Harry Potter and the Perversion of Purity
Year 2: The Advancing of Shadows
Chapter 11: Trial by Fire
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Harry Potter and the Perversion of Purity
Book 2: The Advancing of Shadows
Chapter 11: Trial by Fire
March 17, 1889
Gellert sat alone in a vast, dark room. The ceiling was towering and the walls were wide, giving the place a cavernous sort of feel. High upon one wall, a massive window of stained glass let in a limited amount of light; just enough to cast patches of light and shadow sporadically throughout the room.
His shoulders ached from the painful position the chains around his wrists forced his arms into and Gellert felt his stomach rumble for what must have been the hundredth time that day. He had been trapped here for four days now.
The day he had been bodily thrown into his room had been a long one. He had contemplated escape, but it had not been possible. He had gone to bed that night afraid and confused, but even his worst expectations had utterly failed to match the horrifying reality that had violently greeted him in the middle of the night.
He had exerted so much energy in his panic that by the time night had begun to fall and the fingers of light began to retract back over the horizon, his body felt as though it weighed double its usual weight. It was as though great mounds of sand had been poured into every limb, for he could barely move by the time his head hit his pillow.
That exhaustion explained why he had not heard his bedroom door open in the middle of the night.
He had woken when he felt hands on him, but it had been too late. His hands and feet were shackled together by heavy chains and he was carried off once more; though this time, he was marched straight out of his home by men in hoods and loaded into a horse-drawn carriage.
He had been brought to St. Bartholomew’s church. He had never been to the site in the dead of night, but it was impossible to miss. Especially now, after it had greeted him in so many nightmares. It was, after all, the very place which had hosted Wylla Nurmen’s gruesome execution.
Gellert had been dragged through the church and thrown into the room he now resided in. Days had passed but he had not been allowed to leave. He had seen neither his mother, nor his father, nor anyone else; except those who brought him water a few times a day. He had not eaten anything and his stomach had been writhing constantly, like a pit of a hundred vengeful vipers.
He had slept once after arriving. It hadn’t been terribly long after he had come to the realization he likely wasn’t going to be let out. He had closed his eyes and been asleep at once. It had been as fast and as easy as blinking his eyes…
Until the dream.
He dreamt of being hauled from the room by the same men who had arrived at his home. The sky outside was cloudy, but the air was warm for the time of year. Snow was beginning to melt and cracks were showing on the ice that covered the surface of Lake Königssee. It was a windless day and as far as the weather went, one might think it a good one.
But Gellert knew better, for he was not focused on the sky, or the snow, or the glass-like surface of the lake far below them. Nor even the mountain peaks around them, still lightly coated in snow like massive cakes with their white icing slowly thinning and melting as the temperature warmed.
No, his attention was not captured by any of that, but by the group of people who formed a tight semi-circle around the church, just as they had the day Wylla Nurmen had been put to death.
They carried no weapons and there was no stack of stones that Gellert could see, but he knew those things mattered not. He knew at once what was happening; knew that the worst of his nightmares since the girl’s execution was coming to life right before his very eyes.
The atmosphere was unmistakably hostile; even young Gellert had no trouble deciphering that truth. The gathered crowd muttered indiscernibly, but Gellert did not need to hear their words to know what it was they were saying. The tones spoke volumes — it was like the buzzing of a hundred feral bees.
Gellert was not led to the wall of the church like Wylla had been just weeks earlier. He was led out into the centre of the clearing enclosed by the group of blood-thirsty observers. In it, a stake taller than Gellert and made of a dark-looking wood, stood. It gave off an oddly malevolent air all on its own. In front of it, more wood lay. A pile of logs, stacked and organized in a way that was clearly deliberate.
As Gellert came closer and closer to the stake, the crowd’s muttering rose. His bare feet felt cold as a freshly fallen snowflake. The stone floors of the church had been one thing, but the grass outside was another. Just because it was warm for the time of year didn’t mean that his feet did not feel as though they had been suddenly plunged in icy cold water.
