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. JKRowling does.



First Beta Pass by Clemex



– –



Harry spent some time in the library the next day looking for anything that could be useful in dealing with the task. It was difficult to ask Hermione for help since he'd given her the impression that he already had the task sort of worked out, and the potions he'd been brewing were for it.



If he admitted that he'd fibbed a bit, she would want to know what those potions had actually been for, and he wasn't willing to tell her that.



He was getting frustrated with the library rather quickly – especially with all the people who were there. It was still the Christmas hols for Merlin's sake! Why were there so ruddy many students hanging around the library? Stupid ball. Harry actually missed the quiet that would have been granted him during the holiday under normal circumstances. Thanks to the ball, almost every student forth year and up had stayed behind.



It was at that point that he recalled all of the books down in Slytherin's study in the chamber. Well, if nothing else, at least he wouldn't have to deal with any other students while searching those books.



Harry went up to Gryffindor Tower, grabbed his cloak, map, and his bag and headed back down the stairs. Ron reminded him about that offer for a game of exploding snap, but Harry declined, saying he needed to do some work for the task and quickly left.



Ten minutes later, Harry was slipping into Slytherin's study and setting down his bag.



Harry sat down on the chaise lounge and looked out over the room of books. Most of them were... well, old. Obviously. He was afraid to actually touch some of them just because they looked like the slightest bit of manhandling and they would crumble apart. They were a thousand years old, after all.



Some, however, were in much better condition than others. He could feel fragmented bits of magic floating through the room and realized that it felt sort of reminiscent of a preservation charm. It was weakened though, and had failed in certain sections of the room.



He had also noted that there was a neatly stacked pile of books along one side of the room, that were all in much better condition than any of the others. They also reeked of much more recent magic than the rest did.



Harry theorized that these were books that Riddle had restored or repaired during his time as a student at Hogwarts. He could see why, upon closer examination, since most of those books looked incredibly interesting.



Harry sighed heavily and wondered if he could find anything to help him with the task here. Surely, in this treasure trove of knowledge, he would find something useful.



He stood up and walked over to the stack of books that Riddle had restored. He crouched down and began to read through the titles.



Search spell...



His companion's voice whispered through his head and Harry paused.



"What?"



There is a spell... to search for... subject matter in books. Much... faster.



"Seriously? Why didn't you mention this earlier in the library?"





Harry rolled his eyes and sighed. "Alright, what is it?"



Invenio... wand movement isss... an S shape. Incant... Invenio... and then the word... or phrasse... you are searching for.



Harry nodded his head and grinned widely. He decided to test it out on something first so he picked up the first book in front of him, looked at the title, Tip-Toeing Through the Mind of the Unaware by Clair Videre. His brows rose as his interest was peaked.



He set the book down on the floor beside him and took out his wand. He called the magics from deep inside him and hummed in pleasure at the feel of it swirling around him so easily. He pointed his wand at the book, made an S movement and said "Invinio Mind."



A swirly yellow light came from the tip of his wand and began to dance around the book. The word Mind on the cover glowed yellow for a moment, and then the whole book began to glow lightly. It flipped open suddenly and the pages began to flip rapidly from the front all the way through the back. When it finished, he noticed quite a lot of pages seemed to be glowing yellow now, apparently marking that the word mind had been found there. He realized that a book about mind magic would probably use the word mind a lot in it, so it made sense.



He grinned at his easy success and did a quick finite and the glowing disappeared. He was about to put the book back when he paused, grinned, and set it over by his bag instead.



He'd been doing mind searching on pure instinct. He wondered what he would learn about it from a book actually written on the subject. He still didn't even know if there was a name for what he was doing, and was interested to see what he could learn in a more structured setting than his own blind attempts at figuring his own way through it.



He turned back to the stack of books and tried to think of a good keyword or phrase to search. He figured the matter of the water was probably the most pressing to start with. Swimming, sight, and breathing.



He frowned.



"Hey, does it have to be an exact quote for it to find it in the book, or can I do a search for multiple concepts and have it come back with 'close' matches?"



It will... return close matches to concepts... if that isss what you desire.



Harry grinned and thanked his companion. He raised his wand to the books, did an S shaped movement and said "Invenio swimming, breathing, water."



The yellow swirl exited his wand again and began to dance around the books. It continued it's dance for quite a while as it searched through the dozens of books. Harry sat back and waited, taking a moment to look around the cluttered office. He really ought to try cleaning the place up a bit...



Finally he felt the magic finish and looked over the stacks. There were a number of books highlighted in yellow and he began to collect each one into his arms.



He brought the small pile over to the table beside the chaise and set them down. He pulled the first one off the pile and sat back and got comfortable.



