Chapter 1 : Potter's Puzzle
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NOTE: The following statement by Ron Weasley was written by J.K. Rowling, and appears on page 107 of the first American hardcover edition of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: “Mum, d’you honestly think You-Know-Who’s going to be hiding behind a bookshelf in Flourish and Blotts?”
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After the great battle, Harry thought he’d have a nice, long sleep in his old four-poster bed in Gryffindor Tower. There was nothing to prevent it. The room he had shared for so long with his classmates was untouched by the night’s destruction, and blessedly quiet. Kreacher had, indeed, brought him a tall ham sandwich, cold bottles of butterbeer and a plate of chocolate biscuits. It was probably also Kreacher who aired the room, which had been abandoned for months after the last of the seventh-year Gryffindor boys went into hiding. Now Harry’s old bed was turned down, revealing crisp sheets, fluffy pillows, and a set of pajamas. A cool morning breeze blew through an open window. There was no better place for a long nap.
But Harry couldn’t sleep. He didn’t know why. It wasn’t because he was extraordinarily happy that Voldemort was gone, and Harry’s arduous task of destroying him was over. It wasn’t because he was mourning the people who had died in the great battle. In fact, Harry didn’t really feel anything at all, except silly for lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. So what to do next? He didn’t want to talk to anyone, but between his cloak and his knowledge of Hogwarts’ secret passageways, he was sure he could make his way out onto the grounds for a walk by the lake.
Harry wasn’t exactly sure when Kreacher had done it — perhaps Harry had slept a little after all? — but the house elf had put some clean clothes on the end of the bed. Harry bathed and shaved, and feeling more energetic, dressed in a new shirt and jeans. Taking his wand and cloak, he left Gryffindor Tower.
Harry had only been in the dormitory for a few hours, but already the school was being repaired. Corridors that he was sure had been filled with rubble were now clear. Windows that he knew had been shattered were replaced. There wasn’t a soul in sight however, and Harry didn’t bother to wear his cloak. He supposed that the remaining students had left for home, or were sleeping. It wasn’t until he entered the entrance hall that he heard voices.
The doors to the Great Hall were wide open, and Harry could see that it was still a complete mess. Rubble and broken benches littered the floor, there were large, jagged holes in the windows, and everything was coated with dust. Peering through the doorway, Harry saw why the house elves hadn’t yet started to clean: a small group of somber-looking students sat at the near end of the Ravenclaw table, quietly talking.
Neville sat at the head of the table. To his right, facing Harry, were Hannah Abbott, Parvati, Padma and Michael Corner. To his left, Jimmy Peakes, Seamus, Dean and Anthony Goldstein. Harry couldn’t clearly see his face, but there seemed to be something very wrong with Seamus. Head bowed, he stared hard at the table, mouth set in a firm line. He looked as if he were blinking away tears. Parvati was saying something to him. Harry’s heart sank. Had something happened to Mrs. Finnegan?
Harry was torn; should he talk to his friends, or leave them in peace? He wasn’t sure himself which he would rather, but he knew that if he stood in the doorway much longer someone would notice him, so he learned against the stone wall, facing the entrance hall, out of sight of the Ravenclaw table. There he lost himself in visions of a restored Wizarding World, and what his classmates might do in it. He was so focused on his own thoughts that he didn’t notice someone else nearby until he heard a cry of surprise from Parvati.
A shock of ice filled Harry’s stomach when he recognized the person standing unsteadily near the doorway. Her clothes were torn and her expression disturbingly blank and unfocused, her gaze wandering aimlessly, but that didn’t stop Harry from wanting to arrest her on the spot. Just as he drew his wand, however, he heard joyful shouts from the Great Hall.
“Serena!” “I can’t believe it!” “Was she here all along?”
Neville stood and said, “Seamus! Look!”
But Seamus was already on his feet, rushing to the doors. He stopped just in front of the young woman, fear clouding his face as he realized that she was behaving strangely. He held out his arms, but stopped short of touching her.
“Serena?” he said, uncertainly.
Now the young woman turned her head in all directions, looking about as if she couldn’t figure out where she was. Her eyes fell right on Harry, but didn’t seem to notice him. Suddenly she looked directly at Seamus, and in a tremulous voice she said,
“Dr. Snape is dead. The Dark Lord killed him.”
Then, closing her eyes, Serena took two wooden steps into Seamus’ arms and laid her head on his shoulder.
In the moments that followed, Harry saw so many mystifying things that he couldn’t keep track of them all. The small group were all on their feet. Most of them looked shocked, but Parvati and Neville appeared very pleased as Seamus escorted Serena Serpentia — of all people! — to a place at the table next to Jimmy, and sat down beside her. As everyone else settled themselves, Dean tore off the remainder of his right sleeve and transfigured it into an ornate white and gold cape, which he and Seamus placed over Serpentia’s shoulders.
