The Jaded Brothers: Trials of Magic
By Blueberry Blaster
Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of J.K. Rowling. Any and all infringement is unintended.
Chapter VIII: Fueling the Flames
"We don't want you in our lives, anymore," James whispered to him, the light reflecting off his glasses and obscuring his cold eyes.
"You're too much of a burden; too much of a danger to Hayden," Lily continued, a sweet smile of cold dismissal adorning her face.
"But…" Harry swallowed weakly, unable to comprehend the words they were uttering. "But… I don't understand… I'm your son…"
"So is Hayden," his father interrupted. "But Hayden's the Boy-Who-Lived; he's special. You are a nobody; just a distraction to Hayden, a liability. We cannot have a nobody obstructing Hayden's path…"
"N-no…" he argued weakly, glancing helplessly at his mother. "That's not… you're not – it's just a… a lie… you're not doing this, y-you're not saying this… ! Not to me… not me – your son… your own flesh and blood..."
"They say blood is thicker than water, but in truth, it is as fickle as fame and fortune," Lily cut in smoothly. "And really, we'd much rather give up one of our own blood than fame and fortune – that's hard to come by and keep, you know."
"You... you LIE!" Harry shouted, denial forging the words for his lips to utter. "YOU'RE NOT MY PARENTS! THEY WOULDN'T DO THIS TO ME! THEY WOULD NEVER –!"
"But we already have," James smirked, an ugly grimace of hate. "Don't you remember?"
Harry shook his head vehemently, squeezing his eyes shut, but found them forced open by an invisible hand. Before him was a scene all too familiar to him: staring out a dirty window, little hands pressed up against the cold, unforgiving glass, as his parents walked away without a backwards glance. Hand in hand, wind-swept black hair intertwining with auburn locks. With each step, Harry felt colder, and with each step, they were further and further out of his reach.
"No…" he pleaded, "No… come back! Don't leave me… don't leave me alone… I don't want to be alone – I don't like being alone! COME BACK! PLEASE! PLEASE! I DON'T WANT TO, I DON'T WANT TO, I DON'T WANT THIS! I WANT TO GO BACK!" his chest heaved, his diminutive fists striking futilely against the glass. "I WANT TO GO HOME! I WANT TO GO WITH YOU! WITH HAYDEN! SIRIUS! REMUS! I DON'T WANT TO BE ALONE!" he howled.
'You will be alone…'
He whipped around, fear gripping his heart in a vice-like grip. "W-who's there?" he demanded, backing up against the wall.
'You are alone…'
"No… I'm not…I still have…I've still got…" but no name fell upon his lips; no face blossomed in his mind.
'You will live alone…'
"I-I won't…! I won't be a-alone…"
'You will fight alone…'
Harry shook his head, his throat seizing up, and his lips moving soundlessly – wordlessly.
'And you will die alone…'
"NOOOOO!" he raged, clutching his head and sinking to his knees. "NO! I WILL NOT! I REFUSE! I WILL NOT BE ALONE!" Tears of anger and pain streamed down his cheeks and dripped onto the frayed carpet.
'It is inevitable. You are alone, cast out into the shadow of your brother, the Boy-Who-Lived. He will live a life with many friends, with a loving family. He will have many comrades to fight alongside with, and many disciples to support him. He will die in the arms of his family and friends. He will be mourned by all.
'You, living in the darkness, will be eternally alone. You will live unknown, wasting away in destitution and suffering, alone with your pains and grievances. You will fight your demons with a failing heart and mind, and will be supported by your broken body alone. You will die alone. And you will fade away from existence. Fade away from memories. Fade away from yourself.'
A rough purring that bordered on soft roaring invaded his ears. An acrid, burning smell attacked his nostrils and watered his already-shining eyes. Heat washed over him in waves, pushing him further and further into his despair.
'You hear that, Harry? That is the sound of existence – of Hayden's flaming existence, leaving it's mark on whatever it touches. But…'
Harry screamed, a long, drawn-out cry of pain and suffering. He dug his fingers into the burning carpet, scraping away at the tortuous ground with burning fingers. His hair danced with flames, his legs and feet obscured by dancing fingers of fire. He writhed and thrashed in agony, arching his back and slamming his arms into the ground, anything to cease the pain and suffering.
