In the Great Hall, the long dining tables had vanished and a golden stage had appeared along one wall, lit by thousands of candles floating overhead. The ceiling was velvety black and most of the school seemed to be packed beneath it, all carrying their wands and looking excited, it seemed, save for Draco, standing between Cedric and Neville (who, for his own part, appeared more nervous than excited), his arms folded over his chest and his expression carefully neutral.
"Come on, Draco," Cedric cajoled, "it won't be bad. They'll teach us a few defensive shielding spells, a few useful jinxes, and then we'll all go back to our common rooms feeling much better."
"Yes, because I'm sure a leg-locker curse and a basic Protego will help when an evil dark wizard is trying to petrify you," Draco drawled, shooting Cedric an arch look. In response, his older friend hit him lightly with his shoulder, his eyes flitting briefly but significantly to Neville, whose eyes had gone wide at Draco's statement. With a small sigh, Draco forced a smile. "But then, I guess it couldn't hurt."
"That's the spirit, Mister Malfoy!" All three turned as they heard the voice of their least competent professor; Gilderoy Lockhart stood behind them, and clapped one hand on Cedric's shoulder, and the other on Draco's. The professor was resplendent in robes of deep purple, his wide, sparklingly white smile fixed in place, per usual. "Leave it to us to show you how to keep yourselves safe in this... troubled time. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get on stage with my colleague- where has he gone to?" Wandering off, Draco shot Cedric a glare.
"And now I know that nothing good can come of this."
"No, you don't," Cedric retorted, rolling his eyes. "Professor Lockhart isn't the only supervisor of the club- didn't you hear him?"
"Then who-?" Draco trailed off as he saw Professor Lockhart climbing up onto the stage, followed closely by Professor Snape, looking just as dour as Lockhart did chipper, his black robes billowing slightly behind him. "Now this could be promising." Beside him, Neville groaned quietly, biting his lip.
Lockhart waved an arm for silence and called, "Gather round, gather round! Can everyone see me? Can you all hear me? Excellent!
"Now, Professor Dumbledore has granted me permission to start this little duelling club, to train you all in case you ever need to defend yourselves, as I myself have done on countless occasions- for full details, see my published works.
"Let me introduce my assistant, Professor Snape," said Lockhart, flashing a wide smile. "He tells me he knows a tiny little bit about duelling himself and has sportingly agreed to help me with a short demonstration before we begin. Now, I don't want any of you youngsters to worry- you'll still have your Potions Master when I'm through with him, never fear!"
Snape's upper lip was curling, and Draco snickered. Cedric's lip twitched while Neville simply continued to chew on the inside of his cheek in anxiety.
Lockhart and Snape turned to face each other and bowed (though Snape's bow was more of an irritable jerk of his head), and they raised their wands like swords in front of them. Draco waited impatiently for them to get on with the duelling- he had seen, on very limited occasions, examples of Professor Snape's prowess with duelling spells, and he was very keen to watch their Potions Master thrash the other, incompetent wizard.
"As you can see, we are holding our wands in the accepted combative position," Lockhart told the silent crowd. "On the count of three, we will cast our first spells. Neither of us will be aiming to kill, of course." Draco snorted again quietly as Snape bared his teeth at Lockhart's statement. "One- two- three-"
Both of them swung their wands above their heads and pointed them at their opponent; Snape cast Expelliarmus, and it was accompanied by the usual flash of scarlet light, blasting Lockhart off his feet. He flew backward off the stage, smashed into the wall, and slid down it to sprawl on the floor.
Teddy and many of the other Slytherins began to cheer, and only Cedric's restraining hand on his shoulder kept Draco from joining them. Lockhart was getting unsteadily to his feet. His hat had fallen off and his wavy hair was standing on end.
