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Chapter Thirty-Five: Suspicions

Harry didn't exactly tell Ron everything, though he certainly didn't lie. He did tell Ron than Peeves was looking out for him - but he didn't mention the guardian bond, or Snape. And he told Ron pretty much everything about Peeves and Peter, poltergeist and ghost, the charm Dumbledore used, and the story about the clown ball. Though he conveniently left out Snape, and the fact that the Potions master and poltergeist could tell when he was in danger, as he didn't think Ron needed to know this. He also had the feeling that Ron would never trust him again, if Snape could read Harry's mind like a book.

On the subject of Snape, for the few days afterwards, the school was ripe with gossip about "Snape's women", where they were, and how Snape knew them. Eventually, and Harry didn't know how they'd found this out, but it became common knowledge that one of them was his lover, and the other was his sister. The stories, however, got ludicrously twisted, until a Ravenclaw third year could be heard in the Great Hall one morning telling everybody that Snape and Alrister were brothers, Alrister was married to one of "Snape's women", the other of "Snape's women" had children by both Snape and Alrister, and those were the mysterious people who turned up in the entrance hall on the same day. Snape had started handed out detentions to anybody and everybody who mentioned Alrister or children.

It was several days until the mystery of "Snape's women" was finally solved, at breakfast, where everybody was picking vaguely at their cold toast and sneakily placing boiling charms on the pumpkin juice to make sure it was safe. Most of the school was awake by this point and discussing the day ahead, and as usual, Snape wasn't at breakfast yet. He'd started appearing in the Great Hall less and less. Harry suspected this was because he was even less trusted with any sharp objects, and so there was no point in him sitting at breakfast anyway. There wasn't really any point for anybody. Only about four people ate more than bread, and even then, paranoia stopped them in the end.

Hermione had her nose buried in a very thick book as usual, Ron was counting his Quidditch cards, and Harry was feeding Hedwig bread crumbs from his plate, when the doors behind the staff table opened. A few people cast vague glances, and looked away, then looked back quickly. A couple of gasps punctuated the talking, and everybody looked up, as Snape swept into the hall, looking surprisingly smug. At his left shoulder was Isabis, radiant in silver and black robes to match her eyes and hair, and at his right was Andralyn, in a skirt and boots. Harry glanced across the hall at Draco to see what he thought of her knee-high leather boots, and laughed as he saw Draco's eyes nearly pop out of his head.

Muttering and whispering immediately broke out over the hall, everybody watching Snape take his place at the staff table, drawing out two chairs, one on either side, that the women took gratefully.

Dumbledore was standing up, smiling, and everybody instantly looked at him, as though expecting some kind of explanation for their guests. "Good morning, everyone," he said, pleasantly. "I ask you to abandon your delicious breakfast for just one moment-", somebody coughed pointedly, "-for me to introduce two new members of the staff."

"The staff?" several people whispered.

Hermione had looked up from her book, an eager expression on her face. "Oh, are we having new subjects?"

Dumbledore smiled at all the curious faces. "To Professor Snape's right is Andralyn Galvez - oh, wait, I am sorry, Andralyn is to Professor Snape's left. My sincere apologies, ladies."

"How can he tell?" somebody said in a piercing whisper.

"Andralyn is Professor Snape's half-sister, and once worked at the ministry of magic, but has joined the school to assist Professor Alrister in his Pure Arts classes," Dumbledore explained. "She is a highly capable teacher, and I daresay you will all enjoy very memorable lessons with her."

Andralyn smirked slightly, as she lightly buttered a bread roll, the image of cool.

Dumbledore continued with a pleasant, twinkling little smile. "And to Professor Snape's right is Isabis Galvez, our new Assistant Potions mistress. She has kindly agreed to help Professor Snape with his lessons, and I'm sure you'll all be very good to her, and show her the same respect that you regularly show our Potions master."

There was an outbreak of coughing at this. Isabis smiled, brushing her hair idly back from her face with her fingertips, and Harry saw that her nails were very long, painted silver to match her outfit. He glanced up to see both Professor Snape and Professor Alrister watching her. Snape was hastily turning his smile into a grimace. Alrister had been grimacing already. His eyes were narrowed, and for once, he wasn't smiling, but watching Isabis closely, apparently annoyed with her. When she smiled shyly, toying with the side of her neck, Alrister looked away with a disgusted expression.

Dumbledore sat down. Everybody started talking again, the topic now on Snape and his doings, and Ron instantly leant across the table to Harry. "Which one's Snape having an affair with?"

"Isabis," said Harry, idly. "The one on the right."

