Chapter Twelve: Revenge Is Not a Dish
Alex and Draco were back together by the time February arrived. After the events of the boathouse they had avoided each other for days, until Lily had intervened.
"Don't you think you're... overreacting?" she had said to Alex as they sat together in the stone garden. That high up, the cold January wind was blowing their hair wildly, but it was a good place for privacy in the winter.
"Maybe," said Alex, looking down at her hands. "But what if he really thinks that about me? That I'm just half a witch?"
"Then he's stupid," said Lily bluntly. "But from what you say, it sounds like he was just trying to explain about Daphne… he doesn't actually think it himself."
And Lily was right. Blinded by anger, Alex hadn't been thinking clearly. It wasn't Draco's fault that Daphne believed what she believed. It was awkward and uncomfortable, but she'd found Draco and apologised the next day.
A couple of weeks later they were back to normal, as if it had never happened.
"Draco, will you pass the jam?" said Alex, spreading butter over her toast. Draco passed the blackberry jam and Alex gave him a smile when she saw that he'd remembered her favourite. "Thanks," she said, removing the canvass cover. "Anything in the news?"
"More on this new law they're trying to pass," said Draco, flicking through the Hogsmeade Herald. The post had just arrived in a flurry of owls, bringing with it the papers. Alex didn't need a subscription: she just read over Draco's shoulder. MINISTER SUPPORTS BRA, the headline said, and Alex snorted.
"They could've thought of a less silly name," she said, spreading a thin layer of jam over melted butter. "Isn't it meant to be serious?"
"To be fair, they are missing two letters from the start. It's the non-human being registration act. But BRA is a bit more catchy than -" Draco paused a moment, frowning, "Nuh-bra?" he said. "Silent h?"
"Nuh-huh-bra," tried Alex, cocking her head."NH-bra?" She giggled at the looks they were receiving.
"You see the problem," said Draco, turning to his own toast.
"What're you talking about?" said Nott, taking a seat. As usual, he sat as far away from Alex as was possible. He was already dressed for class, his robes perfectly arranged. Draco used to do that too, before she'd got him to relax. Thank goodness. It was the height of winter now, so the boys were expected to wear their vaguely naval high-collared robes, while the girls had fortified themselves inside their outer robes. Wearing them at breakfast just felt wrong to Alex.
"The legislative agenda," said Draco. He always did that - the moment he was around his Slytherin friends he became more formal, more like the Draco she'd met on the train.
"Fascinating," Nott replied, pouring some cereal.
"So do you guys have a potions test today too?" said Alex, looking to Draco though she addressed both of them. He was looking down the table at Daphne, who was absorbed in a letter, her breakfast forgotten. Alex thought she looked rather pale. "Draco?"
"Hmm?" he said, turning to her. He hadn't been listening.
"Never mind," said Alex, "I should go get ready for class," she said, finishing her toast. She kissed Draco on the cheek and was almost at the door when Draco caught up with her.
"I'll walk with you," he said.
"Slytherin's in the opposite direction," she said, the question in her voice.
"I'll double back," said Draco, quite firmly, and Alex shrugged. If he was late for class it wasn't her problem.
"All right," she said, her hand finding his by instinct. She led him towards Hufflepuff: through the grand stair, down the library cloisters, and across the small courtyard leading to the kitchens. As they passed the library Draco looked over his shoulder, then around them.
"I have a favour to ask," he said, quietly, and Alex realised he'd waited until they were alone.
"That depends," she said, smiling. Was he going to kiss her there? "What is it?"
"Can I borrow your invisibility cloak?" he said, and Alex stopped short.
"Sorry?" she said, though she'd heard perfectly well.
"I know how important it is to you," - Alex doubted that very much - "but this is important."
"What do you need it for?" she asked. She'd only ever used it for sneaking into the library. She couldn't imagine what Draco wanted it for. "Not breaking into the girls dorms, I hope!"
"You don't!" said Alex, shocked. "Draco!"
"Shhh!" he said, pressing his finger to her lips. Impulsively, Alex licked it. "Urgh!" he said, wiping it on his sleeve. "I'm serious," he said. "I need to see what Daphne was reading."
A dozen replies competed for attention. Hadn't they agreed to leave Daphne alone? Had she done something to him? What was special about the letter?
"Why?" she said. Draco shifted, and looked around again. He looked torn.
"I'd prefer not to say," he said, and Alex raised an eyebrow.
"Let me get this straight," she said. "You want to use my cloak, but can't tell me why?"
Draco winced, then nodded.
It was ridiculous to ask so much and give so little. It wasn't reasonable. Didn't he trust her? But that's not the question, is it? she thought. Do I trust him? She looked into his nervous grey eyes and found only honesty there.
"All right," she said, not believing her own words. "You can borrow it."
Draco let out a breath. "Thank you," he said, hugging her and kissing her forehead. She smiled into his shoulder. "I owe you."
They continued to Hufflepuff - if Alex was lending him her cloak, the location of her House was a small matter - and he waited outside as she went to fetch it. When she returned, silvery cloth in hand, she had only one thing to say.
"Don't lose it."
"Finite Incantatum," said Alex. As expected, nothing happened.
Alex glared at the metal weight on the desk before her. It was a dull and dirty black, with 8oz marked on the top. Yet when she placed it on the scales, the needle pointed defiantly at four ounces. Alex sighed.
"Tricky, isn't it?" said Professor Winters' voice from behind her, and Alex looked up to find Winters watching her. How long has she been there? "What've you tried so far?"
Today's charms class was an introduction to Undoing. Alex had quickly got the hang of the undoing charm - she'd been reading about it for long enough - and so Professor Winters had given her a more advanced task. While her peers were all shouting "Finite!" at levitating candles, Alex had been given a magically lightened weight to despell.
