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Blind Faith: Slytherin's Heir by xyvortex
Chapter 11 : The Duelling Club
 
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 5


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Chapter Eleven: The Duelling Club.

The next morning, Harry was pushing breakfast around on his plate when Draco burst in brimming with energy. “Get up,” the blond said happily as he threw himself onto a chair by the bed. “The party in the Slytherin common room is still going on and I want to find Hermione before I take you. I want her to see how a real house celebrates.”

“Draco,”

“You should see Thorne,” the blond continued, oblivious to the miserable look on Harry's face. “He's been having fits ever since he heard about the deal and you winning the match.”

“Draco, please...”

“I wonder where Granger is, anyway. I thought for sure she'd be camped outside the hospital wing doors, waiting to come in and tell you why Quidditch is too 'dangerous'. Ten to one she's in the library, researching spiders or something – ”

“Draco!”

Startled by Harry's shout, Draco stopped and really saw Harry for the first time. “What's wrong with you?” he asked with a worried look. “You look like somebody stole your broom.”

“There was another attack last night,” Harry rasped. “It was a student this time.”

“Really,” the blond said uneasily. “You were awake when they were brought in?”

Nodding weakly, Harry answered, “Professor McGonagall found her.”

“H – who... who was it?”

“She found her in the lavatory of the girls dorm – she'll be alright though... Just like Mrs Norris. When the Mandrakes mature they'll set her right.”

Draco, however, wasn't listening to Harry any longer. He looked around the infirmary wildly until he spotted the curtained off bed in the corner. Ignoring Harry's protests and pleas to stop, the blond stumbled across the room and grabbed hold of the curtains tightly, as if he needed them for support. Harry, following after on still shaky legs, stopped just short of his friend as he passed through the drapery.

Sucking in a strangled breath, Draco shuffled to Hermione's side. Mirroring Harry's gesture the night before, he reached out to touch her face, flinching much the way his friend had at her apparent lifelessness. They both stood there like that for several minutes with Draco's aura becoming ever more chaotic with each passing second.

Reaching out a tentative hand, Harry placed it on Draco's shoulder, “We will put her right,” he said, trying to sound confident. “We'll find out who did this and stop them.”

Draco's breathing rasped loudly in Harry's ears and he trembled noticeably under his touch. “I'll find out who did this,” the blond croaked in a voice that wavered with barely contained emotion. “I'll find them and I'll kill them.”

“Draco – no...”

“I have to go.” Wiping his eyes furiously, Draco bolted from the room, leaving a shocked Harry gaping after him. He'd expected Draco to take Hermione's condition hard, Harry himself had felt like a hole had been ripped in him the previous night but Draco was absolutely murderous. Dressing franticly, Harry rushed toward the Hospital Wing doors to go after his friend but was caught up short by the unexpected return of Madam Pomfrey.

Harry spent the next half hour being poked, prodded and tested by the medi-witch as she went about checking on his recovery. Though he was chafing under her restraint, Harry knew better than to say anything that might irk and give her an excuse to keep him for more observation. Finally, the last test complete, Madam Pomfrey declared him well enough to be released and sent him on his way.

Once out of the hospital wing, Harry moved quickly as possible without breaking into a run as he searched for his friend. Draco was in the castle somewhere and Harry was determined to find him. No matter where he searched, however, He couldn't find him.

Draco wasn't in the room of requirement, or atop the astronomy tower where they often hid from the professors and other students alike. Harry tried the Great hall and even braved the party still going on in the Slytherin Common room, much to his regret.

Harry knew he'd made a mistake the moment he entered. Cries of “Potter”and cheering filled the room while several hands pulled him deeper into the celebration before he could even think of attempting a retreat. He could tell Draco wasn't here but maybe there was somebody that had seen him recently.

“Harry,” Called Blaise over the music. “It's brilliant you came! That was a great game you played yesterday!”

Grimacing at the noise level and plugging his ears with his fingers, Harry yelled back, “It's seven-thirty in the morning, how long has this been going on?”

“Since we crushed Gryffindor yesterday afternoon,” the Slytherin shouted in answer. “Winning the house cup or doing anything that makes the Gryffs look bad merits a party that lasts until the night before classes start back up. Beauty is, we're underground so we can be as loud as we want... bonus of living in the dungeons, yeah?”

“Have you seen Draco?” Harry asked loudly, trying to make himself heard.

“What?”

“Have you seen Draco?” Harry nearly screamed. He never got a chance to hear Blaise's answer because a pair of hands grabbed his shoulders and spun him around.

“Potter,” yelled Flint. “Great job out there! Maybe we'll see you at try-outs next week!”

Tired of trying to make himself herd, Harry just shrugged helplessly and turned back to where he'd left Blaise, only to find the other boy gone. He spent another twenty minutes searching futilely through the crowd before escaping into the relative quiet of the Dungeon corridor. Leaning back against the cool stone, Harry rubbed his temples, trying to will away the headache that had developed from all the noise and wondered if the ringing would ever stop. In the meantime, he knew, he still had to find Draco.

Going to Severus, he knew, wouldn't be and option for either of them at the moment. It being a Sunday, the Potions Master was down in Hogsmeade, entertaining Petunia and Dudley. It had become a regular activity, once Dudley had settled in, for Severus to escort him home on weekends. This weekend's visit had nearly been cut short the day before, when Harry had gone to the Hospital wing. Somehow, however, he'd convinced both Professor Snape and Aunt Petunia, with Poppy's help, that he was fine and constant watching-over would only make him nervous. He'd gotten them to take Duds back home and try enjoying the rest of their weekend, though at this point, he wished that the professor would have stayed. With the potions master gone, both his quarters and lab would be out of bounds and inaccessible to anyone.

