Harry Potter and the Serpent Conquest

Book Three of The Heritage Series

Chapter Fourteen

Attack of the Serpents

The ring was old, the gold tarnished with age, yet its craftmanship was clear even to Harry who didn't know much about such things. However, there was something in its design that he thought questionable, it was perfect, yet something was wrong with it.

As a tradition, the rings borne by the Heads of the Ancient Houses were not only designed to hold the magical jewel which had been gifted to them by Merlin, but also designed to reflect the family Incal.

An Incal being the magical totem which represented the manifested form of the Houses individual family magic.

The ring on his own hand was a bore a stylised eagle head on the face of the ring, and the band was etched with wing-like patterns. All of which were imagery to depict the Incal of House Potter which was a Griffin.

Looking at the ring he could see that his ancestors had followed the same tradition when they commissioned its crafting. The metalwork on the rings face was wrought to resemble an eye and it held a black smooth stone to complete the design.

Its design looked nothing like a Griffins eye, the anatomy was all wrong. But then he realised his error and he thought it obvious now.

This ring had once been worn by the hands of his ancestors, it had even once been set with the stone from his own ring. But this ring predated the formation of the House of Potter. This was a ring of the Ancient and Most Noble Houses of Peverell and crafted to resemble their Incal, a Thestral.

At some point in time one of his ancestors had commissioned a new ring, and the older piece of metal work had passed down to the House of Gaunt, and the magical jewel to the House of Potter.

The ring had been set with a black smooth stone which bore a strange mark in grey relief, the stone fit the setting perfectly but was larger than his own jewel so the metalwork must have been altered to fit, but it completed the look of a Thestrals eye.

As he stood holding the box and admiring the ring, he felt an echo of the family magic that he now controlled still lingered within the band. There was an ancient magic too, he could feel it lying dormant waiting to be called. It was like trying to recall a dream, it was familiar, and he wasn't sure why.

He felt like the ring was calling to him, calling to his blood, wanting to be reclaimed and mastered once more but Harry was cautious, he didn't know why but the power of the ring frightened him as if it was forbidden.

Suddenly Harry felt his scar burn hot and it pulsated like a heartbeat and unbidden dark thoughts began to rise in his mind.

The ring was his birth right, Riddle had taken it like he had taken his parents from him. Here lay an heirloom of his bloodline, a symbol of family that Harry had never had, which Riddle had stolen from him. The Ring belonged once more to him, once more could it sit on the finger of the bloodline to which it was originally bound.

The desire to take up the ring overwhelmed Harry, his every thought was taken up by the ring in front of him. Something slipped from his righthand, but he didn't care. The only thing he needed lay within the golden box, and it would be his.

The ring on his own finger grew hot and the stone glowed as his fingers reached for the old heirloom.

It felt like his head was going to break under the force of his pulsating scar, his eyes straining under the pain. He felt a cruel, cold murderous intent that was not his own burn through him which unbidden as the ring was within reach.

Before Harry could take out the golden ring, a dirty trainer suddenly flew out of nowhere and kicked the box out of his hand and sent it and the ring bouncing across the shack floor.

"HARRY!" Someone screamed in his ear and he felt someone grab him from behind and try to pull him away from his fallen heirloom. "SHUT IT OUT! ITS CURSED HARRY! YOU NEED TO STOP IT!"

A dark voice spoke to Harry as he struggled to stay on his feet. She wanted to take the ring for herself, she wanted its power, she would use it against him. Stop her now!

With a grunt, Harry reached behind him and threw Hermione from his back and pushed her away from him. He had to stop her now, before she could take what was his, he flicked his wrist to summon his wand to his hand only for nothing to happen.

It was only then that he found himself at wandpoint.

Hermione stood in front of him looking incredibly stricken and dishevelled but was advancing on him with her wand held aloft in shaking hands but ready to attack him.

"The ring is mine!" Harry snarled, "You cannot have it!"

"WE HAVE TO DESTROY IT!" She cried beseechingly.

"NO!" Harry roared horrified, he had to protect the ring it couldn't be destroyed. He turned instinctively to the ring without even needing to look with his eyes. Go, put it on, claim it, protect it.

Harry dived for the ring, getting away from her wand before she could try and stop him, and he reached for the metal band with an outstretched hand.

But Hermione was ready, she has seen his intention and moved to stop him. She moved quickly and her hands steadied determinedly as she tracked his movement and found his goal and a spell shot from her wand and sent the ring skidding across the floor just as Harry was about to grasp it.

Flipping over where he lay in a heap on the floor Harry glared up at her furiously, she would pay for interfering in him reclaiming and protecting what was his.

"You are not yourself." She said shakily but stood her ground not taking her eyes from him and kept her wand trained on his chest, "Harry I am really, really sorry about this."

Fool he thought to himself, she wouldn't stop him now. He lifted his hand up and gestured for the ring, focusing everything on summoning it to himself, he would not be denied, the ring would be his.

The ring lifted from the ground and twitched towards Harrys outstretched hand and he felt a sense of gleeful triumph.

