Chapter Twenty-Seven: Poison Ivy
March slowly blended into April. Harry's theory on multiple vampires seemed to be proved more and more as the month changed, as more and more attacks were going on. It was mostly owls and cats being found in the dungeons, lying dead, drained of most of their blood. People were going frantic. Every evening, groups of three or four teachers patrolled the corridors until lock-out time, carrying large wooden poles and their wands. No student was stupid enough to walk anywhere alone, and those who did reported seeing a black figure in the shadows, creeping along behind them. The loss of Professor Lupin, and the story of what happened to him, fanned the flames of fear and sent the school into a whirlwind of suspicion. Madam Ivy had taken over all the Dark Arts classes. For most people, this wasn't a bad thing, but for Harry, it most definitely was. His grades in Defence Against the Dark Arts plummeted from the Es and As that Professor Lupin had managed to fight for him, down to Ps and Ds. Also to Harry's fury, Professor Snape was not released from Azkaban, despite the attack on Lupin that Snape could not have been involved in. The statement from Fudge in the Daily Prophet was that, "The release of Severus Snape will only come once we have caught however many vampires are at Hogwarts, and we have proved without any doubt that he is not involved, in a group or as an individual". If Harry wasn't being punished enough by the world, the Bright Sparks lost the Quidditch semi-final to another seventh year team. They were out of the tournament, and Harry no longer had the thrill of Quidditch matches to keep him distracted from the gloom of the rest of his life.
And so, with barely four weeks until his NEWT exams, Harry found himself walking around the castle in a mechanical, silently panicking state. He walked slowly, though he didn't know why. He suspected it was the weight of the worries, piling onto his mind and forcing him closer to the grounds. He was glimpsing Khepri nearly every single day now, and he somehow knew it was not a good sign. He only just got a flash of teeth in the corridor packed with students, or saw him wandering across the grounds, or grinning in through the door of his classroom. Hermione was convinced it was just exam stress, and urged him to go to Madam Pomfrey, but Harry knew it was no use. Madam Pomfrey, like everybody else in the whole world, could do nothing to help him.
The single bright spot in Harry's life came every evening, just as he was getting into bed, and settling down for sleep. Snape always contacted him then. Harry spilt everything to Snape in these moments, every single one of his fears and problems, and Snape assured him that things would be okay. Never once did Snape mention life in Azkaban. Harry knew that the Dementors were no longer there, but the strength and smoothness of Snape's voice was gradually weakening day by day. Harry asked him, many times, what was happening to him but Snape refused to say.
With Alrister's promise that he would do his best to save Harry's NEWT grades, Harry had a new incentive to work properly. He knew that if Andralyn could protect his grades from Ivy, then he might be able to leave Hogwarts with a decent set of results, and never have to deal with Ivy ever again. She could ultimately do nothing. All his projects were now out of the way, and marked, and his grades were generally high. If he did well on the exams, and Andralyn could keep those marks safe, then Ivy could do nothing to affect him.
Harry wasn't quite sure whether this new hope was a good or a bad thing. On the plus side, it meant a future, possibly as an auror, and Harry had dreamed many times that if the vampire was not caught, he could return to Hogwarts, and catch it himself, then free Snape. The hope for his grades also gave him a reason to concentrate in class, and he no longer had a sense of pointlessness in his life.
On the bad side, this meant revision, and lots of it. From the moment he finished school, until the moment he went to bed, Harry was revising. He had expected Hermione to become a major hindrance, pestering him to revise all the time, but when she had seen that he was actually planning to do it without any reminding, she was happy to help him. She was practically living in the library now. Under her request, Madam Pince had set aside an area for NEWT students, and Hermione had instantly turned it into a revision haven. Techniques for remembering things were on posters stuck to the walls, with helpful books sorted into shelves according to category and topic, and house-elves had even taken to leaving out pumpkin juice. The seventh years always drank this as quickly as they could, before Hermione spotted it and took it back to the kitchens, muttering about slave labour.
Harry looked up from a thick book on the various properties of toadstools, and saw Hermione hurrying into the seventh year section. It was pretty late, and they were both cramming in some last revision before bed.
"I've found this," she said, handing him a cube-shaped book with a purple velvet cover. "It's about the Psychic Arts."
