Choices and Consequences


Story Summary:
Harry's heading back to Privet Drive for the summer after his fifth year. He's tired of being angry with the world, and now it's time for him to change his attitude. He might have lost Sirius, and have had the prophecy thrust upon him, but there are still people who want to help him, and who understand the burden he carries. He has to take responsibility for his life and find a way to defeat Voldemort. (Mild H/G)

Chapter 29 - 29

Chapter Summary:
Harry learns a bit more about Blaise's family, and the Defence class get a practical test they'd been threatened with.

The next few weeks flew by as Harry re-immersed himself fully into the normal Hogwarts routine, not withstanding the additional distractions he had this year.

Katie kept them hard at their Quidditch practices every week, despite the worsening weather in November and early December. There were quite a few days when Harry would rather have been wrapped up nice and cosily in front of the fire with Ginny instead of out on the Quidditch pitch in howling winds and torrential rain, but Katie was keen that her year as Captain was just as successful as that of her immediate predecessors, and the team bore her regular practices with stoic fortitude although they felt that they were working pretty well together as a team.

One wet Saturday in late November Ravenclaw took on and beat Hufflepuff in the second match of the year by a score of 320 -60. Ravenclaw had a slightly more experienced team, with five of them being NEWT students compared to Hufflepuff's three, and were a better all round team, but their Seeker, Summerby, gave Cho Chang quite a good run for her money, and if he'd been a little quicker to turn once he'd spotted the Snitch he might have secured an unexpected victory for his team. As it was, Cho's reactions were quicker than Summerby's, and although he gave a brief chase after her, she was easily upon her target and raised her fist in victory with the Snitch in it, to the delighted cheers of her Housemates.

"It shouldn't matter," was Ron's phlegmatic response when Harry asked if he thought the margin of victory would be an issue. "We should beat both of them - our Chasers are better, and you're a better Seeker than either Cho or Summerby. As long as we don't do anything stupid we should be okay."

Harry raised an eyebrow.

"Well, okay, if I play as well as I can, too - I was fine against Slytherin though," Ron protested. "No nerves, or anything."

"Glad to hear it," Harry smiled, pleased that Ron's confidence had returned. The victory in the previous year's final match had apparently cured Ron's problem performing under pressure.

Harry's classes were going pretty well, too, both the official and unofficial ones. The potions that John Christopher had provided him with had really sharpened his focus on the tasks before him, and the effects were beneficial to his schoolwork as well as his Occlumency - he found it easier to concentrate on his studies for long periods than he had before.

John suggested that it might also have been a by-product of his progress with his Occlumency, as he learned to shield his mind from extraneous noise, both from his surroundings and his own random thoughts, but Harry wasn't complaining either way.

Despite all the other activities going on around him, Harry was still able to find time to spend with Ginny too, whether it was merely a relaxing evening in front of the fire in the Gryffindor common room, or working together on plans for the DA. Harry had discussed a tentative plan with Hermione and they had decided to work with Ginny on it when she came up with a number of additional suggestions.

Somewhat to Hermione's relief, the two of them took it into their own hands to keep up with the plans, and let her concentrate on her schoolwork, which gave them some additional time together, even if they were working at the same time. Harry tried to help Ginny with some of her OWL studies too, though those particular sessions always seemed to end up with the two of them wrapped together and the homework forgotten for some reason.

The DA sessions seemed to be fairly successful too. A fair few more people from the upper years had joined in, and Harry was glad now for Moody's assistance, as the expanded group meant it was getting much more difficult to work one-on-one with those who needed the help most.

Among those who'd joined were the two fifth year Slytherin prefects, Matthias and Irene, who Blaise Zabini brought along to the second meeting. The group was beginning to accept that the Slytherins were not all evil Draco Malfoy-like bigots, although that didn't stop a few of the member commenting on it when they thought Harry was out of hearing. It wasn't any surprise to him that it was Ron and Zacharias Smith who muttered most frequently.