Why was Dean Thomas behaving kindly toward that Death Eater? Didn’t he know what she was? Didn’t he see her at the Malfoy’s the night they were all captured by Greyback and his crew?
“Serena, where have you been?” asked Padma.
“Does she need a Healer?” asked Michael. “Serena, isn’t your father a Healer?”
“What happened to you?” asked Parvati. Parvati looked most upset. But why? Unless… unless they were friends? No….
Parvati continued, “After you left the Room of Requirement….”
Left the where? Serena Serpentia had been in the Room of Requirement? When it was transformed into a hiding place for the entire D.A.?
“…. we thought you had gone to the Divination Tower. Then we heard Bellatrix LeStrange say you had died!”
“I don’t think she’s hearing you, Parvati,” said Neville. “She doesn’t look right.”
“She looks awful!” cried Parvati fearfully. “What’s wrong with her?”
Serpentia’s jerky movements and unfocused expression reminded Harry uncomfortably of someone who’d been iperiused. But who would have wanted to control her in that way? Harry reviewed all he knew about Serena Serpentia:
She was a Slytherin in his year. He’d heard her refer to Voldemort as “The Dark Lord,” a sure sign of Death Eater sympathies. She was some kind of potions prodigy who took that subject two levels above her year, placing her in the same class as Fred and George. Naturally, she was a favorite of Snape’s, who’d appointed her Head Girl to Blaise Zabini’s Head Boy. She’d taken many classes with Hermione, and the two got on like oil and water. Hermione was offended that Serpentia was allowed to skip ahead in potions, and Serpentia often said that Hermione “didn’t deserve” her many academic awards, presumably because Hermione was muggle-born. Serpentia didn’t get on with Pansy Parkinson, either; Harry had heard them arguing many times during Care of Magical Creatures. She had a lot of other Slytherin friends, though, and had dated Slytherin chaser Adrian Pucey.
There were also things Harry didn’t understand about Serpentia. He’d heard her called “California Girl,” affectionately by Zabini and maliciously by Parkinson, although she spoke with a British accent and her family owned an estate in the same vicinity as the Malfoy’s. He and Ron had seen her at the Quidditch World Cup, surrounded by Slytherin friends who supported Bulgaria, while Serpentia herself was dressed to support the Irish. And now she had somehow gained the trust of the D.A.!
Harry decided to observe a while longer. He realized this was the first time he had ever seen a truly serious expression on Seamus Finnegan’s face. Joyful Seamus, angry Seamus, disgusted Seamus…. these he had seen. But now Seamus was studying Serena Serpentia with an intense concentration that rivaled anything Harry had seen from Hermione.
From his vantage point, Harry not only saw Seamus’ face as it turned toward Serpentia, but his right hand, which held his wand behind Serpentia’s back, pointing it ever so slightly at her, as if he were ready to use it at any moment. Now why, if she inspired such friendship from the D.A., was Seamus, the person whom she seemed to know the best, keeping her at guard? Did anyone else notice? Maybe not; they couldn’t see it.
Not taking his eyes off Serpentia, Seamus called, “Dixie!”
With a crack, there appeared on the table the most unusual house-elf Harry had ever seen. Apparently Harry wasn’t the only one who had never seen Dixie; most of the table looked startled, and Jimmy said, “That’s never a house elf?”
Unlike most elves, Dixie was lithe and graceful, with a delicate face and gently tapering ears. But what was truly surprising was that Dixie wore clothes, and did not seem at all ashamed of it. She wore a soft knit fuchsia-colored tunic over a pair of black pedal-pushers and a pair of black leather clogs.
“What’s wrong with her?” said Dixie, pointing a long finger directly at Serpentia, who stared off into the distance. Dixie’s tone was bold and demanding, her voice low for an elf, and Harry leaned forward to hear better, sure that he had caught a foreign accent.
“Miss Serpentia needs something to eat and drink,” said Seamus.
“When’s the last time she ate?”
“I don’t know, but it doesn’t…”
“‘Cause she don’t eat too often.”
“I know! Just bring her…”
“You can’t just be guessing at this type of…”
“Dixie! Please. Just do what you can.”
With a look of disgust, Dixie disapparated.
“What the bloody hell was that? said Michael.
“Did you see what she was wearing? said Hannah to the twins. “Aren’t they all supposed to wear tea towels?”
“Not these elves,” said Parvati, “and I think she looks nice. If I had elves, I would rather they wore….”
Parvati didn’t get to describe her ideal elf garb, because Dixie appeared again, carrying a messy tray covered in jumbled food items and a large mug of something that emitted wisps of purple smoke. She set the tray in the center of the table and the mug in front of Serpentia. Jimmy leaned away with a cough, wiping his eyes and saying, “That smells like vinegar!”
“Hot cider vinegar, actually, with horse nettle and honey,” said Seamus.
“Horse nettle!” exclaimed Neville, “That’s a form of nightshade! Surely that’s poisonous!”
