Chapter Seventeen: Slytherin Risotta and Voldemort's Reminder
As usual on a Wednesday lunchtime, Hermione was getting excitable, kept tidying her hair and hardly ate anything, saying she wasn't hungry, though really, she was too busy reading yet another book on Pure Arts theory she'd got from the library. Of course, she wasn't the only one looking forward to the afternoon. Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco and Neville all had Pure Arts with Professor Alrister, a subject which had fast become the favourite of many people in the school, boys and girls alike.
They were all sitting outside in the courtyard, while Neville and Ginny made a snowman nearby, Hermione sat huddled over her precious Pure Arts book, with Luna reading over her shoulder. Harry sat near Hermione, as as usual, he had Ron clamped to his side, glaring at Draco on Harry's other side, who was doing some Astronomy homework.
"I wonder what we're doing in Pure Arts today," Hermione said, brightly.
"Hermione, you've said that about four times this break," said Ginny, looking up from the snowman. "Stop rubbing it in."
"I do though," said Hermione. "I'm just making conversation."
"Then talk about something else," said Ginny. "I've only got Pure Arts on Friday next, you're making me jealous."
Hermione shut her book, tucking it away into her bag, and Ron said, "How long have we got left for break?"
Harry checked his watch. "Quite a while... maybe we should have stayed in the Great Hall for a bit longer. I'm still kinda hungry."
"Me too," Neville agreed.
Draco shook his head. "I couldn't eat that Shepherd's Pie. I only had a few mouthfuls and it was just... disgusting." Ron muttered something under his breath, turning away from the conversation with a frown. Draco raised an eyebrow. "Sorry, Weasley, didn't catch that. Care to repeat?"
"I said," Ron said, coldly, "you're probably used to Shepherd's Pie doused in white wine with a sprig of mint on top though, aren't you?"
Draco looked away, ignoring Ron. They were all quite used to this by now. Draco said something he thought was perfectly innocent, Ron took offense and snapped at Draco, Draco looked away, that was about it. Today was no different. Harry quite wished they'd stop annoying each other so much - it did get boring after the same routine, day in day out, though he didn't want to make Ron jealous or alienate Draco, so he just let them get on with it.
But then, something happened that had never happened before. Draco spoke back to Ron.
"And actually, Weasley, I'm used to it being six months old and tasting as though it's been made inside a rat," he said, coldly, turning his pale eyes on Ron.
Ron blinked for a moment, clearly thrown that Draco had risen to his bait. "I - well... good."
"I'm glad you think so," said Draco, coolly.
"Fine." Ron turned away this time. Draco averted his eyes to the snowman, as though he didn't even want to look at Ron properly, but before any of them could say another word, a large gang of people stepped out into the courtyard. Blaise Zabini, with Pansy Parkinson cuddled on his arm wearing a large fur coat that made her look even more like a pug, followed by their entourage of five Slytherin boys. Harry noticed that Blaise was trying to prove that he was more impressive than Draco had ever been by making sure he didn't have just two people to do his dirty work, but a minimum of four.
Draco's eyes flashed at the sight of Blaise, particularly with Pansy clinging to him like that, turning his eyes away. Harry was about to ask if they should maybe go inside or go and see Hagrid, but Blaise had spotted them, and was coming over.
"Well, well, well," he said, softly. "If it's not my favourite little fatherless outcasts." Harry and Draco both glared at Blaise, but said nothing. He strolled in front of them. "Gone deaf, have we?" The knot of Slytherins around him all laughed sluggishly, egging him on.
"We're not deaf," Hermione said, coolly. "We're ignoring you."
"Shhh, sweetie, I didn't ask you to talk," Blaise said, smirking horribly at Hermione. Ron got up and sat between her and Harry defiantly.
"Leave us alone, Zabini, nobody's intimidated," Ron said, glaring at the Slytherin.
"Protective of her, huh?" said Blaise, his eyes sparking as they locked on Ron and Hermione.
"What are you talking about?" Ron snapped.
"Come off it... we've all seen the way you look at her..." said Blaise, softly. "How you're just dying for the know-it-all to drag you off to the library for a little study time..."
