Rating: PG for a little scary stuff and some tasteful swearing later on.
Summary: This is a parallel novel to The Prisoner of Azkaban and a sequel to the previous two Serpents' Society novels. Great pains have been taken to make sure that this book doesn't change the story told in PoA or contradict anything in the series. (You can ask my beautiful, intelligent and picky beta-reader Giesbrecht.) If you get confused, I recommend reading The Serpents' Society and the Quest for the Heir (parallel of CoS), because it's better than the first Serpents' Society novel.
Spoilers: All four novels and both textbooks.
Shipping: Strictly Canon.
Disclaimer: All the amusing and clever stuff belongs to Ms. Rowling, as do most of the fancy words.
Assumptions: 1-Blaise Zabini is a girl. 2-Warrington is two years older than Harry. 3-No one is going to pay me for writing this.
Reviews: Please leave a review at whatever point you stop reading the story, to let me know why. Even a simple "I hate OC's" or "This bites" or "Geez, this is a long introduction" will be enough. Thanks!
Chapter One: Wine, Women, and Song
Never show weakness: That was the Slytherin code.
It was unofficial, of course. The more widely-acknowledged slogan was "Get ahead-- any way you can." A perfectly legitimate goal; but what every Slytherin knew was that sometimes, getting ahead meant taking out someone weaker than you. You never, never wanted to be that person.
That was why, on the second-to-last day of August in the year 1993, Beth Parson stood in her best dress robes at the door of the Ollivanders' mansion, greeting guests as they came inside. Tall with bushy blonde hair and a jutting chin, she had always felt out of place in "high society" and especially hated idle chat with complete strangers; nonetheless, in the interest of hiding her weaknesses, here she was, shaking hands and smiling at elegant purebloods entering the Ollivanders' dinner party.
"I'm sorry!" her best friend Melissa had cried earlier that day. "I just wanted to have a sleepover, but Mum got so excited about it --"
So excited was Mrs. Ollivander that she had invited the entire Slytherin house and their parents and turned it into a banquet and cocktail party. The guest list overflowed with almost four dozen students, with another fifty fully-grown wizards -- either their parents or friends of the Ollivanders -- to round it out. Luckily, only about half of the students had accepted the invitation. Even now, Beth wasn't entirely sure who to expect.
"Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy. Draco, so good to see you."
Melissa's voice broke Beth out of her reverie. The Malfoys, blonde and elegant, stood shaking hands with Melissa. Draco had a girl on his arm -- Beth recognized her as Pansy Parkinson, another one of the third-years. "Hello, Pansy," she said.
Pansy inclined her head in an aristocratic gesture of acknowledgement. "I do hope there will be dancing," she said by way of reply, tugging lightly on Draco's arm. He smiled at her.
"Oh, I don't know, I don't --" Beth began, but Melissa broke in:
"Dancing will follow immediately after dinner and continue into the night. Please feel free to mingle until the entertainment begins." Melissa waited until the group was out of earshot before she turned back to Beth. "Please, can you be a bit more elegant?"
"Sorry, I'm no good at flattery," Beth said crossly. "Anyway, you keep hogging the conversation --"
She never finished her statement, however, because Melissa had turned back to the door to greet another family.
Beth and Melissa had a lot in common. They were both fifth-year Slytherins at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; they were both relatively good students with mutual friends and enemies. There was one more similarity that very few people were aware of: they were both members of the Society for Slytherin Advancement, a secret organization dedicated to advancing the Slytherin house by learning the secrets of Hogwarts and supporting its members in their personal quests for greatness.
When it came right down to it, though, sometimes Beth wondered how she and Melissa had ever gotten to be friends. Melissa was from a very old, very rich wizarding family; she loved high society and fancy occasions. Beth, on the other hand, had been raised by her increasingly arthritic father in relative obscurity. She was extremely self-conscious and hated feeling like she was being scrutinized; in short, the doorway of a dinner party was the last place she felt like she should be.
The guests moved on and Beth turned back to Melissa. "I can't do this much longer. Isn't there somewhere else I can be?"
"Oh -- all right," Melissa agreed, tossing her long black hair over her shoulder. She looked around. "Galen's looking a little lost. Go make him feel at home. Hello, Mrs. Montague; it's a beautiful night, isn't it?"
