Chapter Twenty-Five - Battle Lines
Harry and Draco were both awake early. They exchanged salutations, but then they showered, dressed, and walked out to the common room in wordless companionship.
"Are you going to say anything?" Draco inquired at last. He'd been giving Harry lots of sideways glances, seemingly gauging Harry's mood and temper. He'd opened his mouth a dozen times but shut it each time without making a sound. Now he had apparently summoned up the courage to break the silence.
"About what?" Harry knew this moment had been coming, but maybe he could put it off for a little while longer.
"Him. Last night. Everything. Anything." Draco lifted his hands helplessly. "You haven't said a word all morning. Are you okay?"
Harry sighed. Draco would clearly not be put off. "I'm pretty far from okay, mate. I should be dead right now. I still don't really accept that I'm still alive. The Triwizard Cup was a Portkey. It was supposed to bring me out of the Maze. It brought me to Azkaban. Voldemort was there."
Draco flinched at the name.
"His spirit is in Pettigrew's body now. That's my fault. I should have killed him myself." Harry paused, last night's events playing again in his mind. "He thanked me, you know. I think that was the worst part. He prattled on, but I couldn't really pay attention. I was waiting for him to kill me. That sort of preoccupied me."
"He had freed all the Death Eaters in Azkaban. He called all the rest. Theo's dad was there. Mister Goyle and Mister Crabbe too. He tortured one he called Avery. He recognized three people named Lestrange."
"Aunt Bellatrix," Draco added quietly.
"Yeah. Then he started giving a speech about how important he was and how insignificant I am. When he was done with his monologue, he threw a Cruciatus at me. I rolled out of the way, and then your dad Apparated us out of there."
"For Voldemort, yeah. He was going to make it really painful and draw everything out."
"He loves to make people suffer. Dad's told me."
Harry shivered. "I can keep waiting to experience that."
Draco was quiet for a moment, and he appeared deep in thought. "So now what?" he finally asked.
"I don't know, Draco. I don't know. I hope Sirius does. He's supposed to meet me after breakfast."
"Aren't you supposed to meet Padma?"
"Going to tell her?"
"I wonder how she'll take it."
"You and me both."
"When are you going to tell the others?"
"I don't know."
"I wonder how Theo's going to react."
"I don't know that either, Draco."
"You want me to talk to Crabbe and Goyle? I can probably convince them to see the light."
"No, I'll do it. I'd like you there, though."
"Very good. I should probably let you talk to Theo on your own."
Harry knew that to be true. "Yeah, you tend to irritate him."
"He irritates me. What about the girls?"
"Pansy would probably sign up with Voldemort just to spite you. I should talk to her. Alone. I'm not worried about Daphne or Millie. I just need to get to Pansy, and they'll follow her lead."
Harry had spent all year trying to discourage Tracy's feelings for him. Now he couldn't be more grateful for them. He knew exactly where Tracy stood.
"Tracy is all right."
"Probably, yes. The others?"
There lay the question. Who were the rest of the Death Eaters? How many of them were related to his fellow Slytherins? There were bound to be a few students in the other houses with Dark ties, but a great many came from Slytherin. It was an unpleasant truth that Harry now had to confront directly.
"I think Laine can control the youngers."
"Can you trust Laine?"
That thought gave Harry chills. She liked Harry, so much so that she'd volunteered to be his public relations expert, but he knew nothing of her father. Mr. Malfoy spoke quite highly of Mr. Slater, which was significant all on its own. The Slaters were very well-connected, which was why Laine had so much influence.
"We'll have to see."
"You know she's got a wicked crush on you, right?"
Harry flushed. "Yeah, I know."
Draco started to needle him, but Pansy and Daphne emerged from the dorm. Draco pulled Daphne aside, leaving Harry and Pansy alone. They sat on the couch by the fireplace, where the wood was just starting to really burn.
"Pansy, we're good friends, right?"
"You know we are, Harry."
"If I needed you, you'd drop everything, right?"
"Harry, you're starting to make me nervous. What's wrong? Why are you asking these questions?"
"Yes. Yes, you're my friend, and I'll help you in any way I can. Now please tell me."
