Chapters Posted: 24
Words Posted: 161,251
Disclaimer: Harry Potter, his friends, his enemies, and the lovely world they live in all belong to JK Rowling.
It has been too long since I posted a chapter. My deepest apologies. There is (much) more, if I can just get it pulled together!
My thanks go to badgerlady and crescent for beta-reading this chapter.
Please let me know what you think. Reviews inspire me!
Continued from Chapter 23, Part 2
Chapter 24 – Small Changes
Working with the Slytherins
It had been three days of working on Malfoy's team, and Harry had not blown anything up. He had not made any mistakes worthy of Malfoy's scorn, either. In fact, by the end of the second day, Malfoy had stopped making snide comments about Harry being the child of the group. He still heckled Harry, but only outside of the area they were cleaning. Malfoy became a different person when working on the cleansing. He provided information without sneering, gave direction without arrogance. It was as if he forgot to be a pillock when he was working.
There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to where they worked. One day they worked on the third floor, and the next they worked in a classroom near the Great Hall. It was when he was sent to meet them just outside the small classroom next to the astronomy tower on the third day that Harry had to ask.
"Malfoy, how is it possible for this area to have any residue from Dark magic? The battle didn't even come near here!" Harry had told himself that he wouldn't question Malfoy's decisions on the work after what happened, since he seemed to know what he was doing, but this just seemed too strange. Were they stretching out the work?
They had not yet started working for the day. The classroom was up four stairs from the corridor, and there was a small landing on which they had settled the cauldron. It had taken all four of them to heave it up the stairs, since any magic used to levitate it could make it unusable for their work, even if the guard had been willing to assist them, or if Harry had not given his wand into the guard’s care.
The ritual of selecting gloves and brushes had only just begun, so Harry should have expected the arrogant tone. "The whole castle is magic, Potter. Do you think the infection would just stay in one place? Magic is not an obedient crup, to stay where you tell it to. We will have to cleanse every single room that is actively connected to the castle."
That was a strange way of putting it, Harry thought. "Wouldn't it make more sense to start at one part of the castle, and work our way across it? Top down, or bottom up? If it can spread, wouldn't we be better off being systematic?" Harry had a vague mental image of the pattern used when searching for a lost child. That had been the topic of a show he had once seen part of on the telly while he was cleaning, until Dudley changed channels to something more violent.
"We are being systematic. We are following the magic." The blank look on Harry's face made Malfoy snort. "Think, Potter. What is the most direct way to the Charms classroom from Potions?"
"Well, up the main stairs, then take the long staircase if it is pointed in the right direction, or the two single-floor staircases if the long staircase is pointed wrong."
"No wonder you were always late! Did no one tell you about the shortcut?"
Harry tried to imagine what Malfoy was talking about, building a mental image of the Marauder’s Map in his mind. "Where?"
"I rather think I shan’t tell you."
Harry gave Malfoy a hard stare. He crossed his arms and leaned back against the wall.
Greengrass gave an exasperated sigh. "Oh, give it up, Draco, or we'll never get to work. It's not like it's a Slytherin secret."
Malfoy sighed. "I suppose a few Ravenclaws use it too, but you want to tell a Gryffindor? Worse, you want to tell Potter?"
"If you didn't want him to know, you shouldn't have brought it up." She turned to Harry. "If you go past the Potions classroom and take the next corridor on the left, you get to a tapestry that blocks the way. Pass through that, and you will be on the fourth floor. It is then just one flight down instead of three flights up."
"How did you ever discover that?"
Greengrass seemed to consider her job in the conversation done, and turned to inspect the brushes."
Malfoy took over the conversation again. "I did not. I do come from a long line of Slytherins, however. I think all of the Slytherins in our year knew of it by the third month."
"You shared it with each other?"
"We exchanged necessary information."
Harry snorted. That made sense. No sense in losing house points for tardiness if a bit of shared information would fix it. "Okay, so there are several ways to get from Potions to Charms. So what?"
"Hogwarts is not a big square building, Potter. It is made of stone and magic. There is no single path from top to bottom, or from back to front. I would have thought even you would have been able to figure that out in seven years." Malfoy paused. "Or in your case, six."
"So you're saying that Hogwarts is a bit like a Wizarding tent?"
Malfoy sighed. "That is like saying a sphinx is like a kneazle, but close enough.
