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Chapter 10 : The Rogue Bludger
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Slytherin's Heir, ch 10 The Rogue Bludger
Harry's study group continued to meet in the Merlin common room and the library even with its diminished numbers. They tried to puzzle out the type of snake behind the attacks but found that Professor Snape's initial guess had been right, there were little or no references to magical snakes of any kind in the readily accessible portion of the library. Going through their texts held little promise either.
The second year texts only covered material related to their subjects. Even the COMC texts that the older students used only lightly mentioned the subject of serpents. Harry had a bit better luck with the books he'd purchased at Borgin and Burks; one of them contained a short listing of the more common magical snakes but didn't go into any detail. Harry had sent off a letter to Mr Burke requesting anything he had on them but had yet to receive a reply. Their lack of progress was beginning to frustrate Harry and it was Hermione's suggestion that they try something else, such as retracing Harry and Draco's route on Halloween that kept him from giving up.
“Lets start where you found Mrs Norris,” Hermione said as she, Harry and Draco arrived in the corridor where Mr Filch's cat had been attacked. A lonely chair sat against a wall beside the writing left behind by the attacker. Of late, the caretaker had been spending his time guarding the corridor as if expecting the attacker to return to the scene of the crime.
The bloody words were still as vivid on the wall as they'd been that first night, regardless of Mr Filch's attempts to be rid of them. The water that had covered the floor was gone though, Hermione surmised that it had probably been caused by backed up pipes in a nearby bathroom. The bushy haired girl was confident something could be found to help them figure out more of what had happened, Draco was less enthusiastic.
“It's been weeks,” he complained, kicking a loose pebble. “There's nothing here that makes it different than any other corridor in the castle.”
“It can't hurt to look,” Hermione answered patiently as she studied the torch bracket. “Mrs Norris was hung from this?”
“By her tail,” Draco confirmed while Harry focused his attention on a piece of wall close to a nearby window.
“Don't you think that would be a bit difficult for a snake?” she asked thoughtfully. “Snakes don't have arms and the way Mrs Norris was found was a deliberate attempt to intimidate the students. Not to mention the writing on the wall. They're not known for their penmanship.”
Distracted from whatever he was studying, Harry turned his head to give Hermione his full attention while Draco huffed in frustration. “You're saying the snake didn't petrify the cat?”
“Or it wasn't alone,” Harry said quietly as he turned his attention back to the wall.
“The heir,” Draco yelped excitedly.
“Perhaps since Mrs Norris really wasn't an intruder, the heir would have had to been there to make the snake attack,” Hermione agreed. “He or she would probably have to in order to make it do something like that.”
“So we just find out who wasn't at the feast that night and have the heir,” Draco announced with a self-satisfied smirk.
“I don't think it will be that easy,” Hermione countered as she faced the blond. “People were in and out of the hall all night. The only time just about everyone was there was when they passed out the treats. From what I've heard, nobody in their right mind would miss that on purpose.”
“There, you see?” Draco demanded while Harry continued to ignore him in favour of his discovery. “Nobody in their right mind would miss out on Chocolate Crawlies.”
“I remember those,” Hermione said with a hint of mischief in her eyes. “Ron Weasley was going around all the tables collecting the ones that weren't claimed. He got a lot from the Merlin table.”
“Weasley – Weasley!?” half screamed Draco, now in a rage. “That's it, I'll turn his underwear into earthworms, I'll hex his hair off – hey!” he called after her as she stifled a snicker and went to check on Harry.
“Did you find anything?” she asked, peeking over his shoulder.
“Insects, I think,” he replied distractedly. “It's hard to tell with something this small.”
“They're spiders,” Hermione replied with a frown. “I've never heard of them moving like that though.”
Just as she'd said, the spiders were acting oddly. A seemingly endless column of them were marching across the corridor, up the wall and out the window. It was hardly orderly, the little creatures were climbing over each other and milling about, seeming to almost be in a panic.
“So what does it mean?” asked Draco, who'd hunched down beside them.
“I haven't a clue,” answered Hermione softly while writing furiously in her muggle notebook. “Let's go back the way you came and see what else we can find.”
The trio followed Harry and Draco's path on Halloween back to where Dudley and they had first heard the snake. This was another long shot, the corridors were used daily and any evidence, overt or not, would have long since been wiped out. Still, with nothing else to go on, they followed the twists and turns that would lead them to the spot where Dudley had first heard the voice. Along the way, the boys pointed out where they'd encountered Neville.
“Has anybody talked to Ginny Weasley about Halloween?” Hermione asked the two uncomprehending boys. “You told me yourself,” she reminded them. “Neville said she left the party before him, maybe she saw or heard something on the way back to the Gryffindor common room.”
