Harry Potter lay across his four-poster bed in Gryffindor Tower. He felt ridiculous.
Why hadn’t he stayed with Ron and Hermione? They could have returned the Elder Wand to Dumbledore’s tomb together, and then — he presumed — traveled to the Burrow with the Weasleys. But Harry, bone-achingly tired and desperately hungry, had craved a simple meal and a nap in the solitude of his beloved dormitory, the first and only place where he’d ever felt at home.
He’d received his meal. On the nightstand, next to Harry’s glasses, were the remains of the ham sandwich Kreacher had left for him. Sleep was another matter.
Anticipating his needs, Kreacher had aired the room and provided crisp sheets, fluffy pillows, and soft flannel pajamas. They had no effect. Harry didn’t feel rested; he just felt stupid for lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. It was time to leave Hogwarts, he decided, and figure out what to do with his life, now that his entire purpose for living had been fulfilled before he’d even taken his N.E.W.T.s.
Harry wasn’t exactly sure when Kreacher had done it — perhaps Harry had slept a little after all? — but the house elf had put clean clothes at the end of the bed. Harry bathed and shaved, and dressed himself in a new shirt and jeans. He had one task to complete before he left — one very important task — which he assumed would be easy to accomplish on the empty school grounds. He hoped he could find Ron and Hermione to do it with him.
He wrapped the Elder Wand in his invisibility cloak and stuffed them in his backpack. Jamming his own wand into his back pocket, he left Gryffindor Tower.
The school grounds were not empty.
Harry climbed over rubble and wound his way through splintered furniture, peering out of every window he could reach. Hogwarts castle was deserted, but the grounds were packed. There were frantic parents, joyful family reunions, and teams of repair workers. He doubted he could get through the crowd, even under his invisibility cloak; he’d bump into too many people.
He didn’t want to leave Hogwarts with the Elder Wand, but unless he was going to make a spectacle of himself, he didn’t seem to have a choice. Maybe Hermione would have a solution. But was she even at Hogwarts? He wished he could look for her on the Marauder’s Map, but he’d given it to Ron as they’d left the headmaster’s study so that Ron could keep track of his family.
As Harry traveled the castle’s dusty corridors, he occasionally stopped and cast a Homenum Revelio spell to see if there were any people nearby. Three, six, nine attempts…. nothing. It wasn’t until he reached the Entrance Hall that he finally heard voices.
Harry looked through one of the massive doorways into the Great Hall, and saw that despite the ruin the final battle had inflicted upon the room — rocks and broken benches littering the floor, large, jagged holes in the windows, and a thick coat of dust overall — a small group of somber students were gathered around a clean, wooden table, quietly talking.
The table was placed in the center of the room, in line with the doorway where Harry stood. At the head of the table, facing Harry, was Neville. To Neville’s right were Hannah Abbott, Parvati and Padma Patil, and Michael Corner. To his left were Jimmy Peakes, Seamus Finnegan, Dean Thomas, and Anthony Goldstein.
There seemed to be something very wrong with Seamus. Head bowed, he stared hard at the table, mouth set in a firm line. He looked as though he were blinking away tears. Parvati was saying something to him, and she looked watery, too. Harry’s heart sank. Had something happened to Mrs. Finnegan? And Lavender — Parvati’s best friend — the last time Harry had seen her, she was surrounded by medics. Was she all right?
Harry didn’t feel like talking to anyone, but he thought he really ought to say something to Seamus and Parvati. He was trying to work out what that would be, when Michael noticed him and said, “Harry! We thought you’d gone home!”
His friends’ greetings were subdued, and Harry realized that most of them looked upset. Neville stood and asked, “How are you, Harry?”
“Uh… fine. Fine. What’s everyone still doing here?”
“We’re all staying to help rebuild the castle. Our families are volunteering, too. What about you?”
“I’m just looking for Ron and Hermione.”
Parvati wiped her eyes and said, “Hermione’s asleep in our dormitory, and Ron and one of his brothers went into the Forest with Hagrid.”
Anthony also rose, and pulled out the chair at the foot of the table. “Come join us, Potter!”
“Yeah, have some breakfast with us, Harry!” said Jimmy.
“You really look exhausted,” said Hannah. “I’m sure you’ll feel better if you eat.”
Harry hesitated. He wasn’t hungry, and he felt sort of anxious about the Elder Wand.
“C’mon, mate, stay a while,” said Michael. “What else have you got to do?”
Nothing, Harry realized, until Hermione woke up, until the grounds were quiet again. And if he had to wait around for Ron and Hermione, who better to be with than people who knew him well enough to treat him as a friend, and not a celebrity?
Harry sat down and turned to Seamus. “You okay, mate?” he asked, dreading the answer.
Seamus swallowed hard, but before he could speak, Parvati leaped her feet with a cry of surprise.