But no matter how painful the flames – no matter how much the flames burned him – he knew that he only screamed to drown out the vile, elusive voice whispering into his mind and ears.
'… these are also the flames of your death…'
And a high-pitched laugh drowned out his screams of agony, wracking his overloaded senses with fear anew. As he glanced up, the flames flickered and parted, revealing a tall, hooded figure towering over him. Blood-red eyes filled with disgust alighted upon him and the face – sallow, waxen and terrifying evil – sneered contemptuously at him.
Wreathed in flames and suddenly unable to move, he could only watch as the man raised his pale wand, aiming it directly between his eyes.
He didn't even scream; there was no time. One second he was staring at that face, framed with the dancing silhouettes of the flames, the next his whole world had turned green, and then he was sitting upright in his four-poster back in Gryffindor tower. He panted heavily as he clutched at the sheets with slick hands, his skin layered with a thin sheen of sweat. He stared at his red hangings for a minute, gasping for breath as the rational part of his brain slowly reasserted.
Then he groaned, softly, tiredly, and fell back into the rumpled covers of his four-poster, flinging a hand over his eyes. And beyond his hangings, for once un-Silenced, a pair of hazel eyes closed woefully.
Harry stared dazedly at the words he'd written not three minutes ago, now just meaningless scribbles blurring together before his aching eyes. He yawned widely, dipped his quill into the inkpot, and poised it over the parchment before setting it down again. He propped his chin in one hand and continued to gaze at the ink unseeingly.
Across from him, Neville snuck a furtive glance up at his tired face before returning to his Transfiguration essay. His quill made soft scratching noises as it moved slowly over the parchment, but was easily drowned out by Evan's continual yawning.
Eventually, he set down his quill and cleared his throat softly, interrupting his friend mid-yawn. Evan looked at him, eyes slightly glazed and immeasurably clouded with exhaustion. "Erm, are you alright, Evan?" As soon as the words left his mouth, Neville felt like ducking under the table. 'Of course he's not alright, what kinda question is that?' he mentally berated himself.
Embarrassedly, he glanced up quickly at Evan. The corner of his lips tugged up, but the smile didn't reach the other boy's eyes.
"Yeah, I'm okay."
"Oh…" Neville smiled back hesitantly. "Well, if you're sure…"
"Yeah…" Evan yawned again.
Silence fell between the two again as they returned to their homework unenthusiastically. Evan yawned continually. Neville glanced at him periodically.
After a strained period of silence, Neville sighed, put his quill and inkpot away, and waved his wand over the parchment to dry the ink. Evan glanced up at him blearily from having stared at the parchment motionlessly for five minutes.
Neville answered the unasked question, standing and packing his homework away. "I've had enough of Transfiguration. I think I'll go watch Quidditch practise or something…"
Inevitably, Harry's thought returned to Hayden. They were well into the second week of term, and his magical exhaustion passed and faded into sleep deprivation. His recurring nightmares were taking their toll on him, and it clearly showed in his pale complexion and the heavy shadows under his bloodshot eyes. And from the few times he had glimpsed Hayden, his brother didn't seem to be faring any better, although he had taken to avoiding his twin like the plague.
Avoiding his brother's company was easier than he had anticipated; Quidditch practices were once again scheduled five nights a week, in preparation for Gryffindor's upcoming game against Hufflepuff. When Hayden wasn't out flying around in the rain and mud, he was holed up in the library or common room, working on his homework frantically but more often than not poring through thick tomes with Ron and Hermione.
"Huh?" Harry glanced up automatically; he had settled into Evan Reeds' persona well that he'd almost started to think of himself as Evan. "Oh, right. Yeah, you go ahead. I'll see you at dinner or something," he replied, once he realised that Neville had been waiting for a response.
Neville looked him over again, not hiding the concern shining in his eyes. Harry shook his head. "Seriously, Neville, I'll be fine. You go ahead. Really."
"Alright." Neville gave him one last dubious glance before leaving.
Suddenly alone, Harry felt like he was suffocating under the oppressive silence of the library. Adding to his discomfort was the fact that Madam Pince was staring a hole into the back of his head, obviously remembering his recent offence of library rules. Unable to concentrate any more on his homework, he sighed, stuffed it into is bag and got up.
