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Stained tables and battered chairs spread beneath a dirt-smudged, cobweb-strewn ceiling and a lopsided, stuffed boar’s head hung above the fire. Harry studied the dust and spiders clustered above their heads, balancing a coaster over the top of his drink.
‘Good idea.’ Katie mimicked him and waved a hand at Hermione, Ron, Dean and Nev. ‘Which is more than can be said for their club plans.’
Harry sipped his butterbeer and replaced the coaster. ‘Why are we here again?’
‘I wanted to get out of Hogwarts and go walking around Hogsmeade for a bit.’ Katie took a long drink. Foam lingered on her upper lip.
‘I mean right here, as in the Hog’s Head.’ Harry waved a hand at their grime-coated surroundings. ‘We already went walking up to the Shrieking Shack earlier.’
‘Oh.’ Katie licked the foam of her upper lip and batted her eyelashes. ‘Don’t you know?’
‘Obviously if I knew, I wouldn’t be asking.’
‘Don’t be grumpy.’ She patted him on the cheek with her cold, damp hand.
Harry wiped the condensation of his cheek and gave her a flat look. ‘And?’
‘Hermione, Ron, and Dean have been offering to form a group for Neville to teach.’
‘But you’ve already done your OWLs and I’m the one who taught Neville…’
‘I thought it might be fun, so did a few other older students.’ She beamed. ‘And I really don’t have anything fun to do today but drag you around Hogsmeade like a reluctant boyfriend.’
‘It’s going to be quite a small group.’ Harry glanced round at the empty tables. ‘I’m teaching him, they’re already learning from him, and you’re only here to have a laugh and hex me.’
‘Everyone’s supposed to come in about five minutes.’
‘Ah, so it won’t just be us.’
‘No, though I have no idea how many people will actually be coming.’ She scrunched up her face. ‘Maybe ten or fifteen.’
‘They might be disappointed.’ Harry finished his drink and nodded at the quartet. ‘Neville might not ever agree to teach them. He doesn’t seem impressed Hermione set all this up without asking him first. ‘
‘Can’t say I blame him. Hermione can be a bit rude sometimes.’ Katie eyed the back of Hermione’s head and turned to Harry with a grin. ‘You’ll have to teach us instead.’
Harry laughed. ‘Dark ice curses for beginners.’
She punched him on the shoulder. ‘Don’t joke. Impaling other students with icicles isn’t funny.’
‘Not even when I did it for you, dearest dark mistress?’ Harry leant to her ear. ‘You didn’t object to me defending you.’ He snorted. ‘Actually, if I remember rightly, you offered to let me check out your—’
‘Harry.’ Hermione’s voice cut through his whisper. ‘Tell Neville he has to teach us.’
‘Why?’ He grinned at Katie’s as she hid her pink face behind her drink. ‘He can make his own decisions, Hermione. He’s his own person. If you want to, or think you should, then by all means teach, Nev, but don’t let them force you into something.’
‘Umbridge isn’t going to teach us,’ Ron said.
‘Yeah and Neville helped us already with his shield charm,’ Dean said. ‘I’m sure he wouldn’t mind helping you, or anyone else, if he’d only get over his fear of speaking to people he doesn’t really know.’
‘I know I should teach,’ Neville muttered. ‘But nobody’d listen to me, they’ll never think that I know what I’m talking about.’
‘Show them they’re wrong,’ Harry said. ‘When they see you’re better than them they’ll have to swallow their pride and ask for help. It will be fun. If they’re anything like Hermione, it may literally cause them physical pain.’
Hermione shot him a glare. Katie drowned a giggle in her butterbeer next to him, spattering foam over her mouth.
‘Very attractive,’ Harry said.
Katie flushed. ‘Hush you.’
‘Everyone will be here soon.’ Hermione chewed at her lip. ‘I already promised them it would happen if they wanted.’
Harry rolled his eyes. ‘You should’ve thought about that before leaving it to the last minute to ask Nev.’
‘I assumed he’d want to help his friends,’ Hermione said.
‘Maybe he already is helping all his friends,’ he replied.
Neville glanced between them. ‘I’ll teach, but Harry will be my assistant.’
Not very often I won’t be. I’ve got things to do.
Ron and Dean winced. Hermione’s face brightened.
‘That’s good.’ Katie pointed through the window. ‘Because everyone’s arriving now.’
Neville gulped, then straightened up and fixed a determined expression on his face. Small clusters of people flooded in until there were no empty chairs and no standing space round the dirt-stained walls.
‘There’re a few more than ten,’ Harry remarked.
