Descent into Darkness

BY : Athey1024
Category: Harry Potter AU/AR > Slash - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 69308
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, nor any of the characters from the books or movies. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.


 



Disclaimer: Don't own Harry Potter. It belongs to JKRowling.



First Beta pass by Clemex



– –



He leaned back in the plush velvet armchair and sighed with heavy frustration. He fingered the book that lay rested in his lap. His tiny, bony hands were dwarfed by the ancient tome, but this wasn't because the book was especially large – rather, he was frustratingly small.



The homunculus he had crafted for himself had taken the greater part of the last year and a half to complete, and even then, it's completion wouldn't have been possible if he hadn't acquired Wormtail's services. A fact which he was loath to admit.



He was finally in a physical form that was not constantly on the brink of dissolving or dying, and he had access to his own magic once again – although it was unstable, and use of it exhausted him quickly.



He hated existing like this. It was a tease. Granted, it was better than that half-life he had existed in before this – but he was so close, and yet so far away from being returned to a fully functional body and finally being able to focus back on his tasks. Being in this form gave him a taste of what it was like to finally have a body back, but the body itself was so pathetic and weak, it only served to frustrate and anger him.



He needed the boy's blood to properly complete the ritual he had designed. He couldn't afford to allow that ridiculous protection of his to continue, and only the use of the boy's blood would do that. He had to admit that he did not fully understand the nature of the protection gifted to the boy by his mother. That ignorance frustrated and angered him greatly.



He feared that it's existence, and the mystery behind it, were in some way linked to that damned prophecy. He needed to rid himself of that threat so that he could resume his work! It was too important for him to be vanquished by some ignorant child, who was only acting blindly on the orders of that frustratingly mad old man!



But waiting for the right opportunity to act was maddening.



And to compound things, he was bored. Horribly, terribly bored.



He looked back down at the book in his lap and sighed. He had read it decades ago. Rereading it now was only mildly interesting. He wanted to send Wormtail to fetch some more books, but he couldn't risk his servant being seen by the public. It was already risky enough when he sent him into the nearby muggle village to fetch supplies and things. He would have to wait until Barty was able to return to him again.



Ah, Barty... unrelenting loyalty. The man worshiped him, unquestioningly. He had been so fortunate to discover his servant was still alive and well... or as well as one can be after several years in Azkaban and then many more years under the imperius, locked away in his father's home. Despite Barty's mildly questionable sanity, he knew he could rely on Barty's loyalty.



Wormtail, in contrast, stayed entirely out of his own cowardice. The man was terrified of his own shadow. It was pathetic. He wished he could call a more competent servant to his side, but he could not risk it. Not yet. He was still too weak, and his servants were all too power-hungry and ignorant of the bigger picture. If they sensed his weakness they could easily try to take advantage of it, and he would be in no position to stop them. And then he would have to start this entire frustrating process over again like he had after the Brat had destroyed Quirrell.



Stupid, pathetic Quirrell. But he had still made a better servant that Wormtail. He sneered the name with utter disgust in his mind. It was such a sad, pathetic state of affairs that he had been reduced to relying on such a loathsome little rat. Disgusting.



Soon... soon he would be returned to his full glory. He would gather his old followers and retain new blood. He needed to restore power to the dark and dismantle the mountain of damage that the fool, Dumbledore had caused in his blind lunacy.



He could only hope he was not too late. His work was imperative, had he felt the crush of time working against him. He had to complete his tasks and set things back into balance, or they would all be doomed, light and dark together. How Dumbledore could willingly ignore the signs of his own idiotic destruction was beyond him. The man was a fool. His ideals would damn them all.



And he would not go down with the muggles. No. He would fight to return magic to it's rightful place, even if he had to claw his way there, tooth and nail. It was his sworn duty, and he would neglect that duty no longer.



He just needed time... But time was working against him. It had been working against him for so, damn, long.



He sighed in frustration again, wishing he could find a way to speed things up. He dug deep inside himself to touch upon the darkest of his magics. The magic that was his, and his alone. The magics that he was gifted by Magic herself as a part of his task.



This magic had never left him, but without corporeal form, there was little he could do with it. At least it had provided him with the strength to pull his homunculus together.



He pulled the magic out and swirled it around himself, relishing in the knowledge that he could still do this, at least. And he would only grow in strength as time passed.



Ah... there it was again. Time. Always time. Everything took time, and yet he had so little patience left.



He pulled out another surge of the magic and chuckled lightly at the rush it filled him with. This was power. Power that only he could properly wield.



Lovely delicious power. And he would use it to restore the world to the way it was meant to be. He just needed time.



– –



Harry woke with a gasp that instantly shifted into a moan as his back arched off the bed. Magic rushed through him in his startled state and it danced along his skin like little sparks of lightening.



As he regained his focus the surge dissipated like a pleasant breeze and he let out a breathy sigh. He blinked through heavy lids and furrowed his brow as he tried to sift through his memories to make sense of what had just happened.



He was being held by his companion. They had stood there together for... for ages. And it had been wonderful...



