Chapter 1 : Going Round the Bend
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Lockhart stood up, brushing his breeches off. He gave his students a rueful grin. "I . . .er . . .meant for him to do that. You see, I could have blocked Professor Snape had I wished . . ."
Like hell! Snape thought acidly. He detested his fellow professor's incompetence and blathering. Lockhart was an idiot—a handsome talkative fool, just the sort of person Severus hated and loved to make a fool out of. Lockhart was a joke as a Defense teacher, Snape thought all of his books were lies, invented by him and a very good publicist to sell books. If Lockhart had ever come within scent or sight of a banshee or a werewolf, he would have been dead a dozen times over. The man's reflexes were slow as treacle, not what one would expect of someone who claimed to have singlehandedly defeated all sorts of deadly magical creatures and beings. But Lockhart was pretty and charming and people were always ready to believe that sort of man. He would have made a good used car salesman, Severus thought with a sneer. "Perhaps it might help the students if they practiced themselves?"
"Oh, yes. Yes, of course, Severus!" Lockhart said sheepishly. "How about . . .Harry Potter and Neville Longbottom?"
Severus shook his head, his lip curling. Imbecile! "Not unless you wish Potter to go to the Hospital Wing in a matchbox. Might I suggest someone from my own House? Malfoy, perhaps?"
Gilderoy nodded assent, and Malfoy sprang up on the stage, waiting impatiently for Harry to stand opposite him. Severus bent and hissed, "Standard spells only, Malfoy. No forbidden jinxes or hexes. But make Potter work hard for his ten minutes of fame."
Malfoy nodded. "Yes, sir. I will."
They began to duel. Severus watched closely. Had Dumbledore allowed it, he would be teaching Defense now, and he wished to see how the spoilt Potter measured up to Malfoy, who had the benefit of the finest dueling instructors since he was a small boy. Dumbledore was always going on about how special Potter was, how gifted. Snape had yet to see anything special about the Golden Gryffindor unless it was insolence and arrogance. Like father, like son.
To the Potion Master's surprise, Potter managed to acquit himself tolerably well, fending off Malfoy's jinx and returning it with a well-cast Tickling Hex. Malfoy doubled over, giggling uncontrollably for a minute or two before shaking off the jinx and getting up. He looked sulky and furious, he was not used to being bested by a mere half-blood, especially one raised by Muggles. He pointed his wand and hissed, "Serpensortia!"
A large cobra suddenly appeared in front of Harry, hood spread and hissing loudly in warning. The snake, awakened abruptly from its nap, it had been sunning itself along a stone wall in Delhi, suddenly found itself in a freezing cold room facing many unfamiliar people. Instinctively, it reared up and hissed, preparing to strike if anyone made the slightest move towards it.
Where am I?
Harry heard the words as if they had been spoken aloud, and wanted to glance around to see who had said them, but dared not look away from the deadly serpent curled mere feet from him. He froze, dread making him immobile.
The cobra began to weave back and forth, searching for a way out of this strange arena.
Malfoy smirked triumphantly, sure that his spell would prove to be Potter's undoing.
Severus' eyes flashed. Damn you, Malfoy! He should have known Lucius' son would not hesitate to use a curse like that, Malfoys were all opportunists and ruthless in pursuit of their goals. Now he had gone and put not only Potter, but the rest of his classmates in danger. Severus' mouth tightened. He was going to have a very long talk with one young Malfoy afterwards about obeying his Head of House. Before he could move to banish the snake, Lockhart interfered.
"Not to worry, I can take care of this!" he boasted and cast a spell no one had ever heard of. "Alarte Ascendare!"
It lifted the snake and slammed it down hard on the floor, making it even more furious than before. It coiled and would have lashed out at Harry, who was still frozen and trying to comprehend why he kept hearing someone screaming swear words in his head, had not Snape reacted with lightning-quick precision.
The snake vanished, sent back to its home in India.
Several Slytherins cheered at their Head of House's competence. Snape whirled upon Malfoy, giving him a glare that made the boy gulp and back away. Then he turned to snap at Lockhart. "What kind of spell do you call that? Any fool knows that if you strike a snake you are asking to be bitten. Why did you not simply vanish it?"
