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Title: Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Author: Kroki Refur
Pairing: None
Genre: Action/Drama
Rating: R
Summary: Sixth year, and Harry's back at Hogwarts, but how can it be like it was? NEWTs and even Quidditch pale into insignificance, with Sirius gone and the horizon dark with war. Familiar faces turn up in unexpected places, and then there's the small matter of Malfoy... Drama a-plenty, and maybe an apocalypse or two to come.
Warnings: Language; violence.

Chapter 1 here.
Chapter 2 here.
Chapter 3 here.
Chapter 4 here.
Chapter 5 here
Chapter 6, part 1 here

This is the second part of chapter 6, which I recently posted (you'll find a summary of the story so far there). I'm reasonably happy with the way the two parts hang together as a chapter, but if you think I should make this part of chapter 7 instead, please do let me know. Thank you!



Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Beta-ed?: No

Slouching Towards Bethelehem

Chapter 6, Part 2: A Rocking Cradle


Ron and Hermione were in the common room when they arrived back at Gryffindor Tower, and they both jumped up in surprise when they saw Malfoy enter with Harry in tow.

"Harry!" Hermione gasped. "What on Earth happened to you?"

Harry looked down at his dripping robes. A slimy tendril of weed protruded from one of his sleeves, and there was a tear in one of the knees, through which he could glimpse dried blood on the pale skin of his leg. "I had a fight," he explained. "With the lake."

"Both of you?" Ron looked at Malfoy with suspicion. Harry turned to look at him too, and saw that the boy's pale face and hair were smeared with mud, and he had a deep scratch on his chin.

"What's it to you,Weasley?" Malfoy snapped.

Ron scowled, but Hermione put a hand on his arm. "Foveo! Reparo!" she said. Harry felt warmth spread through him, and his robes began to steam. Hermione looked at him critically. "I'd rather not do the scratches," she said. "I wouldn't want them to scar. You should go to Madame Pomfrey."

She turned to Malfoy, repeating her actions. Then she held out a bulky package. "This came for you," she said, her tone neutral.

Malfoy raised his eyebrows and took the parcel, ripping off the paper. Harry craned his neck to see what it was: a brand-new copy of Theory and Practice of Portkey Creation, the gold leaf still shining brightly on the leather cover. Two other things were in the parcel: a wand box and a note written on expensive-looking paper. Malfoy read it quickly, then stood there for a moment, staring at the book and the box in his hands. Suddenly, he strode to the fire, and without hesitation, shoved the book into the flames. Hermione made a noise of astonishment, but Malfoy wasn't listening. He made a move as if to do the same with the box, then seemed to change his mind, and shoved it into his pocket. Without looking at any of them, he turned on his heel and strode away, disappearing up the staircase.

"Madder than a box of frogs," Ron said, sounding almost obscenely cheerful. Hermione was trying to rescue the book from the flames, but it had caught surprisingly quickly, and was now burning merrily. Harry saw the note, which had fallen to the floor beside the fire, and after a moment's hesitation, he picked it up. He ignored his feeling of guilt for reading someone else's personal correspondence, and unfolded the paper.

Dearest Draco, it read, I know you lost your wand last week, and I heard that you also lost your copy of this book in the move to your new accommodation. Ollivander remembered you well, and sent you the same wand you had before. I hope you're doing well; Professor Snape assures me that he is keeping an eye on you. Please write to me soon. Mother.

The paper was slightly puffy in places; Harry wondered if Narcissa had been crying when she wrote it. He read the letter again, somehow unable to help himself, but then he saw Ron staring at him.

"What's that," Ron asked, trying to see.

Harry shoved the letter in his pocket hastily. "Nothing." He faked a yawn. "I'm going to bed," he said, and was already half-way up the stairs before either Ron or Hermione had time to ask any more questions. When he reached the dormitory, Malfoy's curtains were already drawn.

----

By the time Harry got down to breakfast the next morning, most of the student had already finished eating. He plonked himself down on the bench next to Hermione, who was reading The Daily Prophet ('Cambridge Research-Wizard Killed by Exploding Experiment!'). Ron gestured at him with a spoon.

"Didn u go a see Ma'am Pomfey?" he asked through a mouthful of porridge.

"Not yet," Harry said. I'll go after breakfast.