Heaving a sigh of relief, Beth slipped away. Galen Melhorn, Melissa's longtime boyfriend and seventh-year Gryffindor, was standing awkwardly with his hands in his pockets about halfway across the room. He was by himself. Beth approached him with a shy smile and held out her hand.
"Hi -- remember me? I'm Beth Parson, a friend of Melissa's."
Galen shook her hand. "Oh, hi." He looked closely at her face. "You're the one who slapped Fred Weasley, aren't you? The other year?"
"Oh ... yeah, that was me." Beth blushed deeply. "How are you enjoying the party?"
Galen took a breath and looked around. "Well ... I don't know anyone, and nothing's happening ... it's kind of boring, to tell the truth."
"I couldn't agree more," said Beth seriously, and they both laughed. "I just let Melissa go on with whatever her plans are, and hope they're not too bad."
"You know, that works for me too," said Galen, with a grin.
Without warning, someone came up behind Beth and clamped her arms in a bear hug. "How've you been, Beth?"
She shrieked nervously and struggled until the unknown someone put her down. Laughing, she turned around, and when she saw who it was, hugged him again. "Bruce!"
Bruce Bletchley grinned awkwardly until she let him go. "Good to see you. Who's your friend?"
"This is Galen Melhorn, remember?"
"Oh yeah ..." Bruce and Galen shook hands, but not in an especially jovial way. "Good to meet you."
There was a pause. Then Beth said: "So, Bruce, what did you do all summer?"
"Quidditch," said Bruce, brightening instantly. "By the way, d'you know most of the team's here? Uther's over in the corner all pissed off because Mel invited some of the Capulets. Anyway, my cousins came up from Kent for a month, and they're smashing good Beaters, so between us we put together a great defensive side, you know, for scrimmages on the local pitch."
It turned out that Galen, too, was from Kent, so the conversation turned to Quidditch and mutual acquaintances until Melissa bustled up to them and hissed, "The entertainment's starting. Come on, let's go get a table!"
In the next room, a low stage had been erected along one wall, with a piano on one side of it. Surrounding it were lots of small, round tables on the floor. They grabbed one near the stage that had four seats. Almost as soon as they had sat down, the lights dimmed and a long, lanky man strode onto the stage.
"Mr. Needleton," Melissa murmured. "He works for us -- sort of a public-relations man."
Onstage, Mr. Needleton raised his hands. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome!" There was a round of polite applause. "Our gracious hosts the Ollivanders have arranged a treat for us tonight. Not only is she beautiful, but she has a magical voice that is sure to please, and a heart of gold. Let me introduce -- the one and only -- the Singing Sorceress -- Celestina Warbeck!"
The crowd applauded enthusiastically. In a puff of purple smoke, a beautiful woman appeared on stage. Her hair was sleek and piled high on her head, and her robes shimmered in the candlelight. She pointed her wand flirtatiously at the piano, and it began to tinkle out a relaxed, easy number.
"How did you get hold of her?" Beth murmured to Melissa, who was swaying dreamily to the music. "She's like, the most famous singer in England."
"Friend of my parents'," she replied vaguely. "Hush, I love this part."
Celestina Warbeck took a bow as the crowd applauded again. A few of the students let out catcalls; she smiled and waved in that direction. The many jewels on her fingers glinted, but one ring didn't catch any light; its flat crest and pewter color remained unobtrusive.
The performance was extraordinary. Apart from being extremely talented, Celestina Warbeck turned out to be charming and witty, entertaining the crowd in between songs with funny anecdotes or amusing commentary. Beth was torn between admiration and envy. She would never be that attractive or glamorous, and she knew it. Then again, Ms. Warbeck made even Antigone von Dervish, the prettiest girl in the fifth year, look as plain as porridge.
After a rousing rendition of "Beat Back Those Bludgers, Boys, and Chuck That Quaffle Here" (which the whole Slytherin Quidditch team heartily joined in), Celestina waved at the audience again and disappeared in a puff of pink fog. There was enthusiastic cheering. Mr. Needleton came back onto the stage.
