For the next few weeks, it seemed as if everything had returned to normal. That is, with the exception of the petrified remaining uncured. Though Harry had been annoyed at the incessant chattering of the first year, he found Collin's absence unnerving. Sometimes it would seem too quiet and Harry would remember the cause of that silence and waves of trepidation would wash over him once more. Both he and Snape were sure that the attacks were not over and Harry could find no way to prevent it. Their Polyjuice potion was coming along rather nicely and Hermione said that it would be done at the end of the week. The one thing that didn't seem completely normal was Snape. He had, in almost all respects, recovered from whatever had happened the night of the attack with the only difference being how he treated his students. Harry was treated the same as usual but he began to show favoritism for some Slytherins that he had previously disliked, to the best of Harry's knowledge. Others, he took to criticizing.
"Malfoy," Severus said, advancing on Harry's table. "Does that look like a quarter inch? Five points for your abominable slicing."
Draco stared in shock and confusion. Ever since he and Harry had become friends, Snape had treated Draco rather nicely, for him. He certainly never took points away for something as simple as that.
"Keep staring and it will be another five."
Draco looked away.
"What's up with him?" Ron muttered to Harry when Snape had walked away.
Harry scowled. "I don't know. He is still nice to me anyway."
"And them too," Draco said darkly as Snape finished awarding ten points to Slytherin for Crabbe's and Goyle's "good" attempts at potion making. He had walked past Hermione's perfect potion and not said a word. It irked Harry.
"Hey, how about ten points for Gryffindor?" Harry said loudly. "Hermione's potion is perfect."
Severus spun. "Ten points from Gryffindor. You may be legally bound to me but you shall not be treated differently in this class, Mr. Potter."
Harry glared. "Legally bound? You make it sound so endearing."
"Detention, my office, seven o'clock," Snape glared at Harry, then unexpectedly at Draco before turning sharply and walking away.
Harry exhaled sharply. Hermione put a hand on her arm.
"Drop it, Harry. He is obviously in a mood today, he still loves you," she said, albeit skeptically.
"He isn't capable of love," Harry said bluntly.
Hermione frowned. "Did you do something, Draco?" she asked to deflect attention from that awkward comment. "He seemed pretty mad at you."
Draco shook his head, seeming equally as mystified. Hermione shrugged and returned to her potion.
The rest of the day passed slowly for Harry because he was dreading detention. It had been a long time since he had one and he was still angry at Snape. He was going to get answers tonight. When the time came, he headed down to Snape's office.
He pushed open the door and stepped stiffly inside. "Professor."
"Mr. Potter," Severus replied without looking up. "Eels need gutted in the potions lab."
Harry nodded but Severus did not see. "Sev."
Severus's head whipped up. Harry tried to resist laughing; he had known that would get a reaction.
"Do you want me to make it a week of detentions?" he said coldly.
"I want you to tell me what is going on and why you are acting so weird," Harry replied smartly.
"Tough," he said stubbornly.
Harry opened his mouth for a retort when he heard a low whispering voice that was all too familiar. It sent chills down his spine. "I hear it again," he said shakily.
"Hear what?" Severus said with mild alarm.
"The voices," Harry replied.
"You had better not be pretending," Severus snapped.
Harry glared at him. "Why in Merlin's name would I pretend about this? Come on! It could attack somebody," Harry said urgently. He ran from the room.
"Potter!" Severus called angrily.
Harry kept running. He pressed his hand to the wall and listened for the voice.
Let me tear...
Harry advanced along the wall, trotting through the corridors. Suddenly, the voice stopped and Harry did as well. He looked at his feet. A long line of spiders stretched from the storage room on one side of the hall to the wall next to him. They climbed quickly up the vertical stone and slipped out a gap in the window. Harry watched as Severus came running up behind him, winded.
"Did you hear anything?" Harry asked to certify he wasn't going insane.
"Nothing," Severus panted. "You should not have run off like that."
