A/N: Certain scenes in this chapter may make be more easily understood by those readers who have recently read chapter five. It's not necessary, but may be instructive. Also as a reminder, bold, italicized text is parseltongue, and this story is rated for readers over the age of 13. There is a sexual element to this chapter.
Chapter Seventeen: Choosing Sides
The wind whipped across the Little Hangleton graveyard, howling as it bent the long weeds away from Harry. Sickly-grey clouds darkened the afternoon sky.
"Your soul and mine, they are brothers, Harry. You know this, yes." Voldemort's yew wand jabbed into Neville's neck.
"No!" Harry hissed, straining at the ropes strapping him to the Riddle headstone. Neville, Seamus, Dean, Ron, and Hermione were all similarly bound, arrayed in a semi-circle about Harry.
"You know what I require!" Voldemort dangled Bill's fang earring from a long sallow finger. Draco Malfoy, his distinctive blond hair peeking out from beneath a death eater's hood, stepped from behind Voldemort. The robed boy allowed his lecherous hand to graze Hermione's breast as he brought the earring toward Harry.
"You wanker," Ron growled, straining at his bonds.
As Draco approached, Harry balled his fists, but with a flick of Malfoy's wand, Harry's fingers unfurled involuntarily. Draco smiled sadistically and stabbed the fang into the runic scar on Harry's palm. "The Dark Lord promised me a go at the Mudblood," he whispered into Harry's ear.
Hermione overheard and her eyes widened in fear.
"Assist me, and I will let them all live," Voldemort offered.
"No!," Harry answered.
"No!" Harry refused. Succumbing to his will, the black curse dissipated in mid-air.
"You would defy me?" Voldemort raged. "Avada Kedavra!"
"No!" Harry protested, but Neville hung limply in the grip of his imprisoning rope.
Voldemort paced behind the captives. "This one reeks of defiled blood," he hissed.
"Don't give into the bastard, mate." Dean urged bravely.
"Delibo Anima!" Voldemort cast the soul extracting curse again.
"NO!" Harry shouted, and once more the black curse fell impotent.
"Nagini!" The enormous constrictor slowly slithered up Dean's body, wrapping itself around the boy's neck, choking the life from him.
"I will kill them all," Voldemort warned as he stopped behind Seamus. "Delibo Anima!"
"No!" Harry cried out resolutely.
Seamus nodded bravely to Harry. "You've done it right, mate" he affirmed as the curse evaporated.
"Crucio!" Voldemort lashed out in anger. The Dark Lord held the curse for an eternity as Seamus writhed against the ropes binding him to the headstone. Finally, the Irish boy fell limp and Voldemort turned to Ron.
"You'll never win," Ron bravely reasoned with Voldemort. "Harry won't let you."
Voldemort sneered condescendingly. "Your loyalties are misplaced, Ron Weasley."
"I'd die for Harry," Ron boasted.
"He would like that," Voldemort answered with a smile. "With you out of the way, he'll have the Mudblood."
"Harry's not like that!"
"Isn't he?" Voldemort laughed. "Draco!"
"Master." Draco kneeled before the Dark Lord.
"I promised you the girl. Take her."
"Harry, don't give in!" Hermione whimpered as Draco approached her. The blonde haired boy, clearly aroused, reached for the lace of Hermione's robe and greedily untied it.
"I can still call him off," Voldemort offered.
Draco reached for the hem of Hermione's robe and began to lift.
"Don't do it! Harry" Ron begged, recognizing the roots of Harry's ultimate betrayal.
"Delibo Anima!" Voldemort shouted gleefully. The black curse proceeded forward at an agonizingly slow pace.
Awareness flooded Harry's conscious – Hermione's revulsion as Draco uncinched his belt, Ron's exploding anger at Harry's betrayal, and Voldemort's triumph as the spell reached its destination. A bright light enveloped Harry, searing his soul.
"No!" Harry cried out, writhing uncontrollably against his bonds.
Suddenly, he was falling. Pain coursed through his shoulder as he met the ground, the rest of his body crumpling around him. He retched. Vomit was everywhere – on the Gryffindor dormitory floor, on the sheets tangled impossibly around his limbs, in his perpetually messy hair.
