AoC 41

Ashes of Chaos Chapter 41

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Harry Potter and the Ashes of Chaos

By ACI100

Year 2: The Sacrificial Slytherin 

Chapter 24: Extreme Escalations Part I

January 1, 1993

The Great Hall

8:17 AM

Earlier in the year, Harry had been taken aback by some of the more incendiary articles Rita Skeeter had published. Later, he’d been equally perplexed by her sudden backtracking of the aforementioned articles that had been posted months earlier. Now, on the first day of the new year, Harry’s suspicions in regards to the latter were furthered.

Controversy and Chaos Steal the Show at the Greengrass Family Gala!

By Rita Skeeter

On the surface, one might wonder why this sparked any reaction from Harry at all. Naturally, he should have expected an article to come after such a major irregularity at a highly followed social event. This was all true, and it was the exact reason Harry wasn’t at all surprised by the headline. What surprised him was the article that accompanied it.

Last night, the Founding House of Greengrass hosted a major social gathering. At said gathering were many of the most prominent witches and wizards from all across the country, as is usually the case when families of this caliber open their houses. However, this event wasn’t quite like many that have come before it.

Late in the festivities, an atrocity took place.

Draco Malfoy, Heir of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Malfoy, appeared to become enraged, causing a fair bit of damage as he recklessly fired spells at a rather prominent member of our society. 

That was what we all saw.

The bigger question here is why? Surely a young man trained as well as I’m sure Heir Malfoy is would not simply snap on a whim? 

Lord Lucius Malfoy agrees with me at least. “We have not raised our son to act out in the way he did tonight,” the esteemed philanthropist told me in an exclusive interview late last night. “I would never assert we raised a perfect child, but I assure you, Draco would never act in such a way. There is doubtlessly foul play involved, likely by those who would enjoy seeing my reputation plummet, for legitimate reasons or otherwise.”

When pressed further on the issue, Lord Malfoy tentatively told me that he suspects a potion, but he was unwilling to point fingers. “The truth of the matter, Rita, is that I have no idea who did such a thing. It would be unbecoming of somebody of my status to go around accusing others with little evidence to support my accusations. The House of Malfoy will continue to look further into the investigation, but I shall not accuse others who may well be innocent. It would be the highest mark of disrespect.”

The Lord in question also apologized on behalf of the house. As he put it, “Whether Draco was truly at fault matters not. A member of the House of Malfoy caused an unwanted disturbance at a major event, which is completely unacceptable and wholly disgraceful.”

The article went on to hypothesize further, but Harry needed to read no more. He sat back, surrounded by his friends, minus Cassius, who was still asleep in the dorms. If not for Bulstrode, Crabbe and Goyle, who sat quite some way away, they would have been the only ones present at the long, Slytherin table. 

“You were definitely right earlier in the year about the paper changing its tune,” Blaise observed.

Harry nodded. “It definitely seems like they’re a lot more willing to listen to Lucius Malfoy.”

“Bought them off, probably,” Hestia said dismissively. Clearly, she wasn’t bothered one way or the other. 

“He may very well have,” Harry agreed. It was certainly possible. Whether or not that was what Lucius had done mattered very little. The only thing that did matter was that he had done it. Not that it was a surprise he had. The man had cunning in spades, that much was obvious. He’d quite literally guessed the cause for Draco’s irrational outburst perfectly, after all. For that alone, the man deserved a certain amount of credit.

The Past

December 31, 1992

Greengrass Manor

11:09 PM

The moments following Draco’s seemingly random fit of rage were some of the most surreal that Harry had ever experienced. Not only for their absurdity, but also because he was feeling a heavy sense of déjà vu. The situation almost perfectly mirrored the one from the Weitts’s Samhain gathering during his first year. The night that Harry had framed Draco with the Serpensortia trick and the boy in question had been led off by his parents.

This was almost no different.

It didn’t take long to subdue Draco, and he was promptly dragged from the hall by his parents, who proceeded to depart the manor. To Giaus Weitts’s credit, who’d been the intended target of much of the boy’s ire, he didn’t seem fazed. He didn’t even bother demanding compensation. Despite that, Harry hadn’t failed to notice the man’s obvious amusement when Lucius Malfoy, one of the most politically powerful men in the country, had been forced to practically grovel in front of him on behalf of his son and heir. Harry could hardly blame him. It had been rather amusing, if truth was to be told.

Unlike the year before, the festivities did continue. They weren’t scheduled to last a whole lot longer anyway, but they did at least play out to their conclusions. When the ball itself had ended, Harry caught Daphne’s eye, and the meaning of his glance was obvious.

Five or so minutes later, he was with Daphne, Charlotte and Blaise. Harry had barely seen the latter boy for much of the night. Not since he’d left after dancing with Grace, at least. 

“Let’s just cut to the chase,” Harry began, “how the hell did you pull that off?” His question was very obviously directed towards Daphne. 

To her credit, she didn’t look at all flustered. On the contrary, she looked almost smug. “Nothing I say here leaves this room.”