Ron looked outraged, and he jumped to his feet, turning scarlet, his fists clenching. "Say that again," Ron snarled.
Blaise raised an eyebrow, opening his mouth, but a mild voice said from the courtyard. "Is there a problem here?" Lupin smiled down at the spread of students.
Blaise cast one last look at Ron, then left the courtyard without another word, not even answering Lupin's question. His gang followed after him silently, and Lupin came across the courtyard to Harry and his friends, stepping carefully in the footsteps to avoid the snow.
"Not bothering you all, were they?" he said.
Ron started to nod, but Draco cut across him with a swift, "No, professor."
"Good," said Lupin. "You all want to get to class now, it's getting near to the bell."
"Thanks Sir," said Harry.
With one last smile, Lupin left the courtyard back into the school. The moment he was gone, Ron rounded on Malfoy. "What did you say no for? We could have got him to sort Zabini out!"
Draco shook his head, frowning, suddenly looking pained. "Wouldn't do any good."
"What's wrong?" said Hermione, leaning forward to watch him as he curled a hand around his stomach.
"Stomach pains... it's normal now though," he said, vaguely.
"What do you mean, normal now?" she said, frowning.
"Nothing. Come on, class." He stood up, picking his bag up off the floor and heading vaguely towards the door into the class, one hand still held against his side. Harry, Ron and Hermione all looked suspiciously at each other, then followed him. Neville cried, "Wait for me!" and followed them after a hurried goodbye to Luna and Ginny.
Even when the five sixth years sat down around one of the large tables in Alrister's class, Draco still had a pained look on his face, though there wasn't much time to think about this as Alrister came into the room, looking merry as always. Noticably, he didn't have any of the special gloves with him for once.
"Good afternoon everybody!" Alrister called, jovially.
The reply from the class was rather weak, not quite as eager as usual. He smiled, taking off his jacket to reveal a wine-coloured satin shirt and a neat little velvet waistcoast, black to match his trousers. It didn't matter what occasion it was, Alrister always seemed to have a whole new outfit to match it perfectly.
"Come now, surely I deserve a little more of a warm welcome than that," he said, smiling sideways out of the corner of his mouth. "Are we not feeling so good today?"
Harry glanced around at the class. They were quite a few pale faces, quite a few expressions like Draco's. His face darkened in a slight frown, wondering whether... no... it was just a cold day. They had flu or something.
"I'll have to perk you all up then, won't I?" Alrister said. "Is anybody absent?" At the general murmur of no, he clapped his hands together. "Marvellous, I don't have to take the register. Right then. You'll notice I have not brought the magic gloves today, shock horror. Because today, you're going to take the plunge and be brave. No gloves, and no pretty balloons to spin round on the spot." He smiled, looking around at them all. "We're going to learn how to blow things up today."
Quite a few people cheered, especially Ron, who had been wildly anticipating this lesson ever since the start of the year. Draco gave a very vague, unconvincing, "Hurrah".
"Powerful raw magic is, of course, a very difficult thing to create. It takes one hell of a good memory and a lot of imagination to summons to emotions needed to conjure true power... which is why I'm going to annoy the hell out of all of you by dragging you out into the cold and the snow. Now, now, no more groaning and grumbling. You'll have to do well in this lesson to stay warm, you see? My brilliant teaching methods yet again, right then - Mr Malfoy, are you alright?"
Draco shook his head, wretching again. He was very, very green in the face and looked as though he was about to vomit.
"Oh dear," said Alrister, coming over, snapping his fingers and conjuring a bucket he put down in front of Draco. "I think somebody needs to go and get Madam Pomfrey... rather quickly," he added, as Draco groaned and his lunch made its grand re-entrance to the world, pouring into the bucket. Hermione jumped up, hurrying from the room as Alrister took the chair by Draco and rubbed his back. "Get it up, Malfoy... better out than in..."
"Uh... Professor Alrister?"
They all looked around. Pansy Parkinson had just fainted onto the floor, looking very green. Blaise was shaking worryingly, and across the room, two other Slytherin girls didn't look so good.