And then... and then, he was sitting in that study again. The chair was nice. The fabric had been elegant and soft and there was a fire in the fireplace to the left. He was reading a book.



What a brilliant book... fascinating things... tempting things...



I wonder if there's a place in school where I could try out a few of those spells...



But he had felt bored with it. He had read it before... long ago... and his sense of impatience with having to wait had been too frustrating to allow him to focus on the blasted book. He needed...



Harry sat up.



Bloody hell!



It had felt so real. He remembered it as if it had been he, himself, there. Hell, he had sat here for nearly three solid minutes going over the memories before he even realized he was Voldemort!



Harry shook his head. No! No, he wasn't Voldemort. He had simply been seeing through Voldemort's eyes.



And hearing his thoughts. Thinking his thoughts. As if they were my own. Thoughts and feelings that had felt entirely my own. And the magic! It was... it was incredible!



Harry felt shaken and took in a deep breath. He wished his companion was there. He didn't like the way he felt just then. He wrapped his arms around himself, missing the warmth of being in his companion's embrace.



He wanted that warmth back. He needed it. Needed it so he didn't feel alone. He didn't want to feel alone anymore. Never alone. Never again.



Just as his body was beginning to shake and shiver with his irrational wave of loneliness, the presence appeared in his mind and he sighed in relief.



Harry...?



"You're here," Harry breathed in a whisper as he smiled and let himself fall back against his pillows.



What... happened?



Harry shook his head and laughed weakly at the ridiculousness of his almost-panic attack.



"I'm okay," Harry thought in his mind.



What happened? His companion repeated, his silken voice more steady now.



"I... I had a vision."



You saw... through his eyes...?



Harry nodded his head, even though he was laying in his bed all alone and conversing with a person inside his mind. "Yes."



This... upset you? Did you see something... you didn't like?



Harry shook his head and sighed. "No, nothing like that. He was just sitting in the lounge reading. I think what really upset me was that I didn't even realize it was him and not me. I should be able to tell the difference between his mind and mine... you know?"



Do not dwell on it. Harry.



It is over...



...I am here.



Harry smiled as he felt the warmth of his companion embrace his mind, and a glorious shudder danced through his belly at the silken breathy words.



Finally Harry pushed himself out of bed and pulled back the hangings on his bed. His dorm mates were all still asleep. It was early, but a quickly cast tempus told him that breakfast would be served in an hour. He could take a nice long shower and soak up the hot water without having to share the bathroom with his dorm mates – all of whom tended to sleep till the last possible minute.



Harry collected his toiletries, pulled on a loose robe over his boxers and made his way into the bathroom.



He set his things aside and stripped down. He turned and his eye caught the mirror to the side and for some reason... he stopped. He stood there and looked at himself. He rarely did this. He didn't like looking at himself. Harry had never had a very positive self-image. A decade of malnourishment and neglect had left him scrawny and boney. He was short for his age too, and he knew it was entirely the result of being denied proper food for so long.



He had decent enough muscle tone. Years of manual labor around the Dursley's house and yard, compounded with three years of Quidditch had at least given him that. But he was still disgustingly thin. He could easily see his ribs and his collarbones were too obvious.



He wondered suddenly if there was something he could do about it with magic. He was a wizard, after all!



But a glamor wouldn't be sufficient. He didn't want to hide, or disguise his appearance. He wanted to actually fix it. Correct the damage done by those disgusting muggle pigs.



Potions...



The voice whispered and he blinked in surprise and then blushed lightly. He had forgotten that he wasn't really 'alone' in the bathroom. Here he was, standing totally starkers in front of a mirror...



The presence chuckled at his sudden wave of bashfulness, and Harry managed to recover and quickly turned away from the mirror. He walked over to the shower, started the water and ducked under the spray. It was the perfect temperature. It was always the perfect temperature.



I love magic...



Harry began to lather shampoo into his hair and refocused on what his companion had said.



"So a potion, huh?" He mentally asked.



There are... several. Must be taken... schedule. Over time.



Harry nodded his head. That made sense. If it was going to be a real physical change, it probably wouldn't be instantaneous. It was probably better if it was a gradual change, anyway. If he suddenly changed overnight, people would notice.



I will guide you... to the books. Go to the... library... later.



Harry grinned.



He was looking forward to this. The prospect of being able to fix at least something that the damned muggles had done to him left him with an eager skip to his step. He quickly finished with the bathroom and returned to his dorm. He dressed in his robes and slipped out and headed for breakfast. There were still several hours before Transfiguration. If he ate quickly enough, he could probably do some quick book searching before he had to be to class.



– –



His visit to the library had been partially successful. He had left with two different books on potions but the one that would be the most useful was apparently in the restricted section. He planned to come back that night with his invisibility cloak. He probably could have gotten permission from one of his teachers to search the restricted section for something to aid him prepare for the next task, but he still had absolutely no idea what the next task was, since he still couldn't figure out what to do with the blasted egg.



He needed to figure that out soon too...



