Harry kicked the couch and hopped on the cushion. He crossed his arms and pouted. Why did Dudley and Piers get to go to the amusement park and the aquarium, while he had to stay with old Mrs. Figg. He wanted to go too. Aunt Petunia had said he could go if he was a good boy and did his chores, and did extra chores around the house. Lies. All lies. Like always.
He closed his eyes and imagined himself getting the same lavish treatment bestowed upon Dudley when his birthday comes up in a few weeks. He was going to be eight years old. He was going to be a big boy.
"Would you like a bit of cake?" asked Mrs. Figg, coming into the sitting room with a ginger cat held in her arms.
Cake for him? He usually wasn't allowed sweets. Aunt Petunia said they didn't have money for him to go the dentist if he got a cavity. He nodded exuberantly, smiling widely. He even remembered his manners enough to say, "Yes, please."
Mrs. Figg appraised him through her thick, brown glasses. "Do you want to watch Mr. Buttons while I go fetch you a slice?"
Harry looked at the ginger colored cat with its thick fur and unusually ugly face. If an animal could frown than the cat would be doing it. Mrs. Figg laughed quietly at his silence, mistaking it for shyness.
"Don't be shy!" she assured him, stepping forward quickly before he could refute the claim. "Here now. Just hold him like this."
She settled the cat in his stiff arms. He looked at the cat and it stared at him with slitted green eyes that looked quite unfriendly. He smiled shakily at Mrs. Figg not wanting to make any sudden moves, quite positive he would be scratched to death at any moment.
"I'll be back in a few minutes," said Mrs. Figg, smiling warmly at the sight of Harry sitting on the couch with her favorite cat.
Harry watched as she departed the room, long gray dress sweeping ground as she walked. Quiet giggling erupted in the armchair to the right. Hope sat in the chair, chewing on a strand of her long blond hair. She giggled once more at his uncomfortable expression.
"You look silly," said the little girl, grinning at his disgruntled face.
Harry chuckled. "I bet I do."
Johnny mirrored the chuckle as he appeared with one foot propped on the coffee table. He gazed at Mr. Buttons with his dark eyed gaze that Harry himself often found himself falling into. He never saw anyone else with eyes like Johnny.
"I don't like cats," stated Johnny, his gaze trained on the feline.
Harry frowned, feeling the sudden tension that seemed to come from the bundle of fur in his arms. He looked down at the cat as Mr. Buttons head moved left and right, slowly gazing around the room. Harry let the cat jump from his grip.
A tiny amused grin played across Hope's lips. "Ooh. Kitty wants to play."
"Maybe we should play in the other room?" wondered Harry, feeling weird for some reason by the smile on Hope's face as she stared at Mr. Buttons.
Johnny snorted, and stood up properly. He glared at the cat and Mr. Buttons hopped off the couch and froze. Harry frowned at the glaring cat as he hissed loudly, ginger hair rising in response to his rising agitation.
"What's wrong, Mr. Buttons?" Harry asked softly, biting his lip between his teeth worriedly.
He didn't have a cat. Was he supposed to pet the cat now or something to get him to settle down? Harry looked at Johnny for help, but the older boy was staring at the cat with his deep black eyes that went on and on, like the bottomless ocean. His lips curled into a tiny, tiny, smile that made Harry, for some reason, think of monsters in the dark.
Johnny looked at Harry, the black in his eyes rapidly overtaking the white. "Do you think Mr. Buttons wants to play?"
Harry swallowed, transfixed by the dark gaze. Mr. Buttons meowed so loudly that Harry had to cover his ears, as the cat swiped at the air with clawed paws. Abruptly the cat jumped into the air as quick as lightning. Harry heard a sickening splat and he reflexively closed his eyes, as the sound triggered something in the back of his mind that he knew, knew wasn't a good noise. He heard a thud and all was quiet. He opened one eye and then the other. Slowly he looked down. Mr. Buttons was an unmoving mass of ginger against green carpet. His eyes were wide open, so very wide, as his dead body forever was fixed into a face of fear.
Hope laughed, joyfully clapping her hands. "Again! Again!"
"Not in this life," Johnny remarked, whistling a jaunty little tune.
A scream reverberated through the room. Mrs. Figg ran to Mr. Buttons, the plate and cup of milk on the floor where she dropped it in shock. Harry took a step backward feeling bad for the hysterical woman. Her sobs were loud and full pain, like she had just lost a piece of her heart.
