Ch18 Dark Deeds
The second week of December brought not only a depressingly cold northern wind, but the halfway point of the Polyjuice potion. There was no joy in this remarkable achievement for Harry, though. His mind was elsewhere and had been for some time. His Human, Ginny, had been on a continual downward slide into depression since shortly after they had arrived at school and nothing he had done had made a lasting impact on improving her mood. Sure, she cheered up when they visited the Kneazles, especially the kittens, or when the unicorns paid their monthly visit, but nothing lasted. As soon as they were heading back to the castle her oppressively dark mood returned with a vengeance.
What was worse, Harry couldn't even find what was bothering her. Her marks were abysmal and she had confessed that she wasn't sleeping. The more he pressed, the more she fought him. Harry never thought that her independent streak would become a detriment to Ginny's health. Harry was determined to find out what was bothering her and only the constant badgering of Hermione and Ron kept him on track for their eventual goal of prying the information from Malfoy about the Chamber of Secrets. The only thing he could pin any of her mood on was the fact that Mum Weasley had insisted she come home for Christmas, 'to spend time with family'. Never mind the vast majority of Weasleys would be prowling about the deserted castle for two weeks.
"Really Ron, can't we just... I dunno, beat it out of him?" Harry whined. "It would be faster and we wouldn't have to muck around with all this complicated brewing."
"Harry, I'm with you. I really am, but Hermione would have a fit. She's already put so much time into this, I'd hate to waste it," Ron replied shortly. They'd been having the same conversation for the past week and Harry's only explanation as to his consternation was that he was worried about Ginny. Ron had tried to tell his friend that she was just having a hard time with classes and the first time separation from home was getting to her, but Harry was having none of it.
That night saw all three potion conspirators clustered in a corner of the Gryffindor common room. Ginny had gone to bed just after dinner claiming a stomach ache, leaving a very worried Harry to discuss plans to pilfer the remaining potion's ingredients. "What we need is a diversion," Hermione said judiciously. "I think I better do the stealing, if Harry gets in anymore trouble he'll be expelled and Ron, you can't lie to save your life."
"Oi! Not true, I've lied plenty of times."
"How many of those did you get away with it, though?" Harry replied smugly.
"Umm... a few..." Ron replied uncertainly.
"Twice, and you know it, and that is only because Dad Weasley didn't push," Harry chided. Turning his attention back to Hermione he was confronted with another very quizzical look. He felt rather like a toad being prepared for minute dissection. "I'll do it," Harry said suddenly.
"What?" both his friends replied, confused.
"I'll get what we need. Bicorn horn and Boomslang Skin, right?" Hermione nodded dumbly. "Well then, that settles it. Lessons are done for the night and I'm off to raid the Wizard..." Whistling brightly Harry clambered out the portrait hole. When Hermione and Ron followed him a few seconds later, he was nowhere in sight.
"Ron, last year at Christmas, you told me Harry was an odd bloke. Do you remember?" Hermione queried.
"Of course. Then you yelled at me for being judgmental or something," Ron replied.
"I'm sorry for that. He really is an odd bloke."
The odd bloke in question had long since made a feline beeline for the dungeons. Harry's acute senses allowed him to avoid several frisky fifth-year Ravenclaws and the Weasley twins who appeared to be holding a large bag and wearing sets of brightly coloured earmuffs. Harry really didn't want to be the in the fur of the intended prank target. The twins had become both more devious and far more dangerous in their pranks. Harry privately wondered if they weren't switched at the beginning of the year with a pair of Slytherins.
The one good thing about all below ground hallways in Hogwarts was their abundance of shadows. Harry's natural colouring gave him the edge here and he knew it. Moving quickly along, he almost ran straight into the arguing pair of McGonagall and Snape.
"No favouritism will be tolerated, Severus!"
"That's rich coming from you. Going to give up protecting your precious Potter?" he sneered.