As soon as he stepped outside, gales of laughter assaulted his ears. There was a thud and a yelp of pain and fear. Harry's head whipped around, and he immediately saw the unmistakable blonde hair of Malfoy, flanked as usual by Crabbe and Goyle. The three Slytherins were standing just a few metres down the hall, and on the ground in front of them was a struggling bundle of robes.
It took a few seconds for Harry's sleep-deprived mind to process what he was seeing, but when he realised that the flailing bundle was in actuality Neville, an ice-cold fury seeped into him, chilling him to his bones. As he stared coldly at Malfoy's sneering face, he suddenly found his wand in his hand and raised it, aiming it at the blond aristocrat. He cast the Jelly-Legs Jinx and it soared down the hall and impacted with Malfoy's chest. The effects were immediate; Malfoy had barely a second to glance up in shock before his legs began wobbling uncontrollably and he collapsed in a heap.
Crabbe and Goyle stared blankly at Malfoy as he struggled to stand. The blonde Slytherin started spluttering angrily, catching sight of Harry moving down the hall swiftly to Neville's side. "What the – you! You'll pay for that, you filthy –"
Harry tuned out Malfoy's rant, kneeling beside Neville who was flushed in anger and shame. "You okay? What spell did he use?" he asked softly.
"The Leg-Locker Curse," he mumbled in reply.
"Finite Incantatum," Harry quickly cast, reversing the effects of the curse on Neville's legs. He looked back up sharply at Malfoy, who had, by then, undone the jinx on his legs and was staggering to his feet, face flushed in anger.
"You dirty little mudblood," he snarled, hair rumpled and previously immaculate robes horribly creased. "I'll have your hide for this. Mark my words, when my father hears of this, you'll be saying goodbye to Hogwarts and going back to your disgusting Muggle world."
"Is that all you can do?" Harry shot back, keeping his wand ready as he pulled Neville to his feet. "Use your father as a shield? Call people names? Really, you're just a snot-nosed, spoilt bully."
Malfoy had his wand raised and pointed at Harry in a flash. "Loco –"
"Expelliarmus!" Harry cried out, his voice drowning out Malfoy's.
The blond boy was quite surprised, but quickly dragged Goyle into the Disarming spell, blasting the heavyset boy down the corridor, his wand soaring through the air and landing with a clatter on the polished floor. Malfoy fired off another spell and Harry cast a shield charm before countering with the Impediment jinx. It missed by a few inches and Malfoy retaliated by firing off an unfamiliar curse. Harry ducked, pulling Neville down with him, and while in his crouched position he cast a Trip Jinx at Malfoy.
He and Neville were forced to leap apart when another curse hit the empty space between them. Harry advanced upon the blond boy, flicking his wand quickly as he cast the Impediment Jinx again, following it with a Disarming spell. Malfoy attempted to cast the shield charm desperately, and it fizzed into life briefly before the first jinx smashed it out of existence and the second spell knocked him down.
He snatched Malfoy's ebony wand out of the air and glared down at the blond. "All bark and no bite," he smiled mirthlessly.
Harry whirled around upon hearing Neville's cry of alarm. He had his wand raised, but seconds later he realised that a stick of wood would be useless against heavy fists the approximate size, shape, and weight of small boulders. Crabbe's fist smashed into his abdomen and he doubled over in pain, coughing as he struggled to bring air back into his winded body. He was vaguely aware of his wand clattering against the marble floor and Neville's shout, but was still reeling from the sudden assault.
He felt a meaty hand grab him roughly by one shoulder and wrench him back upright. Through a blur of tears, Harry saw another fist bearing down on his face and instinctively reacted. He planted both feet into Crabbe's bulky midsection and pushed with all his might. They were propelled a sizeable distance away from each other as Harry leapt away and rolled into a crouching position, clutching his abdomen. Crabbe stumbled back several paces but didn't fall.
The thickset Slytherin boy grinned at him and moved forward, cracking his knuckles. Despite the tenderness of his stomach, Harry couldn't help but welcome the adrenaline rush and anticipation of a physical brawl with an almost feverish delight. He felt a smile stretch his face and Crabbe hesitated slightly before lunging at him.
Harry easily dodged under his adversary's right hook, and jabbed the tips of his straightened fingers into Crabbe's proportionate gut, before leaping away. Crabbe grunted in pain & clutched his stomach briefly, before lunging for Harry again. This time, he aimed for Harry's face with the intent to grab him roughly. Harry simply moved to the side, grabbed the trunk-like wrist, and brought the side of his hand hard into Crabbe's neck, eliciting gagging sounds from his victim.
