A/N This story is also being posted on archiveofourown under the same pen name. The tags that I'm using over there are Enemies With Benefits, Dubious Consent, Humor, Friendship, Violence, Soul Bond
It was a sunny morning in early May. The enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall showed a clear blue sky strewn with wisps of high clouds. It would be perfect weather for flying, had half of the Gryffindor Quidditch team not been summarily banned from the sport by the Hogwarts High Inquisitor.
Harry was sat at the Gryffindor table on the same bench as Ron. Across from them, Hermione was almost entirely hidden by a stack of textbooks that must have been at least a dozen volumes high. Up and down the table, and indeed, throughout the Great Hall, there were other students reading during dinner. O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s were coming up, and the general atmosphere among the fifth and seventh years was that of restrained panic. Few of the revising students, however, boasted such an eclectic combination of books as Hermione Granger. Her stack included titles such as Myths and Legends of Ancient Wizarding Britain, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and, of course, Hogwarts: A History.
Harry looked up from his plate when Hermione snapped shut her current book, The Almanac of the Arachnid, and threw it on top of the pile with a scowl.
"I just don't see how it could be an Acromantula!" she huffed, tucking her frizzy hair behind her ear. "There's nothing here that remotely links any kind of Acromantula to petrification: they incapacitate their victims with their venom and their webs!"
"It was an Acromantula enchanted by Slytherin himself though, wasn't it," Ron mumbled through a mouthful of mashed potato. He withered under Hermione's glare, swallowed and quickly said; "That's what Ernie Macmillan told me, anyway."
"You don't honestly believe that Hagrid was responsible!"
"You know I don't! And anyway, no one could believe that, not after it got Eric Burns last night. How's Hagrid supposed to have done that when he's in Azkaban? I bet she's shitting bricks."
There was no doubt who was meant by "she". They all turned to look up at the top table. Umbridge was perching on the edge of Dumbledore's chair in the centre. While all the teachers were in attendance (minus Hagrid and Trelawney), the chairs immediately to each side of her were pointedly unoccupied. The Headmistress herself had a furtive, nervous disposition. Her bulbous, protruding eyes frequently flicked up from the many letters and scrolls spread out on her table to survey the many whispering students in the Great Hall.
The sight made Harry grin - just a few weeks before, she had sat on that chair like it was a throne, smirking down at them all through breakfast, lunch and dinner.
"They have to let him out now," Hermione said hopefully. "I was expecting to see it announced in the Prophet this morning . . ."
There was a long, uncomfortable pause as they all contemplated Hermione's statement. Harry stabbed a carrot on his plate moodily. He was deeply worried about how his half-giant friend was doing, trapped in a too-small cell in Azkaban. Would the Dementors that guarded the prison have the same effect on him that they did on other wizards?
"I still say it's Fred and George," Ron said, finally. "This melodramatic 'Heir of Slytherin' stuff is right up their street - and the writing on the wall? Classic! When we were kids, they used to write 'Poo' everywhere in Impervious Ink, and then sign it 'Ron' to get me in trouble. 'Course, it didn't work, because I couldn't write my own name at that age -"
"Surely you can't still think that Ron," Hermione admonished. "Not after Hagrid."
"Why not? They didn't know that Hagrid had got in trouble for it fifty years ago - they probably just heard about it from a ghost or a book and thought it was a cool prank."
"A student died last time!"
"They probably didn't hear that part." Ron paused to think, and then raised a finger. "And they've kept the attacks going, see, to clear Hagrid's name. Bet you anything they stop when he gets out."
"Petrification isn't like Stunning someone - it's serious magic! It'll take months for Professor Sprout to finish the Mandrake Draught. Daphne Greengrass and Simon Wright are going to miss their exams!" Hermione was aghast at the very idea.
"I wish I could miss mine. Do you think if I asked nicely, they'd do me too?"
"That's not funny!" Hermione slapped her hand down on the table, rattling the cutlery. But Harry was laughing. He loved watching his two best friends bicker - it distracted him from all the horrible things that had happened that year; Umbridge, the loss of his Firebolt, the discovery of the DA and the fact that it was his fault that Professor Dumbledore had been forced to flee the school . . .
