A/N: This chapter (and the evil cliffie at the end of it) is (are) dedicated to Melindaleo — one breakdown coming up!
Harry cringed as he noticed another large, brown owl bearing what looked like an official letter from the International Quidditch League flying in his direction. It was morning and he and Ron were seated at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall eating breakfast and waiting for Ginny and Hermione to join them. He gritted his teeth and sighed, trying to control his temper as the bird landed in front of him and held its leg out to him. He untied the parchment and shooed the owl away quickly. As he looked at the letter to confirm that it was indeed another warning letter he noticed the edges beginning to catch fire. He quickly blew it out before it burst into flames like the one from last night. He looked at Ron worriedly and was grateful to find that his friend was too busy with his breakfast to notice what had happened to the parchment. After last night Harry didn't want to take any chances on Ron becoming paranoid over his wandless or accidental magic. Whichever one it was, Harry didn't really know, but he was too concerned over the letter at the moment to worry about his ability to combust things that made him mad.
"What's that, Harry?" asked Ginny as she and Hermione sat down in front of him.
"It's another bloody warning letter from the International Quidditch Association," replied Harry as he fumbled to put out a bit of fire that was still singing the edges of the parchment, hoping that Ginny wouldn't notice.
"So what are you going to do with it?" asked Ginny.
"I'm going to pass it on to McGonagall," replied Harry. "After all, she's the one who wants me to coach. She can handle it."
Harry stood up and looked for his Head of House, wanting to get the letter away from him as quickly as possible lest it burst into flames again. He spied her at the head table, which was fortunately vacant of Dumbledore. He strode up to her rapidly.
"Professor McGonagall," he said, trying to get her attention.
She looked up from her meal and smiled at him. "What can I do for you, Mr. Potter?"
"Erm, I got a warning letter from the International Quidditch Association. They're threatening some kind of legal action if I continue playing Quidditch."
McGonagall frowned as she took the parchment from Harry and quickly read over it.
"Hmm," she muttered to herself and then looked at Harry. "Mr. Potter, I will arrange for one of the solicitors who sit on our board of governors to review the letter. Just leave everything to me."
"So what do I do in the meantime, Professor?"
"Continue to coach the team. If you receive any more letters, please bring them to me."
"Yes, Professor," replied Harry. He returned to the Gryffindor table, glad to be in the company of his friends for a few minutes longer before heading down into the gloom of the dungeons with Hermione for Potions.
"So what did McGonagall have to say?" asked Ginny as Harry sat back down.
"She said she's going to have one of the solicitors on the school's governing board look it over," answered Harry.
"I'm sure it will be okay, Harry," said Ginny as she flashed a tentative smile at Harry.
Harry sighed. "I hope so," he replied, enjoying Ginny's reassuring smile.
"Are you ready for Potions, Harry?" demanded Hermione.
"Is anyone ever really ready for Snape's class?" he retorted. He smiled at Ginny as he heard her chuckle. "See you at lunch," he told her. Harry grabbed his bag reluctantly and followed Hermione as she led the way to the dungeons.
Harry noticed that Hermione was unusually quiet as they descended into the gloom. He sighed, feeling guilty about Hermione having turned in her prefect's badge over his problems. He didn't know what to say to her, so they continued in silence until they reached the locked door of the classroom, behind which their Polyjuice Potion was brewing. Hermione sighed and leaned back against the wall, her eyes on the locked door. A few moments later Draco, Pansy and the rest of the class joined them.
"Where's your prefect's badge, Granger?" demanded Pansy snottily as they waited for Snape to unlock the classroom. "You know you're supposed to wear it at all times."
"I turned it in," replied Hermione tersely, looking like it pained her to say it.
"You did what?" asked Pansy.
"I turned it in," repeated Hermione as she stared at the door, willing it to open so she didn't have to discuss this any longer.
"Why?" asked Pansy.
"Out of my way!" demanded Snape as he shoved past some waiting Ravenclaws that were blocking his way.
Hermione stepped away from the door, grateful for the distraction that Snape was providing. She waited tensely as he flung the door open and then proceeded to their station quickly, checking on both of their cauldrons of Polyjuice Potion immediately. Pleased with what she saw, she put her book bag down, taking the chair that Harry would normally take so it kept her further from Draco and Pansy.
Harry felt a combination of guilt and anger about what was going on as he followed Hermione to their station. The muted conversation passing between Draco and Pansy wasn't helping, either.
