Bonjourno! Sorry for the incredibly long wait. There was . . . a lot . . . that has gone on in my life. Hopefully this next chapter will be a bit sooner. The next chapter is the last one! I will be continuing onto the fifth year after this one. Thank you for all the love that you have been giving me during this story!
Someone commented on how long it took Peter to die of his snake bite. In my mind I believe he had been bitten by Nagini multiple times (Especially while "milking" her). Prolonged exposure to venom meant that he had some immunity which prevented labyrinth's bite from being as effective as it can.
Harry was trying to read his latest book but was mostly unsuccessful. Every time he would start a new paragraph his eyes would start sliding across the page, leaving him at the end of a paragraph with no more information that he had at the beginning. His whole body was gripped with anxiety, forcing him in a state of overexcited stillness. His heart was pounding in his chest and he felt every muscle pulse with its beating. Yet his body stayed still, trembling softly. Regardless of his minds urge to get up, to hide and to run he stayed on his bed with his hands firmly planted on his book as if it were the only lifeline in a vast ocean.
"Harry! Oh thank goodness!" Hermione swung her way into the infirmary. She stomped over to the bed and threw her arms around Harry's neck, pulling him into a large hug. "I am so glad that you are okay!"
"Hermione, I'm fine. They are just keeping me here until there is no trace of dark magic on me." Hermione pulled a face when Harry stated that he was fine but he continued on as if he didn't see it. "Anyway, didn't Draco tell you I was okay?"
"He did. It didn't stop me from worrying though." She paused and gave him a contemplative look. Suddenly her fist shot out and caught him in the shoulder.
"Ow!" He yelped. Even though the punch wasn't really hard. "Hermione!"
"Don't you every do that to me again! I was so worried. There was so much blood . . ." She cut off here, her throat closing up in the beginning of a sob.
"I know. I'm sorry."
"You don't have to apologize. Just promise me that it will never happen again. I never want to see you like that again."
"I'll do my best." He said softly. Hermione heaved a sigh, leaning over to pull him into another tight hug. When she left she grabbed her pack, reaching into and rummaging around.
"I brought you some of your books. Don't want you to fall behind despite everything." She began pulling out large tomes, all far too large to fit in the bag, let alone a half dozen of them. Harry chuckled fondly as he watched her build her paper and leather tower. Suddenly something caught his eye. In between the books was a newspaper. He gripped the corner, pulling the paper over his lap. He sucked in a tight breath as a smiling picture of Cedric waved from the front page. The black and white picture took up half the page and accompanied with the title "Hogwarts Champion Dead".
"His funeral is today." Hermione started. She looked sad, eyes watching Harry carefully.
"Yes . . . I know." And he really did. That morning the Diggory's had come to take his body. He had been awake at the time, lying back on his bed and staring at the ceiling. When they had entered it had been silent. He had only looked up long enough to identify them before turning away. He stared at the ceiling listening to the sound of their feet as they passed his bed.
The sound that followed was horrific. A heat wrenching wail shattered the air. It was followed with choked, pained sobs. Each hiccoughing, stuttering breath releases new agony into the infirmary. So much so that Harry felt as if each anguished sound was pressing into his chest like a boulder. Harry had heard sorrow before. There had been a cemetery not far from Private drive. On a normal day it was peaceful and a good place to hide. On occasion they would be performing a funeral which he would watch from the safety of an overgrown oak tree. All sadness sounded horrible. It felt cold and overwhelming, staining the very air with sorrow. Nothing was worse than the sound of a parent losing their child. It was something that he had figured out years ago. To hear it so close, and to know that he had a part in it only made it worse. This agony was sharp, cutting him deep. Like someone had fastened a blade of ice and shoved it through his gut, leaving him to bleed.
He had looked up again when the sobbing had died down. Cedrics body had been magically lifted. The person he hadn't noticed who had come in with the Diggory's swung his wand in a circular pattern. Around the body a coffin formed, a dark oak with intricate designs of flowers and wands etched into the sides. The coffin was then levitated in front of the group as they left. Then for a moment, a single second in time, Amos Diggory looked him in the eye. Harry was hated. He couldn't blame the man. He would hate himself too. He didn't say anything, not looking to defend himself. He would let him have his anger, his hatred. It was the least he could do.
"Headmaster Dumbledore is holding a remembrance tonight at dinner." Hermione commented.
"I'm not going." Harry shrugged, flipping the paper over so he wouldn't have to see it anymore.
"You know it's not your fault."
"Of course." Harry gave a mirthless chuckle, not quite believing his own words. "Yes I know it's not. That still doesn't make it okay for me to go." There was a long silence as Harry stared at his lap while Hermione looked on him with soft eyes.