He released the trunk-like arm and backed away, dodging the blind swipe that would have taken his feet out from under him. Crabbe glowered at him and lumbered towards him slowly, causing Harry to back away in response to his advance. He felt the heel of his foot hit the wall and glanced back needlessly, swearing inwardly.
Crabbe grinned, and lurched forward, hands clenched into meaty fists. Harry smiled coldly; he had counted upon Crabbe having minimal spatial and environmental awareness. He waited until the thickset boy was less than half a metre away before leaping to the side, blurring out of Crabbe's vision. An expression of surprise and bewilderment adorned his meaty face, in the split-second before he smashed head-long into the wall.
There was no time for Harry to celebrate, however, as something that felt like a sizeable branch smashed into the side of his head, momentarily blacking out his vision. When he could see again, he was lying on his side on the marble floor, staring at a pair of extra-large shoes. Head throbbing and vision wavering dangerously, Harry raised his head up slightly and saw Goyle standing over him, grinning triumphantly.
Before his disoriented mind could even comprehend escape, the Slytherin pulled back one foot. Harry's eyes widened, realising what he was going to do to him – with someone as large and heavy as Goyle, Harry's adolescent and slightly malnourished ribs would simply shatter.
A war-cry of sorts rent the air and something knocked into Goyle from behind. The Slytherin staggered, but remained standing as that certain something wrapped its arms around Goyle's head. Harry blinked several times.
"Behind you, Evan!"
Harry whipped around immediately, and took only a second to process the sight of Malfoy aiming his wand at them before tackling into the blonde aristocrat, grabbing him around the mid-section and pulling him down onto the floor with him. He knocked Goyle's wand out of Malfoy's hand before they had even stopped rolling from the momentum of Harry's tackle. They came to a stop, robes tangled and slightly dizzy, with Harry pinned inadvertently under Malfoy. He paused for a moment to regain his bearings before kicking Malfoy off, causing the blonde to be flung bodily into the air and a couple of metres away.
Harry staggered upright, and saw Neville being held aloft, his feet inches from the ground, Goyle's meaty fists clenched around the Gryffindor's neck. Harry charged forward without a second thought and barrelled into the Slytherin. Unlike Malfoy, however, the thickset boy didn't fall and was merely surprised enough to release Neville, who dropped to the floor gasping for breath.
Goyle saw Harry, grabbed the front of his robes with one hand, and smashed his other fist into Harry's jaw, causing black spots to dance erratically in and out of the smaller boy's vision. Harry oriented himself enough to feel that his feet were still grounded and that Goyle still hadn't released his robes. The world spun dizzily, however, and he steadied himself by grabbing onto Goyle's thick arm, bringing his other hand back as far as he could before throwing the tightly-clenched fist into Goyle's eye.
His captor howled in pain, and reached up to clutch his eye with one hand; the punch did little to aid Harry in his plans for escape, and, if anything, Goyle's hand merely held onto Harry's robes even tighter. Harry, feeling his school-issued shirt begin to constrict his airways, grew slightly desperate and began throwing jabs at Goyle wherever he could reach: shoulders, chest, stomach, neck… the shirt twisted around Harry's neck steadily constricted further and further, until his vision started to fade into grey at the edges. He closed his eyes and grasped Goyle's unrelenting arm with both hands, panic settling in slowly, but surely.
'Let go… let me go, damnit! Get off me…!'
He heard someone scream, loudly, and startlingly close, but was already on the edge blacking out. He clutched at his throat, coughing as he steadied himself against the cool wall with one hand. He could hear loud shouting, angry demands interspersed with encouraging cheers and heckling jeers, and had barely raised his blurred eyes from the ground when a sharp, commanding voice made itself known above all else.
Harry felt his whole body freeze, held by invisible restraints in his crouching position. He was aware of the din in the corridor rapidly diminishing into soft whispers. The Gryffindor raised his eyes as far as they would allow, and saw the similarly frozen body of Goyle. The Slytherin was in the act of grabbing at his arm, which was sporting angry red boils.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could just barely see the limp, unmoving body of Crabbe where he had collided with the wall. Neville, however, was no-where in sight; neither was Malfoy. He assumed they must have engaged each other in combat, but, unable to see anything, held back from assuming anything else.
