|SIYE Time:9:25 on 17th August 2018|
Category: Pre-OotP, Post-OotP, Alternate Universe
Characters:Albus Dumbledore, Draco Malfoy, Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, Minerva McGonagall, Neville Longbottom, Nymphadora Tonks, Other, Remus Lupin, Ron Weasley, Severus Snape, Sirius Black
Genres: Drama, Romance
Warnings: Dark Fiction, Death, Disturbing Imagery, Extreme Language, Intimate Sexual Situations, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Negative Alcohol Use, Sexual Situations, Violence/Physical Abuse
Summary: Sequel to Darkness Within. This story begins the night before Harry's fifth year at Hogwarts. Canon couples accurate to JKR. The romance between Harry and Ginny will develop slowly due to their ages. Please note rating and warnings.
Hitcount: Story Total: 27336; Chapter Total: 917
Awards: View Trophy Room
Thanks to Arnel for her work as beta for this story! The house described in the first section is based upon a real home on the water belonging to relatives. It truly is an awesome house for playing sardines!
Dreams and Letters
Harry woke with a groan, and rubbed the scar on his forehead. Disappointment flooded through his mind. He had come so close to finally reaching the plain black door. His hand had been stretching out to push it open. He needed to see what was beyond that door. Dreaming about walking down that long corridor in the Ministry of Magic had been his nightly torment for weeks. What was in the Department of Mysteries? Why was it so important? What was the Order guarding down there?
Frustrated, he glanced around the quiet dormitory. The other fifth year Gryffindor boys were still sleeping. Soft snores emanated from a couple of beds, while an occasional muffled grumbling could be heard from others. Moonlight coming through the window illuminated the room well enough for Harry to grab his wand and glasses. Pulling on his dressing gown and slippers, he made his way silently out of the room and down the stairs.
The fire in the common room was blazing as though it had been recently stoked. Red-orange light danced over the logs and provided a welcoming heat to the pervading chill. Glancing around curiously, he saw the figure of a witch sitting in one of the armchairs facing the fire. Her legs were folded up close to her chest with her arms wrapped around them. A wand was held tightly in one of her fisted hands.
Not wanting to startle her, Harry cleared his throat as he approached. “Erm…hello.”
Her legs dropped swiftly to the floor as she turned in the chair and pointed her wand at him. “Harry?”
He stilled. “Yeah, Anna. Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
She nodded and lowered her wand. Her eyes were red-rimmed, and her face was pale.
Harry moved to the chair closest to her by the fire and settled into the soft cushions. “Bad dream?” he asked.
“Yes,” she murmured, wiping at her face self-consciously. “You?”
He shrugged. “More weird than bad. I just keep dreaming about walking down the corridor at the Ministry towards the Department of Mysteries. I really wish I knew what was in there.” He paused. “Do you want to talk about your dream? I’ve been told it helps to talk about them.”
“No, thanks,” Anna sighed. “I do appreciate the offer, but memories make the worst nightmares.” She chuckled softly, but there was no warmth in her laughter. “It’s not like I’m afraid of some fictional monster and can talk myself rationally out of my fears.”
Harry nodded, his mind wandering over some of the dark memories in his own past. They sat in silence for a time watching the flames licking at the wood in the fireplace.
“How are your lessons going with Professor Snape?” Anna inquired.
“Badly,” Harry admitted. “He keeps telling me to let go of all emotion, to remain focused, to discipline my mind. It doesn’t work! I can’t keep Snape out of my head. He tells me to resist him just before casting Legilimens.” He raked both hands through his dark hair in irritation. “Then, he pours into my mind searching through my thoughts, finding the most…embarrassing memories, and throws my failure into my face!”
“I’m sorry, Harry. That sounds awful,” Anna said quietly. “Has he offered you any suggestions for how to discipline your mind, for how to maintain focus?”
“No,” he replied bitterly. “Maybe Ron’s right, and Snape isn’t trying to teach me Occlumency at all.”
Anna chewed her bottom lip. “Surely he’s trying to teach you.” She sighed and almost seemed to be talking to herself rather than to him. “We all know Professor Snape is not the most encouraging or helpful of teachers. Even in Potions, he lectures, gives us the directions, and expects us to learn everything quickly and accurately. There’s never much tolerance of mistakes or room for a learning curve in his class.” She turned to Harry. “Hasn’t he given you any specific instruction?”
He shrugged and leaned towards her. “The first lesson he implied that since I can resist the Imperius Curse, I should be able to learn Occlumency. He said that the magical power and skills needed for both were similar.” Harry shook his head. “I don’t think they are though. With the Imperius Curse, I wasn’t comfortable with that calm, floating feeling it gave me. I didn’t want to obey. It seemed so stupid to do what I was being told, and so I was…defiant.”