Harry took a deep breath. "Something happened last night. You remember how I didn't come straight back after grabbing the Triwizard Cup?"
"Yes, of course. There was a great deal of confusion about it. Mister Bagman swore the Portkey he'd had made was perfect. He went to go check the paperwork, but he never came back. Where did it take you?"
"Brace yourself. Azkaban."
"What?" Pansy shrieked. Harry winced as his eardrums were shot through.
"It was right after Voldemort made his attack." She cringed as he said the verboten name. "He tried to kill me."
"Thank Merlin you survived."
"Mister Malfoy, more like."
"Mister Malfoy saved me. He was one of the people who answered when Voldemort called."
"Then it was true all along."
"No, he's turned away. He Side-Along Apparated me out of there and brought me back to Hogwarts."
"Oh my stars," Pansy gasped.
"But that's all aside. I've always known he'd come back some day. That day has come. Now I'm going to destroy him, and I want to know who's going to be with me."
"You want me to stand with you?" Pansy could not sound more astonished. "I can't fight. I can barely do a decent Banishing Charm."
"That doesn't mean you can't be play a part. You're a very influential witch."
"You can help me by using that influence."
"They won't be able to shut me up," Pansy promised. "I'll speak to Daphne and Millie as well. Tracy will jump as soon as you tell her. How hard do you want me to jump up and down on Theo?"
"What makes you think that'll be neccessary?"
"I know things, Harry. Never forget that I am a font of knowledge."
"Gossip, you mean."
"Same thing. I knew about Mister Malfoy. I know about Mister Nott too."
"I don't want to be on opposite sides from Theo. He's a decent bloke, and his dad was nice to me."
"Theo is a trollish, uncouth, smelly pouch of rotting potions ingredients. Mister Nott is a scholar. His knowledge could be a threat to you."
Harry hadn't considered that.
"I'll talk to Theo. I'll get back to you on that."
"I've got to talk to Daphne."
Pansy whispered furiously into Daphne's ear for a moment. The blonde girl's eyes got wider and wider. With a sob, she covered the few steps to Harry and wrapped her arms around him.
"We nearly lost you?" she choked out.
Well, he thought, that answers the question about her.
"But we didn't. Now we figure out how to fight back."
by Rita Skeeter
The wizarding world was rocked last night as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named announced his return with a raid on the prison island of Azkaban.
Yes, loyal readers, you read correctly. This is no warped joke. The island prison has fallen, and the dementors now serve You-Know-Who. These disgusting creatures now stand side by side with the former inmates they once guarded. Now the towers and walls are meant to keep people out.
Details are scarce at this time, and the fate of the Aurors stationed at Azkaban is presently unknown. They did manage to contact the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and confirm their attacker, who is reported to have used the Sonorus Charm to demand the surrender of the fortress.
Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge appeared with Albus Dumbledore, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, to assure the public that the Ministry is well-prepared for the coming struggle. "He has spent fourteen years in hiding. He is only now strong enough to show his face to the world again. We remember the lessons of the last war. He will not succeed so easily at his old tricks. We stand united and we will fight!"
Fudge's brave words were echoed by Director Amelia Bones, Head of Magical Law Enforcement. "We were taken by surprise. Nobody could have anticipated that he would seduce the dementors. He won't hold Azkaban for long. We'll get him."
All sane people know that the return of the Dark Lord will turn our world to chaos. In the name of civilization, this journalist implores you all to resist despair, to fight back against the darkness, and to find the light within ourselves to drive away the shadows. May Merlin keep us all safe.
Harry put down the paper with a sigh of relief. There it was in black and white for the whole world to see. Thankfully, Harry's name had been kept out of it entirely. It was all official from the Ministry.
Breakfast was an uncomfortable affair. The headline had everyone buzzing. All the talk of "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" invariably involved a glance or two over at Harry. Draco sat at Harry's right. Daphne and Pansy sat across from them. They didn't talk about the headline. They just glared down anyone they caught staring. Nobody was rude enough to bring up the subject directly to Harry, but it was easy to whisper and point.
Harry pushed away his half-eaten plate and stood up. Draco, Pansy, and Daphne all did likewise, even though Draco had been lifting a forkful of eggs to his mouth. His three friends looked to him. Harry led them out of the Great Hall.
