Sense of Belonging

Chapter 29

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter (that magic belongs to J.K. Rowling).

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Following the spring holidays, the students returned to Hogwarts with the end in sight. Isabelle and Hermione had finished their ambitious study schedule and were following it to the tee. They were sometimes joined in the library by Potter and Weasley, but most of the time the boys would end up distracting them and the Slytherin would leave. Jett was even coming more frequently, the talk about the new electives in third year motivating her to get better grades. That, or her godfather had given her some sort of talk when she went home for the vacation. Izzy was fairly sure it was the latter.

The younger Malfoy sibling had been hoping that she could drop her potions tutoring with Ginny Weasley, as the girl had improved so quickly over the first couple months of the year that it had become unnecessary. Upon return from the holidays, however, Iz found her first-year friend once again emotionally retreating and a little helpless. She wanted to ask the red-head if it was something with her family, or if her brothers were bothering her, but Isabelle realized it might not be her place. Ginny had missed the past two tutoring sessions in the last week of April into early May and the Slytherin was prepared to tell Professor McGonagall about her concern for the first year.

But it was a Saturday and the next House Quidditch match was that morning at 11am. Writing herself a note for Monday, Izzy leaned back and smiled contentedly. She was happy that it was game day. That meant that the library would finally go back to its natural state – quiet, clean, and with serious students who were there to actually study.

Neither Draco nor Iz had heard from their parents since the holidays. It was unusual for Narcissa not to have sent them any sort of letter or Lucius to reprimand one of them for something. The dark-haired girl thought it might have something to do with what they had found in the Upper Tower. She had to admit that she was still somewhat jealous that Draco had already known about her parents' involvement in the Great Wizarding War. Were they really so innocent? Though she had not left herself much spare time in her study schedule, Isabelle had begun to go through the Hogwarts library's newspaper archives. She remembered the date of the clipping she had found in the Upper Tower and had already found that specific article. Her plan was to work backwards, reading through the newspaper stories to piece together information…

But that Saturday, the morning of May 8th, Izzy was set to review her Herbology notes. Hermione had warned her the night before that she would be going to support Potter at the Quidditch match. Though the Slytherin missed the company of her friend, she was happy to have the entire table to herself to spread out her notes.

Iz had just settled in to copying down the ways to distract a Bowtruckle to get its home tree's materials when someone ran full-speed into the library. Grabbing her piece of parchment paper to keep it from flying away, the Slytherin looked up with a vexed look and ready to curse the person when she realized –

"Hermione?!" The bushy-haired Gryffindor had broken at least three of the school library's rules but, in her current state of mind, did not seem to care. Her eyes were wide and searching, breathing heavily. After a moment's pause, the Muggleborn girl took off once again and down a row about magical creatures.

"Hermione? What is it?" Izzy offered again, getting up to follow her. The Gryffindor was acting very strangely.

"Harry said – and then I remembered – and it's got to be here somewhere!" Hermione answered, making little sense to the Slytherin.

"Everything alright over here?" A voice asked quietly from the other end of the row. The long, curly-haired Ravenclaw Prefect who was often with the two girls studying in the library was looking at the second-years with a bit of concern.

"I have to find something about magical snakes!" Hermione replied. Isabelle glanced up at Penelope, the fifth-year Ravenclaw, and shrugged in response to her earlier question. Why was it so urgent for Hermione to find the information right then?

"Mione, I thought you were going to the Quidditch match. What is this all about?"

"The monster. In the Chamber. I think it's some sort of snake! I just don't know what…" The Gryffindor replied without looking up, quickly flipping through one of the books she had found. When neither of the other two girls continued with questions, Hermione looked up with a serious face. "Well? Aren't you going to help me?" And so the three girls got to work searching the various books on magical creatures.

"Here's one. Naga or Nagi?" Iz offered, holding up the book with the picture and description. Leaning forward to get closer, Hermione looked it over before shaking her head.

"What about this? 'The feathered serpent is a magical snake, known to many civilizations in different forms. It is able to both fly and slither and is often associated with knowledge. Some Muggle cultures consider the feathered serpent a deity – "

"No, I don't think so. It has to be something that can live a really long time…it has to move quickly through the castle, since no one has caught it yet…or maybe it is really small…" Hermione mused as she slammed another book shut, frustrated with their slow progress.

"It also can petrify someone, not just kill them." Isabelle reminded her friend, glancing over with a somber look. A couple minutes passed in silence as the three girls remained busy, searching for any potential creature who fit their descriptions.