She pointed to the door where Harry had entered, and everyone shouted and started to scramble over the benches. Harry turned around to see what was going on.
A shock of ice filled his stomach when he recognized the person standing unsteadily just a few meters away. Swaying on her feet, her clothes disheveled and her expression disturbingly blank, was a young woman whom Harry deeply loathed. He was perplexed by his friends’ joyful cheers.
“I can’t believe it!”
“Was she here all along?”
Seamus ran to the doorway, followed by Parvati and Dean. He threw his arms around her, but she just stood woodenly, like a battered doll. Seamus stepped back and grabbed her shoulders. When she didn’t react, he shook her a little.
“Serena! Look at me!” He clicked his fingers in front of her eyes.
That did the trick. She looked straight at Seamus, and then at Parvati and Dean. In wide-eyed amazement she asked, “How did I get here?” Her voice sounded hoarse. She swayed again, and Seamus caught her.
In the moments that followed, Harry saw so many mystifying things that he couldn’t keep track of them all, starting with the bizarre sight of Seamus Finnegan embracing snobby Slytherin Serena Serpentia. Everyone was on their feet, and appeared pleased as Seamus escorted Serpentia to a place on the bench next to Jimmy.
Parvati anxiously returned to her seat, and as everyone settled themselves again, Dean tore off the remainder of his right sleeve and transfigured it into an ornate white velvet cape, which he and Seamus placed over Serpentia’s shoulders.
Harry was astonished. Why were they all behaving kindly toward the meanest Slytherin in the school? Did anyone even know whether or not her family were Death Eaters? He mentally reviewed everything he knew about Serena Serpentia.
She was a Slytherin in Harry’s year.
She referred to Voldemort as “The Dark Lord,” a sure sign of Death Eater sympathies.
She was some kind of Potions prodigy who took that subject two levels above her year, placing her in the same class as Fred and George.
She’d taken many classes with Hermione, and the two got on like chalk and cheese. Hermione was offended that Serpentia was allowed to skip ahead in Potions, and Serpentia often said that Hermione “didn’t deserve” her many academic awards, presumably because Hermione was Muggle-born.
Serpentia didn’t get on with Pansy Parkinson, either; Harry had heard them arguing many times during Care of Magical Creatures. She had lots of other Slytherin friends, though, and had dated Slytherin chaser Adrian Pucey.
She hadn’t been a part of Umbridge’s Inquisitorial Squad, but during the past year under Snape’s rule, she had been Head Girl to Blaise Zabini’s Head Boy.
There were also many things Harry didn’t understand about Serpentia.
He’d heard her called “California Girl” — affectionately by Zabini and maliciously by Parkinson — although she spoke with a British accent, and her family owned an estate in Wiltshire, near the Malfoys.
Harry did have the impression that her parents were foreign, however; during the TriWizard Tournament, he’d overheard the Slytherins joking about the friendly rivalry within the Serpentia family. Her mother, a slender woman with very dark skin, cheered for Beauxbatons, while her father, a pale and paunchy man, cheered for Durmstrang. Durmstrang — now there was a breeding-ground for Dark wizards.
On the other hand, Harry and Ron had seen Serpentia at the Quidditch World Cup, surrounded by Slytherin friends who cheered for Bulgaria, while Serpentia herself was dressed in Irish green.
And now she had somehow gained the trust of Dumbledore’s Army!
“I think she needs a Healer,” said Michael.
Neville replied, “The hospital wing is closed. They took everyone to St. Mungo’s, and Madame Pomfrey went with them.”
Seamus pointed his wand upwards, and out streamed a silvery fox. The Patronus circled once and disappeared through the ceiling.
“Serena’s father’s a Healer,” he said. “I’ve just alerted him.”
How did Seamus know Serpentia’s family?
“Serena, where have you been?” asked Parvati. Parvati looked very upset. But why? They weren’t friends… were they?
Parvati continued, “After you left the Room of Requirement…”
“Left the where?!” exclaimed Harry aloud. Serpentia had been in the Room of Requirement? When it was transformed into a hiding place for the entire D.A.? But the others didn’t hear him; they were listening to Parvati.
“…we thought you’d gone to the dungeons, but then we heard Bellatrix LeStrange say you’d died!”
“Divination,” said Serpentia in a labored voice.
“What…. what do you mean?” Serpentia didn’t answer. “Do you want… a reading?” Parvati asked uncertainly. Harry remembered that Parvati had a talent for Divination.
“Divination Tower.” It seemed to be quite an effort for Serpentia to speak.
Parvati looked helplessly at her friends.
Hannah asked, “You went to the Divination Tower? Why?”
“I don’t know….” Serpentia turned to Seamus. “Why don’t I know?”
This alarmed Seamus, but it was Parvati who cried, “What’s wrong with her?”
Harry realized he might know the answer, but Anthony beat him to it.