While Lockhart stammered and attempted to defend his incompetence with one of his charming smiles and pitiful explanations, Harry jumped off the stage, figuring the dueling club was now at an end.
Hermione immediately rushed up to him. "Harry, are you all right! That snake. . .it could have bitten you badly."
"Bloody Malfoy!" Ron grumbled. "He's as bad as Lockhart."
Harry just nodded, wondering if he had imagined the strange voice that had asked Where am I? and had sworn savagely at someone as well. Lately, he had been hearing strange voices all the time, especially when walking to and from class. The voices were vicious, talking all the time of killing and death and hunger. But whenever he looked about, he was alone. He was starting to think he was going round the bend. Because even in the wizarding world, hearing strange voices was not normal.
Harry glanced up at the stage, where he saw Snape giving Lockhart a glare that should have sliced him to ribbons and made him flee the country. But he couldn't bring himself to feel sorry for the blond wizard at all. He deserved every sharp reproof delivered by Snape's razor tongue. Harry had no respect or love for Lockhart after the fool had removed all the bones in his arm after the Quidditch game. If Harry didn't know better, he would have thought Lockhart was trying to kill him, from sheer incompetence if nothing else.
" . . .care nothing for the safety of your students?" Snape hissed. "You are lucky to not have several lying on this floor suffering from a cobra's bite! And yet you claim to be a Defense Master?"
"I . . .well, you see, sometimes in the heat of the moment, I tend to overreact," Lockhart sputtered. "Terribly sorry, old boy. Perhaps next time—"
"Next time you should take my advice and teach your students to block first!" spat the irate Potions professor. Then he whirled upon the students and snapped, "The dueling club is over! Go back to your common rooms immediately!"
The students, not wishing to dare the professor's wrath, scattered like leaves blown in a strong wind. As Harry followed Ron and Hermione from the room, he heard Snape growl, "Mr. Malfoy, I would like a word with you in my office." He flinched and for once was grateful it was not him on the receiving end of Snape's whiplash tongue.
That night it began to snow hard, and within an hour the grounds were covered in a thick blanket of fluffy snow. After checking upon the Polyjuice Potion in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, Ron, Harry, and Hermione rushed outside to frolic in the snow. Harry had only his school robes and thick school jumper to protect him from the cold, since Dudley had used his scarf and gloves to play tug-o-war with Ripper over the summer when Aunt Marge had dropped by for an unexpected visit. He had no coat because he refused to wear Dudley's old one, which was several sizes too big and made him look like a little kid playing dress up with his dad's clothes.
He borrowed some gloves from Neville and figured his robes and jumper would protect him from the snow enough. As he raced ouside, Hermione frowned at him. "Harry, where's your coat? It's snowing!"
Harry shrugged. "I'll be okay, Hermione. I like the cold," he lied glibly. Actually he hated the cold, though he did enjoy playing with his friends.
He had a rousing snowball fight, then the three built a snowman, until the weather worsened and they were forced to go inside. Harry's face was reddened from the cold, but he had never been happier. This was the first time he had ever had friends to enjoy the winter weather with. He stood dripping upon the floor of the castle, stomping his boots to warm his feet, laughing at some quip of Ron's, when Snape swooped down upon them.
"What, may I ask, are you three doing? Up to no good, as usual?"
"No, sir. We were just playing in the snow," Hermione piped up, giving the snarky professor a tentative smile.
Snape eyed her, and then his gaze darted about to Ron and finally Harry. "Potter, where is your coat? Have you no common sense, to walk out into a blizzard without proper outerwear?" Before Harry could reply, Snape continued. "Or do you think that like your mentor Lockhart, your fame will keep you warm?"
Harry flushed and wished Snape blown to Bermuda, or the other side of the world. "Lockhart's not my mentor!" he snapped.
"Mind that tone, Potter. Unless you wish to keep warm scrubbing my dungeon floor?" Snape threatened silkily. Was the child really that scatterbrained, to charge outside in a blizzard and forget he needed a coat? It would appear so.