Hope stood over the spilled food and shook her head disapprovingly. "She made a mess."
Harry stared at the Velcro on his shoes, tears pricking in his own eyes as the heartbroken crying tugged at his own heart. "We were playing…and then—He seemed really upset… And then he just fell. He's dead isn't he?"
If she heard his soft voice through her haze of grief she didn't show it. Mrs. Figg sat on the ground, Mr. Buttons supported in her arms, rocking back and forth with tears splashing against his cooling body. Harry looked up at Johnny, who wore an odd smile, as he watched the sobbing woman murmur soft words of comfort to the dead feline.
"I guess Mr. Buttons didn't want to play after all," said Johnny with a shrug of his shoulders.
A hole appeared in Mrs. Figg's heart in that moment.
More cats appeared in her house after that awful day. Black ones, tabby ones, white ones, but never any ginger ones. Never. Ever.
So many of them to fill a void in her heart that could never truly be filled. Harry never questioned the large number of felines like every other neighbor on the street. Sometimes they look at him intently, searching, and he wonders do the cats see something in him no one else can. Do they know that he was there the day their predecessor died? Or do they see something else?
When he walks past Mrs. Figg's house, he claps his hands over his ears to drown out the accusing meows that seemed to follow his steps, and he pretends he doesn't hear two voices, one male and the other female, laughing behind him. Always behind him.
He pretends a lot of things.
Whispers in the Dark.
by: Water Mage
Chapter One: You Want to Play?
Disclaimer: Don't own Harry Potter. If I did I would buy my degree instead of going to college.
He kept looking over his shoulder. Harry expected Hope and Johnny to make another appearance, but his steps didn't have that echo and whispers full of enticing promises didn't tickle his earlobe. Grimmauld Place was long gone behind him, and he tried with all his might to put the memory of the ghost from his past behind him as well.
"Can you pass the pudding, Harry?"
He blinked as the sound of his name broke his circular thoughts. Hermione sat on his left, staring at him with a patient smile. The sounds of the Great Hall washed over him, the rising and falling conversations of the Sorting Feast, brought him immediately back to the present. Harry passed the pudding, catching the way Hermione's smile slipped as her gaze filled with concern.
"Are you okay, Harry?" she asked softly, so the others couldn't hear.
He sighed, wondering if he was going to be asked this once a day. "Honestly, Hermione. I'm fine."
Harry wasn't fooled by the nod just as she wasn't fooled by his answer. She was still worried about him. He would have to be blind to miss the way she watched him carefully from her peripheral vision.
Ron chuckled from his seat to the right of him. "And she was the one that said worrying will stop once you got to Hogwarts."
Harry mirrored his wry smile. "Like I believed that."
They shared a private laugh and Hermione stopped her conversation with Neville and turned to them eyes narrowed. "What was that?" she asked, suspiciously.
"Nothing," said Ron and Harry, simultaneously.
She muttered a comment about immature boys before turning back to her conversation with Neville.
Ron rolled his eyes at her typical retort. He listened with half an ear as Ron talked about their about upcoming classes with a mouthful of pie. Something darted on the edge of his line of sight. He looked past Ron, searching quickly as his heart threatened to explode from his chest. His lips went dry, as he stared around the hall for the source. Nothing. It took a full minute and a half for his heartbeat to return to normal. It was just his eyes playing tricks on him. They weren't here.
"Harry, are you even listening?"
Blue eyes watched him puzzled. Harry nodded, offering a sheepish smile. "Yeah. You were talking about Slughorn teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts."
Ron nodded. "I wonder how he'll compare to the others. He can't be too bad if Dumbledore asked him to take it as a favor."
"No one can be worse than Lockhart anyway," reasoned Harry.
Dumbledore stood up and the noise of the room ceased immediately. The headmaster wore purple and silver robes and a matching hat perched high on his head. He smiled widely at the gathered students, looking more like the muggle depiction of a wizard than any of those gathered. Harry noticed his hand was still as dead and blackened as earlier in the summer, when they lured Professor Slughorn out of retirement and back into the halls of Hogwarts. Whispers broke out as eyes fell on the hand, and Dumbledore merely smiled as he moved the blackened hand behind his back. Hermione muttered sadly something about it looking cursed, and that it surely must be dead.
