Sequel to Blind Faith. Harry's second year at Hogwarts begins and something sinister stalks the halls. Muggleborns are being petrified by someting unknown, and just who could be the Heir of Slyth...
Chapter 1 - Bittersweet Summer
Morning had come to Surrey. The sun had barely made above the trees, bathing the neighbourhood in golden light. Too early for most residents to be up and about, the streets were empty, save for two small boys jogging together.
Both looked to be eleven or twelve years old. They were dressed similarly in sweat clothes and trainers. The smaller of the two, a frail looking blond-haired child with watery blue eyes, ran with exaggerated, coltish movements that spoke of someone unused to such activity. The other boy, a raven-haired lad wearing sunglasses even in the morning's half-light, ran along side his partner with practised ease. His movements were graceful and smooth. The only odd thing about him was how he kept one hand on the blonde's shoulder the whole time they ran. The boys went on a bit further until the smaller one, his breath becoming more ragged by the moment, finally stumbled to a stop.
"I can't..." the blond gasped out plaintively. "I can't go on any more Harry. I can't keep up with you."
"It's alright, Dudds," replied the dark-haired boy easily. "You're still getting your strength back. Look how much further we've gotten today than just last week. If you keep getting better this quickly, you'll be outrunning me in no time. Now come on," Harry added. "We need to walk for a bit or we'll get stiff."
Harry took a narrow rod he'd been holding, and, with a deft flick of the wrist, extended it into a long, thin, white cane. As they began making their way back to their house, Harry swung the cane back and forth in front of him, testing the path for unexpected obstacles. Had there been anyone up, they would have attracted attention and been on the receiving end of many stares; most people couldn't help it, their eyes were drawn to the unusual. Harry really didn't mind though, not anymore.
More often than not, his going anywhere brought stares from passers-by. Harry was blind. From the age of five, he had lived in darkness, a reward for trying to save his uncle from a burning car. Along with his lack of sight, Harry had a fine pattern of barely noticeable scars around his eyes. As for the eyes themselves, the corneas had scarred over, leaving his eyes a uniform dull grey where they had once been brilliant green. He'd taken to wearing the sunglasses, not because he was ashamed of the way he looked, but Harry found it hard to talk to people that were overly busy avoiding is gaze. He'd always used his cane when outside his home, though until just lately, he hadn't needed it all that much. His magic had taken care of that.
Yes, magic is real, and Harry a wizard. He'd found out about it a mere day before his eleventh birthday, though his magical 'inner eye' had been functional since he was nine. Harry could 'see' magic and the auras of living things. With special training from a man named Sal at Hogwarts, he'd gotten to the point that he could somewhat sense inanimate objects and his environment, though it wasn't very clear. Sal had told him that if he was diligent, he would never need his cane again. Unfortunately, that was all changed by interference by Lucius Malfoy and Voldemort.
Voldemort had been a powerful wizard who'd been stripped of his body, and a great portion of his power in an attempt to kill Harry when the boy had been only one year old. Most had thought the evil wizard dead or beyond the ability to recover his power. Voldemort had found his way to Hogwarts, however, in Harry's first year, seeking the Philosopher's stone. With that, he could not only recover his body, but become essentially immortal.
The Dark Lord had possessed one of the school's teachers, Professor Quirrell, and used him to try and find the artefact. Harry had found out about it and went to confront the professor and protect the stone. He was hampered, however, by a cursed pendant that he'd unwittingly received as a gift. It forced him to obey the any commands given by any member of the Malfoy family as well as Lord Voldemort himself.
Harry had overcome the pendant's hold when Voldemort had commanded him to kill one of his friends, but at a great cost. In desperation, he'd used his magic to overcome the power of the pendant and destroy it. In the process, he'd damaged his own magical core, and his inner sight as well. Only in the past week had Harry begun to sense the swirling sparks of auras around him. His ability was still quite limited, but in no time, he expected that he'd be able to sense things as he had before.
The neighbourhood was just beginning to wake up as Harry and Dudley arrived on Privet Drive. Harry waved as one of the neighbours, Mrs Higgins, called a greeting to the boys as she came out to get the morning post. Coming up the front walk of Number Four, Harry let his hand run lightly over the real estate sign stuck in the front lawn.