Out of places to look, Harry started up toward the entrance hall to check the grounds when Loki darted into the stairway and flew around him, squawking excitedly. At first Harry wasn't sure what the mini-dragon wanted. After it flew repeatedly up the stairs and back to him, however, it became apparent that he was supposed to follow.

Up what seemed like a dozen flights of steps, he ran after his familiar. They sped through the nearly deserted halls with only the echoes of Harry's footsteps accompanying them. His pace slowed as they approached what he assumed must be their destination. Harry cursed quietly at himself for not thinking of this before; he'd checked everywhere that Draco normally spent a lot of time but had never thought too look for him in Hermione's favourite haunts.

Draco sat hunched on Hermione's favourite chair, his misery wrapped about him like a cloak. A familiar hiss told Harry that Hedwig draped protectively around the other boy's shoulders, both to comfort him and to warn others away. Sitting down quietly beside him, Harry never offered a word, nor did Draco ask, they just sat together missing Hermione.

The days seemed to pass more slowly now that they were waiting for the Mandrakes to mature. Though with everything going on, their days should have been flying by. The Merlin study group had seen a modest increase in its numbers, mostly due to the continued incompetence of Professor Lockhart in class. Draco had taken over Hermione's investigation, though his skill with questioning Myrtle still had room for improvement. On more than one occasion, he could be seen stomping back to the dungeons, his clothes a sodden mess.

What did eat away at their time the most though, was Quidditch practice. Cedric, on the heels of Slytherin's crushing defeat of Gryffindor, was pushing the Hufflepuff team relentlessly to prepare for their upcoming match with Ravenclaw. While their houses didn't share the same rivalry as the other two, Diggory was hoping to begin with as strong a showing . His dedication resulted in Harry and Draco spending far more time practising on the pitch than studying in the common room. While they both loved Quidditch and it did help distract their attention from Hermione's current state, the long hours and Cedric's Need to win wasn't helping their moods.

“One more time,” the Hufflepuff captain called from high above the field. “Styles and Marsters, you both need to keep those Bludgers away from the Chasers... There are three hoops Hodge. If you're going to concentrate on only one of them, at least pick the middle so the other team might think that you're covering all three... Potter, Malfoy and Cadwallader, your stunt flying is very pretty but stick to scoring goals. I want to be sure Hufflepuff wins whether we get the Snitch or not. Come on guys, we've only got a few days before our first match with Ravenclaw – lets pull this together!”

“Bloody wanker,” Draco grumbled as they set up for another scrimmage. “I can't believe him; 'lets pull this together,'... My arse,” he quoted Cedric with a snort. “We should have tried out for the Slytherin team like I said.”

“We already committed to Hufflepuff,” Harry reminded his friend. “Besides, Flint's worse than this and you've seen how that Gryffindor captain acts.”

“Wood!” yelped Draco, barking out laugh. “He's something, isn't he? I heard that he had his team up in the middle of the night, running around the pitch in the dark.” Draco's laughter earned a glare from Cedric but the blond either didn't or refused to notice the warning. “You should have seen his face after you caught the snitch for Slytherin, I thought he was going to have a stroke! He was screaming at Longbottom even after they carted you and Lockhart off to the Hospital Wing.”

“He takes Quidditch to seriously,” Harry commented as Cedric put the Quaffle into play.

“And you don't?”

Ignoring his friend's question, Harry dove to intercept the ball. “Thread the needle?” he called back.

A maniacal grin spread over the blond's face as he shot forward.

xXx

The Merlin common room was full of commotion when Harry and Draco returned from visiting Hermione. They'd taken it upon themselves to stop by the Hospital wing together every evening after the dinner meal and tell her about their day. They knew that she couldn't hear them but it felt... right. Noting a group of people gathered around the notice board, they went to take a look.

“What's going on?” Harry asked the nearest student.

“They're starting a duelling club,” answered Colin Creevey, the Gryffindor shutterbug.

“A duelling club,” Draco repeated speculatively. “That might be something worth looking into.”

Nodding absently, Harry asked, “Where are they holding it?”

“the flier says tomorrow at six in the Great Hall,” the blond commented as he craned his neck for a better look. “Want me to put your name down?”

xXx

In the Great Hall the next evening, a crowd of students gathered around a narrow stage that had been set up in the centre of the room. The house tables had been removed, leaving a large area open for the students to practise.

“Who do you think is running the club?” Harry heard Ron Weasley ask.

“I hope it's either Professor Flitwick or Professor Snape.”

“Snape,” Ron spat. “Why would you want that greasy git teaching us?”

“Because he's fought in the war against Voldemort,” Harry answered patiently, ignoring the gasps around him for using the Dark Lord's name. He had to school himself not to be mad at Weasley's remarks, Severus' reputation for unfairness to the other houses, especially Gryffindor, was legendary. “He knows how to defend himself, and not just in a duel.

“Professor Flitwick,” he continued, “was the British duelling champion for twenty-seven years before retiring to teach,” he added. “He has the winningest record of any wizard in the last two hundred years.” Any further speculation about who would be running the club was put to rest, alongside any hope that their time there would be well spent, when the doors to the Great Hall opened.

“Can everybody see me, does everyone hear me,” asked Professor Lockhart as he strutted into the Hall followed by several reporters from the Daily Prophet. Seeing that he had the rapt attention of at least the female members of his audience, he continued, “good. As you all know,” he said, as he flashed one of his best smiles for the photographer, “I am Gilderoy Lockhart, adventurer extraordinare, author, and three time winner of the Witch Weekly best smile award. Currently I am filling the position of instructor for DADA and with Professor Dumbledore's permission, I've started this little duelling club to train you up in case the unforeseen should occur and you find yourselves needing to defend... er... yourselves... As I have done on countless occasions.