Harry rushed through the halls, half-sprinting, towards the Transfiguration classroom. He had lost track of time and class would be starting soon. He bolted in through the door just as the chime rang and he quickly slipped into a seat in the back row, heaving a sigh of relief.



Hermione was turned around in her seat, looking at him with concern and a bit of obvious disapproval at arriving so late. Her glare was broken when McGonagall cleared her throat and called the class to attention.



Instead of heading straight into lecture mode, however, McGonagall announced that the sign-up sheet for those staying in the school over the holidays had just been posted in the common room.



"Now before you all make your decision, I should let you all know of one very important development for this year's holiday festivities. This year, Hogwarts will be playing host to a Yule Ball," McGonagall paused and looked around the room of Gryffindors. The girls' eyes all lit up with excitement, while the boys' faces filled almost instantly with dread.



"The Yule Ball, as the name denotes, is first and foremost, a dance. It will be held on Christmas Eve, and anyone in fourth year and above is welcome to attend. Third years can attend if they have a date from forth or above."



At this point, eager whispering and tittering had filled the room, but a sharp glare from McGonagall brought silence to the room.



A few minutes more passe and McGonagall had concluded her announcements and started the actual transfiguration lesson. Harry wasn't sure exactly what to think of the Yule Ball. He had absolutely no desire to deal with some damned dance and wondered if he could get away with just skipping the thing, even though he would be staying for the holidays. He quickly refocused on the actual classwork, and had almost completely forgotten about the Yule Ball when class drew to a close.



"Mr. Potter, please stay behind," McGonagall said, as Harry began to pack up his book, parchment and quill. Harry frowned but nodded and finished collecting his things and went over to stand by her desk.



"You wanted something, Professor?" Harry asked as soon as the last student had left the room.



"Yes. I wanted to inform you that, as one of the Tri-Wizard champions, you and your date will be expected to partake in the traditional waltz at the start of the ball. Are you going to be in need of assistance preparing for this? I will be holding dancing lessons this weekend for those students who need them."



Harry blinked.



"Wait... do I have to go to the ball?" Harry asked quickly.



McGonagall pursed her lips and frowned. "Yes, Mr. Potter. Of course. You are one of the champions. Your attendance is mandatory."



Harry groaned, and internally grumbled.



Great... just great.



"Oh... alright," he mumbled, trying to push aside some of his bitter irritation. He sighed heavily and looked back up at his professor. "Um... yeah, I guess I'll probably need those... lessons," he said in a flat, grumble.



"Alright, Mr. Potter. The dancing lesson will be held Saturday at 3pm."



Harry gave her a rather fake smile and his thanks and bid her farewell before racing from the room and making his way to Defense.



– – –



"Blimey, mate! Can you believe it? A dance! Ugh!" Ron said as he sat down heavily on the bench beside him that evening at dinner.



Harry looked over at Ron with a raised eyebrow but didn't immediately respond. Ron had tried this tactic several times already; talking to Harry as if nothing had ever happened between them, in hopes that Harry would act the same as before and they could go back to the way things used to be.



Harry sighed heavily, resigning himself to the tedium of a conversation with his ginger dorm mate. He wasn't going to take the boy back as a friend, but even Harry realized that he had been terribly anti-social lately. He barely spoke to anyone outside of mandatory class interactions. Burning every bridge he had was not a wise tactic. He didn't personally care what people thought of him, but he wasn't stupid enough to think that social standing and public opinion didn't matter.



"Yeah... a dance," Harry said unenthusiastically as he stabbed his fork through a pork sausage.



Ron's face lit up slightly with hope at finally having gotten some sort or response out of Harry and he pressed on. "So I guess this means we have to get dates, then."



Harry rolled his eyes. "Yeah. Dates," he grumbled and frowned. He really didn't like that idea at all. He wasn't even vaguely interested in anyone in the school. Forcing himself to ask some random girl, he didn't even give a damn about, on a date was just annoying.



"Any idea who you want to ask?" Ron asked, desperately trying to prod the conversation forward.



Harry sighed and leaned away from the table slightly. He looked around the great hall, hoping that his eyes would just fall upon a good candidate right then and there and save him the hassle of having to actually think about it.



His brief search wasn't coming up with anything and he sighed, resigned to having to actually put some thought behind this choice when he caught sight of a gaggle of blue robes, lead at the head by Fleur Delacour.



Harry grinned. "Maybe I'll ask Fleur," he snickered before looking back down at his plate and doing another violent thrust of his fork into the poor defenseless sausage.



Ron hiccoughed in shock, choking slightly on his pumpkin juice, and looked at Harry as if he were mad. "You're joking, right?" His voice cracked.



Harry looked up at Ron with a perfectly straight poker-face for almost a whole minute before it broke into a wide grin and he laughed and shook his head.



"Yeah, Ron. Probably," he said with a smirk.



Although, he added, mentally to himself, it would be rather humorous if the one guy in the entire school who honestly didn't give a damn about the half-veela was the one who got to go to the ruddy dance with her.



Maybe he would ask. Just to see what she'd say. If she turned him down – which she probably would... he was only fourteen, after all – then no big deal. It certainly wouldn't break his heart, and then he could just ask some other chit.