Suddenly he screamed in a flash of absolute agony, his vision blurred, and he lost sight of the shack and the ring.

The first sensation Harry had was the sound of metal snapping together behind him and then he felt a great weight lift from his mind, and it was like it could finally think freely without drowning in thoughts about the ring.

As his mind calmed itself, he became aware of a searing spike of pain emanating from the scar in his forehead begin to wane and settle into a light ache.

Sighing with relief he opened his eyes and once more saw the remains of the Gaunt Shack and found Hermione standing against the far wall with her wand pointed at him and one foot standing on the golden box which suddenly now remembered contained a Horcrux.

"What in the name of Merlin just happened!" Harry gasped his body twitching in response to the curse she had just used on him. "Did you just use the Cruciatus Curse on me?"

She didn't say anything and just continued to stand there looking at him guardedly, her wand pointed at him.

Not enjoying the feeling of being at the mercy of anyone, even Hermione he looked for his wand and saw it lay discarded on the floor and he reached out to summon it to himself. Before he could use wandless magic he suddenly saw the tip of Hermione's wand glow and he jumped away instinctively, just in time as what he recognised as an incapacitating curse shot through the air of where he had been and hit the stone wall leaving behind a scorch mark.

Hermione looked half-crazed and but incredibly determined and Harry wasn't sure that if she tried to duel him that he could win.

"Hermione calm down." Harry said hastily and he didn't make any more attempts to summon his wand, but a part of him wondered if could manage a wandless shield charm if she tried to curse him again.

"Don't move Harry!" She warned, her voice croaking, "I will curse you if you so much as twitch!"

"What is going on!" Harry demanded but followed her warning and wasn't about to test her. "What happened to me?"

"You were bewitched." She said in a low voice, "It happened the moment the box opened, it was like everything around you disappeared."

Harry nodded but stopped immediately as her wand tip glowed ominously.

Something might have influenced his mind, he thought to himself. He remembered everything, but it was like a half-remembered dream. Where his mind had been foggy it was now clear, and he needed to understand what had happened, it didn't make sense and scared him.

"The moment you opened that box you became someone else. I tried to talk to you, but it was like I wasn't there." Hermione explained, "I had to stop you physically from taking the ring from the box and that's when…"

"When what?" Harry dared asked, he could tell from her face that whatever it was had caused her to curse him and her current fear of him which made her hold him at wandpoint.

"You looked right at me and I saw your eyes." She told him and she looked into them now, "They were scarlet! You were not yourself!"

His entire body went cold at her announcement, he felt one of his greatest fears overcome him. Only one person had red eyes that could elicit such a response in a person, and he wondered if he was more like Riddle than he realised.

No, he said to himself turning to the more rational part of his mind, he had to think about it logically.

"My eyes must have transformed into the direwolfs..." Harry said trying to explain it away.

"No." She said firmly, "they were pure scarlet, without any trace of green. You were under his influence!"

With the last excuse gone he instead thought on it more and how it might be possible.

The ring was a Horcrux, a fragment of the soul of the darkest wizard of the modern age. A dark wizard who was equally as powerful as he was clever and cunning. He knew that a Horcrux was somewhat sentient and could be treacherous, but could it had affected him without him even touching it?

It shouldn't be possible, Harry thought back to how Ginny had been possessed by the Diary. She had poured her heart into its pages opening herself to the influence of the Horcrux. Sirius had said that he had felt a dark presence within his office while he had been studying the Cup and Locket, but he hadn't succumbed to their influence.

However once Sirius had understood what the artefacts were, he had constructed the enchanted box to contain their influence and protect himself from their effects, and Harry assumed the golden box must be similarly spelled.

It couldn't be possible for the piece of soul within the ring to have influenced Harry directly, it went against everything that he knew about Horcruxes. Whatever power the ring held horrified him, it had changed him without him even noticing and it made him feel incredibly vulnerable and weak.

But then so too was the Horcrux he realised, it was fundamentally a container that could be destroyed or broken. Its owner needed to protect their anchor to life by whatever means they could.

The Ring was both a container and a protection and if that was the case it would be capable of offensive and defensive actions.

"I think a powerful compulsion charm has been cast on the ring." Harry said thinking aloud, "far more powerful than what affected us on the lane to keep us from this place. I remember an overwhelming dire need to claim the ring, it to pick it up and take it from its box."

Hermione stared at him thinking for a long moment as if wondering if he was trying to trick her into letter her guard down in some way but in the end she replied.

"To what end?" Hermione demanded, "Why would he want someone to take it?"

"To fall prey to a well-designed trap, and one I would have fallen to." Harry admitted, he didn't know how he knew it, but he knew he was right about this. "If I had touched it… I doubt I would be standing here now talking to you. It is clever you must admit. My only question is why didn't you fall prey to it?"

Despite himself he felt weak compared to Hermione, why was he so weak to its pull? Was it because of his bloodline's connection to the ring? Or was it his connection to Voldemort? Or was it something else, something she had that he didn't?"