“To assist me, Professor Snape has been given the honour of helping to demonstrate my techniques – ah,” he said. “Here comes our potions master now.”

Like a storm cloud, Professor Snape's presence filled the room. Harry winced as he read Severus' aura and realized just how angry he was. Whatever the headmaster had promised or threatened Professor Snape with to get him here, it did nothing to improve the man's mood. What surprised Harry the most is how Lockhart could just stand there blathering on, completely oblivious to the predatory look directed his way.

“Professor Snape has graciously agreed to participate in a little demonstration to show you all what a proper duel would look like. Rest assured,” Professor Lockhart added with a carefree wave of his hand. “We will be using disarming spells only; have no fear, you'll be getting your potions master back in one piece.”

Apparently unnoticed by the two wizards, the Weasley twins began taking wagers on the upcoming duel. Most of the females bet for Lockhart, but the rest, even the Gryffindors were betting on Snape.

“look at them over there,” said Draco with a sneer. “Betting on a wizards duel like it was some muggle sporting event; it's disgusting.”

“I know what you mean,” answered Harry blandly. “So how much do you have on you?”

“Two Galleons,” the blond answered grumpily. “I wish I'd known about this ahead of time. You?”

“One Galleon, six Sickles,” he said, handing the money to Draco. “All on Severus, right?”

“Of course,” answered the blond as he went to place the bet. “Do you think I'm crazy?”

The two wizards stood, back to back then took ten paces in opposite directions before turning to face each other. They saluted, that is to say that Gilderoy went through a series of gyrations that only he would consider elegant before ending in what could only be called a stage bow. Snape, on the other hand, gave the barest of nods, never letting his eyes leave their target.

“Right then,” Professor Lockhart announced to the crowd – and the reporters. “As you can see, my esteemed opponent and I have taken our positions and saluted each other as equals.”

Harry grimaced again at the sense of loathing that erupted from Severus' aura at Lockhart's words. Excited whispers broke out among the Slytherins, and the Weasley twins stopped taking bets, knowing that the duel was now good as over, only requiring the potion master's spell to make it official.

“Ready,” Lockhart said, unaware of the sudden anticipation in the room. “One... Two... Three!”

It was humbling, Harry later decided, watching a true duellist at work. Between their studies in the commons and training in the Room of Requirement, he'd thought he was half way decent at it. Watching Professor Snape though, Harry realized he had a long way to go. Having been the one to do the count, Lockhart should have had the split-second advantage. All things being equal, he should have been the one to cast the first spell. All things were not equal however.

Lockhart had barely begun his wand motion when Snape made a sharp, economical movement and called out “Expelliarmus!” The spell was cast so quickly that Harry could barely follow the action. A wave of magic, that seemed to be a bit over powered for a practice duel, threw the DADA professor into the air, and relieving him of his wand and dignity at the same moment. Professor Lockhart ended up resting on his laurels a dozen feet from where he had been standing.

A cheer went up, primarily from the Slytherins and other male members of the group while the females squealed in horror. Katie bell, a Gryffindor who was standing not too far from Harry and Draco, cried out, “Do you think he's alright?”

“Who cares?” Harry, Draco and Ron Weasley shot back in unison just before the blond went to collect their winnings from the twins.

Professor Snape, ignoring the cheering students and the photographer who was gleefully snapping away, strode over to Professor Lockhart with a satisfied sneer on his face. Radiating an air of disdain, he dropped the wand at Lockhart's feet and spun about to return to centre stage.

Lockhart, after moaning senselessly for a few moments, staggered to his feet and tried to carry on as if nothing abnormal had happened. “Well, there you have it!” he said, clutching one of his admirers for support. “As you can see, that was a disarming charm – ah, thank you for my wand Ms Brown,” he said to the Girl who'd retrieved it for him. “An excellent idea to show them that Professor Snape, though I must say that what you were doing was pretty obvious. If I'd wanted to stop you it would have been too easy. I – ”

Lockhart's speech dried up under Severus' withering glare. The potions master looked to be on the verge of murder, though to Harry's senses, he felt only disgust toward the DADA professor. “Perhaps,” Professor Snape said through gritted teeth as he less than diplomatically took charge of the club. “We should start with basics, such as shield charms to protect against unfriendly spells.”

“Quite right,” Lockhart replied as he regrettably found his voice again. “We'll pair everyone up and practice blocking. Professor Snape, if you wouldn't mind helping – ”

Quickly the two professors broke the crowd into pairs while Harry pretended to cast the 'sound to sight' spell. Letting his eyes take on their familiar glow, he stayed close to Draco and made sure they were picked as partners. Casting his senses about, Harry noted that most of the people from their study group were paired together except Ron Weasley. Neville had the unhappy redhead by his sleeve and Lockhart paired them when he came by. Everyone else seemed to have paired up with other students from their own houses.

“Now everyone listen,” Professor Lockhart said to the group. “You will all take turns trying to block a stinging hex with a shield charm, now on the count of three-”

Erm... Professor,” said one of the third year students. “You never taught us a shield charm.”

“Or the hex,” called another.

A flash went off in a befuddled Lockhart's face as the reporters scribbled furiously on their pads, recording every word. His mouth opened and closed silently, doing a wonderful rendition of a fish out of water before salvation, of a sort, presented itself.

“Perhaps,” suggested Professor Snape, his patience gone. “You should demonstrate the spell for them now. Then we could get on with this and not waste my entire evening.”

Pulling his wand back out, Professor Lockhart jerkily went through a series of overly dramatic wand movements that only slightly resembled a proper 'Protego'. Harry and Draco, who'd studied the charm in their group and practised it in the Room of Requirement, hardly recognised it and tried not to snicker too loudly as the entire room tried to copy the professor's wand movements.

