Ashes of Chaos Chapter 45
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Harry Potter and the Ashes of Chaos
Year 2: The Sacrificial Slytherin
Chapter 28: Mounting Tension
March 12, 1993
It spoke volumes to the magnitude of the moment that the three wizards and half-giant seemed to forget all about Harry as they exited the hut. More than likely, Malfoy and Dumbledore both remembered, but simply said nothing for very different reasons. Lord Malfoy most likely was not overly bothered how Harry spent his time. He seemed to enjoy the youth’s cunning and penchant for causing beneficial chaos, so he probably felt no inclination to stop him from doing just that.
Dumbledore probably wanted to say something very much, but Harry wondered if the old man had seen his eyes dart to the corner and then to the table, where the two spare cups still sat guiltily on display — personifying every careless child caught with their hand halfway in the cookie jar. It was likely that Dumbledore didn’t want to draw attention to Harry for fear that, in retaliation, Harry might draw attention to Charlus and Granger. Without either of them truly realizing it, Harry suspected they’d come to a sort of voiceless accord. A stalemate, one could say.
Frigid winter air tore through the otherwise scorching hut as the long-time Hogwarts Headmaster was led from the room. It seemed to signify the break in normality that was the castle’s new state of being. Even through the chaos of the past two years, the one constant had been Dumbledore. The defeater of Grindelwald had served as a beacon of hope for most, even whilst he sat and did little in his ivory tower, lording over the lands he cherished but unable to do anything against the shadowy assailants who sought to cast them into ruin.
Harry knew that removing Dumbledore was exceedingly dangerous. It was the very definition of high risk, high reward play in a high-stakes game of chess.
Or perhaps Russian roulette would be more apt.
Dumbledore should have been their best weapon in apprehending the Heir of Slytherin. Harry had wanted to believe that for some time, mostly while he had tried in vain to stay out of the year’s drama. In his estimation, Dumbledore had proven himself incapable of solving the mystery. Particularly when Harry learned this wasn’t the first time the Chamber of Secrets had been opened. Dumbledore had not just failed once — he had failed twice.
Unfortunately, whilst Dumbledore was at Hogwarts, it was next to impossible for Harry to pursue his personal investigations. This hadn’t been a problem for most of the year, as Harry truly wanted nothing to do with any of the chaos. Though that had all changed when Daphne had vanished and the Heir of Slytherin had, wittingly or not, made things deeply personal and stoked an unquenchable fire of hatred and vengeance inside of Harry.
In some ways, he thought with no small bit of irony, it felt much like the unearthly fire Dumbledore had conjured back in December during the one and only meeting of the Hogwarts Duelling Club.
Now that he was gone, things were going to get much more dangerous.
Especially if it was indeed Emily Riddle behind the events. She was a genius, after all. With Dumbledore out of the way, she was likely the most intelligent person in or operating within the castle by a wide margin. To Harry, this meant the chances were certainly high that the Heir might become more aggressive now.
This was both good and bad.
It was good because so long as they loomed hidden behind a veil of what had thus far proven to be impenetrable shadows, Harry suspected dragging them out into the ever-judging pools of light was going to be far more difficult. If they became more aggressive in their quest to achieve… whatever their end goal was, Harry was at least mildly more confident that he would be able to unmask them.
The problem with a more aggressive Heir of Slytherin was that it also meant it would be a much more dangerous Heir of Slytherin.
But it was a risk Harry had to take.
With Dumbledore out of the castle and the Heir of Slytherin more likely to step out of the shadows, he had a chance.
He would still have to avoid Gilderoy Lockhart, which was going to pose its own myriad of problems. Still, he thought the honorary member of the Dark Force Defence League far more preferable to the defeater of Grindelwald.
All of these thoughts flashed through Harry’s mind in quick succession over a mere second.
There was a moment during which he contemplated exposing Charlus and Hermione. Just firing Stunners indiscriminately into the corner until they found their mark, at which point he would drag their bodies up to the castle and reveal them to whoever would now be serving as Interim Headmaster or Headmistress. He would tentatively wager Professor McGonagall, but Merlin only knew. The magical world wasn’t exactly held in high esteem when evaluated from a logical perspective. It was about as short on logic and common sense as Dumbledore was on fashion sense.
Honestly, the robes that man wore.