Sirius was waiting for Harry outside the Great Hall. Harry turned to his friends. "I'll catch up with you later. We've got plans to make."
The trio headed down to the dungeons.
"How was breakfast?" Sirius asked.
"Fine. I wasn't hungry."
Sirius nodded. "I understand. Just don't let it go too long, okay, Harry? You need to eat."
"I know. I will."
"Did you sleep?"
"Yeah, but not well. Bad dreams."
"Want to talk about it?"
"I kept seeing Voldemort. He was happy. Really happy. Gleeful, almost. He was so happy to have a body again, he didn't even care that I'd gotten away."
"He was probably celebrating his victory."
Harry frowned. "It was a victory, wasn't it?"
"Not total, but yes, he scored a major win last night. I intend it to be his only one."
"Time enough to worry about that later. Have you told your friends yet?"
"Only Draco, Pansy, and Daphne."
"Not the rest?"
"No. I don't know how I'm going to say it."
"Don't dance. Just say what's on your mind. If they're really your friends, that will be enough."
"I'm worried. Theo's dad was there. Crabbe's and Goyle's too."
"You think they might turn on you?"
"Before this year, I would have said no way, but Theo's been going his own way for quite awhile now. I honestly have no idea which way he'll go."
"That's unfortunate. What about Crabbe and Goyle?"
"Well they usually stick with Draco, you know? But against their dads? I don't know either of their dads very well at all. Mister Goyle seems to like me, but I don't know how that'll stack up against Voldemort."
"That is troubling. Can you handle them? If it comes to it, I mean?"
"Not physically." Harry had been working out several times a week for more than a year now, but so had the two behemoths. They'd wipe the floor with him. "Goyle's pretty handy at Charms, but I'm better at Curses. All Crabbe's good at is Astronomy."
"Watch your back, Harry."
"I will. Draco will watch too."
"Are you satisfied now? Has Mister Malfoy proved himself yet? Are you going to give him a chance finally?"
"I was waiting for action to give his fancy words some meaning. Well I got it. He couldn't have been more clear in his intentions. We still disagree on a great many things, but I can see now that he is serious."
"Stop that. Lucius appears to have been telling the truth. If he really is on our side, then I'll have him. I now have a small amount of trust in him, but I will still be watching. Make no mistake."
"Thank you, Sirius. I'm glad to hear that."
"So what are your plans today? Feel like escaping from here and going for a run around the lake?"
Run? Oh, Sirius meant in their other forms. More practice at maintaining his Animagus transformation.
"I can't. I'd love to, but I'm supposed to meet Padma after breakfast. I've got to tell her everything."
"Everything? Is that wise? Are you planning to tell everyone?"
"No, only people who need to know. Yes, everything. Well, most everything. Everything important anyway. I don't think she really needs to know about Mister Malfoy, do you?"
From his face, Sirius privately did believe that everyone ought to be warned about Mr. Malfoy, but he shook his head in the negative. "No, probably not. I can't see how it would help. Tell Padma I said hello."
They embraced fiercely, and Sirius waited until Harry had climbed the stairs out of sight before heading out the front door.
Harry headed for the library. They were going to meet in her favourite study and snog spot. She wasn't there yet. He sat in the chair and leaned back. He was so tired. He hadn't been able to sleep last night. He kept reliving the scene in the Azkaban courtyard in his nightmares and waking up shaking. He closed his eyes - just for a moment.
"Harry?" came a voice from a long way away. "Wake up, sleepyhead."
Harry struggled to open his heavy eyelids. Blearily, he saw Padma standing there, and he smiled up at her.
"Hi, beautiful. You got here fast."
"Not really. It's nearly ten."
"How about that."
Padma giggled. "You're silly when you're tired."
"Last night, things didn't go as planned."
"Right. The Portkey was improperly made and sent you off-track."
"Did you read the paper this morning?"
"Yes. What horrible news."
"The Portkey took me to Azkaban."
"No!" she gasped.
"Yes," he replied grimly. "I barely escaped with my life."
"Tell me everything."