But Seamus was already murmuring something to Serena, lifting the mug to her. It was obvious he was trying to convince her to take it. It was also obvious to Harry that he still held his wand behind her back. Harry couldn’t see Serpentia’s face, but he could see her take the mug, inhale the steam deeply, and finally drink.
The room was quiet for a moment, all eyes on Serena. Harry saw the expressions on his classmates’ faces gradually relax, and he supposed that she must be looking better. The group began to talk again. Seamus lowered his wand and stuck it in the waistband of his jeans.
“Look at the mess that elf made of the tray!” exclaimed Hannah, “The sandwiches are coming apart, the chocolate looks like it’s been melted, and all the biscuits are broken.”
“I’m not sure that’s a proper elf,” said Anthony, “Where did it come from?”
“California,” said Seamus, not taking his eyes off Serena, “Elves are very different there.”
“You mean they don’t do what you tell them to?” asked Padma.
“I mean,” said Seamus, “that you don’t tell them, you ask them, and if your family wants an elf, you have to convince one to live at your house by offering it bribes.”
“You’re kidding!” exclaimed Anthony. “I can’t imagine my mother bribing an elf! Why would anyone want a Californian elf, if they’re such trouble?”
“I’d never even seen a house elf until they all ran up from the kitchens and joined the battle,” said Jimmy. “
Throughout the conversation, Serpentia gradually began to sit taller, until finally her spine was straight, shoulders back, chin raised. She slowly turned just her head to look at Seamus, and everyone fell silent. She appraised Seamus for a moment, and then said in a tremulous voice, “You look… terrible.”
Seamus was a little surprised, and said, “I’m not so bad….”
Serpentia looked away, and moving just her head, surveyed the Great Hall. When Harry glimpsed her face in profile, he saw that the haughty look that he had always hated throughout their years at Hogwarts was reappearing. Her voice was tinged with criticism as she said, “This room looks terrible.”
She looked up and down the table, her expression sterner by the moment, and finally declared, “None of you are fit to be seen.”
The group exchanged glances. Padma said gently, “Serena, you look a bit messy yourself.”
Serena studied her own clothing, and then, with amazing swiftness, she grabbed Seamus’ wand from his waistband, turned it on herself, and gave it one flick. Instantly her chic wizarding dress was repaired, Dean’s cape was colored green and black to match, her boots were cleaned of mud, and her hair restored to its usual dark, glossy curls. As she returned the wand to Seamus, she said,
“Fighting is dirty work. However…” She looked directly at Parvati and said severely, “…that is no excuse for your choice of attire.”
Parvati looked abashed, and swiftly said, “No, no, of course not.”
“We’ve all been in hiding….” started Hannah, but she was quelled by a look from Serena.
“I was addressing Miss Patil. There was never any hope…. for you.”
Harry was infuriated, but his classmates had a very different reaction. Hannah just rolled her eyes. Jimmy burst into laughter and said, “Stars, Serena! You could at least give us ten minutes to be happy you’re not dead before you start in on us!”
Padma, Anthony and Dean laughed at Jimmy’s remark, and Neville looked as though he were having trouble keeping a straight face. As Serena glared at Jimmy, Michael said, “Well, at least we know she’s back to normal.” Only Parvati appeared a little frustrated. It seemed like Serena was going to say something to Jimmy, but Seamus grabbed her arm and whispered something into her ear. She turned her head, and Harry couldn’t see her face anymore.
Finally the group quieted, and Neville looked serious once again. He said, “Serena, were you here for the battle? Do you know what happened? Vol… Voldemort was killed.”
Instantly the mood at the table turned somber. Serpentia turned her head to focus on Neville. “I know. I suppose Potter killed him?”
“Yes, right here in the Great Hall.”
“Took him long enough.”
Harry’s jaw dropped in outrage. Took him long enough? He gripped his wand tightly, and was just about to storm into the room and demand some answers when he was startled by Professor McGonagall, who appeared at his side in a fresh black dress and pointed hat. She surveyed the Great Hall, mouth set in a thin line. Finally she snorted and said, “Well! At least we don’t have to tolerate that in the school any more!” Without further explanation, she strode into the hall, Harry following behind.
There were cries of “Professor!” and “Harry!” as they entered. Neville stood and asked, “How are you, Harry?”
“Good, thanks,” said Harry, “Neville, what is going on?”
But McGonagall had already marched around the table, where she stood behind Parvati and stared daggers at Serena.
“Miss Serpentia! You will come with me this instant!”
Seamus — and Dean! — were immediately on their feet.
“What’s this all about?” demanded Seamus.
“Professor, you’re making a mistake!” exclaimed Dean, “You don’t know what she’s done!”
“Oh, I know exactly what’s she’s done!” said McGonagall, eyes still on Serena, who sat utterly still, staring right back at McGonagall, eyes cold and hard. “Professor Slughorn cannot enter the Slytherin common room.”