In the end, he decided not to reveal his brother and his brother’s friend. Not because he didn’t want to, or because he felt any compassion for the idiot who seemed to stab him in the back any chance he got, but for Harry’s own gain.
If nothing else, Charlus would most definitely follow Hagrid’s cryptic advice.
At which point, Harry would merely need to get whatever he’d learned out of him, or to glean it somehow.
He already had a half-formed idea taking shape in his mind, and anything even similar to it was likely going to be far easier than going on a wild goose chase that would lead him Merlin only knew where.
He would conduct his own investigation while simultaneously swiping every bit of knowledge Charlus gained during his own.
It would be far easier than the alternative.
After all, even with Dumbledore’s lack of style, he could dress far better than Charlus could keep a secret.
Charlus threw off the cloak as soon as he was sure Harry had left and wasn’t coming back. To be fair, he wasn’t even entirely sure Harry hadn’t known they were there. His eyes had lingered on them for a period of time that felt too long to be natural, but so long as they weren’t caught red-handed, his Slytherin twin had no proof of their supposed wrongdoings.
“Merlin,” muttered Charlus, still very much in awe-struck disbelief and abject horror at the events he had just watched unfold. “What… Dumbledore… no! How could Harry help Malfoy do that!?”
He lashed out in his anger, kicking a massive chair and sending it toppling to the floor. Fang — Hagrid’s enormous, lovable boarhound — immediately switched from sorrowful whining to sharp, startled barks.
“Shh,” hissed Hermione, rushing over to comfort the dog as she glared at Charlus. “Watch what you’re doing! Losing your temper won’t do us any good.”
“Well what else are we supposed to do?” Charlus yelled loudly. “Dumbledore’s gone, Hermione! They just took the greatest wizard in the world out of the castle! He was the best chance we had and now he’s gone. What the hell are we going to do?”
“Well for one thing,” Hermione started, “we have a very specific set of instructions to follow if we want to learn something new about this whole mess.”
Charlus blinked. “Huh?”
Hermione threw her hands up in the air as she rolled her eyes harder than Charlus had ever seen her do before. “Were you not listening when Hagrid gave the least subtle hint I’ve ever heard?”
Charlus blushed crimson. “I… er… was a bit distracted by the whole mess with Dumbledore.”
“Follow the spiders,” Hermione reminded him. “He said if anybody wanted to find anything out, all they would have to do is follow the spiders.”
“Well, let’s go then,” said Charlus, immediately reaching for the cloak before Hermione swatted his hand in obvious annoyance.
“Not now,” she hissed. “It’s the dead of night. It would be a miracle if we could even find any spiders. We also need to look for patterns. Just because they go one direction one night doesn’t mean that they will always go in that direction.”
Charlus gritted his teeth. “Or we could just risk it and try a different direction another night. What’s the worst that’s going to happen? They’re spiders, I doubt they’re going to lead us into some sort of death trap.”
“I think you’re forgetting who’s telling us to follow them. I love Hagrid, but his idea of safe isn’t exactly… normal, is it?”
Charlus straightened at once. “Hagrid would never—“
“I’m not saying Hagrid would ever want us to get hurt. But… well, he doesn’t really think about dangerous things the same way we do. I mean, last year, he was raising a dragon in a wooden hut.”
That effectively silenced Charlus.
“Fine,” he said, “but we need to act fast. Harry getting rid of Dumbledore just makes me wonder even more whether or not he’s the Heir of Slytherin. Or whether he’s working for the Heir.”
Hermione wanted to deny it very badly. The last thing she wanted to do was accept that any twelve-year-old boy could do something so awful. The fact remained that this was also the same twelve-year-old boy who’d led Charlus down the road of learning horrible magic that had befuddled his brain, so she held her tongue.
“I agree,” she said. “We should keep an eye on him the best we can. We have the cloak. When we’re not in class, we could keep an eye on him with that, at least when he isn’t in the Slytherin common room. Maybe carry the cloak at all times. If you see him wandering the halls randomly, throw it on and follow him. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best we can do.”
Charlus nodded resolutely.
They would get to the bottom of Harry, the spiders, and the Chamber of Secrets. He would stop at nothing to salvage Hagrid’s and Dumbledore’s reputations and make sure the school was safe.
Later that night, at Potter Manor…
The Hogwarts fiasco had been an absolute nightmare for the Aurors, and James Potter was no exception. If anything, he had spent more time than most investigating the situation, for he had a vested interest in the form of his two sons — both of whom were at least mild suspects in the eyes of some.