The Serpentine Transformations of the Parselmage



by Apala Denisonia



One of Harry's eyebrows rose as he looked at it curiously. It was in impressive condition. In fact, it was obviously not old enough to have been placed here by Slytherin. He checked the front cover and saw that it was only printed about 100 years ago.



It must have been a book Riddle left here. Harry thought to himself.



He opened the book to the section his search spell had identified with the most glowing yellow and began to read. It was describing the Sea Serpent form and it's benefits in aiding in swimming. Breathing air was still necessary, because reptiles do not have gills, but in the form, one could hold their breath for twenty minutes between breaths. It said that if an extended stay underwater was necessary, that a bubble-head charm could be used. Harry paused and looked down at the book in mild confusion. It was obvious that he was missing something important and decided to go back to the introduction of the book instead.



"Under normal circumstances, human to animal transfiguration is a very dangerous piece of magic to attempt. When transfigured into an animal, the wizard takes on the mind and mental capacity of that animal, and as such, looses the ability to wield magic. Any wizard that completely transfigures themselves into an animal will be left unable to transfigure themselves back.



Another wizard can reverse the spell for them, but without that backup, they could end up being trapped that way, indefinitely.



An animagus is a wizard who possesses the innate ability to transform themselves into one specific animal form, that is determined mostly by their personality.



When an animagus is transformed, they retain their human mental capacity, as well as their ability to perform the magic necessary to return them to their normal human form. The animagus transformation is just that – a transformation. Not a transfiguration.



The animagus transformation has a few key downsides though. First and foremost, it takes an average wizard at least two years to master the skill – assuming that they are even capable of it in the first place. Second is the fact that the wizard is not able to decide what animal form they will take. And third, they can only ever assume that one form their entire lives. There is no opportunity to learn additional animal forms, so if the animal form they assume is not a desirable or advantageous one, they will have wasted two years of study for nothing.



It is established fact that wizards who possess the skill in parseltongue are descendants from wizards who interbred with one of the humanoid-serpent races – most often the Naga from India, but in some instances, the Yuan-ti of eastern Asia. Both the Naga and the Yuan-ti possessed the natural ability to transform themselves into humans, and used this skill in their exploits of seducing and abusing gullible humans.



Some, however, willing took a human as a mate, and it is the descendants of their offspring that possess the ability to use and manipulate the ancient parselmagics.



Because of this descent from magical creature blood, many wizards who have inherited the ability to speak parseltongue and perform parselmagic, also possess the ability to transform themselves into various serpent forms.



It is not a transfiguration, but a transformation, like the animagus transformation. Unlike the animagus transformation, this skill does not limit the wizard to a single form. Multiple forms can be learned through practice and dedication.



An additional benefit over the animagus transformation is that if you are capable of this skill, it is unlikely to take longer than two-to-three months of practice to perform a complete transformation for the first time. Each additional form will be harder to assume and will take additional time and practice to master.



Most parselmages have one or two serpentine forms that they prefer and master, but are able of taking on one or two more for other specific needs.



The following chapters detail some of the most common forms identified in parselmages and the best ways to achieve those forms through practice and meditation."



Harry paused and looked down at the book in his hands. Could he possibly perform any of these transformations? He sort of doubted it, since he wasn't biologically descended from 'parselmages'. He'd gained his ability from Voldemort. If the ability to do this transformation thing was because they descended from er... nagas, or something, he doubted he would have gained that too. But then again, it was a magical transformation, so who knew?



It was worth investigating, at least. He was still a little confused about the whole transforming into a sea serpent thing. Did that mean he would actually turn into a tiny snake? It could be useful... He could probably swim really fast as a little snake, but could a tiny reptilian body stand the cold of the black lake for an hour? And what about breathing? He would have to look up this bubble-head charm it had mentioned. And if he did this in the tournament, would the Ministry think he was an animagus and make him register? Would he be punished for not being registered already? His understanding was that you didn't have to register as an animagus until you'd reached 17, so maybe he would be able to slip by. Preferable, he would do this without anyone actually realizing he'd done it.



He went back to the chapter on the sea serpent form to read up on it's specific characteristics to see if it would actually be suitable for what he needed. He still had a small pile of books to look through, so if this didn't pan out, he could check the others.



Thirty minutes later he had finished the chapter, and had at least a fair number of his questions answered.



He would not and up as a 'tiny' snake, if he did this. In fact, he would probably be a very large snake. His body mass would be shifted into the form of a serpent, so as much mass as he had as a human, he would still have as a snake, just stretched out over the elongated serpentine form.