“See,” Draco said to Harry as they continued their trek through the halls. “Things like this is why I always said we need her.”
“Really,” Harry replied with quietly with a grin. “I thought it was because you doodle her name on all your assignments.”
Stopping in the middle of the hallway, Draco gaped after Harry's retreating back before running to catch up. “I do not,” he yelped.
“You don't what?” asked the bushy haired girl innocently.
“I don't...” Draco said, floundering for an answer. “I don't see why the Weasley girl hangs around Longbottom so much.”
“It is kind of odd, really,” Hermione agreed as they walked. “When she first got to school, everyone was saying that she had a crush on you, Harry. Two weeks into term she suddenly quit talking about you and focused completely on Neville.”
“I guess she must have fallen for Dumbledore's stories.”
“It's Professor Dumbledore, Harry. I know you don't get along with him but he is still the headmaster and you have to show him the proper respect.”
Shrugging non-committally, Harry kept on walking until they reached the section of corridor where they'd heard the snake first. The three spread out and searched for any possible clues but nothing new seemed likely to present itself. Harry had just given up trying to sense anything through the walls when Hermione called from a nearby doorway.
“This is Myrtle's bathroom,” she explained. “Maybe she heard the snake you're talking about too.”
This is a girls bathroom,” Draco complained when they'd entered. “This is definitely a place I'd rather not be. Who's Myrtle anyway and why does she live in a bathroom?”
“You're not supposed to be in here.”
Draco, not expecting the disembodied voice above them, squeaked and whirled around in a panic. Hermione, who'd expected Myrtle, waited with a patient and friendly expression while Harry, who'd senses stretched in every direction, had noticed her and was prepared when she announced herself.
“How are you Myrtle,” Hermione asked as the Ghostly girl perched herself atop one of the toilet stalls. “This is Harry and Draco, I've told them all about you and they wanted to come and meet you.”
Squealing in delight, Myrtle floated down from her perch and studied the boys.
“Nobody's ever come to visit me before,” she said semi-sweetly, “not even when I was still alive.” Her attitude, which had been almost simpering, suddenly became angry and aggressive when she asked, “You're not one of them, are you? One of the nasty boys who would make fun of poor Myrtle and laugh at her?”
“No,” Harry answered in his sincerest tone. “We really are interested in getting to know you and learn about your home. I guess it must get loud around here at night, especially on holidays like the Halloween that just passed.”
“It can be horrible,” Myrtle agreed with a sigh, her moods swinging like a pendulum. “I don't remember much about this last Halloween though, I was distracted. Peeves was being so mean to me that I tried to kill myself and – ”
“Kill yourself?” demanded an outraged Draco, who'd heard more than enough. “You're a ghost, you're already dead you wailing bag of gas!”
A screech of pure misery erupted from Myrtle as she soared upward, did a back-flip and splashed into one of the nearby toilet stalls, drenching them all.
“Please tell me that was a sink,” Harry begged as the ghost's sobs went on from somewhere around the U-bend. “Don't you know what Subtle is, Draco? Did you pay the Sorting hat to put you in Slytherin?” He asked as they left the bathroom. The door had yet to close before they were confronted with yet another inconvenience.
“You there, Stop.”
The person who'd cried out approached and when Draco got a good look at him he slapped a hand over his eyes and with a melodramatic sigh, muttered, “They're like cockroaches.”
Percy Weasley, prefect for Gryffindor house came bustling up to the three, bursting with official indignation. “Did I just see you three coming out of the girls bathroom?” he asked sternly.
“I am a girl,” Hermione said, trying to distract him.
“They're not,” the redhead shot back. “You could get expelled for this.”
“But we weren't doing anything,” Harry protested. “This is the stretch of corridor where we started hearing noises on Halloween,” he explained. We just wanted to ask Myrtle – ”
“Nothing,” snapped Percy. “You'll ask her nothing. The headmaster made it quite clear that the staff would be investigating the attack on Mrs Norris. There's no need for any of you to be getting in the way.”
“But surely you can understand – ”
“What I understand, Ms Granger,” is that two of you went out of bounds while all of you were meddling in something that's been forbidden. Five points from both Slytherin and Ravenclaw for being in the girls loo and another five from all three houses if you all don't go straight back to your dorms!”
“But Percy...” Hermione began.
“I'll remind you that I'm a Gryffindor prefect,” the redhead said pompously. “As such, you will address me as Mr Weasley.”
Draco opened his mouth but never had a chance to speak before Harry began pushing him down the corridor. “ Yes sir, Mr Weasley,” the Ravenclaw said over his shoulder. “We're going there now.”