Hermione gave him a reproving look. "If you'd wanted to do that, you should have come to breakfast earlier. You won't have time to go before your first class."

Harry shrugged. "I'll do it at break, then. It's no big deal."

Ron eyebrows shot up. "Have you looked at your face, mate? It's like Hallowe'en! All I can say is-"

But whatever all he could say was, Harry never found out. Ron stopped abruptly, and Harry looked up to find Malfoy standing at his shoulder. His face was clean and free from marks; he had obviously made the time to go to Madame Pomfrey before breakfast.

"We need to talk about the Magical Transportation assignment," he said, shortly.

Harry glanced at Ron, whose mouth had dropped open. He looked back at Malfoy. The other boy was staring at him impatiently. "Um, OK?" Harry hazarded.

"Right. I'll meet you in the library at breaktime. On second thoughts," Malfoy's eyes travelled over Harry's face, "you might want to get yourself fixed up first. You look like something the cat dragged in."

Harry opened his mouth to retort, but Malfoy was already turning away. "So I'll see you there at lunchtime. Oh and Potter?" The boy cast a glance over his shoulder, his pointed features assuming an air of indifference. "Don't forget to bring your book. Mine had an accident." And with that, he marched out of the Great Hall.

The three friends stared after him. "I think I liked him better when he was sulking," Ron remarked.

Hermione straightened up. "Well, I think it's a big improvement. Well done Harry, I think what you did was very generous."

"Thanks," Harry muttered, not sure exactly what it was that he had done, and not entirely sure he thought the new Malfoy was in improvement, either. Still, at least I won't have to do the homework all by myself.

----

The next few weeks were rather surreal, even by the standards of Harry's life. Malfoy was not quite as invisible as he had been before -- sometimes he would sit in a corner of the Gryffindor common room by himself, or be seen stalking through the corridors on his own -- but they still saw him very little. None of the Gryffindors seemed very keen to bridge the gap between them, Harry least of all: to Ron's relief, and despite Hermione's urging, he didn't invite Malfoy to sit with them at mealtimes or in the evening. Every week, however, they would meet in the library, and later, when theory moved into practice, out in the grounds or in the common room, to do their Magical Transportation homework. At these times, and at others when Harry or Hermione had cause to speak to him, Malfoy wavered between condescending and coolly polite; Ron he ignored completely, which seemed to suit both of them best.

Harry had told Malfoy about his theory that the Slytherins had an Invisibility Cloak. They had yet to find any evidence of it, however, or come up with any ideas about how they had pulled it off without waking either Harry or Malfoy.

Harry didn't really have time to worry about Malfoy or the Slytherins, though. He began to feel like he was drowning under a pile of work and responsibilities. He had never really caught up with the work he had missed at the beginning of term, both due to his abduction and his dark depression, and he seemed to be constantly a lesson behind everyone else. There was a Quidditch match approaching against Slytherin; they had replaced Malfoy (who was refusing to have anything to do with his old housemates) with a skinny second year girl named Jemima Radcliffe, and although Harry was pretty sure he could beat her, Katie Bell, the new captain of the Gryffindor team, was pushing them hard, despite the deterioration of the weather as autumn drew on. It seemed like whenever Harry wasn't working, he was practicing.

And yet the constant activity was never quite enough to allow Harry to forget the doubts and worries that gnawed at the back of his mind. There was still no news on Voldemort, no killings and no disappearances, though Harry checked Hermione's copy of The Daily Prophet every day, almost to the point of obsession. He felt sure there were clues in the paper somewhere, that the events it reported must somehow hold the key to whatever Voldemort was up to, but he could find nothing to support his theory. And behind that uneasy feeling was something worse, something he rarely looked into because it threatened to draw him back into a well of misery: Sirius was still dead. Despite Harry's attempts to pretend to himself and everyone around him that he was healing, he knew in his heart that he was not.