Harry listened for a moment and decided nothing of interest was going to be gleaned. Snape hated him and McGonagall was family, it was only natural they should feud, he thought. The Potions classroom was ahead and Harry moved with purpose. However, standing in front of the door was a large brightly coloured box. The kaleidoscope of colours instantly drew his attention and the ribbon begged to be untied. The box was about two feet high and quite square. Prowling around its outside, the previous mission temporarily forgotten, Harry finally located a piece of the ribbon that hung down enough for him to untie without the use of longer limbs or thumbs. Tugging on it for a minute the piece of silk finally came undone and floated gently to the floor. Standing awkwardly on his hind legs, Harry tried to see what was in the mysterious package. He later wished he hadn't.
The top of the box exploded open, and letting loose a shrill cry. Half a second later all Harry knew was blackness, the drumming of approaching feet lost to the cold grip of unconsciousness.
After what felt like an eternity crossed with mere seconds, Harry began the slow swim through the murky blackness to the eventual brightness of the Hospital wing.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Potter. How are you feeling today?" a falsely cheery Professor McGonagall asked.
"Merow..." was Harry's only response. Damn! He'd forgotten to change back. Apparently his inner monologue was apparent to his Head of House as she smiled, genuinely this time.
"I'm glad. We were beginning to worry. You're extremely lucky to survive a Mandrake cry at that proximity. Now you wouldn't happen to have had anything to do with its placement would you?" Her eyes bored into him. Harry did the only thing he could think of when confronted with the powerful force of Professor McGonagall's stare. He took a bath. Head... ears... paws... tail... one by one his powerful and rough tongue scrubbed his black fur to a glossy shine. He was shaken out of his ritual of evasion by the loud voice of Professor McGonagall. "Poppy, would you please come here."
Harry's eyes went wide, and then narrowed in silent accusation. He wasn't allowed to tell anyone, but if his guess was correct, and Kneazle's guesses usually were, then he was about to give his secret to yet another relatively unknown factor. Where was the justice? Where was the secrecy the bespectacled Kneazle-molester had droned on about? Soon the whole castle would know!
"Mr. Potter, I understand your reluctance, believe me, I do. However, I had told you that with your penchant for getting into trouble Madam Pomfrey may need to be informed. I encouraged you to do it yourself, but you decided against my suggestions. With your most recent activities I am pushing the issue. Madam Pomfrey isn't a veterinarian. She has done admirably with you in the past; however, I must say that may not be enough in the future. My job, Mr. Potter, is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of ALL my students. I take particular care with family." The final statement hung with an air of ominous formality. Harry did feel more comfortable with his cousin there, he was still nervous about the reaction of his next confidant.
"Yes, Minerva?" The voice of Poppy Pomfrey came around the curtain just before her body did.
"Poppy, Dumbledore and I have asked much of you over the years," McGonagall began, "And I would like to thank you for everything you've done thus far, but most especially with this most recent case."
"No more than what I've always set out to do, Minerva. I've sworn to heal. While magical creatures are more Hagrid's speciality than mine, I think he's on the mend now."
"Yes, he is. In fact, this particular Kneazle is rather unique, wouldn't you agree?" McGonagall asked vaguely.
"I would, if for no other reason than you've brought him here. Kneazles, pardon my saying so, are rather common animals. If you didn't take him to Hagrid, I would have thought you might have put him down, were he too badly injured to go back to the forest."
"Ah, you see there is a bit more to it than that, but before we discuss it I must have your solemn word that nothing we discuss here will ever be divulged."
"Minerva, the very nerve! I am bound by my healer's oath and that includes all my patients. I found no discriminating clause that says one must be on two legs to qualify."
"Please, Poppy, it is the only way he'll feel comfortable enough to show you," McGonagall pleaded.
"Show me what? Oh, very well, though this is all a bit redundant. I swear on my profession as a Healer and the oath of Hippocrates that I will not divulge my patients' secrets now or ever, barring the need to save his life."
"Thank you, Poppy. Satisfied, Harry?" McGonagall fixed the black Kneazle with a piercing glare, as though daring him to disagree. "I think you should show her now."
