Listen, Potter," Malfoy said uncomfortably. "My father told me to stay away from you...didn't say why."
Harry glanced up at Malfoy. He was sitting on his bed studying through the book of monsters. He was looking for anything he could find on dementors.
"We may have had words," Harry said neutrally.
Harry shook his head. "Don't worry, nobody's going to think that we're best friends or anything."
Malfoy had waited until they were alone to even mention any hint of thanks. He hadn't even trusted Crabbe or Goyle enough to offer any kind of olive branch in front of them.
The look Malfoy was giving him was strange; Harry wasn't sure what it meant.
"If you're planning on going after Black, I'll see what I can find out," Malfoy said, looking back at the door as though he was fearful someone would come in.
"Why would I go after Black?" Harry asked.
One more maniac out of an army of maniacs and everyone seemed to think he should be worried about him.
"You didn't know? He was the one who betrayed your parents to Voldemort," Malfoy said. "He was their secret keeper and if he hadn't betrayed them nobody could have found them."
Harry had looked himself up, of course. Finding out what had happened to his parents and why had been part of his basic research back in the first year.
"My parents were idiots," Harry said, scowling.
"They should have been each other's secret keepers," Harry said. "Trusting other
people was incredibly stupid of them."
Malfoy stared at him. "So you don't blame Black?"
"I didn't say that," Harry said. "It's just that I'm not going to go looking for him. Everybody says he's coming here, so what's the point?"
"Coming here?" Malfoy asked.
"Given this school's track record, I'd expect him to break in fairly soon. After all, the school couldn't even keep out a troll, and those are dumber than Crabbe or Goyle."
Malfoy looked as though he was considering asking for a room change.
"I've been thinking about learning to cast alarm spells," Harry said. "Any chance you'd be interested in that?"
Harry suspected that Malfoy would be taking his wand into the shower with him from now on. He probably thought Black would be jumping out of the toilets.
Of course, Harry had been taking his wand into the showers since first year. The best place to attack someone was where they felt the most safe, after all.
"There's a boggart inside the box," Professor Lupin said.
The man was surprisingly better as a teacher than either of the first two teachers, despite his shabby appearance.
"Shapeless, they love dark, enclosed spaces. I've encountered them in closets and under beds and in the cabinets under sinks," Lupin was saying. "It's not until we see them that they take the form of our worst nightmares."
Harry slowly lifted his hand. "Professor...am I to gather you'll be showing this to us?"
"In order to show the spell to resist them, yes," Professor Lupin said.
"You do know we are in Slytherin, right?" Harry asked. "Our fears are likely to be...more intense than those of the other houses."
Malfoy snorted. "What are Hufflepuffs going to be afraid of...their own shadow?"
"It's important to learn to face your fears, Harry," Professor Lupin said. "If you don't they will master you and you'll never be free."
The students around him were glancing at each other. Slytherin students learned from their very first year to keep their weaknesses to themselves. Any weaknesses that were revealed were taken advantage of ruthlessly.
Now the professor was suggesting that they show their greatest fears to everyone in their class.
"Is there any way we can do this privately?" Malfoy asked.
"The boggart is much more dangerous if you are alone," Professor Lupin said. "When there are more than one source of fear, the creature becomes confused, and it doesn't know what to turn into."
Professor Lupin continued. "There is a spell which helps repel a boggart; it requires strength of mind as well as magic. What repels boggarts is laughter."
As Professor Lupin went into details on the spell they were going to use to repel the boggart, Harry wondered if laughter really was the best remedy to fear. He'd had precious little laughter over the last three years...or two years as far as the rest of the world was concerned.
Neville was sometimes funny, but Hermione rarely was. The Weasley twins thought they were, but Harry thought their pranks were more than a little mean. He tolerated them, but they both thought he didn't have much of a sense of humor.
In the end he really wasn't sure.
"Who wants to volunteer?"
Harry shrank into his chair and he noticed everyone in the class doing the same. If they'd been Gryffindors it would have been different. Everyone would have doubtlessly been trying to look brave, but in Slytherin no one wanted to go up at all, much less first.
Professor Lupin's gaze wandered over Harry, and for a moment Harry thought he'd be the first one to get called, but it turned out to be Crabbe.
Learning that Crabbe was afraid of disappointing Malfoy wasn't very enlightening. Seeing the image of Malfoy suddenly dressed in a sundress was funny.
Harry, however was smart enough not to show his amusement. A few of his classmates were not so bright.
One after the other, his classmates went up. Many were afraid of their own parents; Harry got the impression that some of them might be abusive.
Others were afraid of Death Eaters; some saw their entire families lying dead. Harry kept a mental note; many of those were the ones who had extended a hand to him secretly.
Malfoy was afraid of disappointing his father. Seeing Lucius Malfoy wearing a tutu was almost worth the price of admission.
As each student stepped up, Harry felt himself growing more and more anxious. Revealing his fear of dementors would make him look weak before the others, but worse, he had no doubt that some of his classmates would be writing their parents immediately afterward.
The last thing he needed was for Voldemort to start sending dementors after him. The Ministry was already doing that on their own.
