Rating: PG for a little scary stuff and some marginally off-color jokes.
Summary: This is a parallel novel to The Order of the Phoenix and a sequel to the previous four Serpents' Society novels. Great pains have been taken to make sure that this book doesn't change the story told in GoF or contradict anything in the series. My amazing and loyal beta-reader Giesbrecht has seen to that. If you want to start at the beginning, don't; skip straight to The Serpents' Society and the Quest for the Heir (parallel of CoS), because it's better than the first and lays a perfectly good foundation itself.
Spoilers: All five novels and both textbooks.
Shipping: Strictly Canon.
Disclaimer: All the amusing and clever stuff belongs to Ms. Rowling, as do most of the proper nouns. Really, if you can't tell the difference between hers and mine, what are you doing reading this?
So. Here we are again. Over a year after OotP came out, nearly three and a half years after I conceived of Beth and her family during an especially boring day at my summer job, the fifth and last S.S.A. book is finally hitting the virtual shelves.
Writing a preface feels really pompous, especially on something as lowbrow as fan fiction. Really, this stuff is about two rungs down from the penny dreadfuls and a step above reality-TV scripts. But the fact is that everything changed when OotP came out, and people whose fics tie in tightly to Canon really got blasted (especially since JKR went on her factoid-dropping spree over the summer). That makes a preface pompous but necessary. Much like Percy.
So here's how it is.
I have been revising the first four books since OotP came out, but with the revelation that Blaise is in fact a boy, the changes went from marginal to dramatic. I decided that it's not fair to make you guys read the whole stupid thing again, and try to completely revise your thinking on Blaise (and, while I'm at it, Morag), so I'm keeping them the way they are on FF.N. Hopefully, when all five get fully updated I can put them on the Sugarquill with boy-Blaise and girl-Morag.
There were some changes that OotP dictated:
- Uther Montague, Chaser, is now Uther Bole, Beater. The Chaser Montague from book 3 is now Donegal Montague, who was (in my new fanon) expelled at the end of that book for failing practically everything.
- Bruce's full name is Miles Bruce Bletchley.
- Mervin's crazy Great-Uncle Mundungus is now his no-good Cousin Mundungus.
- The format of the N.E.W.T.s has been juggled to match that of the O.W.L.s, and the scoring system now matches JKR's.
- Those O.W.L.s practice sessions they had in book 3 were specially arranged, not a school requirement.
- To match the prefect system, Melissa and Mervin have been made the Slytherin prefects for Beth's year.
- During fifth year, Snape directed Beth toward a career in Alchemy and recommended that she start taking Herbology again - advice she ignored in her sixth year, but has decided to take in her last year.
Hopefully, nearly everything else is so small that you - adept as you are at gleaning microscopic details from JKR's world - won't notice.
Anyway, that's it. This is Beth and co.'s last year at Hogwarts, so this is the last S.S.A. book. I'll be fixing stuff as it comes up (half-blood prince, indeed) and if something enormous happens there may be an epilogue or some one-shots, but at this point I'm ready to call it quits. Thank you for your patience. Thanks for reading. Thanks for reviewing, emailing me, friending me on your livejournals, and directing me to your own and others' wonderful fics. Reading and writing are fun and all, but it's you people that make them really special. Now on with the show...
Chapter One: Midnight in the Crypt
The graveyard in Little Hangleton lay dark and solemn under a cool crescent moon.
Beth Parson, seventeen, huddled by a yew tree and clutched her black cloak more tightly around her shoulders. She'd been standing there for ten minutes now, watching the graveyard fill with other witches and wizards, most of whom, like her, wore black. Beth knew that they wore another common article: a pewter ring, engraved with the crest of the Society for Slytherin Advancement.
A broomstick sank quietly down beside her and a small dark figure disembarked. "Early, are we?" came a cynical voice.
"Better than being late, Evan," said Beth, without turning to look at him.