"Welcome to all new and returning students," said Dumbledore, blue eyes as ever twinkling behind half moon spectacles. "So many faces ready to learn. I hope summer was wonderful for everyone. Some announcements must be made. First, I would like to acknowledge a new member of our staff. I should say new to you. Professor Slughorn has taught at Hogwarts before for many years, and has returned to his old position as Potions master."
On cue there were gasps and voices broke out, speaking in frenzied whispers all at once. Harry's jaw dropped as his mind tried to piece together the missing piece. Wasn't Professor Slughorn supposed to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. It was the only position that was open—
"And Professor Snape has kindly agreed to take over the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts," said Dumbledore, his voice easily carrying over the raised voices.
The shock that followed the announcement was immediate. If Hermione hadn't grabbed his forearm Harry would have stood up, screaming his outrage. He bit his tongue hard. Fury welled inside his chest as he glared at the smug Head of Slytherin, as he nodded to the applause that was coming from only the Slytherin table. His favorite subject, the one field of magic he excelled at, and it was now taking over by the person he hated most in the entire school. Malfoy, he loathed sure, but Snape was a different matter. He would love nothing more than to see him suffer as he had made Harry suffer, whether intentionally or unintentionally, over the years.
"Can you believe this!" demanded Ron, rounding on Harry.
Hermione lips were pursed so thin that they were simply a straight line. "Harry, I thought you said Professor Slughorn was teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts. Why would Professor Snape still want the position anyway? He knows by now that job is jinxed!"
The job was jinxed. How many teachers had failed to last more than a year? All of them. They left one way or another, sometimes in a body bag. That wasn't right. They hadn't found enough to Professor Quirrell to even put coffin. His remains were put in an urn, and according to rumor sent to the Department of Mysteries for testing. To this day Harry still wasn't sure if Quirrell died from prolonged possession by the spirit of Voldemort, or if overexposure to Harry's skin infused with his mother's protection did him off. Either way he didn't care how the teacher died. He felt nothing for the man's death. Sometimes that worried him.
He tuned back in and barely caught the end of the announcements as Dumbledore warned the students of Voldemort's rising strength. The castle was now more protected than ever, as new modifications had been made to its existing protections over the summer. A distant voice in the back of his mind mocked Harry that the castle's fortifications couldn't protect him from what already waited within. His head snapped around. He clenched his fists together, trying to keep his expression neutral. It was in his head. He glanced left and right gauging others to see if they had heard the voice too. He let out a shaky sigh realizing it was all in his mind.
Professor Dumbledore ignored the swell of conversations that followed his announcements. "Classes begin tomorrow and this wonderful meal has made us all quite tired I'm sure, so go on to your dorms and rest up. You're dismissed."
Harry frowned at the old wizard. What was he thinking letting Snape take over Defense Against the Dark Arts?
"The man is a practitioner of the branch of magic he's supposed to teach us to defend against," said Ron, making Harry realize abruptly that he had voiced his thoughts aloud. "Like we're going to learn anything from him this year. Not if it means we won't be easy pickings when him and his Death Eater buddies go prowling."
They followed the mass of students filling out of the Great Hall. Hermione shook her head. "I must admit I fail to see what the Headmaster has in mind by moving Professor Snape to the Defense position."
"Maybe the curse on his hand is affecting his mind," speculated Ron. "Or maybe he's finally going senile."
"Ron!" said Hermione scandalized, slapping his shoulder. "That's a horrible thing to say!"
She sent him in a disapproving glare and stalked off toward the aimless looking first years. Her prefects badge looking freshly polished was pinned on her robe, and she was in her element as she guided the younger students away.
"You're not going to help her?" asked Harry, as Ron walked with him to the stairs.
Ron snorted. "That girl is more than enough prefect for them."
Harry laughed and they got into discussion of the upcoming Quidditch season. As captain it was going to be his job of running the team. First he had to form a team. Most of the players from his days on the team were gone so they needed some new blood. He felt a chill on the back of his neck like someone's breath ghosting over his skin. He clenched his fist, fighting the urge to turn around and look. He knew what he would see, and what would see him.
Ron cocked his head, watching Harry's face that suddenly turned gray. "You alright, mate? You look like you're going to be sick."
Pretend. Pretend. He mustered up a half smile, his insides burning with anxiety. "I feel a bit off. I guess the food didn't sit right."
"That's too bad," replied Ron concerned, patting his shoulder. He jerked a thumb behind them. "You want to head down to the Hospital Wing. Maybe Madam Pomfrey can give you something for it."