“Harry!” protested the blond.
“Be quiet unless you want to explain to your house mates how Slytherin lost twenty or thirty points,” he whispered urgently as the three rounded a corner. “Besides, tomorrow is the first Quidditch match of the year, you can get your revenge watching Gryffindor get their arses handed to them by Slytherin.”
Brightening at the prospect, Draco quit resisting. With a much lighter mood, he, a scandalized Hermione and a satisfied Harry headed for the Merlin common room. Harry's day wasn't over yet though, he had an appointment to keep elsewhere in the castle.
The library was quiet later that night, most of the students had gone to bed early in anticipation of the next day's Quidditch match. One of the few students still up was Neville. Harry found him hunched over a potions text and scribbling fiercely on a spare piece of parchment. Harry studied the Gryffindor's aura for a bit before interrupting.
Neville still showed signs of magical exhaustion that, if anything, had grown more pronounced. The boys physical health seemed to have suffered a bit as well; while not sick exactly, he seemed somehow weaker. Not wanting to startle the other youth, Harry coughed quietly as he approached.
A slight shuffling of Neville's chair along with a a change in his aura informed Harry that he'd unsettled the other boy anyway. Choosing a chair across from his one-time friend, Harry said, "Lo' Nev, mind if I sit?"
Taking a lack of response as Acquiescence, Harry sat and fidgeted a few moments trying to collect his thoughts. It was the sounds of Neville collecting his things that prompted him to speak again . "Wait," he said. "How are you... I mean, are you alright? You feel... run-down."
"M' fine," muttered the Gryffindor. "I'm just a little tired."
"Listen, about Halloween, you know Draco and I had nothing to do with Mrs Norris but I think I can guess why you acted like you did in Lockhart's office. I know that you and the headmaster have gotten really close since last term, how he goes on with you about your parents and all the stories. It's pretty likely that he's the one that sent you that cloak on Christmas. I know you look up to him and everything, but don't you wonder why? There's over two hundred students at Hogwarts Neville, don't you ever wonder why he spends so much time with you?"
"What are you trying to say exactly? Neville asked, his voice and aura now coloured with anger and suspicion.
"Has Professor Dumbledore ever said anything to you about a prophecy?"
Neville didn't answer, though an impatient sigh meant he was tiring of the conversation.
"Please me out," Harry begged. "I heard from somebody I trust that there was a prophecy made Just before we were born. They didn't hear the whole thing but the part they did said this, Somebody born at the end of July and who's parents had gone up against Voldemort three times would have the power to stop the Dark Lord. According to this person there's only two people that fit the prophecy, you and me."
A deafening silence fell between the two before a disbelieving Neville could ask, "What?"
"One of us will have to face him one day," Harry explained. "Both our parents were targeted by Voldemort over this, mine were killed, yours.... Because of the whole 'Boy Who Lived' thing, I was thought to be the one till my accident. Dumbledore didn't think there was any way I could do it without my sight so he turned to you."
"Again, what are you trying to say?"
“Dumbledore is the only one that knows the whole prophecy,” Harry spat. “He sent my family into hiding, he put the wards up around both our families homes. Don't get me wrong, those are all good things but he was concentrating so much on me, then you for a reason. One of us has to take down Voldemort and the headmaster may be trying to set you up for it.”
“What?” Harry asked, not quite comprehending what Neville just said, though it earned him a 'shush' from Madam Pince.
“You said it yourself,” Neville answered angrily. “When you were little it was all about you; now that it's me, you're suddenly suspicious of his motives.”
“It's not like that – ”
“Oh, just shut it Potter. All this time, a year and a half and it was just a lie,” Neville growled angrily, drawing stares from a small group of students at another table. “You just pretended to be my friend to get close to him again, just like she said. Stay away from me from now on Potter, I'm not your friend anymore, you certainly were never mine.”
Harry sat there with a gob-smacked expression as Neville packed and left. 'Where did that come from?' he wondered as he slumped in his chair. Noticing that the library had become anything but 'quiet,' Harry grimace as what he heard. From nearby tables he could catch bits whispered conversations that included both his and Neville's names.
A steady anger built in Harry as he got up to leave. He'd wanted Neville to know what was going on, hoping that perhaps the friend he'd had last year would return. Instead he'd gotten slapped in the face for it. He was so angry that for the first time in weeks his magic manifested itself through his eyes. Harry had no love for the Slytherin Quidditch team but he vowed right then to be in the stands with Draco rooting for a crushing victory over Gryffindor.
Draco glared steadily at Harry all through breakfast the next morning. While he'd had nothing but sympathy for his friend after he explained the confrontation in the library, it was Harry's expression of his anger that had Draco fuming.