"Oh no... right, somebody wait with Miss Parkinson." He snapped his fingers, and a large bucket appeared. "Everybody else who feels ill get around that... well, this is going fabulously..."
A minute later, Hermione arrived with Madam Pomfrey, who took one look at the class and said, "Oh my... all Slytherins... I don't believe this... I'm afraid that everybody who isn't in Slytherin house will have to go and wait outside."
"What about me?" said Alrister.
"Are you, or were you in Slytherin?"
"Well... no, but - "
"Out," she said, crisply, ferrying them all out of the room and then shutting the door. Alrister looked shocked at being ordered out of own classroom, and took a moment to regain speech then said,
"Well then. I think we'll have to save the explosions lesson for another day... don't look so disappointed, Mr Weasley, we can do something just as fun. Let's see... I'll teach you some more sparks stuff. Mr Potter, just run down to my office and get the gloves, will you? We'll be in one of the spare classrooms in the Defence Against The Dark Arts corridor."
Harry nodded, and as Alrister lead the rest of the class away to the spare classrooms in Defence Against The Dark Arts, he made his way the opposite way down the corridor towards Alrister's office. He knew where it was, but had never been inside before, and so when he pushed open the finely polished oak door with a plaque on saying "Professor R Alrister", he looked around expectantly.
Like everything else to do with Alrister, it was very grandly decorated, with ruby and cream coloured walls, a smart wooden floor and furniture to match perfectly. Alrister's desk was positioned in pride of place, with a plate of mints on one edge, and the Pure Arts master's familiar hawking gloves left in the middle of the desk. On a neat gold perch in the corner sat Cupid, who started warbling merrily the moment Harry walked in. He smiled, petting the little hawk under the chin, looking around for the box of gloves. He spotted them under Alrister's desk, hauled them out, and was just about to leave when he spotted something by the door that made him stop.
There a painting of a woman hanging above a cupboard, in a very well-crafted and expensive looking frame. Unlike the photo Snape had, this was moving, painted in wizard's ink, so that the woman inside flicked her hair gently and smiled at him, waving. He waved back, grinning, moving closer to read what was inked on in the bottom left corner.
To My Romeo, all my love forever... until we meet again. Forever yours, Sarah.
Why do all the professors suddenly have gorgeous girlfriends in paintings on their walls? thought Harry. Sarah giggled softly, tilting her head so that her waterfall of beautiful golden hair fell over her soft green eyes. Unlike Snape's photo, Sarah was the traditional view of beautiful. Slightly tanned skin, long blonde hair, pretty eyes. She looked quite like a veela.
Realising he was poking and prodding terribly, Harry took one last glance at Sarah and Cupid, then left the room quickly, making sure to shut the door behind him. As he hurried towards the Defence Against The Dark Arts corridor, he decided he'd better not tell Hermione there was a painting on Alrister's wall calling her favourite teacher, 'my romeo'. She'd probably put memory charms on both of them and never let him copy her homework again.
Hardly surprisingly, nobody wanted to eat a thing at dinner that night. The food looked delicious, a mouth-watering steak with chips or boiled potatoes, and normally, Harry would have tucked in with no second thoughts, but he, like everybody else, couldn't help but wonder whether it would stay in his stomach once he'd eaten it and not eject itself back out in half-digested form. A few people had a couple of tentative nibbles, but suspicion obviously got the better of them, and in the hour set out for dinner, hardly anybody ate anything. Even the staff looked dubious. Snape, of course, looked very smug with his customary bread roll and was the one of the only people who ate his fill for once. Dumbledore, as though trying to prove there was nothing wrong with the food, ate his calmly, though nobody else was convinced.
Ron picked a bit of one of the bread rolls, sniffed it and then ate it carefully. "Not poisoned." He took some more, ate that, and after a moment... "Not poisoned." He had been doing this pretty much all dinner, and as much as Harry liked Ron, he was pretty sure Ron was going to get punched in a minute if he didn't stop it.