Harry just lay there weeping. He'd not experienced a nightmare that severe in weeks. At Grimmauld Place, Salty was always nearby to wake him at the first sign of trouble, but here, in this empty dormitory, Harry had been unable to wrench himself from the terror.
"It's just the first night," Harry assured himself. Seamus and Dean had never appeared in his nightmares previously. He searched out their empty beds, but no answer came from the four-posters.
Rising from the floor, he found a clean towel in his trunk. A shower was in order, and perhaps a few hours with the occlumency text Dumbledore had left him.
"Did you see the hourglasses?" Daisy Runcorn asked as she slid onto the bench at the Hufflepuff table in the Great Hall.
"Yeah, two hundred points!" Megan Jones let out a long low whistle. "Slytherin's going to have a hard time overcoming that… especially without Professor Snape here this year."
"It's a pretty stiff punishment, if you ask me," Harry volunteered. He was seated across from Daisy, next to Susan. "I feel bad for the kids who weren't involved in the fight."
Susan shrugged as she reached for the pumpkin juice. "I don't. They're house points, and the entirety of Slytherin disgraced itself last night. I can't believe they let that bubble over in public."
"Embarrassing," Daisy agreed. "What were they fighting over anyway?"
"Maime MacNair was angry because she didn't make prefect," Megan answered.
"Well, that's the excuse at least," Susan added. "There's bound to be a power struggle in Slytherin. They're leaderless at the moment."
"Harry, what are you doing with the Hufflepuffs?" Romilda Vane interrupted, batting her long eyelashes at him. "You're supposed to be with Gryffindor."
"Avoiding you," Harry answered gruffly. "Leave me alone."
Romilda's eyes flashed in anger, but she kept smiling brightly. "Professor Ferdinand asked me to give you this." She handed him a roll of parchment, the seal with his name on it had already been broken.
"Right," Harry replied with a frown. "Did you open it?"
"Of course not," Romilda lied. "I can't believe you would think that."
Romilda scowled at him, and abruptly left. Harry looked up to see Daisy Runcorn's mouth hanging wide open in disbelief.
"She poisoned Ron last year," Harry said unequivocally. He unrolled the parchment, it was his class schedule.
"Good morning, Mr. Potter," Professor Sprout smiled brightly as she thumbed through a host of similarly rolled schedules. "How are you finding the famous Hufflepuff hospitality this morning?"
"First class," Harry chuckled, his first real smile of the day. "Good morning to you, as well."
Professor Sprout playfully patted him on the head. "Such a nice boy, but –" Sprout handed over three schedules, "Ms. Jones, Ms. Bones, and Ms. Runcorn – do be careful. Glenda told me he gives a wicked pinch."
All three girls dissolved into giggles as Harry's face burned a deep shade of red.
Wiping a mirthful tear out of her eye, Susan smiled brightly at him. "So, I take it you finally met Glenda the Gardener?"
"Yeah," Harry grinned. It was Susan who had tipped him off to the passageway behind the flirtatious painting. "I couldn't resist giving such a cute girl a nice tushie squeeze." Harry made a big show of reaching toward Susan's posterior. "You know she looks just like you."
"Don't you dare!" Susan laughed as she batted his hand away, red splotches now sprouting on both of her cheeks. She ignored Megan and Daisy as they shot her inquiring looks. "So, erm, what's your schedule look like?"
Harry finally studied his parchment. "Not bad, not bad at all. I've got Fridays completely clear and only one eight a.m. class – on Tuesdays."
Susan set her schedule down next to his. "Pretty much the same here, except I've got Muggle studies on Friday – and you're not taking History of Magic?"
"I'm rubbish at history," Harry explained.
Susan frowned. "You should take it. You're a member of the Wizengamot. It's important."
"Binns just puts me to sleep," Harry complained. "Plus, I dropped it last year. I'd be a year behind."
"Professor Ferdinand will be loads better than Binns," Susan countered. "You should see if he'll let you sign up."
"Maybe," Harry answered. "But, I see you're not taking potions."
She smiled coyly. "I'm rubbish at them. Besides, that's what the apothecary is for."
Daisy was comparing her schedule to Harry's. "Since when do we share charms with the Gryffindors?"
"McGonagall combined all four houses for the seventh year classes," Harry answered. "Small class size and all."
"Sue? You dropped astronomy." Megan accused.
