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Harry Potter and the Conspiracy of Blood by CambAngst
Chapter 24 : The Needs of the One
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 18

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As always, that which you recognize belongs to the inimitable JK Rowling.

Harry furrowed his brow in concentration. His wand whipped back and forth as he struggled to maintain control. Across from him, his opponent matched his every move in an unrelenting attempt to wear him down and corner him. They dueled on, feint, attack, defend, feint, attack, defend. Harry made an aggressive move to his left and his opponent faltered a bit, falling back into a more defensive posture. As Harry tried to press his advantage, he suddenly realized that he had been tricked. His opponent was outflanking him from the right, trying to seal him in. Harry desperately made a move inwards, trying to reclaim the center line by attacking his opponent’s soft rear quarter. His opponent countered and in a moment their wands met.

BANG! the center Exploding Snap card went off, starting a cascade across the rickety table that quickly left both Harry and Ron covered with soot and grinning like idiots.

“Will you two please keep it down over there?” Hermione snapped at them. Across the room, she and Esme were carefully studying the protean charm on Elena Porcher’s locket. It was delicate work, trying to reverse engineer the spell that Katerina had used without accidentally breaking the enchantment. Harry supposed that the juvenile game he and Ron were playing wasn’t helping.

“Sorry, love,” Ron said quickly. A bit too quickly, Harry thought. It felt out of character, especially since the game had been Ron’s idea in the first place. Ron and Hermione had been acting strangely since Harry and Esme returned from France the previous evening. Neither one of them seemed to be able to meet his gaze for very long, and they were constantly stealing glances at each other, blushing and snickering under their breaths. He made a mental note to find a hideout with separate bedrooms the next time they became fugitives.

“Are you making progress?” Harry asked, vanishing the smoldering remains of the cards from the table. The game had been a good distraction, but he could feel restlessness creeping back into his nerves. The mysterious and enigmatic Lady Tenabra had a knack for slamming doors in their faces whenever they were getting close. If they could find Katerina Porcher, it offered a tantalizing opportunity to catch her with her guard down.

“In spite of our ‘ostile and foul smelling work environment, I believe we might be,” Esme replied without taking her eyes off of the thin tendrils of magical energy that spanned the short distance between the tip of her wand and the locket.

Beside her, Hermione waved her wand through a complicated series of revealing charms. “It’s a very intricate spell, but fortunately it’s also very robust. She spent a lot of time on this. I’d say she really cared about keeping in touch with her sister.”

Harry noticed a pained expression pass briefly over Esme’s face. He hadn’t pushed too hard for details about Esme’s relationship with Katerina, but he suspected that Esme felt a lot more responsibility for the young woman’s disappearance than she had initially let on. There was something very intense about the way she was approaching their investigation, something personal.

Harry felt a momentary pang of guilt about the time that Esme was spending on the locket. In the strictest sense, she was not following Dauzat’s orders to investigate the infiltration of the Ministry. And they certainly owed Dauzat a debt of gratitude. Not only had he given her leave to pursue the investigation, he allowed her a great deal of discretion in planning the operation. Esme had taken full advantage, requisitioning a half dozen untraceable portkeys, a fresh supply of polyjuice potion and an array of enchanted monitoring and tracking talismans that would have left Bill envious.

Harry’s contemplation was interrupted by the sound of someone clearing their throat behind him. He turned to find Dumbledore awake and staring at him purposefully.

“Can I help you, Professor?” Harry asked uneasily. Hermione and Ron also noticed Dumbledore and the room fell silent.

“The Headmaster asked me to make you aware that somebody has been casting monitoring spells inside the castle again,” Dumbledore said, staring at them through his half-moon spectacles. “He is still trying to identify the culprit, but he was able to eliminate several members of the faculty as suspects. He will contact you when he knows more.”

Harry exchanged a glance with Ron and Hermione, then turned back towards Dumbledore’s portrait. “Thank you very much, Professor. Please let the Headmaster know that if there’s anything we can do to help, he shouldn’t hesitate to ask.”

Dumbledore nodded towards Harry, then closed his eyes and resumed his usual, serene expression.

“Even your school is being watched?” Esme asked in disbelief. “It appears that our adversaries are very well organized.”