It still felt odd to be moving. This was the only place, other than Hogwarts, that he'd ever felt at home. Still, both he and Dudley would be attending Hogwarts this year, and regardless of how old he looked, Dudds was still only five emotionally. Because of this, Aunt Petunia had been adamant about being as close as possible to both of them. Between Professors Snape and Dumbledore, they'd found and purchased a house just outside Hogsmeade.
He'd been to the Shrieking Shack with Aunt Petunia and Dudley several times already, and even with the house only half re-done, it was truly impressive. No mere shack, it was close to a manor house in size. There were six bedrooms, a library, dining room, and a huge sitting room that could seat the entirety of any of the school's houses comfortably. If it hadn't been for the rumour of the house being haunted, Harry was sure someone would have bought it long ago. If things continued like his aunt said, they'd be moving in just before school started for the new term.
With renovations so near complete, half of their belongings had already been packed in cardboard boxes for the move. It was into this mess that Harry and Dudley came as they returned from their run. Dudley, shouting a greeting to his mum, clattered up the stairs to get a shower while Harry, who'd barely broken a sweat, came into the kitchen to help prepare breakfast.
It felt good to him, here with Aunt Petunia, performing tasks they'd shared since he was little. In short order, the house was filled by the smell of bangers frying in a skillet. Finished cleaning up and attracted by the aroma, Dudley came in freshly dressed and jumped into a chair, grinning with anticipation.
"Dudley," Petunia admonished lightly. "Get up and help Harry set the table."
"But mum," the blond moaned. "I'm hungry!"
"I know, dear," his mother replied. "Set the table and we'll all be eating soon enough. You're old enough to help now and you've got to learn to do some things for yourself."
Dudley sulked a bit but did as his mother told him. In minutes, they were all tucked in around the table, enjoying their meal. Dudley, having completely forgotten to be mad, was carrying on about how far he'd gotten running that morning and how he'd only stopped to let Harry catch up. Smiling at his cousin's antics, Harry listened contentedly until they were interrupted by a tapping at the window.
Seeing an owl on the kitchen sill, Dudley let out an ecstatic yelp and leapt to let it in. Harry, on the other hand slumped a little bit, still feeling the pain of Hedwig's loss.
"They're our Hogwarts letters!" Dudley cried as he returned to the table, waving three envelopes. "And one for you too, Mum! It's from Severus."
The professor and Petunia had been carrying on regular correspondence since before Christmas last year. Harry was having a bit of difficulty dealing with his aunt's relationship, mostly because of the revelations that Snape had been a Death Eater in Voldemort's service at the same time his parents had been killed. Harry really wasn't sure how much the professor had been involved in it, if at all; it was his doubts that tormented him. He'd wanted to confront the Professor about it, but they were never alone long enough before the end of term for him to build up the nerve. Since summer holidays had started, Snape had yet to visit Privet Drive; his letters to Petunia, though, came regularly.
Opening his letter, Harry ran a hand over the parchment, reading his book list for the new school year. He noticed that Defence required half a dozen books, all by somebody named Lockhart. Whoever he was, he had to be better than Professor Quirrell from last year. He hoped as much; if it wasn't for reading the book on his own time, Harry would have learned nothing in defence. Going over the book list again, however, he felt a little unsure. What kind of defence book would be titled /Magical Me/?
Further thoughts of school were interrupted, however, as Harry heard a faint popping noise from upstairs. It had been very quiet and neither Petunia nor Dudley had noticed it, but Harry had.
It wasn't that his hearing was better than other people's. The old wife's tale about a blind person's other senses becoming more acute was just that. It was just that when you lose your sight, the other senses become so important that you pay much more attention than you would have otherwise.
Excusing himself from the table, Harry made his way up the stairs, searching ahead with his weakened senses. Something had appeared in his room, something very magical. Pulling his wand from the waistband of his sweats, Harry stepped into the room to find it already occupied by an unfamiliar house-elf.
Harry was more than familiar with these magical creatures. They seemed to be everywhere at Hogwarts, staying to the shadows and doing all the necessary work that kept the school running. This one, like all the others he'd met, was short; standing no more than three feet tall, it was average for its kind. It sat on the edge of Harry's bed in a toga of sorts, made from an old pillowcase. Apparently unnoticed as of yet, Harry let out a strangled gasp when he heard the sound of thick pages being turned. The house-elf was going through his parent's photo album!