Evan Wilkes let out a brief and humorless laugh. He propped his broomstick against the tree and crossed his arms, surveying the graveyard and the wizards milling around it. "Hasn't been long, has it?" he said, black hair falling into his moody eyes.
It hadn't been long at all - in fact, only three weeks had passed since the end of the school year, when they had both stood in the same graveyard. Then, of course, it had been with a very different group of people.
"Where's your boyfriend?"
"He'll be here." A grin slipped over Beth's face despite herself. Richard Shaw had only worn the official title of "boyfriend" for three weeks. She hadn't even seen him since then. "You know Rich. He'd fall over dead if he missed a meeting."
"In this case, he might," said Evan darkly.
He started across the graveyard with hands in his pockets and his shoulders hunched. Beth watched the small dark figure fade into the night until it was difficult to distinguish him from the gravestones or distant trees. She sighed and leaned her head back against the tree trunk. Everything seemed darker these days.
"Beth - how are you?"
Everything except this.
Beth turned her face to see Richard standing beside her with his familiar, proud grin. She smiled back. "It's good to see you."
"Given the situation," said Richard, "I was hoping you wouldn't be able to make it."
"I passed my Apparation test last week," said Beth. "I didn't have an excuse."
They looked at each other for a minute; then they both stepped forward into each others' arms.
"I missed you," Richard said, resting his chin on the top of her head.
"So did I," Beth said.
She could feel him sigh. "I don't think the Dark Lord should know about us," he murmured, voice tingling in her ear. "Dangerous..."
"Of course." Beth pulled away reluctantly. "Rich, he's going to ask about the Ledger. What are you?"
"Just tell him I had it last," Richard said, a sudden fierceness in his voice. "No one else needs to get involved. I'll take care of it." He stood up and looked around. "Where's Mervin?"
"I saw him over there," Beth told him, pointing to a vast tombstone cracked down the center. "Be careful-"
But Richard was already halfway across the graveyard.
Beth sighed. Richard's commitment to duty bordered on the fanatical. It was a quality she usually admired - but these days, when lines of loyalty were being drawn, she would have preferred him to heed more closely his own self-preservation.
The church bells of Little Hangleton began to chime midnight. All across the graveyard, black-hooded figures drifted toward the door of the Smithers crypt. One by one, they approached the door of the tomb and sank through the ghostly insubstantiality of the stone wall.
Beth hazarded a glance at the cracked gravestone of Tom Riddle, where Mervin and Richard stood conversing intently. For a moment she thought she saw a flurry of white sparks swirl around Richard's head; she looked closer, and they were gone. Mervin patted Richard on the shoulder encouragingly and the two set off for the crypt. Beth followed.
The inside of the crypt was vast, with high sandstone walls engraved with the names of the membership. About a hundred chairs had been set up in neat rows, leaving a broad aisle down the center. The Society sat in clusters: half a dozen old men in one corner, a clutch of young women in another. Beth passed a pair of beak-nosed men, clad in black from head to toe; one of them tipped his cap to her.
"Evening, Miss Parson," he droned, in a bored, dour voice.
The other gave a mock start. "Blimey, Bode, forgot to put on yer accent this mornin'?"
"I say, roight you are," Bode said, instantly dropping back into his Cockney brogue. "Bloody careless of me, eh?"
Beth greeted Bode and Croaker with a smile and wave. It was cheering to see that the Unspeakables were as irrepressible as ever. She went on as the pair of them accosted the gray-haired, sharp-chinned Professor Grubbly-Plank and bullied her into sitting with them.
"Beth Parson. My dear girl."
The gravelly voice was vaguely familiar. Beth turned around. An old man, hawkish and hunched, smiled up at her in a very unsettling way.
"Beth Parson," he said again.
"Yes," said Beth, wanting very strongly to leave.
The old man jabbed at her with one long finger. "I remember you. I saw you. You left the circle..."
"What are you?"
Beth broke off and her stomach plummeted. You left the circle. She knew, suddenly, where she had heard the voice, and what he had meant...