However, as class reached a close, the professor did not choose him to face the boggart. Harry felt a sense of relief as the professor began to assign homework, although he saw angry looks from his classmates.
He waited until after the other students had left the room.
"Professor...I noticed you didn't have me face the boggart," Harry said quietly.
Professor Lupin looked up at him. "I'm not unaware of your position in Slytherin, Harry. Showing that you're afraid of Voldemort would weaken you in the eyes of the other."
"But I'm not afraid of Voldemort," Harry said. "I mean, I know I'm going to have to kill him some day, but that's not my greatest fear."
"What..." Professor Lupin asked, then his expression cleared."Dementors."
"I've got to work on a way to protect myself from them," Harry said. "You saw what happened; if I'd been alone I'd have been helpless and I'd be an empty shell by now."
Lupin shook his head. "The patronus is a ridiculously difficult magic...beyond NEWT level. It's one of the most powerful defensive magics known to wizardkind."
Harry frowned. "I'm sure you've heard that I'm...determined in some of my classes at least. This is really important."
Lupin stared at him for a moment, then said, "If it was anyone else..."
"There are dementors all around the school, Harry said gloomily. "It's only a matter of time before some of them decide they need a little snack and come swooping in."
"You really are as pa...cautious as I've heard." Professor Lupin said.
Harry smirked. "I'm still alive, aren't I?"
He turned serious shortly after. "I need this. Whatever you need I'll find a way to get it to you."
Normally he wouldn't be stupid enough to make a blanket promise like that, but he needed this intensely.
Lupin frowned. "All right, but my schedule won't be free for three more weeks."
"Is there anything I should so in the meantime?"
"Concentrate on finding your most happy thoughts," Lupin said. "Not just pleasant ones, but feelings of joy, whenever you were at your happiest."
"It's those feelings that power the patronus," he said.
Harry felt a sinking sensation in his stomach.
If the spell needed happy memories to function, there was a good chance he wouldn't be able to cast it at all.
Professor Lupin soon proved to be popular with almost everyone. Malfoy complained that the man had no sense of style and that he looked like a ragamuffin, but even he seemed to respect what the man was teaching.
After all, they hadn't had a competent Defense teacher since they'd entered the school, and Lupin was competent if nothing else.
He didn't have time to revive the dueling club though, something that Harry bitterly regretted. He'd gotten much better through the club and was feeling the lack of practice intensely. His sessions with Flitwick just weren't happening often enough for his taste.
Worse, his efforts to find a set of happy thoughts weren't going well at all. Even the few happy thoughts he'd had, such as times with Hermione and Neville were all tinged with cynicism and plotting. Harry realized that he was always so busy planning ahead that he never really had time to live in the moment.
He found himself envying Ron Weasley, who seemed to live in nothing but the moment. He imagined him as being largely carefree and he wondered what life would be like without any kind of responsibilities or threats.
Hermione was feuding with Ron; apparently her cat, or Kneazel or whatever it was had eaten Ron's rat. According to Neville, the rat had looked half dead from the first day of school. Harry didn't care much except that it felt a little like Ron was back to his bullying ways, which Harry didn't like much.
As the beginning of October began, Professor Lupin began trying to teach Harry the Patronus spell.
"This is very advanced magic," Professor Lupin said. "Many adult wizards are never able to cast it at all."
They were in Lupin's office in front of the boggart, which had indeed taken on the form of a tormentor. Although Harry didn't faint in front of the boggart, he did relive some of his previous deaths as well as hearing the screaming woman.
"But I'm casting it correctly?" Harry asked miserably.
"Your wand movements and pronunciation are flawless," Professor Lupin said. "The problem is whatever you are using for a happy memory isn't strong enough to support anything more than the barest flicker of a patronus."
Harry had seen the barest gleam of silvery light, and that only by using the happiest thought he could remember. Casting over and over and over had yielded no results.
"I've been doing this for three weeks," Harry said. "And I haven't seen any results at all."
It was already Halloween, and not having reached any progress at all wasn't just frustrating; it was frightening. What if Harry never managed to create a patronus? He'd heard that some dark wizards simply weren't capable of it and he wondered if this meant he was dark himself.
"Are you sure there aren't other happy memories you could use?"
Harry shook his head. "I guess I'm just not a very happy person. Is there anything else you can do to repel a tormentor than this?"
"I'm not sure we've exhausted this option, but the only other good option is to do enough physical damage that they'll back away. The problem with that is that it won't hold them back for long, and if there are more than one of them it's hard to do enough damage to stop all of them."
Harry scowled. Dementors hunted in packs, at least when they weren't trapped in Azkaban. He had to learn this spell or his life would be over before he had a chance to live it.
"Have you ever heard about how a wolf pack hunts?"
Nodding, Harry said, "They attack from all directions and wear the prey out."
"That's what the dementors will do if you don't have a patronus," Professor Lupin said.
Harry glanced out the window. It was Halloween again; nothing good ever seemed to happen on Halloween, although the feast was usually good. It was getting close to time for the feast.
"What can I do to resist the effects," Harry asked. "If I fall down and have a seizure I won't be able to do anything even if I learn the Patronus spell."