Katie giggled. ‘Clearly I underestimated Neville’s appeal.’
‘That or nobody has managed to teach themselves how to do a Shield Charm.’
She sighed. ‘A shame you’ll be too busy scrubbing cauldrons with Snape for icing Malfoy to teach us all. I’ve always had a little fantasy about being kept behind by the handsome professor.’ Katie offered Harry a coy smile. ‘I’ll do anything to make my grade up, professor.’
He laughed. ‘I don’t think getting yourself immolated by an angry veela is going to help your grades, Miss Bell.’
Katie pouted. ‘Why did Dumbledore even give you the detentions?’
So he can get Snape to keep an eye on me, probably. Harry shrugged at her.
‘I guess we should start, then.’ Hermione stepped in front of the fire and raised her voice. ‘Professor Umbridge doesn’t want to teach us any real magic, so we’ll have to learn it and practice ourselves. Neville has already helped us from time to time and he’s agreed, with a few stipulations, to help teach a larger group.’
‘Longbottom?’ Zacharias Smith ran a hand through his blond hair and laughed. ‘He doesn’t even know which end of the wand to hold.’
Hermione huffed. ‘I—’
‘Let’s see your shield charm, Smith,’ Nev ordered. ‘Come on.’
Smith flushed and sat down.
‘Protego,’ Neville said.
A bright wall of silver light hovered around Nev. Murmurs rippled through the pub.
Harry studied the tremble shivering through it every few seconds with a critical eye. A loss of focus? He’s got the power and intent down fine.
‘So now it’s obvious that Neville can help, we want to know if you’re interested in being part of the group,’ Hermione said.
‘How will it be run?’ One of the other Hufflepuffs asked.
‘And what were Neville’s stipulations?’ A Ravenclaw asked.
‘I had three,’ Neville said. ‘They aren’t negotiable, if you want to be helped, you’ll have to accept them. Firstly, nobody tells Umbridge anything, none of us want to spend any time in her office doing lines. Secondly, the locations and dates of meetings will be conveyed secretly and are to be kept a secret, along with the group’s name and the names of the other members. Lastly, Harry Potter will be assisting me.’
‘I’m not letting him use dark magic on me,’ Smith shouted. ‘I read about what he did to Malfoy.’
‘Malfoy pretty much deserved it,’ Ron snapped. ‘I was there and so were Angelina, Ginny, Katie, and my brothers. He thought it was funny to gloat over having deliberately hurt Katie and get in the way of getting her to the hospital wing.’
‘Look on the bright side,’ Katie piped up. ‘You’ll get very good at defending against the Dark Arts if Harry’s helping.’
‘Thanks, Katie.’ Harry let the sarcasm pour off his tongue.
‘You’re welcome.’ She offered him an innocent stare look as she finished her drink.
‘What’s wrong with just learning from Neville?’ Terry Boot demanded.
‘Harry’s the one who taught Neville,’ Hermione replied. ‘You’re learning from him indirectly anyway.’
‘Fine.’ Smith sneered. ‘But don’t expect us to like it. I don’t trust him.’
‘It’ll give you a good motive to work on your shield charm, Smith,’ Neville snapped.
‘So how’re we doing this?’ Terry Boot asked.
‘Everyone who wants to join signs their name on this list.’ Hermione waved an inauspicious piece of parchment in the air. ‘Anyone else might as well leave now.’
Cho and a couple of students from Ravenclaw shrugged and slipped out. Everyone else clumped round the table by the fire and added their names.
Harry paused over the list. The blue flames of the goblet of fire flickered through his thoughts. Best to check I’m not signing up to anything inconvenient. He ran his forefinger down the list of names and checked for enchantments with his wand in his sleeve.
A soft, righteous anger saturated the magic the parchment was steeped in.
Hermione’s not showing any mercy to anyone who talks, but compared to Fleur’s work, this is crayon art. It only punishes direct betrayals.
‘Done.’ Harry signed his name with a flourish and re-joined Katie in the middle of the group.
‘So how do we know when to meet and where?’ Someone asked.
‘That’s easy.’ Hermione glowed. ‘You all get one of these.’ She held out a box of familiar badges.
S.P.E.W. Again. Harry grimaced. Really not the best acronym, Hermione.
‘Since I’d nothing to do with them, I’ve enchanted them with the Protean Charm. When Neville changes the numbers on the back of all the badges it will change on all the others. The number will give you the time and date of the next meeting.’
‘Do we have to, like, wear them?’ Lavender muttered.
‘No.’ Hermione sighed. ‘But do try to be more careful about losing them this year than you were last year.’