"Well, there you have it!" he said, tottering back onto the platform. "That was a Disarming Charm- as you see, I've lost my wand- ah, thank you, Miss Brown- yes, an excellent idea to show them that, Professor Snape, but if you don't mind my saying so, it was very obvious what you were about to do. If I had wanted to stop you it would have been only too easy- however, I felt it would be instructive to let them see..." Lockhart stopped, noticing the murderous look on Snape's face. "Enough demonstrating! I'm going to come amongst you now and put you all into pairs. Professor Snape, if you'd like to help me-"
Lockhart kindly paired Neville with Justin, and Cedric with Draco- but the young Hufflepuff frowned as he saw Snape push Theodore through the crowd and straight towards Potter. While Weasley got to partner with another Gryffindor- Seamus Finnigan, Draco identified- Granger was given another Slytherin- Millicent Bulstrode. Draco clenched his jaw, knowing that the Slytherins wouldn't hold back against the Gryffindors.
"Are you alright?" Cedric asked, and then followed his friend's gaze towards the Gryffindor trio. "They'll be fine, Draco- Snape is here, and even if he won't do something, Lockhart will at least put a stop to anything excessive. It'll be fine." Draco nodded woodenly and dragged his attention to his friend and away from the Gryffindor-Slytherin pairs.
"Face your partners!" called Lockhart, back on the platform. "And bow!"
Cedric and Draco bowed, then straightened, and raised their wands. For the first time, Draco felt nerves beginning to set in- Cedric was older, and more experienced, and his friend-
"Wands at the ready!" shouted Lockhart. "When I count to three, cast your charms to disarm your opponents- only to disarm them- we don't want any accidents- one- two- three-"
Draco cast precisely on three, but rather than casting a disarming charm, his mouth moved on its own to form Protego, blocking Cedric's disarming charm- his friend had just enough time to shoot him a small smile before the disarming spell Draco was already casting hit him. Draco sucked in a breath, already feeling guilty, but the spell had hardly been hard enough to send Cedric stumbling back a few steps, his wand still firmly in hand. His friend sent him a wider grin, and Draco smiled back, feeling the knots in his stomach beginning to uncoil.
"Not bad," Cedric shouted, trying to make sure that he was heard over the other pairs, still shouting spells- not all of them disarming spells, either. "Bit Slytherin to block first." As ever, there was no real judgement in Cedric's voice, and so Draco merely gave him a small smirk and a shrug of his shoulder. Together, the two turned back to the stage, freezing as they took in the chaos around them.
Neville and Justin were lying on the floor, panting; Potter and Theodore Nott were shouting all manner of jinxes and hexes at each other; Millicent had Granger in some sort of headlock, both of their wands forgotten on the floor. As Snape strode forward to end Nott and Potter's enchantments, Potter immediately went to his friend's aid, trying to pull Millicent off of Granger; Weasley went to her aid as well, after a moment, and together they pried the larger girl off of their friend.
"Dear, dear," said Lockhart, skittering through the crowd, looking at the aftermath of the duels. "Up you go, Macmillan... Careful there, Miss Fawcett... Pinch it hard, it'll stop bleeding in a second, Boot-
"I think I'd better teach you how to block unfriendly spells," said Lockhard, stannding flustered in the midst of the hall. He glanced at Snape, whose black eyes glinted and looked quickly away. "Let's have a volunteer pair- Longbottom and Finch-Fletchely, how about you-"
"A bad idea, Professor Lockhart," said Snape, gliding over. "Longbottom causes devastation with the simplest spells. We'll be sending what's left of Finch-Fletchely up to the hospital wing in a matchbox." Draco frowned, having never heard Snape say something quite so... cruel before, and wondered if he should re-evaluate what Neville had said about Snape's treatment of the Gryffindors. "How about Nott and Potter?" Snape's smile was twisted, and Draco felt his stomach clench again, knowing that this didn't bode well.
"Excellent idea!" said Lockhart, gesturing Potter and Nott into the middle of the hall as the crowd backed away to give them room.
Draco heard Lockhart trying to demonstrate for Potter the basics of a blocking charm while Snape whispered into Nott's ear, adding to Draco's certainty that this was going to be an unfair fight from the first. He couldn't repress a huff of laughter as Lockhart dropped his wand in attempting to demonstrate the proper motion, and Cedric tried to give him a stern look and failed due to the smile tugging at his own lips.