In training that morning, Harry had channelled his frustration into their sparring. Blows that should have been feather light rocked the blond back on his heels. Things had ended badly in the Room of Requirement when Harry knocked the blond off his feet with barely an apology at the time. Harry's actions earned a stern lecture from Ric and he did apologise after he thought about it, though Draco had yet to completely forgive him.
They'd both finished eating and were headed out of the Great Hall when a breathless Blaise caught up with them.
“Harry,” he gasped. “There you are! Flint has half of Slytherin out looking for you.”
“Flint?” Harry asked. “What does he want me for?”
“It's Thorne, he got caught hexing some first years and got suspended from Quidditch for a month!”
“What about Thompson?” Draco asked. “He's backup seeker.”
“Thompson couldn't find the Snitch if it was glued to his arse with a sticking charm,” Blaise crowed gleefully. “Flint said that that to his face... come to think of it, I don't think he took it too well.”
“Still, why come to us?” Harry asked patiently. “Draco and I both said we'd never fly for Slytherin.”
“Please Harry,” Blaise begged as he pulled them toward the dungeons. “We can't forfeit to Gryffindor, Flint said he'll do anything!”
Harry opened his mouth to repeat his refusal but was stopped by Draco's hand on his shoulder. A flurry of whispers was exchanged before Harry, still looking less than convinced, nodded to Blaise. “Let's go see Flint.”
Down in the Slytherin common room, Harry wasted no time dancing around the subject. As soon as he sensed the Slytherin captain, he made his demands. “I'll play for you but only if you agree to a few conditions.”
“Conditions,” Flint snarled. “You should be honoured to fly for the best Quidditch team at Hogwarts.”
“And you should shut your gob if you want harry playing today,” Draco said in his 'Lucius' voice.
“As I said,” Harry repeated, “conditions. First, harassment of the muggleborn kids by your house stops now.”
“How am I supposed to do that?” Flint asked angrily.
“You're a sixth year Slytherin prefect,” Draco answered disdainfully, do what you do best... INTIMIDATE”
“Is that it?” Flint grated.
“Hardly,” Harry answered matter of factly. “I also want you to keep Thorne and his goons away from Dudley.”
“Fine,” Flint growled. “Now let's get up to the pitch...”
An elbow in Harry's ribs had him calling after the captain. “One more thing!”
Turning around with a barely restrained growl, Flint asked, “Now what?”
“Slytherin will redo the team try-outs next week for all the positions – and you'll ask Professor Snape to conduct it.”
“No!” Flint yelled at the top of his lungs. “We don't need you that badly. I hate to lose to Gryffindor but you can't make me throw away my entire team over one match!”
“What?” asked the Slytherin captain as he turned to Draco.
“You'll lose every match,” sneered the blond. “Harry and I have already agreed that if you don't do as we ask, we'll volunteer to play for the opposing team in every match you play.”
“You wouldn't dare.” Flint said darkly.
“We can,” Harry said, matching Draco's sneer, “and we will.”
“Not if you're in the hospital wing all the time,” the Slytherin captain growled menacingly. “Hogwarts can be a dangerous place, all kinds of accidents can happen.”
Flint was about to stalk yet closer to the second year Merlins when he was distracted by a sizzling sound at his feet. Looking down, he saw a frothy liquid eating its way through solid stone. Looking back up, Flint jumped back with a yelp as he stared into the fathomless black eyes of Harry's Coatl.
“So what do you think,” Harry asked casually. “Do we have a deal?”
The Hogwarts Quidditch pitch was packed for the first match of the year. Students from every house had turned out for what promised to be a great show. Not only was it the first game but it was Gryffindor vs Slytherin.
The rivalry between the two houses was legendary and rumoured to go back to the founders time. Every encounter between the houses above the pitch ended in mayhem and this time promised to be no different. The crowd, full of excitement, roared as the first players took the field.
Terry Boot, the 2nd year Ravenclaw announcing the match, called out players names and positions as they did their warm up laps. The stands went wild as the Weasley twins, a crowd favourite, entered. Neville, who'd only shown mediocre skill and had yet to prove himself in a real game, got little more than polite applause.
“And now,” cried Terry through the magical megaphone, “Out of their hole, comes the Slytherins!”
“Boot!” McGonagall admonished the Ravenclaw, but not that loudly.
Seven green clad players soared onto the pitch in arrowhead formation. Six rode Nimbus 2001's, a gift from Lucius Malfoy to the team in spite of Draco's refusal to play for them. The seventh player rode a broom that looked older than the school itself. The twigs were split and a bit thin in spots and the handle was badly worn, yet it kept pace with the newer brooms and seemed even more maneuverable. Everyone strained their eyes, trying to identify the last player but it was Terry who announced it to the crowd.
