Chapter 30: Moony Mirrored
Harry ran directly from the many staring faces in the great hall to the overly familiar gargoyle guarding the base of the Headmaster's round office. His mind was reeling as thoughts of the prophecy and what he had just possibly learned meant for his aunt's future, and by consequence, his own.
He leaned heavily on the edge of the gargoyle, and in a voice louder than he wished he had used, shouted a string of various wizard and Muggle sweet names, hoping upon hope that the Headmaster's penchant for sweet-related passwords remained. He gave a grunt of relief when the gargoyle jumped out of his way upon hearing Cockroach Cluster, and ran up the slowly spiralling staircase, impatiently waiting for the top stair to reach the heavy oak door above.
Harry gave two loud knocks on the door, and then allowed his body weight to push the door open, not bothering to wait for the usual greeting. Dumbledore was simply waiting calmly behind his desk with a small smile as usual, his fingers locked together as he stared over them toward Harry in thought.
'Ah, Harry. How nice of you to visit. Can I interest you in a-'he began, but Harry did not learn the name of whatever Dumbledore was offering before he burst into his own offering for the old wizard.
'Professor, I think I've figured out a part of the prophecy,' he said in a panicked voice, causing the elder wizard to raise an eyebrow in question. 'I think Voldemort is after Aunt Petunia.'
As he said this he heard it aloud and decidedly felt very foolish. It was bad enough seeing her at Hogwarts but now he was having notions of her importance to the wizarding world's survival? Dumbledore on the other hand had not shown any marked change, still watching the boy before him calmly as he now enjoyed some orange sweet from a bowl on his desk.
'I heard Parvati express to the Gryffindor table moments ago, that she considers herself and Padma to be equals. If that's the case, then couldn't aunt Petunia be my mother's equal? And the one who is to help me cripple Voldemort?' he further explained.
This time Harry found that his voice came out with an edge of desperation, once again making him realise how very ridiculous it sounded. He was now staring at the floor and feeling strongly as though he should leave the room, with hopes that perhaps Dumbledore would completely forget what he had just seen. Luckily at that point, the Headmaster decided to speak again.
'That is a very keen observation Harry, and one that I think warrants our full attention.' Noticing the red that had found its way into Harry's cheeks and neck, he added, 'Far be it for me to cause you embarrassment Harry. It is not foolish to feel protective of one's family. Even when they are not the kindest people in the world.' Harry had nearly objected to his comment until the last part.
'Take a seat Harry,' the old wizard conjured a wide armchair for him to take, and took another sweet from the glass bowl. 'I must ask that you not be angry with me, but I also felt your aunt may be in danger. As Tom's powers have increased, I have feared that the protection your mother left would decrease further and further until it ceased to exist altogether. At that point, I fear it safe to say that Tom would be as bold as to make an attempt to take you from the Dursleys.
For a moment, Harry did not understand what the Headmaster was going on about; what he explained had nothing to do with what he had just divulged. It was another moment before his eyes widened in understanding and he fixed the old man with a glare.
'You brought her here to keep us together,' he said; it was not a question but a cold fact. 'You offered her the position, telling her she was in danger, but knowing full well that Voldemort wouldn't bother with her as long as I was here. All just to protect me? How could you risk her life by bringing her here?' he said darkly, not as disbelievingly as he once might have.
'I explained the situation to her Harry, and she felt that it was best for her family if she was not around them, lest something should happen,' he offered as explanation, but Harry had already decided that he had cheated her. 'Under these new circumstances I must say it was a clever idea, and it saves us much time in protecting her.'
'How do you figure?' Harry nearly shouted, utterly upset that so many strings were still pulled above his head. 'Aunt Petunia was not in her place in the hall, and the only other place she goes is home. What was the point in bringing her here, if you allow her to go home unprot-'
Before he could finish his rant, the flames in Dumbledore's grate burst forward in a flash of green to expel his aunt, tightly clutching the bundle that he knew to be his cousin Priscilla in her arms. She threw her nephew a very dark look, but before Harry could respond, another burst of flames announced a new arrival and Harry watched with a dropped jaw as the form of Dudley Dursley, carrying a large packed rucksack, entered the Headmaster's office.
Harry looked at his anxious features for a moment, before noticing the building flames in the grate, signal of another arrival about to be unloaded. He held his breath and chose not to comment, for fear that he may faint should his Uncle Vernon step out. More to his dismay, it was not Vernon, but Professor Black to step out next, the baby's mobile bassinet clutched in her arms along with several garments and toys that Harry knew to be his newest cousin's.
At seeing the immoral woman walk out behind his family members, Harry's urge to protect his cousins grew immensely, and his trust for Dumbledore suddenly dropped more than he thought possible. He wanted to shout at the top of his lungs at the old man about how utterly idiotic he had been to send a Death Eater to retrieve the people Voldemort would most want, next to him of course.
The continued dark look shot to him from his aunt and the partially frantic and relieved face of Professor Black dissuaded him from doing so at the moment, but he certainly intended to give the old man an earful when he next found himself alone with him. Harry instead turned to his now excited cousin and greeted him warmly, having to tell him to calm down before the boy would sit in one of the new armchairs conjured by the Headmaster.
'Now,' Dumbledore clasped his hands together as he began, 'This works out well as you are all here,' he gave Harry a pointed look. 'Professor Dursley and her children will be staying at Hogwarts for the next little while, mostly to ensure that nothing dangerous should befall them. I have already assured them that they are perfectly safe within the castle grounds, and fortunately,' he stressed this word with a hint of a smile, 'your aunt has agreed to stay as long as necessary.'
'What about Uncle Vernon?' Harry found himself saying; despite his intense dislike for the robust man, he did not wish to see him harmed by Voldemort. No one deserved that.
At his question, Harry was surprised to hear identical scoffs from Professors Dursley and Black, immediately followed by a murderous glare from Petunia to the blond-haired woman.
'Your uncle has decided it would be best for him to stay at home,' Dumbledore offered lightly, obviously masking the real answer that Vernon would rather die than step foot in Hogwarts.
After a moment's silence, Dumbledore turned his gaze to Harry once more and asked him to show his family members to their new quarters. Harry very nearly pointed out that he could not possibly know the location of the staff quarters, but the amused look he received in return told him not to bother.