Professor Lupin frowned. "There is an advanced technique called occlumency which protects the mind from being read; I've heard that you seem to have some natural talent in that area."
Scowling, Harry wondered who had been trying to read his mind; most likely it was Dumbledore or Snape. It had to be one of the professors for Lupin to have been informed. Whatever skill Harry supposedly had was probably the only reason they didn't know about his resetting time.
"It doesn't seem to help me with dementors at all, though," Harry said. "Even the boggart makes me feel a little faint."
"The other way to shield your mind is to use obsession," Professor Lupin said. "It doesn't have to be happiness, it just has to be a desire powerful enough that you can drive the thoughts the dementors are pulling forth away."
Obsession? That was something Harry could work with. He'd been obsessed with a variety of things since his first death.; most revolved around survival.
"We'll discuss it in the next session," Professor Lupin said. "It's time you get on to your feast."
Harry nodded. If he couldn't master the patronus, he had to at least learn how to stay on his feet when dementors came.
His soul depended on it.
For once Halloween dinner passed uneventfully. There were no dramatic pronouncements about trolls, no hissing announcements about murder in the walls. There was simply a quiet, enjoyable meal.
As such, Harry took his time. For once there was no rush to catch another class or a training session, and there was no chance of being interrupted. Even as the other students began to stream out of the Great Hall, he continued to linger over his dinner.
Malfoy was being more polite toward Harry since he'd saved him, although he couldn't be said to be particularly friendly. Befriending Harry Potter could be literal suicide considering who his father's friends were.
"I don't suppose you'll finally get interested in Quidditch this year, Potter?" Malfoy was finishing his meal.
Harry smirked. "What, don't have enough fans already?"
The few students still left at the table around them was listening. The attitude toward Harry had been a little less hostile since he'd killed the basilisk, but no one could afford to be seen as his friend in public. Still, it was a welcome improvement from having to watch his back every second.
"I can't help it if I'm a god on the playing field." Malfoy grinned. "Not that you'd ever try it yourself."
Harry shook his head. "I had enough trouble with a bludger just being in the stands; people would be trying to kill me all the time on the Quidditch Pitch. Besides, the last think I want to do is give the Weasley twins a chance to go at me with bats."
Apparently the youngest Weasley had decided that Harry was her savior and she had an alarming sort of obsession with him. The twins had already warned Harry against pursuing it.
"Maybe you should try it, Potter. You'd end up with a dozen brats in no time, given the way the Weasleys breed."
Harry shuddered. The idea of having children in a world where he wasn't sure he'd even last the afternoon was horrible.
"Maybe we should be getting back," Harry said, noting that most of the other students were heading out of the hall.
Malfoy nodded. "Nice, uneventful feast this year."
Suddenly there was a commotion at the doors to the Great Hall and people began to stream back inside. The Gryffindors seemed to be agitated.
Harry closed his eyes. "You had to say it."
"What's going on," Malfoy asked.
"Sirius Black just slashed the painting leading into the Gryffindor common room," the nearest prefect said. "The teachers are bringing everybody back to the Great Hall."
Harry held out a hand to Malfoy. "Pay up."
Malfoy looked sour. "Are you a seer Potter? How could you know it would happen by Halloween?"
Harry had known that part of the reason Malfoy was looking so cheerful was that he was convinced he would win a bet they'd made earlier in the year.
How Malfoy of all people could believe that Hogwarts was secure was beyond Harry's ability to comprehend. Where was the Slytherin cynicism? The natural distrust held by anyone who wasn't an idiot.
"Once is a coincidence, twice, maybe still, but three times is a pattern," Harry said cryptically. His parents had been killed on Halloween as well as the troll and basilisk incidents. Apparently evil loved a holiday as much as everyone else.
"You'll have to wait until we get back to the room," Malfoy said. "I don't have any money on me."
A problem with traditional wizard wear was a lack of pockets. Most muggle borns and half bloods wore muggle clothes underneath their school robes, but purebloods like Malfoy wouldn't be seen dead in them.
Dumbledore appeared, and apparently he had learned a lesson from the debacle the first year. Everyone was to stay in the Great Hall for the evening as the teachers all searched the castle.
Harry was impressed as Dumbledore effortlessly summoned eight hundred sleeping bags that were apparently intended to last throughout the night. It was a testament to his power.
Seeing Neville and Hermione, Harry found a sleeping bag in the corner well away from the door. He was happier sleeping away from the older Slytherins anyway, especially since the Gryffindors didn't hate him as much this year as they had in the past.
"How do you think he got in?" Neville asked. He was shaken. Apparently both he and Hermione had actually seen the slashed painting and both of them looked white faced.
Harry shrugged. "This place is like a sieve."
Glancing around , he reached quietly into his pocket where he kept the Marauder's map. Since learning that Sirius Black had decided to specifically target him, he'd begun to keep the map on his person at all times along with his invisibility cloak.
He planned to check the map the moment he was able to do so without being seen. If Sirius Black was still on the grounds he'd find a way to get to him.
The sooner he stopped Black, the sooner the dementors would be removed from around the school.