"Hey!" barked the raven-haired boy, startling the creature so much that it fell off the bed. "What are you doing with my things? Who are you?"
"Oh!" yelped the house-elf as he banged his head sharply against the floor. "Dobby is a bad house-elf! He must punish himself for upsetting Harry Potter!"
Distracted by the rhythmic thumping of the creature's head, Harry reached out and took its shoulders. "Wait... Dobby - that's your name right? Stop doing that. What are you doing in my room?"
"Oh, but Dobby must punish himself sir, it is a house-elf's duty if he's offended his superior."
"Please Dobby, you have to stop," begged Harry, knowing the noise would soon attract his aunt. "You only startled me and you've punished yourself enough. Just come sit on the bed and tell me why you're here."
Far from calming, Harry's invitation seemed to push the house-elf into hysterics. Grabbing the raven-haired boy about the knees, Dobby began heaving great sobs.
Struggling to keep his balance, Harry said worriedly, "Dobby, please try to keep quiet... I'm sorry if I've offended you somehow."
"Offend?" squeaked the house elf in disbelief. "Sir, never has a wizard asked Dobby to sit - as an equal!"
Pulling the blubbering house-elf over to the bed, Harry sat him down. Waves of adoration washed over the boy as he tried to calm Dobby. "You mustn't have met many decent wizards then," Harry said, dissembling.
Dobby shook his head, answering silently, but froze in horror as he realized what he'd just done. To Harry, the change that inexplicably came over the house-elf was shocking. Dobby's aura, which had just settled down, exploded again in agitation. Leaping off the mattress, Dobby grabbed hold of the bedstead and began violently striking his head against it. Between hits, Harry could just make out the house-elf's words as he punished himself.
"Oh..." -thwap- "Dobby almost..." -thwap- "said something," -thwap- "ill of his family!"
"Wait, stop!" Harry moaned desperately. "My aunt isn't comfortable with magical things. I don't want her to find you here and get upset." With a little urging, Harry got Dobby to sit again on the side of the bed and explain himself.
"I'm sorry sir, it's just that Dobby almost spoke ill of his family."
"My wizarding family, sir. A house-elf is bound to serve his house and family forever."
"They know you're here then?"
Blanching at Harry's question, Dobby moaned. "Oh, no sir. Dobby snuck out without his master's knowledge. He will have to punish himself most severely for doing so. If he were to find out..."
"Why don't you just leave, then?"
"A house-elf can only be set free by his master, sir, by presenting him with clothes. My master will never do this; Dobby will serve them till he dies."
"That's horrible," Harry whispered. "If there's anything I can do..."
Regretting his words even as he spoke them, Harry winced as the house-elf's aura flared with gratitude and the creature threw itself at his feet and began kissing them. Unable to keep his balance, Harry fell backward onto the floor with a thump.
"Harry Potter wishes to help a house-elf!" wailed Dobby. "Surely he is the most gracious of all wizards! Dobby has heard of your greatness sir, but never did Dobby expect such kindness from him."
"Harry!" Petunia's voice came from downstairs. "Is everything alright? We heard noises."
"Everything's fine!" Harry called back. "I'm just going through my trunk." Turning back to Dobby, the raven-haired boy frowned and added quietly, "You need keep it down... remember - my aunt!"
"Of course, Harry Potter, sir." replied Dobby shakily. "It's just that things have improved so much for house-elves since the defeat of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be Named. It is to you that we owe our thanks. There have been whispers that Harry Potter faced the Dark Lord again just weeks ago, and escaped yet again. He is brave and bold, we owe him so much. That is why, when Dobby heard the young master's concerns, he came to give a warning, Harry Potter must not attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry this year!"
Dobby's statement rocked Harry back on his heels. Not attend Hogwarts? He couldn't imagine it. The house-elf's statement didn't frighten Harry, by any means. He'd faced down Voldemort himself, just weeks ago. "What are you talking about Dobby? What danger, and who told you this?"
The house-elf was shaking violently as he struggled between loyalty to his family and concern for the Boy-Who-Lived. "Please, sir," moaned Dobby. "Dobby mustn't say how he found out. Just know that danger waits for all at Hogwarts. Dobby cannot say why this is true, but it is!"
