Dan couldn't breathe. He couldn't breathe as people cheered; as they jeered. He landed on his feet in a graceless thud and one look at Marcus Flint's sneering, contorted face was enough to make him abandon his broom and run. He pushed past laughing Gryffindors who were dancing in the snow and raced up the icy path back to the castle. He was no Gryffindor. There was no strength in his body to face the wrath of his house members just now.
His feet did not stop until he reached a corridor on a floor that seemed so far away the depths of the Slytherin dungeons that he finally felt safe enough to pause. He sat on his haunches with shaky hands digging into his dark hair and let out a sigh that left a white cloud behind. He was embarrassed to note his vision was blurring. He put his hands on his face as if to hide his shame and started sobbing.
"Hear ye, hear ye," George Weasley could be heard from across the common room's din.
"The new Gryffindor" His twin perched on an armchair shouted.
"The Slytherin Defeater," George continued as if they had practiced all night to be so good at seamlessly completing each other's sentences.
"Our new seeker," Added Wood, uncharacteristically loose limbed and languid.
"And the reason for all this commotion," Percy Weasley added grumpily.
And they continued adding more attributes which made Ron roll his good naturedly while he handed Harry a chilly bottle. Harry peered down at the frothy substance and took a sip of the cool, sweet drink that reminded him faintly of butterscotch.
"Ah, Butterbeer, how much I missed you over the hols," Dean Thomas crooned at his own drink. Everyone else nodded their approval. Ron had inched closer to Hermione and was now handing the last bottle to her without meeting her eyes. She looked like she was pretending the exchange hadn't happened at all and that her hands had moved on their own accord.
"The twins are the best. I always wondered how they get their stash and smuggle it in with McGonagall none the wiser," Seamus asked.
"Beats me. They never tell me anything although Dan did mention tunnels. He said his dad would reveal more when we started..." Ron trailed off realizing who he was talking about. His mouth firmly clamped shut.
"Yeah, he did," Neville said softly and shared a look with the redhead. They both had lost a friend and it would be ridiculous to pretend it still did not hurt.
"Knowing the twins, I can guarantee it's probably very dangerous," Hermione remarked in critical tones. Her tone may be grouchy but she was clearly enjoying herself. A couple of meters away Harry could see a group of first year girls eyeing her beadily and whispering among themselves furiously.
"Of course," Ron agreed amiably. He knew his brothers too well to argue.
It had gotten so dark that Dan couldn't even see the front of his hands. He still had his wand stashed in his sleeve but he couldn't be bothered to start his famous blue flames to counter the cold that seeped through his clothing. He had sat frozen on the brick floor for hours as if the pain would be a penance for his rubbish Quidditch skills.
Dan was cleaning his face with his arm for the hundredth time when he heard a squeaking sound, as if a rat had gone past him. He raised his neck vainly to his left when he was grabbed by the neck from the right and he was faced with a glowing wand firmly in his face.
Professor Snape rounded on him like vicious bat and Dan couldn't prevent the sound that his mouth let escape.
"Stop snivelling, you little brat," The man's grip on his shoulders was sharp and unrelenting, "So this is the place where you've been hiding."
"M' not hiding, Sir," Dan trembled with a strange sense of fear and relief.
"Oh, I wonder what your Gryffindor parents would like to call this then. You should be grateful I did not inform them of your truancy from dinner. I knew you wouldn't be foolish enough to leave the castle."
"T-thank you, Sir."
"Oh, don't thank me yet. I may have been vague about your whereabouts to your family who just departed the castle with that odious child but I will not meddle with the on goings of my Slytherins."
"I'm dead, as good as dead," Dan's hands shook.
"Dead is only dead when you've had your last breath," Snape muttered with his voice dangerously soft, "You lost Potter. Do you know what that means?"
"That I'm not the best. That I'm failure. I'm just a nobody."
"Yes, that's true. I can't sugar coat your failings but that does not mean you curl up and wait to die. We Slytherins always strike back, always. It doesn't matter how many days, weeks, years go by. We always bide our time and take our revenge. Conquer and defeat even if it is only our weaknesses."
Dan watched Snape's eyes glittering in the wand light and wondered who the unlucky target of Snape's wrath was. That hatefulness was directed at someone, that he was certain about. There was some sod somewhere that would one day make a silly move to let his guard down in front of the man and then he would strike making his vengeance complete. Dan shivered at the thought and hoped he would never be so foolish as to poke such a deadly snake as Snape.
The professor let go of the child and the poison fled from his eyes once again making him look like a sneering, impenetrable fortress.
"Don't let them see you in this state. They'll have you for supper if they do."
Harry's stomach was in no way prepared for the dinner laid out in front of him. It swirled with candy and butterbeer but he had no heart to inform his godfather that he couldn't take another bite. He was sitting with Sirius and Remus enjoying a perfectly normal, late night, summer barbeque in the middle of winter. Harry wondered what their muggle neighbours thought of this peculiarity.
James Potter walked back into the garden and Harry looked down at his plate trying to look busy. They had not had the opportunity to talk much since the disaster at the press conference and he did not wish to rehash the sobbing speech on his shoulder again. Both his parents had lost their composure and had enveloped him after the explosion. One photographer, who had never let go of his camera in spite of the disaster, had caught that moment and it had been the image every single newspaper had carried the next day.
Harry's hands shook as he remembered the heat on his fingertips. There was nothing there, of course, only dark, sticky sauce that looked so much like blood in the dark candle light. Everyone thought he had gotten out unscathed like everyone other than the person who exploded but they just didn't know how it had hurt... His fingers tingled remembering the burnt flesh. It was as if nothing had happened.