Ron glanced at Isabis, squinting, and then he shook his head. "I'd have taken the other one."

"That's his half-sister," said Harry, raising his eyebrows.

"Oh yeah," said Ron, vaguely.

Hermione tutted from behind her book. "Honestly."

There was also the matter of the copies of The Truth that Hermione had gotten hold of. She cut out several of the articles, and used a Copying Charm on them, then Ron and Harry were sent out to tack them to every noticeboard in the castle with a note scribbled on the bottom saying, "Now we think about it..."

By the next day, the school was buzzing with the gossip about Umbridge. Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, the notices had not been taken down. To everybody's delight Professor McGonagall had one of them in pride of place in her classroom. On the Wednesday, Harry, Ron, Hermione and Draco all had Transfiguration, and they'd entered the room with gleeful expressions seeing the note tacked to the front of McGonagall's desk.

"Such a shame Umbridge isn't here to witness this happy moment," Ron sighed, smiling, as McGonagall readjusted it carefully.

"We really should take a photo," mused Harry. "Stick it somewhere nice and big. Maybe in the entrance hall, so that everybody who comes into the school will know that this is an Umbridge Free Zone."

Ron chortled as Professor McGonagall stood up to start the lesson, and as she took them through the instructions of the class, Harry noticed her casting the occasional fond glance at the article. He couldn't help but grin at this.

After lunch, Harry, Ron, Hermione and Draco all had Pure Arts. Today would be the start of the big topic that Alrister had told Ron and Harry about, and also, their first class with Andralyn's help. Harry, Hermione and Draco had had Potions the day before, and Isabis had mostly hung around behind Snape, helping him mark, copying marks out of a log book onto sheets of paper. Twice, jars had come swooping down from above to attack Snape, but Isabis's sharp reflexes had sent them spinning away with a Deflecting Charm. Both times, Snape had glanced at her, and she had looked away with a tiny smile on her face.

Harry, Ron, Hermione and Draco lined up outside Pure Arts, and as usual, Ron's circle of traders was around him, jostling about, offering Quidditch cards for food, or food for The Truth. Ron hadn't yet sold or traded a copy of the magazine, but had been severely tempted the day before when ten Hufflepuffs had offered him two week's supply of bread for two copies.

"Alright, alright, sort yourselves out," said Ron. "Now, who was saying something about Ravenclaw Chasers for donuts?"

"I think I've worked out what Weasley wants to do as a career," said Draco, wryly.

"What?" asked Harry.

"He's going to be one of those muggle traders who stands in busy shopping centres and sells something ludicrous like scarves or lighters," said Draco, with a thoughtful expression. "Or perhaps visiting car boot sales professionally."

"What's a car boot sale?" asked Ron, frowning.

"And how do you know about car boot sales?" said Hermione, also frowning.

Draco raised an eyebrow. "Granger, tell him what a car boot sale is later. And if you haven't noticed, I'm wearing clothes and carrying a bag from a car boot sale."

"Where did you go in the holidays anyway?" asked Ron. "You were hiding somewhere, weren't you?"

"I was," said Draco, stiffly.

"Where?" Ron pestered.

"Somewhere," said Draco, as he turned his pale gaze onto Ron, eyes narrowed. It was such a withering look that Ron fell silent for few moments, and just stood in silence, staring at his shoes.

Luckily, the door opened just then, and Professor Alrister called from inside, "Come on in, come on in. New topic today!"

Everybody groaned and slumped into the classroom. New topics always started with lots of work and aches in their fingers. Professor Alrister was sitting behind his desk, feet up, looking completely relaxed as he flicked through notes. Perched on the edge of his desk was Andralyn, in those knee-high boots, which Harry realised were dragon hide. Draco had apparently noticed this as well, and so dragged them all over to the table nearest Alrister's desk, taking his seat with a sneaky glance at Andralyn. Ron and Harry smirked at each other.

Alrister stood up, and clapped his hands eagerly. "Well then! We're starting a new topic today, now you're all here and I have my new and very lovely assistant Andralyn. She doesn't bite, and she's not a professor, so just call her Andralyn or Oi You, it depends whether or not you like her."

Andralyn smirked at this, delicately recrossing her legs, arranging her cloak behind her so it looked as though she was posing for a particularly glamorous painting. Alrister smiled politely. "So, new topic today. Something some of you will enjoy, some of you won't, some of you will find it easy, some are going to find it impossible, some of you will thank me for it and some of you will hate me for the rest of your lives. Does anybody have any clue what we're doing yet?"