Blaise snorted. “Shame, I was planning to run off to Lucius Malfoy at the first available opportunity.”

“Are you ever not sarcastic?” Charlotte sounded genuinely curious, and Harry couldn’t help but allow a small smile at the question, if only because he knew whatever Blaise answered with would inevitably be amusing.

Blaise had a perfect poker face as he answered. “Of course, dear. Any time anybody asks me that exact question.”

Charlotte sighed theatrically. “You’re impossible.”

Blaise looked affronted. “What? There’s no point in being sarcastic if the person expects it coming. That would be utterly ridiculous.”

“You’re saying your entire existence has been pointless then?”

“Of course not. Only the entirety of my existence that’s been spent talking to you lot.”

“If we’re finished,” Daphne said sharply, drawing the attention of the room back onto her. When all heads turned towards her once more, she straightened up. Harry recognized this as her lecturing posture. It was the stance she took on any time she was about to impart unknown knowledge upon those around her, usually that which pertained to Potions.

“Well, Charlotte knows the beginning of it.” The girl in question nodded, but Daphne merely continued. “Obviously, I said ages ago that I was going to get Malfoy for what he did to Tracey.” She looked to Harry. “You beat me to that, so I didn’t have the element of surprise anymore. So instead, I just thought I would wait until whatever I did would do a whole lot of damage.”

“You’ve accomplished it,” Charlotte said with a small smile. “He was already losing support in Slytherin. This will probably be a mess for his family, and I doubt he’ll get much backing at all now.”

Daphne nodded. “That was the goal, yes. Anyway, I had one of my family’s house elves spike his drink with a basic Draught of Hate.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “You took one of Giaus Weitts’s hairs?” The Draught of Hate was a potion that, like Polyjuice, hinged on another person’s hair. Except instead of allowing the drinker to transform into the person who’s hair they’d stolen, it created irrationally powerful feelings of hatred towards that person.

“That was actually me,” Charlotte said with an oddly proud expression.

“Of course it was,” Harry muttered, rubbing at his temples. “Right, okay, you probably have the adorable grandchild thing going for you, so he probably didn’t comment even if he did notice.”

Charlotte’s gaze turned steely. “If you ever call me adorable again-“

“Yes, yes, I’m sure you’ll rain fire down upon me and all the rest. Let’s let Daphne finish first.”

Daphne looked intensely amused as Charlotte folded her arms, looking very cross for her part. Ignoring her oldest friend’s dilemma completely, Daphne pressed on. “Well, it was that simple, really. I knew he would never be able to land a spell on Lord Weitts, so I thought it was a fairly safe bet that way. Plus, it would trash Malfoy’s reputation, which is exactly what I was going for.”

Harry and Blaise exchanged looks. “Harry, my dear fellow?” the dark skinned boy asked.

“Yes, Blaise?”

“Do put that outstanding memory of yours to use and remind me never to make that one angry? Her fangs have grown since last year. They’re more terrifying than they are adorable now.”

Harry couldn’t help but join his friends in a fit of laughter. 

Back in the present…

Harry and Blaise exchanged a look, obviously unable to say anything in the presence of the others. What was left unsaid was the obvious implications of Lucius Malfoy’s intellect. He’d deduced exactly what had happened. Then again, so had Harry almost immediately after the event had happened, so he supposed it wasn’t all that surprising. 

This did confirm a theory of Harry’s though. A theory that meant there was one more thing he wanted from his ongoing negotiations with Lucius Malfoy. Which meant he had a letter to write to his solicitor. One that would have to be written very… carefully.

January 3, 1993

The Slytherin Common Room

7:27 PM

The rest of the school had just returned to the castle about an hour ago. Sans Ron Weasley, that is, who had apparently flooed home to his family now that his mother and father had returned from Europe. Exactly how long he would be absent from the castle was a mystery to just about everybody. Not even Ginny knew for Merlin’s sake. She was his sister.

For the first hour or so, Blaise and Harry had been catching up with the rest of their friends, all of whom had returned home for the duration of the holidays. Half of that time had been consumed by Pansy, talking at about a million miles a minute, nearly past coherence at the sheer idiocy displayed by Draco. According to her, the Malfoy Heir had received a similar ultimatum to the one Ronald Weasley had been given via howler back on their first day of lessons, though the wording had been slightly different.

Start acting like a Malfoy or your time at Hogwarts is over.

The difference was that, at least according to Pansy, if Lucius Malfoy pulled his son from Hogwarts, he wouldn’t be returning. He would inevitably be shipped off to one of the other major wizarding schools in Europe. Which meant he would either be heading to France and attending Beauxbatons, or…

“Does anyone actually know where Durmstrang is?” 

All of the purebloods looked from Harry, (who’d asked the question) around to each other before Pansy finally answered. “Not really, no. We just know it’s somewhere in Eastern Europe. Most people seem to think it’s up north somewhere, since their school uniforms are ridiculously heavy and warm.” 