"The pattern of victims doesn't make sense for Fred and George anyway." Hermione mused as Harry and Ron's laughter died down. "Daphne Greengrass, attacked the week after Dumbledore left - she's a Slytherin" she said, ticking them off on her fingers. "Then little Olivia Daniels from Gryffindor in the last week of April, then Simon Wright, seventh year Ravenclaw, found the day after Olivia, one week with no attacks and now Eric Burns, another Ravenclaw."
"Yeah," Ron sighed. "Fred and George would have taken out the entire Inquisitorial Squad." He gestured vaguely towards Harry with his fork. "Speaking of, d'you still think it's Malfoy?"
"Yes!" Harry said firmly, ignoring Hermione rolling her eyes. "It has to be, unless it's one of the other Death Eater's kids. It's just got to be connected to Voldemort in some way." He dropped his voice. "In the graveyard, last year, he was boasting about being descended from Slytherin himself. Maybe there's another undercover Death Eater like Moody."
"Bet it's Umbridge!"
Hermione ignored Ron. "You've said all this before, Harry. We just keep going round in circles."
"But don't you think it means something? If Voldemort thinks he's descended from Slytherin, it explains the writing on the wall." Harry persisted "And the attacks started just after Dumbledore left - don't you think that's a little too convenient?"
"Yes, but then why petrify a Slytherin student?" Hermione crinkled her brow and rubbed her temples with her fingers. "It just doesn't make sense. I don't understand the motive: it seems like the person doing this is just targeting people at random, whoever happens to be around. And even if it is connected to You-Know-Who, and I agree that it probably is, there's no good reason to think it's Malfoy. You've been following him for how long now? Three weeks? And you still haven't found anything."
"He's acting weirdly," Harry insisted.
"He and Pansy just broke up last month, of course he's acting weirdly!" Hermione threw her hands up and went back to arguing with Ron, who was now advancing the far-fetched but highly entertaining theory that Umbridge was not merely working for Voldemort, but was, in fact, Voldemort himself in disguise.
They argued at length, but Harry kept half an eye on Malfoy, who was sitting alone at one end of the Slytherin table. He definitely looked extremely shifty, Harry decided. There were, perhaps, few outward indicators of this shiftiness (Malfoy didn't look up from his Daily Prophet once) but Harry just knew that something was up, and that it was only a matter of time until he found out what.
The next morning brought with it double Potions class. Harry struggled to stay awake as Snape lectured on the topic of the Befuddlement Draught. Every few minutes his head began to nod, prompting Ron to nudge him with his elbow to bring him back to wakefulness.
The night before Harry had lain awake in his bed until the early hours. When he had finally fallen into an exhausted slumber he had dreamt again of the long corridor that led to the Department of Mysteries. He had drifted weightlessly down the black tiled passageway, through the plain door at the end, and into the circular room lit with torches that shone with an unsettling cold blue light. Just as one of the handleless doors was gliding silently open, he had woken, shivering and filled with foreign excitement. Through the door there had been a dark, cavernous room filled with tall wooden shelves containing milky white objects . . . Harry had not seen precisely what they were . . . perhaps they were bottles of potions . . . Confusing Concoctions . . .
Harry jerked when Ron's elbow dug into his ribs and he hissed in his ear "Wake up! The lecture's over."
His head snapped up. Snape had finished writing the long list of ingredients on the blackboard.
"- And you will find the Chizpurfle fangs in the container on my desk. Each pair of students will take one fang - if you spill the venom while extracting it, both of you will receive Ts on this practical -"
There was a scraping of chairs and stools as students stood up and began preparing their cauldrons. Harry rose when Ron did, rubbing his eyes blearily.
"Did I miss anything?" he asked as Ron set Harry's cauldron - which was considerably less rusted and pitted than his own - on their shared burner.
"Nah - he went on and on about how expensive Sneezewort is, and took ten points from Gryffindor when Seamus didn't know how many times to stir the potion after adding the Scurvy Grass."
