Authors Notes: I'm sorry it's been so long since I've updated. I've been having trouble with chapter thirteen, and I didn't like to post this before I got that one done, but now I've nearly finished it, so here's this chapter. I hope you all enjoy.
Also, I've started a new writing journal for myself, the link to which is in my profile , where you'll be able to find all of my writings. Most likely, things will be posted there before other places, so anyone with a livejournal, feel free to read my stuff there, as well. I should also be better able to respond to reviews that way.
Chapter Twelve: 'The Second Attack'
"Just concentrate on it Harry," Professor Black instructed from the opposite side of the desk. Harry frowned at the small rat lounging peacefully on the desk in front of him. "If your mind's on the Quidditch match that I know you'd rather be at, you'll have no hope on this Transfiguration..."
Harry huffed impatiently and pointed his wand again at the rat. When Black had demonstrated it, the rat had changed so easily into a hamster that Harry had thought it might be simple. Having spent forty-five minutes at it now, though, and effecting very little change, Harry was not surprised that the rat had given up on being frightened by his wand.
Harry gave it another try. The rat before him quivered for a moment and he began to hope it had finally worked, but as quick as it had begun, it was over and the rat was scurrying along the desk.
Professor Black grabbed hold of its tail and set it back in front of Harry.
Harry sighed. "Its just seems pointless." Black raised an eyebrow and Harry continued, "I mean, why does this rat need to be a hamster? Who's to say he isn't perfectly happy being a rat? And why should I be the one to have to change him?"
Black laughed. "I suppose he may well be perfectly happy as a rat. And in the end, I'll return him to that form. But the point is, Harry, that you have to start small. This is a step along the road to more advanced animal and human Transfigurations. Someday, when you'll be needing to Transfigure something a good deal more complicated, you'll be thankful for this." Harry wrinkled his brow. "I suppose that's a very typical adult sort of answer, isn't it?" Black chuckled when Harry grinned his agreement. "God, when did I become one of those? Typical adult, I mean. Anyway, give it one more try, and then I'll let you head off to the match."
Raising his wand again, Harry nodded quickly, happy to be almost out of there. He pushed all thought of the upcoming Gryffindor-Hufflepuff match from his mind and pointed his wand directly at the rat. Putting all his effort into the Transfiguration he was attempting, Harry gave a quick flick of his wrist. He closed his eyes for a second, expecting for nothing to have happened, and was met with soft laughter.
"Well done," Professor Black was saying, and Harry opened his eyes again. In front of him was the rat, still looking very much like a rat, but now missing its tail. "It's certainly a start, anyway, isn't it?"
Harry wasn't so sure about that, but was willing to accept the praise and move on. The rat seemed bewildered by the loss of the tail. Its body was twisted and folded almost double as it tried to bite at the spot where the tail had been attached.
"Not to sound too much like Hermione," Harry began, "but that does seem to be bordering on cruelty to animals, doesn't it?"
Black gave a bark of laughter. "Perhaps." And with a wave of his wand, the rat was whole again. "Well, I won't go back on my word. You're free to..."
But the office door banging open interrupted him. Harry looked up from stuffing a piece of parchment covered with notes into his pocket to see Bonnie Black, red hair tousled behind her, standing in the doorway.
"Dad..." she began.
Professor Black narrowed his eyes at her. She rolled her eyes back at him, not intimidated.
"Oh come on," she moaned. "It's not like there's a bunch of students here. Surely I don't have to call you Professor all the time?" Eyes still narrowed, Black seemed to consider this. After a moment, he relented and she grinned. "All right then, Dad. I was wondering if you were coming to the match?"
Black got up from behind his desk. As he spoke, he began pulling a stack of parchment from one of the drawers. It looked to Harry as though they had exams written on them. "I will not be attending, no. I have far too much grading to do. I was, however, going to walk with Harry down to the stadium, but as you are here, you can do it." He paused and seemed to consider his daughter. "Speaking of which, why are you here on your own? I believe it was made abundantly clear to you all that moving about the castle alone was forbidden?"
Bonnie shuffled her feet nervously but otherwise didn't look bothered. "Oh, well, you know. Nothing's happened since that rat. And it was just a rat, so I figured..."
"You figured wrong," Black cut her off, anger in his eyes. "Do you think we set these rules for no reason, Bonnie?"