Susan winced. "Sorry, Megan. I should have said something. I dropped it when Professor McGonagall made me a prefect. I'll be too busy otherwise."
Daisy frowned at Susan. "I'm still with you, Megan."
"Thanks, Daisy." Megan stood up from the table, a slight smile masking her disappointment. "I've got to run. I have Arithmancy in fifteen minutes."
Daisy stood to go as well. "I'll see you all in Defense."
Susan and Harry waved goodbye to the girls.
"So what are you going to do with the next two hours?"
Harry pushed away from the table. "I'm going to keep up my Quidditch regimen. Save me a seat in Defense?"
"I can't believe he's sitting with the Hufflepuffs," Vicky Frobisher complained.
"It's not right," Romilda Vane agreed. "He's a Gryffindor, why's he wasting his time on some lousy 'puff?"
"I told you," Andrew Kirke answered. "He's a right bastard."
"No loyalty," Jack Sloper affirmed. "How many Gryffindors died protecting him? And he just takes up with the first girl to show him her tits?"
"It's like he's spitting on Ginny Weasley's grave," Jeanie Clumb concluded.
Martin Frasier frowned. "Come on! We've got to get to transfiguration."
The horde of fifth year Gryffindors gathered their bags and filed out of the Great Hall.
"Welcome to Defense against… the Dark Arts," Professor Mason began the class. "I am Hannibal Cartwright Mason… the fourth, and I have been tasked with giving you all the tools required to… save your lives."
Harry slouched in his chair, overwhelmed by a sense of déjà vu.
"The magical world is full of… dark… dangerous… mysterious… bewitching… creatures. Creatures… that will kill you… if they catch you… unprepared."
Harry slouched down even further.
"For instance… the werewolf… is nearly indistinguishable from a normal man, but on the full moon… he will savage even the best of his friends.
Susan dipped her quill into her inkwell and wrote "Lockhart" on the blank piece of parchment in front of her.
"The vampire… delectable in appearance… bewitching in speech… entrancing in scent… will suck your blood dry… if given the opportunity."
Harry's gaze wandered around the room. Lavender and Parvati were examining a deck of tarot cards, Michael Corner and Stephen Cornfoot were playing hangman, and Padma and Anthony Goldstein were studying from their Arithmancy texts.
"Yes, sir?" Harry turned to face Professor Mason. The rest of the class had suddenly snapped to attention.
"Our resident expert… too experienced to pay attention, I see."
Susan crossed out 'Lockhart' on her parchment and instead wrote "Snape," which caused Harry to smirk.
"You think this is funny? I would have thought… you of all people… would grasp the gravity of… Defense against… the Dark Arts."
Harry did his best, but could not keep from grinning even wider. "It's very important, sir – my favorite subject."
"How would you protect yourself from a lethifold?"
"The Patronus Charm, sir."
Mason's scowl deepened. "An inferius?"
"A flame spell… sir."
Mason stalked toward Harry. "Who killed the Giant, Hengist of Upper Barnton?"
Harry shrugged. "I don't know, sir."
"Gifford Ollerton! Ten points from Gryffindor."
From the back of the class, a snicker fed on itself until it became a rumbling laugh. Zacharias Smith buried his face in his textbook, but could not contain himself. The snicker became contagious and soon even Theodore Nott and Blaise Zabini were smiling.
"What is so funny? Mr…"
"Mr. Smith, Zacharias Smith," the Hufflepuff managed. "I'm sorry, sir. It's just I feel like I've already attended this lecture a few times."
"I can assure you… you haven't."
"Well, maybe not with you, but perhaps with a few other professors. You see, sir, we've been in classes with Harry for six years already… and well, sir, you're our seventh Defense against the Dark Arts professor."
"I'm aware of the former curse on this faculty position. I've been informed that it was lifted this past summer," Mason answered arrogantly. "Ten points from Hufflepuff."
"I wasn't talking about the curse," Zacharias declared. The mirth was gone from his voice. "I was referring to the fact that every Defense professor has had it out for Harry, and it never ends well."
"Gilderoy Lockhart turned out to be the luckiest of them all," Theodore Nott observed acerbically from the back corner. There were a number of curious expressions among the seventh years as the usually silent Slytherin uncharacteristically entered the fray. "He's only insane. The rest are dead."
Professor Mason paled slightly at this declaration.