“Well, yes and no,” Harry replied. “They’re doing a lot of things, but none of them particularly well. Take this spy inside Hogwarts, for instance. It’s only a matter of time before they’re caught, yet they’re still casting monitoring spells in broad daylight. Either they’re very cocky or bloody stupid.”

Ron looked thoughtful for a moment. “Or both. Sound like anybody we know?”

Harry was about to respond when a silvery hawk passed through the window and alighted on the floor in front of them. “The Ministry’s coming after your kids and Ron’s. Get them to safety,” the bird said in Susan’s voice before fading away.

Nobody said anything for a moment. “Bloody hell,” Ron whispered quietly. The next instant, the room erupted into a frenzy.

“Do we know where they all are?” Hermione asked.

“James is out of the country, touring North America with the British National Quidditch Team,” Harry replied as he checked his watch. “Teddy and Albus should be leaving work any minute now. They’ll need to collect Victoire, Jenny and the younger children. I’ll send a patronus to George and tell him to get Lily and her family under cover until we can get to them.”

“Hugo should be leaving work, too,” Ron added. “He’ll need to grab Fiona and Amelie. Rosie doesn’t work on Fridays, so she’s probably out somewhere with Octavia. If James is traveling then it’s a good bet that Scorpius is, too.”

Hermione nodded in agreement, but she looked almost sick with worry. “Alright, where do we take them? I don’t think we’re all going to fit in here and I’m sure the Burrow is under surveillance.”

Harry was quiet for a second. He stole a glance towards Esme, wondering whether he should test her goodwill by asking her to stretch her already tenuous interpretation of Dauzat’s orders even further. Fortunately, she seemed to read his mind and she spared him the discomfort. “We ‘ave portkeys that can take them to France,” she interjected. “They will be able to stay with the Delacour family, no?”

Everyone nodded in agreement and set about making their preparations. It was agreed that Harry would disguise himself and attempt to intercept Teddy, Al and Hugo as they left the Ministry. Ron would track down Rose and Octavia. After Harry gathered Lily and her family, they would meet up in the park near the center of Little Hangleton, minimizing the number of portkeys they would need.

Harry and Ron left the attic and they had just started to walk down the decrepit path away from the Gaunt Shack when Hugo’s Patronus reached them with his desperate plea for help. “Merlin,” Harry muttered, breaking into a trot. The knot in the pit of his stomach felt as though it had just doubled in size.

“This sounds really bad, mate,” Ron replied, matching Harry’s pace. As soon as they emerged from the protective wards, they both disapparated. Seconds later, they appeared on the bank of the lake and ran to where Al and Hugo were crouched next to Susan’s severely injured body.

“Oh-shit-Dad-she’s-dying-please-do-something-oh-shit-please-don’t-let-her-die!” Hugo babbled as Harry and Ron dove to to ground next to Susan. Ron slipped his fingers against the side of her neck.

“Pulse is faint,” Ron announced through clenched teeth. He crammed his hand under the hem of her blouse, feeling for the source of the bleeding. “Somebody give me a handkerchief or something, we’ve got to get some pressure on this wound!”

Al and Hugo both handed their handkerchiefs over to Ron while Harry waved his wand over Susan’s body.

“She’s going into shock,” Harry yelled. He rose to his feet and pointed his wand towards Susan. “Hiberna Latebra.” Susan’s breathing slowed and her face grew even more pale.

Al ran his hand over his forehead and through his messy, black hair. Harry hadn’t seen his younger son look so frightened since he was a schoolboy. “Dad, what did you do? She looks even worse.”

“It’s a stasis spell,” Harry replied. “It slows down your breathing and heartbeat. Buys us more time.” He gave Al and Hugo a quick once-over while Ron gathered Susan’s blood-soaked cloak more tightly around her. “Are you two alright?” he asked while scourgifying the blood from the side of Al’s trousers.

“Yeah,” Hugo mumbled, unable to take his eyes off of Susan. “She saved us. Without her, we’d be captured or dead.”

“Hugo!” Ron snapped his son out of out the daze. “Get your head together. This isn’t over yet.”

“Your dad’s right,” Harry said quietly. “Do you two know where Teddy and Rosie are?”

“I think Teddy’s working for Muggle-Worthy Excuses, infiltrating the Transport Police,” Al replied. “I’m sure Vic knows where he is. It’s Friday, so Rosie is probably out somewhere with Octavia.”