"The Cup was a Portkey, but it was a trap. I landed in the courtyard at Azkaban where I found out Voldemort's spirit-" she flinched "-has taken up residence in the body of Peter Pettigrew."
"The man who betrayed your parents?"
"The same. It was a living body without a soul, and since Peter had taken the Dark Mark, Voldemort-" she flinched again "-just took up residence. He explained everything. He talked a lot, actually. He seems to have a flair for showmanship. He called all his Death Eaters back and talked about how he had been defeated by old magic, but it was only a temporary setback and he was back for good now."
Harry began to shiver. "The Death Eaters stood in a circle around us. He pointed his wand at me. I was going to die. I wanted to die bravely, so I raised my wand too. I was going to fight back."
The trembling grew more pronounced. Padma wrapped her arms around him. She was very warm. He clung to her, trying not to cry. Even remembering this terror was awful.
"He cast the Cruciatus Curse. I rolled out of the way. Just like Moody taught us, the best way to block a spell is not get hit by it. Well I happened to sprawl near the Triwizard Cup, so I grabbed for it, and it brought me back to Hogwarts."
Harry was already weary of the story, but he knew he would have to tell it many more times. Maybe it would get easier with each telling.
Padma continued to hold him close, and Harry rested his head on hers. She was so warm. When they were cuddled up like this, he always felt very content. She was comforting.
They stayed there for nearly an hour. Harry didn't say much else. He was still trying to wrap his brain around everything, and he couldn't speak until he forumlated his thoughts.
Padma began to get a bit figity, shifting her position several times and checking her watch more than once. "I've got to go," she said at last. "I'm meeting Parvati before lunch."
Still not hungry, Harry kissed her goodbye and avoided the Great Hall. He headed back towards the common room but found his feet taking him to Professor Snape's office. He knocked twice.
Harry pushed open the door. Snape was sitting at his desk, which was clear. He held his hands with fingers arched, elbows resting on the arms of his chair. He appeared deep in thought.
"Professor Snape? You said we would talk later. Well it's later. I have a few questions." A few? More like a plethora.
"No doubt. Perhaps you will allow me the liberty of anticipating some of them?"
Harry nodded. What else could he do?
"Yes, I bear the Dark Mark, burned into my skin by the Dark Lord himself. Yes, I was once a Death Eater and served him willingly, but I came to regret the rash choice of impassioned youth. I grew disillusioned with his cause, his methods, and his tactics. I repented of my many sins and worked to atone for them by turning spy for those who opposed him."
"Spy!" Harry didn't know what he'd expected to hear, but that certainly wasn't it.
"Yes. I informed on his plans, and I was able to prevent some deaths, some destruction. It was not enough, nor will it ever be enough, but I did what I could, and with his return I will be continuing in such capacity."
Snape's voice was flat. He might as well have been reading the roll before class. His eyes, though, were haunted. What dark things he was reliving, Harry couldn't guess at. It was almost like how Sirius sometimes got when he thought about Azkaban.
"Is that where you went last night?"
"He had summoned us all back, as you know. I could not answer at once because one cannot Apparate on the grounds of Hogwarts. I immediately informed the Headmaster, and we quickly decided that your disappearance and my summoning were not unrelated. It was his wish that I answer the summons and attempt to infiltrate the ranks again."
"You must have succeeded. You're still alive."
"I was, and now my presumed closeness to the Headmaster puts me in very favourable position. I have the Dark Lord's ear."
"What, in a box?"
Snape frowned. "Levity is inappropriate, Mister Potter. I suppose that having been so flippant to the Dark Lord himself, I have little chance of convincing you to still your tongue."
"Sorry, sir. I can't help it."
"The Dark Lord cannot be allowed to achieve his goals. He seeks to install himself as Minister, but it would only be a title. He wants nothing less than absolute authority and obedience. He will use anyone and anything in order to be victorious. He will destroy those who oppose him, who stand up for freedom."
Though he could understand such a motive for joining the cause, Harry didn't look at it quite like that. He knew Voldemort had tried to take over the world, but no high-minded ideal could inspire him to fight with the fervor he felt when he thought about his mum and dad. Harry wanted revenge against the wizard who had murdered them, and he'd scorch the earth to get it. Now he finally understood why his fellow Slytherins got so riled up when they talked about blood feuds. Such a horrific wrong had been done to him that destroying Voldemort was the only possible response.