"Three-" It was all too obvious that Potter was woefully unprepared for whatever unfair attack Theodore had in mind, and Draco frowned as Lockhart began his countdown. "Two- one- go!"
Nott raised his wand quickly and bellowed, "Serpensortia!" The end of Theodore's wand exploded, and everyone watched as a long black snake shot out of it, fell hevily onto the floor between the two boys, and raised itself, ready to strike. Those near the front of the crowd screamed and backed swiftly away, clearing the floor.
"Don't move, Potter," said Snape lazily, clearly enjoying the sight of Potter standing motionless, eye to eye with the angry snake. "I'll get rid of it..."
"Allow me!" shouted Lockhart. He brandished his wand at the snake and there was a loud bang; the snake, instead of vanishing, flew ten feet into the air and fell back to the floor with a loud smack. Enraged, hissing furiously, it slithered straight toward Justin Finch-Fletchley and raised itself again, fansgs exposed, poised to strike-
But it didn't. Instead, the snake froze as Potter walked towards it, furious hissing and spitting flying from his mouth. The snake then slumped to the floor, docile as a thick, black garden hose, looking up expectantly at Potter.
Draco felt his insides go cold.
"What do you think you're playing at?" shouted Justin, and before Potter could say anything, Justin had turned and stormed out of the hall.
Snape stepped forward, waved his wand, and the snake vanished in a small puff of black smoke. Snape- and everyone else in the hall, for that matter- was staring at Potter. The professor's expression was shrewd and calculating- all around, the crowd began to mutter and jostle.
Then Weasley and Granger were ushering Potter out of the hall, and Draco was left to wonder how his knees were strong enough to hold him up when they felt like jelly.
"Come on," Cedric said simply, and Draco nodded, putting away his wand in his robes and walking wordlessly with his friend to their common room. Once inside, Cedric looked at him and sighed. "Look, I'm sorry. I know I pushed you into going to the club, and I said nothing would happen, but-"
"It's fine, Cedric," Draco answered, his voice strangely calm. He felt detached from his body and emotions, though he could feel the adrenalin coursing through him. "It's just... Harry Potter. It's always Harry Potter, isn't it? That's none of your fault. I'm... going to bed. Goodnight." Cedric reached out to put a hand on Draco's shoulder.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Draco said, "I just want to go to sleep." Cedric studied him for a long moment, and then finally nodded, releasing him.
Draco plodded up the stairs woodenly, and changed into his pyjamas without conscious thought- trying not to let himself think at all, in fact. It wasn't until he was safely ensconced in his bed with the hangings firmly closed that he allowed himself to think- to panic, really.
If Harry Potter was a Parselmouth, then he could very likely be a descendent of Salazar Slytherin- the Potter line was a Pureblood one, and although its origins as a line certainly went back to the time of the Founders, it became a bit... murky. If Potter was a descendent of Salazar Slytherin, and Slytherin had left a Chamber in the school with a dangerous beast inside for only his heir to find and use to kill Muggle-borns, then... And how had he defeated a Dark Lord at the age of one? How could any baby have the power to do something like that?
More importantly, if Potter was the Heir of Slytherin, and he was the one who opened the Chamber of Secrets, then why was he really asking for Draco's help getting into the Slytherin common room?
Draco found that he couldn't sleep for a long while that night, tossing and turning, occupied by thoughts of Harry Potter and the all too mysterious Heir of Slytherin.
The following morning dawned cold and grey, with a blizzard clearly visible through the windows. Draco groaned as he realised that he was running late and would have to jog through the snowy wind to get to Herbology on time. As he pushed aside the hangings around his bed, he saw Justin sitting on his own, only several down from Draco's.
"No need to rush," Justin said, seeming unusually calm. "Herbology was cancelled because of the weather. Professor Sprout wants to tend to the mandrakes- put socks on them, that sort of thing."