Serena raised in eyebrow. “Slughorn has forgotten the password?”
“The door will not accept it!”
“And you are telling me this because….?”
“Because you need to reverse whatever was done and return control of the Slytherin common room to the new administration!”
The new administration was McGonagall’s, Harry realized.
Serena tilted her head to one side. “I assume that the new administration no longer welcomes me to this school?”
McGonagall inhaled sharply. “No, it does not!”
There was a general outcry from the students, but Serpentia merely leaned back on the bench, a smug smile on her face. In silky, measured tones she said, “Then I see no reason to help you.”
There was a moment of stunned silence, then a great outburst of conversation as McGonagall shouted with rage. Harry grabbed Neville’s arm and pulled him aside.
“What’s this all about?” he demanded, “Why is Serpentia even here? And why are you all defending her instead of turning her over to the Ministry?”
“She was on our side, Harry!” exclaimed Neville. “She used her power as Head Girl to save a lot of students from being tortured by the Carrows. She even looked the other way while we did D.A. stuff! She was a double-agent!”
Harry was incredulous. “Like Snape?”
Neville blinked. “Snape was a double-agent?”
Harry was momentarily confused. “Didn’t I tell everyone that?”
Neville shook his head, looking befuddled.
“Well, he was,” said Harry, “Turns out he was working for the Order of the Phoenix after all. But he was an extremely gifted wizard! I can’t imagine Serpentia pulling off the same stunt. And how could she cast a spell that’s too powerful for Slughorn?” Even as he said it, Harry remembered how hard it had been for Umbridge to undo the spells cast by Fred and George Weasley when they were wreaking havoc in the castle. Maybe Serpentia knew some very advanced dark magic that was beyond Slughorn. But magic that was beyond McGonagall?
“You’d be surprised at what she can do,” said Neville, “It’s how she was able to save a bunch of us from getting tortured in detention.”
“I thought you said the Slytherins liked torturing people in detention.”
“Crabbe and Goyle liked torturing people. You can’t really believe that Serena Serpentia would hang out with the likes of them.”
“Why not? They’re all Death Eaters!”
Just then, Dean walked up and said in a low, urgent voice, “Harry, do you think you can help? McGonagall’s going to chuck Serena out of Hogwarts. She won’t listen to anything we say, but I think she’ll listen to you.”
“Listen to me about what?”
“About how Serena protected people from You-Know-Who!”
Harry stared at Dean in disbelief. “You look like Dean Thomas, but you must be a boggart, because Dean Thomas wouldn’t defend Serena Serpentia after what he saw her do at the Malfoys.”
Dean was taken aback. “She saved my life at the Malfoys, is what she did. And she tried to save yours!”
“She did nothing of the sort!”
Dean looked absolutely stunned. “How can you say that, Harry? Don’t you remember what happened?”
Harry was equally incredulous. “What I remember is her telling everyone that Hermione was a mudblood!”
Dean put his hand on Harry’s arm. “Harry, you had a lot of things on your mind at the Malfoys, and you didn’t look so good, either. Maybe you didn’t hear everything that was going on. Trust me: Serena was looking out for us.” When Harry gave him a disgusted glare, Dean dropped his hand and said hastily, “Okay! Okay! You don’t believe me! So believe Neville!
Neville broke in. “What were you two doing at the Malfoys?”
“Long story,” said Harry impatiently, “And speaking of stories, you never mentioned Serpentia helping you. Not once!”
Neville looked at a loss. “I didn’t think of it! We only spoke for a few minutes while I took you to the Room of Requirement, and then we were all planning the battle! After that it didn’t matter.”
“I think it matters now!”
“Well, she really stuck her neck out for us. I don’t know what they would’ve done to her if she’d been caught. I think Serena should be allowed to stay at Hogwarts.”
“Stay for what? She’s in our year!”
“Professor Sprout just told us,” said Neville, “Everyone who missed seventh year, or who didn’t really learn anything because of the Carrows, can come back for classes before they take their Newts.” He paused, and said earnestly to Harry, “I know it seems unbelievable because she was always so nasty to us, but I promise you, I’m grateful that Serena was Head Girl this year.”
Harry shook his head and asked, “If Serpentia was such an asset, why is McGonagall against her?”
“I don’t know!” exclaimed Neville, “Right after the battle I told her everything, but she didn’t seem to care. I don’t know if she’s expelling all the students who supported Voldemort or what, but she wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say about Serena. But Dean is right; she’ll probably listen to you. And if you’re going to do something, you’d better do it quick.”
Harry realized that the argument around the table had grown very loud. He turned and saw McGonagall pointing her wand at Serena, who didn’t seem concerned at all. Indeed, there was an infuriating sneer on her face. Harry knew that Dean and Neville believed Serpentia had helped them, but he was sure it hadn’t actually happened. He thought it far more likely that Neville and Dean were under the influence of some kind of spell.