"Then Merlin keep you safe, Professor."
Snape's eyes flashed dangerously. "You must tell no one of this, Mister Potter. My continued survival depends on it. I have told you the truth because you have an uncanny habit of being at the centre of every disaster that takes place at this school. I am certain that the war will affect us here. This is going to get very ugly before it's all over. Make no mistake, friends will cross wands with friends. Make sure you watch your back. More than one Slytherin will be tempted by the Dark Lord. I have a responsibility as Head of Slytherin House to keep as many as possible from falling. I will talk to many people many different ways. You must not let on that you know any differently when you see me playing various roles. I must have your word on this."
Harry gulped. Snape's vision of the future was bleak and frightening. Would his prophecy come true? Would Harry end up on opposite sides of one of his friends? He grimaced. More than one? How many would fall in his quest for vengeance?
"I'll keep your secret, sir."
There was silence.
"Was there anything else, sir? I really should start packing."
"Dismissed, Mister Potter."
Harry headed for the common room and began laying out cards in a round of Exploding Solitaire. He'd just moved a king down to an empty space when the wall slid open to admit Laine and Ginny. Good, a friendly audience.
"Ladies, could I have a moment?"
"Sure, Harry," Laine said, sitting down next to him at the table. Ginny took a seat opposite of him.
"What do you think of this morning's headline?" he asked, getting right to the point.
Laine blinked several times in astonishment. "What am I supposed to think about it? It's awful news, isn't it? I've got a cousin in the Aurors, and I don't know if he was on duty last night. I sent an owl to Daddy, but I haven't heard back yet."
"I'm sorry, Laine."
"I'm not really close with Alfred, but he tells exciting stories at family gatherings."
Ginny bit her lip. "Honestly, I'm scared to death. My parents survived the last war. My uncles fought and died in it. Dark times, my dad says. You couldn't trust anybody because you didn't know if they were under the Imperius Curse. Spies were everywhere. The world nearly fell apart."
"Then Harry happened," Laine added.
"Then my mother happened," he corrected. "It was my mother's sacrifice that protected me, nothing special about me. It's old magic."
Laine wiped at her eye. "That's beautiful. Oh, Harry."
"It's our duty to remember the Dark times, my dad says, because unless we do, we won't recognize them when they come again."
"That's very wise, Ginny," Harry said. Sirius had said much the same thing. "I think we can all agree that they're back."
"I'm going to fight him. I'm going to stop him. I'll need help."
Laine looked nervous. Ginny looked determined. "Absolutely," she said firmly. "You can count on me."
"I knew I could. Laine?"
"Of course, Harry. I'm just surprised is all. Why me?"
"You're my friend, and I don't want to have to fight you. Everyone I get on my side is someone I don't have to hurt."
"Just let me know what I can do."
Millie, Daphne, and Pansy entered at that point and joined them.
Pansy spoke first. "They look like you told them."
"Good. Laine, we have much to discuss. Our work begins now, even over the summer."
The girls headed off to the dormitory.
Draco was the next to arrive, followed by Crabbe and Goyle. "I rounded these two up. Want to get it over with?"
Theo entered, and he glared belligerently at Harry and Draco when they both looked up at him.
"Draco, why don't you guys wait for me in the dorm. Theo, can I have a moment?"
Seemingly puzzled by Draco's sudden departure, Theo sat down at the table.
"What's going on?"
"He's back," Harry said simply.
"I read about it."
"And your father is a Death Eater, Theo!" Harry burst out. He had no patience for Theo's customary obstinant manner of replying to inquiries. "I know. I was there for Voldemort's little coming out party."
"Don't say that name. Did Malfoy's father pull you out of there?" Theo sneered. "It would explain why he suddenly showed up at the third task."
"What if he did?" Harry demanded. "Your dad bowed down to him."
"Shut up, Potter."
"It's true, Theo. I know you hate it. I hate it too. I like your dad. He was nice to me. He's a genius with numbers. You've got to talk to him," Harry pleaded, switching his approach. "You've got to make him see reason. He doesn't have to serve Voldemort."