“She was Imperiused!” declared Anthony. “I’m sure of it!”
There was a general outcry, but it was Dean who asked the practical question, “Is she still?”
“I don’t think so,” said Neville. “I think Seamus snapped her out of it.”
“No,” said Harry. He immediately regretted speaking up, but all eyes turned to him, so he continued, “Either it’s wearing off, or she’s still fighting it.”
Seamus looked like he had an idea. He called, “Mixie!”
With a crack, there appeared on the table the most unusual house-elf Harry had ever seen. Apparently Harry wasn’t the only one surprised by Mixie; most of the table looked startled, and Jimmy said, “That’s never a house elf?”
Unlike most elves, Mixie was lithe and graceful, with a delicate face and gently tapering ears. But the truly surprising thing was that Mixie was wearing clothing, and didn’t seem at all ashamed of it. She wore a knit fuchsia-colored tunic over a pair of black pedal-pushers, and on her feet were a pair of black leather clogs.
“What’s wrong with her?” said Mixie, pointing a long finger directly at Serpentia, who was staring off into the distance. Mixie’s tone was bold and demanding, her voice low for an elf, and Harry leaned forward to hear better, sure that he heard an American accent.
“Serena’s not feeling well,” said Seamus. “Please get her a Melacitocalidi and something to eat.”
“Like what to eat?”
“What kind of anything?”
“It doesn’t matter!”
“Well, you’re not givin’ me much to go on!”
“Mixie, please! Just do what you can.”
With a look of disgust, Mixie disapparated.
“What the bloody hell was that?” asked Michael.
He didn’t get an answer, because Mixie appeared again, carrying a messy tray covered in jumbled food items and a large mug of something that emitted wisps of purple smoke. She set the tray in the center of the table and the mug in front of Serpentia.
Jimmy leaned away with a cough, wiping his eyes and saying, “That smells like vinegar!”
“Hot cider vinegar, actually, with horse nettle and honey,” said Seamus.
“Horse nettle!” exclaimed Neville. “That’s a form of nightshade! Surely that’s poisonous!”
But Seamus was offering the mug to Serpentia. “C’mon, it’ll cure your bad dose.”
Harry wasn’t sure what Seamus meant, but Serpentia finally took the mug, inhaled the steam deeply, and drank.
The room was quiet for a moment, all eyes on Serpentia. After a minute or so, her skin looked less ashy, and had regained some of its color.
“Do you feel like yourself again?” asked Dean.
“Serena!” barked Jimmy, making her jump. “Do something you want to do!”
“That’s not how it works!” scoffed Anthony.
Serpentia gave Jimmy a cold look and used her thumb and forefinger to flick his nose.
“OW!” shouted Jimmy, clutching his face.
“Serena!” admonished Seamus, but everyone else laughed and looked relieved. As the group began to talk again, Seamus pulled Mixie’s tray closer to Serpentia, but she shook her head and pushed it away.
“Look at the mess that elf made of the tray!” exclaimed Hannah. “The nuts are spilled everywhere, the fruit is squashed, and the chocolate looks like it’s been melted.”
“And did you see what she was wearing?” asked Michael. “Aren’t they all supposed to wear tea towels?”
“Not these elves,” said Parvati, “and I think she looks nice. If I had elves, I would want them to look fashionable.”
“I’m not sure that’s a proper elf,” said Anthony. “Where did it come from?”
“California,” said Seamus, still looking at Serpentia. “And you’re correct, it’s not a proper elf. If you want a Californian elf, you have to convince one to live at your house by offering it bribes.”
“You’re kidding!” exclaimed Anthony. “I can’t imagine my mother bribing an elf! Why would anyone want a Californian elf, if they’re such trouble?”
“I’d never even seen a house elf until last night,” said Jimmy.
Throughout the conversation, Serpentia gradually began to sit taller, until finally her spine was straight and chin raised.
Neville asked, “Serena, seriously, are you feeling better?”
Hannah added, “Do you know who Imperiused you?”
Everyone fell silent. “Obviously someone stupid — and dead,” said Serpentia in a dismissive tone.
Harry had to agree. She did seem to be the victim of a badly-cast curse, although she was strangely unbothered by the prospect.
She turned to Seamus, appraised his bruised face for a moment, and said, “You look terrible.”
Seamus seemed a little surprised, and said, “Aw, now, I’m not so bad….”
But Serena was now surveying the Great Hall. Harry saw that the haughty look he’d hated throughout their years at Hogwarts had returned. Her voice was stronger and tinged with criticism as she said, “This room looks terrible.”
She looked up and down the table, her expression growing sterner by the moment. She finally declared, “None of you are fit to be seen!”
The group exchanged glances. Padma said gently, “Serena, you look a bit messy yourself.”