Harry took it, and opened it up. The print was so tiny that Harry could barely make out anything on the page except a mass of little dots. He blinked. "Hermione, I can't read this. I like my eyesight too much."
"Magnifio!" she said, tapping it with her wand. A bubble blossomed out of the page, which she pushed around with her finger, magnifying the text for him. "There. Have a look, you might find something useful."
"Thanks," he said. "I'll have a look later, when I've finished this bit about mushrooms..." He closed the book, with a faint popping noise, and put it on top of the stack next to him. He then turned back to his book on toadstools, and sighed. "I don't know how I'm going to remember all this... the Potions theory is going to be rock hard, I just know. I suppose I could just telepathically ask Snape for all the answers..."
"Harry, no!" Hermione gasped. "The exams are supposed to reflect your own abilities! Is Snape going to be there giving you answers all throughout your career?"
"Yes," said Harry with a slight smile. "All I've got to do is ask."
She frowned at him. "I hope you're joking about cheating Harry. You really shouldn't. Besides, it won't be that bad. The grades will suit you, and a future employer will know that."
"What if I get straight Ts? Will you be so happy then?"
"Well... I do think you've got slightly more potential than straight Ts, Harry."
"Not if Ivy has anything to do with it," said Harry, sitting back in his chair, and closing his book. It was late, too late to revise. His brain had taken in far too much today.
Hermione gave him a sympathetic look. "Oh, don't worry... Alrister promised you, Harry. He won't let you down. Besides, if all your grades suddenly turned out as Ts and Ds, people would be suspicious."
Harry shook his head. "No... a lot of people can have good marks all through school, and then flop in the exams. Look at Fred and George. They're pretty clever, I mean, they must be to concoct all the stuff they do, and they only got three OWLs each."
"That was just laziness though," said Hermione briskly. "If they'd revised, they would have done fine."
Harry shrugged. "Maybe..."
He sat back in his chair, opened his book on toadstools, and started to read again. Silence fell in the library, and Madam Pince came over to tell them she was leaving.
"Don't be in here for too long," she said, sniffing. "Don't want you in here all night, not without me here to supervise you."
"We'll just get our books together," said Hermione, getting up and opening her bag. "We won't be long, Madam Pince."
"Mm," said Madam Pince, and she clipped off through the rows of books, extinguishing the lamps as she want. Harry got out of his chair, and pushed his pile of books towards Hermione. Hermione took a stamp from her pocket, and checked them all out.
"Madam Pince gave me it," she said. "So I can sort out seventh year revision books, and people won't have to bother her about them." She started working her way through the pile of books, stamping each card, and then handing it to Harry, who packed them into his bag. When she reached a book about famous wizards through history, she grumbled. "Oh, somebody's not put the card in again..."
"That was me I think," said Harry. "I was using it as a bookmark. It should be in here somewhere." He flicked through the book, looking for the card. He had only got halfway through however when something caught his eye, and he stopped. "Hey, Hermione... look at this..."
"What is it?" she said.
He showed her the page he had. "It's the Egyptian wizengamot... the ones that the muggles thought were gods. Thoth and all those. These are the ones that will be in the psychic battle, won't they?"
Hermione took the book and eyed it closely. "I think so. I mean, the rift between muggles and wizards was starting in that era, so if a muggle knew too much or started writing things down about the wizards, the Egyptian wizengamot would find them, wipe their memories, and send them to some foreign country. So the muggles thought that these wizards were Gods, with such powers... it would make sense if their spirits are conjured up by the Shani Theoris. They used far more ancient magic in the times of the Egyptians, and things like Transfiguration were just starting out. They had a lot of accidents. Half of the wizengamot were walking around with animal heads and goodness knows."
Harry gazed into the faces of the wizengamot. They all looked out at him, blinking slowly. He recognised a few from learning about them at his old muggle primary school – Anubis, Thoth, Osiris... he imagined standing before them, as they judged him and Voldemort. He didn't like the idea that much.
"Have you thought anything about learning some more Psychic Arts?" asked Hermione, timidly.
"Snape tries to teach me telepathically," said Harry with a little shrug. "But it won't work. I can't do it without being in contact with him. Something about our power being shared, and he's the holder, so I can't use it without him."
"Well..." said Hermione, looking a little nervous. "I..."