“Yes, and some people think that’s just a ploy,” Blaise countered lightly. “A tactic to make others think the school is somewhere it isn’t.” 

Harry couldn’t help but notice how quiet Charlotte had been for the duration of that particular exchange. Her face was completely blank as well. He supposed it made sense. The Weitts family had only spent a couple of generations in Britain, at most. It was highly possible that Giaus, or perhaps even Adriana, had attended Durmstrang in their youth. If that was true, Charlotte probably knew exactly where the school was. It was equally likely that if that was the case, she was completely unable to say anything on the topic.

Another person who had been acting a bit strange since arriving had been Tracey. She’d been shooting frequent, furtive glances in Harry’s general direction, but she had been almost completely silent for the duration of their hour plus discussion. Harry had a feeling he knew exactly what she wanted to talk to him about. With a slight jolt, he remembered what Emily had said about Natural Legilimency giving him small, conversational insights. He wondered if something like that was his natural affinity for the offensive half of the Mind Arts at work, and how much of it was his own natural intellect. 

He supposed it really didn’t matter either way. The important thing was that he did come to these revelations. Not how he came to them. That was one thing Dumbledore did seem to have right, as much as Harry despised him. It was the actions that made a man. He’d publicly preached as much for years. As hypocritical as it might have been in the old man’s case, it was very true when applied on a more broad scale.

Eventually, Harry had to leave the common room. He and Grace had agreed that they would meet that night, despite it being her first night back at the castle. It was a Sunday, after all. Sundays were the days they spent working diligently to improve Harry’s skill in Active Occlumency. With the suspicion of both Albus Dumbledore and Gilderoy Lockhart resting heavily upon his shoulders, Harry couldn’t help but feel as if mastering the defence of his own mind was more essential now than ever before.

He wasn’t terribly surprised when, about halfway down the first corridor on his way, his ring alerted him to a presence coming up behind him. Normally, this would worry him greatly, but he had actually expected to be followed. After all, he could read his friends quite well. Whether Legilimency had an impact or not was irrelevant.

“Evening, Tracey.”

“How did you know it was me?” the girl in question asked after catching up and matching his stride.

He looked pointedly towards her. “I sort of told you this during the summer at Daphne’s, but you’re not exactly the most subtle person in the world.”

She blushed. “What gave me away this time?”

“Nothing specific, actually.” He paused, rethinking that sentiment. “Well, there was one thing, I guess. You hardly said a word the entire time we were in the common room. I mean this in the best way possible, but you are not the quiet type. Not even a little bit.”

Her blush only grew deeper, something that amused Harry a fair bit more than it probably should have. Sometimes, he wondered exactly how Tracey had ended up in Slytherin House. She wasn’t the most cunning person he’d ever met in his life, if he were being completely honest with himself. She was certainly intuitive. She could read other people and conversations rather well and react accordingly. She was good with emotions, as she had told him in the summer, but he wouldn’t describe her as cunning. Certainly not in the same way as he, Blaise and Daphne. As for ambition… he actually had no idea. He wasn’t really sure what any of his friends wanted to do with their lives. He supposed they were only twelve. 

This thought only brought his mind back to his somewhat jarring conversation with Giaus Weitts, a conversation that had occupied much of his thoughts for the past seventy-two or so hours. He knew that at the moment, thinking about that conversation wasn’t going to be conducive to guiding him through this one. So with that in mind, he forcefully cleared his mind and looked impassively upon one of his best friends once more. 

“What is it, Tracey? Don’t get me wrong, I like talking to you, but last time you were this sneaky about it, it was a pretty… heavy conversation.”

“Is it really that obvious?”

His lips twitched. “Maybe, I don’t know. I might just be that perceptive, who knows.”

“Oh, you’re definitely that perceptive, but I’m still curious if it’s obvious.”

“Does it really matter? If I really am that perceptive, I was surely going to work it out either way, wasn’t I? Besides, you obviously want to talk with me. You wouldn’t have followed me out of the common room if you didn’t. So I doubt you’re complaining that I’ve figured it out in advance.”

“Merlin, Harry!” she exclaimed. “I know you’re trying to be helpful in your own way, but do you have any idea how jarring that is? How much it messes with your brain when the other person just seems to read your thoughts and know everything you’re thinking before you can even say it?”

He did, actually. That question gave him hard flashbacks to the Weitts’s Samhain gala. The one where he’d first met Charlotte properly. The one where he had first learned of the arts that were Occlumency and Legilimency.

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I know you might want to talk to me, but I have no idea what it’s going to be about.” That wasn’t true; not even a little bit. He thought he actually knew exactly what this was about, but he didn’t say that. It was best to make Tracey more comfortable if he could. He was certainly about to be a whole lot less comfortable, emotional suppression or not. It was only right that at least she stay stable for the duration of this conversation.

It didn’t seem to work. She didn’t say it, but Harry was reasonably certain she’d seen through his lie. It wasn’t the first time he’d thought it, but that was the one problem with having sharp friends. They were rather more difficult to deceive. “How much time do you have?”