“Wait,” he cried. “It looks like there's a last minute substitution on the Slytherin team. Flying for Damien Thorne in the position of seeker is... Harry Potter!”
Flying onto the pitch with the Slytherins, Harry couldn't fight down a wild grin as the roar of the crowd washed over him. His senses stretched in every direction and with so much going on, Harry felt more alive than ever before. It was all he could do not to push his little broom to its limits just to feel the thrill of acceleration. He'd promised to fly with the Slytherin team though and he did just that, taking his proper place in the formation.
After their warm up lap, the Slytherin players took their positions, waiting for Madam Hooch to signal the start of play. Harry and Neville circled each other over the centre of the pitch as Hogwart's flying instructor took the tiny Golden Snitch from its resting place and tossed it into the air. Harry was able to keep track of it for only a few seconds before it was lost in thee noise and background magic present on the pitch. Next, Madam Hooch released the Quaffle, signalling the start of play.
Harry and Neville shot skyward to begin searching for the Snitch even as the last two game balls were released. Freed from the box, the heavy iron Bludgers clanked against each other once before separating for play. One whipped randomly about the field as if its only purpose was to cause mayhem, the other travelled as if it had a particular prey in mind.
Harry's attention was split as the game got under way. Part of him was searching for the Golden Snitch while another part was keeping watch on Neville. The Gryffindor seeker's anger had only grown since their confrontation in the library. Though he'd half expected Neville to react badly to his participation in the match, Harry was shocked to feel near hatred from the other boy. It was this preoccupation that nearly got Harry knocked from his broom. A Bludger shot by his head, coming so close that it ruffled his hair.
“What's the matter Potter,” Neville cried derisively, even as he fought for control of his own broom. “Have you forgotten how to fly? Maybe a real Quidditch game is just too much for you.”
Putting Neville completely out of his head, Harry tracked the Bludger with his senses as it performed a tight turn and set itself up for another pass. Not waiting for the maniacal missile to connect, Harry went into a steep dive to avoid it. Thinking the other boy had spotted the Snitch, Neville Followed Harry and shadowed his descent the best he could while searching vainly for the tiny ball.
Hurtling toward the pitch, Harry angled for Meyers, one of the Slytherin beaters. Passing Michael at breakneck speed, Harry smiled to himself as he heard a bat connecting with the ball. The danger passed for the moment, He resumed his search for the Snitch, only to throw himself into a barrel roll, trying to avoid the same Bludger yet again.
While Harry was dealing with his own problems, the Slytherin team was out doing themselves on the field. The new try-outs next week made all their positions precarious and as it would be Professor Snape that ran it, each of the players were doing their level best to impress him during the game. Three minutes in and Slytherin had already scored twice. Oliver Wood Gryffindor's captain and keeper, was nearly unseated from his broom when Jason, a Slytherin chaser, had knocked him into one of the goal posts. None of this registered with Harry as he continued to elude the rogue Bludger.
Cursing under his breath, Harry began dodging about the pitch as he tried to lose his attacker. All the while, he focused his sensed, much as he could spare, trying to figure out what was wrong with it. Rounding the Gryffindor goals, he got a chance to better examine the charmed ball when Fred Weasley, of all; people, knocked it away.
“Having trouble Harry?” the redhead asked lightly. There was an undertone of concern in his voice, however, making it clear he had no part in the actions of the runaway Bludger.
“No more than usual,” Harry called back, silently grumbling to himself that it wasn't an exaggeration.
Concentrating on the Bludger, Harry noticed that the pattern of sparks making up its magic was different than usual. A string of sparks was also connecting it to him, though he didn't recognise the spell. The 'flavour' of the magic was somehow familiar to him, though he couldn't place it right off. Unable to think of a way to stop it, Harry was about to call for a time out when he heard the Snitch.
Its high pitched whir came to him from near the Slytherin goals, clear across the pitch. A surge of excitement from Neville told Harry that the Gryffindor seeker had seen it as well. Both boys lay flat on their brooms, racing toward their target. Neville, being a bit closer, started out in the lead but quickly lost ground to Harry and his unique broom.
As if sensing the boys after it, the golden ball jigged to the right at the last moment, causing both boys to fly past. Wasting no time, shot away and went under the stands, dodging between the support posts, forcing Harry and Neville to follow or lose it. For Harry it was one of the most exhilarating flights of his life. The timbers, while magical, were just barely so. Being such they were hard to sense and made flying among them a real challenge. Neville just tried his best to keep up with Harry and had scraped painfully against more than one post already. Seeming to tire of the maze, the Snitch soared back out onto the pitch and shot away. Harry, close in its wake, accelerated as well, Neville, looking miserable, just flew best he could after them.