“Sorry, Neville,” he said, “but I’m not buying it. I don’t know how she managed to fool you, but she did. And if Serpentia really has the skill to create an unbreakable spell on the Slytherin common room, it definitely would be best if someone called the aurors, because she doesn’t look scared to be on the business end of McGonagall’s wand.”
Neville’s face clouded. He looked angry, but he said nothing more to Harry. Instead, he loudly called, “Professor!” His classmates fell silent. Neville swiftly reached McGonagall and put his hand on her shoulder. “Professor McGonagall, I have to speak with you right away.”
“Not now, Longbottom!”
“It’s urgent, Professor! Please, just a few minutes. It’s more important than the dungeons.”
McGonagall hesitated, then lowered her wand, saying, “I’m not through with you, Serpentia!”
She turned and followed Neville to the front of the hall, where they could speak privately but still observe the group. In a low voice, Dean said, “You’re wrong about her, Harry,” and then returned to the table, where the animated conversation continued. Harry didn’t listen to it; he watched the conversation between Neville and McGonagall. He was sure Neville was fighting a lost cause, and was surprised when McGonagall’s expression changed from anger to amazement. Neville looked a little bemused himself. Harry immediately looked at Serpentia to see if she had somehow imperiused them, but she was facing away, talking to Jimmy. Curiosity got the better of Harry, and he joined Neville and McGonagall by the broken staff table.
“You have it wrong, Longbottom,” McGonagall was saying, “I’m not expelling students because they expressed sympathy with the Death Eaters. All students who are cleared by the Ministry are welcome back at Hogwarts. Miss Serpentia is expelled because she shouldn’t have been admitted to this school in the first place! Although what you’ve just told me does give me pause.”
“I… I don’t understand, Professor,” said Neville, “I’ve been telling you about the way Serena protected the students all along. What’s different now?”
McGonagall knit her brow and said, “It’s not about what she may or may not have done as Head Girl. It’s about how she will behave in the future.”
“I’m sorry, Professor, but I really don’t understa—“
“Explain to me again about Finnegan,” interrupted McGonagall. “Is this a romantic involvement?”
“No!” exclaimed Neville, “They’re not dating. They’ve known each other since they were small, because their mums are friends.”
“Of course,” said McGonagall, more to her herself than to Neville as she gazed at the Ravenclaw table. She looked is if she were finally putting two and two together. “They’re both members of the Potions Society, along with….” She didn’t complete her thought.
Harry was surprised. All those years sharing a dormitory with Seamus, and he’d never heard a word from him about Serpentia. He said, “I’ve never heard that. You’d think he’d’ve mentioned it.”
Neville looked a little annoyed as he said, “Well, you never really hung out with Seamus and Dean, did you?”
Harry realized this was true. And, to be fair, he’d never bragged about knowing Dudley….
McGonagall turned back to Neville. “What was that you said about trust?”
Neville replied, “Remember when someone wrote Dumbledore’s Army graffiti right here in the Great Hall?”
“Would that someone be you?” asked McGonagall, only somewhat critically.
“That someone would be Serena, after she caught me and Seamus at it and told us were were terrible artists and even worse rebels. She hated the whole graffiti campaign — I’m honestly not sure if it’s because they punished the prefects for not catching us, or because she thought our artwork was bad. She’s funny that way. Anyway, I tried to explain why we needed to continue, and she said she wanted to hear it from Seamus, because he’s the only Gryffindor she trusts. I don’t think he really convinced her it was a good idea, but she went along with it anyway. She sent us back to Gryffindor tower, and I thought we had failed, but the next morning… well, you remember. It was far better than Seamus and I could’ve done.”
McGonagall looked like she was thinking hard. Neville ventured, “Professor, does this mean you might reconsider —“
“I doubt it,” snapped McGonagall, “She really is too outrageous.”
Neville looked frustrated, but he said, “Professor, no matter what you decide, you need to give Seamus a chance to talk to her, or she’ll never let anyone back into the Slytherin common room. He might be able to make her see reason. And, forgive me, Professor, but it doesn’t look like you’re able to undo her spell.”
McGonagall looked resigned. She stared thoughtfully at the Ravenclaw table, around which the students were still talking, and in a soft voice, said the thing that Harry found most puzzling of all: “Finnegan, of all people. And to think I never considered him much of a wizard.” In a much calmer manner than before, she crossed the room and stopped briefly before the students.
“Finnegan! I need to speak with you and Mr. Longbottom at your earliest convenience.” Before anyone else could say a word, she left the hall.
“What was that about?” asked Parvati.
“That’s what I’d like to know,” said Harry as he and Neville rejoined the group. “In fact, there’s a lot of things I’d like to know.”
One of the advantages of being the man of the hour was that you commanded instant attention. Even Serpentia looked personable as she said, “Well, Potter, I hear we all owe you a debt of gratitude.”