The Dursleys collected their things and Harry took the items Professor Black had carried through the Floo before heading for the door. He made a point of avoiding her eyes lest she ask him how his lesson had gone. There was still so much he wanted to discuss with the Headmaster, but as Professor Black appeared to be staying behind, he would most certainly have to come back another time. He eyed the two Professors momentarily before leaving the room, and deciding he disliked Dumbledore more at the moment, fixed him with an icy glare.
By the time Harry had floated his family members' belongings to their new quarters, students were beginning to trickle through the halls toward their next lessons. He would have to be quick about settling them in, else he might find himself in detention with his ever-strict Transfiguration professor.
'Alright, the password you know and I'm sure the Headmaster explained the rules,' he said offhandedly to his aunt, who seemed more determined than ever to simply ignore him as she tended to her fussing daughter. 'I have to get to class now Dud, but I suppose I'll see you at dinner?' he asked expectantly.
Both boys waited as Dudley questioned his mother with a look, and she finally gave a jerky nod of consent.
'Right. Well I'll see you later then,' Harry said quickly before darting back into the halls and down to his lesson.
McGonagall did not chastise him for being late, but surprisingly smiled at him sympathetically while he took his seat, before going on with her lesson. Bothered by the odd treatment, Harry did find satisfaction in the dark look Malfoy sent his way; Harry could tell how badly he wanted to call him out on his late arrival.
The lesson itself was not extremely difficult, but due to a lack of concentration Harry found it to be one of the more complicated spells he had worked on all year. He could not stop thinking about how odd it was to have the Dursleys at Hogwarts, and bristled continuously at the lack of respect the Headmaster had shown him in keeping yet more secrets from him. The old wizard's methods were becoming more and more annoying, and Harry was beginning to feel that his loyalty could only stretch so far.
It was not until Neville had to stun his dinner plate to keep its wiry wings from allowing it to soar off the table, that Harry realised what a dunderhead he must have appeared.
'Thanks,' he whispered to his friend with a grateful smile.
'Are you alright Harry? You ran off to the Headmaster too fast for us to say anything,' Neville asked him in a low voice, though a quick look around him alerted Harry that Hermione and Ron were both leaning in to hear his response as well.
'It's nothing really,' he lied to dislodge the looks and prying ears of all the others who might hear him. 'We'll talk about it later alright.'
Hermione did not seem to accept this, but everyone went back to their work nonetheless, and before long the end of lesson bell rang. Through the clamour of students packing their bags and scraping chairs, Harry barely heard his Professor's voice call him to stay behind. He told the others he would catch them up and made his way to the quickly deserted front of the class room.
'Your work was not nearly acceptable today Mister Potter,' McGonagall gave him a pointed look over her spectacles. 'I realise that certain aspects of your day must be overwhelming at best, but I must ask that you focus during my lessons. We still have much to cover before the end of term, and if you wish to continue your training you best remember our stipulations set forth this summer.'
Harry returned a very wary look, but conceded and gave a half smile before agreeing and confirming their later appointment by informing her he would arrive as soon as Snape dismissed them.
'Good luck Potter,' she added as he reached the door. 'I'm sure you'll do fine. A captaincy will do you a world of good,' she further explained with a narrow quirk of her lips.
'I doubt Snape will let me get one of the positions, but barring Malfoy's spot, it should be interesting to see who fights for the other three.'
'You give Severus very little credit,' McGonagall opined disapprovingly. 'If I recall correctly, it was you who appointed him head of the club, thus you must have trusted his judgement. Biased though he may appear, he cannot deny talent when it is clearly demonstrated. Even Severus respects a good duel.'
Having decided that this ended the conversation, Harry nodded his understanding and gathered his bag to rush toward the Entrance Hall. This would be his second late arrival of the day if he did not hurry. Hagrid did not usually comment on his tardiness, nor did Charlie he reassured himself as he hurried across the lawns toward the half-giant's hut. As he got closer, Harry began to worry when he did not see any of his classmates congregated outside the hut, nor were they anywhere near the forest edge.
Had the lesson been cancelled for some reason? He decided to wander along the forest edge with hopes that he might hear or see the group just within its outer perimeter. Birds were chirping contentedly from their perches above him, undoubtedly enjoying the oddity of natural warmth that the brilliant sun offered today from the cloudless sky. Very little wind met his face as he walked, allowing a very welcomed silence to settle around him as he leisurely strolled the grounds, caring less and less if he found his classmates or not. He decided that this walk was far more useful today than any lesson would have been.
Harry's attention was suddenly pulled to his left where he heard a rustling in the treetops. Wand pulled, he held it up in front of him, thinking of a defense spell that might aid him should something attack. Peering into the dark protection the forest offered its creatures, Harry wondered what could be watching him. He highly doubted it was one of Aragog's children, as they rarely left the center of the forest, not to mention the confines of darkness, though he would have been prepared for them.
Just as he considered casting a lumos for a better look, something leapt out of a treetop far closer than Harry had anticipated and dug its claws into his shoulder.
'Ah!' he screamed as he felt the Kremler's tiny claws dig in for traction. 'Would you calm down,' he nearly shouted at the excitable feline-like creature Charlie had shown them early in the year.
The Kremler surprisingly obeyed and Harry could feel the tiny razors retract from his skin and the tiny animal readjust itself comfortably on his other shoulder.
'Well I'm glad you're at home,' Harry mumbled darkly to the now purring fur ball, as he cleaned the spots of blood that had formed on his robes. 'You're lucky you didn't do more damage than you did,' he continued to talk to his new shoulder pet, ' because if I had to go see Madam Pomfrey, I'm telling you right now-' but he did not get a chance to finish his sentence before he heard his name frantically called from the direction in which he had been headed.
'Harry get down!' he heard Charlie's voice shout again urgently as he spun toward it and felt the cutting of the Kremler's claws dig in once again as it took off in fright.
His eyes grew to the size of saucers as he saw the large winged creature whipping toward him at an unnatural speed. Large yellow eyes glinted ferociously at him as he made to lift his wand, but the creature's large leathery wings proved too quick and before he could react, the dragon was upon him.