"I started with counteraction," she said, "using the deadweight charm. But it didn't work."
"Oh?" said Winters, coming round to crouch next to Alex's desk. She tapped the weight with her wand, before nodding. "Why not?"
"I'm not sure," said Alex, "it might be because your featherlight charm is better cast than my deadweight charm."
"That's certainly possible," said Winters with a smile, "you said might. Why else?"
"I looked them up in Spellman's Almanac," she said, pointing to a forbiddable tome sitting on her desk, pulled from one of the classroom bookshelves. "The featherlight charm is more powerful than the deadweight."
"Which means?" prompted Winters.
"That my deadweight charm would have to be a lot better than your featherlight to counter it."
"Exactly," said Winters, picking up the weight and letting it rest in her palm. "This featherlight charm is grade two. It's impossible for the deadweight to overcome it."
"So counteraction is a dead end," said Alex, slightly surprised that Professor Winters could cast the spell with such mastery. Grade two was the second most powerful on Rell's Scale. Alex had never cast a spell of higher quality than grade six.
"Not necessarily. Merely counteraction with the deadweight charm," said Winters. "Radley's mass manipulation charm could do it, but that's NEWT-level magic. Did you try overwhelming it?"
"Just before you came over," said Alex.
"Try again," Winters said, so Alex raised her wand.
"Finite Incantatum!" she said, tapping the weight before reeling her wand away. The needle on the scales didn't move.
"Well cast," said Winters, "you could tighten the transition between two and five, but it's very good."
Alex blushed slightly with the praise, before frowning. "Didn't actually do anything, though," she said, pointing to the scales.
"Maybe, maybe not," said Winters, and she moved her wand in a complicated motion over the weight. "Hm. You've weakened the featherlight charm. A few more of those and you'd have it."
"So the solution is overwhelming?" said Alex, surprised. She thought there would be more to it.
"One solution is overwhelming," said Winters, "though an inelegant one. Even in a few years, when you'll be good enough to undo this with a single spell, it's the brute force approach, and won't work for everything. Sometimes you need to be more delicate."
"Unravelling, you mean," said Alex.
Winters gave her a smile. "Exactly. What do you know about the structure of the featherlight charm?"
"It's got two parts," she said, closing her eyes to remember, "the main effector, tied to a reference object - by default, a feather."
"Go on," said Winters, and now Alex had said it out loud, it was obvious.
"But... you can change the reference object," she said, sitting straighter, raising her wand. "I mean, obviously you haven't used a feather with this, as it's still four ounces. So all I have to do is trick the charm into taking the real weight as its reference and it'll unravel!"
"Your homework," said Winters, staying Alex's hand as she went to try. "Right!" called Winters suddenly, standing up and clapping once for the class' attention. "You each have an object. Your homework is to despell it before next class."
The bell rang, and the class packed up quickly. The day was over, and they had two hours of freedom until dinner.
"Walk with me, Alex?" said Daphne, ambushing her as she walked through the door. She'd changed her hair, Alex noticed, growing it out long and straight.
"Sure," Alex said, her mind rushing to Draco's mysterious mission. Daphne held out her arm; Alex took it.
"You know, we haven't spoken since Christmas," said Daphne, strolling slowly down the corridor. They attracted a few curious looks - it wasn't every day you saw Alexandra Potter and Daphne Greengrass arm in arm - and Alex enjoyed them. Let them look and wonder, she thought.
"Well, I've been very busy," said Alex. In truth, she didn't really know where she stood with Daphne. It was easier to just ignore it.
"Busy ignoring Granger," said Daphne, turning them down a quieter corridor. Alex had no idea where they were going. "Have you seen the way she practically runs away from you? It's pathetic."
"Mmm," Alex agreed, not wanting to commit to anything more than vague sounds. While it was good, of course, that Hermione was back at school, Alex wanted nothing to do with her. Best for everyone if we stay away from each other, she thought.
"And, of course, you've been busy hatching schemes," said Daphne, her voice casual. Alex almost froze on the spot, but recovered in time. She knows nothing, she thought. She's just fishing.
"Schemes?" she said, "I don't quite know what you-"
"I have your invisibility cloak," Daphne said, her voice suddenly cold, and this time Alex did freeze, their arms falling apart. She noticed, belatedly, that they were completely alone, standing in a long, dark corridor filled with dust.
"What?" she said, dread flooding through her veins. My dad's cloak!
"I don't know what you were after," said Daphne, leaning in close, "but Draco's noisier than a high Hippogriff. And now I have your cloak."
I don't believe it! Alex thought, her thoughts racing, he lost it! A hundred different lies popped into Alex's head. "Draco took my cloak?" she said, trying to sound shocked. "I can't believe he would-"
"Cut the crap, Potter," said Daphne, smirking. She had the advantage and she knew it. "You wanted to do something to me, and you sent Draco to do it. I know the cloak's yours - Draco told me everything. Begged me to give it back."
Alex paused. It couldn't hurt to ask. "Well?" she said, "will you? Give it back?"
Daphne snorted, and started walking again. Alex hurried after her, deeper into the unknown corridor, further from the populated areas of the castle. Where are we? There were no portraits here, but suits of armor stood in silent vigil in alcoves along both walls.
"I could tell a teacher," Alex said, but she knew it was an empty threat the moment it was out of her mouth. Invisibility Cloaks were banned at Hogwarts.
"Here's what you're going to do," said Daphne. "You're going to write to Mr Malfoy, asking him to invite me to next year's ball. On top of that, you're going to give me one thousand galleons - I know you have it. If you do that, maybe I'll consider giving you my cloak."