"Let's see – Potter killed professors Quirrel, Umbridge, and Snape," Nott said, ticking off three fingers. "Barty Crouch Jr. received the Dementor's kiss, and Mad-Eye Moody and Lupin were killed by Death Eaters."
"Er," Harry raised his hand as if seeking permission to speak, but didn't wait to be called upon. "I didn't actually kill Professor Umbridge, just Quirrel and Snape," Harry clarified. "I did lead her into a trap with a giant and an angry band of centaurs, but I didn't kill her. She died from Lucius Malfoy's killing curse – which I dodged."
Mason whirled to face Harry and fingered his wand. "Are you threatening me?" he demanded.
"Of course not, Professor," Harry answered. "It's just that I've got enough blood on my hands already. I don't need any more."
"Sorry, Potter," Nott answered jovially from the back row. "The Prophet pinned that one on you."
Harry shrugged. "Not a problem, Theodore. You just can't trust the Prophet. They never get their facts straight."
Anthony Goldstein laughed at this, but stood silent when Mason spun to face him.
"Are you two done?" Mason sneered. "Twenty points from Gryffindor, twenty from Slytherin."
Lisa Turpin raised her hand.
"What?" Mason yelled.
She put her hand down. "Um, sorry sir. It's not really important."
"No. Out with it! You raised your hand, what were you going to add to the discussion?"
Lisa shrunk back into her chair. "I was just going to say that Professor Lockhart died two weeks ago. My mum went to his funeral."
Mason's face lost all of its pallor. "Thirty points from Ravenclaw!" he seethed. "For Thursday, I want thirty centimeters on why the curse on my position has been lifted. Now, get out, every last one of you, out!"
Without objection, the seventh years filed out of the classroom as Mason fled to his office, slamming the door behind him.
"Did Lockhart really die?" Michael Corner asked as soon as they were all in the corridor. "I didn't see it in the paper."
"Not to my knowledge," Lisa Turpin answered with a sly smile, "but I thought it was a nice touch."
"It was brilliant, Turpentine," Zacharias declared loudly. He lightly brushed aside Lisa's long brown hair and kissed her neck possessively.
"Too bad he left so quickly," Parvati giggled as she held up a tarot card with a large grim on it. Her eyes seemed to bulge outward and her voice suddenly turned very grave, "Professor Mason, you should be cautious… the deck of fate never lies."
This earned another round of laughter as the entire seventh year class arrived in the empty Great Hall and began filtering to their house tables.
Tracey Davis, a firm supportive grip on Daphne's elbow helped her best friend shuffle over to the Slytherin table.
Hesitating slightly, Harry began to follow. "You okay, Daphne?" He reached out and held her books as she gingerly lowered herself onto the Slytherin bench.
She gratefully accepted her books back after she was situated. "I'm sore," she complained, "but I can either be sore in the hospital wing, or in class. And, I'm not about to start skipping class."
Harry sat down on the bench next to her. Blaise, Theodore, and Tracey were all within earshot as he leaned in and whispered. "Do you want any help dealing with Carrow?"
Daphne and Blaise conferred silently, communicating with a fierce gaze. "We've got a plan," Daphne answered.
Tracey frowned and shook her head. "Although some vigilance on your behalf wouldn't hurt, Potter."
Theodore Nott remained silent, but nodded in agreement with his cousin, Tracey.
"Where's Harry gone to now?" Parvati asked as she and Lavender settled into the Gryffindor table.
Lavender's gaze went to the Hufflepuff table, expecting to find their obviously smitten house-mate at Susan Bone's side, but neither was present. The table was empty except for Megan Jones and Daisy Runcorn, who were cleaning the lenses of their telescopes.
"He's sitting at the Slytherin table," Parvati muttered, astonished at the betrayal. "Are we that difficult to like?"
Lavender frowned at her best friend and stood with her bag. "Come on, Parv. This is what Harry was talking about last night. Whatever he's doing, I told him I would support it."
Parvati reluctantly hoisted her bag to her shoulder. "I can't believe we're going to sit with them."
"Jenny Flint said you cast the air freshening charms in our common room?" Susan heard Blaise ask Harry as she approached the Slytherin table.
"Uh, yeah," Harry shrugged. "Who is Jenny Flint?"
