Ashes of Chaos Chapter 43
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Harry Potter and the Ashes of Chaos
Year 2: The Sacrificial Slytherin
Chapter 26: Carefully Calculated Strikes Part I
January 14, 1993
The Office of Amelia Bones
Damn Slytherins to hell and back.
That was what Amelia Bones — newly minted Head of the DMLE — thought as she strode into her office, leading a procession of rather important people behind her.
Less than three weeks ago, Rufus Scrimgeour had officially resigned from his position as head of the department, and Amelia wondered if he’d seen something like this coming.
The given justification for the man’s retirement was that his leg was too badly injured, and he could no longer be an asset in the field. Whilst Amelia certainly agreed his capabilities were lessened, she doubted very much that a wizard of Scrimgeour’s caliber would suddenly be useless due to a simple decrease in mobility. She hadn’t said that, of course. After his prominent role in the last war, serving out on the front lines as an Auror, nobody in the office begrudged him of an early and hopefully peaceful retirement.
But Amelia had doubted Scrimgeour’s reasoning then, and she certainly doubted it now.
The man was a deductive genius. It was a wonder to most who knew him that he had never been a detective and had instead spent most of his years as an Auror. Amelia thought he could have given Pettigrew a run for his money, and the DMLE’s top detective hadn’t failed in as long as she could remember.
Scrimgeour had a sixth sense for danger. He always seemed to know when a threat was on the horizon, and he always seemed to have an indication of not just who was behind it, but their motives and the general level of threat they posed.
She wondered if this was just another case of Rufus being right. Not that he could have foreseen the exact set of circumstances, but perhaps he’d deduced something major was going to spiral out of this business at Hogwarts. If he had, Amelia certainly wouldn’t have blamed him for deciding he wanted no part of it and retiring right there. Merlin knew that was what she wanted to do right about now.
The Wizengamot meeting had descended into complete and total chaos following the ominous message from the Heir of Slytherin. The court had been shocked into silence for all of five seconds before muttering, jeering, screams and shouts dominated the courtroom. It had practically taken an age to get the court back under control and, even then, the chaos had been far from over.
Once order had been restored, the meeting had continued.
Closing Hogwarts was obviously no longer an option. The court couldn’t justify sentencing four children to death. A few brave members had argued that they needed to look at the bigger picture. Others had pointed out that this self proclaimed Heir of Slytherin hadn’t provided them with any proof to validate their claims.
None of it had mattered.
The Neutrals were standing firm. And, for once, both the Liberals and Conservatives also seemed to be in agreement.
The Liberals had looked sickened by the very idea of a decision so morally fraught , and the Conservatives were far too traditional to ever agree to something as radical as the closure of the best school in the country. Let alone sentencing a child of one of the oldest and most influential families in the nation to death. That wasn’t even to speak of the ones who had business dealings with the Greengrasses and didn’t want to draw their ire. Prices would suddenly rise very high for anyone who even dared suggest their heiress be sentenced to death.
It hadn’t taken long for the few outliers to be silenced and for a decision to be reached on the matter of closing Hogwarts. The castle would be staying open as long as they could feasibly allow. Others pointed out that if the mysterious Heir of Slytherin was at Hogwarts, at least it kept them out of the larger world outside. Another decision that had been easily agreed upon was that something had to be done.
Deciding exactly what that something was had been far more difficult.
The proclamation that a force of Aurors wouldn’t be allowed entrance to the castle had troubled much of the court. Even in her position of power, Amelia hadn’t been aware of that particular provision. It greatly limited their options, as well as brought up a number of troubling implications that would have to wait until they figured out exactly what they would do about this menace at Hogwarts.
Some creative solutions had been offered.
Send a number of different groups of three, therefore negating the provision about an occupying force, so long as the forces in question weren’t directly related or working together. Dumbledore had pointed out exactly why this would fail. The wards were old and powerful. They would judge not just the numbers, but the intent as well.
Another, though less creative solution that had been met with resounding agreement was to simply repeal that particular clause of the Hogwarts Charter.
While this was technically a possibility under the court’s authority, it was not a quick one. It would likely take a number of months to be able to do so, as the logistics were so murky that Amelia could barely remember them. Not to mention that there was no precedent whatsoever for this. Albus had also been rather reluctant to do this. As the Headmaster of Hogwarts, he did have a certain amount of say in these things. Amelia didn’t doubt he would allow the provision to be repealed if enough support rallied behind the idea, but she also didn’t doubt he would have his own long list of conditions before signing off on it.
Seeing as the entire Liberal Faction would vote with Dumbledore, that was troubling.
Not that they couldn’t win the vote without the Liberals, but that was assuming they got nearly a unanimous vote from the Conservatives and a favourable vote from the Neutrals. Amelia wasn’t even so sure the former party would agree with the idea. The latter would almost definitely support it, but their numbers weren’t large enough to truly sway the court — unless they proved to be the deciding factor in a stalemate.
The simplest solution had eventually won out; the one Lucius Malfoy had suggested rather early on in the proceedings.
They would send three members of the DMLE to Hogwarts.
It was the largest number they could get away with. It might have been far from ideal, but it was also much better than the alternative of doing nothing at all.
They would also be locking down the castle. No student would be allowed out of their common room after curfew or before the opening of breakfast. Hopefully, that would limit the Heir’s exploits. If it didn’t, it would at least mean they had a much higher likelihood of being caught and apprehended.
That vote had been unanimous, something that was extremely rare in the Wizengamot, especially since the fall of She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
None of that was directly responsible for Amelia’s internal cursing about Scrimgeour and, by extension, Slytherins.
Indirectly, it was very much involved.
It was in response to the Wizengamot’s decision that she was now leading these people into her office to discuss the critical decision of exactly who would be sent to Hogwarts.
Senior Aurors Potter, Shacklebolt and Dawlish followed her into the room. They were quickly joined by Chief Auror Alastor Moody, the DMLE’s top detective Peter Pettigrew, and the Minister for Magic, Bartemius Crouch Sr.