Suddenly, the invisible restraints released their hold on him, and also on Goyle, and Harry swivelled around – still crouching – to see Neville and Malfoy, both with their wands outstretched and the latter sporting a head of what appeared to be flowers where his slick blonde hair would usually be. Harry felt laughter bubble up in his chest, which promptly burst before it could even escape when he saw, just beyond the two opposing pure-bloods, Professor McGonagall.
"Never… in all my years as a Professor… in all my life… have I ever laid eyes upon such – such… indignity!" Face tight and pinched in fury, Professor McGonagall suddenly seemed at a loss for what to say, although Harry inwardly guessed that she was at a loss of what to say first. Her lips thinned and she suddenly spun around on the heels of her feet, gesturing angry for them to follow.
"You four – follow me. Someone take Mr. Goyle to the Hospital Wing," a few students scuttled forward to comply as the Transfiguration Professor continued, "and someone inform Professor Snape to come to the Headmaster's office immediately."
And without another word, she began to march briskly down the corridor, the crowd parting before her like the red sea before Moses. Harry reluctantly picked himself up from the floor and followed, falling into step beside a dejected-looking Neville.
"- and to have five upstanding students degrade themselves to such an indignity as physical brawling, let alone the breach of using magic in the corridors, is most shameful – yes, even you, Mr. Malfoy, and besmirching of the school name, not to mention your houses…"
Professor McGonagall halted in her angry tirade, pale and trembling with anger, when Dumbledore raised a hand. "Thank you, Professor McGonagall. That's quite enough… for now." He turned his penetrating gaze on the four students standing in front of his desk. "I would like to hear what they have to say for themselves."
Harry met Neville's fearful gaze before meeting Dumbledore's, and shrugged moodily, staring at the various gadgets that were littered around the Headmaster's office. He felt rather than saw Professor McGonagall bristle at the blatant lack of respect, and could feel Snape – standing behind Malfoy and Goyle – sneer at him.
In the heavy silence of the office, with more than a dozen pairs of eyes staring down at them disapprovingly – the portraits weren't bothering to feign sleep – one of them was sure to crack, Harry mused. Predictably enough, Malfoy spoke up first, his face and voice strained with anger as he perpetually grasped at what had once been his hair.
"My father is going to hear of this! When the board of governors hear that three well-meaning students were brutally assaulted, without provocation –"
"Can it, Malfoy," Harry rolled his eyes. "You really think that we –" he gestured between himself and Neville – "would try to take on you three?"
Malfoy reddened, and made a jerky movement as if to draw his wand, but the restraining hands Snape had put on his and Goyle's shoulders prevented him from going any further.
"Hold your tongue, Mr. Reeds. It is rude to interrupt others when they are speaking."
"Speaking? He was just listening to the sound of his voice… as usual."
Snape's sneer intensified into a glare. "You are in enough trouble already, Reeds, so refrain yourself from speaking anymore!"
"You make it sound as if I were the only one about to be punished, Professor."
"Enough," Dumbledore inserted firmly. "I suppose what happened to initiate this tussle is irrelevant. What matters is that five students were in serious breach of half a dozen school rules, causing physical and magical injuries, and were completely aware of their doing so. Therefore, the consequences shall be equally and appropriately laid out." He glanced at both Heads of Houses briefly, and seeing no disagreement, continued.
"Each House will be deducted fifty points, and every one of you shall serve a month of detention with various Professors. Is that understood?" Seeing no protests, although Malfoy was working his jaw soundlessly in horror, and Neville was trembling in shame, he nodded in disappointed satisfaction. "Very well. You should all have Madam Pomfrey check you over. Mr. Reeds, if you aren't in immediate need of medical attention, I would like for you to stay behind."
Harry nodded, and stared silently at Fawkes' empty perch as Neville and the Slytherins were ushered out wordlessly. Once the door clicked shut, Harry sighed and flung himself into the proffered chair, meeting Dumbledore's disappointed gaze sullenly.
"I'm very disappointed in you, Harry," he chided, and Harry twitched at what he perceived as the 'babying' tone.
'Nah, really?' he snorted inwardly.