"Marcus Flint's little sister," Theodore answered as Blaise clarified, "One of our firsties, blonde hair, pigtails."
"Yeah, she got it pretty bad," Harry replied. "Completely soaked in pumpkin juice."
"It's still holding," Blaise declared. "What charm did you use?"
"Just a drying charm."
"No you dolt," Blaise rolled his eyes. "What air freshening charm did you use?"
"Oh! Hey, Susan," Harry smiled brightly as she slipped onto the bench beside him. "Erm, Purgo Puteo," he answered the Slytherin.
"No," Daphne muttered in disappointment. "We've tried that a million times. It never holds that long."
"Purgo Puteo? There's two variations," Susan volunteered. "Half-wrist-snap, and the thumb hook."
"Thumb hook," Harry answered when five pairs of eyes focused on him.
"Same here," Daphne responded flatly.
"Do you mind if we sit?" Lavender asked, timidly for a Gryffindor.
Harry grinned at Lavender. "That'd be brilliant," he answered before any of the Slytherins could object.
"You're discussing freshening charms?" Parvati asked with a bit of amazement. Who'd have thought Slytherins would discuss something so… innocent? "My mother uses an Indian charm, Neemboo," she declared, demonstrating a circular wand movement that ended with a flourish. A burst of lemon scent settling over the table.
"Lemon?" Tracey sneered.
"Sawkhaw," Parvati repeated the same wand movement.
"I like the pine better," Susan volunteered, inhaling deeply.
Harry absently scratched his chest. It itched again.
"Is Parvati showing off our super-secret-sub-continental magic again?" Padma asked playfully as she slipped onto the bench beside her sister, Anthony Goldstein a step behind. She breathed in the lingering aroma and smiled. "Parvati's pine charm is more pleasant than mine."
"Soukhouw," Tracey tried to repeat Parvati's spell, but was unsuccessful.
"No, it's Sawkhaw," Parvati repeated the pronunciation, "and give your wand an extra quarter turn."
"Sawkhaw," Tracey tried again.
"You got it!" Padma explained breathing in the scent, "although yours smells like the pine trees on the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Parvati's smells like… the pine tree at Aunt Daya's!"
Parvati smiled brightly. "Busted! I was wondering if you'd ever place it."
"Speaking of," Padma's nose twitched ever so slightly. "Are you wearing my Augurey perfume – the perfume you bought me for our birthday?"
"Maybe," Parvati answered coyly. "What do you think, Harry? I heard it turns you into a lovesick puppy."
Harry shifted uncomfortably, and scratched his chest again. The scent always did make it difficult to concentrate. "Well, I –"
"Hello, Professor McGonagall," Daphne interrupted. The Headmistress approached the group, and stood behind Anthony.
"Is there a reason my entire seventh year is in the Great Hall and not in the Defense classroom?"
"Professor Mason dismissed us early," Parvati answered when no one else spoke up.
McGonagall's lips thinned as she frowned. "There is still over an hour left in the class period. Why were you dismissed prematurely?"
"He's an incompetent coward," Theodore Nott announced angrily. "He heard what happened to the last six Defense instructors and nearly wet himself."
The Headmistress swept the table with a long cold glare, but none of the students contradicted Nott, nor seemed to disagree with the normally stoic young man's assessment. "And why was the subject broached?"
When none of the students volunteered an answer, McGonagall added, "I'll be speaking to Professor Mason for his assessment of the situation." She turned to leave the Great Hall.
"He's got it out for Potter," Zacharias Smith called out a warning from the Hufflepuff table.
McGonagall's gait did not break rhythm, but her shoulders slumped slightly and the pointed tip of her hat dipped forward in resignationas she left the hall. Good help was hard to find.
"Partners, Potter?" Ryne Rivers asked. The Ravenclaw had arrived a minute before the period began, and Harry was the only student without a partner.
"Sure," Harry answered nonchalantly. Potions was his only class without Susan, and he'd been worried that he might not have a partner. Padma and Anthony were paired together, as were Zach Smith and Lisa Turpin and Blaise and Daphne. "I heard you just got in this morning." Harry said, for lack of anything better to say. After seven years, he knew next to nothing about the Ravenclaw.
Ryne frowned. "British Airways cancelled my flight from Frankfurt and they couldn't rebook me until yesterday. By the time we landed, I'd missed the Express."