“Shall we begin?” Crouch asked in a rather clipped tone once everyone had sat down in their seats. Everybody nodded. “This decision cannot be made haphazardly,” Crouch stressed. “It is an issue that must be resolved, but there is also no sense in crippling our Auror force over an investigation that might well turn out to be fruitless.”
Moody grunted. “Are you suggesting we’re not up to the task, Crouch?” Moody had to be one of the only people alive who could casually call the Minister for Magic by his last name in public and get away with it.
“I am saying that the entire operation is an uphill battle from the start. We are handicapped before we even begin. Typical investigations of this nature would see at least five detectives deployed, as well as three-or-so Aurors. We are bound not only by numbers, but designations.
“If we send three detectives, we will likely have a better probability of solving the mystery. The problem would arise when and if the mystery is solved and if the answer turned out to be something particularly dangerous. Likewise, if we send three Aurors, resolving the issue becomes much more feasible, but finding out what said issue is suddenly becomes a problem.” He gazed around at those gathered around him. “Do you all follow?”
They all nodded. “So we send a combination,” Pettigrew rationalized. “A detective and two Aurors, or two detectives and an Auror.”
Crouch looked pensive. “That is certainly one outlook. I had a rather different take, myself.”
“And,” came a soft voice from the door, “would it be possible for me to hear this take of yours, Minister? Perhaps the rest of this conversation as well, as it does pertain rather directly to the school that I do my best to run.”
Dumbledore was standing in the doorway, still wearing his plum-coloured Wizengamot robes.
Amelia frowned. “This is a highly important meeting of the DMLE, Dumbledore. Some of the information that comes up in this meeting may be classified after the fact. I’m not sure it’s best-“
“Let him in,” Moody growled, his normal eye focusing on the Hogwarts Headmaster while his magical eye swiveled and found Amelia Bones. “Dumbledore doesn’t count as part of an occupying force. He’s already at Hogwarts, see? No association to the Ministry at all. He’ll be our best weapon against all this.” His magical eye narrowed while still fixated on Madam Bones. “But he won’t be able to do that if you keep him out of the meeting.”
“I agree with Mad-Eye,” James Potter spoke up. “If we’re going into Hogwarts, it’s only right we let Dumbledore in on it. He might be our best chance at figuring all of this out.”
Amelia pursed her lips and glanced towards Crouch. The man was impassive, but he didn’t react in the negative, so she sighed. “Oh, very well. Come in then, Dumbledore.”
The man smiled genially as he stepped inside and removed his wand from the pocket of his robes. With a light flick, he conjured an armchair from thin air and took a seat between Potter and Pettigrew, directly across from Alastor.
“We were just talkin’ about who should go to Hogwarts,” Moody summarized succinctly.
Dumbledore nodded pensively. “Certainly not your best detective.”
All in the room looked at Dumbledore as if he’d just proposed the abolishing of the Statute of Secrecy. “And why on earth not?” Amelia asked, stunned.
Dumbledore suddenly looked very tired. “My dear Madam Bones, if the Chamber of Secrets was so easy to find, it would have been found many years ago. Headmasters and Headmistresses have spent centuries looking. Why, I have probably spent more time than any, and in fifty years I have never succeeded.”
“What is your point, Dumbledore?” asked Crouch with obvious impatience.
“Merely that the Chamber of Secrets is likely inaccessible to all those who do not speak Salazar’s sacred tongue. It also stands to reason, if this is the case, that other hidden facets of the castle may well fall under the same designation.”
“So you think flushing out the heir will be nearly impossible,” Peter summarized. “You think that the heir has secret passages at their disposal that we can’t access and that if the top detectives converged on Hogwarts, they would start using them exclusively.
All present looked between Minister Crouch and Madam Bones. “What are you proposing then?” asked the latter in a rather calculated voice.
“I am proposing that on the investigative side, those most well-suited for the job may be best used outside of the castle, piecing together anything they can on the Heir of Slytherin.”
“So you are proposing three Aurors be sent?”
“That is exactly what I am proposing, Madam Bones. If the detectives can glean any information on the outside, the Aurors can investigate on the inside. It is the best way to effectively utilize as much manpower as possible. Just because more than three people of service may not be deployed to Hogwarts, does not mean that they cannot be working on the dilemma from the outside. I will, of course, also offer aid from inside any way possible.”
There was a long silence at the table before Moody nodded. “Classic asset management,” he said approvingly. “Making the best with whatcha got. I like it.”
What went unsaid was that Moody knew Dumbledore had a vast array of experience at his disposal in doing just that. It had practically been the Order of the Phoenix’s mantra during the last War.
“I have my concerns,” Amelia voiced, “but I also don’t have any better idea, and I admit your points are also valid. It is not a good option; not even remotely.”
“But it is our best option,” Shacklebolt finished in his deep, baritone-like voice.
All of them knew what the next question was. Who would they send into Hogwarts?
Nobody was surprised when James Potter spoke up. He was a Gryffindor through and through. No task was too insurmountable for him to personally and persistently attack with fervor. With both of his sons at Hogwarts, the situation was most definitely one that he felt he should handle.
It wasn’t a secret that his heir had already been at least indirectly implicated as a potential suspect. The Daily Prophet saw to the fact that information became very public. Yet it also wasn’t a secret that he was rather close with the Greengrass Heiress. They’d been seen together at several social gatherings, and were clearly more than simple acquaintances. Her attack, in the eyes of all but the extremists, ruled him out as a potential candidate.
Well, the extremists and Albus Dumbledore, but he didn’t truly suspect Harry. He suspected the Potter Heir as a device, not as a culprit.
Unfortunately for James Potter, one such extremist did sit at the table.
“Your son’s a suspect, Potter,” growled Moody. “We can’t let you investigate a case involving your family.”
James straightened his posture as a bit of redness crept into his cheeks. “What are you implying, Moody?”
“I’m not implyin’ nothing. I’m just going off the evidence, like I always do. I’m not saying your son is the Heir of Slytherin. Don’t know one way or the other, and it would be stupid of me to pretend I did. But that doesn’t change the fact he’s a suspect.” Moody fixed James with a hard stare before the man could protest. “And if Harry Potter isn’t a suspect, then Charlus Potter damn sure is. I’m sorry, James, but anybody who can speak to snakes while Slytherin’s spawn runs about making hell is a suspect. It’s not an argument, and there’s no way around it.”