The crowd’s roaring neared a crescendo as Gellert was forced to stand atop the stack of logs. Somehow, he knew he was dreaming. He knew he was dreaming because otherwise, there was no way he would have stood still and let the two men bind him to the stake as the crowd’s all too familiar chants filled his ears like the most warped and twisted song the birds had ever sang.
“TOD! TOD! TOD!”
His feet stung with the stab of heat as soon as his skin made contact with the wood of the pyre. The logs were not just hot to the touch, it seemed as though there was a great fire lit just beneath them.
It took Gellert several moments to realize that exact analogy was, in fact, his reality.
One of the bottom-most logs caught ablaze and Gellert let out a yelp of pain as the heat surged and he could feel the skin on his feet begin to blister. By now, he was bound by his feet and his ankles to the stake at his back while the heat began to rise. The flames licked hungrily at the pyre of logs, slowly and steadily engulfing all the matter between it and Gellert. His heart raced as the flames drew nearer and nearer to his bare skin. He could already feel that some of the skin was burnt just from the heat alone, so he could only imagine the damage that would be wrought by the wrath of direct contact with an open flame.
The fire came closer and closer and Gellert’s heart beat faster and faster. The closer the fire came, the faster his heart raced. It was as though the flames were some sort of warped, crimson conductor, prompting his heart to beat with all the fury of a frantically played set of drums. Every beat rang through his body and seemed to reverberate off the walls of his chest and stomach. The beating was so powerful and so intense, Gellert thought he might be sick, or that his chest would simply cave in at any moment. It didn’t feel like his heart was beating. It felt much more like someone was beating furiously against his heart for all the muscle ached.
And then, the fire reached his feet.
It was pain not unlike a simple burn, but much more intense. Gellert had somehow expected it to burn deeper than the skin, but if it did, he was so distracted by the pain of his body’s surface that he didn’t notice. He tried desperately to shuffle his feet in an effort to gain any form of relief, but he couldn’t. He was tied too tightly to the stake behind him. Even if he wasn’t, he had nowhere to go. The entire pile of logs was ablaze now and the flames were slithering their way up his legs, burning away at his flesh as they went; suddenly Gellert found he had no thoughts of being nervous or afraid. Even the glimpsed sight of his mother in the crowd meant nothing to him. All he knew was pain.
Yet it was not the sizzling of his skin that troubled him the most. That felt tame in comparison to the other horror brought upon him by the sudden rush of heat and fire.
Thick, grey plumes of smoke billowed up from the burning pyre like the darkened steam of the great locomotive he had seen barrelling down the tracks time and time again.
The first cloud of it that reached his face caused a fit of coughing and a painful stinging in his eyes. The second caused the same feelings, but much more intense. Soon, there were no waves — just a constant stream of acrid smoke that seemed intent on drowning him in its hellaciously oppressive fumes.
His eyes no longer felt as if they were stinging. It was now as though someone had taken a red-hot skewer and used it to prod his very iris. He could not so much as open his eyes, and even that wasn’t the worst of it. His throat had coiled and constricted like some great serpent. The muscles seemed to have been tied in a knot so tight that it allowed for not even the barest traces of air to slip past their tightly constructed wall of muscle and flesh. Gellert’s chest heaved in want of air, but it received nothing but even more smoke. He felt the horrible need to cough and felt panic rise once more despite the pain when he could not will himself to do even that.
The fire had reached his chest now and it was no longer creeping. It seemed to be moving with speed inspired by sadistic pleasure. Every part of him it touched burned like he had never imagined. He chanced a glance down and managed to spy what must have been his skin, but it was blackened and certainly not solid. It was streaming down his body like spilt candle wax. Somehow even more horrifying was the fact that he could no longer feel pain in his lower limbs. It was as if he was looking at someone else’s burning limbs, but the stabbing in his lungs reminded him painfully that the melting skin did indeed belong to him.