Harry dropped his eyes to the floor. "No, sir," he mumbled.
"Excuse me? I don't speak mumble."
"He said no, sir," Ron answered impudently, glaring at the potions professor.
"Was I asking you, Weasley? Potter, speak up!"
"No, sir, I don't," Harry said.
"Wise decision," sneered the other, looking almost displeased that Harry had remembered his manners. "Go, get into dry clothes before you end up in the Hospital Wing for your foolishness."
The three hurried past him, Ron muttering "Greasy git!" under his breath.
Once they were safely past Snape's probing gaze, Hermione whispered, "I'm going to check on it once more before going to bed. Just to make sure it's still simmering."
She slipped away to the girls' bathroom while Harry and Ron continued on to Gryffindor Tower.
**Ahhh . . .the sweet scent of blood . . .where are you, little morsel? Come to me . . .let me feast upon your tender flesh . . .I hunger . . .I need to taste . . .Kill . . .must kill them all . . .**
Once again the raspy dark voice was back, sending shivers down Harry's spine. He could practically feel the menace in the voice and knew that whatever it hunted was going to die tonight. He swallowed sharply and looked about, hoping this time to see something, anything.
The corridor was empty of all save he and Ron. "Ron? Do you . . .hear that?"
** . . .love to rip and tear . . .kill them all . . .kill them all . . .Master says to kill them all . . .**
Harry saw his friend looking at him oddly. "Harry? You all right, mate?"
He jerked awake from the trance hearing that silky deadly voice put him in. "I . . .yeah. I'm fine. I just thought I heard . . .err . . .never mind." Ron would never believe me if I told him. Never! I wish I didn't believe me. Maybe it's finally happened. I've finally gone round the bend.
He began to walk quickly up the corridor, all the while wondering what they did to kids that heard murderous voices in their heads. Did they send them to an insane asylum? Put them on some kind of potion to keep them from listening to the voices telling them things? Maybe if I just ignore the voices they'll go away? Isn't that what you're supposed to do?
After he reached Gryffindor Tower, he set about doing his homework. Hermione returned soon after that and told them everything was fine and it was almost done. That was a relief. As soon as the potion was finished, maybe then they could finally see if Malfoy really was the Heir of Slytherin, and behind all the attacks in the castle. After what had nearly happened at the dueling club today, Harry was sure Malfoy had to be behind it.
Or maybe the voice is behind it, whispered the lurid part of his mind. It's always going on about killing and eating, how do you know it's not behind these attacks on Mrs. Norris and Colin Creevy? Maybe if you told someone about it, the attacks would stop.
He shook his head rapidly. No, I can't do that. They'll think I'm a nutter and lock me up.
"Harry, what's the matter?" asked Hermione. "Why are you shaking your head?"
"Huh? I'm . . uh . . .my ear was itching. And I had some . . .err . . .water in it. From the snow."
"Oh. Maybe you ought to clean it out with a cotton swab?" she suggested.
"Right. I'll just . . .go do that." Harry gathered up his books and fled into his room, haunted by what he had heard and praying he wasn't making a big mistake.
Harry woke in the middle of the night with a urgent need for the bathroom. He crept down the hall in his pajamas and socks and quickly used the facilities. Just as he finished, he heard the voice yet again.
** So many to choose from, where shall I start? Crunch the bones and swallow the liver . . .delicious! Hot and sweet . . .so nice to eat . . .fear and blood as they breathe their last . . .**
Harry yanked up his pants and bolted from the bathroom, the gurgling hissing laughter still sounding malevolently in his ears.
He reached his room and stood shaking in the middle of it. Terrified and sick, he slammed the palms of his hands against his head. He had to make it stop. He couldn't take it any longer. Now the voice was accosting him in the loo! He couldn't even pee in peace.
You're going mad, Potter. Just like Aunt Petunia said you would. You've gone round the bend. He started to sniffle, despair and terror overwhelming him. Petunia's shrill voice echoed suddenly in his head. Always knew one day you'd come to a bad end, boy. This is what comes of bad blood and hanging about ne'er-do-wells like your mother did.