Alex exhaled heavily, trying to hold her temper. She wasn't going to rise to Daphne's bait. The deal was unacceptable: it was almost half her money, and there was no guarantee Daphne would return the cloak. She went a different route.
"Why're you doing this?" she said, "I thought we were over all this stuff."
"Of course you did," said Daphne, tossing her hair with a laugh in her voice. "You're a jumped up mudblood. You think because I was nice at Christmas we're suddenly friends? It was Christmas, you stupid slut, and all the teachers were breathing down our necks. As if I would treat the famous Girl Who Lived badly under Dumbledore's nose."
Alex clenched her teeth. All right, if that's the way she wants to play... Alex grabbed Daphne's arm, pulling them to a stop.
"Your turn to listen," said Alex, digging her nails into Daphne's skin. "Here's what you're going to do. You're going to give me my cloak back, right now, and you're not going to tell anyone about it. And if you don't-" Alex's mind flashed back to her plan, so eagerly discarded at Christmas "-I'll destroy you. There won't be any place you can hide."
For a moment, Alex thought Daphne would give in. The blonde girl met her gaze, clearly surprised, but only for a moment. She snatched her arm out of Alex's grip with a sniff.
"Let's make than two thousand galleons, shall we?" she said.
"I'm warning you, Daphne," said Alex, willing Daphne to believe her. "You'll regret this."
"Bring it!" Daphne said, and she turned away. Alex let her go.
The plan was on.
Two hours later Alex was waiting outside the Great Hall. Everyone else was inside, chatting loudly as they ate dinner - everyone except Draco.
Where is he? Alex thought, pacing near the bottom of the staircase. He should be here by now. If the plan fails because he's late for dinner...
"Draco!" she called, spotting him as he came out of a side door. She rushed over to him, grabbed his arm, and pulled him back through the door. The corridor beyond was empty. "Finally! Where've you been?"
"Never mind that," said Alex, shutting the door. "We don't have much time." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a thin vial. The potion within was almost identical to water, with only a slight pink tinge betraying its true nature. "Here," she said, passing him the vial, "you need to put this into Daphne's drink. Without being seen, obviously."
Looking rather dazed, Draco held the vial up to the light.
"What is it?" he said, and Alex noticed he looked paler than normal. His hair was a mess. No time for that now.
"We don't have time to talk about it," she said, "just trust me, okay?"
"I don't know about this..." said Draco, and Alex wanted to slap sense into him. She controlled herself.
"Well, since you lost my cloak, I think you owe me," she said, "this is the only way to clear up your mess."
Draco didn't meet Alex's eyes. "Listen, Alex, I'm really sorry about the cloak. I promise, I'll mail father and I'll get you the money-"
"This isn't about gold!" said Alex, waving her hands with exasperation. "That cloak was my father's. If you're really sorry, then you'll do this for me."
"Well, all right," said Draco, sighing. "It's not anything really dangerous, is it? What if someone else drinks some?"
"It's a pleasure potion, Draco," said Alex, losing her patience. "No one's gonna get hurt. Just do it, okay?"
Alex didn't wait for his answer before leaving. She entered the hall and went straight to the Hufflepuff table, finding Lily, who was already half way through her squash soup. She sat next to her and tore a hunk of bread from the loaf.
"Where've you been?" said Lily, glancing at her.
"Library," lied Alex, her eyes fixed to the Slytherin table. Daphne was there, right at the end with Pansy and Tracey. She watched as Draco came in and sat a few seats down, right next to the jug of water.
"Figuring out your charms homework?" said Lily.
"What?" said Alex. She'd completely forgotten about charms. "Oh, yeah."
"Great! You can help me tonight, then!"
Alex turned to Lily, about to wiggle out of it, but decided against it. She couldn't do anything to Daphne until they were asleep. It'd be a good way to kill the time. "Sure," she said, turning back to watch Daphne.
Dinner seemed to last forever. Alex barely touched her food, so intent was she upon the Slytherin table.
"You coming, Alex?" said Lily, standing to leave with Megan.
Draco was still eating.
"Meet you in the Winter room at half seven?" she said. Surely Draco will be finished by then.
"All right," said Lily, leaving Alex alone.
At last, Draco stood up. Alex practically leapt after him, catching up to him in the Entrance Hall. The place was still busy with the dinner traffic; Alex linked arms with Draco from behind, surprising him.
"Did you do it?" she whispered, leaning in to him. Draco nodded.
"Thank you!" said Alex, kissing him on the cheek with a fierce grin. That was the hard part. Now I just have to fall asleep.
"So I'm forgiven now?" said Draco.
"Almost," said Alex, a bounce in her step as they made their way across a moving staircase. "There's just one more thing I need."
"The Slytherin password."
Draco raised both eyebrows, but didn't stop walking. "You're planning to break into our dorm?" he said, clearly disbelieving.
"Not exactly," said Alex, "but I do need the password."
Draco barely hesitated. "Mongolian Moonthistle," he said, barely loud enough to be heard.
"That... that's the answer to our potions homework!" said Alex.
Draco smirked. "A coincidence, I'm sure," he said, but the twinkle in his eye said it was anything but.
They parted with a kiss by the portrait of Edmund the Eagle-Mad.
"Good luck, whatever you're doing," said Draco.
Alex returned to Hufflepuff and spent the evening with Lily, working on their charms homework. It didn't take long for Alex to unravel the charm on the weight, now she knew the strategy, but it took a lot longer to help Lily undo her floating candle. It was funny: Alex thought she understood the spell perfectly, but, when it came to explaining it, she found it very difficult to put into words. She ended up having to double check parts of the theory several times, after talking herself into a corner. By the end of the evening, Alex's undoing was much more powerful.
