Chapter Seventeen: Bearing Bad News
Harry's feet met solid ground again, and as he usually did when using any sort of magical transport, his knees buckled. And as always, Snape grabbed him by the back of the neck just before he fell and straightened him out.
"Did you see my mum kick that guy in the face?" Neville was saying excitedly. "She really showed him! And your mum with Malfoy's dad, Harry, that was so cool!"
Harry smiled. "Yeah, it was." He glanced up at Professor Lupin. "Professor? Why did the Death Eaters try to get at you?"
"We believe Voldemort was doing some sort of experiment with different magical races," said Lupin. "Obviously, he wanted a werewolf. Somebody must have found out about my lycanthropy, and told him. Werewolves are surprisingly rare, compared to other different magical beings."
Dumbledore, who was sitting behind his desk and having a game of one-player wizard's chess, chuckled and looked around at them all. "I hope that was informative?"
Harry and Neville both nodded. Professor Pebblebank smiled fondly, and Lupin did too. Harry glanced at Snape, wondering what he felt about all this. He was surprised when he saw Snape's expression. It wasn't hurt or pain, or even remorse, and Harry was alarmed when he realised it was bordering on shame.
"I didn't know you knew my mum, Professor," Neville said to Pebblebank, his round face shining with happiness at having seen his parents. "Were you friends?"
"Oh yeah," said Pebblebank, grinning. "Chalk and cheese though. She spent a lot of time in the greenhouses, helping Professor Sprout, while I was running around on the Quidditch pitch."
"My mum was good at Herbology?" said Neville, happily. "Wow, that's where I must have got it!"
Dumbledore laughed softly, his blue eyes shining with amusement. "I'm glad this has helped shed a little light on the whole situation, and a few smiles too... Severus? Are you feeling alright?"
Snape glared at Dumbledore hatefully for a moment, his face oddly twisted. There was clearly a great deal of self-restraint going on in Snape's mind, though next second, a small part had given way and his hands balled into fists. "No," he spat at Dumbledore. "Feeling alright? After you force me into acting out something I deeply regret, for your entertainment? What happened to my second chance, Dumbledore? I'm not the villain here, and I won't let you portray me that way."
He turned on his heel, and stormed from the office, slamming the door behind him. Harry didn't hang around long enough to appreciate the silence, and went rushing after Snape, walking down two steps at a time.
"Professor!" he called, as he skidded out of the moving staircase, looking up and down the corridor. "Professor!"
"Not now, Potter," Snape's voice spat, and Harry turned just in time to see him sweep angrily around the corner and out of sight.
Harry felt an odd sort of disappointment that he couldn't explain, and firmly decided it was not a nice feeling. He looked at the darkness behind him, and shivered a little, pulling his school robes around him for warmth, and hurrying quickly to Gryffindor Tower.
As he stepped into the common room, he realised that all the lights were out, except for the dying glow of the ashes in the fire. Ron, Hermione and Ginny were all snuggled down in their usual nest, fast asleep. Harry crept across the room silently, not wanting to wake them, and after getting changed in the bathrooms, he grabbed a blanket and curled up on the sofa. He took a few sips of his Dreamless Sleep Draught, and then laid down, trying to quell the thoughts in his mind. It had been wonderful to see his parents, standing together and fighting against Voldemort, but he couldn't help but feel guilty about Snape. He understood what Snape had meant when he shouted at Dumbledore, and he also knew how important it must have been to him, as Snape never shouted at Dumbledore. The headmaster might have given Snape a second chance at getting his loyalties right, but Dumbledore continued to treat him like a teenager. And really, Snape had been the victim for all those years. Troubled and restless, Harry eventually dropped into a light sleep that was more like the deepest thought.
After falling asleep and waking again continually, he glanced at the clock, and saw that it was only half past one in the morning. He sighed into the cushion, and felt around underneath the sofa for his glasses. His fingers searched blindly, finding nothing, and after a few moments he wondered whether Ron had moved them as a joke - when they suddenly appeared in front of him, held out by somebody behind him. He jumped and turned to stare over his shoulder.
Khepri beamed at him. "Looking for these?"
"Oh no... not you..." Harry groaned.
"We both know you're pleased to see me really," said Khepri, slyly, twirling Harry's glasses around between his paws. "Just because you won't accept it isn't my fault now, is it?"
"What do you want this time?" Harry said, with a pained and sleepy expression. He snatched his glasses off Khepri and put them on, burying his face back into the cushion, wishing he'd stayed asleep.
Khepri snickered. "Oh, the usual, Harry... check up on you, see how far you've got... and it's not very far at all, is it? You haven't figured anything out yet... I'm so disappointed, Harry..."
"Look," said Harry, flatly. "Just tell me what it is that Voldemort's looking for, and spare me the trouble. Something Egyptian, right? If he's raiding all those museums, and you're probably Egyptian. So just tell me what it is he wants, and where it is."
"Oh, I don't want to make it that easy..." whispered Khepri. "I hate things easy and calm. What fun is a puzzle that you can solve easily?"
"Just tell me," Harry said, wearily. "I've already got enough to cope with."