Serpentia studied her own clothing, and then, with amazing swiftness, she grabbed Seamus’ wand from the waistband of his trousers, turned it on herself, and gave it a flick. Instantly her chic wizarding dress was repaired, Dean’s cape was colored green and silver to match, and her hair restored to its usual dark, glossy curls.
Eyeing each of her classmates, Serpentia declared, “Fighting is dirty work. However, that is no excuse… ” She looked directly at Parvati and Padma and said severely, “…for your choice of attire.”
Her wand arm shot out, and the Patil twins squeezed their eyes shut. Horrified, Harry drew his wand, but before he could utter a spell, it was over: the twins were dressed in pretty silk blouses — pink for Parvati, orange for Padma — and their hair was brushed.
“I mean, honestly,” continued Serpentia, “It’s not as if you didn’t have wands in that wretched bunker.”
Harry was befuddled, but his classmates had a very different reaction.
Jimmy burst into laughter and said, “Stars, Serena! You could at least give us ten minutes to be happy you’re not dead before you start in on us!”
Hannah rolled her eyes, while the Patil twins looked faintly embarrassed, and the rest of the group laughed along with Jimmy.
Michael said to Padma, “Well, at least we know she’s back to normal.”
Finally the group quieted, and Neville looked serious once again. He said, “Serena, were you here for the battle? Do you know what happened? Vol… Voldemort was killed.”
Instantly the mood at the table turned somber.
“Well, I assumed,” said Serpentia dryly, “seeing as you’re all not dead.”
She turned and looked straight at Harry. “Was it you?”
Harry was caught off-guard as the table’s attention focused on him. “What?”
Serpentia rolled her eyes. “Did you kill Stupid McSnakehead?”
Harry was so shocked by Serpentia’s nickname for Voldemort that it took him a moment to find his voice.
“Yeh — yeah, it was me.”
A disturbing leer crossed Serpentia’s face. “Was it fun?”
The table exploded with astonished chatter. One voice soared above the rest.
“Stars, Serena! What kind of question is that?”
It was Seamus, who had leapt to his feet. Serena started to laugh. “It’s not one bit funny!”
Her laughter continued. “You look ridiculous!”
“Don’t you point that wand at me!”
Too late. Seamus’ face was clean and his hair was slicked back away from his forehead. Seamus was unfazed.
“Would’ja stop acting the maggot and leave Harry be! He’s had enough without you havin’ a go at him.”
Serpentia looked surprised. “I wasn’t having a go at him! I was commiserating!”
She turned the three girls in front of her and said conspiratorially, “McSnakehead was horrid. You have no idea.”
“I think we have some idea…” said Hannah, glancing at Neville.
“No, you don’t. Up close, he’s —“ She mimed sticking her finger down her throat.
Seamus sat down with a heavy sigh.
Harry was thoroughly confused. Of course, Serpentia would have met Voldemort if her family were Death Eaters, but it certainly seemed like he disgusted her, and she was happy he was gone. Had she actually done something in the past year to help Dumbledore’s Army? He had to know.
“Would someone please tell me….”
But Harry was interrupted by several loud cracking sounds. A team of house elves, laden with overstacked trays, appeared on the table and quickly distributed tureens of eggs, plates of sausages and bacon rashers, bowls of porridge, stacks of toast, baskets of fruit, cups of nuts, pitchers of pumpkin juice, and pots of tea.
Parvati closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, saying, “It smells wonderful!”
Mixie appeared briefly, and set before Seamus two plates, one with fried tomatoes, and one that was empty. The Hogwarts elves looked startled by Mixie, and whispered amongst each other before disapparating themselves.
As everyone tucked in, Harry tried again.
“Look, I know I missed everything that happened here this year, so maybe that’s why I don’t understand how…. I mean, when….”
He realized he didn’t know how to phrase the question on his mind without insulting half the table.
Parvati jumped in. “Harry doesn’t know!”
She turned to Harry. “Professor Sprout just told us. Everyone who missed seventh year, or who didn’t really learn anything because of the Carrows, can come back for classes before they take their N.E.W.T.S.”
It wasn’t what he’d wanted to ask, but the news interested Harry, even though returning to Hogwarts as a student didn’t appeal to him at all. From the looks on the others’ faces, they were considering it.
“Are you all coming back, then?” he asked.
Jimmy grimaced. “I have to!”
“We are,” said Padma, indicating herself and her sister, “but Michael and Anthony aren’t.”
“I feel confident I can pass my N.E.W.T.s,” said Anthony. “And my Dad’s already owled; there’s a job for me at the new Ministry.”
Parvati looked suddenly inspired. “Serena, you should stay, too!”
“Not a chance!” Serpentia made a face clearly expressing her opinion that it was a ridiculous idea.
“What about you, Neville?” asked Harry.
Neville shook his head. “I dunno,” he said, “I haven’t decided.”
“You should stay!” said Jimmy to Neville. “I’ll bet if you did, McGonagall’ll make you Head Boy.”