"There's nothing I can do, huh?" said Harry with a sigh. "Can't do anything that involves any sort of psychic power, because Snape's got mine."
Hermione gave him a pained look. "Oh, Harry... there must be something you can do... I mean, you're good at Occlumency and Legilimency."
Harry snorted. "Yeah, I can read his thoughts. Like that's going to be a fat lot of help."
"Here," said Hermione, taking a book from her bag and handing it to him. "I was going to use it to revise Pure Arts in... it's all about every sort of wandless magic there is. Pure Arts, Psychic Arts, Divination... have a look through it, you never know, you might find - ..."
Harry looked at her. Hermione had suddenly frozen up, her eyes wide, staring somewhere above and behind his head. He whipped around. There was a grandfather clock standing there. Harry wondered what she was so scared about, until he glanced up, and noticed the time.
It was five past nine.
"Oh no," Harry whispered. He felt the blood drain from his face. "It's too late! We're locked out!"
Hermione grabbed her bag, and his arm. "If we're quick, we might be able to just catch it, get to a professor's office... oh come on!"
They both ran for the library doors. They were left open. Praying that there would be another door open somewhere, anywhere, they both hurried out into the entrance hall. They sprinted up the marble staircase, and down the nearest corridor.
"Professor Flitwick's office is here!" said Hermione, rushing over to a door, and trying the handle. She tugged frantically. "Oh no! It's not going to open!"
"We're locked out," said Harry. He felt cold all over. "We're locked out for the night. Every single window and door will be shut."
"Maybe we should just go and wait outside Gryffindor Tower," said Hermione, grabbing his arm again.
"No... it won't help," said Harry. "Wait... Peter! Peter! Where are you? Peter!"
No familiar white shape came out of the nearest wall. Hermione started to cry. "It won't work, Harry... Dumbledore put a charm to stop even ghosts getting through the walls after nine o' clock..."
He put his arm around her. "It's okay..."
"No, it's not!" she wailed, tears streaming down her face. "We're locked out of every room in the castle, for the entire night, with a vampire!"
Something caught Harry's eye down the passage to their left. He instinctively reached for his wand and whirled around. There was nothing there. Only moonlight and shadows filled the darkened passage.
"Come on," he said. "We'll get to the entrance hall... that way we can get into the library and barricade the doors if we have to, and it's the best place to keep a look out for anything. Get your wand out."
Shakily, Hermione drew her wand. She held onto his arm with the other hand. Together, they moved slowly towards the entrance hall. Every single shadow seemed to loom at them out of the darkness, and every single distant whisper of wind sounded like the hiss of a cloak along the floor. Harry tried to put thoughts like this over his head. It was so hard to look in every single direction at once. Harry and Hermione ended up back-to-back eventually, inching down the marble staircase, searching the darkness all around. They stopped in the middle of the entrance hall.
"Now what?" whispered Hermione.
"We could hide in the library," he said. "Lock the doors ourselves. That way we'll be safe at least, until the morning. I still can't believe that... what was that?"
They froze. A soft noise was coming from nearby. It was like a very young child crying, very quietly, or somebody whispering for help. Hermione gripped Harry's arm very tight.
"What is it?" she whispered.
"I don't know," murmured Harry. "Shush a minute..." He listened hard. The sound seemed to be coming from the marble staircase, but there was nobody there. Harry took a few steps closer, and Hermione followed right behind him. The sound was definitely emanating from there. Harry leant to the left of the stairs, and the sound grew a little louder. He led Hermione over slowly, glancing at the side of the marble staircase. Nothing looked out of place, except one thing. One of the tiles looked as though it had recently been changed, or moved. Harry stepped closer. He reached out for the tile, but Hermione grabbed his hand.
"No!" she whispered. "Don't, Harry! What if there's something behind there?"
Harry stepped back carefully. "Alright... reducto!" The tile cracked in the middle, and fell away in pieces, clattering to the floor. There were wooden boards underneath, and a hole had been splintered in one, perhaps large enough to get a very small dog through. The whimpering noise was coming from inside.
"I think it's an animal," said Hermione. "It's hurt..."
Harry reached into his pocket. "Me too... but we won't be able to see inside... I know who can help us though." He pulled out Sneezy, who woke up with a little yawn and a stretch. Ron always gave Sneezy to Harry when he was going to the library, as Sneezy liked to read the books.