But if she actually said yes, maybe during the damned dance he could find out if she had figured out her egg yet. People make eye contact when dancing. It'd be a simple matter to slip into her mind and find any information on the next task.



A wry grin spread across his lips. It wasn't a bad plan.



His companion's presence grew in his mind, and Harry felt his agreement and heard a quiet, chuckle.



Definitely a good plan.



– –



The next day Harry waited at the entrance to the great hall, leaning against the wall with the potions book he had stolen from the restricted section the night before. He was reading it while also keeping an eye out for the gaggle of French girls. They usually arrived pretty early so as to avoid the crowds of drooling, hormone-driven boys who tended to stalk them on a regular basis.



Seeing as how this was the day after the ball was announced, it seemed pretty likely that they would be assaulted.



Hell, Harry was planning the very same damned thing. He just hoped to do it without looking like a total arse.



He had read all the way through the instructions on the first potion he was hoping to brew to start correcting his pathetically undersized body, and was about to start re-reading the steps again just to make sure he caught all the little details he would need to make sure were just right before hand, when he caught the sight of pale-blue out of the corner of his eye.



He pushed off the wall, closed the book and slid it into his bag. He assumed a confident stance and a calm, but self assured grin.



Confidence was key. But not arrogance. It was an exact balance, and he would have to pull it off just right or else he would be just another 'stupid little boy' vying for the veela's attention.



As the girls drew closer several of them eyed him warily, a few of them even looked at him rather angrily. Fleur's face remained mostly passive, with a tinge of curiosity.



"Good morning, Mademoiselle Delacour," Harry said with a slightly cocky grin and a small bow, "I was wondering if I could possibly ask for a moment of your time?" he asked as he stood straight again and grinned rather cheekily.



Fleur's eyebrow rose the smallest fraction, but so did the corner of her lips. She seemed to consider him for a moment before she nodded and sent a quick look to the girls around her that silently told them to wait for her.



Harry waved his hand to the side the two stepped away from the group to a marginally more private spot, about ten feet away.



"You wanted som'sing, Monsieur Potter?" she asked a moment later.



"Yes, I was wondering if you might consider attending the Yule Ball with me," Harry said with easy confidence and a simple, but honest-looking smile. There wasn't the slightest hint of fear or uncertainty in any of his words or actions. He could tell from the look in her eyes that she found this rather surprising. That or she was just stunned that a stupid little 14-year old would have the balls to ask her at all.



"You want me to go to zee ball wis you?" she asked with a mixture of shock, and amused curiosity in her eyes.



"That is the general idea, yes," Harry said with a quick nod and a grin. "Are you interested?"



She eyed him for a long minute, and Harry realized that she was honestly considering it.



"I will take your proposition under consideration," she said finally. "I do have other interested suitors, as I'm sure you are aware."



Harry smiled and chuckled quietly. "Oh, I'm sure there are plenty of others dying to ask you. Older boys. Perhaps even better looking guys, although I find that one hard to imagine," he said airily with his nose slightly in the air, before smiling widely and snickering. "Although I guarantee that none of them will be nearly as entertaining company. Still, I understand completely," Harry said giving her another little bow of his head. She actually laughed lightly and Harry's smirk only grew in response. "Do try not to keep me hanging for too long though."



"Of course. Zhat would be rude. I will let you know as soon as I have made my choice."



Harry grinned again and nodded his head. "Thank you."



She smiled back at him, an amusement twinkling in her eyes. "You seem greatly changed zince zee start of term, Monsieur Potter."



Harry playfully rolled his eyes. "Well, being forced into a deadly tournament does wonders to motivate a person to grow up a bit. I've had some pretty powerful changes in my life over the past two months," he ended with an easy dismissive shrug.



"Your performance wis zee dragons was quite surprising. I was unaware zat you were a parseltongue. Quite a rare talent, zat is."



"Yeah, I get that a lot," Harry said with another dismissive gesture before he leaned in a spoke in a mock conspiratorial whisper, "I used to try and keep it real quiet because all those whispers about me being a dark wizard used to make me idiotically self-conscious, but I've sort of gotten over that," he finished with a chuckle.



"Oh?"



"Yeah. Let them believe what they want. It's a talent I possess and I'm not going to shun a perfectly legitimate skill just because some people are a little creeped out by it."



"Hm," she made a small approving noise and grinned at him. He grinned back, a little wider.



She rolled her eyes at him, but her smile only grew.



"I must be going. My friends are waiting and we have breakfast to attend to."



"Of course," Harry bowed and waved his hand out, motioning her back towards the entrance where her friends still stood, whispering furiously. Quite a crowd of other students seemed to have collected there as well.



She laughed at him and shook her head. "You are very amusing, Monsieur Potter."



"Please, call me Harry," he said as he began to walk beside her, back towards her friends.



"Alright, 'arry," she said. "I will let you know when I make my decision.



"Thank you."