“And that’s not all,” said Seamus in Harry’s direction. “I don’t suppose you’ve heard about the one good thing that happened at Hogwarts this year. Professor Grubbly-Plank expanded the Care of Magical Creatures program. There’s a proper barn now, and proper pens. She has plans for an entire husbandry program, and Professor Sprout supports it. If McGonagall lets it run, as a N.E.W.T. student, I can bring my horses to school!”
“You could bring a whole farm,” said Michael, “because you’ll be the only student in the class.”
“That’s not true!” exclaimed Parvati. “I liked Care of Magical Creatures this year. My favorite lesson was when Grubbly-Plank showed us the unicorns. Now I wish I’d taken an O.W.L. in it, so I could go on for a N.E.W.T.”
Hannah asked Seamus, “How can you bring your horses to Hogwarts? Horses aren’t magical.”
Seamus grinned. “Who says they’re not?”
Soon the table was buzzing with conversation about Grubbly-Plank, Hagrid, weird creatures, N.E.W.T.s, careers, and if it were ethical to bewitch horses. Harry still hadn’t much appetite, but he ate some toast with marmalade and drank some tea. He noticed that Serpentia wasn’t hungry, either; she wasn’t eating anything.
As the conversation turned to the castle and how it could be restored, Dean rose and said, “I found the sketches I made back in fifth year for new Astronomy and Divination towers. They were still in the Magical Art studio! I’ll go get them — and does anyone feel like something sweet? I’ll stop by the kitchens and see if the elves have any pastries.”
“NO ONE IS GOING ANYWHERE!”
Everyone froze. Professor McGonagall, in a fresh black dress and hat, stormed into the room from the far door. She looked furious.
“Professor McGonagall!” exclaimed Neville, rising, “What’s the matter?”
McGonagall ignored him as she marched up behind Parvati and stared daggers at Serpentia.
“Miss Serpentia! You will come with me this instant!”
Seamus was immediately on his feet. “What’s this all about?” he demanded.
“Sit down, Finnegan!” McGonagall glared at Serena, who sat utterly still, staring right back at McGonagall with a cold expression. “Professor Slughorn cannot enter the Slytherin common room!”
Casually, Serpentia replied, “And you are telling me this because….?”
“Because I know you’re behind it! You need to reverse whatever was done and return control of the Slytherin common room to the new administration!”
The new administration was McGonagall’s, Harry realized.
Serpentia leaned back on the bench, a nasty smile on her face. In silky tones she said, “Professor Slughorn’s incompetence is not my problem. In two weeks, I’ll take my N.E.W.T.s, and you’ll be quit of me forever. Slughorn can enter Slytherin House then.”
There was a moment of stunned silence, then a great outburst of conversation as McGonagall sputtered with rage. Harry could barely make out what was being said, because everyone save Harry and Serpentia shouted simultaneously.
“You’re not taking your N.E.W.T.s! You are expelled immediately!”
“Merlin’s beard, Serena, what have you done now?”
“Professor, you can’t expel her, not after what she did for us!”
“Don’t tell me what I can or cannot do, Longbottom!”
“Serena, you can’t disobey the headmistress!”
“Did she seal off all the dungeons?”
“Maybe it’s not her fault, if there are no Slytherins in the entire school….”
“Serena, was it you who did it, or someone else?”
“Serpentia, I order you to….”
Harry felt as though he were observing the scene from far away. McGonagall was pointing her wand at Serpentia, who didn’t seem at all concerned. Indeed, there was an infuriatingly smug look on her face. Harry wondered if it were bravado, or if she really wasn’t scared to be on the business end of McGonagall’s wand.
The commotion was interrupted by a Patronus that looked like a goose, which zoomed around the room and said, in Professor Sprout’s voice, “Urgent message for Professor McGonagall! Professor, you’re needed in the Astronomy tower immediately! Do not delay!” A moment later, a butterfly Patronus circled overhead, relaying the same message in the voice of Professor Flitwick.
McGonagall scowled at the Patroni as they dissolved. With a thunderous glare, she punctuated her final words by stabbing her wand in the direction of Serpentia’s face.
“I’m not through with you, Serpentia! I’ve already owled your parents! Don’t you dare leave this school!”
Still radiating rage, McGonagall marched back out of the Great Hall.
The instant she left, Seamus shouted, “Stars, Serena! Why the hell did you do that?”
Serpentia sounded defiant as she said, “I have my reasons. And I’m certainly not staying around here to defend them!”
Gracefully, she stood, and then swayed on her feet. Seamus caught her and sat her back down.
“That’s it! You have to eat something!”
She scowled at him and said, “No. I can’t stomach it.”
“You can and you will!” declared Seamus, gripping her arm tightly.
Serena and Seamus glared at each other.