Khepri smiled slyly, and strolled around to sofa to sit on Harry's feet, making himself perfectly comfortable and playing with the tuft of his lion tail. "I'm not here to teach you, I'm here to warn you. He's getting closer and closer everyday, and when he finds it, he'll have control over a power so terrible that even your precious vampire guardian won't be able to save you... oh, that reminds me..." He turned to Harry, and grinned. His teeth were so eerie this close. "Things are getting rather boring around Hogwarts, don't you think?"
Harry tensed. "And why would you care? So what if they are?"
"As I said," murmured Khepri. "I don't like things so safe. Thousands of years sealed inside a pyramid give you a taste for more interesting things... but wait..." He licked his lips, and his eyes drifted to a point in mid-air, as though seeing something Harry could not. A smile spread over his lips. "Mmhmm... now this could be interesting..."
And suddenly, Harry felt something terrible rush inside his chest. He tensed up. The feeling was so painful and horrible that Harry couldn't care less about Khepri. The Egyptian boy was grinning at him.
"Oh, of course..." he whispered. "He gave you that chain to put on him, didn't he? So you'll know whenever he's doing anything... dangerous."
Firmly ignoring Khepri now, Harry got off the sofa. Ron gave a sleepy sort of grunt in the back of his throat, but didn't wake up. Harry crossed the room, nudged on his slippers, draped his robes around his shoulders and drew his wand from up his sleeve. Khepri padded after him quietly as Harry climbed out of the portrait hole.
"So touching," Khepri murmured, fondly. "Risking your life and place at school to make sure he's alright."
"Yeah, well, I owe him the favour," said Harry, gruffly. "Look, just go away, I don't have time for you."
"What if it's him though?" said Khepri, slyly. "Attacking students. He's the only vampire in the school, you know, and do you seriously think he was telling the truth about not taking human blood? He could lie so easily. What was your first DMT lesson with him, mm? How to lie convincingly."
Harry ignored him. He didn't have time to waste explaining things to Khepri that he hadn't even managed to convince himself of yet. He carried on walking silently through the dark corridors, with Khepri strolling along at his side, eyeing the portraits and smiling at a few.
"You stole that from us, you know. Painting the important to keep them alive after death."
"I don't care," said Harry, waspishly. He was descending the steps to the dungeons now, and his wand was out, ready. Just in case. "Lumos," he murmured, and the little light beam glowed from the tip of his wand. He made his way silently down the long pitch black corridor, every step echoing endlessly away into the darkness beyond. The back of Harry's neck was prickling uncomfortably.
As he turned the corner to gaze down the next passage, the light from his wand slowly revealed the whole grisly scene. Harry grimaced and averted his eyes.
It was a second victim, a girl this time - it was Pansy Parkinson, Harry realised. Lying at the foot of a large portrait of Salazar Slytherin, still in her pajamas, half-conscious, her neck daubed in blood from a vicious bitemark. Harry tried not to look at the wounds, and hurried over to kneel down beside her and check her pulse. He noticed that the portrait hole was slightly ajar, and blood was smearing all around the edge of the frame. Pansy had apparently been dragged out of Slytherin Tower, then dumped roughly outside by her attacker. Harry tried hard not to dwell on the knowledge that only a Slytherin could possibly know the password to their dormitories.
Standing back and covering his mouth with his sleeve to block out the vile smell of blood, he levitated Pansy into the air and started moving her back along the dungeon corridors. Khepri had vanished. Harry didn't have time to think too hard about this. From the entrance hall, he made his way quickly to the hospital wing, with Pansy still floating along eerily at his side.
As he carefully eased open the doors of the hospital wing and flicked his wand to levitate Pansy inside, the door of the back room opened, and Madam Pomfrey came bustling out, pulling on a night-gown.
"Oh, Potter, it's you. What are you doing out at this time? You should be in - "
And she stopped, mid-step, staring at Pansy's floating corpse in horror. She made an odd noise like a grape being squashed underfoot, and only managed to regain the power of speech after a moment or so of staring.
"Potter! Where did you - ... why is - "
"I was in the dungeons," said Harry. "She was lying outside the Slytherin common room, just like this."
He looked up at Madam Pomfrey, and was startled to see a flash of suspicion in her eyes. "What were you doing in the dungeons?" she asked, frowning.
"I was with Professor Snape," said Harry. "We have an after-school lesson."
"At one o' clock in the morning?" she said, looking even more suspicious.
Harry didn't quite know what to say. He just stared at her, praying and hoping that if she decided to go to Snape, he would have the decency to back up Harry's story. After a few more moments of her doubtful glare, she merely clucked her tongue disapprovingly, and then took out her wand, taking control of Pansy and guiding her to one of the beds.
"Well, Potter, you'd better get back to bed," she said, vaguely, as she started to study the bitemarks all over Pansy's neck. "And stay in your house common room... in fact, I think you'd better take floo powder. Don't want you wandering around the corridors. There's a jar next to the fire in my office, go on."