Blaise was becoming an increasingly valuable asset to the DA. He had met Harry in the library one afternoon and suggested some additions to Harry's proposed curriculum, covering some of the nastier curses that he'd come across in the past, and how to defend against them. His family were among the few purebloods that opposed the Malfoys, their discrimination and their blind obedience to Voldemort.

"They're just plain stupid if they think they're going to gain anything in the long term from him," Blaise told Harry when he asked about the Slytherin's family. "They risk Azkaban or the Kiss for the chance to torture a few people, thinking they'll never get caught."

"They got away with it last time," Harry pointed out.

"Some of them got away with it," Blaise noted. "There were quite a few that got sent to Azkaban too - look at those who broke out last year. But even those who got off last time wouldn't be so lucky now. The Ministry aren't going to buy the Imperius as a defence this time around."

"Anyway, aren't your parents at risk?" Harry asked again.

"Not really. They're out of the country most of the time anyway, so it's not like it's a problem. They made it pretty clear last time around they weren't interested in following him, and did some research."

Harry cocked his head in interest. "What sort of research?"

"Into his background," Blaise replied. "I don't think the Malfoys and people like them would be quite so keen if they knew about Tom Riddle."

It was a bit of a surprise to Harry that Blaise already knew about the Dark Lord's past and his less-than-pure ancestry. The Zabinis apparently had their own ideas about the sort of privileges they felt pureblood families should be entitled to, but they weren't interested in taking over the world - they were happy with the status quo, and given the advantages that purebloods seemed to have over Muggleborns in any case, that wasn't too much of a surprise.

As far as the DA was concerned though, Harry was pleased to add some of Blaise's suggestions, though he didn't make any mention to Ron where he had gleaned them from.

Doing something to address his fears about what harm might befall Ginny or his other friends did ease his worry and frustration about them, and his nightmares more or less disappeared. Madam Pomfrey took back the remaining vials of Dreamless Sleep potion that he had issued him, pleased that he hadn't needed to use the whole lot.

Harry's other distractions were interrupted somewhat when Professor Silverwood finally presented them with the practical test he'd threatened.

It was a cold blustery day in early December when the sixth year Defence Against the Dark Arts class found themselves confronted with their task. The room was silent as all twenty-six students eyed up the caskets in front of them. They had each been allocated a specific casket with instructions that they had been prepared for the individual concerned.

"Each has a number of charms that must be broken before you can safely open it," Silverwood advised them. "None of the charms are especially nasty and any mishaps you may encounter should be easily reversed by Madam Pomfrey."

With that warning in mind, the students were warned to approach the task with a degree of case, and they apprehensively tried to remember their Defence classes from the past term.

Harry looked across at Hermione, who had her eyes closed and was no doubt trawling through her memory for the best tactics to use, and Ron, who grinned back nervously at him very briefly, before returning his attention to the casket in front of him.

It wasn't a large item, about eighteen inches by about half as much, and perhaps four or five inches deep. The lid was a wood of a deep golden colour and was inlaid with a large and ornately carved picture of a serpent wrapped around a sword or dagger, and flanked by a number of small birds. The rest of the box was apparently plain wood, possibly ash given the light colour, and was otherwise unadorned.

As he looked around the room, he could see from the variety of caskets that other students had before them that the particular shape and size of the casket seemed to have no relevance to the student working on it. A number seemed very similar in appearance - small boxes of metal in various shapes and sizes and with no notable markings that Harry could make out from where he sat - though a few were wooden or had carvings like Harry's.

"I expect a number of you to require Madam Pomfrey's attention by the end of this little exercise," Silverwood informed them, adding to the already palpable tension in the room.

"You have one hour to find, identify and neutralise the curses on your caskets, and retrieve the contents. Each successful student will receive three House Points, but anyone needing to visit the Hospital Wing will have five points deducted.

"This is merely the least caution I can encourage you to exercise in this particular situation," he continued, striding between the desks to ensure that everyone was paying attention to his words.