"Low?" he squeaked.
"We need you to do something for us," said Harry. He showed Sneezy the hole. "There's something in there. Can you go in and find out?"
Sneezy yawned again, and stretched some more, before he findly decided. "Yes... my will try..."
"Can't you talk normally?" asked Harry.
"Alright, alright... in you go then, and if it's something dangerous, come straight back out."
He put Sneezy down into the hole, and he went pattering off, under the marble staircase. They heard him humming. Finally, he went quiet, then his hurried footsteps came running again. "Cak! Cak! Harryyyyy!" He came rushing out with wide eyes, looking terrified. Harry scooped him up.
"What is it? A cat?"
"There's a cat in there?" whispered Hermione. "Oh, the poor thing... we've got to get it out, Harry, it sounds really hurt..."
"What sort of cat is it, Sneezy?" Harry asked.
Sneezy started pointing at Hermione. "Cak! Ringe cak!"
"Ringe cak?" said Hermione. "Wait... orange cat? Crookshanks! Oh no! I haven't seen him all day, it must be him in there! What are we going to do?"
"We could widen the hole," suggested Harry. "And pull him out."
"No, we might hurt him..." said Hermione, tearfully. "Poor Crookshanks... Sneezy, can you pull him out?"
Sneezy shook his head vehemently. "Nooooo. My can't. Cak too big."
Harry bent down, and tried reaching into the hole. He couldn't feel anything. "He's too far away," he said, pulling his arm back out. "I don't want to start shooting levitation spells under there... might hit the support shafts of the staircase, and then we're in trouble..."
Hermione had her hands over her mouth. She was gazing at the hole, apparently dithering between two decisions, looking very upset. "I... I'll have to... but... Harry..."
"What is it?" he said. "What's wrong?"
She bit her lip. "It's the only way... please... don't tell anybody..."
And suddenly, she started to shrink. She was arching forwards as her spine was adjusted, and her uniform was melting into not clothes - but fur. Harry staggered backwards, staring with his mouth open, as sitting on the floor before him appeared a cat. It was long-haired, with soft brown fur, and hazel-coloured eyes, exactly the same shape and colour as Hermione's. He recognised the cat from before, seeing McGonagall and Crookshanks playing with it on the corridor one night.
"Hermione?" he gasped.
The cat mewed quietly, and lifted a paw. He bent down, and stared at her, both amazed and rather hurt that Hermione had never told him. She meowed again, and nudged at his hands. Carefully, he picked her up, and held her to the hole. She slipped in, and scampering away into the darkness. Harry waited, and hoped. He could hear shuffling, something being half-dragged and half-pushed. A few moments later, Hermione reappeared. He helped her down, and then reached in, finding Crookshank's fur, and easing the cat gently out of the hole. He lifted Crookshanks carefully, and held him. Crookshanks looked very weak, and dazed, but had no bite marks. His back leg was held at an odd angle. He'd probably gone exploring, hurt his leg and fallen over, then somebody had blocked up the hole he got in through.
Harry glanced at the brown cat rubbing around his feet. He sat down on the floor, holding Crookshanks, and Hermione clambered into his lap, settling down.
"Hermione..." he muttered. "I can't believe you didn't tell me... you're unregistered, I suppose?"
The cat shook its head, as she nuzzled against his hand, and he scratched her behind the ears.
"Why?" asked Harry, only able to think of that question.
Hermione the cat clambered off his lap, arched her back, and a moment later, she had reappeared as a human, sitting in front of him on the floor. She straightened out her uniform, and ran a hand through her hair. "Furthering my studies... Professor McGonagall said I had the most potential in a Transfiguration student she had ever seen, and she wanted me to take up the animagus project as some extra work... I told her I wouldn't mind teaching Transfiguration, and she said she wouldn't mind an assistant for when I leave Hogwarts."
"But it takes years to do," said Harry.
"Three," said Hermione quietly. She looked at the floor. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you, but Professor McGonagall said it would be best, so if something went wrong, you would never have to know... I only managed it this year..."
"When were you planning on telling us?" asked Harry. He handed Crookshanks to her, and she held him gently.