"The ministry blames Crouch, not you."
"What?" Confusion colored his tone.
"They say that Crouch was the one who did everything. Cursed the cup, killed Cedric, and poisoned you with black magic. That's their official statement."
"But . . . But what about Voldemort?! About him rising? He's the one who killed Cedric!" Harry shouted. Hermione grimaced at his tone but ignored it. She knew that the glare was not meant for her.
"Part of an illusion, they claim. They say that Crouch touched your mind and made you think that. He wanted people to believe that He-Who-Not-Be-Named had been raised. So he manipulated you into saying that when you returned." She explained.
"How could they do that?" He screeched, grinding his teeth in anger. "They can't fucking ignore it! I didn't imagine him coming back. I didn't watch him kill Cedric so that people can call me a goddamn mental case!" He dug his fingers into his palm, drawing blood. His whole body shook in rage. All that energy that had him stilled was now burning in his veins. He wanted to fight, he wanted to scream!
"Harry! Please!" Hermione shouted, grabbing his hands in her own. For a moment he stopped, staring at their entwined fingers. She stared at him with a serious, slightly angry face. "Listen I know you are mad. You have every right to be. But that won't help." He let out a frustrated grunt but did loosen his fists.
"It's just-!" He started, stopping mid-sentence.
"I know . . . I know." She patted him on the hand. "It sucks. Flying off the handle isn't going to help anyone. Dumbledore believes you. Just wait and see what he does."
"And if he does nothing?" Harry hissed.
"Then we do nothing." She stated, determination burning in her eyes. "Harry you almost died. And not even the normal 'almost died', which I can't believe I am saying. This isn't some normal adventure. Voldemort has risen. One of the most powerful dark wizards in all of history has come back from the grave with a goal of killing you. There is no way that you can do anything to stop him. Luck will no longer get you anywhere. For once we need to trust the adults to fight for us. It may be frustrating . . . there really is no other choice."
"It's not fair." He sighed, leaning back in his pillow not letting go of Hermione's hand. He was still angry but it had taken on another flavor. It didn't burn hot like rage, instead it was a dull ache that tasted of frustration and sadness. In a way, it seemed easier to control. Easier to handle because it was a feeling that he was very used to.
"No. It never is with you, is it?" She laid her head on his lap. They sat their own in silence. Each lost in thought of what was to come.
Draco wasn't going to the remembrance. He didn't particularly know Cedric and he wasn't any more sad about his death than he was about hearing of the death of some stranger. He didn't want to go because this was just the beginning. It won't be long before funerals and memorials will be everywhere. He didn't want to admit that it was the start. They were standing on the precipice of war and he did not want to acknowledge it. Those sitting in the Great Hall did not know it but they would all be attending more funerals and grieving more friends in the coming months.
Instead he was walking along the edge of the Forbidden Forest. The sun was just about to set and throw the world into darkness. Not that Draco minded. He had always felt more comfortable in the dark. The world always felt smaller and calmer when it wasn't in the glare of the sun.
"Dragon!" A soft voice called out behind him. He turned to see Luna Lovegood approaching him with her ever present smile.
"Cousin." He acknowledged. She was carrying a picnic basket in her arms.
"You are covered in Snipple Imps today. Would you like to join me?" She offered. Draco nodded, knowing she wouldn't have sought him out if there wasn't a reason. Lovegood was a third cousin of his, her family long disowned from the Malfoys. Still he was well informed that she had a sight that most would envy. His father bemoaned it constantly, after being forced to acknowledge that she had powers he did not. He had only talked to her twice before at ministry functions that her dad had been a reporter at. She insisted on calling him Dragon, despite his protest. He had oddly enjoyed talking to her on those occasions, though they rarely made sense.
He followed her into the woods, slipping on the loose dirt as they followed a path that had been carved out long ago. There were soft noises in the forest as the night creatures stirred. The path eventually opened up into a wide clearing. She turned to smile at him before letting out a sharp whistle.
The trees rustled as beasts moved behind them. Suddenly there is a loud whinnying. A thestral emerged from the trees. Its skeletal body walked almost silent over the grass. It shook its bat like wings, throwing its head in joy. Luna opened her basket and pulled out a chunk of raw meat. She tossed it in the air, the thestral rearing back in two hooves as it rose to catch the flying morsel. Before long there were half a dozen thestral, including a little foal.
"How long have you been able to see them?" Luna asked, staring at him with large blue eyes. She passed a piece of meat so that he could offer it to the equine creatures. He crouched, offering the piece on a flat palm to the foal.