Hermione was thinking the same thing. She snatched the whole damn roll off Ron and tore it into little bits, sprinkling them all over his steak, then sat back, looking rather annoyed. Ron didn't really seem bothered by this at all, and slumped forward on his elbows, sighing. "I am so hungry."
"Me too," Harry admitted. His stomach was growling and snarling, demanding to be given the steak which was wafting its mouth-watering aroma all over Harry's nose. "I've got some sweets left upstairs and we could maybe conjure some food to eat..."
"No," said Hermione. "Conjuring food can be dangerous, all sorts of things can go wrong. A wizard in America tried to conjure pineapples, and when people bit into them, they were rotting fish inside."
"Gee, thanks Hermione," said Ron, pushing his plate away. "Now I'm even more put off this. Thanks so much for that."
"You wouldn't have eaten it anyway," she said, coolly.
Dumbledore had finished his meal, and stood up. "You may all now go back to your house common rooms," he said. "And may I remind you that tomorrow evening is of course DA club, and Professor Lupin and Mr Potter would like you all to bring your dragon-hide gloves, please. Thankyou - sleep well."
Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville and Ginny all walked up to Gryffindor Tower as a group, and nobody was talking much. They spent the evening doing homework, trying to ignore the constant growls of stomachs, and they even dug into Ron and Ginny's secret supply of sweets Fred and George sent from Diagon Alley, but it wasn't enough to fill the hole in Harry's stomach. By the time it was nine o' clock, he couldn't put up with sitting and being hungry anymore. Even though he wasn't tired, he made his way wearily up to bed, got changed, and laid in his four-poster for a while, staring at the ceiling.
His thoughts wandered around vaguely. So Snape had been right about Gryffindor Risotta. It had now attacked the Slytherins, and suddenly, it didn't look like just bad food anymore. How could the house elves be so foolish twice? It was starting to look more like whatever was happening was being done on purpose. But who would want to poison the school? His first thought was Zabini, but it couldn't be him. He was now down in the hospital wing, probably in just as bad a state as Draco. So what was going on?
Suddenly glad that Snape had given him that antidote after all, he rolled over to face the wall, closed his eyes, and within a few minutes, he had fallen into a deep sleep...
But there wasn't a potion in the world that could protect him from his nightmares.
He didn't know where he was, how he'd got there, or how he was going to get back. He had the feeling of floating, just hanging gently in the air, looking down upon a scene. Everything was black... just black, for miles and miles. There was no floor, no ceiling, no walls, no beginning, and no end. Just black.
He could see three people below him, and then he was floating down to see them better. There was a man... a man who had haunted Harry's nightmares for sixteen years. Lord Voldemort. His livid red eyes were full of anger, cold malicious humour, as he looked down upon the two women tied up before him, on the floor, gagged.
Harry looked in closer... he had never met either of them, but he knew them. One was the pale, dark-haired dark angel that came to see Snape, and the other had only ever waved at him from a painting. Sarah, the beautiful woman of the painting in Alrister's office. Both of them were frightened, huddled together at Voldemort's feet.
"So..." said the high, cold, cruel voice of the dark lord above Harry. "You vile creatures... an adultress. A breaker of the bond of marriage. And you... a foul creature, who dares to soil the blood of one of my most loyal men. You both tried to destroy the moral of my forces... and you will both pay for these actions... most grieviously..."
He drew his wand slowly from the inside folds of his cloak, lazily, bringing it up into the air and then murmuring, "Sarah... avada kedavra..."
There was a blinding flash of green light, and the woman with the blonde hair crumpled onto her side. Harry knew she was dead. He looked to the other woman, in time to hear Voldemort say, "Avada kedavra..." He saw her eyes fill with fear, before there was a second flash, and she fell limp, slumped forward, dead.
Voldemort started to laugh, quietly at first, as though mildly amused, but then he got a little louder, a little happier, and soon he was laughing, louder and louder, cackling, his cruel enjoyment ringing in Harry's ears. He felt himself being pulled backwards, lifted higher into the air, and the scene below got smaller and smaller until...