"Stop it!" Theo's voice was slightly shrill. He was a bit wild around the eyes.
Harry smirked, suddenly knowing how to break Theo down. "Stop what? Saying 'Voldemort'?"
"I'm going to keep on saying it, Theo. I'll keep saying it until I turn blue in the face, until my tongue dries up and falls out, until you aren't afraid of it anymore."
"But I am afraid!" Theo cried. "He'll kill us all!"
At last, progress! "Not if we kill him first."
"You can't kill the Dark Lord!"
"We'll find a way, but I need your help to do it. Nobody else has your brains, Theo. You're too clever by far, but now I need that. Help me."
Theo was agonized, judging from his expression.
"Theo, if you side with Voldemort, sooner or later he's going to ask you to deliver me to him. Are you prepared to do that? I know we've been at odds this year, but is it really that bad? I still think of you as my friend, Theo, and I want to help you. Together we can help your dad."
"I don't want him to serve. He's too old to take even one Cruciatus if the Dark Lord gets in a foul mood."
"So you'll talk to him?"
"I'll do what I can."
"That's the best I can do, Harry. I'm not going to turn on my old man. He's all I've got left. I'm all he's got left. We'll sink or swim together."
At least it was honest. Harry wondered how many would swear up and down that they'd never serve the Dark Lord, lying through their teeth. He'd considered every angle with Theo, but blunt pragmatism hadn't been on the list.
Theo stood up and headed for the dorm. He emerged a minute later with a scroll of parchment and headed out again, presumably to the Owlery.
Harry was on a roll. He might as well keep pushing his luck. At least he would have backup for this one. He headed for the dormitory.
"Hey, Harry. Draco said there was something going on?"
"Hi, Crabbe. Yeah, you could say that. The world's gone to pot, and we've all been caught with our trousers around our ankles."
"You haven't heard anything yet." Harry was feeling feckless. "Do you have any idea who showed up to the Death Eater reunion last night? Your dads. What do you have to say about that?"
"Subtle, Harry," Draco commented.
"You've got to be direct with these two."
Both of "those two" looked uncomfortable. Crabbe shuffled his feet and looked at the rug. Goyle became very interested in the ceiling, because he wouldn't look down.
"You don't deny it?" Harry accused. "Fine. So you knew your dads were Death Eaters and never thought to mention it to me. That's just dandy. Give me one reason I shouldn't hex your heads up your arses!"
"It's not like that, Harry," Goyle protested. "Yeah, dad always talked about how the Dark Lord knew what needed doing, but I never knew he was part of the gang. He only told me a few months ago."
"A few months?" Harry asked, completely astounded.
"He took a few months to tell me," Goyle said defensively. "The Dark Mark came back during the summer. I didn't find out until Christmas. He sat me down and said he wanted me to know what the future held for our family. I tried to talk him out of it. I really tried. He's too afraid to even consider fighting."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I was hoping I could bring him around. I didn't want to admit to you, Harry, what my dad was and wanted to be. What he wanted me to be. I would much rather have introduced him as an ally."
"I wanted to tell you, too, Harry. Me and Goyle, we spent a lot of time last summer trying to figure out what to do. We couldn't come up with anything, so we just kept on trying to talk sense into our dads. It didn't work then, and it especially won't work when they've actually seen the Dark Lord again."
Despite himself, Harry felt his anger start to fade. He could understand pride. It was much better to introduce his godfather the Scion of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black than his godfather the crazy, escaped murderer.
"So what now?" Harry asked.
"Maybe you could talk to them, Harry," Draco suggested. "Make your case directly and put on a little show of power for them. Make them realize being on your side is better than being on his side."
"A show? Like what?"
"I'm thinking speaking in Parseltongue. That will definitely get their attention. The Dark Lord is also a Parselmouth, and if you can demonstrate that his talents are not unique, you can likely be more persuasive."
"Okay, where are you going to find a snake?" Harry had only ever spoken the snake language when he could see - or imagine he saw - a real snake.
"Find one yourself. Go out into the woods and look around."
"Right, because there's lots of snakes in the Forbidden Forest."
"There's everything else."
