Harry and the Pirates

Chapter 48

Dementors

The Hogwarts Express barrelled north, through a ferocious storm. From his seat by the window, Harry looked out; he rather enjoyed the weather, as long as he could experience it in the comfort and safety of a cozy train car. He had seen many storms, including full-on typhoons, in his time in Roanapur, and bad weather held no terrors for him in and of itself. Of course, he also had the sense to respect it.

While the world outside was dark and lit mainly by flashes of lightning, the atmosphere in the compartment Harry and his friends had taken over was congenial. Hermione had been to America over the holidays, and was eager to fill her friends in on all the things she had seen and done. She and her parents had toured many of the major tourist attractions, and had seen a space launch at Cape Kennedy. At first the purebloods present were inclined to disbelieve her stories about the Muggle space programmes, but Harry and Dudley both assured them that every word was true.

"You mean that men have walked on the moon?" Ginny Weasley asked, her eyes round with wonder. Then she gave Harry and Dudley a sharp look. "Very well…I accept your word. Where were the women?" Hermione smiled, and Luna put down her copy of the Quibbler to listen more closely from her usual spot sheltered under one of Dudley's arms. "Why was it only men?"

Harry and Dudley looked at each other, uneasily aware of how the girls in the compartment were looking at them. "We don't know, Ginny. There might have been some technical reason."

"Or the men wanted to hog all the glory," Ginny grumbled, scowling at the unfairness of the world. Hermione and Luna looked like they agreed with that sentiment.

The boys from Roanapur raised their hands as if in defense. "Hey, don't blame us! That was before we were even born! How can we be blamed for things that happened before we were born?" asked Dudley.

The girls visibly considered this point, and one by one, they nodded. "You do have a point, Dudley. It wouldn't be fair to blame you for something like that." Hermione conceded.

Dudley grinned. "Look, Hermione. You and Luna…you've both been to Roanapur. You've met Balalaika, and seen quite a few of the other women in that city. People like Revy Two-Hands, Sisters Yolanda and Eda, and my own mum. Can you imagine us seeing women as less than our equals?"

"I've been called a lot of things, I suppose, but 'insane' has never been on the list," Harry put in, supporting his cousin. "Underestimating women in a town like Roanapur is a good way to end up on a slab!"

Hermione and Luna both nodded and smiled reminiscently. Ginny looked very envious. "I've been to Egypt, but never to Thailand," she said. "If Roanapur is anything like what you have said, I want to go! It sounds such fun!"

"We don't have the money, Gin-Gin," Ron said, taking part in the conversation for the first time. He'd sat back and watched as the girls took offence at the idea of the American space programme not including women, his expression one of professional interest, as though he were watching a duelling contest.

"Nothing is permanent, Ron…including poverty," Harry said. Ron gave his friend a quizzical look, but Harry refused to elaborate. Once they were safely at school, there'd be time to explain the fine points of the Coca-Cola distributorship they were planning to set up. On the train, there was always the chance of being interrupted.

And, speak of the devil…the compartment door opened, and there was Draco Malfoy, grinning unpleasantly, with his ever-present bodyguards behind him on either side. He probably thought he was impressive, but Harry privately thought that he was ridiculous. He exchanged glances with Dudley, and they both grinned, unobtrusively moving so that their wands were in easy reach. They both had their pistols, but didn't think those would be necessary. They could deal with their dear housemate without resorting to lethal violence. No matter how tempting it was. Balalaika's words: "I do not want to see you two emulating Revy Two-Hands" had made an impression.

"Scared, Scarhead?" sneered Draco. "I would be. But then, you're used to associating with murderers, so having one after you shouldn't bother you, should it?"

Okay. That was it. Something had been bothering Harry for some time, something he couldn't quite put his finger on, and having to put up with Malfoy's taunting was just that little bit more than he was willing to tolerate. Standing up, Harry put his face close to Malfoy; close enough that Malfoy flinched back slightly. Harry smiled. Or, at least, he showed his teeth.