"I've never been on an airplane," Harry mused. "How's it compare to flying on a broom?"
Ryne fixed him with a bizarre expression. "I thought you grew up Muggle."
Harry shrugged. "I didn't travel much. Never even left England til I was eleven."
"I've been all over," Ryne replied. "My father used to work for a travel magazine before You-Know-Who murdered him."
"I heard about that, sorry," Harry said quietly. Ryne's entire family had been murdered by Death Eaters during the Monday Muggleborn Massacre. How Ryne had survived the attack was a mystery that Harry didn't particularly feel like trying to solve.
"Good afternoon, class," Horace Slughorn said as he waddled into the room. "Mr. Corner, you're late. Five points from Ravenclaw. Please take a seat."
Michael Corner apologized as he settled into the workstation behind Harry and Ryne.
"Welcome back to NEWT level potions," Slughorn said absently as he surveyed some of the simmering potions at the back of the room. "You all acquitted yourselves well in my class last year, but we must continue to work diligently through the syllabus so that you'll be ready to sit your NEWTs at the end of the year."
"So, please turn to page two hundred and six in your texts. We will be brewing Essence of Honesty. Can anyone tell me its use?" Harry, Blaise, and Daphne were the only ones that did not raise their hands. "Ms. Turpin?"
"It's a component of Veritaserum."
"Five points to Ravenclaw," Slughorn supplied. "Another use?"
Daphne raised her hand when no one else did. "Ms. Greengrass?"
"It is used in fashioning the sneak-o-scope."
"Oh ho!" Slughorn smiled jovially. "Fifteen points to Slytherin. Well done indeed!"
He returned to the front of the classroom and produced two stoppered vials from his vest pocket. "Now, today's prize, for the pair that brews the best 'Essence of Honesty,' is a dose each of the Tincture of Serenity. One dose will give the drinker eight hours of pristine peace… perfect for battling exam nerves," Slughorn added. "Questions?"
Michael Corner raised his hand.
"Ah, Mr. Corner has no partner," Slughorn observed. "Unfortunately, we've an odd number of students. Rivers, you partner with Corner. Mr. Potter is top of the class. He can work alone." Slughorn smiled deviously at Harry. "If he wins, he'll of course have earned both vials."
"When I break left, you descend about three meters and shadow me." Demelza said. "I can feint a pass to you and burn their chaser, or I can just drop the quaffle to you and set a screen. Either way, they'll either have to bring over another chaser, or send a bludger your way."
"Alright, let's give it a try." Harry answered as kicked off from the ground.
Demelza was quickly behind him and when they reached the level of the goal hoops, she tossed the quaffle high into the air, flew a wide circle and caught the descending quaffle with practiced ease. Tucking it under her arm, she was already up to speed and bearing down on the eastern goal hoops.
Harry flew behind her as they had planned, anticipated her feint, he pulled up sharply just as she discreetly flipped the ball to him. As she suddenly dove downward, Harry fired the quaffle through the center hoop.
"Perfect!" Demelza yelled as she retrieved the quaffle. "You know, if we can't find two other good chasers, you could switch positions."
Harry frowned. "No. I'm the seeker. I want to play a more aggressive style of play this year. I've been watching Viktor Krum. Ballycastle plays a four chaser formation most of the game. I think we could really dominate that way."
"That's risky," Demelza objected. "You think we can build the lead fast enough."
Harry drifted backward and signaled for Demelza to toss him the quaffle. "Slytherin might be tough. I flew against Daphne Greengrass last weekend. She wants to seek for them this year, and she's pretty good. But I don't think the 'puffs or 'claws will be strong at seeker."
"It would help us on defense, too," Demelza decided. She caught the return pass from Harry and began bouncing the quaffle off her broom handle. "Is that Richie and Jimmy?"
Harry swung down into a sloth grip roll. "Looks like it."
"Show off," Demelza laughed as she buzzed by him and flew down to meet the two boys.
"Mind if we join you," Richie Coote asked.
"We've been running plays against three undefended hoops," Demelza laughed. "Even you two goofs can improve on that defense!"
Jimmy Peakes laughed nervously. "I saw the sign-up sheet in the common room, Potter. You're trying out beaters?"
"Gryffindor is going to field the best team possible this year."
"But you've already got a great pair of beaters," Coote answered.