James opened his mouth but quickly closed it.
He really had no counter to that, and he could do little more than sit back in his seat and let the meeting continue.
That night, in the Great Hall…
It had been a trying number of days for the forsaken Potter.
Ever since Daphne’s disappearance, he’d felt less than stable. Sure, the effects of his mental trials could be partially negated by the suppression of emotion, but he’d learned the hard way in the Speaker’s Den the consequences of suppressing too much of it at his level. Emily had also explained it and, in hindsight, his unstable Occlumency had never had a chance.
He’d used it rather conservatively since then, just enough to get by, but it had been a very rough number of days.
Righteous flames of fury burned hot within him, licking hungrily at his innards and seeming to make a furious attempt to devour any self-restraint he had left.
By now, he had decided that if he met this Heir of Slytherin, he was going to make the bastard pay.
What exactly he would do… Harry hadn’t yet decided, but whatever it turned out to be would wind up being less than pleasant.
He’d recently hit a roadblock when considering launching his own investigations into the matter, though.
Well, a roadblock that wasn’t the school-wide lockdown, that was. That of course was a massive pain, but there was hardly anything he could do about that.
News of the rather polarizing Wizengamot meeting had spread across the country faster than a speeding bludger. By now, every man, woman, and child in Magical Britain seemed acutely aware of all that had taken place at the meeting.
The Heir of Slytherin had intervened, forcing the court to make a less than ideal decision that would just have to do.
The three assigned Aurors had arrived just hours after the meeting, and the lockdown of Hogwarts was in place by the time they had arrived. Harry hated it already. Being confined wasn’t something he did well with. He already knew he would be breaking curfew when he had a chance, but therein laid the problem.
Getting caught out after curfew would be disastrous as is, but being caught for anything that could even remotely be connected to the Chamber of Secrets would be catastrophic.
Much of the school’s population seemed to have retracted their suspicions towards Harry after his best friend had disappeared. Some particularly bold Gryffindors had firmly maintained their previous opinion, but the percentage of students who thought him the Heir was now rather slim. It actually appeared as though now, many more students suspected Charlus to be the Heir. How it had taken them this long to accuse his brother, Harry wasn’t sure.
He knew Charlus wasn’t the Heir of Slytherin. The mere idea that he could be was positively laughable. He still should have been more highly suspected than Harry though. The Boy-Who-Lived had quite literally revealed himself as a Parselmouth, for Merlin’s sake — and that was saying nothing of the dangerous magic he had haphazardly thrown around during his duel with Harry. Magic that Harry knew much of the Hogwarts population naively viewed as being dark.
Speaking of which, he really needed to start learning some of the more powerful magic at his disposal. He’d meant to look into that, but Daphne’s disappearance had effectively derailed all the plans he’d had.
Though most of the student body seemed to have come to their senses, one rather important figure had not.
That figure was Albus Dumbledore.
Well — and Gilderoy Lockhart, but as worrying as the Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor could be at times, Harry was far more troubled by the constant observations of the Hogwarts Headmaster.
Dumbledore had watched him like a hawk ever since Daphne had gone missing. It was as though he somehow suspected Harry even more now that Daphne had vanished. As if he’d attacked her for the sole purpose of drawing the suspicion off of himself. Harry wasn’t going to claim he was a shining paragon of morality, and his moral code may have been a bit skewed, at times, but come on. He wasn’t that bad a person.
The Sorting Hat had summarized it well. He would be loyal to those close to him, however few they turned out to be.
But for whatever reason, Dumbledore seemed to have an inherent distrust of him that Harry couldn’t seem to shake. He could sort of see where the man was coming from before the disappearance of his closest friend. Granted, no Slytherin would directly implicate themselves in the way it appeared to some as if Harry had done, but he could see where the old man was coming from. At least at a quick glance, it had not looked good for him.
Yes, Dumbledore was a problem.
He wasn’t confident in looking into the Chamber of Secrets so long as Dumbledore was around. The man wasn’t just persistent, he was observant. Not to say that he saw more than what he wanted to see, but Harry could very easily picture a scenario where the old man discovered Harry’s own investigations, something that could very easily be turned against him.
He couldn’t let that happen.
Being expelled from Hogwarts would mean that he was one step closer to becoming an expendable member of the Potter family in the eyes of the law. One step closer to what Harry believed to be Peter Pettigrew’s dastardly plan coming to fruition. Thank Merlin he hadn’t been placed at Hogwarts. Harry was actually surprised he hadn’t been, seeing as he was the top detective of the DMLE. Not that he was complaining; the less contact he had with Pettigrew, the better. Harry didn’t have the power to lash out at the man, so his current strategy was to not engage at all costs.
He barely realized that dinner had concluded, so lost he had been in his deep, internal contemplations. He stood numbly, walking alongside his friends down towards Slytherin’s home in the dungeons.
He felt a light touch on his arm before he could step through the entrance and into the Slytherin common room. Glancing over his shoulder, he noticed that Tracey was eyeing him with a rather nervous-looking expression. “What’s up, Tracey?”
She frowned, likely because his voice sounded just as hollow and as monotone as it had since he had emerged from the Speaker’s Den Monday morning — where he had locked himself in the room for the weekend following the panic induced collapse of his Occlumency.
“Can we talk?”
Harry nearly sighed aloud. “This isn’t going to be a fun conversation, is it?”
“No, but it’s a conversation we need to have.”
Harry’s shoulders sagged. He’d suspected this was coming, but that didn’t mean he was any more enthusiastic about the fact it had finally arrived. Still, he didn’t argue.
He knew it would be useless to argue.
They found themselves locked up in an abandoned classroom minutes later. Its door had just been bombarded by every privacy measure Harry knew. Which was admittedly far fewer than he would have liked.