"Ebenezer Nott," she said aloud.
"Ah, you remember as well," Nott said shrewdly. "Our Lord was distracted, but I saw you, I saw the two young ones, you broke from the circle and dashed away ... with the snake to guard you, the snake to stop Rothbard - oh yes, I saw you. I saw you take the book."
Beth stood quite still.
"Our Lord will want his Ledger," Nott went on, watching her face closely.
"I don't have it," said Beth tonelessly. "Neither does Evan."
"Of course," said Nott. He leaned closer; Beth caught a whiff of ancient books and dusty treasures. "But who does?"
Beth was silent.
"Either way, our Lord will find out," said Nott. His voice was urgent. "He will draw it from your mouth with pain; he will pry it from your mind with magic. Tell me, so that I will tell him, and you will be spared."
Nott was right, and Beth loathed the fact. Besides, Richard wanted her to name him, he had anticipated it. She fervently hoped that he had planned for it as well.
"I gave it to Richard Shaw," she said reluctantly.
"Aah." Nott rolled back on his heels. "Your young president, of course. Very wise ... I'll see that the Dark Lord knows of your cooperation."
"Thanks," said Beth. The word was bitter. She turned and walked away.
She found her classmates Melissa Ollivander and Bruce Bletchley seated together near the wall, and hurried toward them. "Hi," she said, sliding in beside them. "How was your summer?"
"Fine until now," said Bruce.
Melissa slapped his arm sharply. "I don't suppose you could hold your tongue just for one night!" She turned back to Beth. "I'm fine. We went straight off to Morocco after school, but that only took a week and we didn't make the sale anyway, so I was free to come back here, Uncle Ollivander's here too, we told my parents we were off to see a symphony..." She trailed off; her chatty tone died away. "I'm sorry about your brother."
"Me too." Lycaeon Parson had spent exactly eleven months out of Azkaban until a conviction of wand theft - in order to answer the Dark Lord's call - had sent him straight back in again. Beth had tried hard not to think about him in the past two weeks. She was furious that he had broken his parole, more furious that he had allowed the Dark Mark to be put on her in childhood ... and she missed him more than she had ever imagined.
"Hold still," Bruce said suddenly. "Here it comes again."
A golden quill whizzed around the ceiling, hovering over the heads of members and scrawling in the clear air before buzzing off to harass someone on the other side of the room. It zipped over to Beth, scratched Elizabeth Phaedra Parson in shimmering letters above her head, and then darted over to scribble Broderick Benjamin Bode over the head of the Unspeakable. Beth's name faded from the air in a few moments.
Beth raised her eyebrows. "He's taking attendance?"
Melissa gestured to the front of the room. "Nott's taking it for him."
The golden quill skimmed down the aisle and into the outstretched hand of the elderly Secretary and founding member. Ebenezer Nott pocketed the quill and rolled up a parchment from the podium before him.
"Pending the arrival of our president," he said, his gravelly voice echoing in the sepulcher, "this meeting of the Society for Slytherin Advancement is now called to order."
A shiver ran up Beth's spine. How often she had heard Richard use those same words - and how different, how perverted they sounded now.
"My colleagues." Nott beamed at them. This was his moment: a lifetime of servitude, rewarded in glory. "My friends."
"We are not your friends," said Celestina Warbeck clearly.
All eyes turned toward the professional singer. Without her shimmering robes and elaborate hairdo, she looked no more glamorous than anyone else in the room; but her bearing was regal, and the strength in her voice was arresting.
Nott did not look perturbed. He laughed, a hoarse, gurgling sound. "You will be." He cast his eyes to the other side of the room. "In the meantime... You two. The Unspeakables." Bode and Croaker started, glanced at each other, and stood up of one accord. "I have a question for you..."
But instead of asking, Nott leveled his wand at Croaker and greedily whispered, "Legilimens."