"Well! It sounds like you've all enjoyed Ms. Warbeck's performance!" More applause. The Quidditch team roared their agreement. "She has asked me to thank you for being such a receptive audience -- and that she looks forward to meeting all of you as the evening moves along. Now -- dinner!" He clapped his hands and the lighting changed: instead of focusing on the stage, each table now had an elegant chandelier above it, glimmering with dozens of bright candles. A few moments later, a tiny embossed menu with a gold tassel appeared on top of each plate.
Melissa picked hers up and began to scrutinize it fashionably. "What are you going to order, Beth?"
Beth looked down at the menu. Every other word was unrecognizable; Beth wasn't sure if it was in another language or simply peppered with culinary terms. "I'm not even sure I'll know what it is once I've ordered it," she joked, but Melissa gave her such a disdainful glare that she subsided and took a closer look at the menu.
"This is all food?" wondered Bruce, turning his menu this way and that. "What's ragamunkar, some kind of cat or something?"
"It's cabbage," said Melissa witheringly. "It's Polish."
"Oh," said Bruce. He squinted at the menu. "What's raitha, then?"
"Steamed otter," said Beth facetiously, "covered in paint."
"Honestly," sniffed Melissa. "That's Brinjal Raitha, it means it's a curd-based eggplant dish. Really, you'd think you had never been to a nice restaurant."
"I think McDonald's is very nice," Beth said, sticking her nose in the air, while Galen said, "Come on, hon, they never serve anything like this at the Three Broomsticks."
Melissa turned away muttering something about swine.
Eventually, and with much huffy sighing from Melissa, they had enough of an idea what everything was to order without fear. Beth got a dragon steak, which she'd never had, and several kinds of exotic-sounding vegetables. Bruce ordered a great deal of shellfish and spent the meal trying to wrestle the meat out of the hard, cooked exoskeletons. On Melissa's rather strong advice, Galen chose an obscure sauté of tripe and slivered Horklumps. "It's a delicacy," Melissa insisted.
"To gnomes, maybe," Galen muttered to Bruce, when her back was turned.
During dinner they had a chance to get caught up on what they had done over the summer. Unsurprisingly, Bruce had spent most of his time at the local Quidditch pitch, practicing for his position on the school team as Keeper.
"I dunno, Bruce, think you'll get the position this year?" Beth teased.
Bruce looked up at her mildly. "Already have it." He cracked a crab claw in half and began to tediously pick out the meat.
Melissa grinned. "Let's not get cocky, Brucey, you've only helped win the Quidditch Cup twice in a row."
"No, really, I've got the position," said Bruce. "Didn't you know? Marcus held tryouts a week or so ago. He really wants to get the jump on the Gryffindors this year, and figured that was the only way to do it. We've practiced once or twice already."
"Starting Quidditch before school begins? I knew you people were evil," said Galen, grinning at Melissa.
"We're ambitious," corrected Bruce, and they all laughed. The other three houses at Hogwarts -- Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff -- were notorious for construing the phrase "cunning and ambitious" to mean "evil and horrible." The Slytherins, who were chosen because of their ambition, had unfortunately produced more dark witches and wizards than the rest of the houses, lending credibility to the prejudice.
Before long, dinner was over. The guests gathered on the dance floor and the band began to play a slow, sweet number. Melissa looked up at Galen. "Shall we?" He offered her his arm and led her onto the dance floor. Bruce, looking alarmed, scuttled off to hang out with the Quidditch team, who loitered in one corner. (The exception was the Seeker, Draco Malfoy, who took to the dance floor with Pansy Parkinson almost immediately.)
Which left Beth with nothing to do but stand and tap her foot in time to the music.
I've never really seen them together, Beth thought, as she watched Melissa and Galen do the clutch-and-shuffle on the dance floor. They're kind of cute. Melissa was resting her head on Galen's shoulder, and he gazed down at her with a tenderness that Beth had rarely seen in the eyes of a boy.
The slow dance ended and the band struck up a peppy little waltz. Galen and Melissa retreated to a far corner. Beth looked around idly and wished for one of the first times in her life that she was on the Quidditch team; at least then she'd have something meaningful to talk about.
"Hey, Beth, want to dance?"
She looked up. There stood Richard Shaw, President of the S.S.A., looking dapper in dress robes. "I didn't know you were here!" she exclaimed in delight.
"Been hanging out with the sixth years. Come on, do you want to dance or not?"