“You tend to be good at defiant,” she smirked.
Harry chuckled. “Yeah, I guess I have my moments.” He leaned back again, relaxing into the chair. “Hang on, you resisted the Imperius Curse. How did you feel doing it?”
Anna stared into the flames, a thoughtful expression on her face. “My experience was…different. I know what you mean though about the…artificially relaxed sensation. It wasn’t real. When the professor cast the curse on me, I felt immediately that I was…experiencing an emotional state that wasn’t coming from me. It was…uncomfortable because I felt a lack of real awareness. I felt vulnerable, so I…retreated.” She turned her gaze to him.
He looked at her intently and attempted to understand her perspective of resisting the curse. “What do you mean by retreated?”
“In my mind, I retreated,” she explained. “I withdrew so that I couldn’t be affected by it, so I wouldn’t feel that…fake floating happiness. I retreated so far away that it couldn’t reach me.”
“You make it sound almost like a place in your mind,” Harry observed. “Like you retreated behind something.”
Anna nodded. “Exactly.” She leaned towards him. “I went to the house on the island. The house itself is…a sprawling old place, filled with staircases and small hidden lofts. It looks as though it’s had rooms added on multiple levels. Some of the staircases are only half — six or seven steps, leading to a single room jutting out from the main construction. None of the staircases will take you to all levels of the house, so you must go up or down a single level and then along a corridor until you find the next set of stairs. The house has so many dead ends, such a confusing layout, that you could easily get lost.” She smirked mischievously. “It would be the best house in the world for a game of sardines!”
He smiled at her enthusiasm and tried to imagine such a unique and extraordinary house. “Tell me about the island,” he requested.
Her expression became dreamy. “The island is covered by a dense forest with the house in the very center. Towering trees grow so closely together that all the branches are entwined, forming a solid canopy of dark green above. The forest floor is blanketed by a thick layer of fallen leaves and tangled vines. The entire space is in perpetual shadow. There are no paths leading through the forest, no way to navigate through the endless green and brown. Impenetrable fog surrounds the whole island. The kind of fog that swirls just above the ocean waters, churning restlessly, but never dissipating. Fog so thick even breathing feels heavy.” Her eyes were closed as she concluded the description, a look of utter contentment on her face.
“Is it your grandmother’s house you’re describing?” Harry asked softly. “Was that where you grew up in Virginia?”
“No,” Anna whispered, a gentle smile on her face. “Grandma’s house was not nearly so complex, nor so isolated. The island is a complete fiction, but it helps me hide things in my mind. Such a place has so many hiding spaces, so many safe spots to store memories. It is the perfect retreat, where nothing I want to remain hidden can ever be found.”
He swallowed. His mind raced as he considered possibilities. “Anna, if I promise not to tell anyone, will you answer a question for me?”
She stared into his eyes and nodded slowly.
“Do you practice Occlumency?” Harry asked.
“Yes,” she breathed.
“Will you help me?” he inquired.
She nodded. “I’ll try, Harry. I don’t know if my method will help you, but I will try.”
“Thank you,” he murmured. He smiled at her gratefully, feeling that at least now he had a chance.
Neville gripped the Daily Prophet tightly in his fists, wrinkling the front page. His breakfast lay untouched on the plate before him as he absorbed the news. Ten Death Eaters had escaped from Azkaban, including those responsible for torturing his parents into madness. He glared at the pictures of the nine wizards and the single witch. An unfamiliar feeling of pure hatred boiling up inside of him as he stared at the photos of Bellatrix, Rodolphus, and Rabastan Lestrange.
He felt Anna’s arm come around his back as she shifted closer towards him. Her fingertips made slow circles between his shoulder blades. Closing his eyes, he tried to relax the sudden tension that had seized his muscles upon seeing the morning headline.
On his other side, Ginny leaned against his arm quietly reading the list of names, along with the descriptions of the crimes for which they had been sent to the wizarding prison. “Antonin Dolohov, convicted of the brutal murders of Gideon and Fabian Prewett. Ron, he’s the one who killed Mum’s brothers,” she whispered as she glanced at him across the table.
Her brother nodded grimly, not looking up from the paper in Hermione’s hands. Harry and Ron were sitting on either side of her, their heads almost close enough to touch as they poured over the contents on the front page.
“I can’t believe Fudge is trying to connect this to Sirius,” Harry hissed softly.
“They’ll do anything to deny the truth for as long as possible,” Hermione whispered. “Fudge refuses to admit that Voldemort’s back, so his only option is to blame someone, anyone else, for the mass breakout of prisoners.”