He shrugged. “Not a whole lot, actually.”

“I didn’t think you’d have much time, so I’ll try and make it quick. I just wanted to check in.” A long pause, and then finally, Tracey summoned up the courage to ask the question she had obviously been intent on asking ever since her arrival back at the ancient castle. “How are you feeling?”

“You’re going to have to be more specific, Tracey. I feel perfectly fine, at the moment.”

“You know what I’m talking about!” She didn’t sound angry. Just extremely exasperated and mildly frustrated. It wasn’t that Harry was trying to be an ass. He just sorely wanted to avoid this topic of conversation. He was pretty sure at this point, his deflections, delays and subversions were actually subconscious.

He sighed. “I had to think about this a lot, you know? Do you know who first told me they died, Tracey?” She shook her head. “Dumbledore. A day after he basically accused me of being the Heir of Slytherin, he told me that my uncle had been found dead. Then a couple of days later, he sent me a letter that told me my aunt had also been found dead in her own home.” Tracy had very obviously wanted to jump in when Harry said that Dumbledore suspected him of being the Heir of Slytherin, but in light of the current topic of discussion, she had restrained herself.

“And,” Tracey asked, clearly putting in great effort to keep her voice calm and modulated. “What did you decide?”

“The same thing I’ve known all along. That I really don’t care.”

Tracey had doubtlessly expected a lot of things, but judging by the suddenly gobsmacked expression on her face, that hadn’t been one of them. 

“It’s like what I told Daphne last year. They don’t matter. I learned years ago to stop caring what they think about me, because it had no impact on my life. Once I learned that, my life got a whole lot easier. It’s like that here. They were never going to have an impact on my life. I was never going back there. I actually already had plans in motion to make sure I never went back there. I wasn’t ever going to see them again, if I had it my way. I mean, I wasn’t exactly fond of them. Abuse and neglect for ten years didn’t exactly make me love them.

“I’m not trying to sound cold hearted, or anything. I’m not happy they’re gone. I think they probably deserved to be punished, even though I didn’t care enough to do it myself, but I don’t know if they deserved to die for it. That seems a bit harsh, but again, I’m indifferent. It has no effect on me. If anything, I might feel a bit sorry for their son.” He made a face. “At least, I would if he hadn’t been such an utter prat for the entire time I knew him. I try not to hold it against him too much. It isn’t exactly like he had good role models growing up.”

Silence stretched on between them as Harry drew ever nearer to the suit of armour that served as the entrance to the hidden passage which would greatly expedite his journey to the abandoned classroom in which he practiced with Grace. He also intended to ask her whether or not he could use the room on Tuesdays and Thursdays to practice with Charlotte. He had no qualms in telling her about their arrangement, as it would actually show he was holding up his end of the bargain. He had no doubt she would happily agree, but he still wanted to ask. It would have been rather awkward if she’d barged into a practice with Charlotte halfway through.

Tracey briefly reached out and gave his hand a quick squeeze. As had become his common practice, Harry suppressed any impulse to flinch, tense or pull away. “That’s a very mature answer,” she said with a small smile, evidently realizing he was nearing the place where he would split off from her. “Just know that I’m here if you need me.” 

He smiled back at her before ordering aside the suit of armour and vanishing into the secret passageway behind it. “Thanks, Tracey. I’ll remember, don’t worry.”

January 5, 1993

A Room in the Dungeons

8:00 PM

Two nights later, Harry found himself locked up in the same room he often frequented with Grace. This time, it was not the older, but the younger of the two Weitts sisters who joined him in the room. He realized very quickly that he actually had no idea how good Charlotte was at duelling. She was very good at Charms and obviously prodigious in the Mind Arts, but that was about as far as he’d gotten.

Thus, he swiftly found himself locked in a mock duel with the youngest member of House Weitts in an effort to judge her abilities, and he couldn’t help but be impressed. She would have beaten any of his second-year friends easily. Not that Harry had an overly accurate gauge on any of them as duellists, but he had seen them duel at the one, and likely only meeting of the Duelling Club, and that had been enough.

Charlotte was good.

There was no doubt about it. There was a wide skill gap between her and himself, but that was to be expected. If her grandfather was to be believed, he was a genuine prodigy. He had also been trained by not only her older sister, but by Lady Voldemort herself. He wondered how she would fair against Nott, or even his brother. He doubted she would be able to beat Charlus as of yet. His brother may have been an idiot, but he was actually a very good duellist for their age.

Charlotte’s spell arsenal was a bit limited, but she was extremely talented at the limited amount of spells she knew and was very creative with them. She also knew the Stunning Spell, a rather impressive feat for a first-year student. On top of that, she was powerful. Very powerful. He could tell that from the get go. Any time one of her spells flared against his shield, he could feel it groan in protest. It always held, but she packed a punch, to say the least.

Unfortunately, her defence was nowhere near as sound as her offence, so Harry beat her quite thoroughly and without too much issue. “Merlin, you’re good,” she muttered after Harry tossed her back her wand. “I knew you were good and all, but… wow. Isn’t spell deflection like… really advanced?”