He stared straight at her and said, “I’ve heard the same about you, but I don’t believe it.”
There were cries of protest, which Serpentia instantly quelled by raising her hand. “I don’t care what you think of me, Potter, “ she said, “I only care that you know the truth about Dr. Snape.”
“I think I know more about Snape than… hang on; you called him that before: Dr. Snape. What’s that all about? He’s not a muggle doctor, nor a Healer.”
Serpentia raised an eyebrow. In the same measured tones that she used when refusing McGonagall, she said, “Really. You are sure about that?”
Harry opened mouth to shout that he knew far more about Severus Snape than Serpentia would ever know, when two thoughts struck him: First, he had only learned the complete story about Snape and his mother a few hours ago, and there could still be many things about Snape’s life that Harry didn’t know. And second, if Serpentia actually knew the true story about Severus Snape, Lilly Evans Potter, Voldemort and Dumbledore, and she told it right now, she would reveal information about Harry’s family that he wasn’t ready for his classmates to hear. He realized that he had has wand in hand and was gripping it tightly; he dropped his arm.
“This isn’t the time,” he said.
Serpentia tilted her head to the side. “Really. Why not?”
“It just isn’t.”
Neville broke in. “Is this about what you were telling me before, Harry, that Snape was a double-agent working for the Order of the Phoenix as well as the Death Eaters?”
“We know all of that!” exclaimed Padma, “Harry announced it to the whole hall during the battle.”
“He did?” said Neville, “Don’t know how I missed that!
“Indeed?” said Serpentia to Harry. Still looking at him, she asked in general, “And what did he say?”
Harry felt panic rising in him. He vaguely remembered telling Voldemort that Snape had been devoted to Harry’s mother, and of course the crowd would have heard it, but Harry was not ready to hear the story of Snape and his parents from the mouth of Serena Serpentia. He would never be ready for that. He was immensely relieved when Serpentia suddenly said,
“Never mind. That is, in the main, what I wanted everyone to know. If you want details, you can get them later.”
Gracefully, she stood, and then swayed on her feet. Seamus caught her and said, “That’s it! You have to eat something!”
She glared at him and said, “No. I couldn’t stomach it.”
“You can and you will!” declared Seamus, gripping her arm tightly, “Or… or…. someone will find out what really happened to you-know-what.”
Serena and Seamus glared daggers at each other. “And don’t even think about sifting out,” added Seamus fiercely, “because I’ll follow you!”
“Let’s all eat something!” exclaimed Parvati, a little too brightly. “I’m sure the elves can make us breakfast; there are so few of us left.”
“That’s an excellent idea!” said Dean, also a bit too cheerfully, “I’ll go down to the kitchens and ask.”
“Where did everyone go?” asked Harry.
“Most everyone went home earlier this morning,” said Neville, “All the parents who fought took their kids back with them, and the Hogwarts Express left an hour ago.”
Harry wondered when Ron and Hermione were. He had just assumed that they would be there when he woke, but now he realized that Ron was probably at the Burrow with his family. Parvati seemed to guess what he was thinking and said, “Hermione is asleep in our dormitory, and I saw Ron with one of his brothers and Hagrid earlier on.”
“I think I’ll go find him,” said Harry, but Jimmy said, “No, join us, Harry!”
“Yes, you really look exhausted,” said Hannah, “I’m sure you’d feel better if you ate breakfast.”
“I’m not very hungry,” murmured Harry. The peace he had felt at the end of the battle, when he had ravenously devoured Kreacher’s sandwich and biscuits, was long gone, and Harry realized that despite the bursts of anger he had felt towards Serpentia, he was still in a general state of numbness. He was certain that he wouldn’t enjoy breakfast, no matter how good the food.
“C’mon, mate, stay a while,” said Anthony, “What else have you got to do?”
“Yes,” said Serena. With one last hateful glare at Seamus, she slowly turned her head to face Harry and said, “If I must, then you must, too.”
Michael said with a grin, “Best not argue with Miss Serpentia.”
Harry opened his mouth to protest the outrageous idea that he would follow Serpentia’s orders, when something Ron had once said to his mum came to mind. Mrs. Weasley had been extremely anxious about taking the family to Diagon Alley after Voldemort returned, and Ron had said, “Mum, d’you honestly think You-Know-Who’s going to be hiding behind a bookshelf in Flourish and Blotts?” Harry realized that whatever evil might be in Serpentia’s heart, she wasn’t about to manifest it now. And if he had to wait around for Ron and Hermione, who better to be with than people who knew him well enough to treat him as a friend, and not a celebrity?
“Okay,” he said with a sigh, dropping down onto a bench.
“Good man, Harry!” said Anthony, taking a seat as well. The rest sat down again, too. Harry found himself across from Seamus, who said, “I don’t suppose you heard about the one good thing that happened at Hogwarts this year. Professor Grubbly-Plank expanded the Care of Magical Creatures program. There’s a proper barn now, and proper pens. She has plans for an entire husbandry program, and I know Professor Sprout supports it. If it runs, as a NEWT student, I can bring my horses to school!”