A new set of claws, these ones far larger, dug into his shoulders, albeit these ones not so deeply. Harry found himself pinned to the ground under the weight of the enormous black dragon as it lowered its eyes to meet his own. Harry felt absolutely petrified as the beast lowered its snout to him and he felt the alarmingly hot breath from its nostrils hit his face. He gave a shout as the dragon's mouth opened to reveal rows of pointed razor like teeth before a long purple tongue poked out and slapped his cheek hard.
Shocked beyond reason at being tasted by a dragon, Harry barely felt the claws being pulled off him as Hagrid grabbed hold of the creature's apparent lead and pulled it off forcefully.
'None of that!' he shouted loudly at the creature before reaching down to pull Harry to his feet. 'Y'all right there 'arry?'
Harry cringed as Hagrid pressed on the spot where the claws had dug into him twice in the past five minutes, but nodded dumbly as he continued to stare at the enormous dragon that had just attacked him. He also noticed now that the rest of his class and Charlie had collected around him with concern. Hermione got to him next.
'Are you alright?' she asked anxiously, looking him over to ensure nothing was missing. 'I guess he recognized you,' she added with a weary roll of her eyes. 'He did me and Ron too, only he didn't pounce on us because Hagrid was holding him back.'
'Though I think the dragon slobber was more than enough,' Ron lamented and wiped his cheek for good measure.
Harry blinked a few times to express his confusion but was quickly brought into the fold by Hagrid, who admittedly sounded disappointed in Harry's uncertainty.
'It's Norbert Harry. Don't tell me you don't recognize him.'
Harry nearly scoffed in response, but instead nodded that he did indeed recognize the dragon, making a point of not mentioning that the last time he had seen Norbert, the dragon could easily have fit in his hands and not eaten him in approximately five bites.
After a few awkward moments of Hagrid insisting that Harry pat Norbert and tell him that he understood the dragon was merely showing affection, the lesson resumed, and Harry learned the real reason Charlie had been elected as Care of Magical Creatures Professor. According to the two men, the class would continue to study dragons for the remainder of year, mostly Norbert, but also two or three other brief visits from other dragon camps.
The majority of the class seemed to be in raptures as Charlie divulged information about the young Norwegian Ridgeback, but after having faced off with a fully grown Hungarian Horntail, Harry found himself oddly detached to all things dragon. Some of the facts were admittedly interesting, and at one point Harry felt himself perhaps willing to give the animals another chance, until Hagrid mentioned that some students might be able to fly on Norbert come the end of term.
Buckbeak was one thing, and Thestrals even barely made his list of acceptable creatures to fly, but Harry absolutely drew the line at riding on the pointed back of a dragon. A closed look at Hagrid's expectant one had the half-giant back down slightly, muttering that they would see what happened when the end of term came about.
Back in the Gryffindor common room Harry dropped heavily into his favorite armchair, thoroughly relieved to be done lessons for the day, though still aching where he had been cut by the two creatures.
'Hermione, do you think you could help me out with my shoulders?' he asked his friend grudgingly, hating that he had to show weakness in front of others.
At the strangely hostile look Ron sent him he laughed.
'For the pain Ron,' he clarified, pulling his robe aside to indicate the wounds, and laughed again as Ron blushed in embarrassment.
Parvati, who sat next to Ron, obviously elected to ignore Ron's palpable look of jealousy, and instead went on to sympathize with Harry.
'I know how much it hurts to have those nasty little claws dug in if you remember. Be thankful it didn't stay longer than it did,' she quipped, rubbing her own shoulder as in memory of her old attack.
Hermione rolled her eyes at her roommate's dramatics before getting to her feet and examining Harry's scratches with a scrutiny that only she could pull off.
'Hold still,' she warned, and pointed her wand tip at the largest gash before waving it oddly and then jabbing the wound painfully while simultaneously whispering something under her breath.
Harry wanted to push her away for jabbing his wound, but when the pain receded, he looked and was surprised to find his cuts shrinking and closing themselves before altogether disappearing. He rolled his shoulder forward and then backward to test for pain, and found that other than slight stiffness, Hermione had just healed him.
'What did you just do?' he asked her then with a large grin, and found that the others were watching her now in astonishment. 'I thought you were just going to help with the pain. How did you learn to heal, and what spell did you use? I couldn't hear you.'
Hermione looked around to the others discreetly and coloured slightly.
'I take it you feel better,' she replied, and waited for his nod. 'Good, well, I did some reading while I was away,' she intoned that she did not want to go further into that matter, 'and you were not supposed to hear the spell I used. It's not exactly officially permitted for student use,' she added more quietly and reddened deeper.
The entire group grinned at this, and no one pressed her any further after Ron's comment about her being a bad influence on them all.
After discussing the next day's Quidditch practice, Parvati and Lavender excused themselves along with Dean and Seamus, all of them deciding to go down to dinner so they could be prepared for the Dueling club meeting. Ginny left a few minutes after that, explaining she had a meeting with McGonagall about career choices, and Harry vaguely wondered what it was she would become.
Surrounded only by Neville, Ron and Hermione, Harry was unsurprised when Hermione asked him what he had run off from lunch for in such a panic. He stared at her for a moment, considering what he should divulge to his friends that would sufficiently quell their concern while effectively hiding the Headmaster's information and keep his lying to a minimal. A nod of affirmation from Neville coupled with his anger toward Dumbledore helped to convince the raven-haired boy that the time for truth had finally arrived.
Neville stood up and announced that he would be joining the others for an early meal, and after receiving a thankful smile from Harry, took his leave. Hermione and Ron exchanged furtive glances at this before hastily waving him off and rounding on Harry for an explanation. Harry stood and indicated they go up to the dorms with a heavy sigh.
'We need to talk.'
Once they had settled on his bed and securely charmed the door against eavesdroppers, Harry began to describe in detail what had transpired the night he got back from the Department of Mysteries. Noticing the pitying glances his friends were barely concealing, he chose not to think of Sirius right now, and instead dove straight into the prophecy.
'But wait, Neville smashed it,' Ron cut him off before he could tell it.
'Shut up Ron,' came Hermione's harsh response as she prompted Harry to go on with a worried expression.