They climbed through the portrait hole after the other Gryffindors they were walking behind. Harry shook his head. "I think I'll just go up to bed, and sleep it off."
"Good call," said Ron, leaning on the edge of one of the study tables. "Her potions usually taste awful. Well I hope you feel better in the morning."
Harry looked around for Hermione to tell her goodnight, but she was probably still giving the first years the tour of tower. He entered their dorm and found his trunk in front of his usual bed. He toed off his shoes, closing his eyes as he let out a slow exhale. How long could he keep this up? There was no way he could continue like this. Jumping at shadows and always watching for them. He wasn't that same naïve kid anymore who danced hand and hand with the monsters in the dark. He knew what those monsters really were, and what befriending them turned him into.
Dressed now for bed he climbed into it, and closed his eyes praying that the bed bugs really didn't bite. It wasn't hard for Harry to go to sleep. He simply closed his eyes, and let go of the stress that lingered between his eyes and through his muscles.
He didn't hear his dorm mates enter an hour later. He didn't see Ron stop by his bed, and give him a look of concern before he also turned in for the night. The night passed by the soft tick of the clock, and the noises of sleeping bodies that tossed deeply in sleep.
And he dreamed. He dreamed of childhood friendships, and broken promises. Pinky swears and screams of terror. Of watching the clouds in the sky for familiar shapes, and perplexed frowns that followed his delighted introductions of his two best friends. Horrified expressions from past faces repeated themselves through his dreams, following him through the years just as they did, always there watching.
Reality interrupted his endless dreaming as the real world broke through his cycle of sleep. Ice ran through his veins, becoming so a part of him that he felt like he was its embodiment. From head to toe every piece of him felt the coldness that clung to him like a second skin. His eyes snapped open and they widened in momentary confusion before the fear took hold, as he realized what the unexpected phenomenon was.
Moonlight fell through the windows illuminating the room enough so he could make out the slumbering forms of his dorm mates. His skin hurt as the cold seemed to seep into his muscles and bones. Shadows that clung to Neville's trunk distorted visibly, as they began a familiar movement that had him stifling a scream. His knuckles were white as he clenched the comforter in his tight grip, watching the twisting, growing shadows that were churning like some dark whirlpool.
The process that used to entrance him as a child now opened a door of despair in his heart that ought not to haven been opened, and terror assaulted him in a whirlwind of emotion. His teeth chattered as the cold became too much. The shadows seemed to bend and then they stretched sharply, and from the display appeared a figure that he wished would have stayed in the past, and in his nightmares.
Johnny stood on top of Neville's trunk with his arms stretched out as if welcoming the world. Even in the dim moonlight he could see that dark gaze land on him, deep black eyes glittering with unreadable emotion, and he shivered only not from the cold.
"Is it play time yet?" asked Johnny.
Harry shook his head, and his breath puffed out in a visible misty like air. "Go away."
Johnny crossed his arms, his form tall and straight, composed, and intimidating. "Why? So you can forget about us again? Like you did before."
"I didn't forget about you," denied Harry. "You went away so I—"
"Stop wanting to be our friend," interjected Hope, suddenly appearing to his right.
The blond girl sat on Ron's bed, one leg crossed over the other. Her red dress resembled the color of blood in the dim light of the room. She idly twirled a length of blond hair around her finger, and flicked her eyes to Harry with a lazy smile. He wasn't conned by the smile.
"We've told you before. We never went away," she said. Hope took one look down at Ron, who slumbered away beside her. Her lip curled into a malicious sneer. "You got new friends and you stopped seeing us. And that makes me very unhappy," she lamented. "This one is pretty. Can he play with us?"
She ran her fingers over Ron's face and he moved in sudden restlessness, as his face grew pinched in distress. Hope's fingers trailed over his neck and his face paled suddenly. Ron's freckles stood out in sharp contrast against his white skin, as his breath came out in a staggered gasp. Hope giggled as Ron made a pained sound in his sleep.
"Stop it!" demanded Harry, grabbing his wand from the dresser.
Hope turned to him and her eyes were pitch black, dark as the shadows that hung against the walls. "You would fight for him?"
He swallowed heavily not taking his stare or his wand off her. "If it came to it."