“I know just the thing!” exclaimed Parvati, a little too brightly. “Dean, why don’t you get your sketches, and then go down to the kitchens and ask the elves if they might bring us some pastries? Maybe those chocolate croissant Serena likes?”
“Excellent idea!” said Dean, also a bit too cheerfully, as if he hadn’t thought it earlier himself. He hurried from the hall as everyone sat down again.
Neville leaned forward and asked, “Serena, did you really lock Slughorn out of the dungeons?”
Serpentia scoffed. “Of course not!”
She paused dramatically, then said matter-of-factly, “I locked everyone out of Slytherin house.”
“But why?” asked Padma, looking astonished.
Jimmy gasped and said excitedly, “It was because of You-Know-Who, wasn’t it? You were keeping him out of Slytherin!”
Serpentia gave Jimmy a sidelong glance and slyly said, “Maaaaaybe….”
Jimmy’s eyes grew wide, but Harry was sure that Serpentia was lying, and he’d be dammed if he’d let her get away with it. His cry of protest, however, was drowned out by Seamus’ exasperated shout.
“Oh, bollocks, Serena, you did no such thing! You’re just getting your revenge on Wiltshire.”
Harry understood immediately that by “Wiltshire,” Seamus meant Malfoy, Parkinson, and all their neighborhood friends.
Serpentia gave Seamus a dirty look, and in a sarcastic parody of her reply to Jimmy, she said, “Maaaaaybe….”
“Never mind why,” said Michael intently. “I want to know how.”
The group began to pepper Serpentia with their theories about how she had accomplished such a thing. She reminded Harry of an exceptionally smug cat batting away their ideas with sardonic nos, hardlys and maaaaaybes.
Harry also wondered how Serpentia was confounding Slughorn, but he couldn’t follow the conversation, because his attention was captured by something very odd that was happening between Seamus and Serena. Seamus casually broke up some biscuits and chocolate bars from Mixie’s tray, put them on the empty plate in front of him, and then slid the plate over to Serpentia, who received and ate them without even a glance in Seamus’ direction.
No one else seemed to notice this strange behavior. Harry tried to catch Neville’s eye, but before he could, he realized that someone else was watching the scene with curiosity — no, amazement.
Professor McGonagall had quietly reentered the hall through the far door. It was obvious that she was watching Seamus and Serpentia, and she looked quite thoughtful. She noticed Harry, and silently beckoned to him. As Harry rose, she said, “Longbottom, a word please.”
Exchanging surprised glances with his friends, all of whom jumped when they heard McGonagall’s voice, Neville followed Harry and the professor into the entrance hall, where McGonagall turned and addressed them.
“Mr. Longbottom, explain to me again how Mr. Finnegan knows Miss Serpentia.”
Clearly wondering where McGonagall was going with this question, Neville replied, “Well, Seamus told me they met when they were seven. Their mums are friends from Beauxbatons.”
“Of course!” said McGonagall, more to her herself than to Neville. She looked is if she were putting two and two together. “Eileen left for France after her O.W.L.s. And Eileen and Adjoua are both members of the Potions Society, along with….”
She didn’t complete her thought, but stood in silence, brows knit.
Harry was more than surprised. All those years sharing a dormitory with Seamus, and he’d never heard a word from him about Serpentia. He asked, “Why didn’t Seamus ever say anything about knowing her? You’d think he’d’ve mentioned it.”
Neville said, “He has, actually. But you never really hung out with Seamus and Dean, did you?”
Harry realized this was true. And, to be fair, he’d never bragged about knowing Dudley. But still….
“Neville, I don’t understand why all of you are suddenly friendly with Serpentia.”
Neville looked momentarily confused. Then he chuckled, which Harry found irritating.
“What’s so funny?” Harry demanded.
Neville shook his head. “Not funny…. just…. It’s not sudden. I guess you had to have been here this year.”
“Been here for what?” Harry said impatiently.
“You won’t believe it, but Serena was on our side.”
“Our side? You mean, against Voldemort? For the Order?”
“You’re right. I don’t believe it.”
Neville still looked amused, which annoyed Harry greatly. Neville continued, “It’s true! She was Head Girl, but she pretty much let the D.A. do whatever we wanted. And you know what the Carrows would have done to her had they found out.”
Harry turned to McGonagall. “Professor….”
“I have a hard time believing it, too, Potter, but I’ve been told that she was helpful.”
Harry shook his head. “Whatever reason she had for letting that stuff slide, I really doubt it was because she supported the D.A. She calls Voldemort the “Dark Lord” — only Death Eaters do that! And she’s always been horrible to Hermione.”
Finally Neville looked sympathetic. “She never did like Hermione.”
This did nothing to improve Harry’s mood, and it didn’t please McGonagall, either. She asked, “Are you saying that Miss Serpentia is pleasant to everyone except Miss Granger?”
“Oh, no. She’s horrible to everyone. But she’s not a Death Eater. Would a Death Eater call Voldemort “Stupid McSnakehead?”