Bile rose in the back of his throat and he tried to expel it, but it was met with the constricted wall of flesh and muscle that was preventing air from entering his lungs. He wretched, trying to draw in air and force out bile, but he couldn’t, and black spots were dancing before his eyes now, growing larger and larger as the crowd’s roaring turned from malicious to victorious…
And then he was awake with a gasp, shaking and gulping down air like a dying man who had been long-deprived of water. Every part of his body shook as he glanced down towards his chest. His skin was there and intact, but Gellert had the strangest feeling it might not be that way for long.
Something about that dream had felt different. For all the fear he had felt, never had there been an overwhelming sense of panic. It had more so been that he was afraid to feel the pain. The strangest thing about the whole ordeal was that at no point during the dream had Gellert felt any urge to flee or escape. He had felt… resigned. He still felt resigned now, even awake, though resigned to what he didn’t know.
That dream had been days ago now and he had not slept since. It was hardly an experience he wanted to repeat. Nothing even remotely similar would be at all resembling anything he would want to go through, so he had stayed awake — resigned to whatever would come — not bothering to hope for a rescue from his mother or even his father.
A high and loud squeal filled Gellert’s ears as the room’s large door opened, causing the hinges to creak horribly.
Two men entered the room. Gellert felt his heart begin to quicken when he recognized them. They were the same men who had taken him away from his home, and they were the same men who had led him out to the pyre in his dream.
As they unbound him from the wall, dragged him to his feet, and began to march him out of the room without so much as a word, Gellert knew he should feel panic, but he didn’t. He felt eerily calm and his mind was as clear as the water streaming beneath its icy confines far below in Lake Königssee. He scarcely felt more awake than when he had been dreaming. It was as though he was watching from the perspective of an observer for how detached he was.
It came as no surprise when he stepped outside to a cloudy sky, warm air undisturbed by wind, or the soft dripping brought forth by melting snow and its remains streaming down the side of the mountain. Nor even was he surprised by the tight semi-circle of ravenous observers watching his every move.
He did not look to the centre of the circle. He somehow knew the pyre would be there. Instead, he searched the crowd for his mother’s face. He found her quickly enough. She had his bright blond hair, and many of his own facial features were recognizable on her as well. Her eyes seemed to be constantly drifting, but they never did quite find him until she must have felt his stare upon her.
The look in her eyes was one he had never seen before. The soft light that seemed to perpetually dance behind those eyes like the rays of the sun on smooth water seemed to have gone out. There seemed to be no life behind them. It was as though she was only half there and Gellert knew all at once that she would be no help to him.
Something burned deep in the pit of his stomach. It was not fear — his heart had not yet begun to beat with the ruthless intensity he had felt during the dream. It was a different feeling that he had never felt in this way before. Sometimes late at night, he would think about Wylla Nurmen and how and why she had died. Those thoughts often caused a feeling that was not terribly dissimilar to this, but it was hardly comparable.
Tears suddenly threatened to leak from the corners of his eyes, but they were not born of fear, or pain, or even sadness. They were born of something more raw and vicious. He thought whatever this emotion was felt very much like anger, but it was somehow more than that. He did not know the words, but he realized as he was being led to his death that he was angry with his mother. Angry with her for dooming him to this, and angry at her and all the others who had thrown stones at Wylla Nurmen just because they were nothing compared to her.
He hardly even realized he had stepped onto the pyre of logs until the familiar pain began ebbing its way into his feet. None of the logs had yet caught fire, but he knew it was but a matter of time. Thin swirls of smoke rose from beneath the stack of logs, rising and twisting in the air like demented steam. Not the sort that rose from enticing meals, Gellert knew. These swirls promised no salvation or comfort, only pain and death.
He thought he ought to be more nervous. His heart had well and truly begun to speed up now, but it was reaching nowhere near the levels of rapid pumping he had experienced during the dream. Though that was changing as the logs began to heat up beneath him. When the first tendrils of fire snaked their way up and lit one of the bottom-most logs ablaze, Gellert’s mind and body seemed to catch up with the situation at hand and he felt a sudden weight in his bladder as his breathing became more ragged as unbidden, thoughts and memories of choking in the impenetrable clouds of smoke rushed forth to the forefront of his mind.