'It did Ron, but Dumbledore was the person who heard the prophecy originally,' he explained to his wounded friend before taking a deep breath and saying it all in one go.
As the last words left his lips Harry braced himself for their reactions, and it was lucky he did for he had presumed correctly that they would be upset. Hermione was on the verge of tears as she stared at him unblinkingly, and Ron shook his head disbelievingly with a look of utter horror on his face.
'Oh Harry,' Hermione finally launched herself at him, nearly knocking him off the mattress in the process. 'Why didn't you tell us sooner?' she tried to scold him but it was strongly undermined by her unsteady voice. 'We could have helped you.'
'How?' came Ron's response.
'What?' Harry asked, confused.
'How could we have helped him Hermione? He's supposed to bloody kill Voldemort,' he went on a bit louder. 'There's nothing we could have done.' He looked angry.
Hermione looked completely taken aback by this, but Harry simply shrugged.
'He's right. I didn't think you needed to worry yourselves, because to be honest I think I'd prefer not knowing as well. The truth is that it would have happened anyhow, and at least I could have been at peace for the last year.'
Hermione took this in for a moment before firmly shaking her head in disapproval.
'No. You should have told us Harry. I would have told you,' she said and crossed her arms defiantly.
'Well, I'm telling you now aren't I?' he said in his defense. 'Better late than never?' he tried.
'Why are you telling us now?' Ron asked suspiciously. 'There still isn't anything we can do is there? Or have you found a way to defeat him?' he asked, his tone suddenly filled with hope.
'No,' Harry said bluntly, 'but there is something I need help with. You see, there's actually a bit more to it now.'
'What do you mean more?' Ron intoned with wide eyes.
'Well, when I was in the past,' Harry started, trying now not to think of his parents and Sirius again, 'I found another prophecy written out from a long time ago, and Dumbledore assures me that it's real.'
He proceeded to open his trunk and pull out the parchment stained with the wretched foretelling. He then watched his friends as they read it, and reacted in two very different ways. Hermione bit her bottom lip in deep consternation as she thought about what she was reading, whereas Ron laid back with a thump and a completely befuddled expression on his face.
'Who made this prophecy Harry?' Hermione asked with a slightly doubtful expression on her face as she read. Harry knew that she did not have a strong belief in the arts of Divination, and decided that he would definitely enjoy the look on her face when he told her.
'Rowena Ravenclaw,' he deadpanned.
Hermione's eyebrows flew up above her hairline and Ron sat bolt upright with a similar expression. Hermione blinked in an owlish way for a moment and Ron opened and closed his mouth as though to say something, but both simply decided to go back and read the parchment again in silence.
After a few more moments, Harry was about to ask his friends what they made of it when Hermione spoke first.
'So today at lunch you rushed off to check on your aunt then?' she asked, but Harry knew she was stating a fact.
He grinned and nodded at his friend's genius and his hopes lifted with the thought of her deciphering the rest of the riddle. Ron's confusion made him grin wider.
'What have you made of it Hermione?' he asked, serious now. 'I've only figured the easy parts like the flower being my mum and now the equal being her sister. I'll have to thank Parvati for that,' he added to himself.
Apparently his friends heard him because Hermione gave him a distressed look, and Ron suddenly looked uncomfortable. Harry just sighed; this was getting ridiculous.
'Unfortunately that's all I can figure so far. I'm not sure about the last part just yet,' Hermione explained with a furrowed brow, 'but just give me some time and I'll figure it out. In the mean time we have to hurry if we want to eat before dueling club. You'll both need your energy if you're to beat me out for a captain's spot.'
The two boys grinned at one another and Ron rolled his eyes.
'I'm not dueling you Hermione, but I wouldn't mind a go at Malfoy,' Ron declared as though it may be a surprise to his friends. They just shook their heads and chuckled, Harry glad that his friends were attempting to act normal.
'Oh, there's one last thing,' Harry remembered as they reached the top of the staircase and his friends turned to face him expectantly. 'Hogwarts has two new guests.'
Dudley Dursley did a very poor job of fitting in as wizard, though Harry doubted there was a person in the hall who would have told him this. When Harry had entered the hall, Dudley was seated at the Gryffindor table with Dean, Neville, Seamus, Parvati and Lavender, and the group excitedly told the trio about Dudley's run in with Crabbe and Goyle in the Entrance hall.
Apparently Dudley had left to the Great Hall on his own for dinner, and as he entered the Entrance hall he was caught unawares by the spiteful Slytherins that he had already once encountered. Luckily for him, Neville and the others were just coming along, and though they did not recognize the blond boy being hexed, they certainly knew to favor him over Malfoy and his gang. The instant Malfoy's and the brutes' wands were taken away, they stood little chance against Dudley, as he had already proven.
Harry laughed at Dudley's oblivious behaviour, not having the heart to tell him that had Neville not come along Malfoy could really have done him in. He settled instead to warn him against the Slytherins. Harry noticed that many members of the said house were indeed glaring his cousin's way, though many others were obviously frightened of him.
'So will you be staying for the dueling club meeting?' Dean was asking Dudley now, and the older boy nodded with a triumphant grin.
'Mum didn't want me to at first, but I just kept asking until she said yes. Always works,' he added with an underhanded wink at Harry who just scoffed at what the boy could get at the drop of a hat.
'Is Professor Dursley really your mum and Harry's aunt?' Lavender asked him sweetly, and received a nod in response. 'Well then Harry, you and I may just end up being related one day.'
Harry choked on a sip full of pumpkin juice and stared up at the gossipy girl with a questioning glance.
'You know, your cousin and my cousin. Maria says things are going very well you know,' she added with a wink at Dudley, who was now becoming very red in the face, unfortunately making Harry think of his uncle.
'Oh, yeah, well … we'll see what happens. Is everybody ready for the meeting,' he changed the subject and received a grateful look from his cousin.
Murmurs of assent drifted up from the table and Harry figured that the competition may be tougher than he had first expected. Hermione, he knew, was set on getting a captain's spot, but he had not seen Dean or Seamus duel for quite some time. For that matter, he had not dueled with Ron in ages either. He hoped he was still good enough to best them.
The group of friends continued to chat amiably, and several times throughout the meal students from other houses would come up to meet the newest Professor's son. Roger, Cho, Justin, Hannah, and Padma were among them.