She tapped his leg carefully with her wand, and whispered, "Felia ferula..." A splint appeared, and bandages wrapped from the end of her wand around his leg, setting it gently in place and holding it still. He meowed and nuzzled into her shoulder. Hermione looked up at Harry again. "I... I don't know. I wasn't going to keep it a secret forever, Harry, I would have told you as soon as we graduated, I promise..."
Harry smiled and shook his head slightly. "You have to stop these big secret things, you know. Time turners, animagi..."
"It's okay. You didn't do anything wrong." Harry reached out, and petted Crookshanks under the chin. "Besides, I think - "
But he was cut off, as something dripped onto his outstretched hand. At first he thought it was rain, before he realised they were inside, and that the substance was not clear. It was red.
Harry and Hermione both looked up at the same time. And what they saw made their mouths fall and screams tear from their throats. There was a figure, leaning over the banister, staring down at them, swathed in a dark cloak so only a shadowy face could be seen, and a mouth dripping blood. Harry was so terrified that before he had even thought of registering who the face belonged to, he was up onto his feet, and both he and Hermione were running away from the staircase. They didn't look back, until they had reached the furthest side of the entrance hall. When they turned, the hall was empty again. The figure dripping blood was gone.
Hermione gave a shuddering gasp and started to cry, clutching Crookshanks to her chest. Harry patted her back gently. "It's okay," he said. "Shhh, shhh..." He led her over to the corner, and they both sat down, huddled up, petting Crookshanks and Sneezy. "Come on... if we stay here, we can see everything. Nothing above us, nothing behind us."
Hermione nodded, tearfully, and pulled her knees up to her chest. They settled together, and the hours slowly started to creep by.
It was silence like Harry had never known. He remembered being a very small child at the Dursleys' house, living in a cupboard from the moment he was old enough to, and he had experienced some terrible nights there. He used to see things walking past the door, hear creaks, and with nobody to reassure him that monsters did not exist, he had dreaded some nights. This night was just like that. The whole of Hogwarts was full of things that only woke up when it was dark and silent, and every single one of them made a noise in the blackness. The shadows around the mouth of the dungeons seemed to flicker, and melt in and out. Many times, Harry thought he saw something watching them from the darkness there, but when he looked, there was nothing. The thick blackness was full of invisible eyes. Neither Harry nor Hermione wanted to risk hurrying to the library – they would have to pass the entrance to the dungeons, and there was definitely something hiding there, watching and waiting for the right time.
Finally, midnight came. A clock concealed in the blackness started to strike. Harry counted the chimes. One, two, three, four... he knew it was now only five hours until the doors would open. Seven, eight. They had survived three so far. Five more wouldn't be so bad. Ten, eleven...
And then, as the twelfth stroke fell, Harry saw something move at the top of the marble staircase. At first, he thought it was just another trick of his mind.
Until a figure stepped from the darkness, as though it had just been created from pure shadows. Hermione tensed. Harry shushed her. The figure in the long, black hooded cloak stepped silently down the stairs, face turned to the floor. Harry could see a slow trail of blood drips left behind the cloak. He held onto Hermione, praying that the vampire didn't notice them, praying it would just go off into the dungeons and not come back until morning. It reached the bottom of the stairs, and turned. Harry's heart gave a sigh of relief.
But then the figure stopped. Harry and Hermione tensed again. The vampire was still for a moment, as though contemplating something – and then it turned slowly to face Harry and Hermione. It began to walk towards them.
Harry pushed Crookshanks into Hermione's arms, and he stood up. His wand was in his hand before he knew what was happening. There were only two thoughts in his mind – Snape, sitting in Azkaban for the crimes of this being; and that under that cloak was just a normal human, like Snape, driven by blood lust.
"Don't you come any closer," he said, fiercely. The vampire stopped. Harry's hand tightened on his wand. "I know you're just like us. I don't know who you are under that cloak, but I'm not afraid to curse you into oblivion, whoever you are."
The vampire was still, considering him, face hidden by the hood. Harry thought he saw a glitter of eyes in the deep blackness. For a moment, it looked as though the vampire would just turn and go – but then it stepped forward, raising a hand. Harry saw black claws, and deathly pale hands.
"Do not be a fool..." the vampire hissed. It was a voice like Snape's had been when he transformed, deep and gravelled, hoarse. Harry couldn't even tell if it was male or female. "Put... it... down."