A scream sounded, echoing off the mountain peaks all around them. For a moment, Gellert felt confused. The pain was building and his feet were beginning to blister, but despite that, he did not remember screaming. He couldn’t imagine why anyone in the crowd would scream. They had all been so gleeful through the entire procedure, and he could not imagine what might change that.
Until he saw him.
Gellert’s eyes were drawn to a break in the semi-circle where a number of figures had seemingly fallen. Through the divide in their ranks, he spotted a face he was sure he’d never see again. It was the opposite of looking at his mother in a great many ways. The man’s brown hair was darker than Gellert’s, but his blue eyes had the same silvery hew as his son’s. Where his mother’s eyes looked hollow, emotionless, and void of any light or life, his father’s seemed to burn with the intensity of a hundred roaring fires.
He had a peculiar-looking stick of wood in his hand. It appeared to be about a foot long and the wood was dark and well-carved. Gellert had never seen anything like it before in life, but he had read about similar objects depicted in some of the tales he had read, oftentimes not long before going to bed. It reminded him of the wands of those tales and his jaw fell agape when the stick of wood was aimed at him and suddenly, the blistering pain in his feet seemed to ease. Where the skin had already suffered damage, the pain did not waver, but the fire suddenly seemed incapable of consuming any more of him.
The crowd seemed as confused as Gellert until one of them cried out something the young boy did not understand. Suddenly, they were all turning to rush at his father. Gellert felt the urge to scream for the first time as fear for the man he loved more than any other rose within him like a helium balloon.
Yet there was no need for it.
His father spun on his heel before any could reach him and disappeared with a loud CRACK!
Gellert’s mouth fell open despite his own predicament. The act proved an ill thought one. Smoke had begun to billow upwards in thicker clouds and he inhaled a large mouthful of it. True panic surged inside of him for the first time that day. He remembered the way every muscle of his chest had seemed to contract and tighten, fighting in his dream, his body’s need for oxygen with the vigor of a charging bull as he suffocated on the smoke that surged from the burning pyre. Fear gripped him now and he began to thrash against his bindings for the first time. The exertion wasn’t helping his cause. Black spots were dancing seductively at the corners of his eyes, but thankfully, he didn’t have to endure for long.
As though in a dream or from far away, Gellert thought he felt his binds released. He knew he was falling forward, but he was too weak to catch himself. He just hoped that he fell off of the pyre and onto the melting snow all around it. Anything was better than kissing the flames still burning fiercely at his feet.
He wondered if the latter might indeed have happened when oxygen was deprived from him for a second time. He felt like he was being squeezed through a tube much too narrow to accommodate his body. Pressure seemed to close in on all sides and not an inch of him was safe from its tight grip. He wondered if his mother had been right about the afterlife after all and whether or not this might have just been some great tube leading to a heaven he had never believed in, but he succumbed to the darkness before he could find out.
Harry awoke shivering and gasping in his bed, shaking like a leaf caught in a strong autumn wind.
Whilst taking deep, calming breaths, Harry reflected that the vision he just witnessed may have been the worst of all the dreams Grindelwald had thus far shared with him. The first vision concerning poor Wylla Nurmen had been by far the most gruesome, but this one had been different. Though Grindelwald had not been burnt at the stake, the dream he’d had about that very thing happening had been more vivid than any dream Harry could ever remember having.
Well, any dream not forced upon by the one-time dark lord, that was.
Experiencing the panic and agony that dream had brought on had been something entirely different. It was not nauseating in the same way watching a little girl’s brains leak from her skull was, but it was grim and terrifying on a level completely of its own.
Yet for all the pain and horror Harry had witnessed, that was not the thing that scared him most.
The thing that most scared Harry was that after watching all he had seen thus far through Gellert Grindelwald’s eyes, he was starting to see why the notorious dark lord might have thought starting a war against muggles to be a worthy cause.
