A/N – I'm so sorry, guys, this is about three months overdue. I've got the entire story written, but only a third typed out, and I've just lacked motivation and time both. But here I am with a free day and major guilt, so here's the beginning of the sequel to La Rencontre Momentanée. Enjoy. :-)
"Ron, I'm sorry I have to do this," Harry said lowly, raising his wand above his head. "You've been a good friend to me, all these years, but if you aren't loyal to him you can't be loyal to me."
"Harry, what's the matter with you?" Ron asked, backing up. "Please put down your wand. Harry, you're scaring me," he choked. "Who are you loyal to? Who're you talking about?"
"Voldemort," Harry hissed. "I'm talking about Voldemort. You oppose him, don't you?"
"Yes," Ron said slowly. "Don't… don't you?"
"No, Harry breathed, pointing his wand at Ron. "On the contrary, I'm his ally. His best, most powerful supporter. I'm going to take over, Ron, I'm going to be amazing," he giggled. "And what better place to begin than with the Mudblood-loving best friend?"
"Harry, no," Ron pleaded. "You can't."
"Oh, but I can. Avada Kedavra!"
Ron crumpled and his corpse dropped to the ground. Harry nudged it with the toe of his shoe and laughed.
My most powerful ally, a voice murmured in his ear. You will be amazing, Harry, I promise you. Remain loyal and we will explore your potential. Amazing, Harry, powerful, feared. Nobody to answer to. Don't you want that?
"Yeah," Harry answered. "Yeah, I do. Help me."
Remain loyal, that's all you have to do, the voice promised. Join me.
"Yeah, okay," Harry answered. The Dark Mark flashed white-hot then, and Harry awoke screaming.
"Harry Potter? Are you okay?" A thin finger poked him. "Should Dobby – would you like Dobby to get Professor Dumbledore, sir?"
"Mmph, Dobby?" Harry rasped, fumbling for his glasses. He found them and shoved them on. "Why're you in my room?" he asked bluntly, pouring a glass of water.
Dobby squirmed. "Well, you see, sir, Professor Dumbledore asked Dobby to stay here and make sure you're okay…. Are you?" he asked, peering at him.
"Um, yeah." Harry glanced out the window. "Yeah, I'm fine," he lied. "Is it afternoon already?" he asked uncertainly.
"Yes, sir. You didn't sleep well. Would you like a potion for dreamless sleep?" Dobby offered eagerly.
"No, that's okay…. I'd just like to be alone, if it's not too much to ask."
"Actually, sir," Dobby said tentatively, "the feast is tonight, Dobby was wondering if you would be joining?"
"The feast already?" Harry said dumbly. Dobby nodded and pointed at the enchanted clock on his bedside table. Sunday, September first. Well, damn. "I guess."
"Good, good," Dobby squeaked with satisfaction. Then his ears drooped. "But there is one thing I should be warning you, sir."
"Professor Dumbledore suspects an attack on Hogwarts soon, by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Only seventh years are allowed back," Dobby said slowly.
"Why would Voldemort attack now?"
"Well, sir, because of you."
"Me." Harry took a deep breath. "Dobby, could I have some time alone?"
"Of course, sir. Shall Dobby come fetch you when your friends arrive?"
"Uh, yeah, thanks." Dobby left with a bow and Harry sighed, locking himself in the bathroom.
He pushed his left sleeve up and pulled back the gauze. The Dark Mark engraved in his skin was still a shock everytime he took off the gauze, the grotesque image and shiny red skin. He had grown used to the dull constant ache and nearly the sharp abrupt stabs of pain. But the first look at it had always stunned him.
He took a jar of ointment from its place on the shelf and spread it along the burned skin. Dumbledore had given him the salve, promising nothing but temporary pain relief. The only way to remove the Dark Mark, he had said, was to kill Voldemort. That was all he told Harry, the only thing between him and imminent death or a forced life as a Death Eater.
Thanks a goddamn lot, Dumbledore.
He replaced the unguent back on the shelf and wrapped his arm in clean gauze. His forearm numbed, but his scar ached as though Voldemort was near.
But he had grown used to that too.
The feast began at six, and that's when Dobby escorted him to the Great Hall. "You will be returning to a dormitory, sir," he told Harry hastily as he skipped down a flight of stairs, "and Dobby will be moving your belongings. You will be with your friends again, and oh, they will be so happy to see you!"
"Yeah, thanks," Harry said distractedly as they neared the Great Hall and he scanned the crowd for Ron and Hermione. "I'll see you later."
"Harry!" He spun around and spotted Ron. "Harry, there you are. We didn't see you on the train, thought you decided not to come back."
"Of course I came back," Harry said, pulling Ron and Hermione into a hug. "Why wouldn't I?"
"A lot of people didn't," Hermione told him. "The Patil twins and Lavender transferred to Beauxbatons. And I think Crabbe and Goyle are at Durmstrang, we didn't see them either."
"More likely Azkaban," Ron interjected. "Think they've been branded yet?"
Harry felt his stomach tighten. "What about Malfoy?" he asked.
"Still here," Hermione said reluctantly. "But something must've happened over the summer, because I think he's keeping a low profile."
"It was weird," Ron agreed. "He sat in a compartment all by himself. Stupid git, his minions are gone and now he's got nobody to bully." He cast a disgusted look to where Draco was leaning against a column. "If I could pick one person who got the Dark Mark over the summer, it'd be him."
Harry would have laughed if his heart weren't pounding audibly. "No, he didn't," he said. "At least not last summer. He was in Switzerland the entire time," he told his friends, recalling something Lucius had said.