“Right then,” Lockhart said after five unproductive minutes, trying to teach both the hex and charm. “We're ready to begin.” While the professor was talking, Draco grabbed Harry's shirt and pulled him close to whisper something. His head jerked up to 'look' Draco in the eye, before turning his attention to the grouped Slytherins. Their pairings were awfully close together and the feeling coming from that direction bordered on malicious glee. Draco pulled his head close again and whispered a bit more. A half smile crossed Harry's face and he nodded to his friend before turning his attention back to the professors.

“Remember now,” said Lockhart. “One partner casts a stinging hex while the other blocks. All together now, on three. One... Two... Three!”

Harry and Draco, instead of doing as Professor Lockhart asked, turned back to back and fell to a knee. Each cast a shield spell and watched the show as the entire room erupted in chaos. As anyone with half a mind would expect, hexes flew around the room randomly as nearly everybody began casting hexes at each other. Never having practised before, most made up for lack of accuracy with enthusiasm, firing off spell after spell, hoping to hit – something.

Adding to the pandemonium, the Slytherins had gathered together in a tight knot. The ones in the centre were firing at the surrounding students while the ones on the perimeter cast shields to protect the group. Not to be outdone, the Weasley twins were creating their own brand of havoc.

Students all around them were subjected to new hair styles, hair and skin colours, and wardrobe changes. Through all this Severus stood in the shadows behind a shield of his own, his face impassive. Harry could feel his amusement, however, as Lockhart's first meeting fell apart. Of the other professor there was no sign, at the first hint of trouble, he'd simply disappeared.

Tiring of the show, Professor Snape flicked his wand and a loud bang echoed through the hall. At the report, everyone froze, all except the ones that had the happy feet jinx cast on them. They were all hopping about the floor in some crazy dance or another.

Professor Snape moved through the hall, reversing curses as he went. He cast a venomous glare at the Weasley twins as he passed them, which was returned with innocent, doe-eyed expressions. When things were nearly back to normal, Professor Lockhart reappeared suddenly next to the duelling stage; under which, only Harry knew for sure, that he'd been hiding.

“Perhaps we've been moving a bit too quickly,” the flustered professor stammered as he avoided Snape's piercing gaze. Let's have a volunteer pair – Weasley and Thorne, how about you two?”

Damien strutted up to the stage as if he owned it while Ron, a bit more wary, climbed up opposite him. Both boys had fared well in the previous skirmish. Ron, having put a lot of effort into the study group, had his shield up before Neville (or anybody else) could raise his wand. Thorne had also been largely untouched, though he'd been in the middle of the Slytherin pack. Now they stood on the duelling platform waiting for Lockhart's instructions, Thorne with a sneer and Ron with a frown.

“He'll take the Weasel on the first pass,” Draco whispered to Harry as Professor Lockhart explained, after some prompting from Snape, the guidelines for duelling.

“If he does, it's only because Ron still thinks you have to fight fair in a duel,” Harry murmured back. “He can't help it, it's a Gryffindor thing.”

“Well, Thorne's got a Slytherin thing and I'll bet you a Galleon that he goes before three.”

“That's a sucker bet,” Harry grumbled.

Up on the stage, Ron and Damien stood with wands in guard position as they waited for Lockhart to start the match.

“Ready then?” the professor asked as he stood with handkerchief raised at Centre stage. “One... Two – ”

True to Draco's prediction, Thorne attacked before the third count. His target wasn't Ron, however, but Professor Lockhart.

“Tarantallegra!”

The DADA teacher began dancing a strange jig, distracting Ron just long enough for Thorne to cast a second spell. “Expelliarmus!” Hit unexpectedly, Ron was tossed head over heals and off the stage. The redhead landed at Harry's feet and after a quick check to make sure nothing more than the boy's pride was hurt, Harry helped him to his feet and turned his attention back to the stage.

The Slytherin stood at the far end, twirling Ron's wand between his fingers as he watched Professor Lockhart dancing about, vainly trying to cancel the simple hex. Harry couldn't see Thorne's face but he could feel the vicious joy that radiated from him as he gloated over Weasley's defeat. “Is that it?” he asked derisively as Snape reluctantly cast the counter curse on Lockhart. “This is the best that the Lions have to offer? No wonder you lost against a cripple at Quidditch. You're more pitiful than he is.”

Draco made no move to stop Harry as he jumped onto the stage, neither did Professor Snape. Thorne had gone too far with his insults and if Harry had anything to do with it, he would face the consequences. The twins, seeing a new duel in the making, began a new round of wagers that nearly turned into a riot. Betting was even between the two opponents except in Slytherin. Strangely, many of them favoured Harry over Damien.

When the Ravenclaw first jumped on the stage, Damien laughed incredulously, put his hands on hips and asked, “What's this then? You're all such cowards that you sacrifice your weakest as a distraction? There's hope for you after all.”

“No,” Harry answered casually. “They just figured I was all that's necessary to beat the likes of you.”

“Big words Potter,” Damien spat. “We both know that the professors will never let you duel, you haven't sat through even one session of DADA this year.”

“From what I've heard, that gives me the advantage,” Harry answered with a serene smile. “Anyway, I read all about it, how hard could it be, anyway, They did let Professor Lockhart teach it after all,” eliciting a round of giggles from many of the students.

“I have no objection,” declared Professor Snape from the shadows. “Neither does Professor Lockhart,” he added with a warning glare at the other wizard. “Standard rules for a practise duel, no illegal or dangerous curses, no attacks while your opponent is down and a time limit of five minutes. First to incapacitate their opponent wins.”