"Out in the real world, should you attempt this kind of thing with injudicious recklessness, the consequences can be extremely painful, permanent, or even fatal. Therefore, although we cannot replicate such conditions in the classroom, I urge you all to treat this with the degree of caution that you would if you came upon such an item in the real world."

Harry remembered odd details from some of the tales Bill Weasley had told him about curses he'd broken during his time working in Egypt for Gringotts. Some of the curses' effects were downright gruesome, though given the treasures that they had protected, Harry wasn't in the least bit surprised. The ancient Egyptians obviously took protection of their tombs very seriously, and he could see why Silverwood was adamant in urging caution when approaching this task, despite the ostensibly mild threat in this particular situation.

He looked up suddenly to find Silverwood staring directly at him from about three feet away, his moustache quivering slightly as he gazed sternly at the inattentive young man in front of him.

"This is definitely not the time to be day-dreaming, Mister Potter. Please concentrate on the class, or you'll see first hand exactly what I'm talking about."

Content that Harry was now focused on the class rather than woolgathering, he returned to his comments.

"Now that Mister Potter has rejoined us, I suggest you start looking your caskets over. Your hour starts now."

He strode back to his desk, and sat behind it, allowing the students a little time to start figuring out their individual challenges without him hovering over them. One he was satisfied that none of them were about to rush into attempting to open their casket immediately, and that he wouldn't have to direct anybody to the Infirmary quite yet, he stood again and left through the side door that led to his office.

Harry ignored the rest of the class smirking at his reprimand and took the time to inspect his casket a little further. The obvious places to set traps on this kind of item were the lid, the lock and the handle, since those were the first places that most people would touch. He reviewed the spells Silverwood had taught them could be used to identify magical safeguards and determine whether any curses had been applied to the box, and selected the most likely of them first.

This spell was designed to locate any spells placed upon the box, and when Harry cast it he was surprised to find that, rather than a number of small, individual locations glowing with a soft blue light, which was what he had expected, the whole of the lid lit up.

Taking a closer look at the lid, he noticed that it didn't have hinges. In fact he couldn't see a break in the surface at all, and wondered how it opened. There was a keyhole in the side of the box, but what it might trigger if he probed it was unknown, even though the identification spell didn't indicate any curses present there.

He muttered a brief "alohamora", and was rewarded with a slight click, but there seemed to be no other indication that he'd had any success. On the other hand, it didn't appear that he'd triggered any curses either, so he shrugged his shoulders and tried a different approach. It would have been far too easy to be able to open the casket with a simple unlocking spell anyway.

He tried another spell, which was supposed to give an indication of the kind of curse that the lid had been trapped with, and was amused to see that it turned a sickly pale-yellow colour, which was supposed to mean that the curse inlaid was supposed to induce hallucinations. He briefly contemplated taking the curse and being immediately ready with a counterspell, but he suspected that Professor Silverwood would consider that as a failure.

Instead, he lifted the box carefully and placed in on its side, once again casting the identification spell. He was rewarded with a number of small glowing spots on the base that confirmed his suspicion that the casket had been cursed in a number of ways, ones that were designed to take advantage of anyone who was complacent and assumed they had managed to beat the trap by identifying the obvious curse on the lid.

The curses gave off small pinpricks of red light when he cast another spell on the casket, indicating that they were curses designed to cause specific physical harm. He carefully covered each one with a combination of muffling and re-direction hexes so that even if they were set off, their impact would be minimised, then set about trying the appropriate counter curses.

This only took a few moments - these were also mere decoys, dragging the intruder away from the main protection Harry decided, having cleared these away. There had to be more complex curses involved, and he turned back to the conundrum of the lid. A more careful examination revealed that the lid did not lift off, nor could it be raised on a hinge, but that it was supposed to slide. As far as Harry could tell, there was no way of removing it until he had countered the hex that protected it.

"Right then. Let's give it a go," he muttered to himself as he called to mind the types of hallucinogenic curses that they had covered in class. He'd been surprised at the number of these sorts of curses that were in use when they had discussed it in the lesson, and hoped he'd remembered the right counter for this particular variant.