‘That’s very clever,’ Boot said. ‘But it doesn’t tell us where to meet.’
Hermione’s done pretty well. The Protean Charm’s a NEWT level spell and actually quite versatile. Maybe I’ll learn it, it might be useful.
Nev nodded. ‘All our meetings will be held in the same place, you’ll know where to come from the second time, but for the first you should meet next to Hogwarts’ worst tapestry on the seventh floor.’
’We need a name for the group,’ the nearest Weasley twin suggested.
‘Ronniekins Rangers.’ The other twin grinned. ‘Or Hermione’s Heroes.’
‘How about something vaguely appropriate?’ Angelina interrupted. ‘And something that doesn’t encourage your obsession with alliteration.’
‘The Defence Club,’ Smith said.
‘Well it’s a bit boring, isn’t it,’ one of the twins muttered.
‘Obvious, too,’ the other said. ‘If someone gets overheard, Umbridge’ll be straight onto us.’
Which could be all she needs to oust Dumbledore and stop him watching over me all the time. Harry’s mind raced. As long as he was strongly implicated in the group somehow. Umbridge needs to go, too. He smiled up at the ceiling as it all coalesced together for him. And wouldn’t it be perfect to get rid of them both using the same piece of parchment?
‘They should call it Dumbledore’s Army.’ Harry made sure his joke carried further than just Katie. ‘That’s what the Ministry seems to think we’re being turned into.’
Katie laughed and raised her hand. ‘All in favour?’
Hermione smiled and stuck her hand in the air. ‘Anyone else?’
Harry stuck his hand up in the midst of the crowd. Part way there. Just need a good way to let Umbridge know and some way of getting rid of her afterward.
‘Dumbledore’s Army it is.’ Hermione wrote the name in elegant, neat letters across the top of the list.
‘You should tell them about the list, Hermione,’ Ron said. ‘Just in case.’
She frowned. ‘Yes. Right. I’ve placed a few enchantments on the paper, they took me quite some time to look up and create. When you signed your names, you entered into a kind of magical contract with the group. If you knowingly betray the rules you agreed to by staying, there’ll be unpleasant consequences.’
Smith scowled. ‘What kind of consequences?’
‘Let’s just say everyone will know who it was who betrayed us,’ Nev replied. ‘You don’t want to be that person.’
The box of badges began its rounds.
‘I thought I’d escaped these last year.’ Harry chose one for himself and passed another to Katie.
‘It suits you,’ she replied. ‘The green brings out your eyes.’
‘Thank you, Katie.’ Harry grinned at her. ‘I shall wear it always.’
‘So what’re we going to be learning?’ Terry Boot asked. ‘Nobody actually specified.’
‘I can help you learn everything that you’ll find on the OWL exam.’ Nev shot Harry a glance. ‘For those who want to be able to do a bit more, then Harry has taught me some very useful spells and knows a lot more.’
‘Like what?’ Smith balled his fists on the table. ‘I’m not learning anything dark.’
Harry rolled his eyes.
‘Dark ice curses.’ Katie beamed. ‘Great for creating beautiful icicles and impaling vulnerable first years who stray too far from their common rooms.’
So much for that not being funny.
‘The Blasting Curse,’ Neville said. ‘The Stunning Spell. And a good few more, nothing remotely dark.’
There is no light and dark. Salazar’s words echoed in Harry’s head. Only power and the intent that guides it.
‘The Patronus Charm,’ Hermione said. ‘Harry can cast a corporeal patronus. That would be very useful for all of us to know.’
Harry frowned, recalling the sluggish pool of mist he’d managed in the maze. ‘I can teach you the steps to cast it, but the form of your patronus is quite personal, so I’d rather not display mine.’
‘Then how do we know you can cast it?’ Terry Boot asked.
‘Only light wizards can cast a patronus,’ Smith muttered.
Harry leant across. ‘Sorry, Katie,’ he whispered. ‘I think it’s too late for you.’
She giggled. ‘Oh well. Being evil’s much more fun.’
‘I’ve seen it,’ Hermione snapped. ‘We all have in third year!’
‘The first meeting will be in a week, the same time as today,’ Neville said. ‘If you can’t make it, keep an eye on your badges for the next one and follow other members to our location.’ He pressed the tip of his wand to the badge, screwing his face up, and the numbers on the back of the badge blurred and changed.
A week to think of a way to get hold of that list. Harry allowed himself a small smile. I’m sure Fleur can teach me anything I might need to know for the next step.
The students drifted out in small groups, chattering amongst themselves.