This was greeted with a lot of blank looks. After a moment, Ron raised his hand, and said, in a very hopeful voice, "Something really dangerous?"

Alrister chuckled. "I suppose it is, in a way. More clues? Well, we have Andralyn here specificially for this lesson... if she wasn't here, I would probably have Madam Pince or Madam Pomfrey joining in... any more ideas?"

More odd stares. Half the class looked very confused, half of them were looking at Alrister as though he was mad. Ron raised his hand again. "You just like women?"

Alrister laughed at this, wiping his mouth. "No, no, Mr Weasley. But women do play a big part in this. Let's see, more clues... at the start of the year, I told you that it was very dangerous and unpredictable using a certain emotion or feeling to try and conjure raw magic... anybody remember?"

Hermione's hand shot up, nearly slicing Ron's ear off with her enthusiasm to answer the question. "Love," she gasped.

The boys all groaned exasperatedly, slumping forwards onto the tables. The girls were all going a little pink in the face and smiling. Pansy had grasped Blaise's arm again.

"Very good," said Alrister, smiling. "We're going to be using love to conjure raw magic today, and hopefully, we're going to get some good results. As I said, some of you aren't going to get very far at all, but I'm sure that some of you will stream ahead by using love as a magnet for magic. Mr Zabini, I'm looking at you."

Ron, Harry and Draco all smiled gleefully as Blaise rolled his eyes and Pansy giggled, hugging his arm as though she was carrying a roll of carpet.

"Right then," said Alrister. "Straight away, let's have a show of hands, who's ever liked somebody?"

None of the boys put their hands up. The girls shot looks around, saw that nobody was putting their hands up, and didn't volunteer either. Alrister chuckled.

"Shy today, are we?" he said. "Don't worry, I'm not planning to dig into your private lives. Well, if you don't want to show your hands... I think perhaps an example of raw love magic..." He smiled a little. "Give me a moment..."

Everybody in the room watched intently as Alrister closed his eyes. There was a few moments of complete and utter silence, before an odd calm filled the room, not an awkward quiet as expected, but a soft, very patient feeling of warmth. A tiny smile played at Alrister's lips.

And then, bringing a gasp from everybody present, something huge, pink and sparkling swooping out from Alrister's chest, where his heart was, taking flight into the air. It was a swan, a magnificent, beautiful swan, pink and red and peach and gold, glistening in mid-air, its wings beating softly. There was a great sigh of delight from the girls, and even the boys looked impressed, as the marvellous bird gave a soft, high, melodious cry. It swooped away through the far wall, simply melting through in a great glittering shimmering cloud, and then it was gone. Everybody burst into applause and Alrister smiled, accepting his appreciation with a gratious nod.

"Very flashy, very showy... if you ever want to demonstrate the Pure Arts, raw love magic can be very, very effective," said Alrister. "Using love to do regular raw magic can be tricky, and a little dangerous. No wizard would ever try to fly by using love as a lift - love, unlike other emotions, cannot be turned off or supressed easily. It's hard to control such a thing. But raw love magic can be controlled. Imagine sculpture, or art. Creating something that looks nice, and the whole process isn't particularly dangerous, unless you do something stupid like... stab yourself with the paintbrush. I don't know, I'm not an artist. Right, into pairs please, let's see what you can do."

Five minutes later, he'd given them all a simple task of creating some "raw materials", as he put it. This was presumably the pink cloud that the swan had been formed from, though nobody knew, as they hadn't yet managed to conjure anything.

"This is so stupid," Ron muttered, vaguely.

"Yeah," Harry agreed. He had somewhat a wisp of something lilac, but it could have just been a trick of the light peeking through the window. "How are we supposed to do this?"

"Think about love," said Hermione, promptly. She had a little, fluffy pink fire fluttering around between her hands, glittering every now and then, and she looked quite pleased with herself.

Ron snorted. "Huh, yeah."

Harry gave an exhausted, bored sort of sigh. He didn't know why, but his mood had been descending gradually over the last week or so. He had a feeling it was something to do with the coming Quidditch match. Remembering it with a flush, his lilac whisps vanished. He frowned and rested his head on his elbows.

"Has anybody got anything yet?" Alrister called. There was a universal grumble of 'no' from the class, but Neville seemed to be in trouble, as the table he sat at was shuddering violently and everybody was backing away. Alrister hurried off to help with that, and Harry's heart sank. He really wanted to do well in this lesson, and he was getting the suspicion he had yet another block.

"And how are things getting on over here?" said a soft voice from behind him.