On this lonely, chilly night in the middle of March, James sat on the floor of his living room, frantically flipping through old Hogwarts records to no avail. He became distracted from his efforts when all vision was stripped from him by the supernova of light that appeared not even ten feet away from him. He winced as he shielded his eyes and waited for the light to recede. When it did, he blinked bemusedly, having expected just about anything but what, or rather who, now stood in front of him.
“Good evening, James,” Dumbledore said heavily, looking very tired and old as he stroked the brilliant plumage of the ethereal bird that rested comfortably atop his shoulder. “I do apologize for my rudeness in invading your home at such an unlawful hour of the night. I shall of course leave if you wish, but there are rather urgent developments that have taken place tonight at Hogwarts that I think you would be quite interested in. I also would not be adverse to sanctuary for the night, if you would be so kind.”
Dumbledore smiled sadly. “Yes, indeed. I shall not be permitted to sleep in my old quarters for some time, now that I am no longer the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”
Fawkes let out a high, sad cry just as James nearly keeled over from the shock. “WHAT!?” he shouted, looking as though he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to faint, or spend more time shouting.
“Yes, indeed. I fear that the situation at hand is drawing near to what could potentially be a most deadly crescendo.”
“But if you’re not there—”
“Oh, I worry very little about that. Far more worrying to me than my removal are the circumstances that led to it. I feel as though I may actually be more useful to this most noble cause while not presiding over the school, I simply worry for the implications within the school whilst I am gone.”
“Your son, in large part.” Despite the seriousness of the moment, Dumbledore actually looked just as impressed and amused as he did grave. “I did wonder as to the nature of his game when the Daily Prophet released its most recent bit of gossip. I had hoped it was merely to provide himself a safety net for the coming holidays, but I fear that in actuality, it was a carefully calculated strike that perfectly found its mark in the end.”
“Merlin,” moaned James, “how could he—“
“Very easily. If it was truly Harry acting of his own accord, I cannot truthfully say I blame him. I stand by some of the actions he despises me for, though others were among the worst mistakes I have ever made. From his own set of eyes, however, I can quite easily see why he would want me removed from the castle.” Dumbledore chuckled. “It was actually done quite masterfully, which does make me wonder whether or not there is more afoot.”
“Don’t tell me you think he’s the Heir,” James said tiredly.
“I have never once believed Harry to be the Heir of Slytherin,” Dumbledore said calmly. “It was a lead that needed investigating due to the circumstances that have transpired, but I never truly believed it. If Harry is involved, I see him not as the puppet master, but as one of her puppets, caught up in a dangerous display of destruction and deceptions.”
“You think he’s being manipulated?”
“I see two potential avenues,” Dumbledore admitted. “The first is that Harry is, in one way or another, being used by the Heir of Slytherin. Whether or not he is being used to actually open the Chamber of Secrets, or whether he has been used merely as a diversion and now as a weapon against me, I am not certain.”
James seemed to sag in his chair, though he did not dare allow himself to completely believe Dumbledore’s theory. “The other option?”
“Harry is not and has never been at all connected to the Heir of Slytherin and is instead merely caught in their crosshairs. The Heir attacked Miss Greengrass not only to cause political unrest, but to further draw Harry into the fray. If they know him well enough, they might have even assumed he would push for my removal. Both out of admittedly well-earned spite, and because he might view me as an impediment to his own investigations.”
“So he might be trying to go after the Heir?”
“It is possible. Truly, this whole mystery has me quite baffled. I have little doubt who is behind it, but whom she uses, I have not the foggiest of ideas.”
“But you’re going to try and find out?”
Dumbledore sighed. “I have an ominous feeling, James. An ominous feeling that is telling me the identity of Lady Voldemort’s puppet shall only be revealed in due time.” James’s eyes widened at the sentiment pertaining to Voldemort, but the former Hogwarts Headmaster pushed forward. “I think that in order to reach the crux of the problem, we must first identify the problem itself.”
“Meaning we must discover what exactly is attacking students and causing them to vanish in the middle of the night.”
“Do you not think it’s just the Heir stunning them and dragging them off?”