He cast the spell, slightly unsure of himself as he did so and wondering whether or not he'd bungled it, but the sickly yellow glow from the lid of the casket disappeared almost immediately. He re-cast the first spell, but no new curses were apparent, so he pressed firmly on the lid and attempted to slide it to one side.

Harry growled an oath to himself as the lid slid off a lot more easily than he'd expected. It slipped out of his hands and clattered to the floor, causing most of the class to look up from their own work at the noise.

He muttered a brief "sorry", and then bent down under the desk to retrieve the lid, placing it off to one side while he examined the contents of the casket.

"What have you got?" Ron asked him in an excited whisper.

Apparently Harry was the first to open his box, and necks were craned all around the room trying to peer into it.

"Back to your own work please," Silverwood interjected from the doorway to his office before Harry could respond to Ron's question.

A shuffling of chairs signalled the students returning to their own tasks and the room went particularly quiet, as though everyone were trying to catch a sound of what Harry had unearthed.

He turned back to the casket and looked into it. As far as he could see, there was no treasure inside at all; it was just an empty box. He tentatively placed his hand into it, and was surprised when, instead of grasping air, his fingers jammed hard against an unseen barrier.

Mumbling to himself irritatedly about forgetting to check with magic, Harry muttered "ostendo", and pointed his wand at the bottom of the box. The revealing spell worked perfectly, immediately removing the illusion, and Harry could see that rather than an empty box, the casket actually had a separate lower compartment that probably accounted for the majority of the depth of the box, hidden beneath the illusion of an empty container.

The top of this compartment was the same deep golden colour as the lid, and had a similarly intricate design carved into it, featuring a serpent and a sword. The biggest differences were that there was a handle inlaid into the design near the front, a very basic looking lock in the centre, and the indications of a small set of hinges at the back, suggesting that the lid would lift upwards and away from him.

He re-cast his first spell and wasn't surprised to find that another curse had been placed on the lock of the lower compartment as well. An unlocking spell was very likely to trigger whatever curse had been employed, and he hoped that he hadn't already triggered it with his earlier use of 'alohamora'.

Casting the identification spell confused Harry slightly. He couldn't remember them being told in class about the sorts of curses that would produce a dark green coloured light like the one that was now emanating from the lock. He pushed the casket away from him slightly and sat back in his chair, thinking hard.

They had covered hallucinogens and curses that would cause various kinds of physical pain, such as boil hexes, broken bones and stings. They'd also learned counters for less obvious curses that affected the physical world, such as those that triggered levitation, elemental effects or more complicated traps like the roof caving in.

What he had here didn't seem to match any of the things they had been taught though, and Harry was a little worried that he might have overlooked something when he was catching up on all the work he'd missed while stuck in the Hospital Wing.

He took a deep breath and forced himself to relax, scanning the room to see what others were up to.

Hermione was poring over a small metal box that appeared to have hundreds of tiny little charms on it judging by the number of pinpricks of light that had been revealed when she had cast the diagnostic spell. She was feverishly looking at each one, then quietly casting a counter to it, and moving quickly on to the next, conscious of the time limit that had been imposed on them.

Meanwhile Harry could see that Ron's dark brown wooden casket had stumped him temporarily as well. He was sat staring at a pale blue light that emanated from it, and barely moved a muscle. As Harry watched, Silverwood wandered up to Ron and waved his hand in front of the redhead's face but received no response.

"Five points from Gryffindor," he stated quietly but firmly, and lifted Ron by the shoulder and guided him into the adjoining room. The two of them came out again a few moments later, Ron with a miserable look on his face and Silverwood with an expression of mild distaste. The Defence teacher muttered a few words to Ron, who left the classroom hurriedly, with a concerned backward glance over his shoulder at the Professor as he exited.

"Back to your work please," Silverwood reminded them. "You've only got another twenty minutes."