He glanced over his shoulder. Andralyn was crossing over to their table, her cloak fluttering behind her marvellously, as though she was walking into a light breeze. Harry opened his mouth to mutter, "fine", but Draco got their first and said, quickly, "We could do with some help, actually, Miss."

Andralyn smiled. "Just call me Andralyn." She sat on the edge of the table between Draco and Harry, looking around at them all. "What seems to be the problem?"

"We can't do it," said Ron, vaguely. "It doesn't work."

Andralyn chuckled. "Really? Broken, is it? Well, maybe you're not doing it quite right... let me see your hand for a moment." She took the hand that Ron extended to her, studying the pads of his palms and then his pulse point intently. "No block. You're just a little loose on your method, I suppose. Are you thinking of love whilst trying?"

"Yes," said Ron, irritably.

"The expression on your face says otherwise," said Andralyn, smirking. Harry was strongly reminded of Snape, a much happier, younger Snape. "Don't concentrate on producing the magic, concentrate on your thoughts." She reached across the table, and placed her fingertips delicately on Ron's forehead, scraping back his red fringe. "You have to relax for love magic... that's what it's all about..."

Harry watched Ron's eyes close, and couldn't help but wonder that Snape was not going to be happy when he found out his sister was stroking students' foreheads in the Pure Arts classroom.

"Got a thought?" she asked.

Ron nodded a little, and then to everybody's surprise, a great puff of pink smoke burst out of his fingertips an engulfed them all in pink sparkles. Harry coughed as he was attacked by a swarm of purple glitter, and somebody fell backwards off their chair in surprise. Alrister shouted from across the classroom through the fuschia haze, "Oh, well done! Who did that?"

"Ron!" Harry coughed, waving at the purple glitter still trying to settle all over his robes.

The smoke just refused to blow away. Draco was coughing as well, and there were kissing noises coming from his end of the table. Peering through the haze, Harry could see a giant, magical pair of lips that looked as though they were trying to eat Draco while he struggled to swat them away. Draco yelled, angrily, "What the hell did you think of, Weasley?"

"None of your business!" Ron snarled. He started thrashing around, trying to clear the smoke, coughing and choking. "Professor Alrister! How do we get rid of this stuff?"

Alrister chuckled, and Harry saw him step into the huge puffy pink cloud, reaching out to grasp the huge lips before they slurped Draco's nose off. "Dear me... I think we're going to have to get Professor Flitwick, maybe Professor Lupin. Can somebody go and fetch them?"

Instantly, there was a cry of, "Me! Ah... me, Professor, I'll do it," from a voice that Harry recognised as Blaise Zabini's. "Is Lupin out in the grounds at the moment, Sir?"

"Oh, of course," Alrister sighed, and then he gave an annoyed grunt as the lips struggled out of his hands and suckered themselves to Draco's face as the Slytherin yelped with surprise. "Well, go on, Mr Zabini, he's in the forest with the seventh years."

"The forest?" said Blaise, sounding rather cool. "There are werewolves in there. Apart from Professor Lupin."

"Yes, yes, he's not far in," said Alrister, over the noise of Draco's horrified yells, muffled behind the huge lips. "Go on."

Harry was watching Blaise's face, as he was on the edge of the cloud, and not stuck in the middle of the midst. To his great surprise, Blaise smiled slyly, and said, in what would have been a casual voice if he hadn't been for his wicked expression, "Yes Sir..."

He slid out of the door, silent, and he was smirking gleefully from ear to ear as he did. Harry's suspicions flared. Getting an idea very quickly, he said, "Professor? Can I go to the bathroom and wash all the sparkles off my face?"

Alrister eyed him through the pink cloud, and said, "Yes, I think you'd better, Potter, pink isn't your colour. Hurry up though."

Harry nodded, got out of his chair, and hurried for the door, sliding out quietly and shutting it behind him.

He glanced quickly up and down the long corridor, just in time to see Zabini's robes whip around the far corner. Harry wasn't surprised that Blaise wasn't heading in the direction of the entrance doors and the forest at all. Silently, he rushed down the corridor, doing his best to stay quiet. Turning the corner, he saw Blaise descending a staircase behind a tapestry Harry had never known was there. It wasn't on the Marauder's Map either, and a corridor that Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs had not known about must lead somewhere incredibly important.

Blaise was out of sight by now, and the tapestry starting to swing shut. Desperately, Harry sprinted along the corridor and leapt through the door right before it closed with a snap on his cloak. He moved on, but found himself caught fast in the door. He could see Blaise's shadow in the dark below, heading away down the staircase, and he didn't want to lose sight of the Slytherin - not only would he not see what Blaise was up to, but he could well be stuck in this dark stairwell. He cast off his cloak and left it there on the floor, then pattered down the stairs, making sure he was a good way behind Zabini and that his footsteps were silent.