"That's a relief," he heard Draco mutter. "I'm sick of listening to that Mudblood rant…"
Harry did his best to tune it out and focus on the potion Snape was putting on the board which would occupy their time until class was over. Harry groaned as he saw the instructions. Skele-Gro. It was a complicated and tricky potion to brew. He looked over at Hermione and saw a frown on her face.
"We've got to get started quickly," she said softly to Harry. "Give me your potions kit and go get the remainder of what we need from stores."
"All right," replied Harry. He felt Snape's eyes boring into the back of his head as he made his way to the potions stores room.
"Only get what you need to brew the potion," said Snape in a sarcastic, clipped tone as he continued to watch Harry like a vulture.
"Yes, Professor," muttered Harry as he focused on the task at hand, meticulously measuring out the amounts needed and placing them in phials, which he corked and carefully carried back to their work station. Harry passed Hermione's ingredients off to her, explaining which one was in which phial. As he looked up at the board to double-check his ingredients Harry noticed the professor staring him down again. He quickly allowed the tidal wave of apathy to wash back over his mind, lest Snape distract him again.
"That's five points from Gryffindor, Potter," sneered the Potions master.
"What did I do?" whinged Harry.
"You've failed to follow my instructions. Again!" replied Snape. He strode up to Harry and leaned into him until they were face to face. "Apathy will not protect you, Potter," he whispered in a quiet, clipped tone. "Now get to work!"
Harry furiously fought the impulse to become angry and worked to clear his mind again, this time of emotion rather than apathy. He pulled a deep breath as Snape turned away and began harassing the Ravenclaws.
"What was that all about?" queried Hermione.
"Nothing," replied Harry, mindful of Snape's demand that he not tell anyone about their training sessions. "So what's first?" asked Harry, trying to distract his friend.
"Here," said Hermione as she handed him a mortar and pestle and two clear crystals that glimmered yellow in the dim light. "Grind the calcite into an extremely fine powder. Don't add it when you're done — it's for later."
Hermione then took a flask containing a pale, white liquid and poured a pint into each of their cauldrons. After that, she lit a fire under each and began looking over the instructions, which warned her not to scorch the bat's milk when boiling it and not to allow any foreign substances into the potion after the dragon's blood has been added, lest the potion explode. She checked both cauldrons, magicking their cobalt glass rods to stir gently in a counter-clockwise direction.
"How's it going with the calcite crystals?" she asked as she watched Harry mashing diligently with the pestle.
"Yours is done," replied Harry, nodding in the direction of a phial filled with a glittering white powder.
Hermione took it and placed it along a row of ingredients she had set up for both of them with everything in chronological order for adding to the potion.
"Are you done with yours, Harry?" she asked.
"Yeah," replied Harry as he tipped the contents of the mortar into a small, glass phial, corked it and handed it off to Hermione.
She looked at it appraisingly and set it down in the row of ingredients in front of Harry's cauldron. After exactly five minutes of watching the cauldrons boil, she waved her wand and snuffed the fires.
"Are you ready, Harry? Remember, it's got to go in fast. No stopping until we're through or it won't turn out right."
"I'm ready," answered Harry.
"Pull out your stirring rod and throw in the powdered unicorn's horn."
Harry followed Hermione's lead, opening the phial with the iridescent powder and carefully pouring it into his cauldron.
"Stir three times clockwise," ordered Hermione. "Now take the powdered calcite crystal and dust it in slowly."
Harry took the calcite powder and placed it into the palm of his hand and spread it across the surface of the potion in a waving manner.
"Now stir from north to south for five minutes."
Harry glanced at the compass Hermione had placed between their cauldrons.
"Not too fast, Harry."
Harry slowed down per Hermione's instruction and stirred carefully for five minutes. After the allotted time, Hermione lit a fire under their cauldrons again.
"Okay, now stir counter clockwise for five minutes and bring it back to a boil."
Midway through the regimen of stirring, Harry felt himself beginning to nod off, his senses dulled by the heat and the fumes coming off the cauldrons.
He felt Hermione pinch him.
"Pay attention to what you're doing," she whispered.
"Sorry, Hermione," apologized her friend. "What's next?"
"Dragon's blood," replied Hermione. "Careful not to let anything contaminate the potion until you've added the phoenix tears, otherwise it will explode."
"Got it." Harry uncorked the phial with the viscous, dark red fluid in it.
"Now," said Hermione. "Add it in all at once."
