And the loud, piercing scream was enough to get everybody's attention, including Snape and Lockhart.
"Don't!" Harry shouted at the snake. "You can't hurt her, either!"
The snake immediately backed off, but Pansy was still having a meltdown. "Make it stop!" she suddenly screeched at Harry. "I'm sorry I poisoned your stupid owl, ok? Just stop it!"
And suddenly, Snape was there. And the snake was gone, quickly disappearing as the potions master took aim at it with his wand.
And in the aftermath of that moment, the Great Hall was completely silent.
A/N: Let me know what you think!
Thanks for reading!
September 14, 2017