Harry held his hand up to keep the others from speaking. He listened intently. The voice seemed to be coming from somewhere above him and it was growing fainter, moving upward.
The voice was muttering about blood and death, and Harry was convinced that it planned on killing someone. It was possible that it was just an overly enthusiastic ghost; they had just come from a party full of them after all, but deep in his gut Harry knew better.
He stood for a long moment, indecisive The smart thing, the Slytherin thing to do was to run in the other direction and not look back. Someone else would meet up with whatever it was and the school would take care of it.
Unfortunately the school didn't have a good track record when dealing with this sort of thing. They hadn't even been able to deal sensibly with a troll in the school, much less something that moved through the walls.
Harry needed to know what was coming after him. If he didn't, it might catch him from behind, and if he didn't know what to expect he couldn't stop it.
"Get Colin back to the Great Hall," Harry said. "If the feast ends, give him to a prefect to take back to his rooms."
"What's going on?" Hermione asked.
Harry shook his head. "There's no time. Just do it."
With that he was off, heading up the stairs. Harry grabbed his invisibility cloak as he ran; whatever he was following sounded dangerous and he wanted the best chance of not being seen. Of course, it was possible that whatever it was hunted by sound or scent; if that was the case Harry was in trouble no matter what he did.
The voice was hissing something about smelling blood. Harry reached the third floor bathroom and he skidded to a halt.
On the wall, in blood was written a cryptic message, something about the chamber of secrets. Hanging from a post was Mrs. Norris the cat.
Of the owner of the voice there was no sign.
Harry grimaced; his first impulse had been the smarter one. Being caught with a dead cat just a month after slaughtering an entire crate of Cornish Pixies wouldn't look good at all.
A rumble told him that the feast had just ended. He didn't have long to escape, and so he ran as quickly as he could, only to stop as he realized that the passage was being filled by students coming from each end.
He couldn't be caught using the invisibility cloak; that would be worse for his long term survival than being caught with a dead cat.
If there had been an empty classroom or bathroom he could have ducked into it would have been fine.
It was already too late. There were students at both ends of the corridor and Harry had dithered about pulling off his cloak.
He had no choice.
Pulling a pinch of the Peruvian darkness powder from his pouch he tossed it in the air. Instantly an impenetrable darkness billowed out in both directions.
Harry heard the panicked screams and sounds of surprise from both ends of the hallway. He quickly pulled off his cloak, stuffing it into his bag even as he felt for the wall. He moved forward quickly, using his hand to guide him.
Listening, he heard the group up ahead. Some people were fighting to turn back down the stairs, but in the confusion Harry doubted that anyone would remember just who was in the crowd.
He'd only used a very small pinch, and he doubted it would last very long. He skidded to a stop as the sounds of confusion in front of him became close.
Pushing his way past some of the other students, Harry found himself in the middle of the crowd when the darkness dissipated a few moments later.
He worked to put a confused look on his face.
There was angry mutterings from the students around him. Most of them seemed to think it was another stunt by the Weasleys. Harry heard the first gasps from people up ahead. The message had been seen.
He walked with the crowd who were gathering around the message. Looking back over it, Harry could see that it had been written in blood in one foot high letters.
Malfoy was laughing, stupidly taunting the muggleborn students. Did he want people to think he'd killed the pet of a staff member? Only sociopaths did something like that.
The stray thought that his stunt might have sent someone falling off a stair suddenly occurred to Harry, but he reassured himself that no one had been hurt, otherwise he'd be hearing cries of horror.
The teachers were approaching. Harry very carefully began to back away; he wasn't the only one. He could see several other Slytherins doing the same. Mostly those he considered the brighter members of his house. Something like this could get very ugly.
Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle stayed right up at the front.
Harry could see Filch grabbing Malfoy and shouting. That's what he deserved for being an idiot; Slytherins were supposed to be smarter than that. Harry fought off the desire to smirk.
This had cost him some of his precious darkness powder, and the twins were sure to be suspicious , but it was better than the headache being caught would cause.
"Harry!" Hermione said, finally catching up to him. "What's going on?"
Harry gestured back toward the words on the wall, and she gasped.
"People are going to turn against each other because of this," he said. "Which is probably his plan."
Hermione stared at him then shook her head. "It isn't necessarily always You-Konw-Who that's behind all this."
"Who else? Goyle?" Harry asked. "It's probably a distraction from his real plan."
"Murdering you?" Hermione asked. She looked at him as he nodded and rolled her eyes. "I'm sure You-Know-Who has other things to do other than just murdering you."
"Outside the school, yeah," Harry said. "But the only other things I can think of that he might be doing here is recruiting or trying to kill Dumbledore."
"Maybe there are ancient artifacts at the school that he's after," Hermione said.