‘What now?’ Katie asked. ‘Want to stay, or head back?’
‘I don’t have much of a choice. I’ve got that detention with Snape in his office today for an hour, and again every week for the foreseeable future whenever he can organise it.’
‘I guess we should head back, then.’ Katie stood up and stumbled over her chair.
‘Too much to drink?’ Harry quipped.
Katie scowled. ‘No. I’m more careful now, after… well, you know when.’
‘Yeah,’ Harry murmured. ‘I know.’
‘Harry, wait!’ Hermione scooped her things into her bag, wincing at the sound of crumpling parchment, and jogged to catch them before they left.
Hermione chewed at her lip. ‘I spoke to Cedric about the third task. He says he remembers hearing the whistle and starting to run into the maze, then nothing until seeing you stun him.’
‘That’s unfortunate,’ Harry said. ‘He’s the only other one who was there and conscious.’
‘He does remember being told he was found unconscious next to Viktor and that his wand had been broken.’ Hermione crossed her arms. ‘It doesn’t add up.’
‘It doesn’t make sense. His wand was snapped deliberately, but for no obvious reason.’
She’s not going to let this go until Cedric is forced to remember what really happened, and I can’t even dissuade her, because it will make me look suspicious.
‘I only know what I saw,’ Harry said.
‘I know.’ She sighed. ‘I’m sorry to bring it up after everything that happened, but I need to know what happened to Viktor.’
‘Most people who go digging don’t find gold, Hermione,’ Katie said.
Hermione glared and stalked off.
‘Is that actually a saying?’ Harry asked.
‘I made it up,’ Katie replied. ‘I thought it sounded good.’
‘I guess I’ve heard worse.’
She swept her hair off her face and fixed him with a searching look. ‘What actually happened in the maze? You were answering her questions very… carefully.’
‘If you’re worried I was responsible, don’t be,’ Harry said. ‘I know exactly what happened, but I took a risk to protect someone. Her digging’s going to undo that and it’s not going to benefit anyone. They’ll get hurt and nobody else will really be affected.’
‘Cedric. You snapped his wand so nobody could see the spells it cast and stunned him.’ She scrunched her face up. ‘Why’re you helping him if he killed someone? What don’t I know?’
No accusations… He swallowed a small lump of emotion. I guess she really meant her promise.
‘Cedric didn’t do anything consciously. I obliviated him to spare him a lot of guilt.’
‘That was noble of you, Harry,’ she teased. ‘Clearly you’re still a Gryffindor at heart, your Supreme Dark Lordness. I won’t tell anyone, either, of course.’
‘As brainless and reckless as they come.’ Harry gave her a warm, half-smile. ‘And thank you, Katie. I appreciate it. Seriously.’
She beamed and turned a little red. ‘So how come you’re only teaching Neville and not me?’
He led her back toward the castle. ‘There’d be an outcry from the lower years if anyone caught wind of me teaching you anything. ‘You’ve terrified them all already, imagine how they’d react if they thought I’d been teaching you dark ice curses, too.’
‘Angelina said you used the water conjuring spell,’ Katie murmured. ‘I can’t really remember, though.’
‘I did.’ Harry grinned. ‘But didn’t you read what Rita Skeeter said? It was clearly a very dark curse, so I must have tricked her.’
Katie pouted. ‘You aren’t going to tell me, are you?’
‘It was an accident,’ Harry said. ‘I wanted to drench him in water, but I was angry and I think I did some transfiguration by accident.’
‘You must’ve been very angry about me being hurt to do accidental magic at fifteen, Harry.’ Katie batted her eyelashes and leant into his side. ‘Is there something you need to tell Frenchie?’
‘Only that she should feel free to throw fire at you.’
‘No seashell bra photos for you, then.’ Katie turned towards the Owlery. ‘I need to send a letter, have fun scrubbing things for Snape.’
‘I’m sure I will.’
Harry sighed and drifted through the corridors toward the dungeons. What a waste of time. I didn’t even intend to hurt Malfoy, just shut him up and get him out the way.
‘You’re late, Potter,’ Snape drawled from within his office.
‘I got held up because of Professor Umbridge.’ Harry glanced round the walls of the office.
Gleaming jars of potions’ ingredients lined the black-painted walls from floor to ceiling.
Ashwinder eggs… Dragon’s blood… Dangerous stuff. Is Snape actually allowed to keep those here? Some random first year could just wander in and drink them.
‘The headmaster is concerned by your recent spate of behaviour.’ Snape’s expression remained neutral. ‘He believes there is a connection between you and the Dark Lord, and that his emotions are influencing you through it.’