He set his jaw as he turned towards Tracey, looking more as if he were about to dive headfirst into a death-defying stunt as opposed to entering a conversation with one of his best friends. “So, what’s up?”
“You,” she answered simply. “You haven’t been right ever since… you know.” Her voice sounded rather small at the end, and Harry felt a small pang of guilt rear up within him.
He’d been so worried about his own mental struggles over the past four days that he had never even considered how his friends might be coping with the situation, let alone actually stop to help them. Not that he had been in any state to be helpful emotionally.
Hell, not that he had ever been in any state to be of emotional assistance, but that was beside the point.
“Merlin, Tracey,” he muttered. “I have been a bit… closed off recently. How are you-“
“Nuh uh,” Tracey interjected. “No switching topics on me. You might be cunning, but I know you. I know you’re going to want to avoid this conversation, but that wouldn’t help anybody.”
Harry winced. Yes, he could see how it had looked like he had been doing just that, even though it hadn’t been his true intention.
Well — it hadn’t been his conscious intention, anyway. He imagined his subconscious would have been quite thrilled to have put this chat on the back burner.
“You know I’m no good at this whole emotions thing, right?”
Tracey looked rather saddened by that comment. “I do, which is exactly why we’re talking. I don’t expect it to be easy. I’m just trying to help. I know you might not think of it this way, but it’s like I told you back at Daphne’s place in the summer; talking about it really does make it easier. Most of the time, at least.”
Harry stared at her for what had to have been no less than ten seconds. When it became clear the small strawberry blonde wasn’t about to relent, he deflated.
“I… don’t actually know,” he answered. “I feel like I want to kill the Heir of Slytherin; actually kill them, but I also feel… depressed? Hopeless?” He shivered. “Helpless.”
Tracey studied him carefully. “Can I ask you a personal question, Harry?” She held up her hand before he could answer. “I don’t need a detailed answer. A simple one will do.”
“I… might not answer it, but you can ask.”
“Out of depression, hopelessness, and helplessness, which one makes you feel the worst? Don’t think about it, just answer.”
He didn’t need to think at all. “Helplessness,” he answered without a second’s hesitation.
“When… when you lived with your relatives, did you ever feel helpless? Do you think that’s where your hatred for it comes from?” Slowly, he nodded. “Do you think it’s a fear, or do you just not like it?”
Harry knew the answer at once, but really didn’t want to give it.
He didn’t have to.
His silence spoke volumes, and Tracey nodded in a manner that indicated that had been her guess all along.
“It’s not going to completely go away,” she admitted. Harry had known that already, though it still struck deeply to hear aloud. “But it can be helped.”
“I find being productive works. Thing is, you’re too much of an introvert sometimes. When… you know — it happened, you completely turned in on yourself and just disappeared into your own head. You were so worried about dealing with everything that you pretty much stopped being productive. At least while doing things, your mind isn’t always on the problem, and you feel like you’re actually making progress at something, which is kind of like the opposite of helplessness, in a way.”
That… actually made a considerable amount of sense, and it lined up quite well with his past experiences.
Any time he could remember feeling particularly strong amounts of that exact emotion, he had essentially thrown himself head-long into his projects and had slowly begun to feel better.
It wasn’t a fix. Like Tracey had said, something as major as this wasn’t simply going to go away, but anything that could make it better would be appreciated.
“As for wanting to kill the heir,” Tracey continued. “I… don’t really know what to say to that. This is probably where I should tell you it’s an awful idea and lecture you about how awful it is, but…”
“You wouldn’t blame me if I did.”
Reluctantly, Tracey nodded. “No,” she said softly, a certain fierceness in her voice. “No, I wouldn’t.”
“It could be Malfoy.” The thought had been floating at the forefront of his mind for some time now, even though he had his doubts.
“You don’t actually believe that, do you?”
He shrugged. “Daphne set him up at the New Year’s Eve gala. If he figured it out, it would make sense.”
“But that’s using the same logic everyone used against you when the twins went missing,” Tracey pointed out, and Harry knew at once that she was right. “I don’t know about you, but I’m noticing a pattern here. This Heir of Slytherin seems to do things the same way over and over again. Attacking targets that point to other people as the attacker.”
Many people might not have viewed Tracey as a Slytherin. She seemed far too personable, bubbly, outgoing and even naive at times.
Harry could see exactly why she was a Slytherin.
Coming from a rather shitty background himself, he had no doubt that a certain degree of cunning had formed during her primitive years, even if it wasn’t as obvious as his, or others’ in the house. Ambition, too, most likely; though he hadn’t inquired about that.
Regardless, Tracey was observant.
She could read him better than any of his friends, save maybe Daphne. She had realized something was up with the Dursleys very early on, if his assumptions were correct, and she’d read him rather remarkably this year.
Maybe she didn’t read situations best all the time, but she had an innate ability to read people that lent itself rather splendidly to Slytherin House. She just hadn’t liberally put that talent to use, as of yet.
“I want to find out who it is.” His voice was soft and it shook slightly, something he wasn’t particularly proud of.
Tracey looked him dead in the eye. “Harry, I could sit here and tell you for hours how terrible of an idea that is. I really could. It’s a very non-Slytherin thing to do, but I’m not going to tell you anything. I know you. You’re an offensive player, and you’re restless. You can’t sit back and watch things happen when you’re this tied up in them. It’s something for you to work on, but not something you can just fix overnight.
“I know that you’re not going to rest until you’ve at least tried. Honestly, you’re going to eventually go after the heir- whether you plan to or not. So I won’t tell you not to. I will just ask that you be extremely careful while doing so.”
“I can’t,” he said bitterly. “Dumbledore is jumping at shadows, nowadays. If he sees me do anything even remotely suspicious, he’ll ship me out of here faster than I can say frame job.”
“Well then, get rid of him.”
Harry’s eyes widened. “You can’t be suggesting—”
“I don’t mean kill him!” Tracey exclaimed, scandalized. “I mean get him out of the castle.”
Harry snorted. “Do you have any idea how impossible that is?”