Harry nodded. “Alright, both of you, listen carefully because there’s no time to repeat this.” He handed Al a brass candle snuffer and Hugo an old snow globe from a muggle resort in the Alps. “These are portkeys. They’ll take you to Paris. From there, you can apparate to the Delacours’ summer house in Seine. Al, you need to round up Jenny, Vic, Teddy, and the kids that aren’t at school. Hugo, you’re responsible for Fiona, Amelie, Rose and Octavia. Understood?”

Al and Hugo nodded dumbly in response. They both still looked numb, but the gravity of the situation had obviously dawned on them.

“What about the kids at Hogwarts?” Al asked. “Are they going to be safe?”

“Neville will protect them,” Harry said confidently. “The Ministry wouldn’t dare try to take them from the castle.”

Al and Hugo nodded and got ready to leave. Ron looked at both of them gravely. “We’re counting on you two. Stay out of sight and hurry.”

“We will, Dad,” Hugo replied. “And thanks. Thanks for coming so fast.”

“She’s going to be alright,” Harry said, forcing a smile. “We’ll take care of her. Now get going.”

Al and Hugo turned and disapparated.

The instant they disappeared, Ron’s stern expression gave way to a nervous frown. “What now? We can’t take her to St. Mungo’s.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Harry replied as his mind raced. Their options were certainly limited, but there was a slim chance of finding help at the hospital. “Hermys!”

A few seconds later, the elf appeared with a crack and immediately shielded his bulging eyes from the evening sun. “Master has called for Hermys?” The elf noticed Susan laying on the ground and gasped. “Mistress Susan requires a healer!”

“Yes, Hermys, but it’s too dangerous to take her to St. Mungo’s, at least the wizarding part of it. Would the healers in the elf ward be willing to help us?”

Hermys fingered the hem of his ratty, old pillowcase, carefully avoiding Harry’s gaze. “Elf healers will not be wanting to get involved. This is a wizard fight.”

“I know that,” Harry replied slowly. “I was hoping that together, we might convince them. We don’t have much time.”

The elf finally looked back at Harry. His body language was all nerves, but Harry could see a spark of determination in his eyes. “Hermys will do his best, Master.”

“I know you will,” Harry replied.

“We better hurry!” Ron interjected from his spot by Susan’s side. “The bleeding isn’t stopping. Whatever curse she was hit with, healing spells don’t do anything for it.”

“Alright,” Harry nodded. “Hermys, take us to the elf ward.”

Hermys walked over and gently laid his bony fingers on Susan’s shoulder. With his other hand, he held Harry’s arm while Ron grasped the elf’s tattered pillowcase. The world collapsed into a spinning vortex and a second later they appeared in a cramped, stuffy attic with low ceilings. Harry looked around and realized that the elf ward at St. Mungo’s had barely changed in the thirty years since poor, old Kreacher had taken his last breath. The room was illuminated by a few lamps that floated near the exposed rafters. Several elves laid in makeshift beds around the room, being tended to by their free counterparts.

“Is this the elf ward?” Ron asked. He looked slightly embarrassed as Harry and Hermys both turned to give him bemused looks.

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. Your wife would smack you.”

An older elf spotted them from across the room and stomped in their direction. She appeared very upset, but when she reached them she was careful to direct her outrage only at Hermys. “Why has you brought them here? It is not proper.”

“Master asked Hermys to bring his friend here. She is badly hurt and needing much medical attention.”

“They are wizards,” the elf healer replied angrily. “They are belonging downstairs, among their own kind.”

“We are not welcome among our own kind,” Harry interjected, careful to keep his tone neutral and respectful. “It was our own kind who did this to her, and given the chance they will finish what they started. We need your help.”

The elf healer regarded Harry skeptically. “How is elves to help her if even a powerful wizard cannot protect her?”

“She doesn’t need a powerful wizard,” Harry replied. “She needs a healer. She was struck by a dark curse and she’s lost a lot of blood. She’ll die soon if her injuries aren’t treated.”

“Riminy is sorry for your friend, but it is not our place to be helping her.” She gestured towards the beds behind her. “All this exists at the whim of wizards. If the dark ones is finding you here, it will be destroyed.”

“Dark wizards are enemies to wizards and elves,” Hermys insisted. “Master can help to keep you safe. He has conquered dark magic before.”

The old healer glared dismissively at Hermys. “What do you know of dark magic? You are too young to remember the Dark Lord. Too young to remember how the elves was suffering. Too young to remember how their kind was treating the elves. Take them and go.”