"It's a good idea," Harry admitted. It wasn't quite as drastic as a visit from Eithne the Basilisk, but it was workable.
"Hear that, fat heads?" Draco said witheringly. "Despite your failure to disclose very important information to a friend and social better, Harry is going to try to save your dads' lives. Now thank him and promise you'll fight against the Dark Lord."
"Thanks, Harry," Crabbe muttered.
"Yeah, thanks, Harry," Goyle said.
"Promise," Draco commanded.
"What, a blood oath?"
"Swear you'll help Harry in his fight."
"You're cracked, you are," Crabbe said.
"You're going to get on your bloody knees and swear loyalty to the Heir of Slytherin. If you don't, I'm going to scramble your brains with a Memory Charm, and all I know about them is the incantation."
"Don't you even think about mucking with my brains!" Crabbe roared, making a big fist and threatening Draco with it. "I need all I've got! Go on, Malfoy, go for your wand. I dare you to go for your wand."
Draco didn't look like he wanted to take him up on that dare. "It was a metaphor and nothing more."
"You want a loyalty oath, Harry?" Goyle said. "Really?"
"I can't trust your fathers," Harry said strongly. "I can't trust you either. We're headed home. How do I know he's not going to put you under the Imperius Curse as soon as you walk in the door? I don't want the first thing that happens on the train in the fall to be an assassination attempt."
"You did do rather poorly at resisting Imperius," Draco observed helpfully.
"Well we can't help that."
"You sleep in the same bedroom I do," Harry pointed out. "I'm completely defenceless when I'm sleeping."
"You could protect your bed."
"You'd just burn it up and me in it."
"You do know about casting proper protective enchantments, right?" Goyle asked.
"Look, that's hardly the point. Will you swear not to try to kill me or not?"
"Yes!" Goyle said with exasperation. "I swear I will not try to kill Harry Potter."
A burst of light exploded like a firework from the tip of his wand.
"I swear I will not try to kill Harry Potter."
Crabbe's wand also acknowledged the truth of the statement.
"Now when can we get together to talk to them?" Draco speculated.
"Sirius will never let me go without him. We should set up the meeting by owl post later. I don't want to plan without talking to Sirius first."
"Fine. I hope you're up to this, Harry," Crabbe said. "The Dark Lord doesn't believe in mercy."
"Funny. I wasn't thinking about offering any to him either."
It had been a week since the night of the third task, and Harry was glad to be out of the spotlight. His win had been overshadowed by Voldemort's return, and the Ministry was using very strong language in daily press releases, urging the public to remain calm. It was naturally the only topic of discussion at Hogwarts.
In the Slytherin common room, conversation was very careful. Most of the upper year students discussed it in terms of politics. They weighed the resolve of the Ministry versus the Dark Lord's insidious tactics. No mention at all was made of the Death Eaters. Everything was about their leader.
Finally it was time for the Leaving feast. The food was delicious as always, but a definite miasma of fear hovered in the air. The next morning, their visitors would be going home, and Hogwarts would close for another summer. After a ride on the Hogwarts Express, they would be back to the real world again. It was a scary place for many, a theme Professor Dumbledore addressed in his farewell to the students.
When the last of the desserts had been devoured, the Headmaster got to his feet. Where there had always been a sense of eccentricity and whimsey about him, Dumbledore now looked poised and focused. His was not the energy of the old man his silvery hair and beard proclaimed him to be. He raised his arms for silence.
"As you are all aware, Lord Voldemort has returned to threaten our world once more. He has seduced the dementors to his cause. He has taken control of Azkaban prison and freed those of his followers imprisoned there fourteen years ago. He is fortifying the island, and the Ministry is hard at work developing a plan to retake it. We are at a state of open warfare once more.
"If we are to reclaim the peace we have known these past fourteen years, Lord Voldemort must be stopped. The Ministry will fight, but the Ministry is only as good as the people in it. They will have need of many hands in the coming struggle, and I advise those who wish to fight to apply to the Auror program. The requirements are strict, but the Ministry will be re-evaluating the criteria to be sure to not overlook raw talent.