“So, what do we do about it?” Harry quietly demanded.
Neville almost smiled at the determined expression on his friend’s face. Most students at Hogwarts would always be content to leave serious problems to the adults, but not Harry. He had a strength of will and a firm sense of justice that would not allow him to ignore or avoid conflict. Even among the members of Gryffindor House, Harry stood out.
“We do what we can to resist in whatever way we can,” Hermione replied reasonably. “We continue with the D.A. meetings. We learn the Shield Charm and whatever else you have planned to teach us next.” She paused and pointed to the article in the Daily Prophet. “With this mass breakout of Death Eaters, it is more important than ever that we learn to defend ourselves and protect each other.”
Ron nodded solemnly. “We also need to support Hagrid in whatever way we can. It’s complete bollocks that he’s been put on probation by that evil toad. Fudge needs to learn that he cannot control Hogwarts, and the best way to do that is to make sure Umbridge fails.”
Hermione smiled approvingly at Ron, a wicked gleam in her eye. Neville could almost see the wheels turning in her mind.
“We remember to have some fun,” Ginny supplied. “Our uncles did not die for us to be living in fear and anger.”
“You’re right,” Anna agreed. “Though that may be the hardest of all to accomplish.”
“Well, a good place to start is to get the hell out of this castle for a while,” Neville decided. “I, for one, am thoroughly looking forward to the Hogsmeade trip next month. Let’s all go together and make a full day of it! We can visit as many shops as possible, buy out Honeydukes, and drown ourselves in butterbeer and pub food.”
“Well, if we had some Firewhisky, I’d drink to that,” Anna smirked.
Hermione tried to look disapproving for a brief moment before the friends all chuckled softly and headed to their first class of the day.
A clear, blue sky greeted the early risers on the first Saturday of February. Neville, Anna, and Ginny had gone to the Great Hall for an early breakfast with the intention of taking a walk around the lake before beginning their homework. They were almost finished eating when a tawny owl flew to the Gryffindor table. She settled between Neville and Anna with her two letters.
“Hello, Mista,” Anna cooed softly at her owl as she stroked the bird’s feathers and offered a bit of sausage. “Did Aunt Augusta send you with letters? Or, was it Remus?”
Neville carefully removed the letters, recognized Gran’s handwriting and set the letter addressed to Anna beside her plate. Noticing that the seal on his own letter was broken, he opened it and began to read.
My Dear Neville,
I hope you are well and enjoying your classes. I know this is a busy time in your academic career. I am writing to inform you that I have received two letters of interest regarding a possible betrothal agreement for your cousin, Anna. One letter was from the Malfoy family on behalf of Mr. Draco Malfoy. The other letter was from the Macmillan family on behalf of Mr. Ernest Macmillan. Naturally, I expressed our sincere appreciation to both families for their interest in our dear Anna. We will, of course, delay making any decisions on her behalf until this summer when we have more time to properly consider the options.
In the meantime, please remind your cousin that she is not permitted to date or have a boyfriend. If either young gentleman wishes to spend time with her, I trust that you will step into the duties of a responsible chaperone. Of course, as the male Head of the House of Longbottom, you may simply choose to decline permission for her to be in the company of either potential suitor. I do hope that you and Anna will remain focused on your studies and not allow this to distract you from preparing appropriately for your O.W.L. exams at the end of the school year.
Neville was torn between the conflicting desires of wanting to curse fluently and laugh loudly. Gran had obviously been concerned that the letter would be intercepted and read by others. Her words were stiff, pompous, and not at all like the usual letters he received from her. Unfortunately, he had no way of knowing whether her vigilance was necessary or not. The seal on his letter had been broken. That could have happened in flight, or Mista may have been intercepted.
“Does Mista look alright?” Neville quietly asked his cousin.
“Of course, she does,” Anna said brightly, before registering his expression. “Why wouldn’t she look alright?” She moved her hands gently all over her tawny owl. Mista patiently sat through the ministrations and received another bite of sausage for her cooperation. “What is it, Neville?” Anna murmured as her owl flew out of the Great Hall.
“You have a letter from Gran.” He tapped the letter next to her plate with one finger.
Her eyes widened under his steady gaze. Anna opened her letter and began to read, just as Harry, Ron, and Hermione sat down to breakfast.
Neville glanced up at the staff table and noticed Professor Umbridge sitting there eating her breakfast. She was focusing on the newspaper as she ate, looking around periodically at the students slowly assembling. He shifted his gaze to the Hufflepuff table and saw Ernie Macmillan eating while chatting with Justin Finch-Fletchley. As he looked beyond them to the Slytherin table, his eyes met the haughty gray orbs of Draco Malfoy, who smiled slowly.