"We are doing this systematically, as you put it. We started with the spots that were both afflicted and near the flows of magic through Hogwarts. If the residue has entered the flow, we have been following it... downstream.
Harry considered that. It made sense. The castle certainly seemed to have an oddly connected floor plan, especially with such places as... Oh. "Are we going to have to cleanse the Room of Requirement?"
Harry remembered what Malfoy had called it. "The Room of Hidden Things."
It was amazing to see that Malfoy could get even paler.
"Have you checked whether it is still there?" Malfoy asked.
"You should do so." Harry didn't even bristle at Malfoy's arrogant drawl. For perhaps the first time, he could truly see that, underneath, Malfoy was terrified.
In the Dark of the Night
The room was on fire. Tendrils of flame reached out to grab him, flowing across his skin in a painful caress. He tried to back away, but they wrapped around him, binding him like tanglevine. He burned as if he was one of the burning fiends himself, flames lighting up his hair like magic come alive.
His skin blackened; curls of it flaked away into the air, floating in the heat. He felt as if he would burn away, layer by layer, until there was nothing left.
A hand appeared in his vision. Potter's. He knew he should reach up for it, but Crabbe's face formed out of one of the outstretched flames. He could just read the movement of his mouth, saying, "You left me." How could he save himself and leave Crabbe behind?
Survival. Rule 4. Survive. You cannot achieve anything if you are not alive to do so. You cannot carry on the family if you do not survive.
He raised his eyes to where Potter's hand had been, but it was no longer there. Instead, Granger's hand reached out. He couldn't let a Mudblood rescue him. He could not owe a life to one. That hand disappeared as well, and he despaired. Finally, a hand appeared, freckled and pink. Grimacing, he grasped the Weasel's hand, vowing he would wash his hand and arm well, scrubbing with good boar bristles and a strong cleaning potion.
Weasley flew higher and higher, away from the flames, but away from the door as well. There did not seem to be a ceiling; instead, there was open sky. Thestrals flew in that sky, and cloaked forms that Draco knew were Dementors. One tendril of flame burst upward toward him, with the face of the Dark Lord, who raged at him. "Blood Traitor! You are accepting help from one beneath you. You are no better than he is. You have turned away from me, from the cause. You deserve nothing!"
Suddenly, it wasn't Weasley's hand, but the Dark Lord's cold hand, and he was shaking him loose, to fall into the flames. A wand suddenly appeared in that scaly hand, and the word Crucio sounded before he was filled with pain: from the flames, from the curse. At that moment, he knew that he would die, and would welcome the respite from pain.
He woke up, the sheets twining painfully around his arms, drenched with his sweat.
Draco panted, feeling the texture of the sheets, never so glad to feel something, even these rough sheets, made of cotton instead of silk. He checked his parents’ bed, but could see no movement beyond the curtains. The room was silent.
He could still hear his screams from the nightmare, echoing in the silence.
Crabbe's face in the flames had coursed through him like a lightning curse. Crabbe, whom he had left behind to burn, to save himself. Crabbe had stood with him for years, from when they were small children, and their parents had visited, leaving Vince and Greg to play with Draco. The two had been much larger than he was, they still were, but they had always done as he wanted. They had looked to him to determine what to play, and the habit had been ingrained. He had looked out for them. He checked in to make sure neither one failed, and made sure that one of the other Slytherins tutored them when they fell behind. If it hadn't been for the fact that both of their parents had been of families old enough to carry some power, Draco doubted that either one would have been asked to Hogwarts. As it was, his father had interceded on their behalf. Lucius Malfoy made sure that his son would have loyal and familiar friends.
Of course, Theo and Pansy were both old friends as well, and he had met Daphne at various events in their childhood as well, but he had relied on Greg and Vince ever since he was very small.
He wondered if there was something he could have done for Vince. It had all happened so quickly. He didn’t know. He doubted he would ever know. Would he have been quicker to react if Crabbe hadn’t just reminded Draco, just moments before, that the Malfoy name no longer assured him precedence? In that moment, Crabbe had cast aside their years of association. Would Crabbe have carried through and cast Draco aside? Draco doubted it. They had looked out for each other for too long. He would never know. Crabbe was dead, and there was nothing Draco could do to change that. All he could do now was honour what Crabbe had been for him. He could grieve the future that Vincent Crabbe would never have.