A flood of panic swept over Harry warning him of approaching danger. A chorus of voices screamed in the back of his mind danger, danger, danger. He whipped his wand around sharply and trained it on Johnny who stood at the foot of his bed, shadows extending from him as he rose up, growing impossibly tall like some ancient titan of legend. His eyes were black from edge to edge and dread rose in him, smothering what safety he felt by the wand in his grip. He shivered in the cold chill that swept through the room, and ice slowly crawled up the length of his bedposts.
Johnny's anger fell upon him almost like a mental force that erupted into a searing pain between his eyes. "Do you really think to use that wand against us, magic against us? Do you not remember when you were a boy, and you clapped your hands and cried that you believed in faeries. We were the ones that comforted you after your aunt slapped you across the mouth, and forbade you from ever watching such films, and telling you magic didn't exist."
Harry closed his eyes, fighting against the pain and the rush of memories.
"And now you think to use magic against the ones who kept your belief in it," said Johnny, his words pressing down on Harry like a weight against his mind.
Harry took what little courage that still lingered within and hissed, "Os Fracta!"
Obsidian light, so like the color of Johnny's eyes, jumped from his wand. The spell passed through Johnny's towering form, and splattered harmlessly against the stone wall near Dean's bed. The little courage he had wrestled forth died as the Bone Breaking Curse failed. Failed. Failed. He bit the inside of his cheek hard, stifling the scream of anger, frustration, and blinding terror that threatened to erupt forth in a torrent of sound.
"That was a stupid mistake," said Hope in the tension filled silence.
He didn't see her move. She had always been like that. Too fast for him to see. Too fast for him to stop. Harry blinked and when his eyes opened Hope was a hair's breath away from his face. One inch forward and they would be kissing. A kiss that would suck away his soul so like the Dementors he also feared, but that was a distant fear now that the true masters of despair had returned.
"Harry, Harry, Harry," sing songed Hope, eyes blue again. Blue was good. Blue was safe. For now. "Do you not want to be friends again?"
She wasn't real. She wasn't real. They weren't real. Johnny wasn't standing at the foot of the bed ready to pour terror down his throat. Hope wasn't so close to his face that he could see the malevolent glee that danced within her irises.
Harry stared at her right cheek, determined not to look again into those lying eyes. "Go away. I don't need you anymore. You're not real. I'm not crazy."
A dainty looking hand snatched his chin in a grip that was iron tight. Fingers flexed and a pain filled moan involuntarily left his throat as they dug sharply into his skin. His head tilted up till he was forced to look into her eyes. Eyes that were pure black. Not safe. Not safe. Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes as those fingers didn't budge from their painful hold.
"Does this feel real?" asked Hope, her voice deep and demanding. "You remember this feeling. Know that there's no escaping us. We were here first, and we're not going away. It's either them or us, and you should know… We don't like to share."
Harry had to fight to swallow. Yes, he remembered. How could he forget that? They liked him. They always had. No one ever got in the way of their friendship with Harry. No one ever has, he closed his eyes, no one ever will.
"Please, Hope. Just go—"
Go away. Go away. Go away. He chanted over and over in his mind. He wasn't crazy. They weren't real. He was too old for them. Too old to need them. He had people who cared about him. He just wanted them to go away. Far away. Away. Away. Away.
"We like you too much to give you up without a fight."
He heard the foreboding proclamation, dread filling his chest, but he refused to open his eyes. He just wanted it all to stop. All of it to stop. Somehow. He prayed for it, hoping that someone would hear his silent plea.
He didn't know how long he lay there, eyes closed, silently chanting his mantra. He didn't care. The fingers leave his face. The cold eventually vanishes, taking away its icy chill. He kept his eyes closed through it all, chanting. Anything was better than seeing them, whether they were gone or not. He didn't want to see. No. No. No. Not even a peek. He just had to wait it out. They would leave like they always did.
Magic couldn't protect him. No one could. They wouldn't be satisfied till it was just like old times.
Times he couldn't go back to.
The fear left him so numb that he didn't know when he fell asleep. His welcomed slumber was full of childhood fantasies that he had half forgotten once magic became his everything.
He dreams of a sun filled afternoon. He's spinning in circles, hands held in the cold, and strong, always so very strong grip of Hope. She's smiling at him, blonde hair spilling behind her in a wave of gold. Away from them sits Johnny, cross-legged, back against a tall willow tree with a smile on his face.
Again, this will be a short story and will end in another few chapters. Thanks for the reviews, and Harry's friends are definitely interesting. Just have to figure out what exactly they are.