Hannah frowned. “Horses aren’t magical.”
Seamus grinned. “Who says they’re not?”
Michael asked, “You’re going for a NEWT in Care of Magical Creatures?”
Soon the table was buzzing with conversation about Grubbly-Plank, weird creatures, NEWTS, careers, and if it were ethical to bewitch horses, but Harry heard little of it, because his attention was captured by something very odd that was happening right in front of him.
While he talked with his eyes on his classmates, Seamus was casually destroying what was left of the tray Dixie had delivered. He crumbled and crushed some biscuit pieces, separated crusts from bread and liberated sliced meat from the centers of failing sandwiches. As the conversation continued, he casually handed a succession of bread crusts, biscuit pieces and scraps of lunchmeat to Serpentia, who quietly ate them. No one else seemed to notice this strange behavior, even when they were talking directly to Seamus and Serena. Harry tried to catch Neville’s eye, hoping to learn if he had noticed, but before he could, Dean returned, saying, “Breakfast will be up directly.”
“What took you so long?” asked Padma.
Dean sat down next to Michael and said, “I was checking out the castle. You wouldn’t believe all that’s been fixed already! I don’t know how they’re doing it, because I don’t see any elves, nor any teachers.”
Hannah giggled. “Maybe Filch has an invisibility cloak.”
The mental image of Argus Filch hunching under an invisibility cloak and waving his wand at broken items amused everyone; even Harry couldn’t help but smile. Harry knew, of course, that Filch was a squib who couldn’t repair anything by magic, but he said nothing. A moment later, the wasted tray and Serpentia’s mug disappeared and were replaced by tureens of eggs, plates of bacon rashers and sausages, bowls of porridge, stacks of toast, bowls of fruit, pitchers of pumpkin juice and pots of tea. Parvati closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, saying, “It smells wonderful!” As everyone tucked in, Dixie appeared briefly and set before Seamus a plate of fried tomatoes and some kind of purplish yogurt, while he slid over to Serena without comment. Once again Harry tried to catch Neville’s eye, but Neville was busy talking to Hannah about improving the ruined greenhouses.
Harry still hadn’t much appetite, but he ate some toast and marmalade and drank some tea. The conversation turned to the castle and how it could be restored. The plates and tureens were nearly empty when an owl suddenly flew over Jimmy and dropped a letter in his lap.
“What the…???” he said. All eyes turned to Jimmy as he opened the envelope and read the parchment. His face fell a little. “It’s from Mum,” he said, “They’re quite angry with me for sneaking back into the castle to fight. They’re coming to fetch me this afternoon.”
“Well, that’s unfair!” said Hannah, “You were fighting You-Know-Who. They should be proud to have a son who’s so brave.”
Serpentia spoke for the first time since breakfast began, commanding instant attention. Eyes narrowed, with a suspicious look on her face, she asked, “What do you mean, you ‘snuck back into the castle’ to fight? What were you doing out of the castle?”
“You didn’t know?” asked Jimmy, “McGonagall sent all the underaged kids away, only some of us Gryffindors didn’t want to go. Me and Coote and the Creevys were supposed to follow a group of Ravenclaws out of the castle, but we got a break and ran to the dungeons to hide until the coast was clear. The was no chance of getting caught, because all the Slytherins had already gone. We came back upstairs just as the fight began outside. Then we got separated. I saw Coote and his Dad earlier, but I haven’t seen the Creeveys. I suppose they’ve gone home.”
What little flavor Harry found in his toast turned to ash in his mouth. He did not — a million times did not — want to tell Jimmy what had happened to Colin Creevey. He realized a moment later that he didn’t have to. The table grew unnaturally quiet as Parvati and Neville exchanged looks.
“What?” said Jimmy with some alarm, “What do you know?”
“I’m sorry, Jimmy,” said Parvati gently, “But near the end, Colin was killed.”
A horrendously loud CRACK, like the snap of an immense whip, made Harry jump in his seat. He looked around for the source and saw the others all staring at Serpentia. They looked frightened, and no wonder: Serena was livid, her eyes fierce, her teeth actually bared like a wolf. She leaped to her feet, and as she did, shoved against the heavy wooden banquet table. Improbably, it moved.
“Unbelievable! I spent ALL YEAR keeping that kid alive, and THIS is the thanks I get!”
Serpentia glowered at the group, most of whom looked as if they wished they had invisibility cloaks. Neville opened and shut his mouth several times like a goldfish, but couldn’t force the words. Seamus stood and firmly put his hands on Serena’s arms, whispering something to her that Harry couldn’t hear. She raised her arms and threw him off. Finally Neville found his voice and stammered, “I’m sure Colin wasn’t thinking about….”