Despite the raging headache, Harry felt the electric current run up his spine and before he knew it, he was sitting cross legged on the bed, locking eyes with a speechless Madam Pomfrey.
"Well... that certainly explains a few things," Poppy said softly.
"Wait, what happened?"
"Ron, I told you. I opened a box I think was meant for Snape," Harry sighed. They'd gone over this three times already and he was trying to eat his supper. Hermione was trying to puzzle out the reasoning behind it all, Ron was interrogating in case there was some minute detail Harry had left out, and Ginny (whom Harry had insisted they finally include in it all) was nervously worrying about him.
"And a teenage mandrake just happened to be inside? Blimey mate, are you blind? Someone is definitely trying to do away with you," Ron fumed.
"How? Those little buggers aren't lethal; I don't even have permanent hearing damage. A few more days maybe, I really think it was just a bad joke. Someone would have to know exactly where I was and where I was going. I just don't see how it's possible, Ron."
"Could have been that Dobby again. Really, if he doesn't stop trying to save you, he's going to kill you." A squeak from Ginny's portion of the table gave the signal for Harry to steer the conversation back to safer waters.
"It was a joke, Ron. I'm sure of it," Harry growled.
"A joke on who?" Ginny piped up. The strain of worry on her face was plain.
"Sparkplug, I don't think it takes a wand maker to figure this one out. A dangerous package was placed in front of a very unpopular professor's door late at night. Had I not arrived first and opened the present, our beloved Potion Professor would be in my shoes and I would be running about barefoot," Harry explained gently, trying to ease her worried mind.
"I suppose that makes sense. Why would you be barefoot though?" Ginny finally responded, the dark cloud lifting a little.
"Because Snape would have my shoes and once he was done with them I do think they'd be a bit stretched out."
"Harry, sometime we really need to discuss your literal interpretation of life," Hermione rebuked. "Now, tomorrow we've a double class of Potions again. So, unless Harry fancies another midnight stroll, I think we'd best stick to daytime larceny," she continued. "We need a distraction, and I'll nick the supplies."
"Neville and I will take care of the distraction," Harry responded. "Ron, if Snape notices anything I'll need you to stall him."
"Wait a second, mate. How are you going to convince Neville to help? I wasn't in favour of letting Ginny in on this little project and Neville is a weak link. Why don't you and I work together on it?"
"Because Snape will notice if something changes. Any change will be a dead giveaway. Don't worry; he won't know what hit him. As for how I'll get Neville to help, all we need is for him to be blind for a minute or two. He'll do that for us. We just will have to tell him later that is my only condition," Harry concluded.
"Fine, if that is the only way," Ron sulked.
The nefarious plotting finished, all four headed to bed and an uneasy sleep, knowing that if any of them were caught they most likely would not live to face another detention. The next day rose the same as its predecessor, however, and after a final and hushed 'good luck' from Ginny over breakfast the trio of conspirators moved on to the dungeons and the hell that awaited them there. One more thing needed to be accomplished before the plan was ready though.
"Neville, can you talk a moment?" Harry inquired.
"Harry," Neville began cautiously, "you've got that look in your eye again."
"What look?" Harry responded in what he hoped was an innocent manner.
"The look a cat gets when he's about to pounce a mouse."
"That could be the situation here..." Harry let the words dangle, Neville was naturally a curious boy and Harry waited for him to take the bait.
"What can I do?"
"Excuse me?" Neville looked thoroughly confused.
"Be blind. We're about to go into Potions and something startling might happen, and if it does I need you not to see it."
"Anything I can help with?" Neville grinned at Harry's startled look.
"What? I don't understand."
"We're going into Snape's class, no secret there. If there is something that needs done, I'd like to help."
"Well, let's see..." The possibilities with an accomplice began to unfold in Harry's mind and with it a slow predatory grin crossed his face.