Harry shook his head. "He wouldn't tell the world what he was doing. He'd probably have loyal students look for it and then smuggle whatever it was out."
They were making their way back down the stairs. Harry saw that the other students were following suit.
He suspected that things were going to get a lot worse before they got better. Fearful people were angry people, and Hogwarts was already a place where people were divided. They were divided by house, by blood status, by wealth and class.
People tended to bully people who were different, and fearful people became worse bullies. Things were already bad enough and this was the last thing Harry needed.
"I can't believe you wanted to come to this," Harry said.
"It's Quidditch! How can you not be excited about Quidditch?" Colin asked. "Besides, I think it'll make for great pictures."
Harry could see Neville and Hermione sitting on the other side of the pitch with their fellow Gryffindors. Usually Quidditch matches were some of their best times together, times when they could be alone in the castle without interruption, but Harry had decided that being alone in the castle wasn't the smartest idea right now.
The cat, Mrs. Norris had only been petrified, not killed. Harry had set Hermione to helping him look up all the ways that petrification could be accomplished. They'd both read that dark magic could accomplish it, as could certain magical creatures.
None of the creatures they'd looked up could speak with the exception of Gorgons, but that didn't seem quite right to Harry. Gorgons were universally female, and the voice he'd heard had definitely been male.
The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that he'd heard the voice coming from within the walls. Hogwarts had secret passages aplenty, and someone or something could have been using them to get around unseen. Harry had found a few of them, but he had no doubt there were many he knew nothing about.
Whatever it was, it was able to move around with impunity, and the last thing Harry thought any of them needed was to be alone. Of course, if it was actually come of the monsters they'd looked up, being together might not be much better.
All in all, attending the Quidditch match was the least of the evils, even if the other Slytherins were giving him odd looks because he was finally showing an interest in Quidditch.
"Ooh, it's starting!" Colin said.
He had his camera out as he usually did, and Harry felt a sudden surge of affection for the boy. Colin had never blamed Harry for all the abuse he was suffering in Slytherin, and even though his good humor was wearing thin, he still kept a cheerful face to the world.
The boy looked up to Harry, which was something Harry had never thought he needed.
Hermione was his friend, but she thought his constant paranoia was ridiculous. Neville had never shown the kind of hero worship that Harry had gotten from Colin; he'd once confided in Harry that he could have fit the prophecy as well as Harry had.
Colin, though seemed to appreciate everything Harry was trying to do for him. His hero worship of Harry was more than just about his being the Boy-who-lived. He seemed to think that Harry could do anything, and that made Harry feel as though he could.
Harry had never had a younger brother, but if he'd had, he imagined it would feel something like this.
Quidditch, now that he watched it was an insane game that was a perfect example of what was wrong with the wizarding mindset. No muggle would play a game perched on a broom more than fifty feet in the air.
Two iron cannonballs were careening around the field trying to knock players off their brooms. Two players on the team had bats to defend themselves and their comrades with, but everyone else was defenseless.
No muggle sport was this risky, not even rugby or Canadian Hockey. Every aspect of the sport was potentially lethal; even players simply crashing into each other could lead to a fatality.
Wizards seemed to feel they were immortal.
However, since Harry wasn't the one in the air and in danger he found himself actually enjoying it. He kept waiting for disaster after disaster to happen, but the players almost seemed to be in a dance with each other.
Colin took another picture and turned to Harry. "This is great, isn't it?"
Harry smiled, "Yeah, it's all right."
Once the current business was resolved, he didn't plan to give up his time alone with his friends for this, but attending the occasional game wouldn't be a chore.
Malfoy was the seeker this year, a fact of which he was quick to point out to everyone who would listen. The fact that his father had bought him into the position was less important than how good he was, and it was apparent that he was better than the Gryffindor seeker.
He was flying for the snitch now, although he was being followed by a bludger. He pulled up and the bludger didn't follow.
It hurtled toward Harry, who barely had time to dive away, landing on the backs of some of the Slytherins below him. If his reflexes hadn't been what they were, he would have been hit. The Slytherins underneath him cursed at him and tried to push him away.
The bludger slammed into the seat where he had been sitting and the wood cracked with an audible sound. The ten inch iron ball, which had to weigh as much as Harry did bounced upward.
It floated back upward and then slammed back toward Harry with a blistering speed. Harry barely rolled away in time and he heard the sounds of bones breaking as it slammed into the person Harry had just rolled off of, a boy named Terence Higgs, who had been the seeker replaced by Malfoy.
The bludger was already levitating again. Harry rolled out into the aisle; he'd made sure to be close to an aisle just in case he needed to make a quick escape.
People were screaming, and some were already running, trying to get away from the bludger.
Harry's mind ran through the possibilities. Diffindo wouldn't work. His spell would easily cut through a tree trunk, but ten inches of solid iron were an entirely different matter.