“Ready then?” Professor Lockhart asked yet again, this time standing well away from the platform. Damien nodded, taking up what would look like a fencing stance if he'd been holding a sword. Harry nodded as well though with a radically different starting position. His feet were spread shoulder width apart with much of his weight resting on the balls of his feet. His knees were slightly bent and his arms hung loosely at his sides. In a word, Harry looked completely relaxed. With both duellers indicating readiness, Professor Lockhart prepared to begin the match.

“On the count of three then, One-”

True to form, Damien barely waited for the first count before he struck. “Finite Incantatum!” he roared as he stepped to one side. His opening shot was smart, if expected. Get rid of Harry's 'sight' spell to gain advantage. Unfortunately for Damien's plans, however, Harry wasn't interested in cooperating.

Even as Damien was casting the spell, Harry was in motion. Side stepping the oncoming attack,. He cast his own spell in return. “Lumos Maximus!” Harry yelled, putting as much power behind it as he could. The resulting flash elicited several yelps from the students as they were temporarily blinded; Thorne, however, recognised the incantation just in time and covered his eyes before he could be affected.

Quickly as he could, Damien cast, “Petrificus Totalus!” hoping to immobilize his opponent. Harry blocked it with a “Protego,” followed by “Rictusempra!

The students followed the duel with gaping mouths. Only half of them thought Harry would last this long, fewer still dared believe he'd do so well. Draco, Ron, the Ravenclaws and several Slytherins cheered him on wildly while the the rest either remained quiet or backed Thorne. The duellers seemed evenly matched until Damien used a forbidden curse.

Reducto!” he yelled with a confident smirk on his face.

Harry dodged the spell but not completely. The very edge of it caught his sleeve, spinning him around and putting a nasty gash on his left arm.

“Thorne!” Snape roared, obviously incensed by the illegal spell. His rebuke was ignored by the duellers, however, as Harry retaliated. Trying not to let his wound affect him, he used the momentum of the spin to bring his wand to bear again and cast a spell that Sal had taught him shortly before his disappearance earlier in the term. “Cuecus Usus Umbra!” he snapped. A tiny black ball shot from Harry's wand, unfurling into an inky black veil. Damien, not recognising the spell, cast a shield charm but could only stare in horror as it sailed right through. The veil hit Thorne's face and wrapped tightly around his head, blocking all view of it.

The Slytherin upstart let out a yelp when the veil obstructed his sight, then quickly cast “Lumos,” and “Lumos Maximus,” though it had no effect on Harry's spell. Sounding slightly panicked, Thorne began casting curses in random directions, trying, futilely, to get Harry with a lucky shot. Several students fell victim to body binds and tickling curses but Harry stayed one step ahead of every spell cast in his direction. Every few seconds Thorne would cast another spell on himself, trying to remove the veil with little result for his effort. Thorne's voice kept on taking on a more strained tone every second, soon bordering on hysterical. His reaction surprised everybody, including his opponent.

Harry had cast the veil, unsure how well it would work in an actual duel. Sal had taught it to him because he'd pointed out that most people relied on their eyes for everything, including fighting. The veil, Sal explained, was a construct of shadow that would temporarily blind the caster's opponent. Harry had tried it a few times with Draco but had never had an effect like this with his friend.

The smile that had been on Harry's face at the prospect of winning the duel faded as he watched Thorne fall apart in front of the group. Damien had quit casting spells and abandoned his wand as well. He was scratching desperately at his face, trying to remove the insubstantial veil.

Using “accio,” Harry summoned Damien's wand, officially ending the duel. He then stepped forward quickly and cast “Lumos” with his wand as he touched it to Thorne's head, making the veil evaporate like so much smoke. Thorne, on his knees, kept his face hidden as he wiped it furiously with his shirt sleeves and tried to stifle the sobs that had been welling up. Not wanting to embarrass the other boy any further, Harry placed Damien's wand on the floor beside him and turned to go back to Draco.

“Good show!” Professor Lockhart said as he bounded up and raised Harry's hand in the air like it was a prize-fight. “It reminds me of the time I was in the Tibetan duelling tournament a few years back while I was hunting Yetis in the Andes.”

“The Himalayas,” Harry corrected.

“Er... right,” Lockhart said quickly. “Just a little joke. Now, as I was saying-”

A squeal from one of the female Hufflepuffs was all the warning Harry had before Thorne, who'd recovered his wand where Harry left it, cast a hate filled, “Serpentsoria!” An alarmed Professor Snape relieved Damien of his wand, but not before the spell was cast.

Spinning about,Harry stood face to snout with a very large, angry and venomous Mountain Viper. From his research on magical snakes, Harry knew that this was a cousin of the cobra. Its hood, while still a sure way of telling when the snake was frightened or angry, also served as a shield that minimized the effect of most spells.

Harry stood frozen, knowing that the viper, agitated as it was, was looking for a target to vent its rage on. Thorne had successfully summoned it but apparently didn't know how to control the snake. With no will guiding it but its own, the viper went looking for something to attack. Unfortunately for the spectators, it wasn't Harry.

The crowd took a collective step back when the viper appeared and was now filled with fearful murmurs as its gaze swept its gaze over them. “I'll take care of this,” Professor Snape said as he approached the reptile, only to stop when Harry held up a hand and shook his head. The snake was angry and any sudden movement could cause it to strike. Severus, trusting Harry's judgement, held back from acting. Professor Lockhart, on the other hand, lacked both the intelligence and self restraint necessary at the moment.

“Never fear,” Lockhart said, preening for the camera. “I've got it.” With a wave of his wand, the professor caused the mountain viper to be thrown violently into the air. When the enraged snake landed, it turned toward the nearest student, a Hufflepuff second year by the name of Justin Finch-Fletchley, and reared to strike.