"Here! Come see this," Penelope spoke up, pushing her book towards the two other girls. They both raced over and began to read the page:

/Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land, there is none more curious or deadly than the Basilisk, known also as the King of Serpents. This snake, which may reach gigantic size, and live many hundreds of years, is born from a chicken's egg, hatched beneath a toad. Its methods of killing are most wondrous, for aside from its deadly and venomous fangs, the Basilisk has a murderous stare, and all who are fixed with the beam of its eye shall suffer instant death. Spiders flee before the Basilisk, for it is their mortal enemy, and the Basilisk flees only from the crowing of the rooster, which is fatal to it./

"That's got to be it!" Hermione grabbed the book and stood up in excitement, her gut feeling telling her that they had found the answer.

"But Hermione, there's nothing about petrification there. If the Basilisk looks at their victim, they automatically die." Iz pointed out to her friend, looking at the text again.

"Yes, but none of those petrified looked it right in the eye! Colin saw it through his camera, Justin must have seen it through Nearly Headless Nick…and since Nick is a ghost, he can't die again!"

"And Mrs. Norris?" Penelope offered, joining the Slytherin in her doubt.

"…I'm not sure. Maybe… Wait, all the water! The bathroom was flooding, the cat must have just seen a reflection of the snake. Plus, the rooster's crow is fatal to it – Hagrid told us something had killed them all. What if it was the heir, keeping the monster safe?" Hermione looked so sure, trying to convince both of the other girls with her gaze before rereading the passage once more.

"Okay. But if it is this giant snake, how does it get around the whole school so fast? And then disappear?" Isabelle countered again, leading the three girls to stare at each other in silence, thinking.

"…what goes through the whole school?" The bushy-haired Gryffindor asked aloud before glancing back up from the book, grinning with an almost crazy look. Without waiting for Penelope or Iz to answer, she said, "The magical plumbing!" And with that, Hermione ripped the page about Basilisks out of the book and scribbled a quick note at the bottom of the page.

"Hermione!" Izzy gasped in horror at her friend defacing the library book.

"We have to go and tell Professor McGonagall! Maybe they can stop the attacks." The Gryffindor grabbed the piece of parchment and looked ready to dash.

"I'll go with you. This is important for the professors to know." The Ravenclaw Prefect added, going to grab her bag from the table.

"But what if it's nothing – ?" Isabelle began to ask, still not fully convinced of her friend's theory. There were a lot of potential plot holes. Yet neither of the two girls heard her as they hurried from the library. For a second, the Slytherin considered going after them. But that would probably mean going down to the Quidditch pitch…and she really did not feel like making that trek. Without a second thought, the young Malfoy sat back down at her library desk and returned to studying.

That is, until Madam Pince made an announcement only a half hour later or so.

"Students, your attention. All are to make their ways back to the house common rooms. Stick with your Housemates, and as quickly as possible. Your Heads of Houses will give you further information. Hurry now." The librarian's voice had been somewhat shaky and, looking at her more closely, Isabelle swore the witch seemed frightened. What could have happened? (As there had not been an attack in months, it did not cross the second-year's mind as a possibility.)

Packing her bag, Iz was one of the last to leave. She had been the only Slytherin student present and so walked alone through the corridors. Madam Pince's reaction scared her and so the usually warm, well-lit corridors now looked cold and small. Izzy put her hand on her wand, moving as quickly as she could towards the dungeons and safety. It was not long before she ran into other students, now returning from the cancelled Quidditch match. Finding her brother, she fell into pace next to him.

"Draco? Is the match over?"

"Didn't even get to start. McGonagall came out and said we all have to return to our Houses. Said we would find out why there. Weren't you in the library?"

"Yes. Madam Pince said the same thing, but she looked kind of frightened. I wonder what could have happened…" The Malfoy siblings followed the rest of their Housemates into the common room, settling in the abundant, ornate chairs spread throughout and waiting for their Head of House to arrive. Most grumbled over the cancelled Quidditch game which had now ruined their weekend fun.

All chatter stopped when Professor Snape entered. He looked solemn, even more so than usual. Coming forward to stand by the fireplace, he paused a moment before beginning.

"There was another attack on the school only an hour or so ago. Two students. This is the reason for the match being cancelled." There was a mix of gasps and groans, some students surprised while others merely annoyed that their form of entertainment was gone. Tracey was hiding her face in Millicent's shoulder while Daphne stroked her friend's hair. Pansy and Draco simply looked surprised at the news, staring at the Potions master. Isabelle's mind was running too quickly with the new information to yet feel anything.

"Did they die this time?" One of the fourth-year boys shouted from where he was standing against the wall.

"No." Snape answered simply, turning his disapproving gaze on the student. "They are both petrified, like the others. But that is not what is important. In lieu of these events, the following set of rules is now to be followed /without question/." Unrolling a piece of parchment, he read,

"All students will return to their house common rooms by six o'clock in the evening. No student is to leave the dormitories after that time. You will be escorted to each lesson and each meal by a teacher. No student is to use the bathroom unaccompanied by a teacher outside of the common room. All further Quidditch training and matches are to be postponed. There will be no more evening activities."