Both looked at him strangely. "Did he tell you that?" Hermione asked.
"Uh, yeah." They were filing into the Great Hall, giving Harry an excuse to look away, relieved.
There were no longer four large tables, but three smaller ones, arranged in an open square with chairs only along the outer edges. The staff table remained the same, but both the House banners and hourglasses were noticeably absent.
"So how did you get here?" Ron asked curiously as they took their seats.
"Stayed here over the summer," Harry said carelessly, hoping they wouldn't ask too many questions.
"Dumbledore thought it was safer that way?" Hermione predicted. "If Voldemort's come back, you're going to be his first attack. Sorry," she added apologetically, "but I'm being realistic."
"No, it's okay," Harry said. "It's true."
"Oh Harry," she said sympathetically, "you shouldn't have to deal with this, no one should."
"I'm used to it." He saw Hermione and Ron exchange pitying looks over his head. "Oh, don't feel sorry for me," he snapped. Another look, confused this time. He didn't care.
"Good evening, everyone," Dumbledore called over the buzz of scattered conversations. "I'm pleased to see that you made it here safely." He scanned their faces. "And so very grateful you all came to assist us." He stroked his beard and surveyed the Great Hall sadly. "Intuition coupled with anonymous sources inform me that Lord Voldemort will attack Hogwarts shortly, as was mentioned in the letters home. Your typical classes have been cancelled, to be replaced by ones more suitable for these circumstances. Independent study of defensive spells is, as always, encouraged, but I must remind you that Dark Arts are still illegal," his eyes met Harry's, "because we are better than our opponents."
Harry avoided his stare, anger bubbling up within him.
"The upper floors are also now off-limits due to safety issues. The Great Hall and kitchen will remain open, but classes and dormitories are now located solely in the dungeons." A quiet murmur went up among the students. "Yes, they used to be the Slytherin dormitories. However, there has been a temporary end to houses. You are no longer four houses, but one school united. Any grudges you may have – " animus glares exchanged between the Slytherins and Gryffindors " – should be set aside," Dumbledore said firmly, looking down his nose at the hostile glares. "Dormitory arrangements are posted on the dungeon door.
"Looking around, I see Hogwarts's brightest, most resourceful, most experienced – " a faint smile in Harry's direction " – and I am, again, grateful for your help. In addition several Aurors will be on the grounds at all times. May I introduce Alastor Moody, Nymphadora Tonks, and Kingsley Shacklebolt. Also joining us are Bill Weasley and Remus Lupin."
Harry hadn't studied the staff table before, but looked up at the list of familiar names. Sure enough, on the far left side were the Order members. Tonks caught his eye and winked at him, and Remus offered a small smile. He smiled back at both of them.
"This is a drastic change from last year, but hopefully everyone will adjust. If not, nobody will begrudge you for returning home early," Dumbledore assured them. "But at the moment, let us all think more light-hearted thoughts and enjoy the feast."
He took his seat, and gold platters heaped with food appeared on the tabletops. The tension over the Great Hall dissolved as chatter once again broke out.
"Rooming in the dungeon, can you believe it," Ron muttered as they descended the stone steps. "Hopefully they at least let us room by house."
"I doubt it," Hermione said. "It would be just like Dumbledore to sort of mingle everyone to promote inner-house peace. And I think it's a good idea," she added firmly. "Look, there's the list." She pointed.
There were a few students lingering beneath the sheet, but not so many that the trio couldn't get to it. "Oh, this isn't bad," Hermione said. "Hannah, Lisa, and Mandy, I'm rooming with."
Ron brightened. "I'm with Seamus and Dean. Oh, and Terry Boot. At least I'm not mingling with Malfoy."
"I am," Harry spoke up, staring dejectedly at the list.
"Oh, sorry, mate. Maybe you can hex him in his sleep," Ron suggested. Harry only forced a smile and bid his friends an early goodnight.
"Potter," Draco drawled as he entered the dorm. "What did I do to deserve this?"
"You must have excellent karma," Harry said wearily as he opened his trunk sitting at the foot of a four-poster. "Just… pretend I don't exist or something. I'll do the same."
"It's one of my greatest fantasies, Potter, I'll have no trouble," Draco reassured him.
"Oh good." He tossed worn cotton pajamas onto his bed and shut the trunk again.
The door opened hesitantly and two boys entered. "Hi Harry," Justin greeted him, sounding relieved. "I was so worried I'd be in a room and didn't know anybody," he confided. "You're Draco Malfoy, aren't you?" he asked, reaching to shake his hand.
Draco accepted distastefully. "You're a Hufflepuff."
"Yeah. Justin Finch-Fletchley, pleased to meet you. Oh, and this is Xanthus Moon."
"Hi guys," the second boy said with a smile, tugging his dark blue bangs.
Draco surveyed him. "What did your hair ever do to you?"
"Hm? I kinda like it," Xanthus said casually, unpacking books onto his bedside table. "I'm a Ravenclaw, if it matters to any of you," he mentioned, raising an eyebrow at Draco, who shrugged.
"Nice meeting you, Xanthus, but I'm going to bed," Harry said shortly, pulling the curtain around his bed closed around the frame and ducking inside. "'Night."
He pulled on his pajamas and switched off the light above his bed. But he lay in bed awake for a long time afterward thinking. The war, his friends, Lucius – no, not Lucius, who had lied to him and seduced him shamelessly and was the entire reason he had the Dark Mark now. Nope, Lucius wasn't even worthy to be in his thoughts.
But he was the final thought for Harry as he drifted to sleep.