It said that in that form, he would be able to swim incredibly fast. Sea serpents were extremely agile and fast in water, and their bodies were literally a long tube of muscle, making them very dangerous to try and go up against. The sea serpent also had a secondary eyelid that was see-through, so he could easily open his eyes under water without irritation. Also, they apparently had really good night vision. In addition to all this, he would also have poisonous venom in that form! He would be down-right deadly!



On the down-side, he would be cold blooded, and the water temperature of the black lake would be undeniably unpleasant, but a warming spell cast before the transformation could help stave off the cold during the actual task.



He wouldn't be able to cast any traditional wizard magic while in his serpent form, since he couldn't actually speak or wield a wand, however he would still be able to cast some parselmagic.



It sounded like the best strategy for an extended stay underwater would be to cast this bubble-head charm over his nose and mouth and cast a full-body warming charm while still human, jump into the water, and then transform once he'd gone deep enough that people wouldn't be able to see him. Of course, this would only work assuming that there wouldn't be some sort of magical observation or surveillance system set up so that those in attendance could watch the champions under water.



He almost expected that Dumbledore would have come up with some way to watch them – how else would they be able to tell if someone was in dire trouble and in need of help?



Still, the transformation seemed like a viable option for his task. Even if he did end up having to register as an animagus. And if he got in 'trouble' for being unregistered, he could just point out that it wasn't actually an animagus transformation, and hopefully get off on that technicality.



This was. Of course assuming he learned the transformation before mid February when the next task would take place. Oh, and assuming he was even able to do it at all... Which part of him still seriously doubted.



Harry went to the first chapter and began to read. It described a rather complicated sounding parselmagic chant that would dig deep into your parselmagic core and tell you if you were even capable of the transformation.



He read it through a few times, and his companion spoke up a few times to explain concepts that confused Harry. Finally he stood up and walked to the center of the room. He closed his eyes and focused on the image of a serpent in his mind. He began to quietly hiss a rhythmic chant of sorts and felt the parselmagic begin to swirl and twist around him. He grabbed onto that magic and pulled more of it to the surface than he had ever needed to before.



It was electric and intoxicating. Pulling out his normal magic, and pulling out his parselmagic was so different, but if he were asked to explain why, he couldn't. His parselmagic just felt so... intoxicating somehow. It made him feel giddy.



As he continued pulling out more and more of his parselmagic, his head felt more and more light and fuzzy. His lids grew heavy and his mouth spread into an odd sort of grin. Strange hissed giggles escaped his lips and morphed into a loud cackle. The magic reached a tremendous peak before suddenly leaving him in a great explosion of dark energy. He gasped in shock and his knees gave out. The force of it caused him to fall down and left him bent over, supporting himself with his palms flat on the cold stone floor. He stayed there, motionless for a long moment, panting heavily, and shaking from the shock his body had just experienced.



He opened his eyes and saw he was glowing lightly. It was a subtle green pulse, and it was quickly fading. He grinned widely.



He was able to perform the transformation.



He stayed there for a few more minutes, before he felt that enough strength had returned to allow him to stand to his feet. His limbs still felt like jelly, but he was able to get to the chaise and sit down. He weakly pulled the book onto his lap and began to read again. He wanted this to work. He would make it work. And even if he couldn't get it to work in time for the task... it just sounded to fascinating not to learn it anyway.



– –



A week had passed since Harry had come up with the parselmage transformation option, and he'd been spending some time down in the chamber each day since, practicing, meditating, and searching the few parselmagic books contained down there for useful spells.



"Where do you keep going, Harry?" Ron whined as Harry came in through the portrait hole. "The holiday is almost over and I've hardly seen you at all!"



It was now Saturday again, and it was just after one in the afternoon. Harry had taken his second dose of the accelerant potion the night before and he was currently sore and exhausted. He wanted absolutely nothing to do with Ron Weasley. Especially a whining Ron Weasley.



Harry clenched his jaw and closed his eyes trying desperately to reign in his temper and not snap at Ron. It wouldn't do for him to lash out at the other boy. It would only raise questions. Increase suspicions. And he did not need more people watching him and wondering about him. Things had actually quieted down a bit lately and he was enjoying the calm.



He took a couple deep breaths and opened his eyes. Ron was looking at him funny.



"Look, Ron, I've been busy. I'm working on my strategy for the second task and it's taking a lot of work. That's all."



"You aren't seriously still brewing potions, are you!" Ron exclaimed, incredulously.



"No, actually, I finished that."



Ron blinked but then his face grew bright. "So you're done!"



Harry signed and reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm done with the potions, yes. But that was only the first step, Ron. I've still got to learn some spells and it's taking a lot of practice."



Ron's face fell. "Oh."



"Do you need any help?" Hermione's voice came in and Harry turned to see her sitting at one of the overstuffed chairs by the fireplace.