A connection? Harry felt a little ice trickle through his veins. Are you sure he didn’t mention anything about a piece of his soul being bound to me?
‘He has decided it would be prudent for me to teach you more about the Mind Arts and show you how to block out the Dark Lord’s influence.’ Snape fixed him with a piercing stare.
Nice try. Harry avoided eye contact.
Snape’s lips curled into the slightest of smiles. ‘He mentioned that you had something of an interest in them, though I’m sceptical you’ve the emotional discipline required.’
Wait… Chill fingers groped their way down Harry’s spine and into his gut. If he’s teaching me, will he have the chance to see my thoughts and memories? I’ve come a long way, but my new technique hasn’t been tested by anyone.
‘How will you be teaching me?’ he asked.
‘I will attempt to breach your mind and you will try and keep me out.’ Snape sneered. ‘It will doubtless be an unpleasant experience for both of us.’
Merde. Nobody must know about Fleur or what I know. Harry reached down inside, past the heat and bliss of blue eyes and silver hair, through cold, clear, frozen rage, to that old, familiar void beneath. Now you can have me, emptiness. Swallow me whole, so there’s nothing to feel or see.
Snape drew his wand. ‘Clear your mind, Potter. However you can.’
Harry let the abyss claw away everything. A distant, dazed, emptiness flooded him and he dwindled into the distance as if he were drowning in the shadows between the shrinking stars. Endless solitary moments trickled into it like spilt ink down parchment.
‘Legilimens,’ Snape hissed.
A stabbing pain erupted in Harry’s temples. It’s a long way away. Just pain. He fed it into the void with everything else. No more real than I am.
Snape flinched and gritted his teeth. A handful of images welled to the surface of the abyss: a flash of red light amidst tombstones, blood on the kitchen knife clutched in Harry’s small hand, and a glimmer of silver in the window of the Great Hall. The emptiness swallowed them back in with a vengeance.
‘Bloody hell.’ Snape broke the link and sagged over his desk.
‘Sir?’ Harry watched him release a long breath and draw himself up. ‘Did something go wrong?’
‘That was not proper occlumency, Potter,’ he spat. ‘I’ve never met a wizard who defends his mind by creating such an unbearable feeling in which to trap their opponent.’ His lips curled up again into that faint smile. ‘It is quite unorthodox.’
‘Thank you, sir,’ Harry replied.
‘How long have you been practising the Mind Arts, Potter?’ Snape asked.
‘A little over a year,’ Harry said. ‘Once I understood the importance of focus and intent, I learnt some mental exercises in the muggle world, then continued learning more once I discovered Occlumency.’
‘Then you’ve come a very long way in a very short time.’
‘It seems to come to me naturally.’ Harry shrugged. ‘Maybe I inherited a knack for it from my parents.’
I inherited it from somewhere.
Snape’s upper lip curled. ‘If you have, it wasn’t from your father. James Potter didn’t have the discipline or the subtlety that the mind arts require.’
‘My mother, then,’ Harry said. ‘Or maybe it just skipped a generation.’
‘You should be thankful you appear to be more like your mother than anyone realised,’ Snape murmured. ‘She was an excellent witch.’
Did he know her? Harry studied the soft gleam in Snape’s eyes. They’re about the same age, so they’d’ve been at Hogwarts together.
Snape drew himself up and pulled an even expression across his face. ‘I was supposed to teach you how to occlude your mind from the influence of the Dark Lord, but it seems you’re already completely capable so long as you know to do it and he is not standing before you.’ Snape steepled his fingers. ‘Unfortunately, the headmaster has insisted I keep you in detention for at least an hour every week until Christmas to help avoid external repercussions for your actions. We shall continue to practise your occlumency. It is of the utmost importance you’re able to resist the Dark Lord.’
‘Thank you, sir,’ Harry muttered.
Snape’s lips twitched. ‘You can go for today, Potter.’
As long as I keep this up, he won’t learn anything I don’t want him to. Harry stepped into the corridor. And I might be able to learn something about what Dumbledore’s up to from—
‘Potter.’ Snape’s face tightened and his lips paled. ‘It’s reassuring to see that you have not wasted as many years here as I thought, your mother would be proud of your recent improvements. Don’t slide back into acting like your contemptible father.’
So he did know her. Questions hovered on the tip of his tongue, then a bright flash of green light flickered through his thoughts. It doesn’t matter. They’re dead. No amount of questions or wishing will change that. And I have new wishes. Wishes I need to make true.