Harry turned to look at Hermys and saw something wholly unexpected in the elf’s bulbous eyes. Something that he had never seen before. Anger.

“You will not speak of Master like that! Master and his friends has done more for elves than any wizards alive. Hermys’s noble sire led the elves against the forces of darkness on the night that Master triumphed over the Dark Lord. You? You is just a bitter free elf with no house and no honor!”

A tense silence permeated the room. Harry turned back to Hermys and gave the elf a reproachful glance. “I appreciate your loyalty, Hermys, but there’s no shame in being a free elf.”

Hermys shrank away from Harry’s gaze. Without really thinking about it, Harry reached out and caught his head just before he slammed it into the floor. The elf healer watched with interest as Harry righted Hermys and made it clear that he was not to hurt himself. “Riminy has always been hearing that you buried the elf Dobby with your own hands. Tell me, Harry Potter,” she asked, “is it true?”

Harry was unprepared for the question. The words caught in his throat for a moment when he tried to answer. “Yes. Dobby saved my life several times. I was proud to call him my friend. He deserved better, but it was the best I could do for him in the middle of the war.”

The elf healer stared at him inquisitively. “Riminy was here on the night that old Kreacher died. You and your family, you was weeping for him. Why?”

Harry felt slightly self-conscious about the elf bringing up a very private family moment, but he pushed the feeling aside. “Kreacher was part of our family. We all loved him dearly.”

“And you buried him as well?”

“Yes,” Harry answered. “He wanted his head mounted on the wall like his ancestors. But we never could have done that to him. I hope that he would have understood.”

The elf healer continued to stare at Harry. Ron tapped him softly on the shoulder. “She’s dying, mate. If they’re not going to help her, we need to take her downstairs and figure something else out.”

“Wait.” The elf healer raised her hand and stared at the floor. “We will help her. We is doing this only because you is Harry Potter, friend of the elves. As soon as your friend is out of danger, you must go. We cannot risk the dark ones finding you here.”

“I understand,” Harry replied. “You have my word. As soon as she’s able, we’ll leave you in peace.”

The elf healer gestured with her hand and Susan rose gracefully into the air and floated towards a group of elves that were gathering around a long table. “Wait here,” she said. Then she turned around and a curtain magically slid into place between Harry and the surgical area.

Ron looked at Harry and Hermys, who was still cowering nearby. “I’ll take the first watch,” he said, and headed towards the rickety ladder that led from the attic down to the top floor of the hospital. Harry wrapped his cloak around his body and found a spot on the floor next to the wall where he could sit. Hermys was staring at his feet, avoiding Harry’s glance.

“Thank you, Hermys,” Harry said quietly.

The elf looked at him in disbelief. “Why is Master thanking Hermys? Hermys is a terrible, terrible elf. He has spoken out of turn and nearly caused Mistress Susan to d...” He couldn’t bring himself to speak the word.

“On the contrary,” Harry replied, “I think that without realizing it, you just saved her life.”

The elf looked completely bewildered, so Harry continued. “Hermys, if you ever decided that you wanted to be a free elf, I would free you in a heartbeat. I know that you don’t want that. But the healer, she’s made a different choice. She values her freedom and she is committed to helping other elves. With your help, I was able to show her that I honor her choice just as much as I honor yours. Does that make sense?”

Hermys nodded slowly, then looked concerned. “But Master isn’t going to free Hermys, right?”

“No, Hermys. Not unless you decide you want that.”

The elf looked relieved. Harry smiled at him. A thought occurred to Harry and a frown passed over his face. “Ron and I have things under control here. I want you to return to Hogwarts. Find Neville and let him know what’s happened to Susan and where we are.” He took a look towards the ladder to make sure that Ron was out of earshot, then lowered his voice. “And keep an eye on things there. If there’s any sign of trouble, come find me right away.”

“Yes, Master.” Then the elf disappeared with a pop.

Harry decided that there really wasn’t much more that he could do. He leaned his head against the wall, closed his eyes, and tried his best to rest.