"Shut up! Just shut up!" He chanted softly.
Once again he heard the voice, hissing and burbling, threatening to rip and tear and eat someone's liver.
He could just imagine what Malfoy and the other Slytherins—hell, the whole school—would say if they knew that Potter heard voices. He would never be able to hold up his head again. Potty Potter, they would call him and snigger behind their hands. He couldn't bear it. This had been the one place he felt safe, felt at home. But now . . .now his haven had turned into a nightmare.
The snores of his dorm mates were suddenly magnified, and the darkness was no longer dispelled by his wand, whose tip was glowing with a faint white light. He had to get away. If he was going to crack up, he didn't want anyone to see. Not Ron, or Hermione, or Dumbledore, not anyone.
He stumbled over to his trunk and began pulling on his jumper and jeans over his pajamas and kicked off his slipper and drew on his sneakers. He felt cold all the way to his bones, but the layers banished the chill somewhat.
Then he left the tower, running as quickly as he could down the stairs, maybe if he ran fast enough, the voice wouldn't catch up to him. He raced towards the Entrance Hall, uncaring if he was making enough noise to wake the ghosts from their rest. All that mattered was getting away from the voice.
He thrust a shoulder against the door, only to find it locked. Frustrated, he nearly began to cry. He had to get out! Stop it! You're a wizard, you ninny, unlock the door! Taking several deep breaths, he drew his wand and pointed it at the lock.
Then he uttered an Unlocking Charm.
There came a loud snick!
The handle turned and he pulled the door open.
It was snowing heavily, and had been for several hours. But he didn't care. The castle was no longer safe. Hogwarts had betrayed him.
He ran out into the blizzard, into the teeth of the storm, and he let the howl of the wind blot out the sound of the voice, mocking him with its malevolent hiss.
Severus coughed sharply, and muffled it with a fold of his sleeve. Dratted students, drooling and sniffling all over their parchments and cauldrons, spreading germs all over. This was why he had developed a damned chest cold. He would have liked to return to his quarters, drink some Pepperup Potion, and spend the rest of the night relaxing with some tea and a good book. Instead, here he was, roaming the corridors, searching for errant students out of bed, because Filch was down with the same flu so many of the children had come down with the previous week. Albus had asked him to fill in for the caretaker, and Severus couldn't refuse, wouldn't let a mere cold keep him from performing his duties.
He had just finished patrolling the library and was making his way towards Gryffindor Tower, his black cloak billowing, his footsteps utterly silent, when he heard it—the sound of running feet.
Ah ha! Someone's out of bed! Let's see who is dumb enough to be wandering about at three in the morning.
Taking points and giving detention would greatly improve his disposition. He smothered another cough and increased his pace, following the sound. It had to be a Gryffindor out of bed this close to the tower. He hurried past the Fat Lady and down the stairs.
As he reached the bottom, a cold draft smote him.
The door of the castle stood open and snow was blowing into the Entrance Hall.
Snape paused, looking around. Surely no student would be stupid enough to run out into a blizzard?
Still, he had to check.
He made his way to the door, and saw to his shock that there were footprints in the snow.
Raising a hand to cover his eyes, he squinted hard, and could just make out a small figure in the distance. The figure was moving rapidly, or at least trying to, through the snow.
Severus blinked and rubbed his eyes. Surely he was seeing things?
But no, there really was a student out there.
Severus swore and wrapped his cloak more tightly about his spare frame. He muttered a charm to keep out the cold and wind. There was no help for it. He would have to go out and bring the imbecile who had decided to go take a walk in a snowstorm back. Just wait till I catch up to whoever the hell it is, he growled silently. Just wait. I'll have them in detention for the rest of their schooldays.
He strode rapidly down the stairs and across the courtyard, shutting the door behind him, and then following the small footprints across the snow drifts. Merlin help the little brat when he caught up to them!
This was a random plot bunny that bit me and hounded me till I wrote this. I usually do a Christmas fic, and I hope you enjoy this one. I don't intend for it to be longer than ten chapters or so. But good things come in small packages, right?