"Your recent behaviour is quite disturbing and alarming, especially your attitude towards your brother. This… altercation with Mr. Malfoy and his friends has done nothing to reassure me that placing Hayden's safety and well-being in your hands is the right choice.
"I regret having to do this, but I'm afraid that you must either pull your act together, or abandon your duty. These past few days are leaving me more inclined to return you to your family so that you may live a normal life."
'… what the heck is he blathering on about?' Harry thought in disbelief. 'He's the one who put me in the orphanage in the first place!'
"I'm sorry, Headmaster, but I'm afraid to say that these past few days – weeks, even – have been making me less inclined towards staying at Hogwarts," he said, not sounding contrite at all. "If that's all," he stood, returning Dumbledore's sorrowful stare with a pointed look.
Dumbledore sighed. "You may go to the Hospital Wing, now."
Harry left without a word. The door clicked softly shut behind him, and as Dumbledore listened to the fading footsteps, he couldn't help but worry over the situation he was slowly being worked into.
'Things are not going as planned.'
Over the next few weeks, Harry and Neville found themselves the recipients of a House-sized cold shoulder. Within a few hours of the fight erupting, the news of their point deductions and detentions had circulated all around the school. While the point deductions hadn't landed them in last place, it had still depleted a sizeable chunk of rubies from the bottom bulb of the Gryffindor hour-glass, and placed them in danger of coming last.
For Harry, this hadn't bothered him as much as he'd expected it to, so he simply shrugged and went on with his studies. Neville, however, hadn't taken well to the fact that he'd contributed to Gryffindor's point loss – added to the fact that he rarely gained any points, Neville's self-esteem had hit an all-time low. His parents had owled him not long after the incident and Neville seemed to shrink in on himself further as he read the letter. Harry, having been irritated over the fact that several people had deemed him hex-worthy lately and somewhat apprehensive of facing his mother in History of Magic, had dragged Neville to the library immediately. Harry had refused to let Neville simply write a letter of apology and take the blame, and watched as his friend wrote a reply-letter, explaining what had really happened.
The two Gryffindors sheltered more often in the solitude of the library to complete their homework, as the stares and whispers behind their backs had begun to grate on even Harry's usually tolerant nerves. Another advantage of studying in the library was that their fellow housemates were reluctant to try to hex them whilst in the domain of Madam Pince. The last person to have tried that had apparently been caught by the librarian and promptly tossed out, their books having sprouted teeth and snapped at him for all of a month.
Another advantage to being estranged from the House, Harry soon realised, was that he had less trouble than before in avoiding Hayden. Of course, Hayden's absence could be attributed mostly to the fact that Quidditch practises had once again been scheduled five times a week, in preparation for Gryffindor's upcoming match against Hufflepuff – which Snape, of all people, would be refereeing.
When Hayden wasn't out flying around in the rain and mud, he was holed up in the library or common room, working on his homework frantically. And most of the time when he wasn't flying around half-blind from rain, Harry didn't need to see him at all, due to the fact that he and Neville had many detentions to serve. With at least four detentions a week, and Hayden having five nights dedicated to Quidditch, avoiding his twin brother was almost too easy.
The detentions, however, were another story.
Most of the time they were assigned to help Filch, and every time they were designated to aiding the hostile caretaker, they cleaned anything and everything. From impossibly-dirtied floors to grubby windows, from the dusty ornaments in the Trophy Room to the frequently-flooded corridor outside the first-floor girls' bathroom, they all had to clean several times – without magic. At one point, all five first years were assigned to cleaning the whole of the Great Hall after dinner, including wiping down the tables and benches. The most the house elves had done was to clear the food from the plates. It had taken them all of the night and it was only when early risers had started trickling in that the Deputy Headmistress had allowed them a reprieve and sent them back to their towers, where they slept the rest of the day away until their next detention.
The two Gryffindors and three Slytherins were rarely assigned to detention together, excepting the cleaning of the Great Hall and one other incident when all five were assigned to cleaning the stands of the Quidditch Pitch, which took all day. Both the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff teams came out at separate times to practise, tossing the Quaffle back and forth as they raced up and down the length of the pitch. The Beaters took to hitting the Bludgers at anyone, even each other (Fred and George Weasley engaged each other in a Bludger beat-down, whacking the enchanted balls between each other at a rapid pace). The Seekers were simply assigned to catching the Snitch, as usual.