The entered the great hall and parted ways – Fleur and the other Beauxbatons girls heading towards the table specially setup for them, and Harry, confidently striding towards the Gryffindor table. Dean was the only one from his year already there, and he was gaping at Harry with his jaw so far open, it was practically resting on the table.



Harry sat down and quickly began loading up his plate, as he pretended to be oblivious of all the jealous pairs of eyes, currently trained on him. The smirk wouldn't leave his lips though.



His encounter with the French girl had been amazingly easy. Harry chuckled as he thought of how utterly impossible that would have been a mere two months prior.



Merlin, he was glad he wasn't that stupid, weak little idiot anymore.



– – –



Each day that passed, his companion was able to stay with him for longer and longer periods of time during the days, and the smoother and easier his words came. By the end of the week, they were almost able to hold a fluid conversation for nearly half an hour before his companion grew tired and had to retreat back into Harry's mind.



Harry asked his companion why he would grow tired so easily after speaking to Harry when he was awake, and he responded by saying that in order to stay in Harry's outer awareness he had to draw from Harry's magic. He explained, in his broken whispery way, that Harry's magic, and his magic were not entirely compatible, and it took a lot of strength for the him to use that energy. But that relaying actual words, instead of emotions, took more strength than he possessed on his own.



However, he told Harry that as each day passed, the two magical sources grew more and more alike, and the easier it became for him to tap into Harry's power core, which was why he was slowing able to stay longer and say more.



Harry wasn't entirely sure what to make of that revelation, and wondered if he should be concerned that his magic type was becoming more like that of his companions... and what the bloody hell that even meant.



He suspected that it was related to how his once-white mindscape was slowly turning gray. But he couldn't quite bring himself to think it was a bad thing. The further the mottled gray area spread, the more comfortable he felt there.



For a while now he had been feeling that the white had been too bright. Whenever he entered his mindscape, he hurriedly retreated to the dark corner and buried his face in his companion's embrace. He hated looking out into the white expanse. It was blinding, and annoying. It had started irritating him with it's brightness, and as more and more of it was shifted to gray, he felt more and more content and comfortable.



He wanted it to change faster. He was sick of the whiteness.





Harry owl-ordered the apothecary in Hogsmeade with a list of ingredients that he would need for the three different potions he planned to make. They replied telling him that they could provide all that he needed, except for the Re'em blood, which they didn't carry. They recommended an apothecary in Knockturn Alley called Mr. Mulpepper's Apothecary that specialized in exotic magical animal parts, which Harry was grateful for.



Harry was also in need of some Runespore eggs for the potion he got out of the restricted section book, but he had known better than to ask the Hogsmeade apothecary for that.



Runespores were protected, so it was actually illegal to sell their eggs. They were still traded on the black market, of course, but Harry didn't exactly have any idea how to contact someone like that.



Perhaps this Mr. Mulpepper from Knockturn Alley would be of some help.



Harry penned a response to the Hogsmeade Apothecary confirming the order, and then another one to Gringotts, asking them to transfer the needed funds directly to the proprietor. Once the apothecary had their money, they would send Harry a parcel with the specified ingredients and he could begin his brewing on two of the three potions.



He was thankful that none of the potions he needed to make were as annoying to make as Polyjuice potion had been. No ingredients that had to be picked at the full moon, or had to go through a month long simmering time.



No. All three potions he planned to make could be brewed in a matter of hours, and ready to begin a consumption schedule immediately after.



He couldn't wait.



But of course, he had to wait, since he was still missing two key ingredients to the most important potion of the batch.



He quickly penned a letter to the shop in Knockturn Alley under the alias, Notechus Noir. He went with Noir with regards to his godfather Sirius, since noir meant 'black' in French. His companion suggested Notechus. It was the Latin name for the tiger snake, and his companion said it suited him – although how, Harry really couldn't fathom. His companion also made helpful suggestions on what exactly to say, and how to say it to get what he wanted without garnering excess suspicion. Hopefully it would work, and he would be able to get his Runespore eggs without considerable hassle.



– –



That Saturday brought the dancing lessons, and a surprisingly large number of Gryffindors had shown up for them. Apparently their head of house had been rather insistent. She didn't want her lions all looking like a bunch of uncoordinated buffoons at the ball.



The girls were all eager and giggly, while the boys were awkward and embarrassed. Harry had to fight to hold in his laughter at how idiotic his fellow boys were acting. They were practically oozing terror, and when instructed to place their hand on their partner's waist, most of them looked as if they had just been told to stick their hand in a vat of boiling acid.



Harry had actually been the first guinea pig since, when McGonagall had asked for a volunteer to dance with her to demonstrate to the rest of the class, he had been the only one willing to do it.



The twins whistled and shouted catcalls to him, and he winked at them, and gave his head of house a low bow before taking her hand and placing his hand upon her waist without the slightest hesitation.



Inside he was laughing wildly at the stunned looks of his fellow classmates.



It was just their bleedin' professor! Sure, the woman was old enough to be his grandmother, but it wasn't like she was going to bite.



Harry's movements were rather jerky at first as he tried to remember the steps, and keep in time with the music at the same time, but he caught on quickly enough and McGonagall gave him a small approving smile.