"Yeah - he gave Parkinson twenty when she knew what 'Lovage' was. What's up with you, anyway? You couldn't keep your eyes open in that lecture."
Harry dropped his voice. "I had another dream about the Department of Mysteries - I finally got through the circular room; the one I told you about. There was this sort of tall chamber with loads of shelves -"
Harry trailed off when Ron made a strange kind of gulping sound. He spun around to see Snape standing silently behind them. His lips were thin and bloodless and he was scowling down his long, hooked nose. Harry had the unfortunate feeling that he might have heard what he had just said, and was furiously angry about it - they had not been on good terms (to put it mildly) ever since he had caught Harry in his Pensieve in their final Occlumency lesson.
"Weasley . . . Potter, I don't think it is wise to permit the two of you to partner on this potion. The Befuddlement Draught is a particularly difficult brew, and likely beyond your abilities." He spoke to both of them, but his eyes were boring into Harry's. "Draco," he said, raising his voice. Malfoy looked up from his own cauldron and trotted over, clearly delighted to be invited to watch them being told off. "Would you be so kind as to work with Potter? I'm sorry to pair you with such a . . . dismal . . . student, but I'm afraid Potter will spend the lesson gossiping if he is allowed to work with Weasley."
Malfoy smirked at Harry. "Certainly, Professor. I'll make sure he doesn't touch anything important."
"Five points to Slytherin. Potter, go fetch the ingredients for your partner." Snape said imperiously, before turning away to menace Neville, who had spilt some green liquid down his trousers and was frantically trying to remove it with his wand before anyone noticed.
Harry gave Malfoy a filthy look before heading over to the store cupboard. Ron thumped him on the shoulder apologetically as he passed. A few minutes later, he thumped the pail of ingredients down on Malfoy's bench and began begrudgingly crushing the Scurvy Grass stems with a mortar and pestle.
The atmosphere in low ceilinged, cellar-like classroom was fraught. It was the penultimate Potions practical before their O.W.L. exams began, and Snape was prowling back and forth in the corridor formed between the two rows of cauldrons, clearly in a foul mood. Harry could hear whispers as students tried to confer without drawing his attention. The fumes rising off the brewing Befuddlement draughts were not helping - Harry's head felt heavy, and without meaning to, he had processed three times the required quantity of Lovage. The next cauldron over, Crabbe and Goyle seemed to have forgotten what they were meant to be doing entirely; Goyle was making small circles on his empty chopping board with his pestle and Crabbe was stirring their potion as it frothed out of the cauldron and onto the floor, all the while staring vacantly off into the middle distance.
"Are you done chopping that yet?" Malfoy demanded. Harry quickly hid the excess chopped herb and wordlessly passed the chopping board over. Malfoy strode over to his side of the table and took it with a sneer. The little silver "I" pinned to his robes beneath his prefect badge gleamed dully in the low light. Up close, Harry noticed that Malfoy didn't look so good. Although his hair and robes were still immaculately neat, he was paler than normal and there were dark circles under his eyes.
"What's wrong with you?" Harry asked as Malfoy poured the Lovage into the cauldron and began to stir counter-clockwise. "Did daddy not buy you enough birthday presents?"
Malfoy didn't rise to the bait, but his hand clenched on the ladle.
"Or . . . is daddy in trouble with Voldemort?"
Malfoy jerked so badly at the name that a few drops of bright orange potion splattered onto his neatly ironed robes. He hissed as they began to smoke, then vanished them with his wand. He rounded on Harry.
"How dare you-"
"So he is in trouble? What's he done wrong now?"
Malfoy's nostrils flared and his hands clenched into fists. But he apparently thought better of responding. He turned back to their potion and began adding the venom from the Chizpurfle fangs with a pipette, stirring it in carefully one drop at a time. "Would you hurry up grinding that Sneezewort, Potter?"
Harry did not hurry up grinding the Sneezewort. Instead, he leant casually against the bench, and said, with a conciliatory tone carefully chosen to drive Malfoy mad: "So it is about birthday presents then? Don't worry, Malfoy - I don't think a new broom would help you against Gryffindor. After all, it's not your broom that's slow."