“You’re right! He wasn’t thinking!”
“I mean, he had the best of intentions, to fight You-Know-….”
“He intended NOTHING! He planned NOTHING! He accomplished nothing but random vandalism and truancy and mouthing-off! All the time I put into hiding his crimes and making sure he wasn’t caught, all that for nothing! All that effort WASTED.”
Her outrage was stunningly selfish, but Harry recognized something else, too: sincerity. No matter how twisted her priorities, it finally seemed certain to Harry that Serpentia had, indeed, worked to save Colin from the Death Eaters. He realized she must have done something similar for Dean, who had also spent the year on the run. Harry stood, and in as loud a voice as he could manage, he said,
“It wasn’t wasted.”
All eyes turned to Harry. Serpentia opened her mouth to speak, but Harry quickly added,
“It wasn’t wasted, because it means something now.”
Serpentia let out a low, angry hiss. “What could it possibly mean?”
Harry looked her straight in the eyes. “It means you really did all those things Neville told me about. It means you really did save the students from the Carrows. It means you must have mad occlumency skills! It means….” He took a deep breath, “It means I want to hear what you have to say about Snape.” He paused again. “It means I’ll talk to McGonagall for you.”
All was still for a moment. Then Serena, with an expression of great curiosity on her face, locked her eyes on Harry and tilted her head side to side and up and down, as if examining him from many angles. Still watching him, she sat down, folded her hands in a way that was highly reminiscent of Snape, and said, “I would… appreciate that.”
Seamus caught Harry’s eye and grinned. He sat down again, and so did Harry. Serena had already turned her attention away from Harry, and was eating the purplish yogurt as if she were hungry for the first time.
Harry noticed that Jimmy looked very somber, and Hannah said, “I’m sorry, Jimmy; I know he was your friend.”
Parvati said, “Maybe your parents will let you stop at the Creevey’s on the way home. Dennis told me the whole family was traveling there from all over England to plan the funeral.”
Jimmy was silent, and no one quite knew what to say after that. Harry was thinking that it might be a good time to find Ron and Hermione, when two strange men appeared at the entrance of the Great Hall. They both appeared to be around Bill Weasley’s age. One was impossibly handsome and the other very ugly. They both wore elegant black muggle suits with black shirts and shimmering dark grey ties, their hair slicked back in the latest muggle style.
“Who are they?” asked Padma. Everyone turned to look, then Serena turned back to face Seamus and said, “I must go.” She rose, and Seamus rose with her, stopping her with a hand on her arm.
“What are they doing here?” Harry realized that Seamus knew the men.
Serena looked at him curiously. “Obviously, they’ve come to escort me home.”
“Why not now?”
Seamus looked at a loss for words. “Mam and Dad expect you for Clyda.”
Serena looked amused. “That’s not ’til July. I’ll be there.”
Serena stepped over the bench, and Seamus followed.
“Wait!” cried Parvati, rising. She was followed by Neville and Dean. “You’re really going? Are you coming back?”
Serena raised an eyebrow and said archly, “Ask McGonagall.” She paused, and said more seriously, “But I doubt it. No matter. I was only ever here to study with Dr. Snape.”
Parvati, Neville, Michael and Anthony looked distressed, but they didn’t seem to know what to say. Serena turned to Harry.
“Goodbye, Harry Potter. I expect I will see you again soon.”
Then she turned to Neville and nodded once. “Mr. Longbottom. You were… an exemplary leader.”
Without another word or glance back, Serena joined the strange men, Seamus following behind. A moment later the four of them had left the hall.
“She can’t leave like this!” cried Parvati, scrambling over the bench. She rushed out of the hall, only to return a moment later, exclaiming, “They’re gone! How could they have disappeared so fast?”
“You can’t apparate out of the castle!” said Michael. But Harry no longer believed in infallible spells. Serena apparently knew magic that was beyond both Slughorn and McGonagall, and was as good an occlumens as Severus Snape. Who knew what else she could do? He needed to talk to Hermione, and for that matter, McGonagall. He rose and said, “I have to go, too. I want to catch Ron and Hermione.”
He exchanged goodbyes with the group. “We’ll all be here for a few more days,” said Anthony, “Helping to clean up, you know. I don’t suppose you feel like doing that, but join us for meals if you’re around. Ron and Hermione, too.”
Just then a patronus that looked like an insect zoomed around the room. “That’ll be Sprout looking for me,” said Neville, “I’ll walk out with you, Harry.”
Once in the deserted entrance hall, Neville asked, “You sticking around, Harry?”
“I dunno,” Harry replied. “I haven’t really thought about what I’ll do next.”
“Get some sleep,” said Neville. He held out his hand, and Harry shook it. As Neville departed, he said, “And Harry…. thanks. For everything.”
Hope you're intrigued! Next up: The story continues from Seamus' point of view. I appreciate reviews and will respond to each one!
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