The next twenty minutes passed extremely quickly for Harry, who just couldn't figure out a solution to his casket. He knew that there must be a counter for the unknown curse, but without knowing what the curse was, it was difficult to ensure that he could safely avoid it. He racked his brain trying to think what other sorts of curse could be used in this scenario, and how he could get around not knowing the curse to counter.

During the same period, a number of other students managed to trigger curses on their own work. Harry didn't know whether it was because they had done something wrong, or if they had simply panicked with only a little time remaining and taken a chance. He was too busy concentrating on his own work to care.

He did look up though when an exhausted Hermione emitted a quiet squeal of pleasure as she countered the final enchantment on her box and lifted the lid.

"Congratulations, Miss Granger," Silverwood said, a smirk on his face. "Three points to Gryffindor."

As Hermione sat back in her chair a relaxed for the final few minutes of the lesson, Harry turned back to his own box. With barely a minute to go, he decided that he would take a risk.

"Finite Incantatem," he muttered, pointing his wand carefully at the spot beyond the lock that still glowed dark green.

To his surprise, the green glow disappeared, and he felt his heart lighten. He reached out a started to lift the handle up and away from him, just as Silverwood told the class that there was less than a minute to go.

The lid of the lower compartment lifted easily, and Harry could feel some sort of spring mechanism under the edge, so he wasn't surprised when a dart came flying out of the box. Fortunately his reflexes were quick enough to duck under the missile, and it sped over his shoulder and up into the air, before looping down and hitting Neville in the shoulder.

Neville wasn't quite so fortunate though, as whatever the dart was loaded with acted very quickly, and he fell backwards off his chair, unconscious.

Harry didn't have time to realise what had happened behind him. Following the dart, some sort of powder was flung out of the casket, straight into his face just as he started to turn away and follow the path of the dart, and the surprise caused him to inhale a fair amount of it.

His coughing and choking attracted the attention of the rest of the class, and Professor Silverwood hurried across the room with a conjured glass of water for him as he recovered his composure and wiped his face of the white dust that had accumulated.

"Are you okay, Mister Potter?" the Defence teacher asked solicitously.

Harry nodded tentatively as he cleared his throat and wiped the tears from his face.

"Good. I'm afraid you lose five points for Gryffindor though, for setting off two of the traps." He looked across the room at the prone Neville. "Even if Mister Longbottom was the victim of one of them," he added.

He moved across to where Neville had slumped on the floor and removed the dart from the Gryffindor's shoulder. He pulled a small bottle from his pocket and applied a small amount of its contents to the wound, then cast a resuscitating spell on Neville, who opened his eyes and looked around in surprise.

"Wha' was 'at?" he asked semi-coherently.

"I'm afraid you got caught by someone else's trap, Mister Longbottom," Silverwood explained. He pulled out a piece of parchment and swept up a quill from a nearby table, jotting a brief note on the parchment and handing it to the dazed boy.

"Can you get to the Hospital Wing?" he asked.

Neville nodded slightly uncertainly and was helped to his feet by Dean and Seamus.

"You sure? Okay, well give that note to Madam Pomfrey, and she'll sort you out. Mister Thomas, please go with him."

Dean helped Neville as far as the door, but the moon-faced young man shrugged him off as he reached the exit to the classroom, and thanked him, but insisted that he could make it on his own. Dean smiled and returned to his seat and the rest of the class followed suit, and Silverwood strode back to the front of the class to address them all.

"I suppose that wasn't too bad for your first try," he said grimly, looking out across the students. "I'm pleased to see that two students managed to disable all the magical traps that I had placed on their caskets.

"I'm far less pleased though that so many of you were either unable to recall the work we've already done on the subject, or panicked and set off your traps when you realised you had too little time remaining."

He strode backwards and forwards across the front of the room as he talked, giving off the impression of boundless energy slightly frustrated by the confines of the classroom.

"Miss Granger and Mister Potter managed to defuse their magical time bombs, but Mister Potter made a crucial mistake. What was it?" He turned and faced the class, expectantly awaiting an answer.

A Ravenclaw girl that Harry didn't know very well raised her hand.