The Snitch dodged a bit to the left and right as the chase neared its end but neither boy would be distracted. With a final surge of speed, Harry reached for the golden ball but nearly fell off his broom when the Bludger finally found its target. It crashed into his arm just below his shoulder, cleanly breaking the bone before bouncing off his ribs. Barely able to stay on his broom with the right side of his body gone numb, Harry threw himself into the air and caught the Snitch just as the Bludger hit him one last time. This time in the back, sending him tumbling to the ground in a heap.
The first thing Harry became aware of was how hard it was to breathe. Pain followed shortly, shooting down his right side and his back. None of it held his attention like the fluttering sensation in his left hand.
“We won,” Harry mumbled groggily, even as he coughed up something warm and sticky. 'That can't be good,' he thought.
By now he was surrounded by a crowd of people, mostly his team mates and students that had been watching from the sidelines. Harry was about to drift back into unconsciousness when an approaching voice forced him alert again.
“One side,” Professor Lockhart called as he made his way through the crowd. “One side please. My dear Harry,” he said dramatically as he knelt by the stricken boy. “You're injured, let me help.”
“No,” Harry grunted. “I'm fine – really. Just give me a couple minutes rest.” Truthfully, Harry was pretty sure his injuries needed immediate help, it just seemed that it was the last thing that Lockhart was capable of providing.
“Nonsense,” the defence teacher scoffed as he brandished his wand. “I'll have you good as new in a moment...”
Lockhart twirled his wand in an odd fashion and Harry sensed a wave of magic move toward him that seemed – wrong. “No!” he cried as his own magic clashed with Lockhart's. There was a blinding flash of light and the professor was thrown a dozen feet away.
Harry lay back feeling the pains in his body increase as his magic, which had been busy dealing with it, had been severely drained blocking Lockhart's spell.
“Oi!” one of the Weasley twins called from nearby. “We need to get the professor to the hospital wing too – all his bones are gone.”
Harry was suddenly cast in shadow as a lean, dark form appeared above him. A growled 'mobilicorpus' had him lifted into the air while another voice cast a spell that numbed his aching body. Floating toward the castle as unconsciousness loomed, his last thought was of Madam Pomfrey. “She's going to be so angry with me.”
'Waking up in the hospital wing was beginning to become something of a tradition,' Harry thought to himself as he returned to wakefulness. The sound of an argument, the reason he'd woke, caught his attention and he turned his head to listen as the school's medi-witch scolded some poor soul who'd entered her domain without permission.
“Enough,” she said gruffly. “Neither of my patients are up for visitors yet. Professor Lockhart has just started his Skele-Grow treatment and won't have a working jawbone until tomorrow. Mr Potter is suffering from magical exhaustion and is also recovering from several broken bones and a punctured lung.”
“Really now Poppy,” the headmaster's voice answered. “The health and well-being of both students and staff is my responsibility as well. While Gilderoy's recovery is well in hand, I need to speak with him or Mr Potter to determine exactly what happened. The boy's aunt is being escorted here by Severus and I was hoping to have something to tell her.”
Harry groaned at the thought of how worried Aunt Petunia must be and immediately regretted it. The headmaster, obviously hearing the sound strode across the room. “Congradulations Harry,” Dumbledore said softly as he arrived at the bedside. “I understand that you performed masterfully, flying today. Minnerva says that she hasn't seen the like since your father, or perhaps Charlie Weasley.”
“Well, it wasn't entirely my doing,” Harry conceded. “I wouldn't have tried half those stunts if that crazy Bludger hadn't been after me. Does anyone know who jinxed it yet?”
“Jinxed...” Dumbledore repeated in a perplexed tone. “I'm sorry but I'm not entirely sure what you're talking about. From what I've heard, you flew well but was hit by a Bludger right before you caught the Snitch. These kind of accidents are exactly why I was, and still am, reluctant to allow you to play in such a violent sport.”
“It wasn't an accident,” Harry protested hotly. “That Bludger spent the entire game trying to hit me, not because of the Gryffindor beaters, it was after me. It ignored every other player on the pitch and more than once it turned completely around on its own after missing to have another go.”