An hour into class and Hermione gave the signal. Harry was ready, his Swelling Solution was already primed, all it needed was a special ingredient. Harry had discovered in one of his many unfortunate brewing attempts the previous year that despite their deliciousness, Kneazle treats were not a worthwhile brewing ingredient, which was why he was willing to sacrifice a whole bag that Arabella had bought him at the end of the summer. Sacrificing Kneazle treats to something other than his stomach had to be a kind of heresy. He would ask Isis for her eternal forgiveness later. Clandestinely dropping the entire bag into his cauldron, Neville immediately dropped a Remembrall his Gran had sent him last year. The shattering of glass drew some attention, but gave Harry an excuse to not be at eye level with the cauldron as he helped his brewing partner clean up the shattered mess. Harry had never been gladder he was on the ground in his life.
A few seconds later Harry's cauldron exploded in a thick black fog, hurtling thick chunks of black molten goo, up and out. The cries of alarm permeated the impenetrable fog; so Harry missed the departure and return of Hermione, the front of her robes bulging. Snape moved quickly through the fog to each station, his memory of the classroom allowing him to navigate without sight, checking each of his students for injuries. Finding none, it appeared that whatever the black material was, had no lasting impact but was at first touch remarkably hard to remove from any table.
Snape opened the door and conjured a magical wind to help dispell the acrid smoke from his domain. After a few minutes the dour professor surveyed the damage. Surprisingly enough the only visible harm came was a black and twisted cauldron belonging to his least favourite student. "Potter," His voice was deathly calm. "Would you care to explain?"
"I don't know, Professor. I think perhaps potion making may not quite be for me."
"That much has always been obvious. However, if I find that this was intentional, I will ensure that expulsion is the least of your worries," the older man's eyes were dangerous slits now.
"If you do Professor, I expect that you will. May I clean up now?" The boy's cheek did nothing to placate his teacher.
How Snape hated the Potters, every sodding one! It would only be natural that the boy would inherit his father's cheek along with his looks. A pity his mother didn't give him anything else. Lily... Snape squashed the line of thinking ruthlessly. With a quick nod he went to check the results of the other students' potions.
Harry quickly cleaned what was left of his cauldron and disposed of it. He'd have to send for another he supposed. Leaving the class as quickly as decorum would allow, he was followed by all three of his friends. Neville spoke first. "Bloody hell! That was brilliant. I don't think I've ever seen the old codger so furious. Why though, Harry?"
"Something to do, I suppose," Harry replied evasively. "Look, I'm sorry Neville, but I can't say anything more right now. I'll tell you... say after Christmas." The pudgy boy nodded.
"I'll hold you to that, Harry. Do you need another cauldron?"
"Well, yes, I melted mine."
"I've got another, well dozen, I suppose, but you can have one if you need it."
"A dozen? Why so many mate?" It was Ron's first contribution to the conversation.
"I'm always melting them, aren't I? And Harry asked me last year why I didn't just keep a few lying about. So I decided it was a good idea," Neville shrugged, "I'll see you all later." With that parting shot the round-faced boy walked off.
Seemingly alone Harry whispered "Did you get it?"
"Of course. Harry, how many did you add?"
"The box, why?"
"I told you only a few!" Hermione whispered heatedly. "A few, too many could cause disastrous results."
"I thought that might work better for us," Harry replied easily.
Ron groaned. "Leave it to Harry to decide 'disastrous results' might work better for us. Have you taken a look at everyone who's staying over Christmas hol's?"
Both Harry and Hermione shook their heads. "The little fink Malfoy is staying over, along with his two gorillas. Perfect timing don't you think?"
Harry smirked, "I'd say sexing fantastic." Harry missed the very odd looks Hermione and Ron shared at his unusual comment.
"Harry, you know Snape thinks it was you, don't you?" Ron said uneasily.
"Of course, it was me. I wasn't going to disguise my melted cauldron, now was I?"
"Why didn't you just use the fireworks like we talked about?" Ron asked irritated. Sometimes Harry's thick head really got on his nerves.
"And where were we going to get some? We can't owl order them in, and that leaves really only one reliable source. Do you fancy asking your brothers for some?"
Ron blanched. "No, I suppose not."