"Nah, Hermione. I've got it covered."



"Are you sure? I mean... we could help you practice or something," she offered, looking hopeful.



Harry scrunched up his face, trying to think of anything he was working on that they could actually help with.



He'd already mastered the warming charm and the bubble-head charm. They'd been easy. Everything that was left at this part was all parselmagic.



There was still the locating charms though.



He'd done another 'word search' spell down in Salazar's study for 'location spell' and 'parselmagic' and manged to find a parseltongue book on a variety of general spells – including two different location spells. He had only done this the day before, so he hadn't yet gotten around to testing out either.



"Well..." he began slowly, "I need to practice some locator charms."



"Locator charms?" Hermione said, perking up and looking at him with interest. "So... can you tell us what exactly the task is going to be? Or... are you not supposed to say? I have to admit, Harry, I've been absolutely dying of curiosity."



"Er, yeah... Well, I think it's alright for me to say. No one has told me not to. Basically, for the task I've got to find something. I still don't know what it will be though. Apparently they're going to steal something from me and hide it at the bottom of the lake. I'll have one hour to find it, and if Idon't find it, I'll never get it back."



Hermione and Ron both gave him horrified looks. Ron spoke first.



"But there's... things in the lake! What about the giant squid?"



Harry coughed out a humorless laugh. "Yes Ron, I'm aware of that."



"But the lake is huge! And it's incredibly deep! How on earth will you ever hold your breath long enough to search it? You'll need some sort of underwater breathing spell or something. Oh, what ever are you going to do Harry?" Hermione said with a utterly stricken expression.



"I'm working on a few things... I've already got the water breathing thing worked out. As for surviving the squid, the grindylows, and the mer-people, I've got a primary strategy I'm aiming for, but I've also got a back-up plan in case I can't get the first one worked out in time. Anyway, either way I go, I still want to work out these locator spells, and you two could probably help with that."



"How so?" Hermione asked, sitting at attention and taking on her 'serious' face.



"Well... you could just... take something from me, and I'll try to find it. For all I know, they aren't even going to tell me what they take from me, so I may go into it totally blind. I want to try it both ways. Knowing what I'm looking for, and not knowing."



"You want to do this now?" Ron said, looking eager.



Harry grimaced. "Ugh, no... sorry guys, but I'm exhausted. I was actually planning on heading up to bed and taking a nap."



"Whut!" Ron exclaimed. "But it's only one in the afternoon!"



"I've been up since really early Ron, and I've been er... working on some really strenuous things since then, so I'm really wiped out."



"Okay," Ron said, looking glum.



"Well you'd better go get some rest then," Hermione said, instead of asking the questions that were clearly on the tip of her tongue.



She looked like she desperately wanted to ask Harry what he'd been up to to get so exhausted. The fact that he'd finally given up some details about the tournament, after refusing to tell them a single thing before then, had only wet her appetite, and now she was clearly hungry for more. He was surprised she refrained from badgering him.



"Thanks," he said, smiling in relief.



"We can work on that locator thing tomorrow," Ron said as Harry turned and headed towards the stairs.



"Yeah, sure," Harry said as he waved dismissively over his shoulder and began to climb the stairs.



– –



"Come, Wormtail," he said while beckoning forward with his tiny, long-fingered hand. The short pudgy man was trembling and cowering in the back of the room. He squeaked with startled surprise and scurried over to him.



"Yes, my Lord?" Wormtail sad as he kneeled and bowed his head.



"Your arm, Wormtail," he commanded.



Wormtail's head rose the slightest bit and he looked up through his long, thinning hair and trembled. Slowly, Wormtail rose his left arm, baring his forearm and pulling back the sleeve of his robe.



He reached to the short table beside the chair he rested in and grasped his wand in hand. He enjoyed the warm flow of magic he felt coursing through it and into his hand. His connection to his magic was strengthening with each passing day. It was a reminder to him that it was only a matter of time... just a matter of time...



He took the wand and pressed it hard into his servants arm. He grinned wickedly as he saw the simpering little rat flinch in apparent pain.



He called forth some of his magical wells and smiled wickedly when it came to him with much more ease than it had in far too long. It felt glorious and filled him with anxious anticipation for what was to come.



He collected the magic together and forced it through his wand and into the mark. The faded mark began to darken and throb with the sudden influx of magic. Wormtail whimpered quietly as the pain involved with being the vessel for the magic. It only made him smirk with increased glee.



This was the third time he had done this, but it would be the first time that it would truly make a noticeable difference with his followers. They would begin to feel it now.



Before he was just reestablishing the connection. Now they would begin to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that their Lord was returning. Each time he repeated this, the mark would grow stronger, and the compulsion to return to him, when called upon, would grow with it.