“He has the right of it Albus,” Poppy said from the foot of the bed, surprising them both. They'd been so involved, arguing about the Bludger that they'd missed her approach. “I don't usually watch the games,” she said. “Seeing the players coming in with their injuries is usually more than enough Quidditch for me.” Harry blushed slightly and squirmed under the sheet as he voice softened. “When I found out that Harry might play today, I couldn't help myself. Everything I've ever witnessed the boy do has been a testament to his abilities and drive. I was watching when he dodged that Bludger and he did it better than anyone I've seen in years. Harry's right though, it followed him around like it was tethered to his broom. After it hit him the second time, one of the Weasley twins had to tackle it to the ground.”
“Do you know if anyone got to check it out?” Harry asked.
“Honestly, no,” she replied. “Everyone was more worried about getting you here, so much, in fact, that they nearly forgot poor Professor Lockhart.”
Harry bit back a laugh at Poppy's words. The thought of the professor left out on the pitch as a puddle was too funny to ignore. His amusement was short, however, as Professor Dumbledore was reminded of another concern.
“About Professor Lockhart,” the headmaster asked as Harry felt the now familiar pressure starting up behind his eyes. “You wouldn't remember what happened when he tried to heal you?”
Harry could feel Professor Dumbledore's Legimency probing at the edges of his mind. The Occlumency shields he'd been learning were far too weak, as of yet, to be any help. Severus knew this and had given Harry an option to use if someone was attempting what the headmaster was now. Reaching back into his memories, Harry grabbed the final moments with Uncle Vernon and forced himself to relive them. The remembered pain along with the guilt that Severus had assured him Professor Dumbledore felt over his placement with the Dursleys should drive him out. A short gasp came from the headmaster even as the pressure Harry had been feeling eased.
“I'm sorry sir,” he said. “I can remember getting hit then being on the ground; anything more is pretty muddled.”
“Of course my boy,” the headmaster said in a somewhat strained voice. It was clear that he didn't completely believe Harry, but not being able to use his Legimency made it nearly impossible for Professor Dumbledore to know for sure. “I'll let you get some rest before your aunt arrives.”
Opening his inner eye for the first time since waking, Harry kept track of Professor Dumbledore as he walked toward the hospital wing doors. The headmaster's Occlumency shields were a mess; emotions such as sorrow, anger, shame and uncertainty flowed freely in his aura. Twice on his way out, the old wizard had turned as if to say something or just look on the boy again but eventually he left.
Harry lay back while Poppy fussed over him. He hadn't noticed when the headmaster was there, but he was still exhausted. Now, even with the medi-witch bustling around him, Harry couldn't help but fall asleep. His rest was short lived though; he started awake when the hospital wing doors were slammed open.
Harry survived Aunt Petunia's smothering, though at times he wasn't sure how. Between the crushing hugs, the scolding and the probing questions, he was beginning to wonder if he wouldn't get more rest alone in a room with the mad Bludger. Finally, after another full recount of his day that was interrupted when Poppy and Severus half heartedly restrained Petunia from attacking a whimpering and helpless Professor Lockhart, the medi-witch shooed the adults out and ordered a grateful Harry back to sleep.
It was past midnight when something woke him. A damp cloth was being dabbed lightly on his forehead. Neither the person's breathing nor touch in any way resembled Madam Pomfrey, so Harry was suitably alarmed. Struggling upright, Harry opened his senses and demanded, “Who's there?”
The aura before him was immediately recognisable as the elf who'd appeared at Privet Drive over the summer. “Dobby,” Harry said quietly. “What are you doing here?”
Anxiety, fear and sorrow mingled together in the house elf's aura as it stood sniffling before Harry. In a heart broken whisper, it said, “Harry Potter came back to Hogwarts, even after Dobby warned and warned him. Now Hogwarts is a dangerous place. Why, oh why didn't Harry potter go back home when he missed the train?”
“What.... So it was you that sealed off the barrier,” Harry said as he leaned back into his pillows. “You know that what you did nearly got a couple of other students expelled, not to mention, nearly killed. As for going back home, I did. Apparently you just didn't realise that my family and I had moved to Hogsmeade over the summer. From there Draco and I just strolled up to the school.
“Master Draco was with you?” Dobby squeaked sickly. “The little master wasn't hurt was he?
“You know Draco,” Harry sucked in a breath as realization struck. “You serve his family.”
With a wail, the house elf fell off the bed an began beating its head against the floor. “Dobby has betrayed his family,” he cried. “For this he must be punished most severely!”
“Stop,” Harry yelped. “Dobby, Draco's known about you since before term started.” A smile crossed his face and he added, “If he knew it was you that sealed the barrier at Kings Cross, you'd probably get a reward.”
“But Harry Potter sir,” the elf whimpered. “You shouldn't be here. Dobby warned and warned you but still you came. He thought that enough and was shocked when you came anyway but he thought, surely, that his Bludger would have – ”
“Wait,” Harry said, sitting back up. “Your Bludger? You tried to kill me?”