It was shortly after that, that she had forced the rest of the gathered students to partner up and began spouting off instructions to each of them. Harry waited to the side while she walked around the group, giving specific advice to those struggling the most... which was most of them, honestly. Harry observed and made mental notes of what to try and what to specifically avoid, as well as who to avoid on the dance floor, so as not to get knocked down.



Finally McGonagall made her way back over to him and he led her back onto the dance floor with a mild chuckle.



He easily re-found his groove and slipped into a comfortable rhythm.



"I must say, Mr. Potter; I'm quite impressed. You've caught on quickly."



Harry smirked. "Thank you professor. I do try."



She raised an eyebrow, but he could see the corner of her mouth twitching against the urge to smile. "Yes, apparently so," she replied dryly, only making Harry smile wider. "I actually wanted to commend you. Your class performance this last month or so has seen a great improvement. Your written work has taken a dramatic turn for the better as well."



"Yes, well, having to go up against people three years older than me in a tournament practically designed to kill me is great motivation to study harder," Harry said with a mild air of sarcasm.



"I imagine it would be. I'm proud of how you seem to be handling the pressure, although I have also noticed that you don't seem to be on speaking terms with many of your classmates."



"I would say that they are not on speaking terms with me."



"Not even Mr. Weasley or Miss Granger? The three of you always seemed so close, but I never see you with them anymore. I never see you with anyone these days, Mr. Potter. I must admit I'm a bit worried about you."



Harry felt himself tense up and had to fight to keep a scowl from spreading across his face. He wanted to know what she was thinking and realized this was a great opportunity to see if he could pull off the mental scan while dancing. He didn't have his wand in his hand, and wouldn't have it at the ball either. His companion had told him he could do it if he focused enough. He decided to try it.



He tilted his head up and made eye contact. He called his magic to him and slipped into her mind with surprising ease. He only barely brushed the surface of her thoughts. Krum had been able to tell that he was in the Bulgarian's mind, and Harry didn't doubt that a professor as old and experienced as McGonagall might have some more definite sense of a magical invasion into her mind than the students he had tried this on so far had. So he wasn't willing to risk exposure by delving too deep. Just the same, he wanted to know what the professor thought about his recent social behavior so he lingered, picking out bits and pieces as she thought them.



Withdrawn. Anti-social. Brooding. Easily angered. She'd seen him snap at several people over the last week. She had also seen him bite back with some rather nasty retorts when a couple Slytherins tried taunting him about the latest Skeeter article. She was also concerned about his behavior towards some of the Hufflepuffs. Part of her thought that maybe he was depressed, however there was another little voice that thought his 'symptoms' were also reminiscent of other, darker, problems. The phrase dark magic kept flitting through her mind, surrounded by concern. He pulled out and scowled.



"They've been giving you a hard time, haven't they?" she asked in a softer, quieter tone that surprised him a bit with how much it sounded like she actually cared. He blinked at her, not entirely sure how she expected him to respond to that.



"Yeah, well the whole accusation that I cheated to get my name into the cup was pretty bad on it's own – and of course no one believed me when I said I didn't do it. Then there was that ridiculous article from Skeeter that came out, only making things that much worse. And even after I scored the highest in the first task, the fact that I used parseltongue to do it only bred paranoia and a new wave of rumors about me going dark," Harry said with a dramatic roll of his eyes and a chuckle, hoping his blasé approach to the subject would assuage some of her paranoia.



Professor McGonagall gave him a hard look. "Yes... about that..."



"Oh not you too," Harry groaned and stopped waltzing, so he could look at her better. "Do you believe that parseltongue is dark?" he asked, flat out. Several people around them heard and quite a few eyes landed on them.



McGonagall's eyes darted around and she frowned at several people, giving them a look that said 'keep dancing!' and they all instantly dispersed. Of course they still stayed within earshot, and continued to shoot the two of them furtive glances.



"I suppose not, Mr. Potter, although very little is actually known about parseltongue. Those who possessed the skill did not often share information on it," she said finally as she refocused on him. "Still, I don't think that you should be exerting your efforts towards pursuing that branch of magic."



"Why not?" Harry asked, crossing his arms and giving her a fairly indignant glare. He wasn't going to let her get away without giving him an honest answer.



"While it is true that parseltongue might not actually a dark talent, most wizards who possessed the skill were dark wizards."



"So being able to speak and understand parseltongue, instantly makes me dark?" Harry responded, indignantly.



"No, of course not. I simply mean that the spells that were created, specifically with parseltongue in mind, were created by dark wizards, and as such, are dark spells."



"Well I didn't even use any spells in the first task," Harry said, rolling his eyes.



She blinked at him, apparently surprised and confused by this statement. "You didn't?"