"I felt it." Hermione said hesitantly looking at her feet momentarily. "I felt the need to pick it up, and I might have done, had I not seen your reaction to the ring. The power it held over you in that moment terrified me and allowed me a fleeting moment of clarity."

She paused for a moment thinking about what had happened. "I threw up the strongest occlumency defence I could muster and focused on protecting you, and it broke its hold over me."

Harry couldn't help but feel incredibly grateful that Hermione was with him, if she hadn't been, he would be dead.

"Hermione, I promise I am myself now." Harry said sincerely but a sudden flash from the fireplace caught his attention.

It was still burning with its black and green fire dancing dangerously in the hearth and creating the suffocating black smoke which his ward was now barely able to contain. "We need to leave. Now!"

Stepping slowly over to where his wand lay, Harry tried not to alarm Hermione as he bent down to pick it up and was relieved when she didn't curse him. He gave her a pointed look towards her feet.

"We have to bring that with us." He told her, "Seal it, I know you don't trust my judgement with it but if you seal it, I will carry it."

Hesitating for a long moment, Hermione then bent down and cast a non-verbal spell at the golden box keeping it closed and the compulsion charm at bay. She lifted her foot and waited but the lid remained closed and she moved away but kept her wand trained on Harry looking for further signs of him being under its influence.

Gingerly picking up the box once more Harry feared that the lid would again open, but it remained shut. Without the effects of the rings now dormant magic he could have a good look at the box and realised it was an artefact itself, and far heavier than he had originally noticed.

There was magic bound to it, he could feel a powerful binding spell enveloping the box and keeping the lid shut which Hermione had cast. But beneath that, he felt a more potent and stronger magic under his fingertips, one with a signature he found as familiar as Hermione's.

Riddle had expertly cast the magic to contain, bind and protect the contents of the box, equally as powerful as it was skilfully applied.

"Can you feel it?" Hermione asked pointedly.

"No." Harry said honestly. "So long as the box remains closed, we are protected, it was enchanted to contain the rings effects."

"Good." Hermione said and her wand finally stopped pointing at him and she instead turned to the door which remained closed, "How do we get out of here?"

The golden box gripped tightly in his free left hand, Harry turned to face the shack that trapped them. The fire was still burning in the hearth as he could feel its heat, but his ward holding back the choking smoke was flashing and looked close to bursting.

"The quickest way." Harry said urgently, "That ward won't hold much longer, and I don't want to be cooked like smoked fish in this shack."

Hermione tried to open the door, but it remained firmly closed.

"The door is sealed, and that barrier is still surrounding the interior trapping us and the smoke inside." She told him, "We have to break through one of them."

The two of them tried every spell they could think of to try and open the door or break through the containment ward, but they realised that there was no disarming or bypassing a way through the web of enchantments.

"I can think of only one way out." She said finally giving up with a tone of annoyance, "brute force. It will take a lot of power, more than I think I can muster so you will need to do it. That spell Malfoy used on Neville in Durmstrang should do the job."

It was an idea Harry thought and he pressed his hand to the door and felt the barrier under his hand and wondered if he could break through it, he knew he had cast it and the power they possessed.

"Stand back." Harry said determinedly and pointed his wand at the centre of the closed door, "Exsupero Potentinum!"

The powerful beam of silver energy poured from the tip of his wand and hit the door and the containment enchantment and it vibrated like a strike of a bell. It was a powerful curse and one that was incredibly dangerous in close quarters.

He could feel the power of his curse hitting the containment ward, but it was being dispersed through the room and he felt the heat of the magic on his face. The ward glowed brightly, and he saw it rippled across the entire room, but it refused to break.

Sweat began to bead down Harrys forehead from the exertion but also the incredible heat generated from the collision of both his magic and the containment ward. Harry could feel the heat on his face, and it was only getting hotter the longer he held the spell.

The heat assaulting him abated suddenly as Hermione cast a protective spell over the two of them.

"You need to hurry up." Hermione called over the loud peal, "that ward you cast, I think it's about the break!"

Harry didn't look at the fireplace, he knew the ward was breaking but was hoping to get through the shacks barrier before it ruptured and began to choke them.

"I am trying." Harry said through gritted teeth, "it will take more power which will mean you need to protect us from the feedback of my curse. Can you handle that?"

Out of the corner of his eye he saw that Hermione didn't look certain that she could, but that doubt wasn't about to stop her, and she tried to think up a better alternative.

"Could we bring it down together?" She asked, "If we both performed that spell it should be easier to breakout?"

Harry considered what she said but dismissed it with a quick shake of his head. "It could work but then we would be defences to the blowback of the curse, I can break though myself, but I can't protect us at the same time."

Instead he handed Hermione the gold box, he needed his left hand to steady his wand.

"I can do that." Hermione said taking the box and she began to cast a net of shield charms about the two of them, he trusted her ability to combat his spell but also for any unknown surprises while he just used sheer brawn.