“Not at all. This is not the first time I have seen the fabled Chamber of Secrets opened. The last time, students turned up petrified. I have no doubt that whatever attacked students fifty years ago is loose once more. This time, the Heir is simply hiding the bodies. Likely in the Chamber of Secrets itself.” James let out a gasp, and Dumbledore nodded gravely. “It is my belief that once Slytherin’s monster is identified, we may then make inroads in solving this mystery once and for all.”
“And how are you going to track down this monster?”
“Oh, I have my ideas,” said Dumbledore. “Through some travelling, I suspect. I do have one centric idea that I believe is correct, but I must investigate that idea further. The British Isles are, I am afraid, not the place to do so. Any mention of what I shall be searching for was wiped away centuries ago. To find what I am pursuing, I must travel to the most ancient of places. The places in which magic as we know of it was born. The places where chaos was first controlled.”
James felt that there was a great deal of significance in what Dumbledore had just said. Significance that had somehow gone so far over his head, he had barely even noticed.
“First,” the man said with a yawn, “I must write a letter, and then I must sleep. Assuming you are so kind, I shall do so here.”
“Of course,” said James. “Do you know where to find the bedrooms?”
“Oh, I’m sure I will manage. Goodnight, James, and I thank you very much for your most gracious hospitality.”
“Goodnight, Albus,” said James, wondering just how bad this nightmare would get before it was finally resolved.
He just hoped he still had two sons by the end of it.
March 13, 1993
The Great Hall
ALBUS DUMBLEDORE FORCEFULLY REMOVED FROM HIS POSITION AS HEADMASTER OF HOGWARTS DUE TO THE RECENT AND ATROCIOUS ACCUSATIONS LEVELLED AGAINST HIM! HOGWARTS GAMEKEEPER SENT TO AZKABAN PRISON!
By Rita Skeeter
“Dear Merlin, that woman can write a headline,” Blaise said dryly, glancing meaningfully from Harry to the paper. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about this, old chap?”
“Not here,” hissed Harry. “Tonight.” Blaise nodded, seeming to understand Harry’s meaning instantly.
When Tracey saw the headline, she actually smiled at Harry, though he noticed even without using his Natural Legilimency how tense and nervous she was. Charlotte looked more curious than anything, whereas her friends Ginny and Laine seemed none too bothered — likely because they weren’t aware of the significance of everything going on.
One figure that did watch his reaction quite intently was Ares, and Harry knew he would be having words with her on the way out. He was also rather sure she had heard what he had said to Blaise.
As Harry ate the rest of his meal, the other half of the infamous Potter twins sat tensely at the Gryffindor table, having to forcefully resist the urge to tear into one of the letters he’d received. One was less sensitive, though that was a very relative term. He had risked opening it anyway, Gryffindor as he was.
He couldn’t risk opening the more sensitive of the two envelopes, however, for he was being watched far too closely. That had become the norm ever since he had unintentionally revealed himself as a Parselmouth.
But Merlin, did he want to rip into that letter… it likely held so many truths. For all he knew, it could hold all the answers he needed.
The owner of that tall, loopy handwriting was, after all, the greatest wizard alive.
Harry wasn’t at all surprised when Ares Black followed him from the Great Hall. He had actually known it to be coming, and simply marched towards the nearest abandoned classroom without a backwards glance, making haste so as not to be spotted by the Aurors.
Once he had entered and warded the room, Harry turned to her and raised an eyebrow. “I want in on your meeting tonight,” she said bluntly.
That… was complicated and potentially problematic.
Harry liked Ares, or at least what he’d seen of her so far. She was often cold and aloof, and she kept her emotions very closely controlled. Even more so than Blaise, who at least occasionally let his facade down around his friends. He supposed that being the daughter of Bellatrix Black, it wasn’t too shocking. Ares did remind him vividly of Bellatrix, just quieter.
The problem was that he didn’t entirely trust her. He had no reason for not trusting her, he just didn’t trust anybody who wasn’t in his close, inner circle of friends. Ginny had been loosely floating around him since October and he didn’t even trust her. Certainly not Laine Slater, whom he trusted even less.
Ares had proven to be a great help in unmasking the Heir of Slytherin, but it was still a rather large leap of faith on her part to ask this of him.
Perhaps not from her perspective, but she wasn’t aware of the Speaker’s Den, among other things.
“I know you might not trust me,” she said as though reading his thoughts, “but you know I can help you. I’ve helped you already, and if you want me to keep helping you, I need to stay informed. That’s the only way this is going to work. I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s going on.”