"Fuck off. It's not even my birthday til next month."
Harry thought that was an exceptionally lame comeback. Malfoy apparently thought so too, because he flushed and gave their potion a particularly vicious stir.
"Is it really?" Harry scoffed. "I'll be sure to write it in my diary."
To his amazement, Malfoy blanched white and dropped the pipette. He didn't even seem to notice the plume of noxious smoke rising from the potion, which had immediately turned rust red.
"It's you -" Malfoy breathed. "You have it . . . of course . . . and you're a Parselmouth. . ."
Harry took a step back to get away from both Malfoy, who was acting very creepily, and the fuming potion which was now bubbling violently and making crackling sounds.
"Potter!" Snape barked, as he cut through the students who, alerted by the strange sounds their cauldron was emitting, had gathered around to watch their potion self-destruct. "At the beginning of this class, I specifically instructed you not to add the venom all at once. That'll be twenty points from Gryffindor, for your inability to follow the simplest of instructions."
"Hey!" Harry cried. But there did not seem to be any point in protesting at the unfairness of it when Snape promptly vanished the potion.
"I'll call an end to the brewing," Snape said, turning to address the class. "You've all embarrassed yourselves sufficiently for one morning - I can only console myself with the knowledge that the vast majority of you will not be able to continue this subject at N.E.W.T. level. Bottle what you have - not you Longbottom - you'll stay here during lunch to scrape that sludge out of your cauldron - class dismissed!"
Harry spun around furiously to confront Malfoy, but he was gone. He looked up and caught a glimpse as the hem of someone's robes disappeared out the door.
"Bad luck, mate," Ron said, clapping him on the shoulder.
"It wasn't me - Malfoy said something stupid about his birthday, and I said something . . . I can't remember exactly what . . . and he went really pale and dropped the whole fang's worth of venom right in the cauldron!" Harry said distractedly as he tried to cast his mind back to their conversation. "He said something about me being a Parselmouth . . ."
"What a nutter."
Hermione caught up to them as the class filed into the Great Hall for lunch, leaving a forlorn Neville behind. "Oh, I hope that one doesn't come up in our O.W.L.s - I almost didn't add the Sneezewort in time, and our potion ended up more of an egg yolk colour rather than lemon yellow!" she said, speaking very quickly. Behind her back, Ron exaggeratedly rolled his eyes at Harry.
Harry hardly heard her. His eyes were searching the Slytherin table . . . but Malfoy was not there. Where had he gone in such a hurry? Was he perhaps in the Owlery, sending a letter to his father about whatever he mistakenly thought he'd discovered? Or, Harry wondered, his suspicions about Malfoy's involvement in the petrifications coming to the front of his mind, was he hurrying to the 'Chamber of Secrets' that the messages written in blood on the walls had referred to, to arrange another attack . . .
"I'm not hungry," he said to Ron and Hermione. "I think all of those potion fumes made me lose my appetite. I'll see you in Charms, yeah?"
His friends made sympathetic noises. Harry heard Ron telling Hermione "He didn't sleep well." as he strode out of the great arched doors and began trotting up towards the West Tower. He didn't find Malfoy in the Owlery, although the eagle owl that Harry knew was his was gone. However, on his way back, as he was heading down the first floor corridor towards Gryffindor tower with the intention of taking a nap, he heard two people arguing in hushed voices ahead. He stopped, and carefully peered round the corner.
Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson stood there, halfway down the corridor. They were stood close together, and Malfoy was talking, fast and quiet.
". . . to help me . . . . . . found something . . . Potter . . ."
Harry inched around the corner and crept a little way down the corridor. He knew that his body would be half obscured by the oversized suit of armour that stood to attention next to the door leading to the History of Magic classroom.
He could hear the conversation much more clearly from his new vantage point.
". . . know how important this is, Pansy. Potter let something slip in Potions - and he's a Parselmouth, I can't believe I forgot - remember how he set that snake on Macmillan in second year? It all fits."
Parkinson spotted him over Malfoy's shoulder and her eyes widened. Malfoy must have noticed the change in her expression because he spun around, wand out.