Returning his attention back to the door and barrier blocking their way, Harry took a deep breath and began to pour more power into his curse.

With the increase in power, his wand began to vibrate painfully, and he wondered if it would break from his efforts to increase the raw power of the spell. The curse he was using was deadly, and the amount of power he was expelling would have been enough to destroy half a wing of Hogwarts.

One thing that Hermione seemed to be struggling to do was block out the loud resonating noise from the battle between curse and ward and it made their ears hurt, despite that draw back Harry was glad to see her shield charms blossom in front of them protecting them from his curse.

The containment ward was strong, but to maintain such a protection it had to be bound to something, a ward stone or some such thing. As his magic continued to bombard the barrier, it blossomed brightly throughout the room and began to glow and pulse in its efforts to remain intact.

Maintaining the necessary power and concentrated application of the taxing spell was as mentally taxing as it was physically.

"Harry give it just a little bit more, I think its weakening." Hermione shouted in his ear, "We need to get out now!"

Nodding as he didn't have the energy to waste on words, Harry pushed more power into his spell. The vibrating in his wand increased fourfold and he was reminded of the last time his wand had done this, just a few miles away in the graveyard.

The door began to smoke, and smoulder and Harry felt a sense of relief, he was overpowering whatever the ward was anchored to.

"Your almost through!" Hermione cried encouragingly, "You almost have it Harry!"

Crying out with determination Harry continued to put everything he had into his spell but thought he would go deaf from the noise when suddenly the containment ward imploded, the door shattered into a cloud of splinters as his spell obliterated it.

Hermione screamed as the shields she had conjured were suddenly assaulted by the magical discharge, but she was able to stave off what would have been a fatal blast of energy.

"MOVE!" Hermione screamed and she threw herself at Harry pushed him through the open doorway and they fell tumbling into the grounds just as old stone shacks front wall crumbled and fell apart and would have crushed them both.

"Never again." Harry said panting and couldn't help but laugh, "I can't believe we got out."

He looked back at the shack and saw a black smoke was pouring between the cracks in the rubble, it seemed the destruction of the old shack wasn't enough to smother the magical fire.

"Are you ready to leave this foul place?" Harry asked Hermione turning to where she had fell and his heart stopped when he saw the spot was empty, "Hermione? Hermione!"

There was no sign of her. Harry jumped to his feet and cried, "Obsol Solis!" A brilliant miniature sun shot from his wand and it hovered above him and revealed the dark grounds and suddenly the hair on the back his neck stood on end.

A dark and foreboding power was seeping across the grounds, it was like an infection and every one of his senses screamed danger to him, something had changed within the Gaunts old grounds and it made him sick to his stomach but now he had lost Hermione.

"Hermione!" Harry shouted, "Where the hell are you!"

Above him his conjured light was losing its potency and as he realised that whatever foul power was rising up now he had no idea how to counter it and it must be a defence in case the Horcrux was taken.

Something struck him on the head and almost broke his glasses and he swore loudly and looked on the floor where whatever it was had fallen only to see the golden box laying on the ground still closed.

"Where…" He said picking up the box carefully before his head shot up and looked up into the dark canopy above, he saw the branches move like there was a breeze, but he felt none, the air was stale and still.

Wondering at it, he gestured with his wand and the miniature sun moved closer and he gasped.

The branches weren't moving in a breeze, the trees had seemingly come to life and they now acted like hundreds of snakes and he was reminded of the store of medusa, the branches were just like her hair and caught up in it all was Hermione.

"Hermione! Stop moving! I will get you down!" Harry called and he aimed his wand carefully and he was happy to see her stop struggling. "Diffindo!"

His aim was true, and he cut through several branches and it took a further two attempts to free her wand arm from the tree and moved to try and free her head.

It shouldn't have been so difficult to cut through the wood but whatever had animated the tree was also protecting it, the dark magic that was leaking out of the shack ruins was being absorbed by the gnarled old trees.

Cutting the branches had done something, the tree began to creak and moan as the trunk twisted and he wondered if it was actually a species of Guardian Tree or just a perversion of Dark Magic. He looked around now and to his horror realised that it wasn't the only one.

The grounds of the Gaunt property was filled with gnarled trees and now every single one of them was coming to life its branches were angling towards him.

Something grabbed Harrys legs and he down and saw roots had sprung around him and were growing towards him and looked every bit as dangerous as the branches above. Sending a wave of fire at the ground around him he had hoped to burn them away, but they were just as resistant to magic.

There was a flash of light above him and he saw Hermione battling the tree that held her within its grasp, and it released her neck and head.

"Harry move!" She cried out, "It's the box!"

Of course, he realised belatedly. The magic that was animating the grounds was trying to stop him from leaving, to kill him and reclaim the box that he had stolen from its hiding place. Hermione had been caught as she had been carrying it when they had tumbled out of the shack and it had immediately grabbed her while she was unawares.

Harry tried to run away from the tree which held onto Hermione but the network of roots under the earth rose up and swiped at his legs and feet tripping him and slowing his escape but it looked like he now had the attention of the magically animated trees and he hoped would allow Hermione to escape.