"I did it!" said Lily, brandishing her candle.
"Let's try again," said Alex, and she recast the levitation charm. The candle floated up to hover in front of Lily's face.
"Finite Incantatum!" said Lily, reeling her wand. The candle fell to the floor with a muted thump.
"Great!" said Alex, picking up the candle. Her charm wasn't perfect, but it was good enough. A cuckoo clock hooted nine - the first years' bedtime.
Butterflies bubbled in Alex's stomach as she made her way to the dorms. What if it doesn't work? What if I just sleep all the way through the night? What if Snape changes the password tonight? What if Daphne wakes up before I can frighten her? As Alex climbed into bed, clutching her wand, she suddenly began to doubt the plan. There were so many possible ways for it to fail.
The lights went off.
If it fails, it fails. But I might as well try.
Alex closed her eyes, a faint smile on her lips. Daphne was in for an interesting night.
It was always the same: the Great Hall, abandoned, set for breakfast. The summer sun streamed through the stained-glass windows, and a goblet of juice was half way to Alex's mouth. She paused, and became aware.
She suppressed the surge of excitement that ran through her. She was more experienced with somniamancy now, but too much could still wake her. She had to stay in control.
"Recludo," she said, tapping herself on the forehead with her wand, opening herself up to the shared dream world of Hogwarts' inhabitants. She'd long since moved past the need to see herself to cast the spell. Let's go.
She left the Great Hall and headed for the Slytherin dorms, passing across the central courtyard before going down into the old dungeons. Everywhere was still and silent, not a soul in sight. As far as Alex knew, no one else at Hogwarts practiced somniamancy. And even if they did, running into each other was unlikely.
Though dry, the dungeons were dark and cold. None of the torches were lit, and Alex struggled to find her way. But eventually she found it, just as Draco had described: halfway between two cellar doors, the shadow of a snake engraved on the wall from ceiling to floor.
"Mongolian Moonthistle," she said. Her voice was muffled, like speaking into a pillow, but it did the job: with a grinding of stone, the wall split along the snake, forming a smooth archway. Alex entered without hesitation.
The arch opened up into a single large room, bigger even than Hufflepuff's Big Room. Green light filtered in from a huge window, dominating one wall. The lake lay on the other side, and Alex stared at it in surprise. I didn't think I'd walked so far down. The window was the only source of light but it was enough for Alex to make out the rest of the room.
It was quite luxurious, all smooth dark stone and black leather couches, but it didn't feel very homely. Alex prefered Hufflepuff. At least we have natural light, she thought. The window to the lake was cool, but she'd get tired of not seeing the sun. She was about to check out the other rooms when she stopped herself. Enough tourism. She was here for a reason.
She headed for the stairs on the far side of the room, and went up. It didn't take long for her to find Daphne's dorm. She entered with a deep breath, hardly believing what she was doing. Last chance to back out.
She closed the door behind her.
The layout was like Hufflepuff: five four-poster beds, these ones decked out in green and silver. Daphne's was the third Alex checked. She lay on her side, her blonde hair loose. The covers were pulled all the way up to her chin and a faint smile was on her face. Good. Looks like the potion's working. A familiar mote of glowing white light floated over Daphne's forehead.
"Alohamora," said Alex. The glowing light grew into a disc, just as it had with Roland. "Here we go," she whispered, and, with her eyes closed, Alex pushed her face into the light.
She opened her eyes in a sunny garden. Long and thin, with tall hedges on both sides, it sat behind a line of terraced houses built in the Victorian style. The grass became a patio as it approached the house and a family of four sat there at a garden table, enjoying what looked like afternoon tea. Birds twittered in the trees and bees buzzed around the flowerbeds. It was quite idyllic.
Alex walked towards them, instantly recognising Daphne. None of them seemed to realise she was there. Not Daphne, nor the taller girl next to her - her sister, Alex guessed, judging by their similar hair. Their parents were similarly oblivious.
"Milk, Daphne?" asked Mrs Greengrass. She was, like her daughters, tall and thin, but there was a frailty to her that Daphne lacked. The bones of her face were too prominent, and her skin was unnaturally pale. Her eyes, however, were bright and clear.
"Thank you, mother," said Daphne, like the prim and proper pure-blood she was, sitting with her back straight and her head high. Mrs Greengrass poured the milk herself - no house elf, nor even a wand - and passed Daphne the china cup.
It was undecorated, Alex noticed. A plain, unassuming white. The table too, now that she looked, was simply made. A far cry from the contents of Manor in Hogsmeade, it could've come from a Muggle store.
"Tell me, Daphne," said Mr Greengrass, a thin man with even thinner brown hair, "how is Lord Talbot?"
"Filthy rich!" said the sister cheerfully, and Mrs Greengrass gasped.
"Astoria! It's not polite to say such things - not even in private," she said, expression disapproving. Suddenly, she smiled. "But you're not wrong. The Talbots are rather handsomely well off, aren't they?"
"That's the girl," said Mr Greengrass, smiling at Daphne with something like pride. "You'll go far, mark my words."
Alex looked on incredulously. This is Daphne's perfect dream? It's as dull as the Dursleys!
"It's not like we're getting married," said Daphne, but it was obvious she was happy. "But Lord Talbot did tell me I was a fine companion for Henry."
"Well!" said Mr Greengrass, leaning back in his seat, "there you have it!"
"When can I have a boyfriend?" said Astoria with a whine.
"Not 'til you're at Hogwarts, dear," said Mrs Greengrass, before turning back to Daphne. "Now, did you say you've been invited to the Malfoy ball next year?"
That's enough, Alex thought. Time to liven this up. The Greengrasses were still completely oblivious to her presence. She raised her wand.