Magical Transportation was turning out to be quite an interesting class, now that they had moved from the theory into the actual creation of Portkeys. Harry knew that he would not be permitted to create Portkeys whenever he wanted, but somehow he gained comfort from the idea that by the end of the year he would be proficient in both them and Apparation, thus giving him a degree of independence he had never experienced before. The preparations for the creation of a Portkey were, however, very complex, and the calculations involved often left Harry swearing vociferously at his open textbook. The first Portkey they were expected to create was supposed to take them to the boys' dormitory, and the book contained detailed instructions for the preparation of the object (a chipped teacup), which ought to have made it a simple matter: all they had to do was add in the correct magical coordinates for the dormitory (the book also contained instructions for how to calculate them), and perform the spell. But as Harry and Malfoy sat in the common room one Friday evening in October, alternately pointing their wands at the cup and saying 'Portus!', they began to suspect that it was, in fact, an impossible task.

"Oh, come here." Hermione reached for the teacup. She and Ron had, of course, already succeeded in enchanting their object (one of Hermione's knitted hats), and had come running down from the boys' dormitory almost a week before, pursued by the shouts of an outraged (and almost entirely naked) Dean Thomas. Malfoy grabbed the cup and put it out of her reach.

"We'll do it ourselves," he said shortly.

Hermione sighed loudly. "Fine, suit yourself. But I wish you wouldn't do it here. I'm trying to write this essay" (she gestured at an extremely long roll of parchment that curled under the table and out of sight) "and it's very distracting."

"Well it's tipping it down outside," Harry pointed out. He glanced at Malfoy, who was examining the scroll on which they had written their calculations once more. "Maybe you could just give us some pointers?" he asked, lowering his voice. Malfoy might be determined to go it alone, but Harry was more than happy to accept Hermione's help.

"Well," Hermione said, "it's probably a mistake in the calculations, you know. They're very difficult."

Malfoy looked up and scowled. "Fine," he said, flinging the parchment down on the table, "you're so bloody clever, you do it." And he leaned back in his chair with his arms folded.

Hermione seemed entirely unflustered. She picked up the parchment and began to examine it, frowning as she tried to decipher their handwriting. "Hmm," she muttered, chewing on the corner of her lip. Harry watched her expectantly. "That's supposed to be a five," she was mumbling, "and that should be a wynn..." Harry glanced over at Ron, who rolled his eyes. Malfoy was staring daggers in Hermione's direction.

Suddenly, she looked up. "Ah! I see what you've done!" She rotated the teacup twice anti-clockwise, and then tapped it with her wand. "Portus!"

The teacup glowed blue and wobbled slightly on its saucer. Then it returned to its normal appearance.

Harry and Malfoy exchanged glances, and then both reached for the cup at the same time. As his fingers brushed against the cool china, Harry felt the by-now familiar sensation of being pulled backwards by a hook through his navel. It worked, he thought in surprise, and then he felt himself falling through empty space.

----

Ron looked at Hermione, and then back at the empty chairs where Harry and Malfoy had been sitting. "Typical," he said. "Five feet of calculations and you found the problem in two minutes."

Hermione tried to hide her pleasure. "Well, I suppose they'll be coming down any minute," she said, looking expectantly at the dormitory stairs. They waited. But a minute passed, and still there was no sign of Harry and Malfoy. Hermione glanced at Ron, worried now. "Do you think we should go up and check?"

"I'll go," said Ron. "I think you've spent quite enough time in the boys' dormitory lately."

Hermione waited, trying not to worry as Ron went up the stairs. After all, they had followed the instructions from the book, so they couldn't have gone too wrong, could they? But when Ron came back down, the look on his face told Hermione all she needed to know.

"They're not there," he said.

Comments

In response to your previous question:
Detailed comments later but if this is broken into 2 chapters, it should be when Harry notices Malfoy's curtains are pulled... after the package.

I think these are separate chapters, because of the timing and scene changes. However I can see why you would want the receipt/destruction of the book to be in the same chapter as them disappearing due to faulty portkey. Having Hermione say something about not necessarily thinking it was better behavior because he destroyed a book might be a good way to keep those sections integrated.

I don't think the two halves are really parts of the same chapter, because of the cliffhanger aspect. I know it feels right to break at the big dramatic moment, but alternating with chapters which conclude is helpful in not antagonizing the reader.
OK, thankyou! I hadn't thought of splitting it there. I take your point about the cliffhanger thing -- I wanted to put some plot into the chapter, but there was no way to do it without ending on a cliffhanger or going on for quite a lot longer. But since you said earlier that the chapter was ok without any more plot, I'll take your advice. I guess the book is a piece of plot anyway. And I wouldn't want to annoy anyone with too many cliffhangers ;).