“I don’t think it’s actually as hard as you think. The Wizengamot even talked about it. People’s faith is shaky in everything about Hogwarts right now, Dumbledore included. All you would need is a majority vote from the Hogwarts Board of Governors.”
“Isn’t Lucius Malfoy on the board?”
“He’s the head of it, yeah.”
That was a start.
Lord Malfoy seemed all too willing to do some favours for Harry in an attempt to earn his eventual allegiance, so long as those favours didn’t disadvantage him in any way.
Lucius also despised Dumbledore. That fact was well-known, but it complicated matters.
On the one hand, it meant that he would jump at the opportunity to get the codger thrown out. On the other, it meant that he’d probably already looked into the prospects of doing so and hadn’t liked his odds.
Which meant a new variable would need to enter the equation.
Something that, in one way or another, would be able to begin building a strong case against Albus Dumbledore.
Harry didn’t know what the answer was to that, but it was a start.
A crazy start, but a start.
He had no delusions that he might actually succeed in the endeavour, but improving as a wizard and taking the first, seemingly impossible step to removing the threat of the Heir of Slytherin would hopefully occupy his mind long enough to avoid the rather crippling mental state he’d been in the last few days.
Anything to escape the oppressive helplessness on all sides. He was more than willing to attempt something impossible if it would keep his damn mind at work.
January 15, 1993
A Room in the Dungeons
Grace wasted no time beginning their practice as soon as Harry walked through the door.
“We’re duelling,” she said decisively, something that took Harry a bit aback. Most often, their duels were saved for the end of a session. Probably because Harry usually ended up battered and exhausted after just about all of them.
Surprised he might have been, but opposed he was not.
He complied easily, slipping his wand into his hand and focusing hard.
It only took him twenty-or-so seconds to realize that Grace was humouring him.
She had offered up nothing offensive at all, and simply sat back and defended all of his attacks without a great deal of trouble. This only further fuelled his frustration, and his casting rate increased as he poured more and more power into each and every spell.
It was the longest the two of them had ever duelled.
That wasn’t so much a mark of Harry’s improvements — though he had improved greatly — as much as it was Grace bafflingly deciding to duel in a purely defensive style.
Eventually, Harry became fatigued. His wand-arm shook as his spell casting slowed and his movements stalled. This was when Grace finally decided to go on the offensive, at which point she disarmed him without much effort.
Harry slumped against the wall, exhausted. Grace considered tossing him back his wand, but she had no illusions he would be successful at catching it, at least, not in his current state. She made her way over and handed it to him, handle first.
Bemusedly, he accepted it. “What was that about?” he panted. “You could have beaten me so much faster.”
Harry felt odd. It wasn’t just that he was tired. He felt… lighter, somehow.
“My goal wasn’t to beat you,” Grace said simply. When Harry looked confused, her lips twitched. “With respect, Harry, the winner of the duel was always going to be me. You are extremely talented for your age. I would love to see you duel a talented fourth year, or even a decent-enough fifth year. But you were never going to beat me. I doubt anybody in this castle who isn’t one of the more talented professors would beat me if I am being completely honest with you.”
“But it still wasn’t your goal?”
“No, it wasn’t. My goal was to let you vent. You needed it; it was obvious. I could see the tension in you all week. It needed a release. I have no problem being the target of it when need be. It’s not a good way of solving your problems, but sometimes, it can help, if other measures have also been taken.”
Harry sagged where he now sat. “You’re going to talk to me about this, too?”
“No, not really. I can already see somebody has done that, and done a pretty good job of it too. You have looked much better in the last day or so. I will never force you to talk.” She paused. “Well, I would force you to talk to me if I thought it was absolutely necessary, but it isn’t something I would do unless it was really needed. I’m always happy to talk if you’d like, but I know I’m probably not the best person for that job.”
Why she would want that job at all still baffled Harry, but he shoved that mystery aside, for now.
“What I’m better qualified to speak about is using Occlumency to suppress emotions.”
He winced. “Charlotte told you, then?”
“She didn’t have to. It didn’t take a deductive genius to figure it out.” She pierced him with a hard, yet somewhat sad stare. “I know emotions aren’t your forte. Frankly, they’re not mine either, but relying entirely on suppression is not a good thing. Even if you’re meaning to do it short-term, it isn’t healthy.”
“Because of how unstable my shields are right now while they become automatic?”
Grace’s eyebrow rose. “Your mysterious teacher strikes again, I see.” Harry didn’t meet her eyes, but she didn’t comment on it any further. “Yes, that is an issue at your current level, but it’s not actually what I was referring to. Suppressing emotion doesn’t really get rid of it. It just sort of… stores it away.
“The most effective method is to initially suppress an emotion and then very slowly, very gradually let it leak through. You will feel very little of it, and you’ll avoid the build-up. Unless you want to permanently suppress an emotion — which you don’t — you will eventually need to deal with it. Letting them accumulate is a very bad idea. When you let go of it… well, picture the emotion you suppressed, but amplified several times depending on how long you bottled it up.”
Harry winced; that did not sound fun.
Reading up on the idea of letting emotions slowly seep through immediately moved to the top of his to-do list — and as soon as he returned from this session with Grace, he would be making a beeline for the Speaker’s Den. He likely wouldn’t retreat until classes necessitated it, or until he gained at least some degree of proficiency over this new ability.
“I’ll… keep it in mind.”
That didn’t seem good enough for Grace.
“Promise me that you won’t fully suppress powerful, negative emotions for long periods of time. And if you absolutely must, then promise me you will have somebody you trust there to help. Preferably somebody with at least a passable understanding of the Mind Arts. If you trust anybody in my family, we would all easily qualify.”
Harry considered this and found that, for whatever reason, he couldn’t say no to Grace.
“I promise that I’ll at least do the second one, but will try for the first.”
Grace nodded curtly. “Alright then. Shall we continue?”
January 16, 1993
Gilderoy Lockhart’s Office
Charlus had been having a piss-poor week to punctuate what could accurately and succinctly be summarized as a piss-poor year.
The school had spent most of the week completely locked down, and that fact was slowly driving Charlus completely insane.
He was not a patient person.