Most of the spells he knew would be useless against the thing.
"Finite incantatem!" Harry shouted, waving his wand, but the bludger was unaffected. It was already coming around for another pass, and now there were panicked people clogging the aisle.
There was only one spell that Harry could possibly cast that would affect the thing.
"DIMINUENDO!" Harry shouted.
The bludger changed from a ball ten inches thick, probably weighing one hundred fifty pound to something the size of a pea.
It slammed into Harry'd outstretched left hand, and he could feel one of the small bones in his hand break. He still managed to wrap his hand around the bludger and with he slipped his wand into his pocket and wrapped his other hand around it as well.
The bludger tried to pull away from him several times before finally going quiescent.
Harry stared at Hermione, who was staring at him in horror from across the field. "See?" he mouthed to her.
People really were trying to kill him, and now they'd done it in front of the entire school. Even Quirrell had mostly tried to kill him alone, except for the times Harry had started it.
Harry anxiously scanned the skies for the other bludger, but it seemed to be acting normally.
There was chaos on the pitch afterward, and as Harry clutched his throbbing hand, he suddenly wished he'd used his Peruvian darkness powder again. It might have revealed him as the prankster in the corridor, but he wouldn't have been hurt.
As the teachers had taken possession of the bludger, presumably to do some of their own tests on it, Lockhart had tried to convince Harry to let him heal the broken bones in his left hand.
Harry had seen through it; the bludger was the first assassination attempt, and the man would do something that would weaken Harry while pretending to try to heal him. That would leave him alone in the Hospital wing, the perfect place to stage an assassination without being seen by anyone.
He'd gone straight to Madam Pomphrey, who was able to heal the bones in his hand in a metter of moments, although she still have him pain reducing potions to help with the trauma in the surrounding tissue.
As Harry lay in his bed, he could hear the sounds of the celebration going on down in the hallway below him.
Slytherin had won, once the game was resumed, and everyone was celebrating.
Harry stared at the ceiling and tried to think of who was trying to kill him now. Any of the upper year Slytherins would have the ability to do it, and he'd become lost enough in the game that he hadn't been paying enough attention to them.
He couldn't let them get away with it.
A soft pop, and Harry looked down to see a familiar House elf at the base of the bed.
"Harry Potter came to school," the elf said sorrowfully. "Dobby warned and warned Harry, but he came anyway. Why didn't Harry go home when he missed the train?"
Harry gripped his wand, which he'd kept on his bed in case the killer tried to use the party below as a distraction to try to kill him.
The House elf had been trying to keep him from coming to Hogwarts, and he'd blocked off the entrance. He'd probably followed Harry all the way from home, which was why his disguise hadn't worked.
"You tried to get me expelled," Harry said. His fingers tightened on his wand. "Tell me why I shouldn't decorate the wall behind you with your guts."
The house elf held his hands up. "Dobby hears death threats five times a day at home, sir. He is used to them."
Harry gritted his teeth. "If I was expelled from Hogwarts, they'd break my wand. I need my wand to protect myself when the Death Eaters come."
The house elf scowled. "Death Eaters are bad, but what's coming is worse, much worse."
He began to smash his head into the wall; apparently even mentioning this much wasn't being loyal to his master.
For once Harry didn't stop him. It was exactly what he wished he could do to the thing, except that he knew if he started he might not stop.
The creature stopped on its own, however, looking up at him. "Dobby thought his bludger might..."
"Are you saying you tried to kill me?" Harry asked. His wand was out now.
"Kill you, sir? No!" Dobby said. He seemed to finally sense the danger he was in because he looked up at Harry with wide open eyes.
"Never kill Harry Potter...simply send him home badly injured,,,:
"Wizards can heal practically anything overnight!" Harry said, shouting. "The only way you could have got me sent home was if you'd taken an arm or a leg off, and even then that would only be a few weeks in St. Mungos. It'd take a curse or some other dark magic to do anything permanent."
At the creature's sudden hopeful look Harry snapped, "Don't get any ideas."
The creature stared at him and said, "Dobby must get Harry Potter out. Now that the Chamber of Secrets has been opened again, history is about to repeat itself."
Harry saw the sudden look in the creature's eyes. It had said more than it had intended to.
Before he could press the question, he heard screams from below, and the creature turned, panicked. It disappeared in a puff of displaced air.
Harry rushed downstairs to find the Slytherins gathered at the entrance to the common chamber. There were panicked whispers and some sobs from the younger Slytherins.
Harry shoved his way through, only to freeze in horror.
At the entrance to the blank wall leading into the Slytherin house common chambers was a large pool of blood. Beside it was a child's shoe and a familiar, broken camera.
Colin Creevy was gone.