"Eavesdropping, Potter?" Malfoy snarled the words furiously, but the hand gripping his wand was white-knuckled and shaking. Behind him, Parkinson disappeared around the corner.
Harry ignored Malfoy's wand. "What do you think I've been doing?" he asked, burning with curiosity.
"Don't play dumb - I know exactly what you meant by that taunt in Potions class."
"Which taunt?" Harry cried, utterly frustrated. "I can't even remember exactly what I said."
"Don't lie to me!" Malfoy shouted, and then ran a hand through his hair impatiently. "I don't have time for this."
Then, before Harry could do more than slip his wand out of his pocket, Malfoy fired a cutting charm at his bag, causing it to split down the middle. The contents, which included several heavy textbooks and a bottle of ink, hit the floor with a heavy thud and the crunch of breaking glass. The rolled up scroll containing Harry's Charms homework and the gold galleon that Hermione had enchanted with the Protean Charm rolled away in different directions.
Harry watched in complete bemusement as Malfoy crouched, uncaring of either Harry's raised wand or the slowly spreading puddle of spilt ink, and began frantically rummaging through the pile. He swept several quills and a half-eaten packet of Liquorice Wands aside and began thumbing through the books, growing steadily more desperate as he failed to find whatever it was he was looking for.
Finally, Malfoy looked up, meeting Harry's amazed eyes.
"Where is it?" he snarled, but there was a pleading note to his voice.
"What the fuck, Malfoy?"
"Oh Merlin . . . It has to be here . . . He'll kill my father . . ." Malfoy whimpered, digging through the pile again. He seemed to be paying special attention to the textbooks and Harry's wire-bound notepad. He turned each one over several times, and then flicked rapidly through them, as if he expected to find something hidden inside.
Harry's mouth dropped open at this unexpected confirmation of his suspicions. He remembered what Sirius had told him that Voldemort was searching for, all those months ago at Grimmauld Place.
"A weapon. Something he didn't have last time."
"What is it?" he asked excitedly, crouching and grasping Malfoy by the arms. "What does Voldemort have you looking for? It has something to do with the attacks, right?"
But Malfoy wrenched out of his grip and backed away with wide-eyed terror. Without a word, he spun on his heel and sprinted down the corridor.
"HEY!" Harry bellowed, and started after him. But after a few steps he remembered that the contents of his bag were still scattered on the floor, and while some were innocuous, others, such as the Marauder's Map, enchanted galleon and Sirius' knife, were deeply incriminating.
"Damn it-Reparo!" He shovelled his most of his possessions quickly back inside, and stuffed map, knife and coin into his pockets before taking off again in pursuit. But when he rounded the corner there was a three-way junction and a flight of stairs.
There was no sign of Malfoy.
He cursed again, adjusting the strap of his bag on his shoulder.
Harry jumped in fright and spun around to see Pansy Parkinson leaning against the stone wall with her arms folded. He must have run right past without seeing her.
"Don't sneak up on people like that!"
Parkinson raised an eyebrow, but didn't respond.
Harry glanced up and down the corridor, then stepped closer.
"Tell me what's going on - do you know what does Malfoy thinks I have?"
"I can't talk about that," Parkinson said, pushing away from the wall and hitching her own bag higher on her shoulder.
Harry grabbed her arm before she could leave.
"You have to help me, Parkinson - Pansy;" he said, beseechingly. "I don't know exactly what Voldemort has Malfoy looking for, but if he gets his hands on it, it won't end well for anyone."
Parkinson wrenched her arm away. Harry thought she looked torn; her fingers twisted the hem of her cardigan and her lips pursed. She peered nervously around the deserted passageway.
"Greengrass was your friend, right?" Harry pressed. "She was the first to be petrified."
Pansy seemed to come to a decision. "I know," she hissed intensely. "This has all gone too far . . . I want to tell you . . . " She paused and bit her lip. Her eyes darted from side to side. "But we can't talk here - anyone could come past."