Eventually he got thirty feet away before he was stopped by the largest bramble bush he had ever seen that looked ready to embrace him with its menacing thorns and then roots sprung up and grabbed his ankles again.

"Draconis Extermino!" Harry roared and conjured a vortex of cursed fire around himself, the spell burned away the roots holding him and ate away the brambles which threatened him and allowed him to catch his breath again.

His safety didn't last however as a large branch punched through the wall of fire and knocked him sideways through the wall of fire and he smelt burning hair and his spell abruptly ended.

The box he had clutched desperately in his left hand fell from his hand and Harry grunted painfully and he thought he heard his arm crack. He tried to get to his feet, but roots managed to bind his legs in place and the closest tree was not ten feet away and it began to move towards his prone form.

It churning up the earth as it moved and its roots and branches slithering and twisting in constant moment that made Harrys skin crawl. The dark magic fouled the air now, he could taste it and it layered his tongue and made him want to gag, he felt it leaching out of the roots that gripped him and felt their dark purpose.

With a jab of magic, he disentangled himself, but the moment cost him as the roots of the large tree entrapped the golden box in the grasp and the branches were swinging towards him with the entire weight of the tree behind it.

Prone on the ground and not having time to jump out of the way he drew on what power that he still had in him and desperately poured everything into protecting himself before Riddles constructs killed him.

Raising his wand, he cast would he thought might be his last ever spell, a shield blossomed around him, forming a blueish dome that penetrated into the earth and formed a perfect sphere of protective magic.

The branches slammed into the shield and it flared in response and Harry cried out in shock thinking it would crush him but fortunately the shield held, the gnarled tree reared back and fell on Harry and he could felt the impact through the earth.

Something flashed behind the large tree as he reared back to land on him again and as he flinched he heard not the painful creaking of the tree but something else, a roaring billowing noise that did not belong there, that just as unnatural as the abominations he now faced.

He felt it before he saw it, the very air seemed to burn and even through his shield as he breathed in air it seared his throat. A monstrous billowing stream of white-hot fire was speeding towards him engulfing everything in its wake and he glimpsed what looked like fiery wings before it consumed the guardian tree and Harry in its burning embrace.

There was a long drawn out scream that could be heard through the roaring fire and Harry went cold thinking the worst, that Hermione had been caught in it.

Suddenly fear flooded through Harry, he was surrounded on all sides by fire and was protected only by the barrier he had conjured, and he could feel it was straining now and he knew he couldn't maintain it for much longer and he had felt a brief moment of feeling like he was burnt alive when he heard the scream and did not want to relive it in the flesh.

Then the blinding brilliant blaze dissipated and suddenly it was incredibly dark and Harrys vision burred with after images of the fire that had billowed around him for the last several minutes and nearly cooked him alive.

Almost immediately the shield charm dissipated on its own and left Harry coughing and spluttering as he got shakily to his feet trying to breath as the air outside his shield was much hotter than he had expected, and it singed his stubbled cheeks and burnt his lungs.

He was surrounded by a veil of ash and smoke which made it hard to both see and to breathe.

The devastation was clear to Harry even with the limited visibility. The property had been filled with dense foliage that all but blocked out the outside world but all of that had been devoured by the fire.

"Harry!" Hermione cried breathlessly as she limped through the smoke and ash looking stricken which turned to great relief on seeing him. "Are you ok? Are you hurt?"

"I'm fine." Harry croaked, his throat hoarse, and looked himself over and was happy to see that apart from a few singe marks he was relatively unharmed. Hermione on the other hand looked like she had been trampled by a herd of hippogriffs.

Twigs and brambled littered her bushy hair and Harry thought it looked like it had also caught in the fire. Her face was covered in filth and numerous cuts covered her face, and he noticed she was not putting her weight on one of her legs.

"What about you?" He asked concerned that his friend was in a far worse condition than he was.

"I've been better." She shrugged, "where is the Horcrux?"

It was a good question, Harry thought to himself the last time he had seen it the ancient gnarled tree had claimed it before it had tried to kill him, but all that remained of it was a large pile of ash. He bent down and brushed aside the ash until his fingers found something hard and he uncovered a coarse and dirty substance which sat underneath.

"Destroyed." Harry said with relief, "that fire you created burnt through it all."

"It was Fiendfyre, it was all I could think to use to burn through that dark magic. It's both as incredibly potent as it is difficult to control." She said tiredly, "I won't ever use it again, it terrified me."

Impressed by her ability to not only save their lives but also to wield such a dangerous piece of dark magic, Harry couldn't help but feel indebted to her, this mission could have killed him more than once if not for her.

"I thought I had killed you when I heard that scream, but that was him wasn't it?"

"It was." Harry said in a low voice and hiding his face from her.

He was wasn't ready to discuss what he'd felt when the fire had destroyed the anchor which bound the piece of to this side of the veil. Instead he tried hid behind a falsely positive tone, hoping she wouldn't notice it, "we have finally destroyed a Horcrux. We are one step closer to ending this war."