He shrugged. “Hurst — our Defence professor last year, was an absolutely brutal marker and was really hard on me in particular. I wanted an O+ and I thought spell deflection would do it.”

“Did it?”

His lips twitched. “It did, yes.”

“I wonder what it will take from Lockhart? He seems a pretty harsh marker.”

“Not compared to Hurst.”

Charlotte nodded. “So not spell deflection, then.”

“I mean… it would definitely get you the grade, but it might be overkill.”

“Do you think I could learn it?”

“Probably. Legilimency might help out with that. You have to know the intent coming your way, so it would be useful that way as long as the person you’re duelling doesn’t know Occlumency. Probably dangerous to rely on it though. It would be a nasty shock if it suddenly didn’t work.” Charlotte nodded as Harry ran a hand through his hair, thinking hard. “I think the hardest thing would be the actual batting of the spell. That part is a nightmare to get down. You have to be perfect.”

“I’m ready to try.”

Harry smiled amusedly. “Not yet.”

“But you said I-“

“Yes, you probably can learn it, but it would probably take ages and it’s definitely not a good place to start. Once you have other, more important things down, maybe we can work on spell deflection. First, let’s just start with a Protego shield. Aegis Vocar isn’t overly useful if you’re fighting anybody who knows anything more powerful than Expelliarmus, and your defence needs work.”

Charlotte winced. “Alright. Let’s get started then.”

Again, Harry felt a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. Oh, how many times he’d said that since his integration into the magical world.

January 7, 1993

The Defence Against the Dark Arts Classroom

2:30 PM

Green eyes bored into blue as Harry and Lockhart had a rather intense staring match after the latter had once more instructed the former to stay behind after class. Of course, Harry was wary that Lockhart may try to legilimize him. The problem was that he couldn’t exactly look away without looking extremely guilty. He did suppress all emotion and keep his mind completely blank while constantly searching for any irregularities as they stared deep into the other’s eyes. He wasn’t foolish after all.

Actually, emotional suppression had been an extremely valuable asset while working with Grace to develop basic, mental defences. A Legilimens would cling desperately onto emotion and warp it, use it to dive further into that person’s mind. By being able to crush all emotion with a thought, he was thereby providing the attacking Legilimens with one less avenue to exploit. There was also the fairly major benefit that, without emotions in the way to cloud your thoughts, detecting intrusions was much less difficult.

Finally, Harry became fed up with the posturing and just decided to push this along. “Can I help you, sir?”

“Don’t get smart with me, Potter.” Lockhart’s voice was quiet and deadly serious. “I know what you did to your brother. Dragging somebody else head-first into the Dark Arts doesn’t exactly strengthen your argument in other matters, does it?”

“If you know what I was accused of, surely you also know that my own father cleared me.”

Lockhart’s face twisted into something ugly. “Your brother isn’t the Heir of Slytherin, Potter-“

“No, he’s not. He is definitely not competent enough to make it this long without getting caught.”

“I am serious, Potter.”

“Yes, so am I. What’s your point?”

Lockhart’s eyes narrowed. “Are you trying to irritate me?”

“Not really. I just know that no matter what I say or do, you’re going to think a certain way about me. Nothing I say or do is going to change that. I’ve met those types of people before, so why should I filter myself?” He looked pointedly at Lockhart. “For the record, I am comparing you to people who were neglectful and abusive for ten years. Not the greatest comparison, but accurate.” 

If nothing else, the Dursleys were one hell of a conversational weapon. It was a great way to throw people off kilter. Harry had a hard time mentioning them at all, but with emotional control augmented by Occlumency, it was as easy as saying anything else. At least when he spoke of them in a clinical manner as he had done during this specific conversation.

“I am… sorry to hear that.” To the man’s credit, he genuinely sounded it, but he regained his gusto quickly enough. “Nevertheless, I won’t let guilt blind me. Your brother is not the Heir, yet he can speak to snakes. Do you know what one unique thing is about Parseltongue, Potter?”

“No, sir. I didn’t even know about Parseltongue until Charlus spoke to the snake. I was muggle raised. The only thing I knew was that Slytherin could speak to snakes.” His delivery was perfect. He could tell at once Lockhart would never believe it, but it wasn’t as if he could prove it, and plausible deniability was a valuable asset when being accused. Harry would know. He’d been accused of a vast number of ridiculous things in his life.

“Well, Parseltongue is hereditary. It passes down through bloodlines. Whether you know this about your family or not, they have always been secretive.”

“So you think because my brother can speak to snakes, so can I?” Lockhart’s expression made it very clear that much was supposed to be obvious. “Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, Professor, but I can’t speak to snakes. Can I leave now?”

Lockhart looked extremely annoyed, but with a fair bit of reluctance, he did dismiss Harry, allowing him to leave the room with a completely blank expression. 

That man was far too suspicious for Harry’s liking.

Yet he did have a point. 