"Leave us alone," snarled Harry. He raised his wand. "Or I'll jinx you." The vampire was still taking tiny steps forward, reaching out to him, fingers curled and dripping blood. Harry held his wand fiercely. "Get back!" he shouted. The vampire didn't listen. It was stepping ever closer, reaching out, for his wand. Harry opened his mouth, to cry a spell, any spell, just to get the vampire to go.
When suddenly, light filled the entrance hall. A bright, glorious amber gold washed over everything in a rapid wave, that both Harry and the vampire shielded their eyes from. The vampire hissed in pain, and retreated. Harry just managed to squint over his shoulder. The light seemed to be coming from Hermione, but he couldn't see properly, so blinded by the light. Hermione stood up. She was suddenly walking, past Harry, towards the vampire. He shouted at her to stop, to get back, but a sound like a single note on a violin was filling the room now, high and unbroken. The vampire was retreating, wilting away from the light, hissing in fury and pain. Hermione kept walking. Finally, the vampire turned, and ran, scrabbling up the marble staircase and away into the darkness of the Charms corridor, cursing and shrieking as it went. The light only died and the sound only stopped when its footsteps were well out of sight. The hall was plunged into blackness again.
Hermione slowly turned to face Harry. She had opened her robes, and Harry realised what had caused the light. Resting on top of her shirt was the ruby red pendant of Gryffindor's amulet. It was still glittering with orange sparks.
"Ron gave me it," said Hermione quietly. She toyed with the chain. "He said I'd better have it when I'm revising late at the library... just in case."
"It just saved our lives," said Harry. He wiped a hand over his forehead, and wasn't surprised to feel cold sweat there. "Did you hear the voice? Any idea who it is?"
Hermione shook her head. "Vampires' voices change when they transform. Something to do with vocal chord changes... filters for blood grow in the neck, and the chords get pushed somewhere..."
They sat down on the floor again. Harry was a little shaky, and Hermione seemed to be in a similar state. "Well..." he said. "I'm going to buy Ron so many Butterbeers the next time we're in Hogsmeade."
Professor McGonagall found them both at five AM, huddled together in the entrance hall, asleep and exhausted, but healthy nonetheless. After being checked in her office for any injuries, they were allowed to go. "Best not to arouse suspicion, after all," McGonagall said crisply, shooing them out of the doors. "Go and get some breakfast. And please pay more attention to the lock-out time in future."
They went to the Great Hall, and sat down at one of the tables. It was completely empty. Nobody was yet awake. Harry shakily got a goblet, poured himself some pumpkin juice, and had a long drink. He felt deeply tired, but knew he would not be able to sleep. Hermione was serving herself some cereal, and scattering most of it onto the table around her bowl. They sat in silence, picking at their breakfast with little enthusiasm, until more people started to arrive. Most of the teachers sank into chairs around one of the large wooden tables, getting coffees and sighing. Professor Feather was sipping on a glass of hot milk and looking as bland and dull as ever. Professor Alrister came over to have a word with Harry, saying he had got a reply from Andralyn, and she would be watching his grades, and then went back to finish his bacon. At about seven o' clock, Ron and the other Gryffindors arrived, all of them looking very relieved to see Harry and Hermione alive. Ron doted over Hermione, and when Kainda arrived, she fussed a little over Harry. Everybody listened in awe as Hermione told them the story of the amulet. Harry, meanwhile, was watching the table where the teachers were all sitting. Professor McGonagall was still nursing a cup of coffee, and seemed to be telling Madam Ivy something, who looked deeply interested. Her eyes flicked to Harry numerous times. After several long minutes of this, McGonagall stood up, and left to prepare her next class. The moment she was gone, Madam Ivy got to her feet. Harry turned away as she walked towards their table, hoping that she wasn't going to ask him anything. Unfortunately, his hopes were dashed.
She smiled as she approached. "Hope I'm not disturbing you all... I want a word with Mr Potter, if you don't mind. I'll have him back before long. Come along, Potter... my office, please."
Harry stood up, with a sinking feeling in his stomach. His friends were all watching tensely as he followed glumly behind Madam Ivy, hands in his pockets. She didn't speak to him once, until she had led him into her office, and closed the door.