Harry shrugged. "I made my best mate try out for keeper last year. Almost cut him, too."
"Seriously?" Peakes complained. He hefted his beater's bat and took a whack at the bludger he'd carried out with him.
Coote tracked the iron ball down and took a swing at it, loudly redirecting it away from Harry. "Seeker needs to trust his beaters," he observed sullenly.
"Detention? For a week?" Daphne would have leapt off the sofa and strangled Ludwig Carrow if she wasn't too sore to stand up without assistance. "What was McGonagall thinking?"
"Carrie Judd used a reducto," Tracey reasoned. "If she expels Ludwig, she'd have to do the same to Carrie."
Daphne didn't particularly care for the Judd girl. She'd consider it an even trade if the fifth year prefect was expelled as long as she never had to see Ludwig Carrow again. "That doesn't change the fact that I took a Confringo at close range. If Carrow wasn't half-way to being a squib, I'd be dead."
"Calm down, Daphne," Blaise warned. Carrow's sycophants were huddled around the boy, congratulating him on the other side of the Slytherin common room. "We can appeal the decision to the Hogwarts Board. My grandfather will see to it that he's expelled."
"Are you sure he'll have the votes?" Theodore asked. "The Board's not going to overrule McGonagall lightly."
"Come on! He used a blasting curse." Blaise complained in exasperation. "That's about as clear-cut a case for expulsion as you can get."
Theodore shrugged. He wasn't going to argue with Blaise, but his best friend tended to overestimate his grandfather's pull on the Board. "To be safe, it shouldn't be Daphne who appeals the decision."
Daphne didn't even try to hide her relief. "I'm Head Girl, I've got to work with the Headmistress all year… and my mother would kill me. She's friends with Professor McGonagall."
Blaise rubbed his chin. "Carrie didn't get expelled either," Blaise mused. "But Pierce Buchanan had to have his arm bones regrown after he got hit with her reducto. If he appealed, the Board would review the entire incident."
"But, Pierce wouldn't." Tracey objected.
"Not without a little prodding," Blaise answered thoughtfully. He rubbed the stubble of his jaw. "But Pierce has a thing for Carla Webster… and Carla Webster would become the new prefect if Carrie Judd were expelled."
Theodore nodded, catching the approval in Daphne and Tracey's glances. "I'll talk to Webster."
Blaise fetched a roll of parchment from his bag. "I'll write my grandfather."
"Your soul and mine, they are brothers, Harry. You know this, yes." Voldemort's red eyes shone like rubies in the darkened room. A single torch illuminated the death chamber, casting long shadows across the raised dais and onto the stone archway. Dozens of indistinguishable robed Death Eaters ringed the room, preventing escape.
Harry was kneeling a few meters in front of the veil of death, petrified by the Dark Lord. He could not turn to see Voldemort's hostages arrayed behind him, but he could identify his five friends by their shadows.
"It is a simple choice, Potter – your friends or your soul." The Dark Lord silently cast the soul extracting curse. "Join me."
With an achingly slow pace, the foul black curse approached Harry. "No," he hissed – and the curse faded into nothingness.
"It's alright, Harry." Luna said warmly. "This life isn't worth it anyway." The blonde happily skipped through the stone archway, passing through the veil, even as Ginny's shadow tried to restrain her.
"What is love if you won't even save your friends?" Voldemort puzzled. He prodded Ginny forward with the point of his wand. "Will you sacrifice on Miss Weasley's behalf?"
Harry mutely protested as Ginny neared the veil.
"I died for you, Harry." She paused and searched his eyes for an answer, but found nothing to satisfy her questioning gaze. With a disappointed shake of the head, she disappeared into death.
A cackling laugh cut the silence. "Come with me, Rudolphus. Here is a truly worthy master."
Two of the shadowy Death Eaters broke ranks with their compatriots and stepped into the dim light. Bellatrix Lestrange and her husband removed their masks and took up the positions recently vacated by Luna and Ginny.
"I didn't sign up for this!" Neville stammered. He climbed the raised dais.
"Little Neville, be reasonable," Bellatrix cackled. "Should my new master choose his death or yours?"
"But I hate you!" Neville proclaimed as he plunged forward into the veil.
"Hate or love, the outcome is the same," Voldemort observed. His red eyes flashed knowingly. "Potter's selfishness serves only himself."