“My problem is that I think you’re more concerned with helping yourself.”
“That’s fair, but we both want the same thing, so it isn’t overly relevant. You want the Heir’s head on a stick because they attacked one of your best friends and it seems like they at least tried to frame you earlier in the year. I want the Heir because of the Greengrass attack as well. They lost all respect from me when they attacked one of the most important families in our country.
“It’s more than that though,” she continued. “I know you and Draco didn’t get along, but he was my only friend for years. He had his less than flattering moments, but I really do care for him more than anybody else. If it wasn’t for this Heir of Slytherin, he might still be at Hogwarts. It looked really bad, him making a scene at the Greengrass’s ball and then their heiress going missing. Not good publicity at all, and he could easily be blamed for the attack on the Weasley twins for the same reasons you could have been.
“It was part of the reason why my Uncle Lucius pulled him from the school. The Heir of Slytherin cost me a friend, too. At least, they cost me a friend for ten months out of the year. I know it’s not as horrible as what’s happened to you, but I am very protective of my friends. I don’t have many of them, and that’s ignoring the whole bit about him being family.
“I hate that I’m telling you any of this, but I need to be in on this, Harry. I need you to understand that. I want the Heir almost as badly as you do, but I can’t help if I’m left in the dark, and I somehow have a feeling nothing you say tonight will be leaving that meeting.”
Harry wanted so badly to say no.
He still didn’t quite trust her, but Merlin damn his sympathy and her relatability.
He contemplated crushing the emotion with Occlumency for all of three seconds before it was cast to the side as a horrible idea. Whether Emily was the Heir of Slytherin or not, he trusted her views on magic, which confused him greatly.
If she had been the Heir of Slytherin, why didn’t she encourage him to learn the Dark Arts in the same way that Charlus had? She had even done the opposite. Gently but firmly guiding him away from any potential land mines he might stumble across.
It confused him greatly and his trust for her was shattered completely. As made clear by the fact he hadn’t written in their shared journal since he’d been made aware of the details pertaining to Hagrid’s expulsion and the jarring revelations that had preceded it.
But he still trusted her judgement on all things magic.
She might be a monster, but everything he had diligently researched had shown she had always been completely honest with him in regards to magic. Even her Occlumency exercises had been as advertised.
She had warned him against suppressing positive emotions just as much as she had warned him against suppressing negative ones. It was a warning he was going to follow, and thus he allowed the sympathy he felt for Ares to wash over him and he could do little more than sigh and nod his agreement.
That night, on the fourth floor…
Charlus felt beaten and battered by the time he left Lockhart’s office late that night, almost exactly twenty-four hours after Dumbledore had been driven out of the school by his snake of a brother and the man whom he was sure had once been a Death Eater — Lucius Malfoy.
Lockhart had urgently requested his presence via one of the two letters he’d received earlier that very day.
He had started questioning Charlus about anything he might know of Dumbledore’s expulsion from the castle the moment the young Gryffindor had walked through his door. Charlus had very defeatedly confessed to having witnessed the scene of Dumbledore’s forced exit, though he did leave out the part about his invisibility cloak.
His father had always been very insistent he keep that as secret as possible.
He’d told Ron and Hermione, but they were his best friends and notable exceptions.
He could tell Lockhart hadn’t believed the bit about him and Hermione hiding under Hagrid’s table, but he hadn’t pressed him for too much information.
Lockhart had swiftly decided their training in defensive magic needed to be taken to a new level. Charlus hadn’t even known that was possible, but by Merlin it was.
They would now be working on spell deflection; an extremely advanced ability that required at least the beginnings of non-verbal magic capabilities — as well as an absurd amount of precision. Not to mention the fact you needed to be able to at least vaguely identify the spell coming towards you, unless you wanted to just run the risk of trying to overpower it.
Needless to say, Charlus had not been at all successful.
He had been battered by the constant barrages of spells hurled his way by his sadistic professor, but he hadn’t broken, quit, nor given up. In vain, perhaps, but he had put one-hundred percent effort into each and every attempt until finally, Lockhart had called it off, sending Charlus back to his common room, impressing upon him to practice the non-verbal bit on his own whenever he was able.
Limping, Charlus made his way down the corridor two floors above the man’s office, reflecting on the other bit of mail he had received that morning. One he hadn’t been able to open until he’d made the excuse to retreat to his dormitory to “grab his textbook”.