“Stop!” Harry hissed at the snake in Parseltongue. At his command, the viper slumped to the floor, limp as a garden hose. Silence reigned in the Great Hall as everyone Gaped at him. Most of the students wore fearful expressions, though the Slytherins looked almost awed. Professor Snape wore a troubled expression and Lockhart squealed like a little girl before falling from the stage.

Ignoring the surge of fear he felt from the students nearest him, Harry quietly called the now docile reptile to him. “Just what are you playing at?” Justin cried as he got his voice back. “That thing could have killed me! You were talking to it, we all saw you. Did you tell it to attack me? Malfoy had you do it, didn't he?”

Harry didn't know whether to laugh or scream at Finch-Fletchley's words. He could only think that the Hufflepuff boy must be hysterical to spout such nonsense and believe even half of it. Still, the growing murmurs of the other students was beginning to worry him so he decided to put an end to it right then.

“Justin,” he asked as he stroked the viper soothingly. “You said I had the snake attack you, I conjured it then?”

“Well no,” Finch-Fletchley conceded. “But-”

“That's right,” Harry interrupted. “Thorne summoned it. So it had nothing to do with you before I spoke to it?”

“It was looking at us, then Professor Lockhart-”

“Right,” Harry snapped, now sounding irritated. “So I called it off and that must mean I wanted it to attack you... how?”

“It's just that – well, you spoke to it in Parseltongue.”

“So what if I did?” Harry challenged. “Last time I checked, it's something you're born with. I know how to cook and clean, does that make me a house elf?” Sensing through their auras that many of the students remained unconvinced, Harry wrapped the viper over his shoulders and stood. “Parseltongue isn't evil, neither is this snake. He just got summoned from his den by that ponce over there and attacked by someone who should have really known better.” Not bothering to listen to anything the assembled students might have to say, Harry leapt from the stage and dashed from the hall. Draco tried to follow, but was intercepted by his housemates who were full of questions.

Alone, except for his new friend, Harry went straight to the one place at Hogwarts he felt relaxed. The astronomy tower. Seating himself on the parapet and casting his newly learned warming charm on himself and the snake, he pulled his flute from his bag and began to play. Harry let the music relax him and had to fight a grin as the viper began to sway in time to the dulcet tones. So wrapped up was he in his miniature concert, that he was actually startled when he heard a voice beside him.

“You play wonderfully,” said a dreamy voice. “It's like the call of the Thiggletwerp bird, though you aren't trying to lure innocent wizards into your lair for dinner.”

With a sour expression, Harry remarked, “A lot of the people in the Duelling Club probably think just that.”

“Yes they do,” Luna answered conversationally., “Just like they thought it was Draco yesterday. They just need someone to blame and since you can talk to snakes... What are you going to do with him anyway?” she asked as she ran his fingers along his scales, completely unafraid.

“I was thinking about asking Hagrid to watch him till spring. Then it'll be warm enough that he'll be able to go into the forest and make himself a burrow.”

“I thought you'd taken him for a pet.”

A weak smile flitted across Harry's face as he answered. “After Hedwig and Loki, I'm pretty sure Aunt Petunia would disown me if I brought home another snake.”

“You care for her a lot,” Luna observed.

“She raised me,” he answered. “they're all family I have, her and Dudley, they accept me for who I am. Things weren't always the best between us, especially in the beginning, but after the accident we had no one else. Neither of us could have made it if we hadn't been there for each other. Now what I feel for her... It's something like what I think I'd feel for my mum and dad.” Tilting his head quizzically, he asked, “What about your family? You never really talk about them.”

“I live with my father,” she answered in her dreamy voice, though there was now a hint of sadness laced through it. “It's been just us for two years now. My mother, had a spell go wrong on her when I was nine.”

“I'm sorry,” Harry murmured, putting a comforting arm around her shoulders. The two of them sat together for a time, finding comfort in each other's company and talking about nothing in particular. Finally, Harry got up and helped Luna to her feet.

“It's almost dinner time,” he said. “I'm going to run the snake down to Hagrid and find Draco. He's got to be beside himself wondering where I am.”

“Thanks for talking with me Harry,” Luna replied as she dusted some snow from her robes. “I have a Florean Knockbanger in my room that I tell my problems to most of the time but It's nicer with you. I'm not sure I really trust it to keep all my secrets anyway.”

“Er... right,” Harry said uncertainly. “Can't be too careful about that.” When they reached the bottom of the tower, Harry suggested, “You can go to dinner if you want. I have to get Fangs down to Hagrid.”

“Fangs?” she asked. “He has a name now?”

Blushing a bit, Harry answered, “Yeah, just now. It feels kind of strange to talk about him a lot and not have anything to call him. It's only temporary anyway. Hagrid will probably rename him so as to not confuse him with Fang.”

“That's nice,” Luna said lightly. “I think I'll walk down with the both of you and Fangs. Maybe Hagrid knows something about the Ksilisab.

“What do you mean both-”

“Harry!” called Draco as he came barrelling around a corner. “I should have guessed you'd be here. Word's gotten all over school about you talking to the viper. Between that and thrashing Thorne in the duel, half the students think you're the heir now.”

“And you think that's good?” Harry asked in disbelief. Not wanting to just stand around, he began making his way toward the Entrance Hall as Luna and an excited Draco followed.

“Of course it's good,” the Slytherin snorted. “Most of my house is ready to crown you their leader and most everyone else is scared witless. Don't you see? Blind or not, people are beginning to take you seriously now.”

“Right, but I didn't necessarily-” Harry's reply was cut short as the sound of his next step heralded itself with a splash. Stopping abruptly, Harry stretched his senses to their utmost and whispered urgently, “Draco!”