Obviously, the Potters had hidden some sort of blood connection to Slytherin. Currently, Harry was more worried about continuing to progress in magic, but he would be tracking that down one day.

One never knew the door something like that could potentially open in the future.

Later that night, in Gilderoy Lockhart’s office…

Gilderoy Lockhart was frustrated.

For one thing, this whole Chamber of Secrets business was a mess. It wasn’t as if he wanted it to be Potter. He would much prefer a twelve-year-old boy not be responsible, and he would happily apologize to the boy in question if he was wrong, he just really didn’t think he was.

All of the evidence pointed, granted, limited evidence, pointed in Harry Potter’s direction in large, flashing arrows. If the obvious similarities between the boy in question and the tall, dark haired woman who would one day become Lady Voldemort were influencing his thought process, so be it.

But that wasn’t what had Gilderoy Lockhart frustrated.

Well, it was certainly frustrating, but it wasn’t at the top of his list of concerns, at least. 

That would be Charlus Potter.

What a mess that was. Gilderoy Lockhart had one, singular goal in life. 

That goal would be exponentially more difficult to achieve if the supposed saviour of Magical Britain was inept. That was clearly the case based on recent events. Magically powerful for certain, reasonably skilled, if not prodigious, but inept in other areas.

That would not do.

Gilderoy had planned months ago to intervene no later than Samhain. He had become suitably distracted by all of the business pertaining to the Heir of Slytherin, but he would no longer allow that to be the case.

It was time to do something about the Boy-Who-Lived’s many ineptitudes. 

January 8, 1993

A Room in the Dungeons

8:00 PM

Harry’s first week of class in the new year had been extremely busy, but the hassle of the week had ensured it passed quickly. Adding an extra commitment, (that being to train Charlotte in combat magic on Tuesday and have her train him on Legilimency on Thursday) had just made his schedule all the more hectic. 

Granted, they hadn’t actually started on Legilimency this week. Charlotte had apparently taken out a book from her family library and wanted to do some studying before starting that practice. Legilimency had always come rather easily to her, as she had put it. She wanted to ensure she actually knew what she was doing as a teacher first, especially since he was not, as of yet, a stage three Occlumens.

Tonight was another one of his commitments. Combat training with Grace. If what she’d said on Sunday was to be believed, they would be starting something quite major tonight, so he was looking forward to it. It was also, if he had his way, going to be the night he finally asked her opinion on the dark magic debate.

As he’d expected, she was already waiting for him, as always. “How has your first week back been?” she asked once he had taken a seat across from her.

“Same as ever, really. I did coach Charlotte in combat magic for the first time on Tuesday though.”

“How did that go?”

“Pretty well, I think. I don’t really know what I’m doing as a teacher, so I just hope it all works out. I had a quick mock duel at the beginning like you did with me and noticed that her offence was actually pretty good. Her defence was a bit sloppy, so I decided to start with the Protego shield.”

Grace nodded approvingly. “Very advanced for a first year, but not impossible to learn and it will give her an immediate advantage against anyone her age.”

“Those were my thoughts. It was one of the first things I focused on last year once I read up on it.”

“I approve.” She paused. “Speaking of things far above grade level, I’ve decided to try and teach you something that is way beyond what most your age should technically be able to do.”

“What’s that?

“Non-verbal spell casting.”

Harry was legitimately taken aback. “Isn’t that… N.E.W.T level magic?”

“It is.”

“And you think I can do it?”

“Not right away but with practice, yes, I think you can absolutely do it.”

Harry ran a hand through his hair, a habit of his when stressed, anxious or overly thoughtful. “What makes you think I can do it as a second year?”

“For one thing, it isn’t as difficult as people make it out to be. For another, you already can do it for spell deflection.”

“Yes, but that’s one spell.”

“That part is irrelevant. If you can do it for one spell, it means the capability is there. There’s no reason why, with practice, of course, you shouldn’t be able to do it for other spells as well.”

She had a point there. It was logical, if nothing else. Not that Harry was really in a position to say one way or the other. His knowledge on non-verbal spell theory was practically non-existent. “Care to explain why it’s so much harder to cast magic without an incantation?”

“There are two main reasons. There is a concept that is never taught at Hogwarts. Some call it the four pillars of magic. Frankly, we don’t need to go into that in detail, but for a spell to work, there are four things you need. The power to cast the spell, which is usually a minimal and basically a redundant requirement. The understanding of the spell. The necessary intent to cast the spell, and the creativity to envision the desired results. 

“It is the fourth one which is affected most directly. Visualization is usually something many struggle with because incanting a spell aloud greatly decreases the need for visualization. The exception for this is in Transfiguration. You still need to visualize the results quite intensely, but not even close to as much as you would need to if you weren’t speaking an incantation.

“The other reason also pertains to visualization, as well as overall focus. Our brain is a thing of habits and cues. For example, if somebody is to forget something, you might cue them by saying other things related to it.” Harry nodded. He could hardly relate, but he understood the principle just fine. “By associating an incantation with a spell, it makes it easier to pull up the visualized image and the intent. By saying the incantation, it cues your brain to pull the image and intent forward. It’s the same for channeling magic. All of this focus, imagery and intent, is how you end up channeling the magic in the specific way needed. Again, with an incantation based cue, your body, which is obviously connected to your brain, is cued intuitively to channel the magic in the way it remembers. When you take incantations away, you lose all of those advantages.”