"Domino, demuto, incubo," she chanted, swinging her wand back and forth like a pendulum. The sun slipped behind a cloud, and Daphne shivered.
"No idea how we're going to afford a dress if you are," said Mr Greengrass, "you might have to politely decline."
"Father!" said Daphne, her eyes going wide. "Decline the Malfoys? That's..."
"I don't see any other way, Daphne. Better to decline than to go and be embarrassed."
"Now, dear, I'm sure we could find enough for just one-"
It wasn't enough. "Domino, demuto, incubo," repeated Alex.
"We could not," Mr Greengrass said firmly, slapping the table hard. "We already owe the Malfoys four thousand galleons, the Swanns another two thousand, and the goblins five hundred. I'll not bankrupt myself for a dress!"
"Father, we're already bankrupt," said Daphne, no longer smiling. "Maybe if you hadn't spent all the money-"
"And let your mother die, is that it?" said Mr Greengrass, standing up.
"That's not what I meant!" said Daphne, also standing.
"Why are we fighting?" said Astoria, looking like she was about to cry, and Mrs Greengrass stood up too.
"If you don't want to be part of this family, Daphne, maybe you should run away again."
Everyone went silent, and turned to Mrs Greengrass in shock. Alex's eyes widened. Daphne ran away from home? Alex turned to her. She was on the verge of tears. After a moment of hesitation, she ran towards the house.
"Daphne!" called her mother, moving to go after her. "I didn't-"
"Let her be," said Mr Greengrass, and they sat back down. Alex left them there, following Daphne into the house.
She entered through the surprisingly normal kitchen. It had a fridge, not a wizarding cool box, and the stove was clearly connected to gas. The Greengrasses lived in a Muggle house!
Alex went from the kitchen into the sitting room. Where now? The sound of feet running up carpeted stairs gave Daphne away. Alex followed, and reached the top of the stairs just as a door slammed shut. Gotcha.
She entered the bedroom.
Like the rest of the house it was small and simply decorated. The walls were white, the bed single. Daphne lay on it, face down, crying into a teddy bear. Alex shut the door loudly, and Daphne jumped up.
"What're you doing here?" she said, quickly wiping her eyes dry.
"I told you, Daphne," said Alex, raising her wand. "I told you not to mess with me."
Daphne screwed up her eyes and rubbed her forehead. "I don't..." she began, before shaking her head. "I don't understand. Why are you here?"
"I can get you anywhere," said Alex. Not true, but Daphne couldn't know. "Even your dreams."
Daphne's eyes snapped open, and Alex knew she'd realised she was dreaming.
"Bingo!" she said, moving to sit on Daphne's desk chair. It creaked as she leaned back. "I knew you'd get there eventually."
"If this is a dream," said Daphne, "then I'm just dreaming you too."
"Nope!" said Alex, grinning. It was an addictive thing: the feeling of control, of having Daphne completely within her power. "Here, let me show you. Diffindo!"
The invisible scissor charm slashed Daphne across her cheek, opening an inch long cut.
"Ow!" said Daphne, her hand slapping up to her cheek, pushing against the cut, which was bleeding quite impressively. "That... hurt!"
"You don't know the half of it," said Alex, keeping her wand trained on Daphne. Not that she knew any good jinxes. Something I'll have to look up later. The scissor charm was designed for paper, not people, and was meant to be applied with direct contact. "You see, dear Daphne, anything I do to you here happens in real life too. When you wake up, you'll have that cut on your cheek."
Daphne's eyes shifted to look at Alex's wand point. Suddenly she looked nervous.
"You're lying," she said, her voice wavering, but she took a step back nonetheless. Her legs bumped up against the bed. "There's no such magic."
"Perhaps if you spent more time on study and less on making my life miserable you'd know there was," said Alex, and she raised the wand again. Daphne tried to dodge, but she just fell onto the bed. "Diffindo!" This one caught Daphne in the arm, right by the elbow, and Daphne gasped in pain.
"Why are you doing this?" said Daphne, her eyes swimming, her voice thick.
Anger like nothing she'd ever known grew in Alex. "Why?" she hissed, "you even have to ask? You've been on my case since day one. You spread rumours about me for no reason! You poisoned me in front of the school! You pretended to be my friend, then you stole my father's cloak and blackmailed me!" She took a deep, shuddering breath, and realised that she too was crying. "You'll never hurt me again." Her wand began to move.
"Stop it!" Daphne said, shying away, "please! Just stop!"
"Give me my cloak back," said Alex, not lowering her wand, "first thing tomorrow. Promise me you'll never come near me again."
"I promise!" said Daphne.
"If you break your promise, you know I can get you," Alex said, and a memory stirred in her mind.
I'm going to get you, Dudley said. Tomorrow at school.
Alex covered her mouth in shock. No, she thought. I'm not like him. But when she looked down at Daphne, cringing back in fear, Alex's wand wavered.
The moment of hesitation was all Daphne needed. She leapt off the bed and smashed into Alex at the waist, tackling her. Alex cried out, trying to bring her wand to bear, but it flew out of her hand as she landed on the hard wooden floor.
Winded, Alex looked around for her wand, but Daphne was already scrambling after it.
"No!" said Alex, and she grabbed onto Daphne's hair. She screamed as Alex tugged hard, turning back to slap her across the face. Bright hot stinging heat spread across Alex's cheek, but she didn't let go; she pulled again on Daphne's hair, dragging her back down to the floor, and tried to stand herself, dodging Daphne's flailing arms.
With a dive she reclaimed her wand.