"Go do your detention before I catch my breath," he said with what seemed like an underlying threat.
Harry could not tell if he was joking. After the Dursleys, Severus knew not to threaten him physically for the memories it dredged up. Rather than stay and determine the seriousness of his words, Harry made his way back to the potions room. He took a deep breath and began methodically dissembling the eels. Harry thought over everything that was on his mind: the voices, Severus, the Polyjuice potion, Quidditch... All of them, except Quidditch, boiled down to the attacks. Harry could not determine how, but he figured that Severus's strange behavior was due in some way to the strange occurrences around Hogwarts. Harry knew that they must be stopped, but in order to do that, he had to know what he was dealing with. He decided that first thing in the morning, he would talk with Hermione and see if she would do some research. With that plan in mind, Harry finished his eels and cleaned up. He trudged up to the common room, only just realizing that he had not gotten any answers.
"It's ready," Hermione whispered at breakfast one morning. "You should get the hairs and we will meet tonight at 7."
"Okay," Draco agreed. "Who is coming with me?"
"I am," Ron spoke up while Harry scowled. He was still unhappy that he had lost the game of chance to Ron. Though a good and loyal friend, Harry was unsure of his tact.
"Fred! George!" Hermione hailed in the Great Hall.
"At your service," they said in unison, clicking their heels together and standing straight.
Hermione explained the situation quickly and in hushed tones. She did not give specifics as to why these measures were necessary. They did not take much convincing.
"We have something that can help but it is highly experimental," Fred warned.
"No idea what the side effects are," George added.
"Though if it is concerning Slytherins, why do we care?" Fred shot George a wicked grin.
"We're in," they said together. "For a price."
Hermione scowled as they voiced their stipulation but agreed nevertheless. "Just drop the candies in front of Crabbe and Goyle and they'll definitely go for it."
They nodded and went off. Harry hoped that this all went as planned.
After Defense Against the Dark Arts that morning, Harry and Ron waited for Crabbe and Goyle to pass.
"Why can't Draco get his own hair?" Harry grumbled.
"Because if they catch him it will be ten times worse than if they catch us," Ron said.
"Oh, there they are," Harry said and tried to look nonchalant. He aimed his wand. "Wingardium Leviosa."
Ron had done the same and soon two single strands of hair were floating towards their respective outstretched hands. Crabbe and Goyle scratched their heads and looked as oblivious as usual.
Ron pinched the tiny strand between his fingers and dropped it into a glass vial.
"Ugh," he said. "Why couldn't we have waited until they were knocked out?"
"Hermione thought that was cutting it too close," Harry said, pocketing his vial. "Come on, let's get out of here."
They met at the appointed time in the girls' bathroom on the first floor. The four huddled around the cauldron as Moaning Myrtle hovered behind them.
"After you do this, you'll never come visit me again, will you?" she pouted.
Harry and Draco shared a look. That was a "no".
"Promise you'll come visit, Harry?"
"Er, I'll try," Harry said hesitantly. She giggled and Draco made a gagging motion.
Hermione ladled the potion into two cups and handed one each to Draco and Ron. They shook the hairs into the potion.
"Ew," a voice said from the doorway.
"Nasty," another agreed.
Harry spun. He found himself facing two redheads.
"What are you guys doing here?" Harry said with narrowed eyes.
"Picking up our payment," George said with a grin.
Hermione held out a bottle of Polyjuice. "Here, take it and go."
"Can't we stay and watch?" Fred asked pleadingly.
Hermione gave him a narrow glare. "The deal was for one bottle that is not to be used for physical harm, not for the accompanying show."
"Fine," he grumbled, pulling his brother out of the bathroom.
Hermione gave the two boys with cups impatient looks. "Well? Those candies won't keep them knocked out forever. Have at it."