Several things happened at once. A thin blue cord streamed from the Secretary's wand and coiled several times around Croaker's forehead; it then faded through the scalp as cleanly as a warm knife through butter. Instantly Croaker's eyes grew as wide and unfocused as a doll's. Bode drew his wand and leapt in front of his friend, shouting, "Get out of 'is 'ead!" even as the blue cord pierced his own temple. Both Unspeakables sank to the ground. At the same time, Professor Grubbly-Plank leapt to her feet.
"Ebenezer, you're out of order!" bellowed Professor Grubbly-Plank, tearing the pipe from her mouth. "No illegal curses on other members, you helped write the Code yourself fifty years ago!"
"Times have changed, you old hag!" Nott snarled.
There was a sound like a crack of thunder...
...a sudden chill...
...and a voice.
"Yes. Times have indeed changed."
At the front of the sepulcher, wrapped in a plain black cloak and hood that hid everything but his form, loomed the terrible figure of the Dark Lord.
"You were mine once ... and I lost you. Now you are mine again."
Ebenezer Nott's voice quivered with excitement. "What would you have us do, my Lord?"
"I want you to do nothing."
Nott's rugged face fell. "My lord?"
"You will do nothing," he repeated. "You will betray nothing. You will not make it known that I have returned to - no - that I have exceeded my former strength."
Nott looked intensely disappointed.
"The fools of the Ministry of Magic deny my existence ... very well. They make it all the easier for me..."
His chilly gaze swept the congregation.
"In the meantime, I have plans that I will allow my Death Eaters to pursue. You will be kept in reserve ... my elite ... though some of you will be of use to me soon." His eyes flicked towards Bode and Croaker. "Only one thing eludes me, and that will be resolved within moments." He turned suddenly and looked straight out at the Society. "I want my Ledger."
There was a collective intake of breath. Don't ask me, Beth thought fervently, don't look at me...
"I know who has it, my Lord."
The Dark Lord glanced down at Ebenezer Nott. "Do you."
"Oh yes. It is with Richard Shaw, my Lord."
Nott was servile, groveling, a shriveled old house-elf of a man. He hadn't asked her beforehand to protect her, Beth realized. He had done it to gain rank with Voldemort. The thought was no more comforting. Still, she felt a shameful relief. The less the Dark Lord realized she existed, the better.
"The young President. Step forward, Richard Shaw."
About halfway back among the rows of chairs, Richard Shaw stood up and walked to the center aisle. He stood directly in front of the Dark Lord, just yards away, straight-backed, with his hands at his sides. He kept his eyes averted, but when he spoke it was with strength and clarity.
"The Ledger is not in my possession."
Beth's heart thumped madly behind her ribs. This was his plan - straightforward denial? She should never have gone along with it. Oh Rich, she thought, holding her breath unconsciously, I'm going to have to watch you die. Melissa reached over and gripped her hand, hard.
Both Richard and the Dark Lord stood silently facing one another for a tense lifetime. Then the Dark Lord spoke. His cold voice was soft and mild, which made his words all the more frightening.
"I suspect that you are lying."
The Dark Lord flicked his wand. Instantly, Richard was lifted bodily and thrown against the opposite wall. Some of the members gasped. Before he could stand back up, a gleaming silver dagger sprang from the Dark Lord's wand and hurtled across the room. It stopped a fraction of an inch from Richard's throat.
"Let's try again, shall we?" The knife pressed in closer and a bead of red appeared at the very tip. "Where is my Ledger?"
"Dumbledore has it!"
The cry echoed through the sepulcher and died into silence.
The knife did not waver. The Dark Lord let out his breath in a hiss. "Albus Dumbledore."
"Yes." Richard swallowed hard; his Adam's apple grazed against the tip of the knife. "I gave it to him for safe keeping."
The Dark Lord said nothing. His serpentine eyes were fixed on Richard's face, searching for the tremor of fear, or the flicker of a lie.
"He won't return it to anyone but me," said Richard. His voice was carefully expressionless. "I warned him to beware of Polyjuice potion or illusions."