"Then don't worry about it. We've what we need and I'm not in detention this week. Spectacular, all things considered." Smiling to himself, Harry waltzed on to lunch.
Fighting their way through a crowd of people gathered in a knot in the Great Hall, Harry and Ginny stood staring at the cause of it all. A piece of parchment had been pinned up announcing the starting of a duelling club that night. "Could come in bloody useful," Dean Thomas said loudly.
"You reckon Slytherin's monster can duel?" Seamus Finnegan asked.
"You going, Sparkplug?"
"Sure, just like Dean said, could be useful."
That night Harry's Pride followed him into the Great Hall with anticipation.
"Who do you think will be teaching?" Ron asked.
"I don't know, could be Professor Flitwick. I heard he was a dueling champion in his day," Hermione replied.
"So long as it isn't… Bloody hell," Ron groaned as one Gilderoy Lockhart appeared on the stage, loudly announcing his competency as the dueling instructor and generously allowing Professor Snape to help him. Harry focused intently on the mock duel. His mind still wasn't completely made up on the blond professor; perhaps Dumbledore was holding back his true teaching potential. If that was the case, Harry would see it here.
The wand gracefully soared out of Lockhart's hand as the man was thrown backwards and helped up by several students.
"Well, that's enough demonstration. Experience is the best teacher after all," Lockhart announced
Harry grinned. Now they were getting somewhere. Unfortunately, his attempts to pair up with one of his Pridemates was foiled by the crotchety Potions Professor, so Harry found himself paired with a Slytherin girl who reminded him of either a troll, or a Rottweiler that had its face shut in a car door.
A few minutes later, the whole room was in chaos. More than one fistfight had broken out, and numerous jinxes had to be reversed. Harry stared piercingly at Lockhart, who for his part merely shouted 'Stop, stop!' Harry hated to admit it, but he was impressed with Snape's control of the situation
"Well, I think it might be better to start out teaching you how to block unfriendly jinxes first!" Lockhart cried. "Now, who should we choose? Ah, Longbottom and Finnegan, I think."
"Not a good idea, Professor," Snape cut in. "Longbottom can devastate with the simplest spells. We'll be sending what's left of Finnegan to the Hospital in a matchbox. How about Potter and Mr. Malfoy?" The calculating expression on Snape's face did nothing to relax the imaginary fur bristling on Harry's neck.
"Excellent! Yes, now Harry, here is how you block an unfriendly spell," Harry wasn't paying attention. He'd learned this as a kitten before he knew anything about fancy magic or schools. The best way to block something is not be there to hit. Bouncing a little on his feet, Harry studied his opponent. Would the spell aim high or low? Would there be a quick follow up? Harry doubted it. Malfoy seemed like the type to study his results. He crouched low, wand held loosely in his right hand. Harry shifted his weight once more. He gave a curt bow, possibly one of the most ridiculous Human customs, and waited.
"Go!" Lockhart's shout scarcely registered before Harry shot forward and rolled low. His adrenaline was pumping quickly and he failed to hear the loud cry of 'Serpensortia!' as his own 'Tarantallegra' shot out and touched his opponent. Rolling once more Harry came face to face with a large snake.
"SONOVA BITCH! Mother Sexing Dog Kennel!" Harry yelled.
"Something wrong, mate?" The snake asked mildly perturbed.
"You... you can understand me?" Harry was thoroughly confused. He hated snakes, and they hated him. He'd run across them from time to time in Arabella's back yard and had disposed of them with ruthless efficiency. Ever since his littermate Ignotus had been killed by an Adder, Harry had no use for them. So the… cordiality of this one was surprising to say the least.
"Of course. You're a speaker, we can all understand you. You've a rare gift, not many of us have ever had a conversation with one of your kind."
"I see, where did you come from?"
"Where all conjured things come from."
"Ah," Harry found the snakes evasiveness a little disconcerting.
"Would you mind going away then? No offense, but you're scaring everyone a little I think," Harry noted the wide eyes from everyone in the Hall.
"I wish I could, but like all things conjured I require a banishment to return."