Hermione frowned and stepped closer to him and looked down at the remains of the box and ring and studying the irregular metal lump that it had formed.

"Do you think he felt that?" She asked hesitantly, as if afraid she would be heard. "Do you think he knows that a piece of his soul just died and moved on."

It was a good question and it caught Harry by surprise as he hadn't considered it before and wondered at it for a long moment before he answered her. "I can't say for sure, but I think not. From what we know of the magic involved and the damage he has done to his soul, I think it unlikely. We had best hope he doesn't though."

"Then we shouldn't linger." Hermione said quickly looking around the ruined grounds, "but we can at least say our mission was successful, if slightly problematic and downright dangerous."

"Slightly problematic?" Harry snorted, "That is what you said about the Second Task of the Triwizard Tournament. I think I would rather relive that than do this again."

She tried to and failed to keep a straight face and laughed, "still accurate though, isn't it!"

"Yes, if only slightly understated." Harry said shaking his head in amusement while he stifled a yawn. He was exhausted, both mentally and physically, he couldn't wait to get a good meal in his belly and lay down and sleep.

Pushing himself up from his squat on the floor, he went to stand but as he did, he felt something under his hand that caught him by surprise.

A feint echo of his family magic emanated from the pile of ash, which should have been impossible given the destructive power of Fiendfyre.

With a discrete flick of his wand Harry sent a small blast of air from his wand which swept aside the ash and revealed all the remaining melted gold of the box and ring in formless blobs, alongside a smooth black stone.

Gasping in surprise Harry almost choked, the stone should no longer exist, yet there it sat. entirely unharmed with the only damage being the slight crack which he knew had already been there.

Reaching out gingerly for the stone he felt for any sense of dark magic but there was none, he was certain that there was no lingering dark magic or Horcrux's power still in the stone. With no sign danger Harry picked it up and put it in his pocket.

Whatever connection his family had to the mysterious symbol carved into the stone still eluded him, but with the stone he now had proof of the connection and one he could investigate if he ever got the time.

o-HP-o

Atop the Astronomy Tower learning on the parapet was a student, looking out over the dark ground of the school which was illuminated by the glow of its many windows but it was impossible to see anything so instead turned their heads to the heavens and studied the stars deep in thought.

The tower was supposed to be out of bounds to students apart from during Astronomy class, but that had not stopped students from finding solace up there away from the chaos and noise of the school below.

Everything within the school had changed, if it hadn't been evident to everyone when they boarded the Hogwarts Express it had become abundantly clear once school had started. All of the students knew that the school was under the control of the Death Eaters, and the school policies now favoured the Dark Regime.

Even the ancient castle that had stood for a millennium had changed, it no longer felt warm and welcoming, but now felt cold and dangerous like the magic that had permeated the ancient stones had been corrupted.

Hogwarts had always been factious whether through politics, blood status, the year groups and even the schoolhouses themselves. Those divisions were even more evident now, and even more divisive than ever but also dangerous.

Students began to turn against each other, making it increasingly difficult to know who you could trust, even old friends could turn against you as they picked survival or a side in the war and innocent students were caught in the middle and needed protection.

The professors were closely watched by Snape and the Carrows, but they did what they could to protect the students as much as possible. Neville did not envy their position, and it was why the students needed to help themselves where they could.

Understanding that it would take more than the professors to help people, the DA reformed under Neville, Luna and Ginny's leadership and began to work to undermine the Death Eaters wherever they could but also protect students where the Professors could not.

They had also made sure to make the Carrows time as the school as inconvenient as possible thanks to the twins' various products that were smuggled into the school. But they had attracted to much attention, the headmaster had re-established the Inquisitorial Squad and tasked them with finding those who were responsible.

The Inquisitorial Squad had begun to patrol the school and would hand out detention and punishments without any oversight and soon the DA was targeting them as much as the Carrows.

Snape and the Carrows might know there was a student underground working against them, but they didn't know much about them. Its members were still bound by the contract Hermione and Harry had drawn up and could not give away their secrets.

The Carrows were convinced that Neville was the ringleader and were trying to prove it to the headmaster and had tried to catch him up to anything for the last week but had failed at every turn. As a pureblood heir to the ancient houses they couldn't do much to him, they had to be seen to act within the school rules which had allowed Neville just enough of an advantage to stay one step ahead of them and just beyond their reach.

That was until todays lessons.

Neville had underestimated the devious nature of Amycus Carrow, he had fallen for such an obvious trap which had led to Amycus finally getting to brutally punish him for his apparent transgressions.

The Defensive Applications Class had sat waiting for its appointed professor to arrive, Neville sat indifferent thinking it would be another lesson on how a witch or wizard could defend themselves against mudbloods stealing magic and muggle ignorance, but he had been wrong.

Amycus had strode into the classroom with five students bound and levitated in front of him and deposited them at the front of the class. He had told them that they would today be practicing the Cruciatus Curse and they would do so on the bound students.