“Oh, Merlin,” Anna whimpered, one hand rising to cover her mouth.
“What is it?” Ginny asked.
Neville grabbed Anna’s thigh under the table, squeezing it tightly. ‘Do it now’ he commanded himself. Releasing his grip, he stood and looked down at his cousin, willing himself to manage the domineering expression he needed. ‘Say it’ he thought viciously.
Forcing his voice to project without being obviously loud, he announced, “Anna, as the male Head of the House of Longbottom, I would like to remind you that you do not have permission to date, nor will I allow you to be alone with a wizard without my express approval. Do you understand?”
His cousin’s eyes were wide as she stared up at him.
Across the table, he saw Hermione’s face contort with indignation as she inhaled to speak. He almost sighed with relief when Ginny gave her a warning glance while shaking her head slightly.
“Yes, Neville,” Anna answered, her voice carrying, even though she swallowed nervously. “I understand.”
He nodded. “If you’re done with breakfast, please return to the common room.”
“Of course, Neville.” She stood immediately, grabbing the letters from the table. “I’m ready now.”
He took her arm and led her quickly out of the Great Hall.
Glancing around, Ginny noted that half the Gryffindors as well as several Hufflepuffs had obviously heard the exchange. Pointed looks and whispered conversations followed the pair as they exited the Great Hall.
“What just happened?” Hermione hissed at Ginny, her eyes flashing with anger and confusion.
“Not here,” Ginny murmured. “We can talk about it upstairs after breakfast.”
They finished eating quickly and rose to leave the table. Ginny was not surprised to note that the twins were following them as they made their way back up to Gryffindor Tower. The common room was empty, so Ginny continued up the stairs to the boys’ dormitory.
When she opened the door, Ginny saw Neville standing in the middle of the room holding Anna tightly in his arms.
“Are you okay?” Ginny asked quietly as the others filed in behind her and closed the door.
Anna nodded as Neville released her. “Yes.” She rubbed her forehead. “I knew it was a strong possibility, but I’d convinced myself it wouldn’t really happen, you know.”
Ginny nodded sadly and walked over to her friend.
“How many?” George asked.
“Two,” Neville replied. “Thank Merlin there are two. If it was just Malfoy…”
“May I ask what is going on?” Hermione demanded in a slightly shrill voice.
“Gran received two letters of interest for a betrothal with Anna,” Neville explained. “One was on behalf of Draco Malfoy, the other was for Ernie Macmillan.”
“Betrothal,” Harry repeated. “Like for marriage?”
“Yes,” Neville nodded.
“That’s barbaric,” Hermione spat. “You can’t possibly force someone into a marriage, not in the twentieth century!”
“Betrothals are a perfectly legitimate and acceptable way of arranging a marriage in traditional pure-blood families,” Ginny stated calmly, raising an eyebrow as she spoke. “Anna has received two offers, and her family is considering their response.”
Hermione looked on the verge of tears as she addressed Neville. “What was the meaning of that display in the Great Hall? How could you talk that way to Anna?”
Neville sighed, as Fred stepped in to answer. “Your use of the word ‘display’ is perfect. It was a display. Neville was protecting Anna and making it clear that neither Ernie nor Malfoy would be permitted to date her, or try to seduce her, while the betrothals are under consideration.”
“I know you don’t understand this, Hermione,” Anna acknowledged softly. “Even in pure-blood families, betrothals are not as common now as they were fifty years ago.”
“Why is this happening now though?” Harry inquired. “I mean…”
Neville nodded as Harry’s voice trailed off. “There was an incident at the Macmillan’s Christmas Eve party between Anna and Draco Malfoy. We didn’t mention it before because we weren’t sure what happened really, or if anything would actually come of it.”
Neville explained how Draco had apparently taken a skin sample from Anna at the party. He told of Sirius’s suspicions regarding a Paternity Potion and of the information from St. Mungo’s and Gringotts confirming the possibility of an interest in establishing a betrothal contract.
“So then, the offer from Ernie,” Harry wondered.
“Word of betrothal offers can spread quickly.” Neville shrugged. “One offer can lead to more. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if another offer or two arrived soon.”
“But you can just refuse to be betrothed, can’t you?” Hermione demanded as she touched Anna’s shoulder.
Anna nodded. “Aunt Augusta and Neville have assured me that I won’t be entered into a betrothal contract without my agreement. I admit this whole thing is…”
“Creepy?” Ron offered.
Chuckles filled the air.
“That pretty well covers it,” Neville agreed. “But, it will be okay.”
Author’s Notes: Disclaimer — Part of this chapter comes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
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