"Domino, demuto, incubo!" she shouted, just in time: Daphne had got back up. Alex suddenly wondered why she hadn't woken up yet. A fight like that, combined with her aware state, should've been enough to wake Daphne up.
"Give me the wand," Daphne said, standing over Alex, her foot poised to kick. I definitely need to learn more hexes.
"Fuck off," said Alex, and Daphne raised her foot.
With the sound of splintering wood, the head of an axe smashed through Daphne's door. Daphne spun to face it, just as it came down again - CRASH!
"DAPHNE!" shouted Mr Greengrass from the other side, and the axe came down a third time, completely destroying the door. The nightmare stepped through into the bedroom, surveying the two of them with red eyes.
"Alex..." said Daphne, right as Mr Greengrass raised the axe.
"Finite!" shouted Alex, pointing the wand at Mr Greengrass.
Nothing happened. He swung the axe; Daphne dived. The axe missed her neck by less than an inch.
"ALEX!" she shouted. Mr Greengrass stepped to stand over her, and raised the axe. Alex jumped up, waving her wand.
"FINITE INCANTATUM!" she shouted, putting everything into the spell, lacing it with dark magic. Mr Greengrass froze in place, and Alex breathed a sigh of relief.
And then he turned to face her, his red eyes meeting hers, and her scar exploded in pain. Alex screamed and fell to her knees, her hands clutching her head. It was like a nail had been rammed through her scar, right into her brain. Warm blood trickled down her face, and she looked up to face the nightmare.
Mr Greengrass melted away. In his place a tall man stood, bald, pale and skeletal, with slits for a nose and red eyes.
Alex froze and Daphne sobbed.. Slowly, Voldemort lifted his wand to point at Alex.
Green light flashed.
Alex jumped out of bed before she was even fully awake, her head pounding. Blood was drying on her face, but it barely registered. Daphne! She's still stuck there!
For the smallest fraction of a moment, Alex hesitated. She would be in trouble for this, she knew. Fuck that!
She raced out of her dorm, wand in hand, and ran down the stairs. Prefect? No - not enough time! She ran all the way to Slytherin, her heart hammering in her chest, the night's cold air burning in her lungs.
"Mongolian Moonthistle!" she shouted as she approached the entrance, and the archway opened just as in her dream. She ran through the common room without a glance, right up the girls stairs, and into Daphne's dorm.
"Lumos!" she shouted, running over to Daphne's bed. She tore the curtains open, and gasped. Blood was everywhere, soaked through the sheets, and Daphne was deadly pale. Alex wanted to throw up. "HELP!" she screamed, "somebody help!"
The other girls in the dorm stirred.
"What's going on?" said Pansy, crawling out of her bed. Her eyes widened when she saw Alex and Daphne. "Oh my god!"
"Help me!" Alex begged through her tears, but Pansy just continued to stare.
The door burst open and Professor Snape strode into the room, dressed in blue pyjamas. He looked around the room once, taking everything in, and turned immediately to Daphne's bed.
"Please, sir, help her!" said Alex, and Snape raised his wand, his expression inscrutable.
Red light flashed, and everything went black.
Alex woke in her own bed. She sat up, disoriented, to find the dorm empty. What's going on? Her thoughts went immediately to Daphne, her mind filling with the image of blood soaked sheets. She could still smell it, the metallic tang that couldn't be ignored.
Her stomach trembled and Alex ran to the bathroom. The moment she entered the stall she hurled, her empty stomach wrenching as it tried to turn Alex inside out.
Oh god. It went so wrong. I never meant for... that. For Daphne to -
Alex shook her head, refusing to think like that. She'll be fine. She has to be. Snape was there. He'll have helped her. She cleaned herself up and headed over to the mirror. Whoever had taken her back to Hufflepuff had fixed her up: though pale, her face was clean, her head clear. The pain in her scar was just a memory.
What was that all about, anyway? Until last night, her scar had never been anything other than a mark on her skin. Until he had come. Alex's stomach flipped again, this time in fear. What's going to happen to me? Where's everyone else?
It wasn't until she dressed that she realised her wand was missing. She searched for it everywhere, but it was nowhere to be found. She checked her watch: almost eight o'clock. Breakfast would be almost over.
The Great Hall was already full and burst into whispers as she entered. Everyone was looking at her, and not in a good way. She'd never been popular with the Slytherins, but the looks of venom they sent her now made her want to run away. And it wasn't just her own year: the seventh years were whispering too, staring at her with calculating eyes.
Alex looked around, trying to find Draco, but he wasn't there. Working on automatic, she walked over to the Hufflepuff table and went to take the first seat available.
"That seat's taken," said Hannah, placing an arm across it so Alex couldn't sit.
"Piss off, Potter!" shouted a voice down the table - a boy; Alex didn't recognise his voice. She glanced towards Peter, the prefect, but the older boy's face was stony.
"Move along, Potter," he said, waving her down the table.
Alex didn't protest. She wandered down the table until she found Lily. She was silent as Alex sat, watching her with wide eyes. Her stomach still roiling, Alex didn't eat anything. She wasn't even sure why she'd come to breakfast. At last, Lily spoke.
"Is it true?" she whispered, pouring Alex some orange juice. Alex didn't touch it.
"Is-" Alex croaked, and she cleared her throat. "Is what true?"
"People are saying... they're saying you killed Daphne," said Lily, glancing sideways at those around them.
What hope Alex held onto seemed to plummet from her stomach to her bladder. It was lucky she was sitting down, because had she been standing she surely would have fallen.
"Daphne's dead?" Alex said, her voice barely a whimper, but Lily heard.
"Well, the teachers aren't saying anything," said Lily, "but Susan heard it from Sophie who heard it from Pansy."