She turned around to face him. One of her eyebrows was raised. "So, Mr Potter..."
"So what?" he said, coldly.
"Locked-out last night, were you?" she said. "And yet you haven't got a scratch."
Harry said nothing. He just glared at her. He hated Ivy, and he didn't care if she knew it or not. He saw no reason to even try and be polite to her.
"Can you tell me why, Mr Potter?" she said, crossing her arms, glaring down at him.
Harry shrugged. "Just didn't see the vampire. Why? Should I?"
Her eyes were narrowed. "Don't lie to me. I have been willing to pass over a few of your little lies in previous meetings, though now, I will not tolerate. I wish to know how it can be that some of the most careful students have been attacked, and you were not. Even Professor Lupin, who was in his bed by the appointed hour, was attacked. And yet here you are. Roaming around the school last night, without a single bruise."
Harry felt a flare of anger. "What right have you got to talk about Professor Lupin?" he snarled. "You're glad he's gone. Just makes your job easier, doesn't it? That's why you're here. To get rid of Snape and Lupin. Done it now, haven't you? What are you still pestering me for?"
"I have realised that Snape and Lupin were not simply two problems in this school," she hissed. "Perhaps once they were. But now they have concocted a nice little web around themselves, haven't they? Enticing other people into the false assumption they are safe, and then corrupting the minds of the students, to protect themselves."
"What exactly are you saying?" Harry spat.
She looked him directly in the eye. "I'm saying, Mr Potter, that there are still people in the school I need to remove before the problem is taken away. I'm saying that perhaps, Mr Potter, the work of Severus Snape continues in this school. In the form of you."
Harry just glared at her. He shook his head, slowly, unable to believe her nerve. "Why me?"
"A guardian bond?" she scoffed. "I have known for a long time that such things are impossible to break, and that a guarded will do anything their guardian needs of them, sometimes even subconsciously. In this together, were you? Snape and Potter. Then when Snape leaves, Potter is left to continue his valiant work. Even attacking friends, if he must."
"You're unbelievable," said Harry viciously. "You're so... so stupid! What is your goal? Why are you actually like this? You're not doing this to help Hogwarts. Is it Snape you're trying to get at? Or is it me? Did Fudge put you here just to make me miserable, for destroying his safe little magic community?"
"Silence!" she shouted.
Harry tensed, as he suddenly found himself pressed back against the chair, Madam Ivy's fist curled in a bunch of his robes. She was looking at him with more hate and loathing than Harry had ever seen, even from Snape.
"I am here to make this school what it needs to be," she hissed, shaking him. "Fudge sent me here to get rid of all the problems at Hogwarts, once and for all. If that means removing the students who get in my way, trust me, Potter. I will find a way to do so."
"Send me to Azkaban, will you?" Harry shouted in her face. Rage against her was burning inside him. She had gotten rid of Snape, she was now trying to get rid of him, and Harry suddenly didn't care about anything at all. His grades meant nothing, even his future at Hogwarts. "Is that what it will take? Put me in there with Snape! I don't care! You're getting nothing from me!"
She fumed silently for long moments. Harry stared defiantly at her, her fingers curled around the arms of the chair, digging into the wood so hard he thought it might break. Ivy was shaking. Her anger against Harry seemed to reach a peak, and before Harry could react, she had raised a hand.
There was a crack, and pain hissed across Harry's face from where she struck him. He creased over and bit his lip. She got no cry of pain or shout back. He wouldn't give her the satisfaction of that. He stood up, so angry he longed to hit her back, but he wouldn't. He stormed from the office, and slammed it after her. Once he was out in the corridor, he left, and didn't stop walking once until he was in the owlery, in the cold and the cool, sitting himself on the window ledge.
He stopped then, and let the events of what had just happened play through his mind. He put a hand over the side of his face. There was no blood – she had hit him with the flat of her hand, so no mark was left. He had no proof. He didn't really want proof, as it would do him no good, and he'd get no satisfaction from seeing her taken from Hogwarts. He wanted Ivy humiliated publicly, mocked, hated, despised. She was obsessed with clearing the school of badness, to a point that Harry knew was not natural. She must have some ulterior motive for being so infatuated with her mission. Why did she want to punish Harry so badly? What could possibly give her reason to send an innocent man to Azkaban, destroy somebody's NEWT grade hopes, and then hit a student and risk being sacked?