Before Harry could point out that she had been perfectly happy to argue with Malfoy about whatever task Voldemort had set him in the middle of the History of Magic corridor, she turned and strode off determinedly down the left-hand fork. Harry trailed after her eagerly, excited at the promise of some answers. Finally, after a year of being kept in the dark, of being told nothing of Voldemort's movements other than that he was searching for some mysterious, unnamed weapon, he would know what was going on.
For someone with such stubby legs, Pansy walked fast. Harry struggled to keep up as she took two more left turns, and then a right that led to a slightly shabby, rarely used corridor. Halfway down, she came to a stop and pushed open a short green door on which "LADIES" was written in peeling gilt paint.
"Come on," she said impatiently when Harry made no move to follow her through the door.
"Wait - Pansy, that's a girls' bathroom."
"So?" she asked blankly.
Harry gestured vaguely at his body in an attempt to convey that he was not a girl.
Pansy rolled her eyes and stepped through. Harry grabbed the door before it could swing closed and, with a final glance to check that no one was watching him follow Pansy Parkinson into a bathroom, passed through with a mixture of embarrassment and curiosity.
Somewhat to his surprise, inside it looked like a normal Hogwarts bathroom, only with no urinals. There was a hexagonal plinth in the centre that contained a circle of sinks around a central column, and a row of cubicles along one wall. To Harry's dismay, the door of one of the cubicles was closed and the dial on the front read "Occupied".
"Don't be shy, Potter, no one else comes in here because of Moaning Myrtle - that'll be her in there."
Harry breathed out a sigh of relief. He now vaguely remembered Hermione telling him about a bathroom haunted by a particularly unpleasant ghost. He turned back to Pansy, and stopped.
It might have been an effect of the soft greenish light filtering down from the mossed over skylights, but Pansy's eyes were bright and lively. Her demeanour had changed somehow; where before she had seemed anxious and fearful, she now stood tall with a small smile on her face and one hand on her hip.
Her other hand held her wand.
Harry's eyes flicked to it and he felt a twinge of unease, but then suppressed it. Pansy was consistently rubbish in Defence against the Dark Arts lessons: she cast spells slowly and predictably.
"Okay, talk. What is Malfoy looking for?"
Pansy cocked her head to the side. The gesture looked somehow alien on her. "Malfoy?" she said, as if she had forgotten why Harry was there. Her voice was light and relaxed. "Oh, he's been looking for a small black book all year, but he hasn't been having much luck." She smiled mirthfully and drew closer. Harry took a slow step back, towards the sinks. "It's terribly funny, actually; apparently Lord Voldemort asked his father to look after it, but he gave it to some poor girl a few years back - I think he wanted to get her father in trouble - and he hasn't heard anything about it since! As you can imagine, the Dark Lord is not amused."
"What does it do? It's some kind of weapon, right?" Harry asked. Then, as his brain caught up with his mouth, he noticed that she had said Voldemort's name. Harry had heard very few people say his name, and fewer still said it without a flinch.
Pansy's eyes were on his forehead. She was staring at his scar, something which people always did and Harry hated. "What does it do . . ." she mused. "I suppose that it is a sort of weapon . . ."
A wide malevolent grin was spreading slowly over her face.
Something was terribly wrong. Harry took another step back, bumping up against the sinks. He tried to surreptitiously slide his wand out of his back pocket.
Pansy took a quick step closer to him and whipped her wand up before he could react. It dug painfully into his throat below his Adam's apple. Harry suddenly registered that she was holding it with her left hand - he could have sworn that Pansy was right handed -
Pansy - or whoever it was who was wearing Pansy's face, for Harry was suddenly certain that it was not her - smiled up at him. Harry's hand was curled white-knuckled around his wand, but it was at his side, pointed down at the floor. The girl leant in, standing on tiptoe to whisper in his ear like a lover.
"~ Open ~"
There was a great groan from behind him and the sound of stone scraping past stone. The sink against Harry's back seemed to slide away and upwards. Harry's arms windmilled as he scrambled for balance - to his horror, a gaping black maw was opening beneath him, and his feet were halfway over the edge.
He tried to grab onto the sinks, the plinth, Pansy herself. His eyes found her face for a split second. It was disfigured by a malevolent, victorious smirk. She laid her small hand on his chest and pushed.