"Since second year." He grunted, trying not to think of the moment that lead them into his sight. He knew of thestrals before that year but seeing the skeletal beasts always filled him with a deep sadness. Always forced to acknowledge that he had lost that type of innocence. Something that once lost will never come back. He envied those who would never be able to see these animals.
"Very misunderstood, thestrals. Most people think that death is a bad thing. So creatures that represent it are also assumed to be evil." She hummed.
"Is death not a bad thing?" Draco chuckled, straightening to watch her move amongst them.
"Not always. Perhaps an untimely death may be bad. Death itself is neutral. Much like magic, nature, and life. They are neither good nor bad, just there. Constants." She set her basket down so that she could pull out a giant bone that was nearly two feet long and four inches in diameter. "You are worrying about those types of things. Life, death, good, bad. Those types of thoughts always attract the imps. If you are not careful they will play tricks on you."
"You know what happened?"
"Magic has shown me. Powers have shifted. An evil spirit had regained its power." She all but sang. Draco shuddered at the thought.
"Do you know what will happen?" He pressed.
"I cannot answer that." Luna replied.
"I cannot see the future. In that regard you have more power than I."
"But you can see Magic! Surely it can tell you something." He reasoned.
"Magic tells me nothing. Perhaps I can see it. I can see its ebb and flow. I can see that which no one can see. That does not mean that She will purposefully make me see something. She is neutral. She has no real goal except to continue to balance. If I choose to see that goal and help it along, that is of my own volition. Even Magic cannot know the only and true future. It can only see the available paths." Luna explained.
"So you can tell me nothing." He huffed. He patted the head of the foal whom had taken the scrap. Thestrals felt cold to the touch but their coats were soft, despite the fact that you could feel their bones.
"I can tell you many things. Just not what the future holds."
"Can you tell me that path that Magic wants the most?" Draco watched as she closed her eyes. She pulled in a deep breath through her nose. With a little frown she opened her eyes again.
"There are too many paths. Too much that must be done and much to be avoided. There is no one path that is perfect. Magic has no favorite."
"This isn't helping!" Draco grunted, flopping down onto his back in an uncharacteristic fit.
"Perhaps if you asked the right questions you may get an answer that may help." Luna shrugged.
"The right question?"
"You are asking about the future. Only a select few can see the future with any accuracy. Even those who can see it are wrong more often than not. Most prophecies go unfulfilled, left to gather dust as fate twists and turns. Plus, it is not the future that you want to know about." She hummed.
"Is it not?" Draco queried, a sardonic tone in his voice.
"A better question would be what you are going to choose to do." She continued. Draco flinched, climbing to his feet. "You really wish to know what your future holds. You cannot change how other will react, only yourself. You stand on the cross roads of your future. On one hand there is the darkness, for which you behold your family. On the other the light where your morals lay. Neither safe nor pleasant futures. Perhaps you will choose to stay neutral but one does not know if that will truly last. A thousand shouting voices pulling you to their side. You +want to know which you should choose. Which ends with you happy and alive. "
"And?" He pressed.
"And I can tell you nothing." She turned to him, bright blue eyes weighing into him. "I have no control over you. Even those who you think have that power do not truly control your mind. You will make any choices yourself. In that regard, only you know the answers." She picked her basket back up and proceeded to walk back down the path back towards the school. He followed her silently, running the discussion over and over in his mind. Eventually he spoke up again, having to make sure.
"So you cannot help me?" She stopped at the edge of the forest. It had turned dark, the sky only illuminated by the moon and the few stars that were peppering the horizon. Underneath it she seemed to glow.
"Magic likes you. She is trying to keep all of the imps, brownies and all matters of other darker creatures away from you. Destiny has touched you, She knows that. However the help you seek cannot be found from her or from any prophecy and seer. Looking anywhere but yourself will leave you wanting."
"Thank you, cousin." Draco bowed his head. "Perhaps not what I wished to hear but useful in the future I'm sure." He tried not to flinch when she pressed a damp towel into his hand before walking away. He opened the towel to see an onion type plant that was covered in a slimy mucus that he could not identify. With a disgusted sniff he dropped it on the ground. Being able to see magic or not, sometimes that girl was just weird.
Snape was in his office pouring over an incredible mountain of paperwork. The end of the year always brought in thrice the normal paperwork for him. Luckily the end of year exams had been canceled but that barely diminished the work that he had to do. He was slashing into the papers with a ferocity that was not all about the dislike of paperwork. There was a heavy silence in the room, despite two people being in it.