Bonnie looked nervous, and Harry could tell nervousness wasn't something she was used to feeling. He, too, found himself surprised at the sudden anger Professor Black was displaying.
"No, no, of course not," Bonnie began meekly. "I mean..."
Professor Black sat back down. He motioned to the two chairs opposite his desk and Harry and Bonnie slid into them. "Professor McGonagall, the others professors, and myself, we try to be reasonable. We understand that you are children." Bonnie seemed to want to object to being called a child, but said nothing. "We understand that you want to have fun, but when we do set a rule, we expect it to be obeyed. It's for your own good. For your safety. Something happened to Mr. Pettigrew's rat. Something killed it, and until we can be absolutely certain that whatever that was is gone, every student at this school is at risk." Harry looked sympathetically at the professor, remembering his desire to close the school at once. "Look, I don't mean to be harsh. But if we are not careful, it'll be a dead student next. Even one of you two."
Harry glanced at Bonnie. She looked chastened. "Dad, I'm... I'm sorry..."
Tension hung in the air between them and Harry began to feel slightly uncomfortable. "Look, um, Professor..." Black looked over at him. "The match should be starting... can we..."
Black nodded. "Go on. Together. And, Bonnie, that'll be five points from Ravenclaw."
The redhead didn't protest. She didn't even look upset at the loss of points, she simply got up from her chair and headed towards the door. With a half smile at Professor Black, Harry got up and followed her. They slipped into the hallway together and walked a few paces. Suddenly, Bonnie's demeanor changed. She was back to being carefree. "Honestly," she muttered, glancing back at her father's door. "It was just a dead rat. Probably some stupid prank."
Harry was surprised. "So you don't think it's something to worry about?"
"No, do you?" Bonnie glanced over at him as they turned a corner.
"Well, at my old school," Harry began, not sure how to explain what had happened without mentioning that his old school was simply a different version of this one. "There were... similar... things. Attacks on students and all."
"Did anyone die?"
Harry shook his head. "Well, no."
"See, then? Nothing to worry about." Harry started down the path he normally took to the Quidditch pitch, but Bonnie grabbed hold of his sleeve and pulled him back.
She rolled her eyes. "If we have to stay together, we're at least going to take the short cut." Harry couldn't think of any shortcut, and he realized his confusion must have shown on his face as Bonnie pointed down a nearby hallway. "That hall connects up to another one that'll dump you out right by the pitch. And it's easy access from the Ravenclaw common room, so we always go that way, but pretty much no one else ever does."
Harry had never heard of any such shortcut, but decided to take her word for it. He knew that Bonnie wanted to get to the match just as much as he did, so he followed her. Sure enough, the hallway they had started down ran into another fairly soon and, though he'd never been down it, Harry was fairly certain they were headed in the right direction.
Conversation between them lulled. Harry realized that he knew almost nothing about the girl and couldn't think of a topic to begin with, so he just watched her silently. Unfortunately, with nothing to do but think, his thoughts drifted to his mother, the woman this girl looked so much like.
For the second time in a short while, Harry began to feel uncomfortable. Being alone with Bonnie reminded him of the meeting he had had with Lily Black. Save his encounters with dementors, it had been the only time in his memory that he had heard his mother's voice, and he knew he had messed it up royally. Still, he figured, there probably wasn't an etiquette guide to follow for meeting the alternate version of your dead mother.
Harry was pulled out of his thoughts after a few minutes by a distinct, but distant, rumbling of voices that he knew had to be coming from the Quidditch stadium. Sure enough, Bonnie informed him that they were almost there.
They turned another corner in silence, Harry focusing his attention away from Bonnie and onto a portrait of a sleeping wizard, when she stopped suddenly beside him and grabbed for his arm. Harry stopped next to her, almost tripping over his feet.
"What's that?" she whispered, for the first time sounding a bit worried.
She pointed down the hallway and Harry turned his gaze to follow her finger. Further down, about fifty yards away, was what appeared to be a large black lump lying on the floor. He squinted and wiped at some dirt on his glasses, hoping to get a better view.
"I... I don't know," Harry stammered. "Could be a..." And then he paused, not knowing what it could be. Bonnie seemed frozen in place, so Harry took charge. "Well, come on, we'll never be able to tell from here."