Blaise didn't seem to have noticed Harry. He was singing softly to himself as he carried on, a song that Harry didn't know, in a voice that sounded very, very happy indeed. As he listened, Blaise stopped his song, and paused before a door.

"Now... where is it..." Harry could hear a scrabbling nose, things being moved, and then Blaise's voice murmured, "Lumos..."

Light completely flooded the stairwell. Terrified, Harry looked around for something to hide behind, and saw an old armchair discarded across the staircase. He hurried to it and fell down behind it, tucking himself in, peering through the gap underneath to watch what Blaise was doing. But to his great surprise, something else caught his eye.

The wall that Blaise was facing was roughly painted bottle green, and daubed across it in silver were the words, "The Shelter Of Slytherins". Harry's eyes narrowed suspiciously. Letting his gaze wander around, he saw that the stairs finished just below him, and there was a whole room, with armchairs, a bookshelf, even a bed in the corner. Tacked to the walls were posters showing Quidditch strategies and a huge painting of Salazar Slytherin was pride of place, carefully charmed to cover a whole wall, so his dark, clever eyes glared down at the entire room.

Harry didn't have long to study the amazing room before it was time to move again. Blaise had slid his fingertips down the edge of an empty picture frame, prizing it open, and revealing a doorway. The Slytherin climbed through it, and instantly, Harry shot out from his hiding place, rushing after him.

Relieved that he'd managed to keep the door open, he went to climb through it - and gave a startled cry as he saw Blaise standing in the room beyond, watching him, wearing a very unimpressed expression.

"Potter, Potter... what are you doing following me?" said Blaise, softly.

Harry mouthed something for a moment, then said, in an angry voice, "More to the point, what are you doing sneaking out of class to come here? And what is this room?"

Blaised smiled, and Harry realised with a thrill of horror that his wand was out. "That's none of your business... you shouldn't have seen this... only the best, purest Slytherins ever see this place..."

Harry's eyes glanced from the wand to the room behind Blaise. It was fairly dark, a stone passageway, but the corridor looked oddly familiar - though it wasn't somewhere he'd been many times. His thoughts were whirling. "Tell me where we are," he said, firmly. "Or I'll run right now for a teacher, and you'll been in major trouble, Zabini."

"Oh, no," said Blaise, softly. "No, Potter. I'm not going to be in any trouble at all." He eyed Harry closely, and then asked, "Is it true?"

"Is what true?" Harry snarled. He had one foot drifting back, ready to run, sprint up the staircase, get out of the room and go find a teacher. He had a horrible feeling about this situation.

"About Kainda," murmured Blaise. He smiled simply. "Every Thursday she only comes back to the common room late at night. Quidditch practice? I don't think so. Even Quidditch doesn't make her smile that much."

"What are you suggesting?" said Harry, angrily.

Blaise chuckled. "So naive. Such a simple mind... haven't you ever dabbled in the dark side, Potter? Even the slightly dark side... or are you the innocent little hero everybody thinks you are?"

"I'm not interested in this," said Harry. He took another step backwards. "Tell me what it is you're here for, or I'll go get a teacher to make you tell."

"I don't think you should do that," said Blaise, quietly. He took a step towards Harry, and when Harry took another back, Blaise took two forwards.

"Give me one good reason why not," Harry whispered.

"It might not be very beneficial to your health," said Blaise. He raised his wand, his eyes flashing. "And I'll do it, unless you turn around right now and walk away... in fact... I don't trust you not to tell anyone... always the sneak, weren't we? Well. Such a shame. Sorry about this, Potter." His face curled into a sneer, and he murmured, softly, "Oblivi-"

Harry wheeled around just in time, and went sprinting up the stairs, running faster than he ever had in his life. Blaise's memory spell ricochetted off the step right below him, and Harry heard the Slytherin snarl, "Potter!!" and give chase. He hurried up, sprinting with all his worth up the stairs, dodging the curses Blaise was sending at him constantly from behind. The door was just ahead. Harry kept running, kept dodging, listening to Blaise bellow, "Obliviate! OBLIVIATE!" behind him, feeling ripples of the spell bullets rush past his arms. And then, quite suddenly, one of them hit him. He fell, but he was out even before he hit the stairs, and the last thing he knew was Blaise's satisfied sigh, and the Slytherin grasping him by the arm to flip him over. Blaise smirked down at him, and then everything was gone.


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