"Check, mate." Ron agreed as he journeyed the few steps to the veil.
"Wait, Ron," Harry pleaded. "What should I do?"
The redhead paused a step before the archway, but refused to turn and face Harry. "The best you can do is a stalemate. Which side of the veil is your choice, but we're all on the other side."
"Ronald!" Hermione exclaimed as Ron stepped forward and disappeared. "Don't listen to him, Harry," she chided, even as she began her inexorable voyage toward the veil. "He's such a selfish prat. You need to stay right where you are and defeat Voldemort."
"But, why?" Harry moaned. Suddenly he broke free of the petrification and lunged forward to stop Hermione from passing through the veil.
"Delibo Anima!" Voldemort cried in delight.
Voldemort's soul extracting curse connected at the same moment that Harry reached Hermione. As the soul searing pain rippled through his body, Harry fell forward through the veil. He could feel himself falling and then everything was black and Harry felt nothing.
A minute later, Harry regained consciousness. He was again lying on the floor of the Gryffindor dormitory, an enormous bump protruding from the back of his head where he'd landed unceremoniously before passing out.
"Sweet Merlin," Harry lamented as he sat up slowly and allowed the black spots to clear from his vision. He leaned backwards against his four-poster to gather his wits. The clock indicated it was still two hours before sunrise. He needed a shower, badly. His night shirt was damp with sweat, but at his trunk, he withdrew a quill and parchment rather than a towel.
Sitting down at the desk in the corner, he penned a note to Salty, his house elf at Grimmauld Place, requesting the elf to visit an apothecary and send along a dreamless sleep potion.
When he emerged from the shower a few minutes later, Hedwig was perched on the exterior window ledge, summoned by the unfathomable bond between wizard and familial.
"Harry… Harry? Harry!"
Susan frowned. "Are you alright? You seem distracted."
"Sorry," Harry apologized. "I think I left my brain on the pitch," he joked.
"Is that where you were? I didn't see you at breakfast."
Harry nodded, and then wiped his brow with his forearm. He was still sweaty from his quidditch exercises, despite his second shower of the morning. The warm greenhouse wasn't helping things. He stifled a yawn. "I ate early so I could get in some practice before class."
"Will you hand me the trowel?" She waited a moment. "The trowel, Harry?"
"Erm, sorry, Susan," Harry sheepishly handed it over, yawning again.
She watched him for a moment. "I had a weird dream last night," she lied. "I dreamt that Hannah and Leahdor were moving their stuff back into the dorm room. They said they'd missed the Hogwarts Express and had to take the Knight Bus all the way here."
Susan laughed lightly. "Yeah. I told Zach Smith and he said that he'd dreamt that he was playing exploding snap with Justin, Ernie, Wayne, and Paul. It's weird in our dorms, you know, with so many of us gone."
"Yeah," Harry said glumly. "My room's just so quiet."
"Zach's got his dorm to himself, too" Susan persisted. "I think he'd like a roommate."
Harry nodded silently, and finished repotting his devil's snare cutting.
At breakfast on Wednesday, a brown owl swooped down to deliver a letter to Blaise. "Damn," Blaise muttered as he read through the missive from his grandfather. He handed the letter to Daphne. "They heard the appeal, but didn't overturn McGonagall's decision."
"What was the vote?" Theodore inquired.
"Five to four against us," Blaise answered.
Daphne finished reading the letter. "You were right, Theodore. They were more concerned about undermining Professor McGonagall than whether the punishments were appropriate."
Theodore frowned. "Amateur hour," he muttered darkly. "Always count the votes before putting something to a vote. We lost both Gryffindor seats?"
"Lonsdale and Marchbanks both supported McGonagall."
"Potter offered to help," Theodore observed.
Author's Note: It was mentioned in the chapter four AN, but it bears repeating. Purgo Puteo is from Lady Alchymia's excellent Emerald Tablet series. The Hindi cleaning charms are my own invention.
Author's Recognition: Voice of The Nephilim and Scaryisntit provided some preliminary assistance with this chapter, so thank you. This chapter's recommended story is "On the Way to Greatness" by Mira Mirth – an excellent Harry in Slytherin fic.
Initial Post: 11 May 2011
Last Updated: 11 May 2011
Word Count: 5,854