“Yeah, I know,” the blond replied nervously in kind.

“What?” Luna asked. “The Mer-Beetles probably just wanted to come out of the bathroom.”

“shush,” Draco muttered as Harry crept toward the next corner. “This is exactly how we found Mrs Norris on Halloween.” Moving quickly, they caught up with Harry at the corner where he stood with shoulders slumped.

“It's happened again,” he said. “there's two of them this time... I think.”

Peering around his friend's shoulder, Draco gasped. “It's Finch-Fletchley and the Gryffindor ghost!” he hissed. “We're going to get blamed for this anyway but we really shouldn't be here when somebody else finds them.”

“Let's go then,” Harry urged his friend with a push. “First take a good look at them and try to remember everything you can. Quickly, I can hear Mr Filch coming this way.”

Wasting no time, the three made a hasty retreat and made it to the Entrance Hall in record time. Seeing they were about to gotout, Draco stopped with a horrified expression. “But these are-”

“Your robes are fine,” Harry snorted as he pushed his friend through the doors. “We'll be back before anybody sees you.”

They quickly made their way to Hagrid's hut where they found the half-giant grimly stuffing dead birds of some kind into a bag.

“Hey Hagrid,” Harry called, trying to sound like everything was normal. “How are you?”

“Eh?” the grounds keeper grunted, then brightened visibly on seeing who had come to visit. “Harry, Draco, it's good ta see ya (en if it's not th best time). An who's yer new frien?”

“Rubeus Hagrid,” Said Draco with a flourish. “May I present Luna Lovegood, first year Ravenclaw, Merlin's Crest.”

With a toothy grin, Hagrid bowed low to Luna, who returned it with a proper curtsy.

“So what's in the bag?” Harry asked curiously.

A wave of sorrow came from the grounds keeper answered. “Er... nothin' really. Roosters been turnin up dead in th coops. It's probl'y just a wolf or sommat came out o the forest lookin for food.”

“Whatever it was only attacked the roosters?” Luna asked in a whimsical voice. What about the chickens?”

There was a short pause as Hagrid thought about what she was saying. “Come t think on it, none the chickens was touched.” he said with a mystified tone.

“Ksilisabs don't like roosters,” Luna pointed out. “Someone must have come down and killed them for it.”

“A Ksilisab,” Hagrid asked, bemused. “Whas that?”

“Luna thinks it's the creature that attacked Mrs Norris and Hermione,” Harry explained. “I can't find it in any of the books we have, so you don't know anything about it either?”

“Sorry,” Hagrid said regretfully. “I don't remember hearin bout anythin like that.”

“What about the Chamber of Secrets then?” Draco asked. “There's been a rumour that it's been opened before. Have you heard anything about what happened that time? How was it stopped?”

The change in Hagrid's aura, caused by Draco's seemingly innocent question, was startling to Harry. From mild curiosity, the grounds keeper's aspect changed to full blown fear and panic in just seconds. “Wha would I know abou tha?” Hagrid squeaked, something quite noteworthy in someone so large. “I din't ave nothin t do wit it... me or Aragog!” the half-giant said gruffly as he hefted the bag of roosters over his shoulder, leaving Harry, Luna and Draco gaping after him.

“I never even got to ask him if he'd take care of Fangs,” Harry said forlornly as they started back toward the castle. “Now what am I going to do with him?”

The three hadn't made it half way back up the path when they heard somebody calling Harry's name. Looking up, they saw one of the Ravenclaw first years running toward them from the castle.

“What is it Seth?” Harry asked as the boy stumbled to a stop in front of them. He remembered him from the sorting, the boy was a bit excitable, but open-minded.

“Professor-” the boy gasped out between ragged breaths. “Professor Flitwick – sent me – to find you. Waiting – in the Entrance Hall!”

“Oh Merlin,” Harry groaned as he pulled the viper out of his cloak. “What now.”

Turning to Draco, he asked, “Can you take Fangs for now? I don't know how long I'll be.”

Brightening, Draco answered excitedly, “Certainly, give him here... I may even know where he can stay permanently.” He reached out to take the snake but pulled back quickly when he received a warning hiss from Fangs. “Tell him not to bite me first,” he squeaked.

Nodding, Harry murmured a few words in Parseltongue to the viper, eliciting a gasp from Seth. Grimacing at the first year's reaction, he handed the snake over to Draco before they all headed up to the castle together.

Upon reaching the entrance hall, Draco and Luna walked off toward the dungeons while Seth, glad to be relieved of his duty, ran for the Great Hall and dinner, leaving Harry and Professor Flitwick in relative privacy.

“How are you Harry,” the diminutive professor asked by way of greeting. “Professor Dumbledore has asked to see you before you have dinner.” With Harry's nod of acceptance, Professor Flitwick escorted him toward the headmaster's office. As they walked, the professor brought up the day's earlier excitement. “I heard about your duel with young Thorne this afternoon,” he remarked. “I'd feared that when the headmaster removed DADA from your classes, that your ability to defend yourself would suffer. I'm very pleased to see that I was wrong.”

With a non-committal shrug, Harry answered. “From what I've heard, DADA isn't doing much more than a Gilderoy Lockhart fan club.”

“Yes – well, Gilderoy's teaching methods are a bit odd,” Professor Flitwick replied. “Though I am curious to find out where you picked up that intriguing spell you used to incapacitate Thorne.”

“Oh, that,” Harry said uncomfortably. “You know we started a study group in the Merlin common room. Originally it was so I could follow along with everyone and not get too far behind in defence. It was after my friends had their first few classes in DADA that we all started teaching each other. It was because of that I went to see another one of the professors. He suggested that since most other people rely on their sight so much, I should find a way to use it to my advantage. He taught me this spell and a couple others that might help in a fight.”