Neville's blood went cold at the ease in which Amycus said it, you would have thought they would be practicing the cheering charm, not a torture curse.

Most of the class were equally as horrified as Neville, but there was the small number who looked excited by the prospect of using the curse on the students and had eagerly hurried forward to begin the lesson.

It wasn't like Neville planned it; he made no conscious decision at all. He saw Crabbe, Goyle and Pansy Parkinson raise their wands when suddenly he was on his feet, wand in hand, and he had disarmed and thrown them across the classroom with a wave of his wand.

Before Neville could do anything else he was hit by the same curse he had protected the students from, and he couldn't help but scream in pain. Amycus had predicted he would intervene and had finally gotten the excuse he needed to punish Neville.

The curse lasted less than a minute and Neville got back on his feet and forced himself to walk to the front of the class and stood in front of the shocked bound students and volunteered himself as the target for the classes practice of the curse.

Delighted with the turn of events Amycus had accepted his request with triumph which had turned sour as Neville spent an hour alternatively screaming in pain and insulting and defying the professor by refusing to give in.

The other members of the DA in the class had been ready to come to his aid but Neville stopped them with a firm look, he didn't want them to intervene this was his burden to bear.

When Daphne Greengrass had been called to the front of the class to practice the curse, he had not been sure what she would do. She had stood in front of him with her wand pointed at his chest and stared at him impassively, there hadn't been assign sign of familiarity on her face as she had affixed herself with her usual cold and indifferent mask.

As she muttered the incantation he felt a sense of betrayal and waiting for the agony of the curse to course through his body, but none came. Try as she might she'd seemed to struggle with the curse. The Professor had tried to give her pointers on its use, and she had seemed intent on following them, but each time failed before returning to her seat in defeat.

The Gryffindor students had refused to use the curse on him, they refused to even attempt the curse. Blaise, Theo, and Tracey who were friends of Daphne had followed her lead and made a show of trying but not managed to cast the curse, whereas the other Slytherin students had cast it on him with zeal.

Well other than one. Draco Malfoy had stood unmoving for a moment and looked unwilling to use the curse his aunt had used on Neville's parents, as Amycus has stalked towards him expectantly Draco had finally cast the curse and Neville had felt a great jolt but nothing more.

When the Hogwarts bell the lesson was over, Neville got to his feet and dusted himself off despite the residual pain and twitching muscles and laughed as strode out of the classroom.

"Wonderful lesson Professor, I learnt a great deal." He had said much to the disbelief of the classroom.

After the lesson he had not been able to face anyone, he wanted to be alone and had vanished from the third-floor corridor before his friends could catch up with him and made his way to the solitary tower to think.

He hated the Cruciatus Curse, it was a vile and cruel and he had vowed to never use it after what it had done to his parents and it was not the first time it had been used on him.

Everyone knew his parents had been tortured into insanity by Bellatrix, Rodolphus, and Rabastan Lestrange; and Barty Crouch Jr. Many didn't know that it had happened in his home of Hemlock Hall and that Neville had seen and heard it all from where his mother had hidden him under a silencing charm under a bed.

Neville did have any memories of the night, he was too young and his mother had managed to protect him from the horror he had witnessed although in his mind he could see it based on what he had been told and his own imagination.

He had always admired his parents, but he couldn't help but wonder just how they had managed to last so long under the curse that had eventually driven them to insanity.

Hearing footsteps on the stairs Neville darted out of sight and had his wand drawn ready in case it was the inquisitorial squad, they would regret finding him if it was.

But from the stairwell came Luna Lovegood and she looked surprised to find herself atop the tallest tower at Hogwarts and blinked as she took in the open room and looked into the dark sky.

"Hello Neville." She said dreamily as she walked past his hiding spot and stood where had been moments before, "have you lost something?"

"How did you know?" He couldn't help but ask her as he stepped out and joined his friend. "How did you find me?"

"Find you?" She blinked tilting her head thinking about it, "I wanted to be alone and now we are not allowed on the grounds after dark I thought I would find solace up here. I think perhaps that is why you are up here."

Neville considered Luna for a moment as he joined her looking out at the night sky and he wondered if it was just a coincidence that his friend had found him, she was unusual but she had a knack for perceptive observations and sometimes a touch of something else he couldn't quite define.

"Have I disturbed you?" Luna asked him, "are you here looking for answers in the heavens? Firenze will be happy if so."

A small smile pulled at his lips for a moment, but he heard something behind them and spun on the spot to confront the intruder.

"Divination?" Came a hard voice, "I hope that isn't why you are here Neville."

"Hello Ginny." Luna called without looking around.

Ginny stepped out into the light and Neville saw that she had her wand in her hand as if she expected a fight at any turn.

"How did you find me?" Neville asked, "am I that predictable?"

Ginny smiled knowingly looking at their mutual blonde friend and joined them both, "I looked for you at dinner, I heard what had happened and was worried." She explained, "Nick found you for me."