Harry bit his lip. “If I admit something to you for the sake of asking a question, can you promise me you won’t go spreading it around?” 

Grace looked pointedly towards him, almost appearing exasperated. “If it isn’t obvious by now, which it should be, you can tell me anything. I won’t go telling anyone your secrets, and there are very few people in the world who could take them from my mind.”

Harry took a deep breath. It really wasn’t even a major admission. It was just conceding an advantage he might have by not admitting it. The element of surprise. Of the person opposite him not knowing that he would remember every word they said. But he could trust Grace. She had proven that much to him. “I have a very good memory. As in a near eidetic memory.”

Grace looked thoughtful. “And you’re wondering if this will make learning non-verbal spell casting easier?” He nodded. “I would say it definitely would. Your mind would take far less cuing naturally, so learning it might be easier. You also have your Occlumency. Keep your mind clear and the intent will flow more easily.” She paused. “That’s another subskill you should invest some time into. It’s the only other one that level two has to offer, and it is much easier than the first one you learned.”

“What’s that?”

“Compartmentalization. Basically, it just means you can organize your thoughts. It helps people with memory recall, which obviously isn’t useful for you. What would be useful for you is that you can organize your mind so that it flows more quickly. It isn’t giving you a boost in intellect, per se. just making your thoughts more clear, less diluted. You’ll be able to make connections more quickly. You actually sort of start doing it naturally around where you’re at right now anyway, but not to the same extent as if you focus on it.” He nodded again. He would read up on it later, as well as ask Emily for any shortcuts she might know of. “Are you ready to begin?”

An hour or so later, Harry had still been completely unsuccessful in the endeavour. Grace was hardly surprised. As she reminded him, it was much higher-level magic than he’d been learning so far. It would also be extremely useful and grant him a massive advantage over most students in the school if he could master it. That was another thing she didn’t fail to remind him of. He would give her one thing — she knew how to motivate him.

With their core lesson complete, Harry finally decided it was time to ask the question he had been meaning to ask her for so long. “Grace?”


“What are your thoughts on dark magic?”

She suddenly looked rather pensive. “Be more specific. I think you can guess my stance on the Ministry banning things they classify as dark.”

“The whole concept of being addicted to dark magic.”

She studied him. “I’m not the first person you’ve asked this question to.” It wasn’t so much a question as it was an observation. 

“You’re not,” he admitted.

She looked thoughtful. “I’m going to assume you know the main points already then and just briefly confirm what you probably already know. It is completely rubbish. Casting extremely powerful magic causes a bit of a rush. The Ministry bans plenty of these spells because, frankly, they’re not equipped to deal with them. The only other way ‘Dark magic’ can be addictive,” she drew air quotes around the words, “is if you cast them on pure emotion. 

“It’s like what I told you with cues. If you train your brain to associate a negative emotion with casting a spell, of course it’s going to be dangerous to cast that spell. I think witches and wizards should be free to learn almost any magic they like, so long as their mind is prepared to handle it.” She gave him a pointed look. “And before you ask, yes, I think your mind is ready to handle it.”

He didn’t fail to notice how she had worded that last statement. Almost all magics. He wondered what magic Grace viewed as so harmful it should be left well enough alone. Idly, his mind strayed towards Chaos Magic, but he had no way of knowing whether or not Grace even knew of it. For obvious reasons, he wasn’t about to ask.

Meanwhile, in the Headmaster’s office…

“Ah, Charlus, please sit down. We have much to discuss.” Charlus swiftly complied, taking the now familiar seat across from the Hogwarts Headmaster. “I must congratulate you on managing to stay out of trouble for an entire week. After the cluster of chaos that were your final days of term in addition to the fiasco on the evening of December twenty-fifth, I think it an accomplishment worthy of acknowledgement.”

Charlus flushed. “I’m sorry about all of that, sir.”

“Nonsense, my dear boy. The only occurrence you need to be apologetic for is the most recent one pertaining to Polyjuice Potion. It is very illegal to be caught with possession of that particular potion. Why, I believe your father is being charged by Lords Carrow and Warrington as we speak on your behalf.”

Charlus choked. “He… what?”

“Indeed. They could have sought punishment for you, but it appears they may be more interested in financial payment. After the absorbent amounts of gold they spent on Lady Voldemort’s campaign during the Purity War, I cannot say I am entirely surprised.” 

Charlus looked down at his hands, suddenly rather ashamed of his actions. “Beyond that, there are a multitude of things that could have gone horribly wrong whilst brewing that potion. I am sure young Miss Granger can vehemently attest to that.” It was true. That botched transformation due to mistakenly using a cat hair had been problematic to say the least. It hadn’t worn off as normal after the full hour had elapsed, and it had taken a fair bit of effort on the part of Madam Pomfrey to reverse it at all.