"Oh," said Draco, wishing for something intelligent to say. "Thank you." Justin nodded, but the gesture was a bit stiff, revealing his anxiety. "Even if Potter... if he is the Heir of Slytherin, he couldn't come after you now. It would be too obvious." Justin didn't respond, simply stayed frozen for a long moment, and Draco felt very stupid. Finally, Justin nodded incrimentally.
"You're probably right," he said, "but I think I'm still just going to stay here until the winter holiday starts." Draco nodded then, and Justin sighed. "And to think I just told him that I had my name down for Eton... Should've been more careful..."
"I'm sure you'll be fine, Justin," Draco said, still feeling useless- he wasn't sure what the truth was, and he wasn't at all accustomed to trying to be comforting. "Just... lie low, I suppose. As you planned."
"Keep calm and carry on, hm?" Justin said with a smile, and then shook his head when his obviously Muggle reference failed to ring any bells for Draco. "Nevermind. If you hurry, you can make it to breakfast." Draco nodded, thankful to have been given an excuse to leave, and hurried to change his clothes and straighten his hair before dashing down the stairs and out of the common room.
The majority of the seats in the Great Hall were empty that morning, most of the students (and staff) preferring to sleep in or laze about since there were no classes to attend or to teach that morning. Draco sat by himself at his house table, returning rather half-heartedly the soft greetings of Hannah Abbott farther down the table. Halfway through picking at his breakfast, Cedric appeared and sat across from him.
"Good morning," his friend said, sounding perfectly normal.
"Good morning," Draco returned, but Cedric knew immediately that Draco thought it to be anything but a good morning.
"What's the matter? Have you still got yourself worked up about what happened at the duelling club last night?" asked Cedric, and Draco shook his head- too quickly- and continued to stare at his plate.
"It's simply that... I gave my word that I would help... someone to do... something, but I didn't... all of the facts were not available to me at the time," Draco said, "and I'm not sure if I'm still bound by my word." Cedric's eyes narrowed as he thought through his friend's convoluted statement, and then he sighed noisily.
"That thing that you asked me about- when you asked if I would do something that I thought would make the school safer when it was something a professor couldn't help with," Cedric guessed correctly, "that was something that Potter asked you to help with, something relating to the business with the Heir of Slytherin and the Chamber of Secrets and Mrs Norris and Colin Creevey getting petrified. You didn't know Potter was a Parselmouth then, and you're not sure if you should help him, now." Draco didn't respond, because Cedric had puzzled out his problem exactly. "Draco, I still don't think that Harry Potter is the Heir of Slytherin. He's too nice, and he's friends with Hermoine Granger, who's a Muggle-born, and Ron Weasley, who are... what's the word for them?"
"Blood traitors," Draco supplied in a mutter- he had heard the Weasleys railed against at home when his parents and their friends believed him to be out of earshot, and that term had come up more frequently than Draco could count.
"Right. If he was really the Heir of Slytherin, would he be friends with either of them? Of course not!"
"But how did he defeat the Dark Lord when he was just a baby? And we really don't know who the Potters are related to when it gets as far back as the Founders- for all we know, Potter could be a distant relation of Salazar Slytherin-"
"Draco, he's a Gryffindor."
"And I'm a Hufflepuff, and my family is distantly related to Rowena Ravenclaw and the founders of Durmstrang," Draco argued. "His house placement doesn't mean much."
"Well, if you've decided that the Heir of Slytherin doesn't have to be a Slytherin, then why are you so focused on singling out Potter?"
"Because so far as I have seen, Cedric, none of the other students at the school have shown any evidence of possessing an extremely rare magical ability that Salazar Slytherin also had and is found almost exclusively in dark wizards," Draco said, and Cedric sighed, then shrugged.
"I just can't get my head around the idea," Cedric told him bluntly. "I can't picture Harry Potter as wanting to kill anyone- let alone people who are his friends, but the rest of the school seems to agree with you.
"As for whether or not you should help Potter- I think you should at least talk to him before you decide not to, give him a chance to explain himself," Cedric said. "After giving your word, that would only be fair, wouldn't it?" Draco sighed and rubbed at his temples, then pushed his plate away, giving up on the idea of food for the moment.