"No! Well, I did cast those fireproofing spells on my clothing, and the fire shield that I kept on my forearm before hand, but those were just normal spells. The parseltongue stuff was simply me telling the dragon that the gold egg in it's nest was an imposter's egg and that if it hatched it would eat all of her eggs. I told her I was going to take it away and promised not to harm any of her eggs while I collected it. Dragons are related close enough to serpents that they still speak and understand a variant of parseltongue. I had the added benefit of having gotten the Chinese Fireball. Asian dragons are the closest of the dragon races to serpents and understand parseltongue almost perfectly. All I did was talk to it."



"That's it?" McGonagall responded, surprised.



"Yes. That was it," Harry said in a tone that booked no question of his honesty. Of course he was lying through his teeth. He had used quite a lot of persuasive and confunding magic while sending out those parseltongue commands. But McGonagall didn't need to know that, and neither did the group of people who were currently standing around them eavesdropping.



"Hmf," McGonagall made a small, surprised noise in her throat but then nodded her head. "Very well then. Still, I wouldn't recommend any extensive pursuit in the field of parselmagic."



"How could I? It's not like there are any books on the subject in the library," Harry said, rolling his eyes as he stepped forward and resumed his earlier position and they began to dance again.



She continued to make minor corrections to his form, and timing, but quickly told him he had a very solid foundation and left him so she could make another pass around the room to help the others.



Harry stood off to the side and relaxed against the wall. His companion joined him in his mind and the pair of them had a silent running commentary on how idiotic most of his classmates looked as they bumbled their way around the large dance floor.



Surprisingly enough, Neville was doing the best out of the forth year boys. The twins and Lee Jordan were having a pretty easy time of it too, but they were all confident enough that even when they messed up, they were able laugh it off, recover, and cover it up quickly.



Most of the girls looked frustrated and annoyed with whatever boy they had gotten stuck with as a dance partner, although plenty of them still looked nervous and unsure enough to make plenty of the mistakes themselves.



"What are you doing over here all on your own?" Hermione's voice broke through his internal snickering and he turned his head to see her walking up and lean against the wall beside him.



"McGonagall said I had a good handle on things and she needed to start making rounds to help the others. What about you?"



"Ron got embarrassed and is currently sulking against the wall over that way somewhere," Hermione said, nodding her head towards the opposite side of the room.



Harry snickered. "Yeah, well he looked like he was doing a pretty pathetic job of it. I'm amazed he even showed up to this thing." Harry chuckled and then looked back over at Hermione. She was looking wistfully at the couples still dancing.



"Want to have another go at it?" he asked, motioning towards the dance floor with his hand.



She looked stunned by the offer for a moment before smiling shyly and nodding her head.



He chuckled and shook his head as he pushed off the wall and lead her onto the dance floor.



It was odd dancing with Hermione, but not really as odd as it had been to dance with his head of house, so Harry quickly got over any weirdness he felt in the situation.



Their movements were a bit awkward at first, but Harry quickly found his comfort zone and Hermione caught on quickly enough thanks to his surprisingly impressive skill at leading. Once they had gotten into a comfortable rhythm, Harry figured he'd make some small talk. That was part of the deal, and he needed to be able to dance and talk at the same time if he was going to be Fleur. She would expect it..



"So... you excited for this whole dance thing?" he asked, not really caring about the answer.



She smiled shyly and nodded her head. "Yes, I think I am, actually."



"Anyone asked you yet?" he asked, mildly more curious now. He wondered if Ron might have done it... but instantly dismissed the thought. Ron was far to thick to realize that Hermione was actually a girl.



Hermione blushed slightly and her smile widened a bit. Harry smirked. "Ah, someone has then, huh? Anyone I know?"



She pulled her lip in between her teeth, as if she were seriously debating whether or not to tell him. He couldn't quite imagine why she might be hesitant to tell him and wondered if she was embarrassed about it. He dug into himself and pulled out another hefty collection of his magic, preparing for another wandless attempt at mind-reading. The magic made his stomach do flipflops and he felt a little giddy at the rush. He almost stumbled a bit at the exquisite surge of power, but managed to recover and resume dancing without interrupting the flow too badly.



She looked up with a curious frown, clearly confused by his sudden stumble, and the odd shudder to his breath. As their eyes made contact he slipped into her mind and began to dig through her memories. This was a much deeper intrusion than he had been willing to risk with his head of house, but he was confident that Hermione wouldn't notice a thing. Finally he came across a mental image of Viktor Krum, standing over her, surrounded by the library stacks. He was stumbling over his English a bit, and actually managed to look awkward and nervous – something Harry found rather surprising for the always overbearingly confident Bulgarian. Harry picked out the words Yule Ball in the jumbled memory, and saw Hermione blushing, ducking her head and nodding as a large smile spread across her lips.



He pulled out of her mind and blinked in surprise.



Surely not...? Krum? Really! He almost laughed.



"I think I'm going to keep it a secret, if you don't mind," Hermione was saying as a small, secret, smile spread across her face.



Harry chuckled and shrugged. "Fine with me. Keep your secrets," he said in a joking tone as he continued to recover from his shocking discovery.



Viktor Krum! With Hermione! Hah!



Harry could feel his companion chortling in the back of his mind too.



"What about you? Do you have anyone in mind to ask?" Hermione said, squaring her shoulders and taking on a more confident posture.