"I -- don't know how --" she stammered, but he grabbed her hands and dragged her onto the dance floor anyway. She flushed and looked around furtively to make sure no one was watching.
He arranged her hands so that one was on his shoulder and the other holding his hand in the air. "It's easy -- you just walk in a box," he said breezily. "One-two-three, one-two-three ... just do what I do, but backwards."
Blushing, Beth looked down at their feet until she picked up the steps. "RIGHT-left-right, LEFT-right-left," she chanted.
"You can't look down, that's cheating!"
"I've never done this before!" she retorted, but she grinned up at him and tried to keep her gaze away from the floor. Richard was an excellent lead; it was easier to feel what she was supposed to do rather than keep on chanting the steps over and over. Before long she felt like she was getting the hang of it -- even though all they'd done was dance around in a box, the fact that she was waltzing seemed elegant and exciting.
"See, I told you!" beamed Richard. "Now bounce a little on the second beat." Beth did so. Just as they were starting to get into a nice, fluid rhythm, the waltz ended and the band picked up with an absurdly cheery polka.
"Do you know how to polka?" She'd never noticed it before, but he was actually a bit taller than her.
"Nope. Just the waltz and the foxtrot." He shrugged apologetically. "I just thought it'd be fun to waltz, that's all."
Beth realized then that they were standing still on the edge of the dance floor while polka dancers whirled around them and broke away from his grasp with a blush. "How are you?" she asked, as they walked off of the dance floor. "Good summer?"
"Great summer," he said, with genuine enthusiasm. "I got this letter -- well, guess. What's the last thing Professor Snape would ever do in the world?"
"Adopt a Weasley," she said promptly.
Richard laughed. "Second to last thing."
"After he had to come get us in London, probably make you a prefect." She had meant it as a joke, but his grin broadened. "He didn't! Really?"
"Yeah, heard about it two weeks ago. I think Dumbledore must have put in a good word for me." Richard lowered his voice conspiratorially. "He seems to like the S.S.A."
"We've done all right for him," Beth murmured back. "Warning him about the firsties in the Forbidden Corridor ... catching Kettleburn smuggling ... getting Daedalus un-Petrified, I don't know if he knows about that ... and we did turn in Riggs," she added.
Richard looked uncomfortable at that. "I only wish we'd caught him sooner," he said softly. Faint regret flashed across his face. Then he shook his head, as if willing away a gloomy thought, and said brightly, "Have you met Ms. Warbeck?"
"No!" Beth exclaimed. "She's still here?"
"Of course, she's a guest too," Richard said. "Come on, I'll introduce you. You'll like her; we have something in common, you know." He held out his arm and Beth took it somewhat awkwardly, allowing him to lead her around the crowd.
They found Celestina Warbeck among a circle of stern-looking men (Melissa's father's friends, Beth imagined.) Richard stuck his head into the group and asked heartily, "You don't mind if we steal Ms. Warbeck for a moment, do you?"
He sounds like one of them already, Beth thought, half amused and half impressed. He is sixteen, after all.
The old gentlemen laughed and made jokes about wanting to keep Ms. Warbeck forever, which apparently meant that she could take her leave. She turned her back on the group gracefully and put her hands on her hips in mock scorn.
"Mr. Shaw, shouldn't I be consulted first if I'm to be stolen?"
"You didn't ask before you stole my heart," Richard replied charmingly, and she gave a silvery laugh. "Ms. Warbeck, this is Beth Parson. She's a fifth-year Slytherin. Beth, this is Celestina Warbeck."
"I loved the performance," Beth said honestly, shaking hands with Ms. Warbeck. Once again, a flat pewter ring on the slender hand caught her eye. She looked from it to her own and then back up at Ms. Warbeck.
"Gloria serpens," said Ms. Warbeck softly. She let go of Beth's hand and took Richard's other arm playfully. "Let's find somewhere less stuffy to talk, shall we?"
Richard led them across the dance floor and onto the broad patio overlooking the gardens. The nighttime sky was vast above them, stars glimmering like faeries. Beth gazed skyward and located the Orion constellation before Richard stopped in a place that was far enough away from the others to prevent anyone overhearing.