Ideally, this would guarantee that they would be ready when he finally did call them to return to his side. He didn't want them to have any excuse for dallying. They couldn't claim that they simply did not expect to be called upon, because it had been so very many years since his fall. There was ample warning, and punishment for an untimely return would be tremendous.



He pulled his wand back, with a satisfied smirk gracing his lipless features. Wormtail whimpered and hesitantly lowered his arm.



"Very good, Wormtail," he said in a quiet hiss. "Bring me the chair."



"Yes my Lord," Wormtail said as he bowed his head again and quickly scurried out of the room. He returned a minute later with a carved mahogany chair without any legs, that was levitating in mid-air. The chair was small in size, as if it were made for a young child, and the arms of it were intricately carved to look like snakes, curled around and then coming up along the top of the back rest.



He made a motion with his hand and gave Wormtail an expectant look. The cowering wizard hurried over and lifted him up off the armchair and placed him into the floating wooden chair.



"The books have been placed in the library?" he asked.



"Yes, my Lord. I unpacked the crates this morning, just like you ordered it."



"Good. Leave me."



"Y-yes, my Lord."



Wormtail bowed again and quickly raced from the room while subconsciously holding his left forearm to his chest; clearly thankful to be dismissed. He shifted his ridiculously undersized body in the stiff wooden chair. He really needed to add some cushions to it. No matter. He would deal with it later.



He waved his hand and the chair began to move smoothly forward. He directed it out of the room and down the hall, into the library. Several crates lined the walls. He knew they contained the old tattered muggle books that used to occupy the shelves. Taking their place in the bookshelves were a collection of books he had recovered from one of his old warded storehouses. He had been thrilled to discover that it had gone undiscovered during his absence, and left entirely in tact. Sending Wormtail, of all people, to recover them had been annoying, but even Pettigrew wasn't incompetent enough to screw that up.



He guided the chair past the rows of books, examining the titles on the spines and reacquainting himself with the collection of ancient tomes.



He sighed happily. It was such a relief to have recovered these. His books were like an extension of himself. He hated to be so forcefully separated from his knowledge base. He would always miss the books he had unfortunately been forced to leave back at the school. But someday – hopefully someday soon – he would gain control over the school and be able to go and fetch them from the chamber. But still, these books were a fantastic find, even if they weren't quite a precious as the ones left behind at the school.



He reached out and ran his fingers over the old leather and breathed in a deep breath. Yes. He missed this...



– –



Harry opened his eyes, sighed, and smiled. It was a strange sort of contentment. An odd feeling. The feeling from having something you treasured returned to you, after having thought it lost.



Or... having something that he treasured, returned to him. He amended.



But still, it had felt like...



Harry shook his head. He had lay in bed with his eyes closed, yet actually still awake, for the last twenty minutes. He had been mulling over his vision from the previous night. It was... strange seeing this side of Voldemort. The man had such an appreciation for knowledge. It was strange, in an odd way, to have his suspicions about Tom Riddle and the chamber be confirmed. He had known, on an academic level, that Riddle had been down there. Probably spent loads of time down there.



That Riddle had read those same books that Harry was reading. That he had placed some of them there, himself. It was... interesting to feel the same affection for those books while in Voldemort's mind, that Harry himself felt for them. Voldemort saw no distinction between what he learned. Knowledge was power, and it was all worthy of his attention.



The strangest revelation from the previous nights vision had, however, happened towards the end. It was early in the morning and Wormtail had returned from a trip to the local muggle market – apparently, where ever the manor house Voldemort was living in was, it was near some muggle village. Wormtail had brought a few muggle publications and the newspaper back with him on Voldemort's order. This was apparently a regular thing as Voldemort had immediately set down what he was busying himself with and had begun to read the muggle paper. He had told Wormtail to try and acquire some more international publications in the future as well.



Voldemort hated having been out of the loop for so long. The wizarding world had basically sat still during that time, since the wizarding world hardly ever changed or progressed – so set in their ways, wizards were – but the muggles had changed so much, so fast. Especially the last fifteen years. Voldemort felt he needed to reacquaint himself with the technologies and advancements of the muggles. He needed to be prepared.



The thing that left Harry the most... surprised was the total lack of thoughts about muggle inferiority. Wasn't that supposed to be Voldemort's thing? The belief that muggles were no better than stupid animals? Filthy, stupid, weak, muggles?



But he hadn't thought that. Harry was surprised to find the man held a surprising amount of respect for their capabilities. But he did consider them a serious threat. He thought them dangerous. Voldemort kept thinking about the work he needed to complete. About his task. It left Harry confused and feeling like he was missing some bigger-picture thing.