Dennis Northway slipped behind a suit of armor in the third floor corridor of Hogwarts Castle and fumbled through the pitch black secret passage that led to the first floor near the Muggle Studies classroom. When he was younger, he would have lit his wand, but as a sixth year, he fancied himself too savvy for such conveniences. The passage suddenly sloped sharply downward and he stumbled twice and banged his face into a loose stone protruding from the wall. Cursing, he drew his wand and lit it, revealing a smudge of blood on his fingertips from the oozing scrape on his cheek. Maybe by the time his seventh year came around, he would learn not to be so bloody full of himself.

He redoubled his pace, trying to make up for lost time. Potions was starting soon and he still needed to stop by his dorm room and grab his textbook. His life had become a lot more hectic over the past couple of weeks. Just as he was about to start advanced dueling lessons with Harry Potter, the outside world had been turned on its head. Potter and his friends were in hiding now, and the Ministry was issuing all sorts of bizarre proclamations favoring pure blood witches and wizards. He tried as best he could not to think about it. His Uncle Leland had only recently been allowed to leave St. Mungo’s, and the terrible things that Harry had shown him on their field trip were still very fresh in his mind.

He found himself spending more and more time with Artie and Oliver Potter and their cousins. The Ministry’s pro-pure blood initiatives had driven a wedge into Slytherin House. The pure blood students who came from old families were openly celebrating the changes, making half-bloods like himself and Oliver feel uncomfortable. Fortunately for Oliver, he had his family to fall back on and fortunately for Dennis, Oliver and Artie had sort of pulled him along with them. As recently as the beginning of the school year, if somebody had tried to tell him that he would ever know what the inside of the Gryffindor common room looked like, he would have called them daft.

He could see the back of the tapestry that concealed the first floor entrance to the hidden passage ahead. He extinguished his wand-light and slipped carefully towards it. The area around the Muggle Studies classroom was usually deserted now that the Ministry had suspended the teaching of the subject, but he still wasn’t keen on being seen by a teacher. Any student who was known to frequent the hidden passages became an immediate suspect in all manner of hi-jinks that took place around the school.

As he inched towards the tapestry, he heard a low, murmuring voice coming from the hallway. He pressed his body tightly against the wall and listened more closely. He held his breath and strained his hearing and he was just able to make out Professor Tennant’s thick Scottish accent. The professor was whispering something that Dennis couldn’t understand. He was able to make out a couple of words as the sound of Tennant’s voice moved slowly past the passageway, enough to realize that they were incantations, but he didn’t recognize the spells. In his mind, he timed out Tennant’s pace towards the corner of the hallway. As soon as Tennant’s voice was out of earshot, he peeked out from behind the tapestry.

Dennis hurried toward the corner and peered around it. Tennant was still walking slowly along, whispering to himself and gesturing with his wand. Every so often, a misty pulse of magical energy shot from the end of Tennant’s wand and faded into the surrounding air. He continued to walk, eventually disappearing around the next corner, towards the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom.

Dennis leaned against the wall and tried to think. He knew that the teachers assisted in maintaining the spells that protected the castle, but he could have sworn that those were cast from outside. It seemed like a fairly small thing; people used magic constantly at Hogwarts. But the way that Tennant was sneaking around and whispering strange spells bothered him. He debated whether or not to talk to a teacher. Since he didn’t like Professor Tennant and Tennant didn’t seem to like him, either, he was worried about how it might sound.

He took a deep breath and resumed his rapid walk towards the main staircase and on to the dungeons. It was too late at this point to make it to his dorm room and back. He’d just share a text with somebody or else borrow one from Professor Astor. The Slytherins had Potions with the Gryffindors, so he decided to talk to Artie and Celeste Weasley about Tennant’s odd behavior after the lesson. Perhaps they would know what to do.

Potions seemed to drag by. The fact that he was preoccupied didn’t make the time pass any faster, but it did cause him to make several clumsy and foul-smelling mistakes, infuriating his benchmate.  “Mess up one more time and I’ll have my father toss your filthy, half-blood arse into Azkaban,” Denzil Rowle hissed after Dennis accidentally dropped Hellebore petals into their cauldron before lowering the heat and stirring the potion. Northway had never been especially friendly with Rowle, but since Rowle’s father had been appointed to lead Ministerial Security he had become nearly unbearable. Arrogant and aggressive, he made a habit of nailing the Daily Prophet article to the common room door each time the Minister issued a new proclamation that favored blood purity.

When the bell rang, Dennis leapt up from his seat and hurried to catch Artie and Celeste. He had just made it out the classroom door when his path was blocked by two large Slytherin boys. “Minsch, Bulstrode,” Dennis greeted them nervously. “What’s happening, guys?”