Earlier that day, in Gryffindor Tower…
I am truly sorry I could not say a proper goodbye to you, but as I know you saw, I was rather rushed during my untimely exit from the school that I love so very much.
I would like to write to you not only to update you as to the goings-on outside the castle, but as well as what I believe might just be the goings-on inside the castle.
Firstly, any information you glean should be sent to me immediately. I cannot stress this enough. I will be travelling to research a few of my own suspicions pertaining to horrible things that should never be researched at all. I am unsure when the next time I may have time to write to you will be, but I have little doubt it will be a significant period of time from now. I will, however, read anything you send me. I have no doubt an owl will be able to find me, though doing so may serve as a time-consuming challenge for the poor bird in question.
Any information you can provide me will aid greatly in the ending of this mess, so all of it would be immensely appreciated.
I like to think of myself as a giving man, however, so I shall impart some wisdom onto you in return for asking for any of it you yourself might soon be able to provide me.
I implore you to watch your twin very closely, but to do so with the utmost caution.
It is imperative he does not discover you doing this. I am unsure whether he is an extremely determined and dangerous opponent of the Heir of Slytherin, or whether he is in some way connected to our shadowy assailant. If it is the latter, I do not think him directly responsible, but merely an agent of whoever might be behind this. If that is the case, you and your investigations must not be discovered. Without knowing how the Heir is making students disappear, I am unsure whether or not your cloak would serve as any defence against them. I do not wish to find out, so I stress again that you must not be seen, but that keeping an eye on your twin may turn out to be essential in assuring a positive future.
Speaking of your cloak, I would kindly ask you to keep it on your person at all times and to not be afraid to use it. If you must flee, then flee. There is no shame in doing what must be done to win the ultimate victory we seek. The only shame is in letting down your side by knowingly doing what is most directly responsible for their defeat.
Heed my words, Charlus, and do keep the light at the end of the tunnel in mind. We are entering dark, perilous times, but I assure you the light will shine through by the end. Keep your head and your heart intact, and I know we will prevail. Simply heed my words here, and the ones I spoke in Hagrid’s hut, for I know you were there looming. I only hope you took in the last-minute wisdom I tried my best to impart upon you.
Stay safe and best wishes.
Back in the present…
Charlus’s jaw set as he marched towards Gryffindor Tower, hidden under his cloak just as he knew Professor Dumbledore would want.
They were going to get through this and come out on the right side in the end.
He just knew they would.
March 27, 1993
Diagon Alley was a beautiful place at night, even with the bitterly cold winds tearing through its centre that had not yet been driven off by the turning of the season. Its myriad of brightly coloured signs, vibrant displays, and lit windows stood out starkly against the otherwise velvety night. From a distance, they might have looked like a number of overgrown fireflies, while those closer to them would simply have been bathed in the light, which was so plentiful it might as well have been everywhere in the alley, and not dotted haphazardly around as it was.
Knockturn Alley, on the other hand, was an abyss of pure blackness.
None of the bright light from its sister alley seemed to make a dent in the ominous layer of impenetrable darkness that seemed to blanket the alley. If anything, it was akin to a black hole, drawing all nearby light towards its ultimate demise. Or, if the lights in Diagon were overgrown fireflies, then the darkness of Knockturn was the world’s largest and most inescapable Venus flytrap.
It was so dark in the shadier of the two alleys that not even those who were intently watching would have noticed the lone figure creeping in the alleyway. He was much smaller than most of the figures who usually frequented the alley, and he wore a cloak that was purposefully too large, its hood cast his face into shadow, seeming to obscure it in the same way the endless blackness obscured the alley he stood in.
Sneaking out of Hogwarts had been more difficult than he had thought it might be.
The exception he had last used to escape the castle had been temporarily voided by the Wizengamot, which meant he needed to sneak out as opposed to merely walking out. That was made difficult when he realized Aurors seemed to know of the secret passages out of the castle. Harry wondered if his father had told them. It had taken some time, for he had not wanted to move until he was absolutely certain his plans would go off without a hitch.
With the aid of his memory, he eventually worked out whereabouts the Aurors would be at each time of the night. Deducing that had taken a frankly absurd amount of sneaking around using his ring and the serpentine portraits in the dungeons where possible. The problem was that nearly all of the portraits were on the dungeon floor, and even with their friends in other portraits above, it was no longer going to be a sufficient network of spies. Not if he wanted to unmask the Heir of Slytherin, which he in fact wanted above all things.