"You've been running your mouth about Roanapur ever since I ran into you this year, Malfoy," Harry purred. "My considered opinion is that an entitled, arrogant jackass like you is the sort of person that Roanapur eats up alive! Quite a few people like you, who think they're tough, come to Roanapur and never make it out! There's a noose hanging over the bridge that's the main entrance to the city. It's a warning to the overconfident. To people like you!"

Malfoy blinked, clearly trying not to flinch. Harry went on, his voice low and soft and throbbing with menace: "Dudley and I not only survive in that dangerous environment, we thrive there! Luna and Hermione can testify to that! You may despise Hermione…although, now that I think on it, I would bet good Galleons that she could kick your ass in a duel…but Luna's as pureblooded as you are yourself! Calling her a liar could get your family and you into a lot of trouble with the Lovegoods, and we wouldn't want that, now would we?"

Involuntarily, Malfoy shook his head, as his two goons unobtrusively edged away. Maligning a pureblooded witch was very bad trouble in pureblood society. Theoretically, if Draco was seen to have done so, Xenophilius Lovegood could call for him to be punished, and the Malfoys would have to acquiesce. Harry nodded. "I thought so! Before we kick you out of here, I have one final question for you." He paused, for maximum dramatic effect. Except for the noise of the train going over the tracks, all was silent.

"Tell me, Malfoy: If I'm a criminal, and so used to murderers that I'm unafraid of them…what makes you think that getting into my face, or my friends' faces, is a good idea?" Malfoy clearly hadn't thought of that point. His eyes went wider, and he swallowed convulsively. Harry smiled widely. "Good! I thought you'd see it my way! We'll have to put up with you back at school, but for now, be gone!" And with that, Harry shut the compartment door in Malfoy's face, then turned as his companions spontaneously began to applaud.

An hour or so later, the train was getting close to Hogwarts, from what Harry could tell. Suddenly, he felt it slowing down. "What's going on?" he asked. "Why are we stopping out here?"

"I don't know, Harry. Shall I go ask the conductor?" Before Dudley could leave, the temperature dropped precipitously, and both boys from Roanapur started shivering convulsively, scrambling for their trunks to try to get their warm winter cloaks. Luna and Ginny held each other tightly, shuddering with the cold, and Dudley threw his spare cloak over them, prompting two grateful smiles.

"You're a gentleman, Dudley," Harry managed to get out, wrapping himself in his own cloak. Ron had followed their example, and was sharing his cloak with Hermione, who was clearly not displeased at all by the closeness. She snuggled up to Ron, and Harry winked at him, making Ron blush as red as his hair.

Frost started spreading over the window, and Harry's eyes went wide. He'd spent enough time in Britain to know that was all but unheard of at the beginning of September, even as far north as they had to be. "Wands out! Something's gone badly wrong!" Every Slytherin in the compartment produced his or her wand.

A rattling hiss of breath chilled the air even farther as a hideous, skeletal hand slowly opened the compartment door, and suddenly Harry was falling, voices in his ears:

"Not Harry, not my son! Take me…kill me instead!"

"Stand aside, you silly girl…"

Harry felt like he was swimming upward through dark water, to the light. He smelled chocolate, and as things came into focus, he found himself lying on the floor, a scruffy-looking, tired-looking wizard bending over him. "Harry? Harry? Here, eat this. It's good for what ails you."

Instinctively, Harry grabbed for the chocolate, biting off a big chunk. It did seem to make him feel better; his head cleared, and he sat up tentatively, rubbing at his scar, which had started hurting. "What the hell happened? Who are you?"

"My name is Remus Lupin. I'm the new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor." Harry cocked a quizzical eye at him. Oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen, yet another one! Maybe this one knows what he's about and isn't evil? "And that was a Dementor. They normally guard Azkaban Prison. They were here searching for Sirius Black."

"Did they find him?" That was Hermione. Harry privately thought that if she were to be sentenced to death, she'd walk to her execution asking a million questions about the procedure, the surroundings and everything else. Her hunger for knowledge was sometimes a little frightening.