Harry woke with a start, jolting up in bed. There was cold sweat on his face. Neville, Ron, Dean and Seamus were all still asleep, untroubled, calm with no dreams to worry their thoughts. Harry could feel his heart pounding in his chest. He had to tell somebody. They might be dead... Sarah, and the other woman. They might need help.
He sat, frozen with his panic, thinking what to do. Who would he tell? Who would believe him?
He got out of bed, pulling his trunk out from underneath and wrenching it open. His father's old invisibility cloak gleamed inside, silvery and fluid, like water spun into material. He picked it up and pulled it on over his shoulders. His heart was still pounding. He could still see the look on terror in the woman's smoky silver eyes, hear Sarah's frightened gasp as life was torn from her body. He shivered.
Only Seamus made a soft noise as Harry slipped out of the dormitory, closed the door and padded carefully down the stairs. The candles in the Gryffindor common room had all been put out long ago. The darkness seemed to watch him as he hurried across the room, eased the portrait open and pattered out into the cold corridor. He gave a soft hiss as his toes touched the icy cold stone, wishing he'd brought his slippers, but there was no time to go back.
He looked around at the blackness surrounding him on all sides, trying to rid the extreme feelings of paranoia drowning him, starting to creep as quietly as he could towards the dungeons. He had to tell Snape. Every step was torture to his bare feet, as the cold stone almost burnt the pads of his toes, but he had to keep going. Maybe there was time. Maybe the two women could be saved.
Or maybe it's too late, he thought.
He eventually found his way down to the entrance hall. As he stepped into the dungeon corridor, he was shocked by how cold it was, as though a wall of ice had just blasted him full on in the face. He shuddered, feeling the blood inside his toes starting to freeze as he carried on, determined not to give up. He couldn't let them die.
He was so cold that it hurt his knuckles to knock on the door of Snape's office. His teeth were chattering violently.
"Oh come on, please... open the door..."
He knocked again, harder this time, cursing as the hard wood battered his frozen knuckles.
"Get out of bed," he pleaded with the door. "Please, please... come on... please be here..."
What if Snape was out patrolling the corridors? What if he was out on a Death Eater mission? There was nobody he could tell, nobody at all. The walk to Alrister's office was about twenty minutes, and in subzero temperatures... he'd never make it, he'd get frostbite on his toes. Professor Dumbledore's office had a password to it.
He knocked again, as hard as he could, and there was some flurried movement from inside. The door opened, and Snape stood there, swathed in a black dressing gown, not looking pleased at all.
"What is it?" he hissed, viciously. "I - " He looked around at the empty corridor, and cursed, about to slam the door.
Harry hissed hurriedly, "It's me Don't shut the door!"
Snape paused, his eyes wandering vaguely around the darkness. "Potter?"
"I need help," said Harry, pulling the cloak off over his hair, staring up at Snape with a pleading, desperate expression that caught the professor's attention instantly. "Well.. they need help. I fell asleep, and... I saw Voldemort, and he had that woman, the woman you know. The one with black hair. And there was another, she's in a painting on Alrister's wall. He killed them, Voldemort killed them."
Snape's face slackened instantly, all the creases ironing out instantly. "You're sure, Potter?"
"Sure," said Harry.
Snape grasped him by the arm, hauled him inside and shut the door. "Damn it all... damn it..." He hurried to his desk, rattling through the drawers, searching for something. Eventually, he pulled out the photo frame and muttered something. Harry watched, amazed, as the black and white muggle photograph disappeared, revealing a moving scene where it had been, like a television screen. The woman Harry had seen was curled up in bed, her hair gently tousled all over her face, the sheets pulled over her arms to guard against the cold.
Snape let out a sigh of relief and put the frame back into the drawer, rubbing his temple wearily. "It was just a nightmare, Potter..." He stood up, heading for the door that lead to his chambers. "Go back to bed, Potter, it's probably just from lack of food."
"What about the other woman? Sarah? Is she okay?" said Harry, hurrying after him.
"No, she's not, Potter," said Snape, and there was a hollow note in his voice that Harry had never really heard much before.