“Is my father upset with me, sir?”

“He is certainly not pleased, but he can hardly judge you too harshly. What with the exploits he and his group of marauding friends got up to while they resided in these walls. No, I would say a more apt sentence would be that your father is mildly disappointed in you.” That was so much worse. He wondered if Dumbledore knew that, knew what kind of impact the precise wording of that sentence would have on the youth in front of him.

“Alas,” the old man continued, “I did not call you into my office to lecture you on the shortsightedness of youth. I have a more serious matter I would like to discuss with you.”

Charlus felt his stomach contract. More serious than illegal possession of Polyjuice Potion? Merlin, this was going to be a long meeting. “W-what is it you wanted to speak to me about, Professor?”

“The mental instability that was brought on by your misguided foray into the Dark Arts.” 

Ah… that. Charlus hated his brother for that. Hated him for leading him down that path just as much as he hated him for potentially being the Heir of Slytherin. “What about it, sir?”

“Well, though I am confident you are no longer pursuing that particular area of magic, I have no doubt that the damage has been done, to an extent. It also exposed a rather blatant weakness that I think is unwise to be allowed to persist. Least of all when considering your public standing and the myriad of people who would doubtlessly wish to manipulate your mind in the future, be it through direct or indirect methods.”

“I… don’t understand, sir?”

“No,” Dumbledore said heavily, “I am sure you don’t.” He studied Charlus intensely. “Have you ever heard of Occlumency, Charlus?”

Hours later, on the second floor…

Invisible and completely undetectable to all but the most skilled wielders of magic, the Heir of Slytherin crept stealthily along a corridor near the out-of-order bathroom on the second floor.

Of course, there were other ways she could have entered the Chamber that would have required less of a walk, but Emily Riddle needed to think.

Merlin, how nice it was to have cognitive thought once more. Thinking coherently while controlling another’s body was no small feat. Doing one was difficult enough. Combining the two of them was an accomplishment in and of itself.

But of course, it was no problem for her. Nothing involving magic had ever been a problem for her.

It was why one day, Emily had no doubts she would be the greatest wielder of magic the world had ever seen. The path had changed now, of course. She had planned to accomplish this in the 1940s as opposed to the 90s, but she would take what she could get.

First things first, she needed to get her own body back.

Just because she could move in this body didn’t mean it was ideal by any stretch of the imagination. It limited her greatly, and that wouldn’t do.

But she couldn’t rush.

One at a time, the pieces would fall into place.

As a matter of fact, she was off to set one up now, but when the piece fell, it would accomplish more than any before it had.

Not only would it push her one step closer to true resurrection, but it would realign the board in a way that she might cross without peril. Realign the board in a way that, with future, precise movements, she might begin to sate much of the curiosity that had been eating her alive for the better part of the school year.

Yes, Emily Riddle was a very curious person. This was only often a pity for those few, rare individuals who managed to hold her undivided attention.

January 10, 1993

The Dungeons

8:00 PM

Harry tried to pull his racing thoughts under control as he neared the room for yet another session with Grace. He’d promptly split from Daphne and Charlotte, (who had been walking with him from the Great Hall) not only because of his fast approaching obligation, but also because he didn’t trust the latter not to glean part of what he was feeling.

He had received a letter at dinner, a letter that made him feel all kinds of ways.

A letter from Peter Pettigrew.

One assuring Harry that he, Peter, didn’t think it at all possible he was responsible for any of the atrocities that he was being suspected of. He even went as far as to call the very notion of such things “completely ludacris.”

To most people, this would have been reassuring.

But not for Harry.

Harry knew what Peter had done, for there could be nobody else who had twisted Charlus’s mind and set him up so perfectly in the closing days of Hogwarts’s opening term.

Which meant two things.

Peter Pettigrew was lying. Which, in turn, meant that all of Harry’s suspicions about the man had been true.

He had been manipulating him all along, and Harry needed to tread more carefully around Peter than ever before.

Meanwhile, on the ground floor

Daphne marched quickly and assuredly towards the library, cursing the name of Gilderoy Lockhart. Defence had never been her best subject as is. She was good at it, but not fantastic. The man made it so much more difficult by being such a stickler for theory, which meant now, she had to split from Charlotte, (who had been on her way to ask Professor Flitwick about an extracurricular Charms project) and head to the library alone.

And though Daphne couldn’t know it, it also meant she was now perfectly in position.

Well, she did know it, actually, just far too late to prevent it.

She knew it when she walked around the very next corner, hearing nothing of what awaited her in advance and froze where she stood, immediately succumbing to nothingness as she peered directly into a large pair of bulging, yellow eyes.

Author’s Endnote:

I did call it Extreme Escalations for a reason… It might have been a rather short chapter, but I would like to think its impact makes up for that fact.

Next chapter will clarify a ton pertaining to the last scenes and others before it, so don’t pass judgement upon my soul quite yet.

Please read and review.

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