“Oh no sir,” Dobby cried, horrified. “Not to kill, never to kill. Dobby only wanted Harry Potter to be injured enough that he'd go home.”
“Why,” Harry asked angrily. “What's so terrible at Hogwarts that it's better sending me home in pieces.”
“Harry Potter must understand how important he is to us, the enslaved! Those of us that are made to serve wizarding kind were treated horribly when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was at the height of his power. House Elves, Goblins, others that served were tortured and killed for amusement!
“It all changed when the Dark Lord was defeated by you as a babe. While Dobby is still treated this way, for most things have gotten better. Harry Potter is a beacon of hope that things will get better some day and for that we owe him a great debt. Now at Hogwarts, terrible things are to happen or have started to already. Dobby cannot let Harry Potter stay here when history is about to repeat itself, when the Chamber of Secrets has been opened again...”
Dobby blinked in horror at what he'd said before grabbing the water pitcher from the bedside table and smashing it over his head. The house elf crashed to the floor, only to climb back on the bed, muttering, “Bad Dobby, Very bad Dobby.”
“Wait,” Harry said quickly. “Don't punish yourself for that. I know that the Chamber of Secrets has been opened, the whole school does. It's written on the corridor walls. I can even guess that Draco's father has his hand in all this but what I don't know is who the Heir of Slytherin is. Who opened the chamber fifty years ago and who's doing it now... do you know Dobby?
Miserably, the house elf nodded its head. “Dobby knows but he is forbidden to say.”
“I understand your loyalty to Mr Malfoy,” Harry assured the elf. “This is important though, it's only a matter of time before – ”
Harry and Dobby both cocked their heads to one side at the same time, listening. As one, they turned to face the infirmary doors as the faint sounds of scraping feet and hushed voices approached.
“Dobby must leave now,” the house elf squeaked, then disappeared with a loud pop. Harry lay back and pulled the covers to his chin, feigning sleep. Moments later, the doors opened, admitting an odd procession.
Harry recognised Professor Dumbledore's sparks, and by the shuffling of the old wizard's feet, he guessed that the headmaster was backing into the room. Several feet beyond him was Professor McGonagall, her aura was an uproar of agitation and fear. Between them they carried something that Harry would have taken for Mrs Norris in her current state, save for its size. Harry could only assume one of the students or another staff member had been petrified. Gently, they lay the form on a nearby bed.
“Get Madam Pomfrey,” the headmaster whispered to McGonagall, who hurried past Harry's bed and around a corner.
Casting his sense back toward the figure on the bed, Harry tried to guess who it was. Without the moving pattern of sparks, however, he just couldn't tell.
Shortly, Madam Pomfrey arrived and approached the table. With an outward calm, though her own aura gave away her dismay, she asked, “What's happened?”
“Another attack,” replied Dumbledore in a voice that reflected his years. “It was a student this time. Minnerva found her in the bathroom of the girls dorm.”
“Petrified?” Pomfrey asked in a hushed whisper.
“Yes,” McGonagall replied with a shaky voice. “But if I hadn't been doing bed check just then, who knows...”
Madam Pomfrey performed several diagnostic spells before enclosing the bed with curtains. “There's nothing more to be done for her tonight,” she said. “I'll set up a private room for her in the morning, she should be fine here till then.”
the adults left and Harry waited a good five minutes before moving. In all reality, he knew the victims identity was none of his business. The headmaster had things well in hand and the girl, whoever she was, would be fine soon as the mandrake roots were harvested. Harry couldn't help but feel connected and somehow responsible in a way for the girl's condition. Being such, he felt honour bound to know who she was.
Hissing with discomfort as his feet hit the cold stone floor, Harry wished he'd bothered to learn a proper warming charm. Quietly, he shuffled across the intervening space and slipped past the curtains and stopped at the bedside.
Even up close, Harry's inner eye was proving useless. The frozen pattern of sparks in no way resembled a living person's aura. That avenue out, he used the more conventional, muggle, method of identifying the person. Reaching out, he touched the pillow and let his hand follow it to her head. Harry sucked in a breath when he came in contact with the girls hair and felt its texture. He quickly brought his hand to her face, confirming, with a heavy heart, his growing suspicion.
Trembling fingers followed her brow, then trailed down her jawline and over her lips. Harry stood frozen for an eternity with his heart in his stomach. He knew that he should be used to loss, his parents, his sight; now the knowledge that one of his friends could lie so cold and still like this... “Don't worry,” he said, holding back the tears that threatened to come. “We'll catch the heir, I promise. The mandrake roots will be ready before school lets out and we'll have you back Hermione.”
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