"I suppose you're right," Draco answered, though he wished his friend weren't. He was dreading the idea of speaking to Harry Potter even one more time- but he supposed he could, if it would be what was fair. Decision made, Draco found a portrait of a young girl who had always been very friendly to him in the past when he asked for directions and asked her to take a message to the Fat Lady of Gryffindor Tower.
Draco waited and waited in the out-of-order girls' lavatory where they were brewing the Polyjuice Potion- which positively reeked by that point, and Draco felt his stomach roil unpleasantly at the thought of drinking any of the sludge- but Harry Potter didn't come. Draco wondered if his message had reached Gryffindor Tower, but the girl whose portrait he had entrusted it to said that she knew the way, as she had been in Gryffindor herself as a student.
Finally, the door opened with a bang, and Draco was about to let a stream of abuse roll off the tip of his tongue for Potter's tardiness, only to stop short as he realised it wasn't Harry Potter who had entered the lavatory, but a small girl with long, red hair. Her face was unnaturally pale- almost as pale as Draco's was- and her eyes were red and puffy, with bags under them. She was clutching a slightly worn book to her chest, and studying Draco with a startled expression.
"Wh-what are you doing in here?" she asked, her voice coming out very small. "You're a boy- this is a girl's lavatory."
"Er, yes," Draco answered, unable to dispute this or answer the question without implicating himself in activities that went directly against school rules. "I am a boy. Are you alright?" Her lips thinned and her chin wobbled rather pathetically, and her eyes filled with tears- she was most assuredly not alright. "Er. This lavatory is out of order anyway, you know."
"I know," she said. "I just like to come here, sometimes. It's... private."
"Except for Myrtle," Draco corrected, and the girl's lips twitched in a smile rather than a frown this time.
"Except for Myrtle," she agreed.
"So, are you really alright?" asked Draco again awkwardly. She looked down at the floor, and shrugged jerkily.
"I guess I'm just... startled by what happened," she said slowly. Draco frowned.
"Last night at the duelling club?" he asked, and she shook her head.
"No, today. They... Justin Finch-Fletchley and Sir Nearly-Headless Nick were just found," she said, her voice a hoarse whisper that Draco had to strain to hear over the sound of his heartbeat, which was rushing in his ears, getting ever louder. "They were... both of them were petrified. And... they found Harry Potter there. Nobody else. Just Harry."
Draco felt his stomach sink like a stone. It was settled, then. Harry Potter was a Parselmouth, and the Heir of Slytherin, and there wasn't anything anyone could say to convince him otherwise or make him help them, no matter what he'd promised.
The redheaded girl was staring at him when he looked up at her, and Draco nodded jerkily.
"Thank you for telling me," he said, again feeling disconnected from himself, the same way he had the night before when the stress had gotten to him. "I wasn't aware."
"Oh," she said, and there was an awkward moment of silence. "I know Harry didn't hurt them."
"All of the evidence says he did," Draco said, not unkindly, trying to keep his voice soothing, but the girl shook her head frantically.
"He didn't," she said, and her eyes filled with tears again. "He couldn't have done it. He couldn't have."
"Look, I-" It was too late. Before Draco could finish speaking, the girl ran to the end of the bathroom and locked herself in one of the stalls- thankfully not the one in which the potion was brewing- and began to sob, loudly, interspersed with hiccuping gasps for breath. Biting his lip, Draco decided that there was nothing more he could do to comfort the girl, and slipped out of the bathroom.
Just outside in the hallway, Draco stopped dead. If Harry Potter was the Heir of Slytherin, and he'd petrified Creevey and Justin and Sir Nicholas, then whatever it was he wanted to do in the Slytherin common room was probably only for his own gain, and nothing good could come of it. Draco grimaced- there was nothing for it, then. He would have to warn the Slytherins, and that meant that no matter what, he had to make Pansy listen to him this time.
Author's Note: ...I haven't updated in quite a while. Sorry. I'm obviously still working on this. Updates will be rather slow. I won't make any more promises, as I think I've learned my lesson about those...
Hope what's to come is worth the wait.