A large outcry at the penultimate point made by the Slytherin Head led to a sharp look from the professor. Marcus Flint sat back down, crossing his arms but looking wholly unhappy. Challenging any of his other students to say a word as his gaze swept over them, Snape continued,

"These are, of course, unusual circumstances. I have been told to warn you that it is likely that the school will be closed unless the culprit behind these attacks is caught. I understand the rumor continues that this is some heir of Slytherin – I urge anyone who thinks they might know anything about them to come forward." With a final nod, the students quickly split into their usual groups to discuss the new information.

Isabelle sat there in stunned silence listening to the Potion Master's and her friends' words. Another attack… Two students… Hogwarts might close…

As Snape began to walk by the group of second-years, the younger Malfoy sibling popped up with a question burning in her thoughts. "Sir?"

"Yes?"

"Who…who were the two students attacked?" Iz kept eye contact, both scared to find out and really wanting to know.

"A fifth-year Prefect, Penelope Clearwater, and a second-year Gryffindor, Hermione Granger." Shocked at this information confirming her fears, Izzy sat back down and took a deep breath. She should have gone with them to find Professor McGonagall. Maybe the monster would not have attacked since she is pureblooded and the other two were both Muggleborns. She suddenly felt overwhelmingly guilty.

Seeing the look on the girl's face, Snape began to lean down to find out why that was. About to ask what she might know, he was distracted by the two sixth-year prefects returning to confirm their headcount and display of the new rules.

Isabelle sat there in continued stunned silence well after their Head of House left. Finally being brought back to the present by her brother, she shrugged off the hand on her shoulder and announced she would be going down to the dorms without explanation.

~:~

After a restless night of attempted sleep filled with nightmares of the fanged Basilisk chasing after her and Hermione, once again in the Muggle village Derry Hill, Izzy finally got up the next morning with the first light. No book nor studying could distract her from the feeling of guilt. She desperately wanted to go to the Hospital Wing to see what had happened to her best friend, but knew that she would be breaking the new rules. She could not even go down to the Great Hall for some breakfast and thus sat hungry in the empty common room.

Within an hour or so, the Slytherins had begun to wake up and populated the warm and well-decorated space. Even Draco was awake earlier than usual. Upon seeing his sister, he came and sat down across from her with a slight look of concern.

"Good morning, Izzy."

"Morning…"

"You missed supper last night. I told Professor Snape that you had gone to bed and didn't want to be bothered. Did you get a House Elf to bring you something to eat?" Draco leaned forward, frowning slightly.

"No, but I'm not really hungry. And we're going down to breakfast soon, I think," Iz answered quietly, lying through her teeth. She was absolutely starving and had no idea when they would be allowed to go to the Great Hall.

"Are you okay, Izzy?"

"Yes."

"Are you sure? You looked really upset and I know you and Granger hang out a lot, even though you aren't supposed to be friends, but – " Draco began to lecture his sister but was cut off.

"I said I'm fine." His sister gave him an annoyed look before glancing away, renewed guilt. Friends… /I should tell Snape what we learned about the Basilisk. If Hermione didn't get to Professor McGonagall, they might not know!/ Iz thought to herself, realizing it might be really important information.

"Okay… Mother sent us a letter, it arrived late last night. I already read it, it's not that important, but I thought you might like to see it." Her brother held out the piece of parchment and Izzy took it gingerly, unsure what it would say.

Reading over the words slowly, Iz subconsciously wondered how her mother had learned of the events so quickly. This was answered in the next line – Father. As a Hogwarts School governor, he received detailed updates and had alerted their mother. She reassured them that they were safe and not to be scared. The last part warned them of the possibility that Dumbledore may be removed as Headmaster. Lucius believed, along with some of the other governors, that he was not performing his job as he should be. There even seemed to be a slight hope in Narcissa's tone, as if she wanted Dumbledore to be gone.

Just as she finished the letter, Professor Snape arrived through the common room entrance. Glancing around, seeing the room filled with nearly two-thirds of the students, he told them he was there to take the first group to breakfast. Iz handed the piece of parchment back to Draco and listened closely.

"A few changes before we head to the Great Hall. First, a culprit has been arrested and taken to Azkaban. The rules set last night will stand for the moment until otherwise told by the Headmaster. Bringing me to the second bit of news – the governors have suspended Professor Dumbledore as Headmaster. Professor McGonagall will be interim Headmistress. If you have any concerns, you may talk to me."

The Slytherins filed out in an orderly fashion with only whispers echoing in the dungeon corridors. Izzy was starving and worked her way up front, hoping to be the first to get some food. She also thought about telling Snape about the Basilisk monster. But if the culprit was arrested and there would be no more attacks, what was the point? Iz did not even get the chance as they arrived in the Great Hall and the twelve-year-old practically dove for the tables full of delicious food.