Harry poured the dragon's blood in quickly. Both cauldrons immediately flashed over in a burst of light and smoke.
"It's all right, Harry. It's supposed to do that," said Hermione.
Harry watched as the potion turned an ugly, dark red colour.
"Put your stirrer back in. No, not the cobalt one. Sorry, I forgot to tell you. Use the vaseline rod," said Hermione.
Harry nodded and pulled the pale green glass rod out of his potions kit and set it into the cauldron.
"Was it clean?" whispered Hermione, almost panicked.
"Yes, Hermione. It was clean."
Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. She magicked the wands to rotate in a clockwise direction.
"It's got to boil until it turns transparent."
"How long will it take?"
"Depends on how well we brewed it," answered Hermione. "Half an hour, maybe more. We add the bezoars after it turns."
Harry nodded and then looked up from his potion. He was startled to see Snape standing over them with his usual patent sneer.
"Miss Granger, where is your prefect's badge?" demanded the Potions Master.
"I turned it in," replied Hermione, not looking up from brewing her potion.
"What, not good enough for you, is it, Granger?" sneered Snape viciously.
"What I did is between myself and the headmaster," answered Hermione, still not looking up from her potion.
"That's five more points from Gryffindor for cheek," stated Snape malevolently.
"Oh no," muttered Harry as he quickly moved his hand to try and prevent one of Hermione's tears from contacting the potion. Despite his fast reflexes, his hand did not catch the tear, which caused Hermione's potion to explode on impact. Hermione and Snape were both covered with the potion.
"That will be twenty additional points from Gryffindor and a detention for soiling my classroom," said Snape slowly and precisely as he continued to stare Hermione down, drops of potion dripping from his face and hair.
"I'm… I'm sorry, Professor," replied Hermione just before bursting into tears and running out of the classroom in shame.
Harry looked at Draco and Pansy as he heard the muffled snickers and hastily concealed grins. Even they knew better than to get a laugh at Snape's expense.
Snape flicked his wand and the mess was cleaned up. He glared at Harry for a moment and then roared at the class, "What are you all staring at? Get back to work!"
Harry calmed himself down, taking care not allow his emotions get out of control. He kept his eyes glued on his potion, studiously ignoring any attempt by Snape to unsettle him. Harry quickly glanced back down to his potions text to check where he was and what he had to do next. Now that Hermione was gone, he was going to have to do everything by himself. He looked back into his cauldron and was pleased to see the potion had turned a dark, transparent red. He dropped the bezoar into the cauldron and pulled back as the liquid bubbled and hissed with renewed vigour. He magicked the fire hotter with his wand and pulled out the vaseline glass rod. He put in a bronze rod and magicked it to stir slowly clockwise. Thirteen minutes later, after the liquid turned a dark fuchsia, Harry dropped a bronze ladle into the potion and carefully scooped out the bezoar. He looked down the list of instructions and then lowered the intensity of the fire with his wand. A half hour later, he added the phoenix tears and watched the potion turn a shade lighter. Harry smiled; he was pleased to see that his potion resembled the description in the text quite closely, if not exactly. He poured some into a phial and carefully stoppered it before disposing of the rest of the potion in his cauldron.
"Finished, Potter?" demanded Snape incredulously.
Harry nodded and handed the phial to the Potions Master as he came by.
Snape looked at the phial and scowled, promptly dropping it and slowly wiping his hands off on his robes. "Next time clean the phial, Potter," sneered Snape as he scowled at Harry, daring him to reply. "That's another zero for you."
Breathe in; breathe out. Breathe in; breathe out, thought Harry to himself as he fought to control his anger.
Snape waved his wand again and the shattered phial disappeared along with Harry's potion.
Harry turned away from the professor and quickly gathered his and Hermione's books and supplies. He chanced a glance at Snape and saw him standing there with his arms crossed, sneering at him. Harry left without another word, wondering what had just passed. One moment Snape was trying to help him and the next moment he was tormenting him. Harry sighed and wondered why things always had to be so difficult as he trudged up out of the dungeons.
Breathe in; breathe out. Breathe in; breathe out, thought Harry to himself once again as he spied Dumbledore in the Entrance Hall. The old wizard was standing so Harry had no choice but to pass by him. Not wanting to allow his anger to get the best of him, Harry gritted his teeth and determined to do the best he could at ignoring Dumbledore as he walked by.
"Mr. Potter, I need to speak with you."