"It's lucky there are several of us here; I've been asked to bring you a message," Ms. Warbeck said, smiling at Beth. Surprised, Beth smiled back. "More of an announcement, really. Our esteemed President Mr. Jules Rothbard has been asked to fill the place on your board of governors left vacant by Mr. Lucius Malfoy. He's quite thrilled," she added, laughing again. Her laugh had a pearly, light quality that made Beth despair of her own too-hearty laughter. "I'm sure you can imagine. 'Anything to further the Slytherin house,' he says, although I think he's just as proud for himself."
"He has a right to be," said Richard stoutly. He glanced behind his shoulder. "Does the Society know anything about Sirius Black?" he asked, in a hushed voice.
Ms. Warbeck shook her head. "No more than anyone else," she sighed. "He's done a good job, to be sure. Did you know, I was with him at Hogwarts? He was an incurable prankster -- and a devilish flirt," she added, eyes glinting. "We all had a crush on either him or James Potter -- secretly, of course, they kept squeaking ahead of us for the House Cup."
Beth snorted. "Believe me, we know what that's like."
"You have a crush on Harry Potter?" Richard teased.
"Deeply," said Beth, in her best theatrical whisper, and Ms. Warbeck laughed gaily.
"Well, I'd certainly understand, if he looks anything like his father did -- although I suspect he's a bit young for you --"
"Age is no barrier to true love," Beth avowed, hamming it up.
They broke off at the sound of footsteps, but it was Bruce who came up and wormed his way into the little circle. "We plotting to kill Potter?" he asked brightly. "Can I help?"
"Miss Warbeck, this is Bruce Bletchley," Beth said, as he and the singer shook hands. "He's the Slytherin Keeper."
"Aha." A glint appeared in Ms. Warbeck's eye. "I heard all about your spectacular Quidditch team from Mr. Flint. Seven years' winning record, is it?"
"Eight, if you count last year," said Bruce eagerly. "They didn't actually give out the cup, but we were ahead when they cancelled the season."
"Well, I wish you the very best of luck in the coming year, Mr. Bletchley," said Ms. Warbeck. "Gloria serpens."
"Thanks," grinned Bruce. "Say -- do you want to meet the rest of the Quidditch team? They're all inside throwing hors d'ouvres at each other. I think they could stand a distraction."
"Do you mind?" she asked Richard, who nodded gallantly.
"Not at all. I'd like to speak to Beth anyhow. It's been a pleasure speaking with you."
Ms. Warbeck winked and went off with Bruce, who was now chattering animatedly about this year's prospects. Richard turned to Beth awkwardly and offered his arm. "D'you -- do you mind?"
"Uh -- no," she said, taking his arm. They walked slowly along the starlit patio, occasionally changing direction to avoid running into a pair or cluster of people. "What do you want to talk about?"
Richard was silent. Then he cleared his throat and said:
"Riggs. Riggs left early. He -- he was supposed to pick a successor." He cleared his throat again. "I've -- picked you."
"What?" said Beth blankly.
"For secretary. Riggs was supposed to choose next years' successor, I mean secretary, but he left before he could do it -- so, I think you should do it. I mean, be secretary."
Beth was stunned; then she broke into a grin. "Really?"
Richard nodded. "Yeah. You'll have to -- record stuff, and help me escort the newbies down to the Vase Room, and things --"
"Sure, that'd be great!" said Beth, with genuine enthusiasm. "Thanks!"
Richard looked relieved. "No problem. You've done a lot of good for the Society, you know -- especially last year, with the Polyjuice and all."
Beth flushed brightly and was silent.
"I don't know if she's told you yet, but Vivian chose Melissa to be the next vice president," Richard went on. "Impressed with the whole feminine agenda, no doubt."
"Good!" said Beth. "I'll bet she's thrilled." She laughed suddenly. "Speaking of Melissa -- I bet we don't see her for the rest of the night, if Galen's around. Her boyfriend," she clarified, at Richard's confused expression. "She doesn't see him that often over the summer."
"Is he pureblood? Not that it makes a difference," he added hastily, with a glance at Beth, "but, you know, we keep to ourselves, and the old wizarding families would interact more with each other than with a Muggle family ..."
"I think he's pureblood," said Beth. "Never asked. I can't imagine Mel dating even a half-blood, though." She shrugged. "Just the way she is."