Anyone who knew him knew this to be true. He also practically had a stadium full of detentions, so that hadn’t been helping his mood. Nor had the oppressive blanket of depression and worry that seemed to rest heavily atop the castle, drowning out all hope and glee under its insurmountable weight.
His best mate had also been taken out of Hogwarts, which made bearing the castle’s misery all the more difficult. He liked Hermione; he really did, but she wasn’t Ron. She was a fantastically supportive friend with enough intelligence for the three of them, but Ron made him light up in a way that Hermione couldn’t. He could break the tension with a joke, or do something amusingly endearing without even realizing it. Hermione, for all of her talents, was reliably capable of neither of these things.
It had been a long week that compounded into a long year.
And now he’d been called to Lockhart’s office.
He vaguely remembered how displeased the man had been with him after his duel with Harry. He wondered if this was Lockhart finally deciding to punish him, even though Dumbledore had assured him he wouldn’t receive any punishment for that. In a court of law, anyone deemed to be mentally unstable enough to have not been considered liable for their actions couldn’t be prosecuted. This was exactly how so many of Voldemort’s Death Eaters had successfully avoided Azkaban through the use of the Imperius Defence. It was also exactly how Charlus had escaped that particular circumstance with little more than a plea to be far more careful in the future.
It wouldn’t make sense for Lockhart to punish him since he was sure the man had been made aware of the details by now. He just couldn’t think of any other reason why he might be summoned to his office. It wasn’t yet curfew, but he was still escorted by Filch, something that made the experience a whole lot less pleasant. Charlus privately thought it was needless torture on the part of whoever had ordered that particular detail. If the Heir of Slytherin came strolling around the corner, it wasn’t as if Filch, a notorious squib, could have done anything about it.
So lost was Charlus in his despair that he hardly realized the two of them had reached Professor Lockhart’s office until Filch knocked sharply on the door. After a moment, he and Charlus were staring at the rather tired-looking form of Gilderoy Lockhart. Despite the obvious fatigue that had seemed to cling persistently to his visage over the past number of weeks, Lockhart managed a small smile at the sight of them.
“Ah yes, Mister Potter, do come in. Thank you for bringing him, Mr. Filch. I’ll see him safely back to his common room when we are finished.”
Filch didn’t even acknowledge the comment. He just turned on his heel and shuffled back down the corridor, muttering something in a low voice that Charlus couldn’t decipher.
“I’m sure you’re wondering why I summoned you tonight?” said Lockhart, suddenly looking much less jovial and a lot more business-like.
Charlus nodded carefully. “Yes, sir. I wasn’t expecting to be called to your office.”
“No, I would have been surprised if you had been.” Lockhart watched the Boy-Who-Lived carefully, intensely curious as to how he would react to his next proclamation. “You are obviously very eager to learn,” Lockhart said pensively.
When it became apparent he was actually waiting for an answer, Charlus hastened to provide one. “Yes, sir. I need to get much better.”
Lockhart seemed very satisfied with that answer. Charlus couldn’t possibly know that it was his demeanour while answering that satisfied Lockhart more than the answer itself, but he also wouldn’t have cared much one way or the other. The semantics hardly mattered when compared to the result.
“I’m glad to hear that.” Lockhart sounded rather sincere, and Charlus dipped his head in thanks. “It only makes it all the more unfortunate that you were led so far astray.” The young lion tensed, but Lockhart didn’t look particularly upset. “Relax, Mister Potter. I have no intention of punishing you. As a matter of fact, I have a… proposition for you.”
“Yes, a proposition. You see, it’s obvious that you want to learn. You certainly have the talent, and the drive is there, it’s just not being applied in the right places. With the correct guidance, you could be something great.” Lockhart’s expression darkened. “With the wrong guidance, well, as we’ve seen…” he didn’t need to finish.
“Are you… offering to teach me, sir?”
“I am indeed. I have spoken to Albus about this at length. According to him, he mentioned that he would like you to learn Occlumency?” Charlus nodded and Gilderoy did likewise. “A good idea. It would certainly have made your… situation much less dramatic. If you accept my offer, I’ll help you with the meditative stages of Occlumency. My Occlumency is nothing spectacular, but it is more than sufficient. I will never be an Occlumency instructor, but I’m confident enough in my ability to teach a complete beginner.
“If you accept my offer, we’ll spend about an hour twice a week working on this stage of Occlumency. It will take months before you can move past the meditative stage, so this will require a great deal of patience on your part.”
Charlus set his jaw. “I’ll work for as long as I need to.”
“Good, good. If you accept, we will be spending an additional hour together each time we meet. This hour will be spent learning magic.”
Charlus’s eyes lit up. “What kind of magic, sir?”
Lockhart smiled thinly. “I am the Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor, Charlus. I am an honorary member of the Dark Force Defence League, and I have an Order of Merlin thanks to my own heroism. Surely you need not ask which sort of magic I will be teaching you?”
Charlus’s face was practically glowing now as he nodded with fervour. “I accept, sir.”
Lockhart’s smile widened as he withdrew his wand and conjured a mat on the floor. “Very good, very good. Well then, let us begin.”
January 17, 1993
An Abandoned Classroom
Harry dodged a well-aimed Cutting Curse from Cassius, sidestepping and countering with a basic Stunner. He and Cassius had been main duelling partners for the better part of the year. He was the least skilled of the four older students. Not that it was saying much. He was still probably one of the better fifth years in the school, and Harry had yet to beat him even once.
Something about this duel felt different.
He couldn’t put his finger on what, aside from the new weapons that had been added to his repertoire over the past forty-eight hours.
After his practice with Grace, he had immediately rushed off to the Speaker’s Den. He hadn’t only studied slowly allowing emotion to leak through, but he’d also written in the book he used to communicate with Emily.
He had been rather candid with his questions, even if it had taken several minutes and a bit of gentle coaxing from the genius in question for him to finally ask said questions.
After listing off the tomes he had on the Dark Arts, he asked which would be the best to start with.
Calypso’s, the one she’d sent the Christmas of his first year, was the answer she provided. The one Pettigrew gifted him for his birthday — the one he was now sure had been a plant — was ironically his second-best option, according to Emily.