The night before the long-anticipated Quidditch match, Harry and Neville had been assigned to mop up the voluminous puddle of water just outside the girls' bathroom, working steadily into the night as high-pitched wails drifted out of the bathroom. After several nights of monotonous mopping, Neville had grown accustomed to the wails and no longer jumped or slipped in a puddle every time the self-pitying ghost inside wailed. Harry had honestly felt no curiousity towards making the ghost's acquaintance, but once he had found out that the ghost had died when they were only twelve, and had been the only student in history to have died – apart from the occasional Triwizard Tournament champions – he'd felt a frequent urge to investigate further into the mysterious circumstances of Moaning Myrtle's death.
When the two Gryffindors finally dragged themselves up to their dormitory, eyes drooping and steps wavering precariously, they muttered incoherently and staggered to their own four-posters. Harry flopped into his luxuriously soft bed, pausing only to strip his sodden shirt and jeans off, not bothering to change into his night-clothes.
Morning came all too quickly, sunlight dancing across his eyelids after what seemed like only a few minutes of plagued sleep. Rubbing his bloodshot eyes, he listened to the movements beyond his hangings for a few moments without acknowledging them. When he did, he remembered the Quidditch match and froze, before sighing and reaching for a clean change of clothes that didn't smell like cleaning agents.
Despite feeling lethargic for the past week and wanting to avoid his brother, he knew that what had happened in the very first Quidditch match back in November had been an attempt on Hayden's life, and no doubt from Quirrell. He had little doubt that Snape was refereeing so as to keep a closer eye on either Hayden or Quirrell.
When he stepped out of his hangings, a wave of relief swept over him; Hayden had apparently already gone to breakfast, if the absence of his Quidditch robes that were usually tossed onto the chair was any indication. Dean and Seamus were rushing around the dorm, grabbing their cloaks and scarves and gloves, all the while smoothing out the large enchanted banner of the Gryffindor lion that they had made back in November.
Ron was no-where to be seen, so he assumed that the red-haired boy was already downstairs. Neville's hangings were still in place around the boy's four-poster, and deep breathing could be heard from within. Harry's lips quirked up slightly at one end, before he yawned widely and manoeuvred around the giant banner laid out on the floor, making his way to the bathroom.
By the time he'd finished refreshing himself and re-entered the dorm room, Neville had woken up and was staring on from his bed as Dean and Seamus struggled to re-animate the lion – Hermione's neat little charm had worn off. The brown-haired boy glanced up and smiled sleepily at Harry, his greeting lost in a loud yawn. Harry offered a tired half-smile in response, before disappearing behind his hangings to grab what he felt he'd need for the day: his wand, definitely, his two daggers, and his favourite black jacket in favour of the school-issued winter cloak.
Tugging at his wand holster slightly, he gave one last cursory inspection of his armaments, before nodding in grim satisfaction and leaving the dorm swiftly. Dean and Seamus looked up from the banner at the sound of the door opening, and only glimpsed the heel of Harry's shoe in his departure.
"Silent as a ghost," Dean muttered, shaking his head wryly.
"Hey Evan," Neville smiled in greeting.
He slipped into the spare seat beside him. Harry only grunted, eyes flickering over the crowd and, more specifically, over the Professors' stand. Quirrell was sitting beside the Arithmancy Professor, and was smiling nervously as he stuttered out a conversation. He tucked his clammy hands into his pockets, and sighed tiredly. Almost directly opposite him sat Lily and James Potter, along with Remus and Sirius. The excitement was almost palpable on James and Sirius' faces, but there was an undeniable air of tension and apprehension around them. Clearly, they were all worried about the events of November's match.
At that moment, the Hufflepuff team marched proudly onto the pitch, to cheers from at least half of the gathered crowd. The Slytherins, expectedly adverse to the Gryffindors, had chosen to support the Badgers, and, while they hadn't decked themselves out in black and yellow, were quite obviously cheering for the Hufflepuff team. The Ravenclaws were half-and-half, black-and-yellow interspersed with red-and-gold.
Almost as soon as the cheers died away, the Gryffindor team made their entrance, and the sheer volume of noise from the Gryffindor section of the stands stunned Harry. He rubbed his ears, glaring half-heartedly at the sky as if it were the source of all his troubles. Neville giggled behind his scarf and turned to talk with Hermione and Ron, both looking suitably anxious.