Harry grinned. Though he regretted not being able to go himself, he did not envy them this part. In unison, they downed their glasses with their faces expressing the ultimate distaste. Ron doubled over, clutching his stomach. He rushed into a nearby stall. Draco remained upright through sheer force of will but soon followed Ron's lead and found a stall of his own.
When at last they emerged, they were spitting images of the Slytherins that Harry hated so much. Draco drew his wand and Harry almost drew his simply out of reflex. He resisted and watched as Draco tapped his then Ron's throat, changing their voices.
"How do we sound?" Ron said, his voice echoing with a lower register than usual.
"Creepy," Hermione said bluntly. "Now go, you're wasting time. You've only got an hour."
They hurried towards the door.
"Good luck," Harry called, wishing he were going along. Instead, he was stuck listening to Myrtle whine an helping Hermione clean up. He scowled.
Draco hurried down the corridors with Ron, often forgetting he was now Crabbe. When they past first years who shied before them, Draco realized how threatening he looked as a more or less "popular" Slytherin. This was what he had wanted when he came to Hogwarts. To be respected and feared. Now, it was the complete opposite. Disgusted with himself, he turned his mind to the task at hand and led Ron down to the Slytherin common room. The only problem was they did not have the password.
"What now?" Ron asked.
"I don't know."
"I thought you were the Slytherin in this group," Ron hissed.
"There you are!" Nott cut their hushed conversation short. "Forget the password again?"
They nodded contritely as Nott stepped up from behind them. He muttered something and they were admitted. It was nothing new to Draco but Ron's eyes were wide with fear and awe.
Nott plopped down on the couch. "Any news? Did they cure that irritating Gryffindor yet?"
Draco shook his head.
"Good," Nott said, inspecting his nails.
"Who do you think will be next?" Draco asked. He hoped that they could get some advance warning if it was Nott behind the attacks.
"Some mudblood I expect," he said airily. "I hope its Granger."
Ron's face reddened but Draco stabbed him in the ribs to keep him quiet. This had to be done carefully.
"Me too," Draco said. "We could bribe the person behind it, if we knew who that was."
Nott gave him a long look and Draco tried not to fidget. "We could. Too bad we don't know. But we've been through this. No one here could be the heir of Slytherin," he looked around the room with a disgusted look on his face. "And it definitely isn't Potter."
"Why not?" Ron blurted.
Nott rolled his eyes. "How could an idiot Gryffindor like him be the heir of one of the greatest wizards in history? He isn't worthy."
Draco nodded in agreement. "I wish it were you."
"As always, Crabbe, I appreciate the sentiment but what do you want?"
"What?" Draco asked with genuine confusion.
"Usually you suck up when you want something. What is it?"
Draco's vision blurred slightly and he felt a tug at his hairline. He saw a dash of red in his friend's hair and realized their time was up. For dramatic reasons, he gripped his stomach. "Just some digestive potion, I think. Ate some bad candies."
Ron moaned, "Me too. Come on, Crabbe."
They staggered out of the room frantically hoping Nott did not notice the shift in appearance. That would leave the real Crabbe and Goyle some explaining to do. Outside the common room, they safely morphed into their normal selves in much too large robes. Draco hiked his up and hurried through the corridors, wanting to get out of sight and change. He rounded a corner quickly, Ron in tow, and stopped dead.
"N-nick?" he asked. The ghost was hanging, silent and still, with his head hanging by a bit of sinew and muscle at an unnatural angle. There was no response. Ron whimpered and grabbed his arm. Draco looked to where he was pointing, at Seamus still on the ground. Draco pulled up his robes and ran to him. He was cold and stiff and he could not feel a pulse."What have you done?" came a quiet voice from the end of the corridor.
Draco gulped. "We didn't do it, Professor, I swear!"
Ron nodded fervently.
Snape's eyes narrowed. "Ten points each. Stay here while I summon Dumbledore. You have some explaining to do."
Draco nodded nervously.
"And why are your clothes so blasted big?"
They declined to answer.