A brief pause in the chatter had occurred when Professors Black and Lupin had entered the hall through the entrance hall rather than through the staff entrance as was usual. The strange part was that they had arrived together and were speaking to one another in a very civilized manner, something thought impossible by most. Students quickly returned to their previous conversations but Harry found himself watching the pair up at the staff table. Professor Black seemed very interested in what Lupin had to say, and that made Harry truly curious as to what it was he was saying, as usually the foul woman sneered at anything to do with the werewolf. That or she shouted.
Finally the meal ended and Harry watched with a mixture of excitement and nerves as nearly every student from every house, third year and up remained behind. He was surprised to see that most of the Professors remained as well, each of them obviously interested to see how their students would fare when pitted against one another.
Very little time went by before Lupin had cleared away the tables and erected the dueling stage. He, Snape and Flitwick now stood on the platform and Snape explained exactly how things would unfold for the evening.
'First of all, I am pleased to see the enthusiasm shown by all of you,' he said in voice that very clearly stated otherwise, making some of the students laugh, but not many. 'Tonight shall be a very informal dueling affair. Every person shall duel three times, and between the three of us,' he indicated Flitwick and Lupin, 'we shall determine what team you shall join. At the end of the evening, once everyone has completed their duels, I will announce the captains and we shall all retire until next meeting. Understood? Good, this will take a while so I suggest we get started. Jenna Appleton and Jared Bruceter,' he called up the first set of third years to the platform and everyone watched them eagerly.
Harry watched the first five duels or so with mild interest, but he soon became bored with them as the third years did not know many advanced spells, making the challenge a mere volley of jelly-legs jinxes, disarming spells, and stunners. Though he was not entirely fascinated by the time the first hour was up, Harry noticed that Dudley was absolutely transfixed by the entire ordeal. The blond boy had been hit by a curse before, but he had never been witness to the workings of a wand, nor had he been privy to such a large spectacle of wizards attacking wizards. It must truly have been amazing to him.
By the time the second hour was half way through, the duels began to become interesting, as the fifth, sixth and seventh years were put against one another in various pairings. Harry was happy to see Ginny Weasley beat Terry Boot with her first curse, and again when Ron defeated Pansy Parkinson. Their duel had lasted far longer, and Harry was slightly bothered to learn Pansy was not nearly as inept as he had assumed her to be.
Crabbe and Goyle on the other hand, once again proved to be completely ham-fisted in each of their duels, one of which was against each other. Harry nearly died laughing when they both hit each other with stunners and fell clear off the ends of the platform with a loud thump. For a moment, Harry thought he had even seen Snape smirking at the scene, but then figured the man was plotting against him for later.
Hermione's first duel proved to be interesting as she was paired with the Head Girl, and after several minutes of heated spell exchange, Katie's wand landed firmly in the bushy-haired girl's outstretched hand. The Head Boy did not fare any better, as he was paired with Blaise Zabini, who once again showed his talents by quickly stripping Roger of his wand.
Malfoy was paired with Ron next, and Harry was upset for his friend when the ferret narrowly beat him after nearly five minutes. Ron fumed as Professor Lupin reversed the mouth-sealing curse and the body bind before returning his wand. Soon after the next duel, Professor Lupin took leave, and most of the students understood why; tonight was a full moon.
Harry was anxious to see if he would once again duel Blaise, or if perhaps Snape would set him with Malfoy straight off. It came to him as a surprise therefore, when his first partner turned out to be Cho. He kicked himself mentally as he got onto the platform, wondering how exactly he could do this without embarrassing her. He was quickly spared from finding an answer as Cho threw a barrage of curses his way that he barely managed to shield against; apparently she had improved over the summer and was not here to lose.
Grinning at her, Harry began throwing some of the spells they had learned during D.A. at her. She returned the grin as she blocked and the pair continued to duel for a while. Eventually Harry decided it had gone on long enough and caught her with a new spell he had learned, turning her upside down and wrapping the sleeves of her cloak around her head before mildly stunning her.
Everyone but the Slytherin's clapped loudly at the demonstration they had put on, and Harry quickly reversed his spells to ensure she was alright. She was a little red in the face when her sleeves were pulled back, but surprisingly, she held out a hand to Harry and gave him a big smile.
'Good duel Harry. You'll have to teach me that one,' she informed him.
'Well that depends,' Harry said with a smirk.
'On what,' she demanded.
'On whether or not you're on my team,' he quipped before dismounting the platform to avoid her swat.
Harry watched the next few duels and smiled when Luna defeated two other fifth years easily. The girl was in her own world most of the time, but apparently they had good training there. Perhaps she practiced with Gnargles he thought to himself with a laugh.
Neville had won two of his duels impressively so far, defeating both the Head Boy and then the Head Girl. Harry decided that the Heads were simply being paired with those of advantage and that they truly were good. After all, they barely lost each time, and they did last a good while before having their wands removed. He watched as Katie and Roger chatted amiably about their defeats, and wondered idly if perhaps the pair would succumb to Hogwarts strong magical history of pairing the Heads for life. More than half of them did end up married.
The evening went on, with Ernie besting Justin, but then Hermione besting Ernie, and then Blaise besting Hannah and Malfoy severely besting Pansy. Harry should not have been surprised that the Slytherins would turn so easily on one another but still shook his head in disgust at Malfoy's victorious sneer.
Three hours had now passed and Harry was still waiting on his second duel. He wondered why Snape had made him wait so long, when all the others had each had two if not three by now. Just as he finished thinking this, Snape made the announcement for him to be paired with Hermione, and suddenly he wished he did not have to duel. He was torn between worrying about hurting his best friend, and worrying that she may beat him out for a captain's spot.
The two nervously got on the platform and bowed before Hermione threw the first curse. If anyone thought that the show put on by Harry and Cho had been anything but, they were now shown what a real duel looked like. Harry did not have the chance to grin at his opponent, as everything he had was being focused into shields and retaliations. The few he did manage to shoot off were immediately reflected and he soon learned that Hermione's strong suit was shielding. Her next best was unfortunately Charms, many of which got past traditional blocking spells and forced him to dance about the stage to avoid them.