It had taken several weeks to work out when the Aurors would be in an appropriate position, but Harry had eventually worked it out and slipped out of the castle. He’d debated taking the floo from Hogsmeade, but he surely would have been sold out by Madam Rosmerta at the Three Broomsticks. Briefly, he had considered the Hog’s Head, but Charlotte had informed him the bartender was inexplicably Albus Dumbledore’s brother. How one brother had become arguably the greatest wizard since Merlin, the Headmaster of Hogwarts, the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, and the Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards whilst the other had settled as a mere bartender, Harry had no idea.
With his friends’ input, he had eventually decided the Knight Bus was going to be his best option. He’d never ridden it before and by the time it arrived in the streets of Diagon Alley, he couldn’t say he much enjoyed it. Flying and the Gringotts carts were one thing. Feeling as though you were going to die for every nanosecond of a ride on a triple-decker bus was another thing altogether.
Once in Diagon Alley, it had been all too easy to sneak into Knockturn Alley with his hood up. Nobody in there cared about age. The less pleasant occupants would not hold back if they wanted something from you, regardless of age, but the shopkeepers wouldn’t deny anyone based on their age, either. As long as their customers had gold, the legality of their transactions mattered not.
Which was how Harry found himself in a Magical menagerie specializing in snakes. Surprisingly, snakes were not for sale in Diagon Alley. Likely as a result of the stigma that had formed around them, in large part due to Voldemort’s reign of terror over Magical Britain.
Even if they were though, Harry still would have come here.
He wasn’t seeking a serpentine familiar or anything of the like. He was seeking a larger number of snakes. All of them also had to be extremely intelligent and able to follow very specific orders and give very specific intel.
It was time to upgrade his spy network.
April 9, 1993
The Seventh Floor
Charlus and Hermione slid easily from the Gryffindor common room under the invisibility cloak.
For the last number of weeks, they had spent most nights observing the patterns of the spiders and had decided, with no small bit of dread, that they did indeed consistently scuttle their way down and into the Forbidden Forest. Given the horror stories told about the Black Forest, neither of them were at all looking forward to the experience of entering it.
However, Charlus was resolute that they would follow the spiders, no matter where that led them. Hermione found herself resigned to the idea, and she had been given no choice but to reluctantly agree that it was important.
Charlus really did wish Ron was here, even in spite of his friend’s intense phobia of spiders. His natural humour would have been very much appreciated at the moment, for Charlus was sure it would have been most effective in breaking the oppressive tension that blanketed the pair, seeming to bury them under its unbearable weight. Unfortunately, Molly and Arthur had decided Ron would not be returning to Hogwarts this year.
The two had tried to follow Harry, but it was nearly impossible. He also seemed to have a way to turn invisible, which Charlus couldn’t decide if he was more incredulous or furious about. He also just knew the castle better than Charlus or Hermione likely ever would, and they eventually had to very reluctantly admit defeat. It wasn’t often at all they saw him out in the corridors but when they did, he used one of — or a combination of — those advantages to be impossible to follow, even without knowing he was being tailed.
So with Harry out of the picture, they had but one avenue left in terms of their ongoing investigation.
Follow the spiders.
Minutes later, in the Slytherin common room…
Harry’s night had been normal right up until the moment a snake who’d obviously slithered into the common room one of the last few times its entrance had been opened coiled around Harry’s leg to get his attention.
With a hurried excuse to his friends, he discretely scooped the creature up and bolted for the bathrooms, locking and warding the door behind him.
“What is it?” he hissed.
“The one you wished for us to watch has left his common room. Somebody we cannot see has, anyway, and we assume it to be him. He has been followed down to the first floor and the front doors opened and closed, though we saw no one leave.”
Harry shot to his feet at once.
This was the opportunity he’d been waiting for.
He’d thought when Dumbledore was out of the picture, aggressively investigating the Heir of Slytherin situation would have been much easier than it had been.
Whether the old codger had put him up to it or whether Charlus was just being shockingly pragmatic, Harry knew he was being tailed by his brother while under the cloak. Not because he ever caught him in the act. Every time he cast Homenum Revelio — a spell that had been an absolute nightmare to learn — it came up empty. Obviously, he was just choosing the wrong times to cast it. But he knew he was being followed because a few of the snakes had infiltrated the Gryffindor common room and had heard Charlus and Hermione discussing the fact.