Leaving her behind him, Harry strode down the hallway. As he got closer, he thought it looked distinctly like a Hogwarts uniform. It only took him another second to realize that it was not lying flat, so it must have a body inside it. He broke into a light run. As he neared the body, he could hear Bonnie's feet not far behind.
It was, indeed, a body. Harry dropped to his knees beside it. It appeared to be a girl, judging by the long, black hair, but she was lying face down. He paused for a moment, unsure of what to do. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest. Then, gathering his courage, he took hold of her shoulder and pulled her slowly onto her back.
What he saw made all the blood drain from Harry's face. It was all he could do not to scream for, once he got her all the way onto her back, Harry found himself looking into the sightless eyes of Cho Chang.
She was staring up at the ceiling blankly, her mouth frozen in an 'o' of surprise. One hand was stuck out to the side and the other in front of her. His heart racing, Harry grabbed her wrist between his fingers and felt for a pulse. He could find none, and what he feared was confirmed: Cho Chang was not petrified. She was dead.
All Harry could hear was the sound of Bonnie's footsteps, approaching slowly now. The sounds of the Quidditch match, so distinct before, seemed to have disappeared completely. Then, all of a sudden, the engulfing silence was broken by a piercing scream. Though he knew full well who had screamed, Harry glanced backwards anyway. Bonnie was standing just over his shoulder, her blue eyes wide in shock and her face every bit as pale as he was sure his was. He turned fully around and started to reach a trembling hand towards her, but before it could make contact, she was gone.
Bonnie's footsteps pounded down the corridor, heading back in the direction they had come from. Within seconds, she disappeared from sight, but Harry could vaguely hear footsteps coming from another direction. He stumbled to his feet and stepped shakily away from the body.
His heart was still racing and Harry realized suddenly that he was breathing heavily. Slowly, he stepped towards the opposite wall and leaned back against it. He tried for a few moments to slow his breathing, but the efforts were in vain.
The second set of footsteps continued to come closer and suddenly Peter Pettigrew appeared, panting as well, from behind a tapestry.
"I heard screaming..." he began, but stopped abruptly. The caretaker's eyes darted from Cho's dead body to Harry, and back again. He seemed to be mouthing wordlessly as he, like Harry had done, dropped to his knees beside her. Also as Harry had done, he took hold of her wrist and began to look for a pulse, but Harry didn't need Pettigrew's confirmation to know that there would not be one. "Dead... she's dead..." he muttered after a moment. Pettigrew got to his feet again and came suddenly at Harry. "I heard a girl screaming... was it her?" Harry shook his head no, but Pettigrew took no notice. "What'd you do, boy? Did you kill her?" Harry shook his head again, but couldn't force words from his mouth. Pettigrew edged closer, staring Harry directly in the eye.
"Peter!" another voice boomed down the hallway.
Harry looked up and was relieved to see Professor Black running towards them, Bonnie at his heels.
Bonnie got another close look at the body and screamed again. Harry really wished she wouldn't, because it made him realize that his head was starting to hurt, but Black did nothing to stop her. Instead, he made his way over to the body and became the third person in a row to check that she was really dead.
Once he was assured of that fact, he turned solemnly to Harry and Peter. Pettigrew, to Harry's relief, took a few small steps backwards. Bonnie stopped screaming and looked to her father for answers. Unfortunately, Harry realized, it was more than obvious that the professor did not have any.
Professor Black took a step towards Harry, and Pettigrew backed further away. Bonnie edged nearer to Cho, but couldn't seem to bring herself to actually look at the body. Harry noticed she had started to cry.
Suddenly, Pettigrew pointed a shaky finger at Harry. "This boy, Professor. He killed her. I heard screaming."
Harry looked horrified. He turned to Professor Black and began to deny it, but Black silenced him with a shake of his head. "It was Bonnie's screams you heard, Peter. Miss Chang has been dead too long. Anyway, Mr. Potter was with me until just a few minutes ago. An extra study session for Transfiguration."
Bonnie whimpered and edged closer to Cho's body. Professor Black reached out a hand to stop her, but she twisted away from him and fell to her knees beside the girl. Her tears had turned into full-fledged sobbing as she leaned over the body.
Black made to go comfort his daughter, but before he had taken a step, Pettigrew spoke again, in a far nastier voice than before. "It's convenient, isn't it? Every time something happens, and the boy's with you. This boy who just magically showed up here one day..." Harry felt his temper flare up and could see Professor Black bristle. His eyes narrowed. "This girl looks just the same as my Wormtail did," Pettigrew growled.