Harry sighed and shook his head. It was like all of the foundational beliefs he had gained over the previous three years had been based on lies, and misinformation. Actually being inside Voldemort's head had shown something Harry had never expected to see.



Voldemort was just... a person.



Albeit, a tremendously powerful person, with a hunger for ultimate knowledge and control. But still a person. He had always imagined Voldemort as some sort of blood-thirsty monster, incapable of rational thought, who passed his days by torturing people, and planning new and more creative ways to kill muggles. Was any of that true?



And his power... Harry had felt the power that coursed through him when he touched his wand to Wormtail's mark and it had been utterly inebriating. It was dark, and delicious... and that had only been a small fraction of his power!



Harry closed his eyes at the memory of what it had felt like to experience that magic, first hand. Air escaped his lungs in a heavy shuddering breath and he smiled. The memory sent a pleasant curling in his stomach that he didn't want to let go of.



A moment later he sighed again and shook himself out of his growing stupor. It wasn't good to dwell on such things. It wasn't... healthy.



Harry spent the majority of the morning in the chamber practicing the meditative breathing practice, and the magical focusing techniques. He was beginning to feel the magic coiling in his stomach. His skin tingled with the transformation magic, but nothing had actually happened yet. Still, he was optimistic. It was January 3rd, and the next task wasn't until February 24th. He had a gameplan, and he had time.



He left the chamber and returned to the school for lunch. Ron asked Harry if he wanted to start working on that locator charm, but Harry declined, telling both he and Hermione that he was in the middle of some of his other preparations and wanted to get back to it right away.



Ron was clearly disappointed, and scowled but didn't protest any further.



Harry left the great hall and slipped behind a tapestry into a hidden corridor and pulled the map and cloak out of his bag. He tapped the map, activating it and checked the 2nd floor corridor to make sure the coast was clear so he could re-enter the chamber when he saw Karkaroff's name moving along a corridor in the dungeons towards Snape's office.



Harry frowned and his mind wandered back to the warning from Sirius to keep his eyes open, from last term. Karkaroff was a former Death Eater, and Harry couldn't help but wonder what he might be doing going to speak to Snape.



He made the decision quickly and hurried down the corridor towards the stairs and down into the dungeon.



He pulled out his wand as he got closer and cast a silencing charm over himself. He checked the map again and saw that the two of them were inside Snape's office now. He tapped the map with his wand, ending the spell and put it into his pocket. He hurried down the corridor and stood outside the closed door, pressing his ear to it and trying to listen in.



The voices were too muffled to make out and Harry grumbled in frustration. He wished he knew a spell for eavesdropping through doors, or to increase his hearing, but nothing came to mind.



The voices beyond the door became elevated and suddenly the door flew open. Harry only just barely managed to fly away from the open doorway and press himself against the wall beside it.



"Out!" Snape growled.



"But Severus! You must listen!"



"I must do nothing!" Snape hissed in a deadly whisper.



Harry peered around the corner and saw that Karkaroff was holding the left sleeve of his robes up and exposing his forearm to Snape.



"You know what it means, Severus! You must feel it too!"



"Yes of course I have felt it. And I know exactly what it means. I am no fool, Igor!"



"Dumbledore protects you, Severus. I have no such luxury! Vhen our Lord returns he vill crucify me!"



"That is you're problem, not mine!"



"But Severus! You must –"



"NO! Now get out!"



Karkaroff stood straighter and let his arm fall to his side. He was scowling at Snape, but nodded his head.



"Fine then. But this is not over," Karkaroff said harshly before turning and storming out of the office and down the long dungeon corridor.



Snape stood in the doorway for a long minute before growling angrily, marching back inside and slamming the door shut behind him.



Harry stood there for another minute, trying to comprehend what he had just witnessed.



Karkaroff was a Death Eater. He knew that. Although, apparently, he didn't think that Voldemort would be particularly pleased with him, so maybe he had done something during the last decade that the Dark Lord would be angry about.



It made it rather unlikely that Karkaroff was the Death Eater contact within the school that had put Harry's name in the goblet of fire, though.



But what was really cause for contemplation was the fact that Karkaroff had gone to Snape. He had shown Snape his mark. This had to have been about what Voldemort did the previous night with Wormtail's mark. Voldemort had pushed his magic through all of the marks to begin activating them. Karkaroff had felt this and had panicked. But Snape said that he had felt it too. That he knew too. And Karkaroff had come to Snape.



Was Snape a Death Eater!



Did that mean that Snape could have been the one who put Harry's name in the cup?



Harry pushed himself off the wall and began to quickly make his way back towards the second floor. He entered Myrtle's bathroom, walked directly to the sink, and hissed the open command. A few minutes later and he was hissing his way into Slytherin's study, his mind still racing.