Alex was sitting in a stony silence in front of the fire, drink in hand. It wasn't a pleasant, normal silence born out of long time companionship. Instead it was an angry petulant silence. Severus may have been able to ignore his masters call the first time, but he had not the second. He had arrived and bowed before the man, like he had so many times before. He offered his service as a spy, resuming a role he had played years ago. The Headmaster knew what he was doing and had given his blessing. His husband, on the other hand, had distinctly not.
He had been receiving the silent treatment for the better part of a day and a half. Perhaps a bit childish on Alex's part but there was little else that he could do. Severus wasn't worried though. It was hardy the first time they had butted heads. They both knew that of the two of them Severus was more stubborn. He was used to silence and he could wait it out. So he went about his work, dogmatically ignoring the clinking of the glass Alex drank from.
"Severus?" Alex called. He looked up to see that his husband was still staring at the fire.
"Oh are we done with that now?" He asked coyly. Alex tsked, ignoring the comment.
"Have you spoken with Harry recently?" He continued on as if the comment had never been made.
"Mr. Potter?" Severus paused. "I have spoken with him once. Dumbledore and McGonagall have seemed to take a keener interest in the boy, making it difficult to get closer without raising suspicion."
"Have you spoken to him about the summer?"
"What do you mean?"
"About where he is going to live?" Alex turned to look at him finally.
"Hmm. I have not." Severus hummed, putting down his quill.
"I have been busy."
"Too busy to try and get a boy out of an abusive home?" Alex sneered. Snape sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose, gearing up for an unpleasant conversation.
"Do you see all these papers?" He motioned to the stacked parchment that was nearly two feet tall. "This is three weeks of work that I need to finish in two days. Most of this are kids who need help."
"So you are just going to abandon him?" He jumped when Snape pounded a hand on the desk. Snape growled coming a little out of his seat at the insinuation.
"I have two dozen kids in my care that need some time of special care. I have to plan therapy meeting, some disguised as extra lessons and others vacations. I have to fill out forms and write down witness statements for a half dozen potential legal cases. I have three kids who need new therapists and I need to find some that are willing to do that pro-bono. I have to brew an entire regiment of potions. Build pamphlet so that they are taken in the proper amounts at the proper times. Write down recipes for those who can brew them themselves. Two new homes to find and four anonymous tips to send to the aurors. I cannot simply ignore all those who need my help for a single boy who I cannot help in this instant. I have already given him more of my time than some of my own. For now all we can do is weight."
Alex sat back in his chair, silent and brooding. He swirled the ice in his drink with a wrinkle in his brow.
"Cannot help? That is not what you said before."
"That was before this happened. A month ago there was a half dozen places that I could put the boy. Houses with enough protection that they could keep out rabid reporters or fanatical fans. Since there were no direct threats to the boy's life we could have taken the time to build the protections that he would have needed. Now that is not an option. The Dark Lord has risen. The boy needs protection in the highest order.
"There are only three places where the wards are up to the standard they need to be. The first is Hogwarts, which is not an option due to the Headmasters reluctance. The second is Gringotts. The only feasible place that has the protection Potter needs is under the care of his Aunt." Snape sighed.
"So we leave him in the hands of the people who hurt him, ruining everything." Alex stood, pacing his office.
"A few well-placed threats should be enough to keep them at bay. I know the boy has tried something similar before. But I am well acquainted with his Aunt. I feel that my threats . . . well will hit a little harder." He said with a smug smirk.
"I don't like it." Alex groused.
"It is not like it enjoy the prospect either. The sands have shifted and now there is no time. If there were other options I would try them but there is not. The only thing I can do is put it aside and try and help those who I can actually help." There was another silence. This time it was contemplative instead of angry. Severus was content to let it stay that way. He had said all that he had wanted to say.
"Is there anything that I can do?" Alex suddenly asked.
"Why are you so intent on this?" Severus was curious. Alex cared for those that Severus tried to help but he rarely became so involved. He hadn't ever interacted with them so much. Once, normally, maybe twice. It was an unprecedented shift.
"I like the boy. Reminds me of a certain unpleasant potions master." He dragged his fingers across the edge of his desk, looking at him softly. "Also, you said that he is important. As you said, he is the only weapon against and unimaginable force. If we are going to use the boy the least we can do is keep him someplace safe."
"You like the boy." Snape considered, peering at him with his dark eyes. Whatever he seemed to find caused him to sigh. "If you can think of something I would be glad to hear it. Though I don't think there is anything feasible that we can do."
"Just leave it to me." Alex said with a wicked smirk. He toasted with his glass, draining it happily. Severus shuddered lightly. That smirk always meant that something bad was going to happen.