He remembered Snape telling him that she was told by Fudge to get rid of Snape and Lupin. He wished that Snape had told him more. He didn't want to disturb Snape now though, with his bleating and nonsense about Ivy. Snape had more to deal with than that.
A thought suddenly came to him. He knew how he could find out just what that letter from Fudge to Ivy said. Slipping from the window ledge, and hurrying from the owlery, he was walking so fast that he was in the dungeons before he had time to think. He went to Snape's quarters, and eased the door open. It was dark inside. "Lumos," he murmured, and the tip of his wand lit up. He proceeded inside silently. The wand tip ran over Snape's possessions, all laid out just as they had been when Snape was taken away. There was even a glass of wine there on the side, next to an open book. Harry felt a pang. Silently, he went to Snape's desk, and opened up the drawers. The first one was just full of work Snape still had to mark, and the second was work he had already marked. The third however was full of documents, scattered in a disorganised pile. Letters, notes, contracts... Harry sighed, pulled out the drawer, and sat cross-legged on the floor, sorting through them. Most of it was no use to him, and meant nothing. A lot of them were to do with inheritance, of "Snape Manor", which there had apparently been trouble with. Some were from Isabis. Harry respected Snape's privacy too much to read them, and he just put them to one side. Finally, after nearly a solid hour of searching and sorting, he found a piece of parchment with an official-looking stamp at the top. He glanced at it. "For the Eyes of Arabella Morgana Ivy Only, From the Quill of Cornelius Fudge," read a heading stamped across the top. Harry's heart was pounding as he skimmed through the letter. Words flashed by in a stream – falling standards at Hogwarts, dangerous teaching, problems needing to be eradicated. At last, he came to a paragraph that stood out to him, and he started to read.
"I wish to impress upon you just how serious and confidential I want this job to be. I believe you understand just what it is I wish for you to do, though there are extra details. There are three people I want you to remove from Hogwarts, and if possible, the wizarding world completely. I wish for Remus Lupin, Severus Snape, and Harry Potter to be removed in any way possible. I will stress this – in ANY way possible. Snape is a thorn in the ministry's side, and if we can prove him guilty, then Albus Dumbledore will no longer be able to protest his innocence. We have known for a long time that Severus Snape never truly deserted the Dark Lord, and yet Dumbledore trusts him. We suspect that all our most important information is being fed to the Dark Lord through Snape. Remus Lupin is a danger to the school, and the ministry's battle against the Dark Lord. We know for sure that he counted himself a close friend of the murderer Sirius Black, and is very close to Dumbledore. I am sure you are aware of the trouble Harry Potter constantly causes for the ministry. He and Dumbledore have been a problem to us ever since they met. Potter continues to whip the people into a frenzy and terrify them about the Dark Lord's return. His removal would be greatly convenient to us. The loss of Dumbledore however would be highly noticed, and grieved by the people – THIS IS NOT OUR MISSION. Dumbledore must not be harmed. The ministry wants Lupin, Snape and Potter taken care of as quickly as is feasible. The force of the ministry is on your side. Please remember – any way possible."
Harry was silent. Ivy was here not just for Lupin, and Snape, but for him also. And she was trying to get rid of him in any way possible. Ivy was here to kill him. Harry had never especially liked the ministry, and had certainly never trusted them entirely, but he had never thought that the ministry would actually want him dead. He folded up the letter, and tucked it into the pocket of his robes. He felt numb. It had occurred to him now just how much danger he was in, barely minutes before, alone in an office with Ivy. She could have murdered him, so easily.
He simply sank down onto the floor. Panic and fright were prickling up his spine, as he put his arms around himself, and just sat there in the darkness of Snape's quarters. He wanted Snape back from Azkaban, more than anything else. He imagined confessing to the vampire murders, falsely, just so they would take him to Azkaban and leave him there with Snape. Ivy couldn't get to him there. Voldemort would come eventually, but it was only dying a little later than he would normally have done. It was dying with Snape too.
Harry gazed around the room, expecting to see the wreckage of his life lying in scattered piles across the floor. Khepri and Voldemort, vampires, Ivy and the ministry, his NEWT grades, Snape missing, Lupin gone...
"I'm done for," he whispered.
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