“You pissed me off in there, Northway.” Dennis turned around to find Denzil Rowle glaring at him from the doorway. Rowle took a step forward, getting right in Dennis’s face, and growled, “You made us look like idiots, and I don’t like looking stupid. You’re a disgrace to Slytherin House, you know that, you filthy half-blood?”

“Leave him alone, Rowle.” Dennis heard Artie Potter’s voice coming from behind him. Rowle roughly shoved him aside and stepped in between the two larger boys. Artie was standing in the hallway next to Celeste. They both appeared calm in spite of the unfavorable numbers.

“You don’t talk to me like that, Potter,” Rowle snarled. “Your sainted grandfather isn’t around to protect you any more. You’d better learn your place or you’re going to wind up in Azkaban right beside him.”

“Last time I checked, my grandfather wasn’t in Azkaban,” Artie replied coolly. “And if you got your brains from your father, I doubt that will be happening any time soon.”

Rowle whipped out his wand with a howl of anger. He fired a hex at Artie, but Celeste was much too fast for him, blocking it with ease. Artie responded with a jinx of his own that knocked all three Slytherin boys back a couple of steps. Professor Astor had apparently overhead the commotion and emerged from the Potions classroom with her wand in hand.

“Is there some problem here?” she asked forcefully.

There was a momentary silence as Rowle and Artie glared at one another. “No problem, Professor,” Rowle replied. “They were just on their way out of the dungeons.” He turned and stalked off towards the Slytherin common room, followed by his two lackeys. Astor gave the two Gryffindors a stern look, then returned to her classroom.

“Thanks, guys,” Dennis mumbled, following Artie and Celeste to the stairs. “I guess I can’t really go back to my dorm now.”

“Come with us,” Artie sighed. “You can hang out in our common room until they go to sleep or curl up in a ball or whatever it is they do at night.”

As they walked, Artie peered around to make sure that nobody was listening and whispered, “We’re going to start dueling lessons again, in secret. We’re working on finding a good place to practice.”

“Who’s going to teach us?” Dennis whispered back. “Your grandfather’s still on the run, right?”

“Veratrice and Ulysses are going to run the lessons,” Celeste replied. “I think they feel bad about not being able to do more to help when Harry got attacked by the Blood Order. One of the Ravenclaws found a textbook on advanced dueling spells in the library. The strange thing is that she swears it wasn’t there until just the other day. And the Ravenclaws know the library inside-out.”

“Why is it a secret?” Dennis asked. “Do you think anybody would mind?”

“Partly because of all the pure blood Slytherin nutters like your chum Rowle,” Artie answered, giving Dennis a good-natured elbow in the ribs. “They act like they own the school now. There’s also Professor Tennant. He never took kindly to Grandpa Harry teaching us, and he probably wouldn’t be too happy if he knew we were doing this outside of class.”

“Tennant,” Dennis blurted out, stopping suddenly on the stairs. Artie and Celeste were staring at him, but so were several of the portraits on the walls. “I need to ask you guys something, but let’s wait until we get to your common room.”

Once they were through the portrait hole, the three of them found chairs in a quiet corner of the room. “I saw Tennant outside of the Muggle Studies classroom this morning,” Dennis whispered. “He was sneaking around, casting funny spells into the air. I think he’s up to something.”

“Dennis, his classroom is right around there,” Celeste replied calmly. “Maybe he was setting up a demonstration or something.”

“When was the last time Tennant actually taught us something practical in his class?” Dennis asked in a mocking tone. “I don’t trust him. He was up to something.”

“So why don’t you talk to one of the other professors?” Artie asked. “They’ll either listen to you or tell you you’re barmy.”

Dennis sighed. “I’m sure Tennant has told all of them that I’m rubbish at Defense. It’s no secret to anyone who’s been in his lessons with me. They’ll all just think I’ve got it out for him.”

“Look, Dennis,” Artie whispered. “Let’s go talk to Professor Longbottom together. He’s like family to us. Maybe he’ll believe you and maybe he won’t, but at least he’ll listen.” The whole idea made Dennis nervous, but Artie was already on his feet, pulling on his arm.