He also needed to find out what happened to Greg.
Harry Goes Wandering
As Harry wandered through what areas of Hogwarts had not been blocked off, walking through corridors, climbing stairs, and exploring rooms, he remembered what Draco had said. It wasn’t that the portraits were alive. He’d seen portraits moving in many magical places. At Hogwarts, the suits of armour had personalities. The stairs moved. There were more ghosts than a school should have. Had all of them died here? He rather doubted that Sir Nicholas had been beheaded at a school, nor that the Baron had acquired his bloody wounds here.
True, Hogwarts had just seen a battle, but how many battles had taken place here? How many dark lords had been obsessed with their place of schooling? Thinking of the battle, Harry wondered if any of those who had died would stay here. He was not sure he could take it, if Colin Creevey were to haunt Gryffindor Tower. Did any of those who had known Myrtle fear seeing her, not for the wailing and mercurial emotions, but for a sense of guilt that they had not treated her better, or not kept her from this death?
Even worse would be if Bellatrix were to haunt the dungeons, seeking her lord. For that matter, would Voldemort have haunted Hogwarts in true death, as he had in various forms before death? Harry was suddenly very glad that there was nothing left of Voldemort to haunt anything. He shivered, casting his thoughts elsewhere.
Harry doubted that he’d ever become a ghost. He had too much to look forward to—reuniting with his parents, Sirius, Remus, and so many others—to really fear death or want to hang on past his time. But if he did, Harry thought Hogwarts was most likely where he’d end up. It had been his home since he’d first set eyes on it. He could not imagine Ron ending up here or, frankly, any of the Weasleys. If anything, they’d join the ghoul in the Weasley attic.
The Cat goes Wandering
Minerva McGonagall stepped soundlessly through the halls of Hogwarts, her whiskers twitching in curiosity. She hadn’t done this in far too long a time. She could smell a few mice scuttling in the walls, but she was not hunting this evening. She was exploring. Hogwarts felt different than it had the last time she had walked on cat feet through its halls. It felt out of balance, or perhaps like the moment before a thunderstorm.
Her feline senses told her something was about to happen, like the possibility of lighting.
Some places felt calmer than she had ever experienced, as if someone were combing her fur with a soft comb. She sniffed her way around one such room. It would be a good place for a nap. Sleeping wasn't on her mind at the moment, but when her explorations were over, perhaps she would return here and curl up on the large wooden desk. Making a mental note of the room, an old classroom, she continued onward. Several rooms down, there was one that felt like static electricity. Her fur stood on end. One touch and it would spark, touching off more than she wanted to experience in any form.
The sense of impending cataclysm in some rooms made her more alert to others. In rooms that felt no different than they had for the decades she had worked there, she still noticed it: a constant buzz of magic.
It seemed she owed Narcissa Malfoy an apology.
She walked, whiskers twitching, sniffing the cold stone walls and flagstone floor, taking especial care to notice where the castle felt in balance, and where she felt she ought to smell ozone, but didn't. As far as she could tell, it matched the diagram the Aurors had provided to Filch, of which rooms needed to be cleansed. However, considering her discoveries, perhaps it would indeed be good to cleanse the whole castle, as Narcissa and Draco Malfoy had recommended.
That decided, she let her concerns relax and continued her exploration.
Along the way, she saw a few other night wanderers. Mr Potter had not yet given up that habit, it seemed. It was not the school year, and he was an adult, so she would not assign detention. Instead, she wished that he would find the peace or understanding that he was looking for. The sight of him wandering brought fond memories. He had done everything expected of him, and then some. He deserved whatever rest and joy he could find. Perhaps his nocturnal wanderings would point him the way.
She followed him, quietly, just out of sight, but he seemed to do nothing but wander, much as she herself was doing. He opened no locked doors; he went into no off-limits offices.
After a while, she let him continue, unimpeded.
Perhaps she would pay Poppy a visit. Now that the majority of her patients were healed and gone, or gone to be healed, her friend would not be so frantic. Minerva knew she would still be worrying about the ones sent to the Finch-Fletchley estate, for a cure that was just as frightening as the malady.
Poppy might enjoy a nice sit down over a cup of tea, Minerva decided, or perhaps a nice sit down with a cat in her lap. She knew from both sides of the story that petting a cat was relaxing. She herself could use a good scratch behind the ears.