Harry wanted to question the house-elf more, but at that moment, he heard a shriek from his bedroom door. In all the excitement, he failed to hear Aunt Petunia's footsteps as she'd come up the stairs. Now her presence filled the doorway, and the sparks of her aura were a swirling mass of yellow and red. These sparks spoke of the anxiety and anger she was feeling at that moment.
"Harry!" she snapped, "what is that... thing? And what is it doing in our house?"
"It's a house-elf, Aunt," explained Harry quickly. Turning towards Dobby, he directed his words at the house-elf as much as his aunt. "He's here delivering a message. Now that's done, he's going to /leave./"
Put off by Harry's sharp tone, Dobby began to visibly tremble again. "But Harry Potter, sir. Dobby only wishes to keep you safe!" The house elf seemed to wilt visibly, realizing that he'd upset the boy. His ears drooping in dejection, Dobby heaved a sigh and said, "Dobby only wished to warn Harry Potter of the danger that waits him. Now he is upset with Dobby, so Dobby will leave." Snapping his fingers, the forlorn house-elf vanished, leaving Harry alone with his aunt and a lot of questions to answer.
"What was all that about?" asked Petunia. "What danger was that thing talking about?" Dobby's words had obviously unsettled Harry's aunt, so he went about trying to calm her.
"Dobby is a house-elf." Harry explained again, hoping that if she understood just what it was, Petunia would be less afraid of it. "They're magical creatures that live to serve wizards." Leading his aunt over to sit on the bed, he continued. "Most of them serve a specific family, though I know there are more than a few running around Hogwarts as well. From what Dobby said before you arrived, they owe me some kind of debt for stopping Voldemort. He's just being a little overprotective."
Aunt Petunia was clearly unconvinced by Harry's explanation, but held any further questions for later. "Harry... there's something else." At this, Petunia seemed to become a bit hesitant, as if she wasn't sure how to continue. "Severus... I mean Professor Snape, has he done something to upset you? In his last letter he said that he's written you twice with no answer and -" Her voice wavered a bit then. "He hasn't been over to visit once since your school let out." Petunia let out a great sigh and admitted, "I've gotten used to him coming over fairly regularly. If not for yourself, then for me, please work this out with him, whatever it is."
Grimacing uncomfortably, Harry answered, "Something happened at school the day Hedwig died. It wasn't Professor Snape's fault, but I guess I do need to talk with him. Have you sent your post back to him yet today?"
When Petunia said no, he nodded and thought a bit. "We're going to Diagon Alley tomorrow; ask him if he would meet me in the Leaky Cauldron. He and I can talk before we go in."
Harry's aunt broke into a beautiful smile that he couldn't see, but could sense from blocks away. Taking his shoulder, she started to lead him back out of the room, but stopped in the doorway. "Harry, why don't you grab your guitar? Dudders is fascinated by how well you play - I expect it's a matter of time before I'm buying him one, and you're teaching him to play." Grinning, Harry went over to the cupboard and picked up his guitar. He loved playing for his family, and the thought of spending a morning entertaining Dudley with his music sounded fun.
Many miles away, in Scotland, a castle lay hidden among the rolling hills. Deep under the castle was a dark room occupied by an ancient and beautiful mirror. Since the beginning of summer it had been gently swaying in a soft, constant breeze that seemed to have no source. Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, the breeze became much stronger and a swirling cloud formed in the air. Bolts of pure magical energy leapt from the mirror into the cloud illuminating something writhing in its centre. With a final, thunderous crack, the mirror shattered like a bomb going off. Shards of glass ricocheted around the room. In the aftermath, a serpentine shape gathered itself and inspected the surroundings.
At that moment, a door opened to allow four people to enter. There were two witches and two wizards, all of them ageless, yet ancient. They stared down at the winged snake as it lay coiled, preening its feathers. After a few moments, she lifted her head to regard the newcomers. One of the Wizards, wearing a green and silver robe, stepped over and knelt down by the creature. Reaching out a hand, he smoothed the feathers on its head and said only three words.
"He needs you."
Without hesitation, the serpent leapt into the air and flew through the open door. Turning back to the others, Sal smirked at the wizard in red and gold robes "I told you. Now that's another fifty galleons you owe me, Ric." The red robed wizard just mumbled to himself grumpily as the two women, laughing uproariously, each took an arm and led him from the room. With a smug look on his face, Sal followed close behind.