“I think Artie’s right, Dennis,” Celeste said. “You should talk to Longbottom. My grandmother always told me to go talk to him if I ever had any sort of problem at school. I have an essay to write. I’ll see you two at dinner.” Then she turned and headed up the stairs to the girls’ dormitories.

Dennis reluctantly followed Artie through the portrait hole and down the stairs towards the second floor of the castle. “You’re sure he’s not going to mind? I mean, he’s probably really busy.”

“He’ll make time for us, Dennis. Stop fidgeting and hurry up. I don’t want to be late for dinner.”

They had just arrived on the second floor and started to walk towards the gargoyle when they caught a glimpse of the Headmaster hurrying towards the Entrance Hall at a very rapid pace. The look on his face was grim, and he was pulling his traveling cloak around his shoulders as he walked.

“Come on,” Artie said, breaking into a jog.

Dennis reluctantly tried to keep up. “Are you sure we should bother him? He’s obviously in a hurry.”

“Merlin, Northway, do you want to tell him or not?” Artie shot back in irritation. Both boys rounded the corner and bounded down the stairs towards the Entrance Hall. When they reached the ground floor, the Headmaster was removing a pair of school brooms from the broom closet. He enchanted one to follow him and carried the second towards the great, wooden doors of the castle.

“Professor!” Artie shouted. “Professor, do you have a minute to talk to us?”

The Headmaster turned to see who was calling to him and did a double-take when he saw Artie and Dennis skidding to a stop in front of him. “Mr. Potter. Mr. Northway. I’m in a bit of a hurry. Is this something that can wait until tomorrow?”

“It won’t take long, Professor,” Artie replied. “There’s something that Dennis needs to tell you. In private, if possible.”

The Headmaster regarded both of them seriously for a moment. “Walk with me.”

Artie and Dennis followed him out into the courtyard. They struggled to keep up as the taller man strode rapidly towards the front gates. When they reached the school boundary, he turned and looked at both of them. “I have to visit a friend who’s fallen ill, so please make this as quick as possible.”

Dennis did his best to meet the Headmaster’s piercing stare. “It may be nothing, sir, but I saw Professor Tennant casting strange spells in the hallway outside the Muggle Studies classroom today. I didn’t recognize the incantations, and he was just casting them into the air.”

For a moment, Dennis felt that he might collapse under the weight of the Headmaster’s gaze. “That is near his classroom,” the professor replied. “It’s probably nothing you need to worry about.” Dennis felt his shoulders droop. Exactly the response he had expected. The Headmaster of Hogwarts now thought that he was panicking for no reason or worse still, pursuing a vendetta against a teacher. “But thank you for bringing this to my attention. I’ll be sure to follow up with Professor Tennant.” Dennis looked up and met the professor’s eyes. He couldn’t quite read the expression. Intrigued? Anxious?

“Professor,” Artie interjected, “we were planning to start up our dueling lessons again. On our own time, without Grand... I mean Harr... I mean Prof...” He grinned sheepishly. “I don’t know what to call him, but even if he’s not here, we want to keep practicing. We just need to find a room that’s, well, out of the way. We’re not sure that Professor Tennant would approve of what we’re doing.” Dennis couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Artie was admitting to the Headmaster of the bloody school that they were about to go sneaking around, avoiding the attention of their teachers.

Professor Longbottom nodded slowly. Dennis could almost swear that he saw a twinkle of amusement in the old man’s eyes. “Tell the Ravenclaws to talk to the Grey Lady. She might be able to point you towards a suitable room, if you ask her nicely.”

“Now,” the professor said, turning back towards the gates, “if there’s nothing else, I really need to be going.”

Dennis almost held his tongue, but he couldn’t help himself. “Professor, if you’re in a hurry, why are you taking a broom? Why not just apparate?”

The Headmaster turned back towards them. The amusement in his eyes was gone. “It’s rather complicated, I’m afraid. Flying is definitely not my preferred means of transportation. Ask me again someday.” The professor uneasily mounted the broom and kicked off into the sky. He seemed to wobble a bit as he gained altitude. Dennis and Artie watched until he finally disappeared over the horizon.

Another chapter down. Thank you for taking the time to read Conspiracy of Blood. Please take a moment and let me know what you think! Your reviews help to make this story better. And they always make my day. As always, a big thank you to my beta reader, sophie_hatter!

I finally set up a Meet the Author thread in the Forums. You can find the link on my Author page. Stop by and check it out!

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