“And help it did,” squeaked the professor excitedly. “I wish I'd been there to see it. If you need any help with your study group, feel free to come ask me.”

“Thank you sir,” Harry replied. “I will... Sir, I was wondering... what happened after the duel...”

“Don't fret about that,” Professor Flitwick admonished. “Parseltongue is a rare gift that is no darker than divination or left handedness. To an intelligent wizard your gift should represent nothing more than a wonderful opportunity for a career as a snake handler later in life... if you wish. Your true friends will stick with you in the end, the others really shouldn't matter to you.”

“Thank you sir,” Harry said with a relieved sigh. The prospect of being ostracised for his gift had weighed more on his mind that he cared to admit. Hearing Professor Flitwick be so open minded about it gave Harry hope that others would too. Before long, they arrived before a recessed gargoyle that the Professor indicated was the guardian of the headmaster's office.

“Fizzing Whizbees,” said the professor, grinning at Harry. “Professor Dumbledore has a bit of a sweet tooth, all his passwords are candies.” To prove his point, the Gargoyle leapt aside, exposing a stairway leading up to the headmaster's office. The moment they entered it, however, Harry was nearly overwhelmed by the amount of magic coming from above. In self defence, Harry closed his inner eye and relied on his cane to navigate the steps. When they reached the door at the top, Professor Flitwick raised his hand and went to knock but was interrupted by the headmaster's voice. “Come in Filius, harry,” called Dumbledore through the door.

They entered a room that felt several degrees warmer than the rest of the castle; it wasn't stifling just cozy. Harry could detect the aroma of scented candles (possibly lilac), wood burning, and the pleasant musk of some type of animal. A myriad of sounds assaulted his ears as well. There were countless items in the room ticking, whirring, or making some other odd or unique sound. Allowing Professor Flitwick to guide him forward, Harry took his place in front of the Headmaster's desk.

“Thank you Filius,” Professor Dumbledore said by way of dismissal. “I'll send Harry back down for dinner shortly.”

“But Headmaster,” the Ravenclaw head of house said uncertainly. “I thought...”

“We won't be long,” Professor Dumbledore reassured him. “I just wanted to speak with Harry alone for a few minutes.” Unable to find an objection, Professor Flitwick left, leaving Harry with the Headmaster. “Please have a seat Harry,” he said to the boy kindly. “I'll be with you in a moment.”

Harry felt the edge of a large chair bump against the back of his legs, making him sit reflexively. The seat was high enough that his feet no longer touched the floor when he sat. leaning back, Harry had to admit the chair was comfortable. The cushions were soft and must be charmed for warmth as well. A soft, lilting music seemed to be played gently into his ears, coming of the back, it was very relaxing.

The minutes passed and Harry had nothing to occupy his senses except the warm cocoon of his chair, the gentle music and the scratch of the headmaster's quill on parchment. After a while, he started to experience that floating sensation that occurs on the edge of sleep. Almost imperceptibly at first, Harry began to feel a gently, steady pressure against his mental shields. A part of him worried about this, nothing should be pressing on them at all. Still, the warmth was relaxing and Harry's misgivings ebbed as the gentle pressure flowed along his shields looking for weakness. Finding cracks in the still immature defences, the presence had just begun to gently squeeze through when Harry was snapped back to wakefulness by a shrill, yet sickly squawk.

Jerking upright in the chair, Harry forced himself to wake up as he heard a dull thump then a whoosh of flame. “What?” he asked in confusion.

“That,” Professor Dumbledore said, sounding both amused and inexplicably annoyed at the same time, “is Fawkes. “He is a phoenix and my companion these many years. You've caught him on a burning day, one that was long overdue.”

“A burning day...”

“You see,” the headmaster explained. “Phoenixes are all but immortal. That's not to say they cannot die, rather it is when their time comes they are consumed by flame and reborn from their own ashes.”

As if on cue, a tiny peep could be heard from where the commotion had been raised just moments before. “And the cycle of life begins anew,” Professor Dumbledore said quietly. “Now Harry, if you could just take your seat again for a few more minutes, I'll be right with you.”

An uneasy feeling coming over him that he couldn't explain, Harry declined, “No thank you sir.”

There was a short pause, almost as if the headmaster couldn't believer his ears. “Excuse me?”

“Dinner is almost over sir, Aunt Petunia insists I attend every meal. She thinks I'm too thin,” Harry added with a grin. “If I'm not there, Dudley will tell her and she'll be up here faster than you can apparate.

“I was wanting to ask you about what happened today.”

Shrugging, Harry replied, “I went to the duelling club meeting and won a duel, that's about it.”

“You weren't supposed to be there,” the headmaster admonished. “It was for DADA students only.”

“The notice didn't say anything about that,” Harry said with a tone bordering on the disrespectful. “The professors didn't seem to have a problem with it either.”

“I do, however, Harry,” Professor Dumbledore stated firmly. “You won't be allowed to participate in any further sessions. That club is simply too dangerous for you.”

“I – won – the – duel,” Harry annunciated carefully, as if he was teaching letters to a toddler. “Why won't you let me try?”

“I'm doing this for your own good.”

Walking stiffly to the door, Harry announced, “I'm going to dinner now... good evening Professor.”

“Harry wait,” Dumbledore called. “I know about you speaking Parseltongue. Would you like to hear my theory about the reason you have this gift?”

Harry stopped momentarily with his hand on the doorknob, looking as if he was thinking the offer over. Turning slightly to face the headmaster, he flashed a bitter smile and answered, “Not in the slightest.” With that parting shot, Harry stepped out of the office and closed the door firmly behind him.



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