Just as he avoided a Fire charm, Hermione sent a blasting curse where she knew he would leap and knocked him clear across the platform. He dropped his wand then, and luckily for him Hermione believed this to mean the duel was over, allowing him to Accio his wand and catch her with a simple disarming charm before she could think to block. Handing his friend back her wand, he could not help but smile apologetically at her, and avoid the stern look she sent at him. He understood that she was not angry with him, but rather with herself at being caught unawares with such a basic spell.
As the pair joined Ron on the ground, they looked up to hear Snape give an announcement.
'I believe that we have gone on for long enough as curfew is nearly upon us, so I will now announce the team captains. I should also inform you all that in light of our shying away from House competition, I have decided to create five teams in lieu of four. This should allow more duels and tighter teams.'
The students were suddenly a buzz of chatter as they discussed the prospect of a fifth team, effectively creating one more captain's spot as well. The other professors looked on more intently now as well, their curious gazes a sure sign that they had not known either.
'Another point to remember will be that once a captain is chosen, anyone may immediately challenge them for their position. After tonight however, the chance is up.'
This news was met with another uproar, each of the students thrilled that they would be present for such a potentially exciting show.
'According to the talents of this and last meeting's duels, the first captain will be Draco Malfoy.
A collective groan filled the hall as the blond hopped onto the platform with a smirk on his lips and a challenging look in his eyes. Harry and apparently everyone else had expected this.
'Does anyone wish to challenge Mister Malfoy?' Snape asked in an almost threatening tone.
Harry fully understood now that this had been Snape's plan: Give Malfoy the spot and then force Harry to beat him for it if he could. He made to step forward but stopped when Blaise Zabini stepped onto the platform first.
'I challenge him sir,' the tall dark-haired boy said.
Snape eyed him oddly for a moment before nodding his consent and stepping off the platform to allow them to duel. Everyone fell silent as they watched the pair of Slytherins eye one another maliciously. They forewent the bows and Malfoy naturally threw the first curse: expelliarmus. Blaise easily blocked and sent his own fire charm, closely followed by the Inverso charm and the Furnunculus in quick succession. Malfoy blocked one of the three and froze the fire before stepping into the Inverso. The duel then continued for the next few minutes with Malfoy firing off curses and hexes from his upside down position. Just as he finally righted himself, Blaise struck him with a variety of the engorgement charm and Harry watched along with the others as the blond blew up to the size of a small car.
Everyone laughed as the blimp named Malfoy growled when Blaise simply walked over to him and plucked the wand from between his chubby fingers. No one, Harry noticed, was laughing harder than Dudley.
'Hey Harry!' he shouted to his cousin. 'It's just like Aunt Marge, do you remember.'
Harry laughed louder then, but sobered quickly when he looked up to see the dark and threatening look his aunt was sending his way.
'Very well,' Snape called out. 'Mr. Zabini is the new first captain. Does anyone challenge?'
Harry considered stepping forward then, but decided that the boy deserved the position, and by leaving him there he would not be challenged by him later on. He remained silent as did everyone else, and a moment later Blaise was officially the first captain.
Ernie Macmillan was made the second captain, and before Harry could step forward to challenge him, Hermione was standing on the stage. Snape consented and by the look on the man's face, Harry got the impression that she would have been selected next anyhow. She made quick work of Ernie and soon the crowd was being asked if she would be challenged. Harry chose once again not to challenge as he knew how badly she wanted to be captain, and honestly feared he may not beat her again today.
Harry looked around the crowd to see if anyone else would challenge and noticed that the now normal sized Malfoy was preparing to get back on the platform, but hesitated. He followed the blond's gaze to Snape and found to his shock that the Professor was discreetly shaking his head. Snape was prompting him. Hermione was officially made the second captain.
'The third captain will be Harry Potter,' Snape's voice surprised him next.
He had not expected to be announced as one and eyed the Professor oddly as he stepped onto the platform, wondering what exactly he was playing at. When asked for challengers, the crowd remained silent and Harry once again watched Snape signal for Malfoy to stay at bay. He was quickly made third captain and then Justin was announced as the fourth.
Malfoy was once again silently held back, but that did not prevent the many others who wished to challenge. First was Ginny, who just barely bested him to take the spot. Unfortunately she was challenged by Cho who in a stroke of luck bested her in turn. Just as Snape was about to finalize the position, Luna stepped on stage and raised her wand.
It appeared that Snape would object to the challenge at first, but Flitwick quickly tugged at his robes to pull him away so that the fifth and seventh year Ravenclaws might have their duel. Cho shot the first curse, and then the second and the third. Luna finally sent her first counter after nearly five whole minutes of one shield charm. Harry watched in awe as the small girl deflected Cho's advanced spells with the same glowing blue shield that he had never before seen. Normal shielding lasted a minute at best, and this was something special; Harry could tell by the look of admiration Hermione sent her way. Cho was running out of curses when finally the shield dropped and Luna leapt forward to dodge a stunner and hit her opponent with a blaster, before quickly levitating her so that she landed softly.
Harry could see Flitwick and Snape discussing the duel, and was unsurprised when Luna was declared the fourth captain without another challenge. The last captain was announced next, and this certainly did surprise Harry.
'Collin Creevey,' Snape repeated, and when the short boy got on stage, Harry realised that he had won all three of his duels.
Harry watched next as Malfoy stepped on to challenge, and understood then that Snape had simply made him wait for an opponent that he could surely best. Unfortunately for Collin, who was admittedly an amazing duelist, he unlike Malfoy, did not dabble in the dark arts and was not prepared for many of the curses sent his way. It was clear from the crowd's reaction that they disapproved of Malfoy's tactics, but before too much noise filled the hall, Snape began to declare him the fifth captain.
Everyone fell silent however, when Neville stepped on stage to interrupt the Potions Master. Snape did indeed stop, and for a moment he eyed Neville with surprise, before smirking softly and nodding his consent. Harry also noticed the tiniest of nods he shared with Malfoy.
The instant Neville had bowed, a beam of red light shot from Malfoy's wand and Harry immediately recognized it to be the curse that had knocked his Godfather through the veil that past summer. His anger rose as Neville easily deflected it and grinned at his opponent before sending a bright blue jet back at him. Malfoy grunted when he had to dodge the curse because it sliced right through his shield. In retaliation he sent a string of curses Harry had never heard of, but the disapproving looks on McGonagall and Flitwick's faces said it all.