"There are also many roles to be played behind the front lines. I expect many new job postings to be in the Daily Prophet. There is always a need for thinkers as well as doers. Everybody can have a part in what must be done to achieve our security as free witches and wizards.
"We can win only if we stand united by common bonds of friendship, such as we have forged here with our guests from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons. To fight the coming darkness will require trust, loyalty, and love.
"Be vigilant over the holiday. Keep yourselves and your families safe. Good night."
Professor Snape accompanied the crowd of Slytherins as they made their way down to the common room. He spoke with Higgs and the other prefects, and the House was called to order that Snape might address them.
"It has been an exciting year. We made new friends - some of us very good friends," he added with a knowing tone in his voice. "We have been witness to some amazing feats of wizardry. One of our own became the youngest Triwizard winner in history, but there were more momentous events transpiring in the outside world.
"The Dark Lord who vanished fourteen years ago has returned. Next year, tempers will be hot, and to be a Slytherin will be to be suspect. We are all Death Eaters in the eyes of some, but Slytherin ambition can also lead many to a Ministry career. I urge you to recognize that the Dark Lord's designs for power threaten the ambitions of everyone. War is seldom a good way of achieving political objectives.
"The war will surely involve many of you if it lasts long enough. As always, my door is open to any who wish counsel. I will maintain confidence. No words spoken in private will be shared. Everyone needs someone to listen sometimes, and I am that someone. No problem is too big it cannot be shared, and talking can help order your thoughts.
"Stay safe this holiday. Do not be afraid to turn to each other if you should have need. Remember that your loyalty is first and foremost to the house."
Harry wondered if Professor Snape was playing a role even then. Some of the people in this room were related to Death Eaters. Was this urging for house unity directed towards that?
When Professor Snape left, Harry returned to the dormitory to pack the very last of his things. All he would need to leave out were his toothbrush, bathing kit, and a set of clothes.
They turned in early, and the next morning, Draco bid them all farewell. He was remaining at the castle with his mother and his brother, who had thus far stayed hidden in the staff wing.
After breakfast, the Durmstrang students boarded their ship and sailed away. The Beuuxbatons students piled into their carriage like a clown car and soared off into the sky. The Hogwarts students rode in the horseless carriages down to the village where they would catch the Hogwarts Express back to London.
Sirius was waiting for Harry at the platform. He was sitting on his motorbike, though the engine was not on. As Harry approached, a big grin broke on his face.
They embraced, but not too long with the others watching. They clapped each other on the back in a manly fashion and stepped back. Harry turned to his friends.
"I guess this is where we say good-bye. Have a good train ride."
"Bloody unfair," Daphne said, poking Harry in the ribs. "You just know Weasley is going to come by to bother us, and we'll have to deal with him."
"You helped me train for the third task. You can wipe the floor with Weasley."
"This is true."
Daphne hugged Harry, which irritated Tracy. A brief scowl flashed across her face, instantly replaced by a cheery smile.
"Bye, Harry. Have a good time."
"Bye, Tracy. Have a good holiday."
Pansy hugged him briefly and kissed his cheek. "Be safe. I'll be in touch very soon."
"Thanks, Pansy. Good journey."
Millie, who had been quiet all morning, was clearly missing Viktor Krum, but she but on a brave face and clapped Harry on the shoulder with a blow that nearly sent him lurching in front of an arriving carriage.
Crabbe and Goyle both shook hands with Harry as they boarded the train. Theo nodded, not saying anything, but not looking like he wanted to pick a fight either.
"Yes." Harry hopped on the back of the motorbike, and Sirius started the engine with a roar. They slowly wheeled down the lane.
The Hogwarts Express blew its whistle and began to chug-chug, slowly at first but gradually picking up steam. Harry leaned forward to yell in Sirius' ear. Sirius laughed and nodded. He gunned the motor and activated the Flying Charm. They followed the train from about a hundred feet up. It pulled away from the village, through the trees, and eventually headed towards a bridge over a river. Sirius put the motorbike into a dive, and Harry let out a whoop as they circled round and around the train and the trestle in a corkscrew. Harry caught sight of gawping faces pressed to the windows and laughed even harder. They took off up into the sky again. The wind was whipping at Harry's robes, the sun was shining, and he felt absolutely free.