I look forward to hearing the rest of your comments, and thanks again.
[Normally I don't see problems in your work, and it is certainly readable as is. But I'm going to comment on those things first.]

Some minor grammatical issues exist and could use a going over.
Hermione straightened up. "Well, I think it's a big improvement. Well done Harry, I think what you did was very generous."
Hermione is talking to two different people, but there isn't any indication that she shifts her gaze. And the missing punctuation [comma after done, period after Harry.]

There are also some actions which aren't well specified:
* Ron and Hermione were in the common room when they arrived back at Gryffindor Tower, and they both jumped up in surprise when they saw Malfoy enter with Harry in tow.
following along which "they" is which bothered me. And:
* Ron scowled, but Hermione put a hand on his arm. "Foveo! Reparo!" she said. Harry felt warmth spread through him, and his robes began to steam.
Why is Hermione holding Ron's arm but Harry's robes begin to steam? I couldn't decide whether I expected it to be Ron's robes or if I was thinking Ron had her wand in his other hand.


On the plus side, I think you have done a good job of consistency in characterization and continuity of plot. Some plots feel like a "series of unfortunate events", this does not, largely due to the setup which happens during the "down" time.

I am interested to see why Harry and Draco ended up somewhere entirely different from expected. I have ideas and opinions... which is in itself an interesting experence for the reader.

I liked the way classes were used to draw the story onward, but some of the detail isn't well enough explained. I don't remember what the non-common spells do (Foveo!) and had not remembered that portkeys took lots of math. The paragraph where Harry says the class had become more interesting since they started doing instead of just theory was excellent--- it's very Harry and probably true as well, but you missed an opportunity to remind us that the theory had required a lot of calculations--- which would set up the later event.

The beginning of this chapter really doesn't appear to go with the end. We've talked about that. You do a lot to bridge those gaps though. The scratches are extremely useful markers of continuity and you used them well.

My favorite parts of this are when Draco and Harry are asked if they both fought with the lake and Ron's complimenting Hermione for being able to find the mistake in the 5 pages of parchment in 2 minutes.
Ah -- thankyou for the pointers! When you already know who's doing what, pronoun confusionn is definitely something that passes you by (well, passes me by, anyway...)

Hmmm, I wonder what your ideas and opinions are? Now I'm intrigued! Though, since I'll be splitting the chapter at the place you advised, I guess most readers will find out before they get any chance to formulate theories. Oh well, can't win 'em all ;).

The reason you don't remember what Foveo does and that the Portkeys require a lot of calculations is because I made both of these points up, which just goes to show that you're correct that I should explain the first and emphasise the second. Foveo is a Warming Charm (I couldn't find any mention of any pre-existing ones at hp-lexicon.org, but do correct me if I'm wrong). As for Portkeys, we don't know exactly how they're made, but we do know Dumbledore can make one seemingly without previous preparation. According to my (now alternate) universe, only a very powerful wizard can do that, but the calculations do get easier with time. I'll be sure to put in a more detailed explanation in the paragraph concerning them.

Thanks again for reviewing! Hopefully the next chapter will be done before too long (definitely quicker than this one).
Ah. Yes. For whatever reason my completely ignorant parse of the Latin "foveo" was to think Hermione had fixed Harry's eyesight. She grabs Ron, and the appalling sight blinds Harry, so Hermione has to fix it. But he's so entranced his robes start to steam... like how pepper-up makes people's ears smoke, voyeurism makes steam come out your robes. You might imagine that my misparsing was extremely amusing to me, my mind was clearly in the gutter.



I sat for a while thinking about what I thought happened when Harry and Draco disappeared. We know they weren't using Draco's book, but Draco's wand could easily have been adulterated. I was sort of surprised that Hermione didn't make them have McGonagall check them for hexes. I didn't remember if Harry had bought a new wand or book too, but was thinking it was probably Draco's stuff. Which would be interesting in that I remembered Harry feeling sorry for Narcissa when Draco turned away from her. But the tear-stained parchment should have been a dead giveaway that the letter was forged. If Draco hadn't been so angry he would have noticed this... anger overrides the Slytherin subtlety--- those Gryffindors really are rubbing off.