Disclaimer: Characters belong to J.K. Rowling ... sadly.
A/N: Thanks to everyone for your fantastic and thought provoking reviews! I love it that I have you all wondering what's going on and asking questions. Why are Harry and Ron in Advanced classes? Who is the white haired man? Where are Dumbledore and Voldemort? What is real and what's an illusion? What does Luna know? And more importantly, what the hell is going on!?
I guess all I can say is, read on if you want to find out. :]
= = =
“Twenty-seven … hey Twenty-seven, you’d better wake up …”
Fluttering open my eyes, I turned to see pudgy-cheeked Neville Longbottom staring down at me. He instinctively began to slowly pace away at the death glare I shot at him.
“Sod off, Longbottom,” I grunted and closed my eyes in hopes to return to my slumber, with a vow to make Longbottom pay later for waking me from my beauty sleep.
“Just thought you ought to know we’re supposed to be at breakfast in five minutes,” he said shakily, and then I heard his feet padding across the room to the door. “And my name is Sixty-two.”
The door clicked shut behind him and I allowed my eyes to drift open, wondering if all of the events of the previous night had been a dream. I glanced down at my arm where a piece of white gauze had been taped to it. I held my breath and ripped the tape off of my skin in one clean sweep, grimacing at the sting it left behind, and then opened my eyes to observe the blue knut sized bruise forming on the inside of my elbow. Nope, I decided, It definitely wasn’t a dream.
But what about everything Hermione had shown me in the Daily Prophet? No, I was quite sure that was real too.
And so I swung my legs over the edge of my bed and sloppily threw on the same clothes I was wearing the day before and bounded down the stairs and out the common room door. I couldn’t take living like this anymore, and so long as I was stuck here, I was going to do something about it.
I hurtled through the tall oak doors of the Great Hall and stalked down the aisle separating the Average students lined up on their hands and knees on the floor and the Advanced students sitting straight backed at the table, feeling every eye in the hall boring holes into every portion of my skin. Father glared at me from his seat on his pedestal. I glared right back.
“We need to talk,” I demanded as I reached him, noticing the way his lips had melded into one thin line.
Father picked up his goblet, took a long sip, and then set it carefully back down on the table top. “Go to your seat, Twenty-seven, and be grateful I have had mercy and not punished you for your tardiness.”
“No,” I said boldly. “I refuse to sit on that filthy disgusting floor with my face pressed into that slop you call food like an animal. You raised me with more class than that.”
“Go to your seat, Twenty-seven,” he repeated, slowly articulating each word with severity. “If you would like to speak with me privately, we will make an appointment.”
“I do not need an appointment to speak with my own father!” I bellowed, my voice resounding like an echoing gong around the Hall. After my screams faded away, the atmosphere was so quiet I could hear my father’s heavy breaths, coming out in angry rasps of air.
Auntie Bella leaned over my father and whispered something into his ear, a smile curling her bright red lips. I shivered; just looking at her face sent flashes of Fenrir Greyback’s sickly disgusting form through my mind.
“No, Bella,” Father said standing up. “I will speak with him. Come … son.” And I followed him to the door of the Great Hall.
My eyes locked with Hermione’s momentarily as I passed her. She seemed to be pleading with me through her coffee-brown eyes. Don’t do anything stupid, the troubled look she shot at me said.
“All right, everyone, shows over, head’s down and get back to your food!” came Alecto’s high wheezy voice as the double doors slammed shut behind us.
Father grabbed my arm, digging his fingers through the thick material of my sweater and into my flesh as he dragged me forcefully down the corridor and to the spiral staircase leading up to the Headmaster’s office.
“Now what,” he asked, shoving me across the room, “is of such high importance that you simply can not wait to speak to me?”
My hand was tempted to go to my arm and rub my now bruised shoulder, but I refused to give him the satisfaction of knowing he had caused me pain. I gazed around the office, at the bookcase stuffed with books and the unmistakable sight of the hand of glory with its gnarled fingers on his desk as I wondered where to even begin. There was so much I wanted to say, but where to start? With the most bizarre, naturally, I told myself, which in turn did not help at all because everything about this school was equally bizarre.
“Where is Dumbledore?” I demanded. It seemed the most logical thing to say at the time.
“Leave my office with your foolish questions.” Father sat in his black leather high-backed chair behind his mahogany desk and opened a book. He began reading as an unspoken sign of my dismissal. Growing up in the same house as him, I was quite accustomed to this treatment.