Alex went straight from breakfast to Potions, walking in a daze. Some part of her remembered they had a test today, but she couldn't bring herself to care. Daphne was dead. She arrived at Potions to see her classmates gathered around the heavy oak door, where a piece of parchment had been stuck up.
CLASS CANCELLED. RETURN TO YOUR COMMON ROOMS AND PREPARE FOR THE TEST.
"There she is!" someone said, and they turned to face her as one. Alex noticed Sophie Roper at the back of the crowd, her eyes red and puffy. She looked almost as bad as Alex did. Astrid was there too, watching Alex with narrow eyes. Probably wondering if I'll get her in trouble too.
"Sophie..." Alex began.
"Don't you dare talk to her!" said Mandy, stepping between them. She was a big girl in every sense of the word, with a round face and frizzy blonde hair. "Not after what you did!"
Mandy glanced at the crowd behind her for confidence. "You've not got long, Potter," she said. "You'll be expelled for this."
Alex wanted to throw up again. Mandy was right. They knew she did it. She should've been expelled already - what were they waiting for? She wasn't going to waste the time she had.
"Sophie?" she repeated, trying to look past Mandy, "can we talk?" She had no idea what she wanted to say to her. She just felt it was important to say something - anything. To say sorry.
Sophie stepped forward, and Mandy stepped out of the way. They stared at each other for just a moment. "You should go," said Sophie, looking down at her shoes.
Tears welled up in Alex's eyes and she turned to hide them. "Okay," she said, and wiped her face dry again. I can't even apologise, now. She left Potions but didn't return to Hufflepuff, as the sign instructed. She went to the library instead - to the deepest, darkest corner of it, where no one could find her - and sat on the floor, her back against a bookcase.
She was going to be expelled. She was certain of it. She was going to be expelled and thrown out of her home, forced to return to the Dursleys. Forced to live as a Muggle, her wand broken. Worst of all, Alex knew she couldn't argue against it. It was all true: she had killed Daphne. It was all her fault. There wasn't anything to hide behind, this time. No excuses, no "they started it", no "it was her own fault". It was all on her.
Alex didn't leave the library until lunch, heading towards the Great Hall out of habit. She wasn't hungry, but for some reason she had been left to wander free. When will they expel me? she wondered, and then she saw him - Draco! He was crossing the small courtyard, alone. It looked like he was coming from the east wing, not Slytherin. Strange.
"Draco!" she shouted, making him jump - the courtyard was empty. Everyone was probably already at lunch. Draco turned to face her, and Alex knew something was wrong. His eyes were red, his hair messy, and his robed were rumpled.
"Alexandra," he said, and when Alex went to hug him he stepped back. Alex's heart sunk. Not him too. She'd thought - hoped - that of all of Hogwarts, maybe Draco wouldn't judge her. Would tell her everything would be okay.
"Draco, what's wrong?" said Alex.
"What's wrong?" said Draco, his voice shrill. "I've just been questioned by the Aurors! Me! All because of you. You told me it was safe!"
"I thought it was," said Alex, some small fire of defiance still burning deep down. There was no way she was going to let him blame her for everything. He'd been a part of it too.
"Well, it wasn't!" said Draco, throwing his arms up, and he began to pace. "You told me it was safe, and I believed you. I helped you to - to do that to Daphne." He stopped pacing, and turned to face her. "You tricked me," he said, quietly, "you used me."
"No, Draco, it's not like that," pleaded Alex, reaching for his hand.
"Get your filthy hands off me!" Draco shrieked, slapping her hand away. "Father says I should be checked for love potions," he said, drawing himself up. "It's the only explanation for why I would ever have been with you."
For the fourth time in one day, Alex began to cry. "Draco, what're you saying?" she said, "you don't mean this..."
"I do," said Draco. "We're done. Don't come near me again."
He walked off. Alex watched him go, stunned. Everything was falling to pieces around her. Her whole life was crumbling down.
It was only fair. She had taken Daphne's life. Now she would pay with hers. She suddenly knew she couldn't face the Great Hall again. She wandered over to one of the benches and sat, staring at the fountain at the centre of the courtyard.
I wish... I wish Mum and Dad were here.
It had been a long time since Alex had wished for her parents. She'd given up such dreams a long time ago, accepting that they weren't coming back and she had to look after herself. She had no family, and in that moment she felt it keenly. There was no one who would accept her come what may. There was no one should could turn to.
A door slammed, and Professor Sprout walked into the courtyard. She moved briskly over to Alex's bench, her face strangely solemn.
"Professor Dumbledore will see you now," she said.
She led Alex through the school like a prisoner to be executed. Alex didn't resist, but nor did she go eagerly, each step heavy. The walk to Professor Dumbledore's office was all too short.
"Up you go," said Sprout, giving the password, and the gargoyle took her up.
She raised her hand to knock on the door, but it swung open before she could. The office was unchanged since their dinners. A large fire filled the room with warm light, and Dumbledore sat tall, throned behind his mighty desk. Her wand was resting before him, and a roll of parchment. He was not smiling, and there was no twinkle in his eye.
Alex looked down the moment she met his eyes. She couldn't stand to be seen by him thus. Shame filled her - she had let him down. She shuffled over to the seat opposite Dumbledore, and waited.
Silence stretched out, and finally she looked up.
Dumbledore's face was grim. And yet, he didn't look angry. It was worse. He looked upon her with sadness. With pity. At last he spoke.
"Daphne Greengrass is in St. Mungo's spell damage ward. It is not yet certain if she will live. Tell me why you have done this."
Alex looked to her shoes, her throat dry. How could she explain it?
"I don't know where to start," she mumbled, still looking at her shoes.
"Then start at the beginning," he said, his voice lacking its characteristic warmth. "And look at me when you do so."