Instead of going to the chaise, like he usually did, he went over to Slytherin's desk and set his bag on top. He pulled out some parchment, quill and ink, and sat in the chair.



He sat, staring at the blank page for a few long minutes as he tried to make some order of his thoughts.



Finally he put quill to parchment and began to compose a letter to Sirius. It had been nearly a month since he had last written to his Godfather, and over two months since he had last spoken with him, when he had fire called at the start of November.



Sirius had known that Karkaroff was a Death Eater. Maybe he would know something about Snape too. At the very least, he could act as a sounding board for Harry's theories.



He repeated everything he could recall of the brief bit of conversation he had overheard between Karkaroff and Snape and told Sirius how Karkaroff had been showing Snape his dark mark.



Harry didn't mention his visions to Sirius, even though at the start of term, Sirius had asked him to let him know if he was still having them. He didn't want to share them. They felt sort of... private. Plus he doubted he could properly explain to anyone else what it was like for him to experience them. How when he had a vision of Voldemort, it was as if he was Voldemort. He could only imagine how that would be received by anyone else.



No. He couldn't tell anyone about his visions. But he still wanted Sirius's opinion on the Snape-Karkaroff encounter. Hopefully it wouldn't take another month for his godfather to actually respond.



– –



The next day was the start of second term. Harry had stayed up late reading, and then had spent another hour laying in bed, buried deep in his mindscape with his companion. Because of this, he had slept in a bit later than he would usually allow himself and was forced to rush through his morning routine, gulp down his two potions, and race down to breakfast.



He jogged down to the Great Hall and briskly walked through the doors. The second he stepped through the doors the room fell eerily quiet. Harry instantly slowed in his stride and looked around the room cautiously. An alarmingly large number of eyes were trained on him. A substantial quantity of snickering began to emanate from the Slytherin table.



Oh, now what? He grumbled bitterly as he resumed his rough strides to the Gryffindor table. He found Ron and Hermione and walked to them. Hermione was holding the Daily Prophet in her hands and looking devastated. Ron was looking at Harry with a mixture of confusion and disbelief.



A quick glance around the room and Harry was able to note that a lot of people were holding the Daily Prophet in their hands.



This can't be good...



He sat down next to Hermione, gave a resigned sigh, and reached out his hand, silently asking for her to hand over the paper.



"Harry –" she began to say in weak protest, but he shot her a look that booked no discussion. She sighed heavily, nodded her head, and handed over the paper.



Harry unfolded it and laid it out in front of him. What he saw there, in big bold letters, printed across the front page, was definitely not something he had been expecting.



THE BOY WHO LIVED TO BE GAY?



By Rita Skeeter



Harry closed his eyes. He reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger as he lowered his head slightly.



"Harry?" Hermione asked in a quiet, careful voice.



She leaned in closer when she got no response. "Harry? It's... it's not so bad..." She paused when she thought she heard something. His shoulders jerked and shook for a moment and she feared he might be about to burst into sobs! She leaned in even closer and turned her head to the side, trying to get a look at his bowed head.



Her brow furrowed in confusion when she heard what sounded like a... chuckle?



Harry snorted and the damn broke. He began to chuckle harder and louder before his held fell back and he erupted in laughter. His whole body shook with the force of his laugh and it lasted for a few solid minutes before he had finally calmed himself down enough that only the occasional snort, or hiccoughed-chuckle escaped him.



"Er... mate? You alright?" Ron asked hesitantly, apparently worried that Harry might of gone totally barmy. Harry nodded his head and let out the sort of sigh you give when you've just had a good laugh. Which he had, so it was appropriate.



"Well you're taking it loads better than I expected," Ron observed. "So it's just rubbish, right? That damned Skeeter woman will print anything!"



Harry shook his head, still calming from his laugh. "No Ron. It's true," he said as he raised his head and gave the ginger an amused smile.



Ron's face went stark pale. Harry heard several of the people sitting within hearing range actually gasp. He rolled his eyes.



"Although, I wonder how the ruddy hell she found out," Harry said as he sat up straight and smoothed the paper out again. He glanced over to Hermione, and marginally narrowed his eyes. "You didn't let it slip, did you?"



She gasped and looked horribly offended. "Of course not! Harry, I would never had told anyone!"



Harry grinned and nodded his head. "Yeah, I know. Still had to ask."



"Whoa... wait. Wait, Harry... what..." Ron was spluttering now and looking, frantically, back and forth between Harry and Hermione. "You're...? But what about Fleur! And you! You knew?" he exclaimed, pointing at Hermione, accusingly.