Neville expertly dodged the curses, and several noises from the crowd told Harry that they, just like him, were impressed by Neville's oddly found dexterity. Neville fired off a few more charms, and then a hex that once again slid through Malfoy's shield, this time bright yellow in colour. Malfoy finally decided he had had enough dodging so he sent off another chain of hexes, this time anticipating Neville's pattern and coaxing him into the line of a particularly nasty curse. The effect seemed similar to a hover charm, only this one had Neville suspended in the air and grabbing at his throat where it soon became evident that he could not breathe.
Hermione grabbed hold of Harry's and Ron's arms for support as she stared worriedly at their friend. Neville glared hard at Malfoy, who sauntered slowly down the platform toward him, probably intending to grab his wand. McGonagall looked slightly worried for Neville, along with several others, and Snape seemed pleased with this show. Dumbledore on the other hand was watching the event with rapt interest now, leaning forward in his conjured armchair for a better look.
Just as Malfoy stepped in front of Neville, the smirk left his face and everyone else noticed that Neville was no longer gasping for breath, but bearing a smirk of his own. Before Malfoy could react, Neville had lifted his wand and slashed it down forcefully with a shout of 'Morsus Minoris!'
Everyone in the room either gasped or shouted, students and teachers alike, but this was muffled by the shouts of pain that rose from the blond Slytherin rolling on the ground in pain. The moment the boy dropped his wand Neville released the spell and stepped back to his place on his side of the platform.
'Mister Longbottom, that curse is not acceptable and Gryffindor will lose 20 points for that,' McGonagall said sternly from her place next to the Headmaster.
'Actually Minerva,' Dumbledore commented, 'though that is not a very pleasant curse, I do believe Professor Black taught it to her sixth years, and that Mister Malfoy in fact employed it on Mister Potter. If that is the case, then I feel I must allow it. Far be it for me to disallow anything our professors have taught the students.'
McGonagall looked sharply at the Headmaster and then over to Professor Black who was staring indifferently back at her. Harry could tell that had she not wanted to needle Professor Black, McGonagall certainly would have contested the issue.
'Very well,' Dumbledore rose. 'You have your captains. Blaise Zabini, Hermione Granger, Harry Potter, Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom. Professor Snape will post the team lists in the entrance hall tomorrow morning I believe.'
Snape nodded, still eyeing Neville peculiarly, and the Headmaster went on to dismiss them all.
'Do go straight to your dorms as it is now passed curfew for many of you,' McGonagall added briskly.
The students made their way back to their dorms chatting excitedly about all they had witnessed, though Harry remained behind, figuring he best walk with McGonagall to avoid running into Snape tonight. The Potions Master was in a right state after losing his star captain's spot to Neville, and then having the Headmaster condone the use of a pain curse simply to exact justice for what had happened in Professor Black's class; Harry was sure he would pay for that later, twice.
Once all of the students had cleared out, and after receiving congratulations from many of the staff, Harry followed his Transfiguration professor up to her office, hoping that he could still perform the transformation after all these weeks. Once inside, McGonagall took her seat and dropped the stern look she had been wearing since Neville had cast his curse, and smiled softly.
'Now Harry, I realise it has been a while since we last met, but let me assure you that with the progress you had been making before your trip,' she worded it carefully and Harry tried not to grin, 'you should have no problem taking it up again.'
'Actually Professor,' he said with confidence, 'I've completed the transformation. I continued while I was away, and I actually needed to use the form on a couple of occasions. There's nothing like necessity to bring about results,' he quipped when he saw her look of surprise.
'Oh, well then let's see it,' she said as though he should have transformed by now.
'All right, but forgive me if I'm a tad rusty. It's been a few weeks,' he explained as he stood.
Closing his eyes, he envisioned his body as it appeared in its other state and willed himself to change. He could feel his bones and muscles growing and shifting as he fell forward, but this time he felt a very unfamiliar pain on his shoulder where he had been bitten by Fudge, and again on the other side as well.
He opened his eyes when he felt the pain ebb away and found that he was looking down at his Professor, who in turn was staring up wide-eyed and slack-jawed for the first time he could recount. He took a step back then and as he looked down at his legs he discovered that they were significantly smaller than before. Where he had been a magnificently large Mustang before, he felt more like a medium-sized one at best. He also felt an odd irritation behind his shoulders where the pain had earlier stemmed. Deciding that was enough he closed his eyes and willed himself to change back.
'I'm sorry Professor, but I'm not sure what happened there. I was a great Mustang before and now I seem to have shrunk significantly,' he said in way of excuse before she held up a hand to quiet him.
'Do you know what you've done Harry?' she nearly cried. 'Magical beasts rarely ever appear in Animagus form, as I already told you. When did you intend to inform me of this?' she suddenly flipped back to her stern façade, greatly confusing her student. 'Not to mention your transforming without a wand. How long have you been performing wandless magic?' she enquired with narrowed eyes.
'What do you mean?' Harry spluttered. 'I've only ever transformed this way, and I used wandless magic once before to Accio my broom during a Quidditch match, and then just earlier during my duel with Hermione to fetch my wand. What do you mean magical beast Professor? A Mustang is hardly magical.'
'No, but Mustang's do not have wings either now do they?' she responded evenly, causing Harry's eyes to widen. 'I believe if you were to ask Hagrid, he would tell you that you are a rather rare creature Harry: a Midnight Pegasus. There have only ever been twelve recorded in history, as all others are white and don't have the feathered tail of a phoenix. I'm not sure how you have managed to change forms, but it is indeed an interesting development,' she went on. 'Have you done anything differently between transformations? Tell me about them.'
'Not really Professor. I basically just transformed to keep Remus company in the past, and then to save my mother and I from-' his eyebrows shot upward. 'That's it! I was bitten by a werewolf during the blue moon in my Mustang form. That must have triggered the change,' he said with certainty.
'Well, there's really no way to prove that,' McGonagall said with thin lips, looking very pale and disconcerted at hearing that he was bitten by a werewolf, 'though it does seem the most likely explanation. Alright then, you will continue to train with me and we will teach you to fly. This is a useful turn of events I daresay, useful indeed.'