The Dark Lord turned away and the knife vanished in a silver whiff of smoke. "I would have expected such careful planning from my Society," he hissed, "but not such betrayal."
Richard stood up slowly. "I had not yet realized ... your power," he said hesitantly. "I never realized how great your reign will be ... how mighty you had grown..."
No one dared take their eyes from either figure. Beth felt her stomach churn.
"I didn't know..." Richard swallowed again. "Forgive me ... my lord."
"You will bring me the Ledger." The Dark Lord had his back to the Society.
"Within a week."
Richard hesitated. "He may become suspicious if I ask for its return so soon. Let it stay for one month. Dumbledore's nobility is his weakness. He will not read it."
He is brave, Beth thought, her heart pounding. Brave, and stupid.
"I do not bargain," said the Dark Lord. He paused; the air seemed to chill. "But you make a valid point." He turned back around; his gaze was terrible. "You will bring me my Ledger before the month is up. Or the consequences..." He paused, and let loose suddenly with a cold, thoroughly heartless laugh. "The consequences will be dire."
Richard bobbed his head. "I understand, my Lord."
"Do you?" The Dark Lord turned and wandered toward the wall, brushing the list of engraved names with one long, skeletal finger. "Do any of you truly understand? You are mine. I own you."
Beth cast a glance at Ebenezer Nott. He was nodding judiciously, a slightly mad light in his eyes.
"These walls are remarkable," the Dark Lord said slowly, still gazing at the many engraved names. "Very remarkable indeed."
He raised a hand, palm upward, as if holding an invisible tray. His other hand crept wormlike along the wall until it found a name.
From the center of his upraised palm grew a translucent blue orb, immaterial, as large as one of Trelawney's crystal balls. A living picture came together in the center of it. Blaise Zabini, wearing a fluffy party dress that did not suit her, stood at the door of a tastefully furnished sitting room, nervously bidding farewell to a small party of well-dressed adults. A small light-haired woman - unmistakably Blaise's mother - came up behind her. Though miniature and blue-tinted, the picture was perfectly clear. The Dark Lord turned a lazy eye to the tiny image of Blaise before removing his hand from the wall. The blue orb vanished.
"I will always know."
The Dark Lord vanished into thin air; but his words hung for many moments after he had gone.
The cemetery filled like a schoolyard at the end of the day: in a matter of moments, one hundred Society members materialized through the door to the crypt and began to whisper in groups, seek out broomsticks, or cluster around Portkeys with their friends.
Beth met Richard by the yew tree. They stood and looked at each other for long moments. Neither had been sure they would survive the meeting.
Beth broke the silence.
"Don't forget about dinner next Thursday. Dad's really wanting to meet you."
Richard's mouth twitched and slowly turned into a full grin. "I wouldn't miss it for anything," he said gallantly. "My parents are expecting you the week after. They've been desperately curious about you for years."
"That's intimidating," said Beth. "I hope I don't disappoint."
Mervin Fletcher hurried up to the pair of them. "Feeling all right, Rich?" he said, in a businesslike tone.
Richard took a breath. "Just fine," he said, after considering it. He looked down at his hands. They were shaking slightly. "Fine enough, anyhow."
"Splendid. Bend over."
"Lean down," Mervin repeated irritably.
Casting a confused glance at Beth, Richard bowed his head toward Mervin, who took out his wand and rapped Richard smartly on the head. A burst of white sparks enveloped his head and sank into his hair like dying embers.
Richard stood back up.
For a moment nothing happened. Then Richard's shoulders jerked and an expression of sheer disbelief crossed his face. "I was lying." He looked from Mervin to Beth with wide eyes. "I lied to the Dark Lord - and lived?"
"Sure looks like it," said Mervin. He dropped his wand into his back pocket and crossed his arms.
Richard stared at the ground for long moments, working out his memories. Then he turned to Mervin. "So where is the Ledger, really?"
"At home," said Mervin, "in your sock drawer."