I stood my ground. “Where is he?”
“You were there,” Father answered, waving his hand airily over his book. “You saw him die.”
My heart skipped more than a couple of beats as I suddenly felt my pulse skittering out of control. How could this have possibly happened? “But … Dumbledore can’t die …” I voiced my thoughts aloud, feeling as though someone had just poured a bucket full of ice cold water over my head. If I had heard this news back in 1995, I wouldn’t have cared in the least. Hell, I’d go so far as to say I’d be happy about it. But now …
If Dumbledore could die, that meant no one was safe. “We’re doomed.”
“What was that, son?” Father asked, although for some strange reason I got the feeling he’d heard me perfectly clearly.
“Why so down, boy? Dumbledore is dead, just like you wanted. It’s all thanks to you, really. Everything is going exactly according to plan.”
I gulped. All thanks to me? And I knew this was it: The moment of truth. “And what is this plan?”
“We’ve already discussed it.” Father eyed me contemplatively. “Several times.”
“Explain it to me again,” I said. It was not a request.
“This discussion is over,” said Father, rising to his feet and gliding toward the door. “Something has changed about you, son. Come to me when you are back in your right mind.” He held the door wide open for my exit.
I reached out and slammed the door shut. “Oh, we’re far from done,” I said, a maniacal grin spreading across my face.
Father folded his arms across his chest and stood a little straighter. I recognized his deranged sneer and for the first time realized how much taller than me he was. “You dare …”
“Yes I dare!” I shouted, “Have you any clue the things I’ve been through? I’ve had Macnair sticking needles in my arms, I’ve been attacked by a werewolf that may or may not have been a figment of my imagination, and to top it all off, all you people are trying to brainwash us into thinking there’s no such thing as –”
“Don’t say it.”
The alarms blasted through my ears and before I could even blink, Amycus and Alecto had burst through the door and were pinning down either side of my arms.
“Now you’ve done it,” said Father, turning away from me and heading toward his desk once more.
I struggled against the twin’s unforgiving strength. “Let go of me!” I barked. “Let go, or I’ll tell! I’ll tell everyone about what the Daily Prophet’s been saying!”
Father spun around at once, his white blonde hair flailing out like a fan behind him. “What did you say?”
“You heard me,” I said, twisting my arms as I tried to break free from the twin’s death grips on either side of me, attempting to raise my voice high enough to overpower the blaring alarms. “I know all about it – about the Hogwarts students you’ve sent out to kill the Muggles.”
And then Father’s long spider-like fingers were wrapped around my throat, and he was shaking with all his might. “You know nothing!” he exclaimed in a white-hot rage as his expert fingers spun an excruciatingly tight web around my neck. “Do not speak of things you know nothing about! Now say it!”
And I knew exactly what he was asking of me to recite. I opened my mouth but all that came out was my own sputtering and choking. “M … word … not … exist.”
“Good,” Father said, loosening his clasp on my neck. I struggled to catch the air I had been lacking, as Father looked at me and said, “Remember that.”
And then there was a knock at the door. “Are we having a party in here?” asked Auntie Bellatrix above the alarms, one hand wrapped firmly around Hermione’s waist and the other buried in her frizzy hair. “I found this outside the door.” She yanked on Hermione’s hair making her cry out.
“This is ridiculous,” said Father. “Take them both to the Western Tower.”
“Punishment?” asked Alecto, wide eyed and anxious.
“The Advanced students can deal with them. They need their practice.”
Alecto’s face fell at his instructions, but Hermione and I were soon dragged out of the room, down the spiral stairs, and to the Western Tower to await our fate.
= = =
Hermione and I were thrown to the ground at the top of the tower before the twins and Auntie Bellatrix left us. The room was dark, although not quite as dark as it was the night they'd strapped me in --
"The Dream Catcher," said Hermione, eyeing the metal bed stationed in the middle of the room with horrified fascination.
I didn't look at it. I couldn't bring myself to. Instead I fixed my gaze on Hermione's shadowed face, as if somewhere hidden in the worried creases lining her forehead was the answer to our survival.
And then the door swung open once more and Auntie Bellatrix stood in the doorway, Potter standing bolt upright on the side of her. Her eyes passed from me to Hermione in turn. Potter stared straight ahead, unblinkingly.
"Harry ..." Hermione whispered, pleading.