Harry considered this. Exactly how sneaky was Serpentia?
“She said what?” McGonagall looked shocked. “When was this?”
“When we were talking earlier,” said Harry.
“And all last year,” said Neville.
“I can’t believe it!” exclaimed McGonagall. She looked like she was thinking hard.
Neville ventured, “Professor, do all these questions mean you might reconsider expelling her?“
“I doubt it,” snapped McGonagall. “She never should have been admitted to Hogwarts in the first place!”
Harry had no idea what McGonagall could possibly mean by that, but it looked like her declaration meant something to Neville. McGonagall, in turn, looked as though she regretted her confession, and hastily said, “I mean, she really is too outrageous!”
Neville looked frustrated, but he said, “Professor, no matter what you decide, give us a chance to talk to Serena. She says she has her reasons for sealing off the Slytherin common room. She says she was protecting it during the battle, but Seamus says she was just making trouble for Malfoy and Parkinson. Either could be true. Maybe Seamus will be able to make her see reason. And, forgive me, Professor, but it doesn’t look like you’re able to undo her spell.”
McGonagall looked resigned. She stared thoughtfully at the table, around which the students were still talking. “All right. See what you can find out. You, too, Potter.”
At the look on Harry’s face, she said, “She may blurt out something in anger that she wouldn’t share in polite conversation.” McGonagall twisted her lips. “Not that she was ever very polite.”
She turned on her heel and strode away, muttering to herself. The cavernous hall carried her words back to Harry, and he found them most puzzling:
“Finnegan, of all people! And to think I never considered him much of a wizard.”
Neville clapped his hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Believe me, Harry. This year, Serpentia really was an asset.”
Harry was still not convinced, but something Ron had once said to his mum came to Harry’s mind. Mrs. Weasley had been extremely anxious about taking the family to Diagon Alley after Voldemort returned, and Ron had retorted sarcastically that You-Know-Who was hardly going to hide behind the bookshelves at Flourish and Blotts. Harry realized that whatever evil might be in Serpentia’s heart, she wasn’t about to manifest it now.
Dean ran over from the direction of the kitchens, carrying some large scrolls of parchment.
“What are you two doing out here? Sweets are coming up directly.”
When the three of them returned to the table, the savory dishes had been replaced with platters of sweet breads and pastries, along with fresh pots of hot chocolate and tea.
Hannah asked, “What did McGonagall want?”
Neville caught Harry’s eye and gave him a look that could only be interpreted as ‘let me do the talking.’
“Nothing much,” replied Neville casually. “Just about some things we saw during the battle.”
No one wanted to discuss the battle, so no one asked anything further.
“What took you so long?” asked Padma of Dean.
Dean sat down next to Michael and said, “I was checking out the castle. You wouldn’t believe all that’s been fixed already! I don’t know how they’re doing it, because I don’t see any elves, nor any teachers.”
Harry asked, “Is there still a crowd on the grounds?”
“I don’t think so,” replied Dean. “I didn’t see anyone through the windows.”
Parvati giggled. “Maybe Filch has an invisibility cloak.”
The mental image of Argus Filch hunching under an invisibility cloak and waving his wand at broken items amused everyone; even Harry couldn’t help but smile, though he knew Filch was a Squib.
Dean shoved some of the plates aside to unfurl his scrolls, and the conversation turned to the castle and how it could be restored. The group was deep in discussion when an owl flew in and dropped a letter in Jimmy’s lap.
“What the…???” he said.
All eyes turned to Jimmy as he opened the envelope and read the parchment. His face fell a little. “It’s from my parents,” he said, “They’re quite angry with me for sneaking back into the castle to fight. They’re coming to fetch me this afternoon.”
“Well, that’s unfair!” said Hannah. “You were fighting You-Know-Who. They should be proud to have a son who’s so brave.”
Serpentia spoke for the first time since Dean returned. Eyes narrowed, and with a suspicious look on her face, she asked, “What do you mean, you ‘snuck back into the castle’ to fight? What were you doing out of the castle?”
“You don’t know?” asked Jimmy. “McGonagall sent all the underaged kids away, only some of us Gryffindors didn’t want to go. Me and Coote were supposed to follow the Ravenclaws to Hogsmeade, but we got a break and ran to the kitchens to hide until the coast was clear. We found the Creeveys there; they’d sneaked in through the Room of Requirement with all the D.A. members who came back. We made it back upstairs just as the fight began outside. Then we got separated. I saw Coote and his Dad earlier, but I haven’t seen the Creeveys. I suppose they’ve gone home.”
Harry had finally been enjoying an eccles cake, but the flavor turned to ash in his mouth. He did not — a million times did not — want to tell Jimmy what had happened to Colin Creevey. He realized a moment later that he didn’t have to. The table grew unnaturally quiet as Parvati and Neville exchanged looks.