Not wanting to give her any more reason to be suspicious of him, Harry hurried through into her office. He found the jar fairly quickly, cast a pinch into the grate and stepped through. "Gryffindor Tower," he said, and then he was whipped out of sight, flying through the floo network until he was stepping out of the fireplace, into the Gryffindor common room.
Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Neville were all still asleep, though Harry knew he wouldn't be able to join them. Not now. He toed off his slippers and hung up his dressing gown, then huddled up on the sofa under a blanket, thinking hard. So now he knew that the vampire attacks couldn't possibly be a one-off thing, and it was obvious to Harry that somewhere in the school, that cloaked figure was still lurking. Somebody in the school was a vampire, and was hunting down victims at night. Though Harry only knew of one vampire in the school. Snape.
He felt a hot sense of guilt as he wondered in his mind whether there was the slimmest chance that his magical guardian was behind the attacks. He knew that it must be a Slytherin, or somebody who could get the password to Slytherin Tower, or they wouldn't have been able to drag Pansy out. And Harry knew instinctively that Snape had been drinking blood around the precise moment that Pansy was attacked. Was it too much of a coincidence? There was also the short scene that Harry had seen in the pensive, where the sixteen-year-old Snape was so hungry for blood he was actually chewing his own hand. Had it given his adult self a longing to feed?
Harry closed his eyes and sighed, as he realised the only argument he had against any of these things was that Snape just wouldn't do something like that. He trusted Snape. He thought that he knew Snape.
Then again, maybe he didn't. There were a lot of secrets Snape kept from him, and Harry had the feeling Snape would keep him guessing far into the future. He didn't quite know what he thought about his magical guardian any more. Seeing him shout at Dumbledore had quite un-nerved Harry, as it was something very uncharacteristic for the Potions master who trusted Dumbledore like a father. Harry wondered whether Snape's frustration at the headmaster could have urged him to rebel, and attack a student. Yet again, the only thing he could think was that Snape wouldn't do something like that. It just wasn't like Snape.
Harry had only ever really felt like this once before, in his second year, when he'd worried that Hagrid was setting a monster loose in the castle. Something was different this time though. Hagrid was one of his best friends and Harry cared for him a lot, but his relationship with Snape was very different. After all, Snape was his magical guardian, and they even had a telepathic bond now. Harry felt oddly as though he had a duty to keep Snape safe as well. Maybe this was why he'd gone running out of the common room in the middle of the night to find Snape, even when his better instincts told him Snape was doing something dangerous. Harry paused, thinking about this. Why exactly had he gone out anyway? What was he hoping to prove? If he had found Snape crouched over Pansy Parkinson's corpse, drinking her blood, what would his reaction have been? Fright? Anger?
Shock, Harry decided. Because Snape didn't do things like that.
If only Peter could see into the dungeons, he thought, bitterly, as he rested his head on a pillow and pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders. Then his guardian could prove, without a hint of doubt, that it wasn't Snape who attacked Pansy and they'd be able to find out who it was. Harry found himself thinking about all the dangerous people at Hogwarts, trying to work out if it could be one of them. It was simply too hard, and so he went onto who it couldn't be. Snape, for one, merely because Snape didn't do things like that. Lupin, because he was too nice. It couldn't be Madam Ivy, because she was there moments after the first attack, and the Dark Arts office was on the opposite side of the school to the dungeons anyway. She also didn't know the password to Slytherin Tower. Only a Slytherin would.
Harry ran through the Slytherin students in his mind. The seventh year prefects were Draco and Pansy. Pansy had been attacked, so it couldn't be her. Draco wasn't a vampire. In fact, nobody in Slytherin was a vampire. Snape would know if they were, because he could tell.
Frustrated, Harry gave a sigh. There were only two possible explanations: it was either Snape, or a rogue vampire had got into the school from the Forbidden Forest and was hiding in the dungeons somewhere. But then how did it get into Slytherin Tower? He remembered from his third year, how Sirius had got Crookshanks to steal the password on a piece of paper off Neville's bedside, then he managed to get in. Had something like that happened? Maybe this rogue vampire was working along with one of the Slytherins. But why?
And then there was this Khepri business. Harry's brain felt like a wrung sponge as he tried to clump together what he knew for sure. Voldemort was looking for something, and when he found it, he would have some terrible power. It was probably something Egyptian, judging by Khepri's appearance and all the pillaged museums. But how on earth did Khepri think Harry was supposed to get out of school and start trekking round every museum that had everything of any Egyptian value in it? Harry wondered for a moment if he should just let Voldemort get on with it. After all, nobody believed him. Even Ron and Hermione were doubtful of when he told them about Khepri. And if Snape, his own magical guardian, didn't believe him then who would? Dumbledore, perhaps? It was too much to ask. Harry had been to Dumbledore so many times with so many different problems that couldn't be explained. For now, all Harry was able to do with any certainty was just wait for Khepri to start giving him answers.
Harry sighed and closed his eyes. Though there was nobody around, he murmured to the silence, "Why is it always me?"
And he thought he heard a soft, almost-silent snicker from the corner of the room in reply, though when he opened his eyes again, there was nothing there.
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