"Don't speak." Auntie Bella glared at Hermione as she ambled closer to us, ever so slowly, sleek as a panther. "Come, Number One. We'll show these brats the consequences of disrespecting authority."
Potter followed closely behind her, until they were both pacing in front of us. Hermione spoke no more, but from the corner of my eye I could see the shining wet patch that had left a trail down her cheek as she looked at Potter with those sad confused eyes. I could practically hear her voice in my head. Why are you doing this, Harry? And I wondered the same thing. I always knew the prat didn't like me, but Hermione was supposed to be one of his best mates.
Then again, a lot could change over two years.
The room suddenly grew darker and a light gust of wind from out of nowhere swept through the tower, chilling me to the very core of my bone marrow. And then Auntie Bella was gone, as if she'd ridden the back of the breeze right out of the room. All I could see was Potter, standing directly in front of us, reaching his hand into his pocket and pulling out --
No. It couldn't possibly be ...
A scream tore through Hermione's throat as her head banged hard against the cold floor. Her body writhed and squirmed before me, her violently shaking fingers desperately grasping the air, as if she were reaching for something but could not seem to get close enough ...
And then her hand found the hem of my pant leg, and she held on as if for dear life through her wails of desperation.
Shaking myself from my reverie, my hand instinctively went to my pocket. "NO!" Hermione's shrilled voice broke. "No."
She wasn't going to let me use magic. Potter was torturing her, and she wasn't going to let me stop him. There were a million and one spells I could think to send at him, and she wasn't going to let me ...
"Potter!" I bellowed, finally finding my voice, shocked by the shakiness of it. Working to compose myself, I shouted, "What the fuck do you think you're doing? She's your best friend!"
The curse was lifted almost immediately as Hermione laid spread out across the ground, her hand still clutched tightly around the material of my pant leg. Potter's eyes seemed to glow red in the darkness as he glared at me with more loathsome hatred than he'd ever shown me in all the years I'd known him.
He pointed his wand directly at my chest and opened his mouth to speak, but before he could another voice softly whistled through the room like wind. "Use a new one, Number One." Auntie Bella. But how? I whipped my head from side to side. She was nowhere to be seen.
And then my whole body was covered with a burning sensation like fire licking at my skin. Hermione screamed and pointed at my face. I twitched as the burns spreading across my skin began to crawl as if with millions of tiny legs ... and then bite down. I began to swipe frantically at my body, and upon looking at my hand, I finally saw the bright red fire ants crawling about my pale skin.
They were everywhere, completely devouring me whole, biting through my clothing and into my flesh and sending sparks of fire through my veins. "Get them off!" I exclaimed, sounding whinier and more childish than I intended.
Hermione screamed again. I was afraid to open my eyes as I imagined tiny little red legs crawling through the crevices of my eyes, but as Hermione's screams grew louder I peeked one eye lid open, only to see a huge python, at least five feet long and almost as large in diameter, wrapped around Hermione's tiny fragile body and squeezing the very life out of her. Potter's voice sizzled through the air in that awful snake language, seemingly egging the snake on, as I could visibly see it squeezing tighter and tighter until Hermione's skin turned a sickly purple. And the fire ants kept burning, burning, burning ...
"Get them off!" My voice had never sounded so unauthoritative.
Auntie Bella's deranged laughter split across the room. "Say it first," her voice taunted, even though her body was nowhere to be seen.
Was she serious? Hermione and I were being tortured by magic ... Potter was holding a fucking wand in his hand and speaking Parcel Tongue, for the love of Merlin! How could she possibly expect us to --
"The M word does not exist!" Hermione wailed through her tears and bated breath.
Shocking. I never thought Hermione, the courageous little Gryffindor golden girl, would give in before me.
"Again," the bodiless voice of Auntie Bellatrix demanded.
"The M word does not exist."
"The M word does not exist!"
"That's not good enough, little girl, I don't think you believe it yet!"
"THE M WORD DOES NOT EXIST!"
And finally, being unable to bear the pain for even a moment longer, as I could practically feel the toxic venom from the fire ants surging throughout my body, I joined Hermione in her chanting. Over and over and over we yelled the words, until it didn't even matter that Potter's wand was staring into my face, until it didn't matter that he was speaking Parcel Tongue, or that fire ants were crawling on my body, or that a snake was wrapped around Hermione, or that Auntie Bella's voice was resounding around the room even though she wasn't really there.