That had given him a place to start, and he picked up some of the more basic curses rather quickly. He hadn’t dipped into the more powerful and complex magic yet, but the boost to his arsenal was much appreciated.
He batted Cassius’s next spell towards him and quickly fired off a Blinding Curse in return. Cassius’s eyes widened as he dove to the side, narrowly avoiding a Full-Body-Bind follow up in the process.
When he got to his feet, the fifth-year Slytherin prefect looked to counter-attack, but no opening was there.
Harry was relying heavily on his Supplementary Occlumency, casting spells at a rapid rate and not allowing Cassius time to go on the offensive while forcing him to shield.
That was when Harry struck.
He’d learned in the last number of days that spell — the same one Charlus had shot off towards him at the end of their duel — was the Piercing Hex. Rather fitting, considering Iapetus — Greek Titan of the West — was known as the Piercer.
It was one of his more powerful offerings, and it tore straight through Cassius’s Protego shield, though the translucent barrier of magic did manage to absorb most of the impact.
It didn’t matter.
Cassius was so taken aback by Harry managing to fail his shield after so many months of trying that he hardly even noticed that the Piercing Hex hadn’t been the only spell Harry had fired.
Indeed, the spell hadn’t been singular, but the first in a chain.
The follow-up Bludgeoner hit Cassius square in the chest, dropping him to his knees, before Harry’s Banishing Hex sent him sailing backwards through the air. Mercifully, the duelling wards kept him from slamming into a solid wall, but he was still rather dazed when he’d hit the ground.
All in the room were quiet.
Their duel had been the longest, and so the others had been watching.
After about five seconds, Calypso began to clap, and even the Carrows followed. Cassius didn’t, but he was offering Harry a smile that was equal parts annoyed, exasperated, and impressed.
Calypso was by his side in a moment, wrapping an arm around his shoulders as her blue eyes met his, sparkling as they did so. “And that,” Calypso summarized succinctly, “is just a taste of what you’ll one day be.”
Harry couldn’t help but smile.
He had no delusions that the only reason he’d beaten Cassius was because the boy in question had been taken aback and caught off guard, but that wasn’t his problem.
As a matter of fact, he suspected most anybody who duelled him would fall into that trap.
It wasn’t as if a twelve-year-old could pose any threat, right?
For now, Harry would rely on that advantage.
Until one day, he was powerful enough that he wouldn’t need it.
Not against older students, nor professors, nor anyone.
Slowly but surely, he was making progress.
January 24, 1993
A Room in the Dungeons
Grace pulled out of Charlotte’s mind with a grimace. Her little sister was indubitably getting much better at Occlumency. She wasn’t improving quite as fast as Grace was in Legilimency, but it was close, and once a certain level of Occlumency was achieved, it took a very highly skilled practitioner of Legilimency to breach an Occlumens mind.
“You’re getting much better,” Charlotte commented, seeming to be thinking along the same lines as Grace.
Grace grimaced once more. “So are you. I think it’s safe to say you’ve now advanced past stage three and are on stage four.”
Charlotte’s eyes lit up. “I get to build a mind palace now then, don’t I?”
“You do, but that will take months and months of practice. I don’t expect you to have made a whole lot of progress on that even by the end of the school year.”
“Is that a challenge?”
Grace smirked. Her sister loathed being told she couldn’t, or most likely wouldn’t be able to do something. “Take it as you will.”
“A challenge it is, then.” The two sisters exchanged brief smiles before Charlotte grew more serious. “I know it’s late, but can I try something with Legilimency?”
“That depends on what it is you’d like to try.”
“The transferring of emotions, impressions, and images.”
Grace frowned. “That is… very advanced. Even for you.”
“I’m an ambitious person.”
Grace sighed; resigned to the fact that Charlotte wasn’t going to drop this until she complied. “Fine, but we won’t be staying all night.”
Charlotte beamed as she readied her wand, though her older sister could never have realized the true implications of such a seemingly innocent request.
January 25, 1993
The Slytherin Common Room
Harry always rose early, but that fact had only become even more true since Daphne’s disappearance just over two weeks ago.
He hadn’t slept well since, though it had noticeably improved after his talk with Tracey and his training session with Grace.
There were other factors, too.
With Hogwarts on such tight restrictions due to the ongoing Heir of Slytherin crisis, Harry thought that sneaking out early in the morning would be his best opportunity to safely make it down to his dungeon classroom without being caught so that he could train.
Thus far, nobody had ever seen him leave the common room, though that was about to change.
The voice was only vaguely familiar. He had only heard it a handful of times in his life. It was soft yet strong, and rather cold by nature. He did recognize it, but if his memory was any less stellar, he most certainly would not have.
“Miss Black,” he responded, turning and inclining his head to the Black Heiress.
“May I walk with you? I’d like a word. I… have something I’d like to ask you.” She sounded shockingly unsure of herself during that last sentence, and Harry couldn’t help but be intrigued.
Especially now that she was no longer hanging around with Draco Malfoy.
The morning after Aurors had arrived at the castle, Draco had been pulled from Hogwarts by his father. Lucius apparently wanted to send him to Durmstrang, whereas Narcissa vehemently wished for him to be schooled at Beauxbatons, if not Hogwarts. There was apparently a clause in Lucius and Narcissa’s marriage contract that gave Narcissa a large degree of control over Draco’s education. If this was true, the Malfoy Heir might well end up being the first of his line to attend Beauxbatons since his disgraced ancestors vacated the nation of France centuries earlier.
At least, that was what Pansy had told them, and nobody gossiped with such startling accuracy as Pansy Parkinson. If her match existed, Harry certainly hadn’t met them yet.
Without their leader, Malfoy’s group had sort of fallen into disarray. They’d somewhat grouped around Theodore Nott, but the designation didn’t exactly seem rock-solid.
Harry found himself rather curious as to what Ares Black possibly wanted with him.
Wary, but curious.
“I can’t let you walk all the way with me, but you can come for a bit if you’d like.”