"Ron, did you even read the article!" Hermione asked in exasperation.



"I skimmed it!" he said defensively. "Besides, I assumed it was just more of Skeeter's rubbish!"



"Fleur knew. Or, at least, she suspected before hand, and had it figured out by the end of the ball," Harry said with a one-shouldered shrug as he reached over and began to scoop some scrambled eggs onto his plate. He was pointedly ignoring the dozens of sets of eyes still locked on him intently, and the roar of hushed whispers.



Let them stare. Stupid gawking idiots.



"She knew?" Hermione gasped. "You don't think..."



Harry shrugged. "If it wasn't you, it had to be her. But I really didn't expect this."



"Do you think that maybe she was bitter? That you took her to the dance, even though you weren't really interested?" Hermione asked.



"It really doesn't add up... I mean, she was really good about it after the dance when we talked. She seemed thankful. Said she had a great time. I mean, if she'd gone with a straight bloke, her aura would have been effecting him all night long, and all he would have done is drool on her and tried to grope her. She said she was grateful for being able to attend the dance with someone capable of coherent conversation. It really doesn't make sense that she would have gone to Skeeter."



Hermione made a noise in her throat and looked thoughtful.



"Harry..." Ron croaked weakly and Harry looked back up at the red-head sitting opposite him at the table. "You're... you're seriously gay?"



Harry rolled his eyes. "Yes Ron. I'm gay."



He heard another rush of whispers, echo through the hall as word spread like fiendfyre. Harry shook his head and chuckled weakly before turning back to his plate and stuffing another bite of food in his mouth.



A moment passed where Ron's face was a mask of disbelief and shock, finally his gaze settled on Hermione. "And you knew!" he said accusingly.



Hermione sighed. "Yes, Ron. I knew."



"Why? How?"



"Harry told me," she said in a hushed voice as she glanced around the crowded room that was still intently watching their every move.



"When?" Ron shrieked slightly, and his voice cracked.



"Um... the last week of November, I think. It really doesn't matter."



"Of course it matters!"



"Ron, don't make a scene!" Hermione reprimanded with a harsh hiss.



"Why didn't you tell me?" Ron asked, accusingly again, as he turned to Harry this time.



Harry sighed and let his fork fall to his plate. "It didn't come up. I also didn't see how it should matter."



"Why did you ask Fleur to the dance if you don't even fancy her?"



Harry blinked. "What does it matter if I asked Fleur to the dance?"



"Well, someone else could have asked her!"



"Who? You?" Harry responded, leaning back in his chair and giving the ginger a pointed look.



"Yeah, maybe!" Ron said defensively, sitting up more in his seat.



"Do you realize that one of the biggest reasons she said yes to my invitation is because I'm gay?"



"What sense does that make?" Ron exclaimed.



Harry let his hand hit his forehead and groaned in frustration. He let his hand fall back down and resigned himself to actually having this conversation.



"Since I don't fancy girls, I'm immune to her veela aura. That's why. Try empathizing with Fleur for a minute. No matter where she goes, guys follow her. They fall over each other to be near her. They practically worship the ground she walks on, and the second any of them open their mouths, they sound like blathering idiots because their ability to think properly is being inhibited by their hormones, which are being triggered into overdrive by her veela aura.



"And if guys aren't acting like brainless morons around her, they're trying to grope her, and assault her. By going with me, she didn't have to deal with any of that. That's why it makes sense."



Ron scowled back angrily, folded his arms over his chest and proceeded to pout like a child. Harry almost laughed, but he knew that would only make Ron more mad.



Harry picked his fork back up and resumed eating while he looked down at the paper and began to actually read the article.



He frowned as he came across a paragraph that made reference to some of the conversation that he, Fleur, Krum, and Hermione had, had while sitting at a table together at the dance.



Harry leaned back and pointed at it while turning to Hermione. "How do you suppose she got this?"



Hermione leaned over and re-read that section of the article. "Perhaps Fleur told her? She was there."



Harry frowned. "It really doesn't seem to fit..." he went back to reading and got to the part that described Fleur confronting him about his sexuality at the end of the night. It painted it into a much different picture of course, making it look like he had tricked her, and toyed with her feelings, in a way that only Skeeter could pen so skillfully.



"Are you sure that Fleur wasn't really upset?" Hermione asked again.



Harry shook his head. "I really was sure... I'll have to go see her. Talk to her."



"She could just lie to you," Hermione pointed out.



The corner of Harry's mouth turned up into a secret smirk that he quickly pushed down. "I think I can read her pretty well, actually. I'll know if she's lying."



Hermione gave him a skeptical look, and rose a single eyebrow questioningly. Harry, however, chose not to elaborate.



– –




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