"Miss Li?"

"Um. He assumed that all the traps set would be magical ones and didn't think about there being any mechanical protections too."

"Good. One point to Ravenclaw."

He turned to face Harry, who was a little annoyed at being picked on, even though he realised he was the most obvious target, having made such an exhibition of himself. "I believe one of my predecessors preached constant vigilance to you all. That's exactly what was lacking, Mister Potter."

He turned back to the rest of the class. "At least Mister Potter managed to get to that stage though. Twelve of you managed to set off the traps I had laid for you - either because of your incompetence in understanding what I have taught you this term, or through panic. You could be dead or seriously injured. The rest of you failed to solve your task within the prescribed hour - if this were an Egyptian tomb you were trying to break into, you might find yourselves sealed inside - you all need to revise the work we've done over the past months on curse-breaking."

There was a murmur of muted acceptance from the class, and Silverwood continued talking.

"Next week we will review this topic again, and I expect a much better performance. As I've warned you, your lives could easily depend on it if you have any intention of using the skills you learn in here once you've left school."

The rest of the lesson was dedicated to the specific curses that had confounded some of the class and how they should have been neutralised, but they didn't get around to Ron's case, which was probably just as well as he hadn't returned from the Infirmary.

Harry was a bit annoyed that apparently his was the only casket that had been trapped by mechanical as well as magical means, especially when Hermione revealed that hers had been much more difficult from a magical perspective and hadn't any mechanical traps at all. Of course, not all of the other students had actually got as far as opening their containers, but from their descriptions, none had come across a spring-loaded trap.

He commented on it to Hermione once the class had been dismissed, and her eyes lit up at the prospect of a discussion of the class as Harry walked with her towards Greenhouse Four where her Herbology class convened.

"It was a really difficult test!" she enthused as they made their way towards the main entrance hall of the castle and down the steps. "I couldn't believe how many traps he'd put on mine, but I realised half-way through what he was doing."

Harry looked at her questioningly. "What was that exactly?" he asked.

"I thought it was obvious."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Obvious to you, maybe."

Hermione huffed a little, but carried on regardless. "I mean look at the way it was set up - yours was really tricky: you had at least two separate misdirections on it to try and tempt you into trying to hard to force the issue.

"Mine was full of small curses that would have been really easy to counter had I set them off, but to identify and counteract them individually without springing them took intense concentration and there were so many that I had to work without having time to stop and think back to our lessons. Ron's looked as though it was designed to lure him in and get started then when he stopped to strategise, it set off a timed confundus beam, by the looks of it-"

"The short version, Hermione? Your Herbology class starts soon."

She shot Harry a glare for interrupting him, but cut her explanation short to give him the summary.

"He was trying to get us to work in ways we don't normally do. You, having to think about each individual step rather than simply getting on with the 'doing'; me, having to work quickly without the time to think back to the lesson and remember what the counter-curses were; Ron, also to work quickly, but more importantly without having time to plan ahead."

Harry acknowledged her point. He remembered now one of the classes devoted to time-delay curses, and no doubt Ron had fallen into the trap of identifying one and then stopping for too long to think about how to get around it.

"Well, okay. But what was the point?" he asked.

Hermione shrugged. "Don't know - maybe you should ask him."

"Hmpf." Harry snorted, and was about to make a rejoinder when Ron came running up behind them.

"Oi! Wait for me!" he shouted as he ran up the path behind them. He was panting a little as he caught them up and slapped Harry on the shoulder.

"Hey mate! What are you doing here? I thought you'd dropped Herbology!"

Harry looked up and saw that they had reached the Greenhouses. "I was just leaving again. We were talking about Silverwood's class."

Ron made a face. "Urgh. Don't talk about it. If I have to stare at one place for so long like that again I'm sure my eyes'll dry up." He blinked repeatedly to try and moisten his eyeballs, which made Hermione turn away in disgust at the thought.

"Well, okay, I'll see you folks at Dinner," Harry noted, and headed off back to the castle for another session with Professor Gaarder.