His eyes widened. "Why? How do you know? We've got to go to Professor Dumbledore, she might - "
"It's too late for her, Potter," said Snape. He turned to look at Harry, solemn and quiet. "She died nearly a decade ago."
After the end bell of the next day, Ron, Hermione and Neville all headed off towards the entrance hall and the lake to get some homework done while it was still light. Harry told them he'd meet them soon, just when he'd done one thing, and so he made his way alone up to the owlery.
Hedwig was settled on her perch as always, asleep, with her head tucked under her wing. Cupid was snuggled next to her, his head under her wing as well, snoring quietly through his slightly open beak. Harry smiled, taking the back of owl treats out of his pocket and rustling them gently. They both woke up, and Hedwig turned her amber eyes onto him, giving a soft noise of greeting. He smiled and reached out to pet her. "Hiya girl..." She nuzzled against his hand, giving him an affectionate nip. Cupid trilled pleasantly through his little beak, shuffling expectantly as Harry took a handful of treats out of the bag and held them out. They both tucked in, as the door opened behind Harry.
Professor Alrister came in, pulling his gloves into place. "Ah, hello there, Harry."
"Hi Sir," said Harry. Cupid looked up from a mouthful of owl treats, cooed in greeting and then flapped over to land obediently on his master's shoulder.
Alrister smiled, stroking his hawk's feathery chest gently. "How were your lessons today?"
"Alright," said Harry. Hedwig nipped him for more owl treats, which he gave her with a slight smile. He couldn't help thinking of that portrait on Alrister's wall. To My Romeo...
"Something wrong?" said Alrister, picking up on his worries, crossing over with Cupid still perched delicately on his shoulder, pulling stray feathers out of his wings.
Harry shook his head, forcing a smile. "No, I'm fine, Professor. Just had a tiring day, that's all."
Alrister smiled. "Good. And how is Malfoy?"
"Ah... still yawning in technicolour," said Harry.
The Pure Arts professor chuckled. Cupid trilled his beak impatiently, and Harry handed him an owl treat gently as Alrister started to tie a ribbon with a bell on it gently around the hawk's leg. "I daresay he'll be fine in a few days... it's not likely to be anything fatal at all."
Harry smiled, and said, "good", but inside, his mind was wondering something. He just had to say, he couldn't stay quiet like this. "Sir...?"
"Who... who was Sarah, sir?" he asked, tentatively.
Alrister's eyes flickered onto him suddenly, and every trace of a smile was gone from his face. He looked so silent and empty all of a sudden. "How do you know about Sarah?"
"I saw the portrait on your wall... sorry..."
"No, no, it's okay," said Alrister. He sighed softly, looking at his feet. "Sarah was... Sarah was a marvellous lady who didn't deserve what happened to her in the slightest, Harry..." Cupid closed his little eyes, leaning his head against Alrister's temple and nuzzling comfortingly. The Pure Arts master managed a smile and reached up to stroke his hawk in a grateful way. "She died. About nine years ago now... by no fault of her own."
Harry could tell this was an incredibly sensitive subject. He'd never seen Alrister look so unhappy. He said, "I'm sorry..."
"It's okay, Harry." He took Cupid off his shoulder, sitting him on a shelf to slip a little leather helmet gently onto his head. "It was all a long time ago... I... keep her portrait for... for memories." He tickled Cupid fondly under the chin. "The candle has gone out but the smoke still lingers, Harry."
He took a deep breath, and as though clearing his mind of the whole thing, he said in a much brighter, calmer tone,
"Now, I believe you have quite some time until Professor Dumbledore tries to convince you the house elves aren't trying to kill you. How about you come hawking with Cupid and I? Your owl is invited, of course."
Harry smiled. "Yeah, that sounds great. Thanks." He took Hedwig gently onto his arm, and he and Alrister left the owlery. Harry didn't say another thing about the candle that had gone out long ago, and soon, it was out of his mind completely, though when they got back into school sometime later, cold and tired from their long walk, and he watched Alrister head up towards his office, he somehow knew that the Pure Arts master wasn't going to sleep easily tonight.
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