"Wormtail?" Harry asked, surprised.
Pettigrew narrowed his beady eyes at him. "My rat!"
"Are you saying Cho looks like a rat?" Bonnie choked out.
No one said anything for a moment. All Harry could hear were Bonnie's sobs and Pettigrew's rasping breath, still just inches away. Harry turned to look at Professor Black; he seemed to be trying to decide whom to address first. Finally, after a couple more moments passed in relative quiet, Black turned to his daughter. "Bonnie, what Mr. Pettigrew is trying to say, I'm sure, is that it appears... it appears that Miss Chang was killed by the same thing that killed his rat."
"Wormtail! His name was Wormtail!" Pettigrew seethed. Harry tried to take a step backwards, but the wall was right behind him. "And I just think it's a little strange that this boy..." – he jabbed a finger at Harry- "... is always around for these deaths."
But Harry didn't even think about protesting; his mind was on something else as Black turned on Pettigrew. "Peter, that is quite enough! I can assure you that Harry has no more killed anyone than I have!"
Pettigrew began to tremble under Black's harsh glare, but Harry barely took notice as he slipped across the hallway and sank to the floor next to Cho's body. He willed himself not to look at it, and instead turned to Bonnie. "You were friends with her?"
Bonnie nodded meekly. Harry could feel the sudden presence of the two adults right behind him.
"Well, do you know if... I mean... is she pure blood or..."
"Muggle," Bonnie whimpered. "Her parents are Muggles."
"What's that got to do with anything?" Pettigrew snapped. Harry glanced up at the adults and knew instantly that Professor Black was beginning to make the same connection he just had.
Black nodded slowly. "The first victim was a Squib's pet. The second, a Muggle born student..."
"Enemies of the heir beware..." Harry muttered. Bonnie trembled suddenly. He got the idea that she understood now, too.
Pettigrew, it seemed, had not caught on. He had sunk back behind Professor Black and appeared to be muttering to himself. Harry ignored him and looked at his professor. "I told Minerva," Black began. "Not safe... none of the Muggle borns are safe."
Bonnie gasped and rose shakily to her feet. "But... but what about Mum?"
"Don't be absurd, Bonnie," Professor Black snapped. "Your mother is perfectly safe – she's not at this school!" Bonnie nodded quickly and stepped meekly backwards. Harry, too, felt shocked by Black's harshness. After a moment, he glanced at them and took in the surprise on both their faces. "I'm sorry, sorry. Don't need to be taking this out on either of you." He paused for a moment and then whirled around to face Pettigrew. "Peter! Go now and get the Headmistress from the Quidditch match. I'll be taking them to my office." He gestured vaguely at Harry, Bonnie, and Cho's body. Pettigrew snapped into action almost immediately and disappeared down the path that Harry and Bonnie had planned to take.
Pettigrew's steps faded away and the hall was silent again. Even Bonnie's tears seemed to have subsided. Professor Black simply watched the students for a moment. He appeared to be collecting his thoughts. Then, out of nowhere, he pulled his wand. Harry couldn't hear the spell that he muttered, but in seconds Cho's body was floating next to him.
"Come along," he commanded and started down the hall. Harry and Bonnie glanced at each other and then hurried to follow.
To be continued...
Scenes from Chapter Thirteen:
- Headmistress McGonagall, Harry decided, looked quite suddenly a good deal older than she ever had before, in this world or his own. Her eyes were wide, and her pale skin contrasted sharply with the deep purple robes she wore. Her right hand trembled as she used it to brace herself against the doorway as her eyes took in the sight that awaited her inside her Deputy's office.
"It is true, then, Sirius?"
Harry turned back to McGonagall, surprised to hear her voice sounding just as fragile and weary as she looked.
- "Mr. Potter, I must ask: is this what happened last time?"
"No one died last time," Harry said quietly.
At the same moment, Bonnie squawked out, "What do you mean, last time?"
- Then, unwillingly, Harry laughed to himself, because while the thought of Sirius made him feel happier, the thought of the Dursleys made him ever more determined to stay in this world and face whatever might be coming.
Not being privy to his thoughts, Bonnie clearly didn't find his laughter appropriate. She stopped in her tracks and glared at him, not bothering now to wipe the tears from her eyes.