Harry puzzled on this a moment and then stood up and looked directly at Professor Lockhart. "He says he'd like to go back. Could you Banish him?" Harry asked.
"Excuse me?" Both Professors in attendance were dumbstruck.
"He'd like to go back. That is, if Malfoy is done playing about," Harry grinned.
With a swish and flick of the wand Professor Snape Banished the offending reptile and stood glaring down at the child of his schoolyard enemy.
"Thank you, Professor. Try not to look so put out, I'll get you another snake if you want one," and smiling, Harry jumped off the stage and walked through a crowd of people, who were now fighting one another to get out his way, over to Ginny and whispered "Sparkplug, let's get out of here. I think I've had enough duelling for today."
Jerking his head at the door, Harry let Ron, Hermione and Neville know what he was up to and they followed suit, watching him intently the whole while as though waiting for a sign from Merlin himself.
"Harry, why didn't you tell us you were a Parselmouth?" Ron demanded once they were out of sight from the Great Hall.
"A Parselmouth, you know, you can talk to snakes."
"Oh, well, I've never done it before."
"You said that about flying, too," Ron looked piercingly at Harry. "Is there something you aren't telling us, mate?"
"NO! It was true then and true now. I've never talked to a snake before and I never flew before either. I've spent most of my life hating the crawling buggers and it was as big a shock as anything when he started talking to me! Why is it such a big deal anyway?"
"Harry," Neville said in a whisper just loud enough for the others to hear, "Being a Parselmouth is supposed to be the sign of a dark wizard. They say You-Know-Who could and old Salazar was called 'Snake Tongue'."
"Well, I can talk to Kneazles and unicorns too. Does that make me the long lost relative of Godric Gryffindor or Uncas the Unicorn herder?"
"Firstly, Harry, Gryffindor was lions, and secondly, it doesn't matter if you're related or not. Practically the whole school heard you up there, and they're all going to think that you're the next Heir of Slytherin," Ron was gesturing wildly as if to prove an ever increasing point. Looking at the worried faces of his friends, Harry knew that Ron was speaking intelligently about the situation.
"Well then… Sex 'em. Sex 'em 'till their fur falls out. I'm not the Heir of Slytherin. The Sorting Hat put me in Gryffindor because that is who I am. If being multi-lingual is a crime then lock me up, gents. Come on, let's get out of here." Harry strode away resolutely.
Harry didn't say much that night, and neither did anyone else. It seemed there was an invisible barrier that surrounded any part of the room Harry chose to sit in. Two hours later the oppressive stares were beginning to finally wear on him; no Kneazle likes being eyeballed. With a soft goodbye to his study partners he headed to an early bed.
A cold draft jerked him from an uneasy sleep. Moving what was left of his body in the bed out to the cold floor Harry snuck down the stairs and was startled to find Ginny sitting in front of a dying fire, her knees tucked tightly against her chest. Her eyes were red from previously shed tears.
Moving quickly, he sat down beside her and pressed his head to her arm in a fashion he'd done hundreds of times on four legs. "What's wrong, Sparkplug?"
"Harry, it's not fair!" This unusual statement elicited Harry's Kneazle instincts and he quickly ferreted out the reason for her sorrow.
"It just isn't fair! You're such a good friend, and I saw how they were looking at you. I don't want them to hurt you."
Harry chuckled softly. "I don't think that is an issue, Ginny," she looked up sharply at him. "What I meant was, I can take care of myself. I think it will all blow over tomorrow. Don't you?"
The look she shot him was one of clear disbelief, but she said nothing. After another hour in silence they departed for their respective beds with the hope that tomorrow would indeed be a better day.
AN: Thank you to all who have reviewed. I appreciate every one. They give me the drive to continue posting. I will continue a 2 week posting schedule until the end of book 2. Thanks you to all who have commented on my were-harry story. I think I might just go ahead and write it one of these days. In the meantime, book 3 awaits! Keep up the good ideas for anything you'd like to see, keeping in mind this is a Harry/Ginny story.