They strolled around the patio several more times, talking about the differences between Muggle and wizard communities. After a while, though, it began to get chilly, and they retreated into the parlor, where they joined the Quidditch team in several voracious card games. It was midnight before Melissa came up and joined them.
"Galen's gone home," she sighed, sitting down quietly beside Beth. "Things are clearing out."
Sure enough, the guests soon began filtering out in earnest, and by one o'clock in the morning, Beth and the Ollivanders were left by themselves in the empty room.
Melissa's father strode over to where Beth and Melissa sat picking through the deck of cards and nibbling leftover hors d'ouvres. Tall, with sleek black hair and a tiny moustache, he was a graceful and jovial host. "You can go upstairs now, girls, there's no one left to entertain." His moustache twitched with good humor. "And you'll want to get up early to go shopping."
"Dad, I never want to get up early," complained Melissa, but she stood up and gave him a hug anyway. "Thank you for hosting this party. It was a good time."
"I quite agree," said Mr. Ollivander cheerfully. "I haven't seen the Malfoys in months. And Jean and Eustace Bole are a charming couple. Their youngest is starting at Hogwarts this year, I told them you'd keep an eye out for her." He smiled down at them. "Now get off to bed. I'll see you both in the morning."
The Ollivanders' mansion was enormous. They climbed the elegant staircase up to the fourth floor, which was occupied by a library, a sitting room, and Melissa's voluminous bedroom and private bath. Despite the elaborate decor of the room, in the interest of preserving the "sleepover" aura, two sleeping bags had been set up on Melissa's richly carpeted floor, complete with fluffy pillows and ruffles around the edges. Beth threw herself down onto them grandly. "I am bushed."
"See, it wasn't so bad," said Melissa cheerfully.
"I guess not," Beth admitted. "Miss Warbeck is wonderful, isn't she? And Richard taught me how to waltz."
Melissa's eyebrows went up. "Really."
"Really, and stop thinking like that," said Beth, jokingly cross. "He's just -- Richard. Congratulations on getting to be Vice President, by the way."
"Oh -- thanks," said Melissa, blushing a little. "It's not that big a deal. I only get to run the meetings when Richard's not around, and you know he'd rather die than miss a meeting."
"I bet that wouldn't even stop him," Beth teased. "He'd be like Professor Binns, and come back every Thursday night, dead or not."
They got ready for bed without much more talking. It had been a long, enjoyable evening; nothing more needed to be said. Beth snuggled into her sleeping bag, muttered a sleepy "Good night," to Melissa, and closed her eyes.
She was just starting to fall off into her dreams when someone began to scream.
Beth struggled into a sitting position. "What's wrong, who's that?" The noise was clear, but faint; it sounded like it was coming from outside.
Melissa rolled over. "Mmf?"
"That noise -- screaming --" Alarmed now, Beth stood up and padded barefoot to the window. She looked out over the meticulously landscaped courtyard. At first, nothing seemed to be moving ... but then a cloud over the moon shifted, and pale light glinted on a billow of white. It was hair, long and tattered, twisting in the wind, circling the form of a woman in a long white shrift. Her mouth was wide open, in a long and horrible scream.
Beth's gut wrenched. She suddenly had to hang onto the windowsill to keep herself upright. The woman's eyes roved wildly over the castle; then they rose and met Beth's gaze from the window high above. The woman gave one more ghastly shriek.
Then she vanished.
The vast emptiness of the courtyard, strikingly silent now, hit Beth like a blow in the stomach. Her knees seemed to turn to water. She had never seen a person truly scream, on and on, with such terror behind every gasping breath, such mournful agony in each long note, such wild and fearful eyes ...
Melissa had meandered up, wiping her sleepy eyes on the sleeve of her nightgown. "You 'kay?" she yawned.
Beth looked from her half-awake friend to the window and back again. "Didn't you ... hear that?"
"Hear wha --" Melissa broke off and yawned again. "Sorry, what?"
Beth turned and stared out of the window again. The night was unbroken either by shriek or wild woman in a tattered white dress. "I thought ..." She trailed off. Melissa was regarding her with sleepy curiosity. "Never mind. Bad dream."
She followed Melissa back to the sleeping bags in the center of the room and climbed back into hers, snuggling as far down as she could get. Only after she was wrapped up and still did Beth realize that her hands were shaking.