They also knew they were planning to do something during an undisclosed night that would take up a considerable amount of time.
Tonight was clearly that night.
With his tails busy for the evening, it was time for Harry to truly investigate.
Priority number one — investigate the second-floor corridor near where Mrs. Norris had been found.
At the same moment, in an abandoned classroom…
The Slytherin common room’s entrance had opened three times in the last twenty minutes. It had admitted three figures, all of whom had discreetly made for the same classroom in the dungeons. It was one that had not been in use for some time.
It was also the one Charlotte Weitts had almost been brutalized in, and it was the one in which Mulciber and Jugson — two of the three present figures — had been essentially tortured by Legilimency. Mulciber in particular had needed to spend several weeks at St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.
The two of them had just finished retelling the story of exactly what they remembered happening to the older student that stood before them. He was taller than either of them and had very pale skin and jet-black hair.
“I’m sorry for your suffering,” the boy said, though he didn’t particularly sound like he meant it. “I won’t be needing your help again. It’s clear the two of you can’t deal with her.”
“W-w-what are you going to do, then?” asked Jugson in a wavering voice.
The older boy’s intense eyes darkened as his hand twitched towards his wand. “I’m going to do it myself. I should have just fired something worse than a Stunner when I tried to let you two resolve this whole thing. It won’t matter soon, though. Weitts will get hers — both of them will.”
Two hours later, on the second floor…
Harry had spent so long searching the second floor to no avail that he had almost been convinced his search would be fruitless.
That had been until he’d struck gold.
Following a gut instinct, Harry had decided to check the hidden passage behind the set of armour near the bathroom. The one Voldemort — while disguised as Hurst — had shown him on Halloween night of his first year.
What he found in the alcoves shook him to his core, though it might not have had any connection to the Heir of Slytherin.
A lone piece of parchment was lying face up.
But not just any piece of parchment.
It was a map, but it was unlike any map Harry had ever seen. It obviously showed the names of every single person residing in or around the castle.
This was priceless.
Not only would it help Harry discover things about the ancient castle he might never have otherwise, but it was also going to be instrumental in his one, true goal.
With this map in Harry’s posession, the Heir of Slytherin stood no chance.
Hours later, on the grounds of Hogwarts…
Charlus was shaking like a leaf as he and Hermione crept as quietly across the Hogwarts grounds as they could, slowly and unsteadily ascending the sloping lawns leading up to the large, oak front doors. Charlus was shooting glances back towards the forest every now and again, wondering just where the Ford Anglia that had saved their lives was now.
Hermione had most certainly been right.
Hagrid’s idea of finding out information was apparently achieved by walking into a colony of blood-thirsty spiders the size of elephants. They had been utterly helpless when the car had shown up, but the one, sole benefit of being utterly helpless was that your captors tended to be rather loose-lipped, at times. They had assumed nothing they said would ever leave where they held the teens captive.
It wasn’t much, but at least Charlus and Hermione now knew that whatever monster loomed in the fabled Chamber of Secrets was one that the acromantula feared above all others.
It meant nothing to them and would likely be wholly unhelpful but if anybody could do anything with the information, it was Professor Dumbledore.
As exhausted as Charlus might have been, he had a letter to write before it was time for bed.
I know this chapter is much shorter than what you have all become accustomed to throughout the year, but this will probably be the norm until year 2’s thirty-third chapter. Most of the setup and subplots are done, minus one that will be resolved in the next two chapters. That inevitably means the chapters in question don’t need to be nearly as long, so until chapter thirty-three of year two, expect chapters of this length.
At that point, you will get two 20k+ word chapters back to back, and then one or two more to round off year 2.
Don’t ask me how that works — it will make sense to you all soon enough.
In other news, the next chapter of the AoC audiobook is now up on YouTube and Spotify! The links can be found on my profile.
Also, remember — Christmas one-shot coming soon!
Please read and review.
PS: The next chapter will be posted next Saturday, December 26th, 2020. Or you can read it now by joining my Discord server, or read the next three by signing up on P*T*E*N.
Thank you to my lovely Discord Editors 1saaa, Ashabel, Asmodeus Stahl, CCCP. Discodancepant, Regress, Sesc and Shaqb4 for their corrections/contributions this week.
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