The cheers continued as the two teams came to a halt in the centre of the pitch, Snape standing between them. All too soon, the Captains had shaken hands and the teams mounted their brooms.
The whistle cut through the cheers and jeers shrilly, and suddenly the air was filled with fourteen flyers swooping and cutting through the chilly air. Snape was soon among them; his whistle blew almost immediately as Fred (or George) smacked a Bludger into a Hufflepuff Chaser's broom, spinning him around wildly as the Quaffle he dropped was snatched up by Alicia Spinnet. The Gryffindors were stunned into momentary silence before their voices began screaming and shouting their rage.
Harry soon found himself ignoring the rest of the gameplay, his eyes focused solely on Hayden. His brother was floating high above the game, scanning the pitch like a hawk. There was a commotion behind him, but Harry didn't turn to look, even when Malfoy's voice cut through the cheering around him.
"Oh, sorry Weasley – didn't see you there," he said, not sounding apologetic in the least.
Harry rolled his eyes and gripped Neville's upper arm. "Don't get involved," he muttered, seeing the brown-haired boy stiffen.
He ignored Malfoy's snide comments and the rest of the gameplay, seeing as it was more often than not disrupted by the sharp cry of Snape's whistle. He continued eyeing Hayden, but averted his eyes briefly when he heard his alias' name.
"– people they feel sorry for. See, there's Potter, whose brother got offed, then there's the Weasleys, who have no money – you and Longbottom should be on the team too, Reeds, you've no family and Lonbottom's got no brains."
"I-I'm worth twelve of you, Malfoy," Neville said, turning in his seat to face Malfoy.
Harry smiled lightly, before returning his eyes to Hayden, keeping half an ear on the words being exchanged. He could hear the tension straining Ron's voice, but his words were cut off when Hermione (and most of the crowd) gave a gasp, rising to her feet.
"Ron," she squealed, "Hayden –!"
"What – where?"
Hayden had gone into a steep dive, and as he descended rapidly, the crowd rose to its feet, pointing and cheering. Abruptly, Harry felt something like an elbow ram into his ribs, and he instinctively whirled around with a dagger already in his hand. His eyes scanned the spectacle of whirling fists and tangled robes before he remembered where he was, and quickly returned it to its sheath sewn into the inside of his jacket. He turned back in time to see a scarlet blur shoot past the unaware Snape, and pull out of the dive with a fist raised, clutching something shiny and fluttering. He smiled lightly and sat back down, and felt eyes on him.
Hermione was staring at him, eyes wide. Harry inwardly cursed as he raised a deceptively-nonchalant eyebrow at her. The girl flushed and turned away, cheering again for Hayden, but Harry saw the question in her eyes – he knew she'd seen the dagger in his hands. He turned away as well, choosing to stare on detachedly as waves of Gryffindors closed in around Hayden. He could see their parents, and Sirius and Remus, along with even Dumbledore converging on the red-haired Seeker. The Hufflepuffs gathered together disappointedly. The Slytherins were sour-faced and grumbling, but none were as sour-faced as Snape, who spat bitterly on the ground.
Harry rubbed his eyes tiredly as he plodded back to Gryffindor tower, returning from checking up on a bruised and battered but immensely proud Neville. Madam Pomfrey had only reassured him that he would be back to classes on Monday, before beginning to scrutinise his face critically. Harry quickly bade them both goodnight and left hurriedly, not wanting to stay in the Wing either.
He felt slightly foolish for believing that Quirrell would try something again with so many people alerted by the events of November's match, but being prepared was better than nothing. 'Now if only Hayden would give up on this Stone business…'
But as he passed a closed classroom door, he heard three distinct voices arguing inside, and paused outside to listen.
"… that the Stone's only safe as long as Quirrell stands up to Snape?"
"Then it'll be gone by next Tuesday."
'Damn wishful thinking.'
Author's Note: Eh-hehe… well, what can I say? This chapter was kinda hard to write, just don't know why…
Eh, whatever. Next chapter will hopefully be ready in five-ten days, as I'm seriously hoping to post before the 29th, because that's when school starts. Eep, so nervous about year ten… and exams… anyone have any advice? Beh, so anxious.
Well, see ya next time. Toodles!