"No. He's nowhere near here. I must say, your friends were very protective of you. When you went down, they opened up on the Dementor with a barrage of spells and Muggle weapons like very few things I've ever seen. The Dementor beat a hasty retreat." Harry focussed in on the door of the compartment, and gave a low, impresssed whistle. The door, and the far wall of the train car, showed clear signs of mistreatment, bulging out slightly and scorched badly by the impacts of spells. Harry also noticed several clear bullet holes, and he looked at Dudley, who winked and patted the spot under his shoulder where his Makarov rode.

Professor Lupin stood up. "I'm going to have a talk with the conductor about this. They may try to charge you for the damage done, but if they do, contact me. This was a clear case of self-defense." As he turned to go, he turned back long enough to say: "And, let me say that if the rest of your fellow students are as good at combat spells as you seem to be, I look forward to an easy, productive year."

When they got to Hogwarts, they were met at the castle gates by Professor Snape, who hustled them inside. "What dunderheads thought that Dementors were suitable creatures to have around a school?" he growled, giving each of his Slytherins a quick check-over. He narrowed his eyes at Harry. "Mr. Potter. After the feast, please report to Madame Pomfrey. I have reports that you were particularly badly effected by the events on the Express."

"There's no need, sir. I feel fine." Actually, Harry wasn't feeling terribly fine, and would have happily skipped the opening feast in favour of heading straight for his room.

Snape narrowed his black eyes. Suddenly Harry was reminded of Balalaika, dealing with an obstreperous subordinate. "That was not a request, Mr. Potter. I am responsible for your well-being, and would prefer not to have to explain to my old acquaintance that you came to harm that I could prevent."

"Your old acquaintance, sir?"

"Your aunt and I knew each other before I went to Hogwarts. Your mother was a dear friend of mine for years." Now, this was interesting! Had he and Dudley ever happened to mention Professor Snape's name around Aunt Petunia? He made a mental note, and promised himself to ask Aunt Petunia in their next letter home. If she had known their House Head, she might have some interesting things to say about him.

And that also meant…Harry nearly blurted out But that means you're young still! He had always thought of his teachers as older than the hills, decrepit, feeble and untroubled with the fleshly appetites he and his schoolmates were so familiar with. Seeing Professor Snape as a schoolmate and friend of his martyred mother rocked Harry's world slightly.

"Now, on with you. The feast is starting." Snape seemed to be about to crack a smile, but thought better of it. "And I know how hungry you probably are."

Harry became aware of the fact that he was really very hungry, and the smells wafting in from the Great Hall were terribly tempting. "Thank you, sir. I'll see Madame Pomfrey directly I'm done with the feast."

He wasn't terribly late; the Sorting Hat was in the last verses of its song, which Harry privately thought was not likely to displace the great poetry of the English language any time soon. Finally, it ended and the Sorting began.

Harry noticed that quite a few of the Gryffindors seemed to be more hostile than he remembered them being. Fred and George Weasley were particularly prominent in this, hissing every time a student was sorted into Slytherin. Many of the new Snakes paid it no mind, but some of them were clearly disconcerted. One little fellow, Malcolm Baddock, scuttled for the Slytherin table the second the hat was off his head, glancing at the Gryffindor table as though he expected an attack more severe than hissing.

Many of the Slytherins were glaring daggers at the Gryffindors by the time the Feast was over, and Harry noticed some of them fingering wands. Professor Dumbledore made his usual speech, ran over the latest announcements, and then finally dismissed them to go to their dormitories.

Malcolm Baddock had latched onto Luna, who was comforting him. "There there, dear, don't pay those Lions any mind. This is the best house in Hogwarts. We all stick together and look out for each other. They can't hurt you without all of us getting them back." By the time they headed to their dormitories, Malcolm was visibly calmer, and was clearly planning to get to know his new dorm mates.

Dudley drew Luna as close as he could decorously. "Thanks, Luna. That poor little fellow was so scared…I don't think I'd have known what to do for him, but you did." He smiled at her.

Luna looked up at Dudley. "Oh, that was easy. I know what it's like to be picked on, remember?" Over Luna's head, Dudley gave Harry a significant look. They were going to have a heart-to-heart talk with some of the Slytherin girls. Hermione and Ginny would both be happy to help out. None of them liked that sort of thing, and Luna was a comrade-in-arms.

They were also going to get the Gryffindors back good.