Harry ambled slowly through the corridors on his way back to the dorms. He did not want to rush back as he had too many thoughts rushing through his head to get to sleep at the moment. He lingered in each hallway, talking to the occasional portrait and not really caring if he ran into anyone. Even Snape could not bother him now.
He was a bloody winged horse, and a rare one at that. He was a magical creature now, and one that could fly. Not only that, but he was even closer in size and form now to what his father had been, something that brought Harry more joy than he would have expected.
Taking a turn near the Entrance hall, Harry stopped suddenly at seeing a figure emerge from the dungeons and head toward the door. He recognized the calculated walk and the cloak instantly as Professor Black's and remembered now having seen her sneak back into the castle on another occasion. Where exactly was she skulking off to, and why in the dark after curfew?
Deciding he should follow her, hopefully to prove once and for all that she was a Death Eater, Harry waited until she closed the door behind her and then rushed across the silent hall to the doors. Unfortunately he made a little too much noise in his haste and a voice from behind called him out.
'You! Stop where you are.'
He turned to find Blaise Zabini walking purposefully toward him, and before he could say anything Ron came rushing up from the side corridor, panting out of breath.
'We're supposed to stay together- Harry?' he stopped next to Blaise and looked at his best friend. 'What are you doing down here? It's past curfew.'
'I know, but I have to go,' he insisted. 'What's he doing here?' Harry indicated Blaise and gave Ron a look that said get rid of him quick.
'I'm performing my duties Potter, just like Weasley. I'll have to report this to Filch I think,' he said matter-of-factly in response.
'Since when are you a Prefect?' Harry asked next, looking down and noticing the shiny green badge on the boy's robes for the first time.
'Since Dumbledore elected me at the beginning of the year,' he answered coldly, and with a hint of challenge.
'He and Pansy were elected to replace Malfoy and Bullstrode after the Inquisitorial incident last year,' Ron clarified for him.
'What!' Harry shouted. 'Malfoy got de-Prefected and you didn't feel it important enough to tell me? This is too great for words,' he grinned maniacally.
'Yes, well,' Blaise interrupted him with narrowed eyes. 'What are you doing out here, Potter?'
Remembering he was following Black, Harry told the Prefects that he was going out to catch a Death Eater, and at Blaise's doubtful look, he shrugged and insisted it was the truth.
'Whatever Potter,' the dark, sleek-haired boy rolled his eyes. 'I'll let it go this time because Weasley's here, but if I catch you out past curfew again, Filch'll hear about it. I'm going to trade off with Pansy now Weasley,' he offered Ron as a goodnight before turning around and disappearing down the Dungeon staircase.
'Quick, let's go,' Harry whispered to Ron the instant Blaise was gone. 'We've probably already lost her.'
'Lost who?' the redhead inquired
'Black,' Harry whispered forcefully before pushing open the great door and slipping out into the night.
'You realise this is mad right, Harry?' Ron whispered as the pair made their way across the dark and silent grounds. 'Even if we found her, then what? We couldn't stop her, and chances are she would be with others of her kind,' he referred to Voldemort's other followers.
'We've lost her anyhow,' Harry responded rather harshly, upset that his one chance to prove Black's guilt was foiled by Ron and Blaise Zabini. 'I wanted to prove it so bad Ron,' he admitted as they turned back toward the castle.
Both boys turned back the other way when they heard a pain-filled howl from the distance. Staring off toward the Shrieking Shack, Harry recalled that Remus would be in there now, but wondered about the howl as he would have taken his Wolfsbane and kept his sanity. He would not usually even use the Shack anymore.
'I think we should check on Remus Ron,' he voiced his concern and turned back toward the forest. 'Does it seem odd to you that he would stay in the Shack when he's been using his quarters all year?'
Ron nodded his approval, though Harry could tell he was wary about entering the Shrieking Shack. The last time Ron had used the tunnel under the Whomping Willow, he had been dragged through it by Padfoot, after the dog Animagus had mangled his leg.
Harry used a discarded branch to poke the knot and immobilize the willow's violently thrashing branches before both boys hopped down into the passageway and started the steady climb to the Shrieking Shack. Every twenty meters or so another howl would pierce the silent air, and Harry could see Ron visibly shaking as they got nearer. He forgot how uncomfortable werewolves made Ron ever since third year, and laughed as he imagined what Ron would have done were he in the past with him when Fudge attacked.
Strange noises became apparent the closer they got, and when they were just outside the entrance to the Shack, Harry was certain he could hear two distinct growling noises. Flipping the trapdoor open, Harry and Ron both peered inside to find not one, but two werewolves pacing the room angrily, one of them definitely Remus, but the other one Harry did not recognize. He was certain it was not Fudge for he would never forget that werewolf, and other than that he didn't know of any others.
Remus appeared to be his usual sane self, but the other werewolf looked to be wildly dangerous, and angry. It let out another ear-scraping howl before baring its teeth and lunging at Remus, all of its claws grasping for the Professor's flesh. Harry watched in horror as the Marauder was attacked by another werewolf, and watched the blood trickle down his chest from the many fresh wounds.
'Ron, we have to help him!' Harry whispered harshly. He was certain that both wolves had smelled them by now, but were both completely consumed by their own grapple. 'Do you know the Homorphus charm?' Harry asked his friend and received a dumb nod as the redhead continued to watch the growling beasts wrestle on the rotting wood floor.
'You could hurt Remus though,' he said suddenly, as though just remembering the power of the spell. 'If he's too weak, he could be sick for a long time,' Ron offered.
'We're aiming for the other one,' Harry explained testily. 'I don't want to hurt anyone, but if draining a bit of magic temporarily is what will save out Professor, I think we should do it.
'On three then,' Harry said, and then both boys stood up straight into the room. 'One, two, three.'
'Homorphus!' they both shouted loudly, pointing their wands at the darker of the two werewolves.
The next moment was one of the most shocking of the year, as Harry and Ron both rushed across the room, passed their now whimpering professor to the figure they had just temporarily drained. Grabbing the boy's shoulder, Harry rolled him over and gasped when he looked into Marc's blue-grey eyes.