“What?” said Jimmy with some alarm. “What do you know?”
“I’m sorry, Jimmy,” said Parvati gently, “but near the end, Colin was killed.”
A horrendously loud CRACK, like the snap of an immense whip, made Harry jump in his seat. He glanced around for the source and saw the others all staring at Serpentia. They looked frightened, and no wonder: Serpentia was livid, her eyes fierce, her teeth actually bared like a wolf. She leaped to her feet, and as she did, she shoved the heavy wooden banquet table. Improbably, it moved.
“Unbelievable! I spent ALL YEAR keeping that kid alive, and THIS is the thanks I get!”
Serpentia glowered at the group, most of whom looked as if they wished they had invisibility cloaks.
Neville opened and shut his mouth several times like a goldfish before he found his voice and stammered, “Colin wasn’t thinking about himse….”
“You’re right! He wasn’t thinking!”
Hannah said, “He had the best of intentions, to fight You-Know-….”
“He intended NOTHING! He planned NOTHING! And he accomplished NOTHING but…. RANDOM VANDALISM! What a TOTAL waste of my time!”
She flounced back down on her seat and folded her arms, a stormy look on her face.
Her outrage was stunningly selfish, but Harry recognized something else, too: sincerity. No matter how twisted her priorities, it seemed certain to Harry that Serpentia had indeed done something to save Colin from the Death Eaters. He wondered if she had worked something similar for Seamus’ best mate Dean, who had also spent the year on the run.
Harry head Hannah say, “I’m sorry, Jimmy; I know he was your friend.”
Parvati said, “Maybe your parents will let you stop at the Creevey’s on the way home. Dennis told me the whole family is traveling there from all over England to plan the funeral.”
Jimmy was silent, and no one quite knew what to say after that. Harry was thinking that it might be a good time to see if Hermione were awake, when two strange men appeared at the far door. They both seemed to be around Bill Weasley’s age. One was impossibly handsome, and the other very ugly. They both wore elegant black Muggle suits with black shirts and shimmering dark grey ties, their hair slicked back in the latest Muggle style.
“Who are they?” asked Anthony.
Everyone turned to look, then turned back as they heard Serpentia’s voice. She wore an annoyed expression as she said to Seamus, “This can’t be good. My father probably wants me home.”
She rose, and Seamus rose with her, stopping her with a hand on her arm.
“You can’t leave now! You have to clear things up with McGonagall, so you can take your N.E.W.T.s!”
Serena sneered. “McGonagall has no power over N.E.W.T.s.”
“But she told you not to leave,” said Neville. “And what about the Slytherin common room?”
Serena snorted. “They’ll get in…. when I say so.”
As Serena stepped over the bench, the ugly man pointed at Seamus and said, “You too, Finnegan.”
Seamus sighed. “I’d better see what this is about.”
He turned to Dean. “See ye later, mate.”
“Wait!” cried Parvati, rising, followed by Neville. She addressed Serpentia. “You’re really going? Are you coming back?”
Serena raised an eyebrow and said archly, “Ask McGonagall.” She paused, and said more seriously, “But I doubt it. No matter. I was only ever here to study with Professor Snape.”
Parvati and Neville looked distressed, but they didn’t seem to know what to say. Serena turned to Harry.
“Goodbye, Harry Potter. I don’t expect to see you again.”
Then she turned to Neville and said, “Mr. Longbottom. You were… an exemplary leader.”
Without another word or glance back, Serena joined the strange men, Seamus following behind. A moment later the four of them had left the hall.
“She can’t leave like this!” cried Parvati, scrambling over the bench. She rushed out of the hall, only to return a moment later, exclaiming, “They’re gone! How could they have disappeared so fast?”
“You can’t Apparate out of the castle!” said Michael.
But Harry no longer believed in infallible spells. Perhaps Hogwart’s anti-Apparition charm was broken, or those strange men knew a way around it. And what about Serpentia, who apparently knew at least one spell that was beyond both Slughorn and McGonagall?
He couldn’t think about it now. Dean had said the grounds were empty. It was time to fulfill his last promise. Taking his backpack, he rose and said, “I have to go, too. I need to catch Ron and Hermione.”
He exchanged goodbyes with the group.
“We’ll all be here for a few weeks at least,” said Anthony. “Helping to clean up, you know. I don’t suppose you feel like doing that, but join us for meals if you’re around. Ron and Hermione, too.”
Just then the Patronus that looked like a goose zoomed around the room.
“That’ll be Sprout looking for me,” said Neville, “I’ll walk out with you, Harry.”
Once in the deserted entrance hall, Neville asked, “You sticking around, Harry?”
“I dunno,” Harry replied. “I haven’t really thought about what I’ll do next.”
“Get some sleep,” said Neville.
He held out his hand. Harry shook it.
“And Harry…. thanks. For everything.”