This was obviously an acceptable compromise, as Black was on her feet and by his side before he exited the Slytherin common room.
Knowing that their time would be limited, Harry spoke first. “What is it you wanted to talk to me about?”
“I would like to slide into your group.”
That had not been what Harry was expecting. He hadn’t known what to expect, but that would have been very far down on his list of expectations had he made one.
Thanks to his Occlumency, his surprise didn’t show. “Really?”
“Yes, really. I chose the group of friends I hang around with now purely because of Draco. Our families are close, and he was one of the only people I was ever allowed to spend actual time with. He was my first and only friend when I came to Hogwarts because I was never exactly given much of a choice. He was told to watch out for me at Hogwarts by his father, and he offered me a smooth entry into his group.”
A part of Harry wanted to give her the same speech he’d given Pansy in regards to Malfoy, especially with the minute chance he’d been the Heir of Slytherin. He thought that chance was next to nothing, but there hadn’t been an attack or disappearance since he was pulled from Hogwarts almost two weeks ago.
Something about Ares Black put him on edge. Something that he couldn’t quantify, even to himself. Yet her words resonated with him.
Reading between the lines, he had little trouble deciphering the fact that she’d been isolated as a child; forced to have virtually no friends. By the time she had arrived at Hogwarts, she hadn’t even bothered putting any real effort into making any new ones.
He could relate to both of those things.
“But you’ve hung around with that group for a while now,” Harry said carefully, eliciting a small nod of agreement from his companion. “Surely you’ve made more friends by now?”
Ares shrugged. “It is a very business-centred group, Potter. I get the impression yours is a lot closer than ours. I was close with Draco, and I get on fairly well with Benedict, but he’s been a ghost since October. He would only hang around me when Draco wasn’t there and even then, he was quiet and not the same.”
That was interesting.
October was around the time the Daily Prophet had so drastically switched its tune. “Cuffe is the son of the Prophet’s editor, right?”
“And majority stakeholder, yes.”
That was definitely suspicious. It lined up too well to be a mere coincidence in Harry’s opinion.
It seemed he would have another request of Lord Malfoy as soon as he got somewhere with a quill and parchment.
“So you’re only really close with Cuffe?”
“We’re friendly, but not close.” She levelled him with her intense eyes. Anybody else might have withered under her gaze, but Harry met it neutrally. “Surely you can understand why I’d like to shift groups? Crabbe and Goyle have the intellect of bricks and couldn’t hold a conversation if their vaults depended on it. Mulciber and Jugson are around every now and then, but neither of them is overly interesting. Theodore is clever, but I find him taxing.
“You on the other hand… you’re interesting.”
Harry didn’t react to that immediately; he just kept on walking. “Why do you say that?”
“You’re probably the most intelligent student within a few years of my age, and you always seem to be in the centre of whatever’s going on around here. It doesn’t seem like you try to be. It just sort of happens.”
And wasn’t that the truth?
Harry had tried to stay out of this Chamber of Secrets business for the longest time, but his attempts had repeatedly been thwarted. He was still trying to come up with ideas to get Dumbledore out of the castle, but he hadn’t been overly successful.
“Unlike Draco’s group, you also seem to have no trouble standing up for what you believe in. In a Gryffindor-ish way, sometimes, but it’s refreshing to see you as an actual human being. Not just a person who was practically turned into a political machine before they were ten.”
Their footsteps echoed ominously against the flagged stone floor as they neared the suit of armour that would step aside and admit Harry into the secret passage that would lead him to his dungeon training room.
“Why should I trust you, Black?”
He thought it was a fair question. Her logic was sound, and he could find no fault with anything she’d said, but something about her still had him on edge.
But all doubts vanished when her lips curved up into a smile for the first time, and her eyes gleamed with something Harry couldn’t discern.
“Because if you do, I can help you find the Heir of Slytherin.”
February 1, 1993
The Great Hall
I am pleased to inform you that the artifact we spoke of has been sold for the extremely generous sum we discussed. No fees will be taken out of the 12,000 galleons deposited into the vault you specified, as the Greengrass family will be covering all of them.
Send me an owl if you have any questions.
A pleasure doing business with you,
So, the dagger had finally sold.
That put a rather sizable chunk of money in the vault which the Weitts family had already contributed to on his birthday. It added to the security net he was building should things suddenly fall apart, possibly as a result of Pettigrew’s suspected plan.
Yet the dagger business wasn’t the major news of the morning.
The major news, according to Pansy and the Hogwarts rumour mill, was that the Heir of Slytherin had struck again.
Lillian Moon, the small, quiet girl from Harry’s year had gone missing last night without a trace and had yet to be found. Officially, the staff and Aurors weren’t calling it a disappearance yet, but all in the castle could see the obvious signs of the Heir of Slytherin’s work.
Harry was going to unmask the Heir of Slytherin.
This changed nothing. If anything, it only disproved the minuscule chance that it had been Draco, and it let him know that the person who’d made Daphne disappear was still running roughshod in the halls.
Hopefully not for much longer.
When the news had broken, Harry had shot a discreet glance in the direction of Ares Black, who had promised to help him investigate the situation a week ago; a promise that had gained her a tentative entry into Harry’s circle of friends. He was assuming that fact was why Theodore Nott had been glaring at him more intensely than usual this last week.
When he had glanced towards Ares, she gave him a nod, a hard look behind her eyes.
The message was clear.
She was already working on it.
Not the longest nor the most eventful chapter ever, but it was a major one in terms of characterization, and it will set a lot of major events into motion. Some of them will be more obvious than others, but all of them will help us reach the climax of year two, which is closer than I think most of you expect.
These next few months will pass in the story rather quickly as the finale draws near, and I am tingling with excitement for you to all see how I plan to wrap up year two.
Please read and review.
PS: The next chapter will be posted next Saturday, December 12th, 2020. Or you can read it by joining my Discord server, or the next two by supporting me on P*T*E*N. The links can be found on my profile.
Thank you to my lovely Discord Editors Asmodeus Stahl, Athena Hope, CCCP, and discodancepant for their corrections/contributions this week.
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