They stood in a comfortable silence for several minutes, broken only by the tune that Luna hummed to herself, but Neville saw out of the corner of his eye that Ginny was watching him closely and he saw the worried look.

Raising one questioning eyebrow at her he received a small smile in response.

"You look terrible." She stated and despite himself Neville snorted.

"I can only imagine." He replied tiredly, "my body is tired, but my mind cannot rest."

"Wrackspurt." Luna muttered to herself.

"Why did you do it?" Ginny whispered, "did you have to be so…"

"Yes." Neville told her firmly and he showed the tremor in his hands, "I couldn't just sit there while Carrow was about to torture innocent students, and I certainly wasn't going to join in with that lesson."

"None can believe that Amycus Carrow could torture a pureblood head of a Noble and Most Ancient House." Luna said, "do you think they would have said anything if those half-bloods were tortured?"

Ginny frowned in disapproval and went to argue but Neville placed a hand on her arm and shook his head.

"I am a pureblood heir to an Ancient House who just defended half-bloods and was tortured for my troubles." Neville said, "I have just shown the hypocrisy of the Dark Regime, I am a prince of the wizarding community, but I was just made to scream in agony like a common half-blood."

"You will be a blood traitor for this." Ginny pointed out, "welcome to the club Neville, the Weasleys have been deemed blood traitors by the likes of Malfoy and Parkinson for years, wear it as a badge of pride and honour!"

Luna startled Neville has she touched his cheek and stared into his eyes and he felt like she was reading his very soul.

"You were very brave Neville." Luna said quietly, "but your parents would not wish you to put yourself in harms way just to live up to what they suffered. You must be more careful, the Carrows will not let this go unpunished and things are bound to get worse now because of what you did, for everyone here."

Neville stiffened at the mention of his parents and hated that she could see something he didn't like to admit even to himself. He couldn't decide if he had acted because it was the right thing to do or because he wanted to live up the memories of his parents.

Another reason he had come up to the astronomy tower was to think, had he gone too far? What of his family, had he engaged them? By breaking the illusion of the Dark Regime could he have made everything worse?

"You don't have to wait long to see the repercussions." Ginny said tensely, "Daphne Greengrass was attacked before dinner."

"By whom?" Neville asked in alarm.

"Parkinson and her new female cohorts, apparently they thought if they were rewarded for bringing the heir to House Longbottom to his knees and screaming in agony they could do the same to other members of the Ancient Houses." Ginny explained and it was clear that while she didn't like Daphne she despised Pansy more.

Neville was horrified, he knew she was in a dangerous position within Slytherin House but had thought her family name and knowledge of the game would keep her safe, not to mention her friends.

In fact, they had heard rumours that she was now in a relationship with Theodore Nott. When Neville had first heard the rumour, he had thought it ridiculous, he had known Theo for as long as he had known Daphne and never in all those years had he shown an interest in her. Truthfully, Neville had never seen or heard Theo show an interest in anyone romantically.

He had wondered if she was not playing the game, staging a relationship to cover up her former ties to Harry.

That was until the notorious gossips of Gryffindor Tower had spent an entire evening talking about seeing Theo and Daphne kiss two days ago. Neville was never one to listen to gossip, but the DA believed it was true.

"What happened?" Neville asked worried about her.

"She was not harmed." Ginny said, "they ambushed her on the way to dinner, but they bit off more than they can chew according to Sue. Snape apparently had to see to Pansy personally to reverse the damage Greengrass did."

"I wish we could help her." Luna sad sadly, "I know she cut all ties to us, but she is still one of us and I liked her, she spoke to me about my mum, she understood."

She would of Neville thought to himself, Daphne had lost her mother when she was young just like Luna, she might pretend to be cold and indifferent but she was a compassionate woman at heart she just wore a mask like armour to protect herself and her family.

"She was never one of us." Ginny said haughtily.

"Harry liked her a great deal." Luna pointed out, "If he were here he would protect her."

Neville winced at Lunas brutal honesty, she wasn't wrong but saying such a thing around Ginny was not a good idea, he knew Ginny still liked Harry and resented the attention he gave Daphne.

"I wish we could, but we can't." Neville said darkly, "We cannot get involved directly, it would only make her position for dangerous. She has the same protection as I do, its small but it might just be enough."

"She is better protected than you." Ginny said sourly, "she is dating the son of a death eater, she will be the next Narcissa Malfoy when Nott takes his position in the circle."

"Theo?" Neville blinked in surprise and laughed, "You don't know him well enough Ginny, he is nothing like his father. Gran refused to have any dealings with Lord Robert Nott for obvious reasons, but she liked Theo, even allowing him to come to Hemlock Hall for events and the like."

Ginny shrugged noncommittedly and cast a silencing charm about them and changed the subject away from the territory of Daphne Greengrass.

They began to discuss what the DA response would be to the day's events, it required an escalation but they needed to ensure they remained ahead of the Carrows and Inquisitorial squad more than ever.

o-HP-o

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Authors Note: Well this chapter was certainly harder to write that I hoped it would be!

o-HP-o