"Sod off," replied Harry.
"What did you say?" demanded Dumbledore, shocked at Harry's reply.
"I said, sod off!"
"Mister Potter," retorted Dumbledore, beginning to become angry, "I will not accept that sort of behaviour out of you or any other student who walks the halls at Hogwarts."
Harry stopped instantly, the anger rising inside of him uncontrollably. "Oh, yeah?" screamed Harry in response as he turned to face Dumbledore, "Well, what about your behaviour? Just where the hell were you last year when I needed you! Answer me, damn it! Where the bloody hell were you! Where were you when that psychopath Umbridge was forcing me to write lines that etched themselves on the back of my hand? Where were you when I was banned from Quidditch for life? And where thehell were you when I was alone all summer and had nobody but my owl to talk to? Answer me, damn it!"
As Harry stared Dumbledore down, he felt laughter echoing along the edges of his consciousness. As he opened his mouth to rail against Dumbledore again, he stopped himself and noticed that Dumbledore had made no effort to defend himself from his verbal assault. Rather, he appeared to have a look of extreme pain in his face.
Harry turned and walked away, seething with anger, desperately working to calm himself down. All of the traffic in the Entrance Hall had stopped as the students were watching Dumbledore and Potter, no-one believing what was going on. The students parted like water as Harry resolutely made his way into the Great Hall for lunch, not caring to look back on the scene he had just caused. As he came to the Gryffindor table, he slammed his backpack down on top of the bench and sat down. He looked around momentarily for Ron or Ginny or Hermione. Not seeing them, he took his seat and watched as a plate appeared in front of him. He smiled as he saw a bowl of treacle tart materialize next to the plate and reckoned that Dobby was watching out for him. He put a shepherd's pie on his plate and filled his mug with pumpkin juice. A moment later as he began eating, he heard a throat loudly clearing behind him.
"So, Potter, banned again, eh?" sneered Draco Malfoy loud enough for everyone within earshot to hear.
Anger rose inside of Harry uncontrollably as he recognized the voice. The laughter that had been echoing along the edges of his mind earlier became stronger and louder. He recognized the voice. As he did, he felt blackness enveloping him and his consciousness was gone. He struggled against the smothering blackness. As he did, he caught flashes of what was going on around him. Draco was screaming under the influence of the Cruciatus curse. Harry laughed, kindasorta not meaning to, but not being able to help himself, either, as he contemplated the situation. Malfoy had opened his mouth one time too many and Harry had no sympathy for him whatsoever. As he laughed at the Slytherin's suffering, he felt a flash of power and the blackness smothering him was pushed off by a green light. Harry looked for the source of the light and discovered it was flowing out of him. As he allowed the power to flow from within, the blackness and the laughter suddenly disappeared from his mind.
As Harry's consciousness began to receive stimulus from his eyes and ears again, he noted that Malfoy was still screaming under the influence of the Cruciatus and a satisfied smile came over his face as he contemplated his suffering. Turning away from Draco's screams, he surveyed the Great Hall, trying to regain his bearings. He noticed it had cleared out and that everyone was cowering at the edges of the Hall. He saw Professor Sprout holding back Ginny, who was obviously trying to come to him. Dean and Seamus were holding Ron back. Dumbledore was standing at the ready, having cast a massive shielding spell in front of himself and a large portion of the crowd of students at the edges of the Hall and Snape had his wand pointed at him, as if preparing to duel. The presence of two powerful wizards prepared to do battle with him did not perturb him for some reason. Harry thought about it for a moment and realized the power welling up within him was causing him to be contemptuous of the others, as if he and he alone was the most powerful wizard there.
The sound of running feet distracted him from his musing and he turned to see Hermione coming at him, screaming, "Harry, please stop!" He smiled as he saw her, warm memories flooding his heart. He noticed once again that her prefect's badge was missing and it tore at his heart. As he did, he felt the green light and the power dissipate.
"Hermione, what's wrong?" asked Harry as he felt himself wrapped in a warm embrace by his friend. She looked up at him as if he were mad.
"Harry, is it really you?" she demanded.
Harry began to get nervous. "Of course it's me. What's going on?" he whispered.
"Voldemort managed to possess you again," said Hermione as the tears began to flow down her face.
"Oh, dear," muttered Harry as he turned to look at Draco. He pointed his wand at the still suffering form and muttered, "Finite Incantatum."
"What happened?" demanded Harry.