With a great force of will, Alex looked up and met his piercing blue eyes. It felt like her entire soul was bare to him. And then she told him. She told him of Daphne's prank, of her plans for revenge, of the Restricted Section. She told him about practicing somniamancy, of recruiting Draco into her plan. Throughout it all he sat unmoving, his hands folded on top of the desk, a perfect audience.
"And then she came to me after Charms, and said she had my cloak," Alex continued, a great weight seeming to lift from her as she told the story. "So I-"
"Wait," said Dumbledore, moving for the first time. If Alex didn't know better, she'd think he looked alarmed. "Miss Greengrass is in possession of your father's cloak?"
"Yes," said Alex, wondering why this, of everything she had said, had made him interrupt. He flicked his wrist and a wand appeared in his hand. For a brief, terrible moment, Alex shied back, thinking he was to use it on her, but it merely produced a flash of silver light, rushing into one of the walls quicker than she could follow.
"Very well," said Dumbledore, sitting back. "Continue."
After that the story didn't take long. She recounted her trip into the dream world, her invasion of Daphne's dreams, of how she had confronted Daphne, before the nightmare took the form of Voldemort.
"You say your scar hurt?" said Dumbledore, his wand appearing once more. He stood, walked around the desk, and moved his wand around her face. "Did it still hurt when you awoke?"
"Yes," said Alex, wondering what it meant, "and it was bleeding."
"Indeed?" he said, and Alex thought she heard something of the man she knew there. "I presume you woke up after Voldemort cursed you?"
"Yes," said Alex, "the curse, I'd never heard of it before..."
"You wouldn't have," said Dumbledore, sitting back down. "Or at least, I should hope not. It appears I have been remiss... I apologise."
Alex gaped. He was apologising to her?
"Yes, Alex," he said, nodding at her expression. "I am ultimately responsible for all that occurs within this castle. I apologise. I should have reined you in sooner."
Alex frowned. "What do you mean, sir?" she said, confused. This conversation was not what she expected.
"Do not think me blind, Alex," said Dumbledore, "I know much of your activities over the past months. I have watched with dismay the way you have treated Miss Granger, and Miss Greengrass. You must understand the seriousness of your actions."
"I do, sir," said Alex.
Dumbledore sighed. "I'm afraid you do not," he said, and he pulled a large binder from a drawer. "This folder contains every assignment you have written, every test you have taken, every report on your progress by your teachers." He leafed through it casually. "It is quite the read. Such performance has few equals in the history of this school."
Alex nodded, wondering where he was going.
"You are intelligent, Alex, and talented. And yet you lack that most vital of qualities: sound moral judgement." He paused. "In that matter you are not so different from your peers. However, to combine it with such talent... look at me, Alex."
Alex looked up again, meeting his eyes.
"I shall not permit the rise of another Voldemort," he said, and there was a harshness to his voice that was completely unfamiliar. Alex swallowed.
"I'm not like him," she said, quietly. She wasn't so sure of it herself. When had Voldemort killed his first victim?
"No, you are not," said Dumbledore, and he leaned back, his voice back to normal. "And for that I am most thankful. But you must be careful, Alex, very careful. It is a delicate line you walk. That we walk." He looked back down to the roll of parchment on his desk. "On this occasion, you have crossed that line severely. Punishment is in order."
Alex swallowed again, and her stomach wobbled dangerously. Here it comes.
"This," said Dumbledore, taking up the scroll, "is the order, signed by the Board of Governors, for your expulsion from Hogwarts."
Alex blinked rapidly, trying at least to keep her dignity, when Dumbledore clicked his fingers. A ball of flame consumed the scroll in less than a second.
"Having heard your testimony, I have deemed your expulsion premature," said Dumbledore, and, though he wasn't smiling, some measure of warmth returned to his voice. "You are not beyond redemption, Alex, not yet. In seeking to correct your mistake last night, knowing that you would face punishment, you have demonstrated your remorse. And, while you have clearly displayed appalling judgement, the involvement of Voldemort cannot be ignored."
Alex couldn't help it - she smiled. I'm not going to be expelled! Mortified, she tried to hide it, but she couldn't stop the wave of relief that washed through her. It was like she could suddenly breathe again. "Thank you, sir," she said, but Dumbledore held up his finger.
"However," he said, pulling a parchment from his desk drawer. "A crime of this magnitude cannot go unpunished. I am suspending you from Hogwarts, so that you may reflect on your wrongdoings and, hopefully, learn from them."
The feeling of relief faded. She would have to go back to the Dursleys. And then she would have to return to school in shame. Better than expulsion, though.
"How long will I be suspended for, sir?" she asked. A week was standard.
"Indefinitely," said Dumbledore, scribbling on the parchment without looking up.
Alex blinked. That was as good as expulsion! "But, sir, I thought-"
"Unfortunately, Alex, this is out of my hands," he said, and he stood up, finished with the parchment. He walked over to the fireplace. He looked back at her not unkindly. "You are going to have to learn the hard way, I'm afraid: actions have consequences."
He tossed a handful of powder into the fire and it turned green. A black man stepped through, wearing scarlet robes. While not as tall as the Headmaster, he was still big, and broad shouldered. Everything about him screamed strength and authority, from the confidence of his step to the way he shook hands.
"Dumbledore," the man said, his voice a deep baritone.
"Auror Shacklebolt," said Dumbledore, and Alex stiffened in her seat. What's going on? "Welcome to Hogwarts. I trust that you will handle this with all due delicacy."
Shacklebolt nodded, and turned to Alex.
"Alexandra Alice Potter," he said, stepping forward. "By the authority of the Ministry of Magic, I am placing you under arrest."