"Lily's tucking Rosie into bed. The poor thing couldn't keep her eyes open. I hope the day's excitement hasn't worn you out yet, Harry," James asked kindly. Harry shook his head at his sticky ribs.
"I heard there was party in the common room that lasted the whole day," His father added with a grin, "Poor McGonagall was complaining."
"The Potter effect, of course," Sirius noted smugly.
"Indeed! And he's the youngest seeker in a century!" James, Sirius, Remus and Lily, who had just arrived in the garden patio, added in unison. Everyone but Harry burst out laughing.
"Yes, dear, go on. Tell everyone a hundredth time that your son made the Quidditch team on the first day of school," The late arrival grinned.
"I bet your aurors kick you out early tomorrow after their ears start bleeding," Sirius chortled.
"As if you wouldn't announce this to everyone if you actually worked your lazy rear," James sneered.
"Not my fault I'm independently wealthy," Sirius exclaimed airily.
"As if I don't know you have a business down-" Remus teased looking 10 years younger. Harry wondered whether it was the dim light or the company.
"You wouldn't," Sirius hissed, lifting his knife in a sword like fashion, "You swore on our Marauder code."
"Alas I did."
"Have you told anyone what you do as a job," Harry asked.
"Never telling anyone," Sirius mimed his lips shut.
"You should be lucky none of can read your mind," Harry blurted, "Can magic even do that? Make you read people's minds."
"There are ways, I think..." Lily trailed off genuinely trying to remember.
"If anyone can it has to be Dumbledore. He always knew who did what when we were called up to office," James remarked with a full mouth of food.
"I think I've read about it too but it's much too advanced that I never bothered to read beyond the book's preface," Remus nodded at his rare cut of meat.
"I am certainly relieved," Lily smirked and the whole argument turned even more juvenile then it had been at the Gryffindor table.
Dan's trunk was sitting outside the Slytherin common room with a weepy looking Davis sitting on it. She looked like she'd been smacked in the face a couple of time and her hair had been pulled viciously. Busltrode's scarf was torn at one end and hung on her shoulder like a limp noodle. She jumped off the trunk the second she saw him looking surprised and hopeful at the same time.
"I tried to stop them but the fifth years wouldn't budge. I-I- it was brutal."
"Of course it was," Dan answered monotonously. He could see singe marks on the trunk. Clearly someone had tried to break in and failed. He was grateful he had remained too paranoid to leave it open after the first few weeks of hostility in the Slytherin common room.
"Even Zabini was furious that they invaded the dorms. I think someone tattled and Snape was down here in an instant. They were meant to lie in wait for you and got him instead. It got the whole lot of them detention for trying to slime a professor. I would laugh but it probably got things worse for you."
"How's everyone?" Dan asked so expressionlessly Davis wondered if he had finally found the spell that rid a human being of his soul.
"We haven't had the opportunity to talk. Nott has been muttering in a corner somewhere while Malfoy's huddled with the first years trying to fix the dorm. They're waiting for you," Davis winged her hands nervously.
"To beat me up,"
"No, silly," The girl laughed nervously, "You're the only one who's good enough to get the dorm back in shape."
Dan nodded and tapped his trunk with his wand. It shrunk enough that he could simply place it in his pocket. Davis goggled at him but did not comment. Dan uttered the password but no passage welcomed him.
"They changed the password and that's why I've been waiting for you," Davis looked around nervously. Dan was momentarily suspicious about her intentions. Was she part of the plan to pacify him enough to make him an easy target?
Davis coughed out, "Blood traitors." And finally the passage appeared.
The common room was eerily quite. Davis had indeed been right. In spite of Snape's proclamation of not helping him out of the mess, the man had somehow cleared his path. For Slytherins an acceptable punishment was to be locked up into the dorms and it looked like trying to prank Snape had been a good enough reason to banish everyone to their dorms.
But Dan was not stupid enough to believe he was safe just yet. Davis bit her lip nervously looked at her dorm door with longing. She had clearly been sitting in wait for him some time and was probably aching to get into the warm comfort of her bed. Dan gave her a thin smile and with a wave of wand all her injuries melted away. He saw her jump at the sudden tingle and squeezed his hand as a thank you.
He watched her silently and then finally made it back into his room where all of his dorm mates lay in wait.
Dan looked at Malfoy with a guarded expression. The pointy faced bloke was lying in bed looking at his ruined canopy. Dan's own bed was impeccable and unchanged in appearance. He felt delighted to see his charms had worked. He pushed off his shoes and got under his covers without even attempting to get undressed.
Dan thought he was too disturbed to fall asleep but sitting on cold brick was more tiring than he had thought. As soon as he felt himself go into a slight doze he felt movement beneath his covers. Alarmed he reached for his wand but found himself face to face with a serious looking Malfoy.
"It'll be okay, we'll get our revenge," Malfoy whispered, proving him wrong and the knot in Dan's throat receded. All his apprehensions about losing his friends drifted away.
"Yeah, we will. I won't let anyone trample us over. Not the Gryffindors, nor the fifth years. They will pay."
"Yes, when you come over to my house I'll introduce my Quidditch coach. He'll make you unbeatable. That is, you are coming over during the summer holidays?"
Dan had as of yet received no permission but he did not care, "Yeah, course I am."
"Good, mother's finally convinced Davis' mum to let her come over with us boys because they'll have other girls over. She was probably convinced Busltrode wasn't actually a girl."
Dan snickered, agreeing whole heartedly, "Yeah."