"I'm not really sure. When I came into the Great Hall, I saw Draco approach your table. He must have said something to you that really set you off because the next thing I knew there was a red glow in your eyes and you were throwing the Cruciatus Curse at him."
"What happened after that?" demanded Harry.
"I started screaming. Then I remembered that you threw Voldemort out of your mind when you thought about Sirius and I thought… that… you might do the same if I showed up."
Harry smiled at Hermione and hugged her tighter.
"Thanks, Hermione. I think you just may have saved my soul," he muttered, not sure if he wanted to tell her about the wellspring of power within himself just yet, wondering to himself what he had managed to tap into. He laughed nervously at the strange look Hermione gave him and wondered why he had been so haughty when filled with the power of the strange green light.
"Come on," he said quickly, not wanting to give Hermione too much time to think about his last comment. He laid his wand on the table next to the uneaten treacle tart and slowly walked over to where Dumbledore and Snape stood, still at the ready to defend the rest of the students from Harry.
Dumbledore lowered the shield as he saw Harry walking away from his wand. Professor Snape, on the other hand, reacted strangely, allowing neither his gaze nor his wand to cease from covering Harry. As Harry approached Dumbledore, Dean and Seamus released Ron from their strong grips. Professor Sprout released Ginny a moment later.
"Harry, are you alright?" demanded Ron.
Ginny looked on in concern, waiting for Harry to answer the question.
"I'm fine, Ron," replied Harry. Harry turned to look at Dumbledore as he heard his throat clearing.
"Mister Potter, I will see you in my office immediately," he stated softly.
"Yes, Headmaster," replied Harry, embarrassed at having railed against Dumbledore earlier.
Dumbledore turned to face the rest of the gathered students. "Mr. Weasley, Miss Weasley, and Miss Granger. You will also report to my office immediately."
"Yes, Headmaster," the three mumbled in reply.
"Professor Snape, please see to it that Draco is taken to Madam Pomfrey."
"Yes, Headmaster," muttered the Potions Master as he continued to stare at Harry, his wand by his side, but still at the ready.
Harry noticed the look of shock and amazement in his eyes and thought it odd that Snape was not sneering at him or condemning him to several months' worth of detention. The more Harry thought about it, the more unnerved he became.
"Professor Sprout, please see to it that some semblance of order is restored."
"Yes, Headmaster," she replied.
Dumbledore turned his attention back to the table where Harry had been sitting. He held out his hand and the holly and phoenix feather wand flew into it. "Come along, now," muttered Dumbledore as he looked at the four Gryffindors.
As they marched behind him in silence Harry wondered what was going to happen to him. Would he be expelled? Would he be sent to Azkaban? He chanced a glance at Ginny and saw her gazing at him with a look of deep concern on her face.
"Blueberry scones," said Dumbledore as he came to the griffin guarding the entrance to his office.
The figure moved aside, allowing them access to the moving staircase. They rode up the staircase in silence. As they entered the office, Professor Dumbledore conjured up two extra chairs in front of his desk.
"Be seated," he told the four as he took his seat behind his desk. Dumbledore stared at them as he collected his thoughts. "Mr. Weasley, Miss Weasley, Miss Granger, I am about to ask you three to do something that I cannot force upon you. You must do it out of friendship and out of love. I need one of you to be with Mr. Potter at all times. It would seem that the love of his friends is the one thing that can keep Voldemort out of his mind. Can you do this for Harry?"
"Yes, sir," replied Ron instantly.
Hermione indicated the same an instant later.
Dumbledore looked at Ginny.
"Of course, sir," she answered.
He turned his gaze back to Hermione. "Miss Granger, I would like to commend you on your behaviour today. You have truly displayed what it means to be a Gryffindor." He pulled a silver prefect's badge out of the pocket of his robes. "I believe that you left this in my office the other day. I can think of no other more worthy to wear this badge than you. I should never have allowed you to leave my office without it. Please accept my apologies." He handed it back to her.
The smile on Hermione's face told all.
"Thank you, Headmaster."
"You are most welcome," replied Dumbledore, smiling at Hermione. "Now, if you have no further questions, I must ask you three to excuse us. I need to have a long talk with Mr. Potter."
Harry swallowed nervously. He was grateful for the looks of support from Hermione and Ginny and the pat on the back Ron gave him. He heard Dumbledore nervously clear his throat as the door to the office slammed shut. He turned his attention back to Dumbledore, waiting for the ball to drop.