"Already asked someone, actually. She's got a lot of potential suitors lined up though, so she said she'd let me know when she picks someone," he ended with a chuckle.



"Oh? Who?"



"Fleur," Harry said with a wide, amused grin. Hermione looked stunned.



"You asked Fleur!" she apparently found this even more shocking than he had found the whole Krum thing.



He nodded his head and laughed lightly. "Yup. Did it the morning after McGonagall told us all about the ball."



Hermione's face instantly shifted to concern. "You didn't make a fool of yourself, did you?" she asked in a hushed whisper.



Harry snorted. "Hardly. Honestly that whole veela-thing doesn't really effect me any. It's kind of funny to watch the other blokes falling down over themselves like blathering idiots though."



Hermione gave him a skeptical look. "If the 'veela-thing' doesn't effect you, why did you ask her?"



"Thought it'd be funny, honestly. I mean, the whole male population of the school is infatuated with her. I thought it'd be humorous if the one guy here who isn't obsessed with her was the one who got to go with her to the dance. Plus, I imagine she would probably enjoy going to the event with someone who could still manage to talk, instead of just drooling over her the whole time."



Hermione looked at him with a rather disbelieving look. "So your not infatuated with her?" she repeated, skeptically.



Harry chuckled and shook his head. "Not even the slightest."



"But... well, why not? I mean, I don't understand the draw behind it, of course, but I'm a girl. I understand that it's a very powerful sort of magic and very few can fight it very well. A veela's aura supposedly calls to men like a moth to flame. It's why all the boys get so dumb around her. Why wouldn't you get all dumb around her too?"



Harry opened his mouth to say something, but stopped for some reason. He paused and for the first time since Hermione and Ron had ditched him after Halloween, he considered confiding in her.



As the words flitted through his mind, he suddenly knew they were true and he almost laughed as he was struck with the powerful realization. He didn't though. Instead he met Hermione's eyes and smiled softly.



"Honestly, Hermione?"



She nodded her head, prodding him to continue.



He sighed but his lips were still graced with a soft, resigned smile. "Honestly... I don't think I fancy girls."



Hermione blinked at him with obvious confusion on her face. "You don't –" she began to say when her lips parted suddenly in surprise and realization dawned in her eyes. "You... you mean you fancy –"



"Blokes? Yeah... yeah, I think so," Harry said with a shrug and an unusual accepting honesty in his eyes.



"Oh... oh, Harry," Hermione said, coming to a stop and looking up into his green eyes. "How long have you known?" she asked in a hushed voice.



He shrugged and ducked his head a bit. "I don't know... not too long really. I think it's only just really starting to hit home. But I think a part of me has known it for more than a month now."



"So recently?" she said, apparently surprised by this.



Harry laughed. "Yeah, well, I hadn't really let myself think too much on relationships before this. I've always been a bit busy trying not to get killed by something or other, or spending my summers with the muggles, locked in my room. Not a lot of opportunities for making profound self realizations when you spend every waking moment performing exhausting manual labor."



Hermione looked as if she were about to keep talking but came up short and made a face at what he had just said. Her mind seemed to be trying to work something out, but she shook her head, as if pushing past it and getting back on topic.



"So... so you figured this out while Ron and I –"



"While the two of you had ditched me? Yeah. When you're left all alone, it gives you a lot of time to think on things."



Hermione ducked her head and had the decency to look terribly ashamed.



"I'm so sorry you had to go through so much alone, Harry," she whispered sadly. "I was such a fool."



"Yeah... you were." Harry said simply.



She looked up and her eyes were filled with sadness and remorse. "Will you ever forgive me, Harry?"



No. Never.



"Of course," he lied effortlessly, giving her a soft, reassuring smile. "It's okay. We're okay, Hermione."



"Really?" She asked with a hopeful gasp and smiled up at him, more brightly than he would have expected. He nodded and she quickly wrapped her arms around him, pulling him into a hug.



He stiffened instantly, and had to fight the urge to squirm away from her. He didn't like the feel of her holding him. Not one bit. It was nothing like when his companion held him. There was no comfortable sense of home in this embrace. Only awkward discomfort. But he knew he needed to try and smooth out his public relationship with her and Ron. People would be less suspicious of him if he restored his friendship with them. And it would be so much easier on him if people weren't suspicious of him.



People watched him too closely as it was, and it was annoying. He had heard them whispering about him; the fact that he had so obviously distanced himself from his old friends had only added fuel to the fire of speculation around him turning 'dark'.



She finally released him and stepped away, blushing slightly and ducking her head. She smiled up at him, and her face was glowing with relief and happiness.



"Thank you, Harry," she said with a soft voice.



"What for?"



"For giving me another chance."



"Of course. We're friends, right? I couldn't stay mad at you guys forever."



She smiled again and ducked her head. He heard a small relieved sigh escape her lips.



Simple. Now, of course, he had to deal with the annoyance of actually talking to them regularly again, and he definitely wasn't looking forward to that. Harry only barely managed to refrain from groaning in frustration.



– –




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