October 23, 1992
A Hidden Room
It had been more than a week since Ron and Cedric had discussed the idea of practicing defensive magic with their friends. All on both sides had agreed it was an idea worth pursuing; that had been the easy part. The hard part had been finding a place to do it.
It had been Susan who had put forth the idea. She apparently spent large periods of time exploring the castle and had come across a hidden room. She said the way into the kitchens is what had given her the idea. She told Ron and Hermione that to enter them, they needed to tickle a certain bit of fruit in a portrait hung on the wall, so she had started trying similar things with other portraits in the surrounding area. Her exploits had yielded nothing for some time, until she had come across a particular suit of armour by happenstance.
She had been looking all over the suit of armour for some kind of oddity that might indicate it was hiding something when she had accidentally knocked the sword from its hand. The loud clang of the steal colliding with the stone floor had been worrying, but it had not been what made her jump. What made her jump was when the depicted knight bowed to her, retrieved its sword, and stepped aside, revealing a passageway that Susan had never seen before.
It was dark and led to a room with no door. Since the room was protected by a secret passageway, she had supposed it didn’t need one. The room was large, dark, and completely barren. No decor was in sight, nor were there any form of windows. A scarce few torches flickered in a conservative number of brackets hung along the wall. The room was a bit smaller than the ones they used for lessons, but when she showed it to Cedric, the older Hufflepuff had deemed it more than sufficient for their purposes.
Cedric had placed the small number of privacy spells and wards he knew upon the room that night when they all arrived. They fortunately did not need to send the knight’s sword flattering deafeningly to the floor to gain entrance. Simply removing it from the suit’s grasp sufficed, so they entered the room with little drama.
Ron and Hermione had been told of the room in advance, but the former realized immediately upon entering that Susan, Hannah, and Cedric had done some remodelling. There were more torches than he had expected, and even some spheres of magical light floated about the room. There was a couch along one wall and two armchairs nearby, as well as a small number of desks in the room’s corner. Most of the space remained open, obviously intended as the space they would use to practice.
“Did you make those?” Hermione asked Cedric, gesturing to the furniture.
“I did, yes.”
“Isn’t that really advanced magic? I’ve heard they don’t even teach conjurations until sixth year. Aren’t you only in your fourth?”
“Well… yes, I am, but I do study hard and Transfiguration has always been my best subject. With enough work, it really isn’t all that impressive.”
Susan punched him in the arm. “Come off it, dork.” She looked at the others with a roll of her eyes. “He conjured the magical lights, too. I’m not even sure if we get taught how to do that here.”
“Cedric is a genius with Transfiguration,” piped up Hannah. “Professor McGonagall says he’s one of the most talented students she’s ever had.”
The boy in question was blushing to the roots of his hair now. Ron had always scoffed when people told him he blushed as bright as his hair. He had always doubted the possibility of such things, but Cedric was beginning to make him reconsider that assessment.
“I’m no Transfiguration prodigy,” he argued. “Conjuring all of this took me days. We could have been in here last Sunday had I been able pull it off earlier.” Ron smirked when Cedric seemed to notice that none of them looked at all convinced by his act of modesty.
“Since he’s such a genius,” said Susan with a sharp grin, “how about he starts our first lesson, huh?”
“I’m not your professor,” said Cedric. “This is a group effort. We’ll all be doing as much as we can to help each other improve.”
“Mate,” said Ron, “we all appreciate the nice guy act, but can we get on with it? You promised to teach me spells. Can we skip this rubbish and get to the important bits?”
Their collective laughter broke the tension all at once and Cedric’s uncomfortable air vanished as he drew his wand and straightened his posture, clearly ready to begin.
October 26, 1992
The Great Hall
Harry watched Draco enter the hall with Theodore, Pansy, Crabbe, and Goyle that morning and still had to resist the urge to frown. He was sitting with Daphne, Tracey, Millicent, Lillian, and Blaise. The few days of awkwardness between him and everyone else in the group that wasn’t Daphne had passed, but part of him still felt like an outsider. Hardly a surprise considering even near the end, he had felt somewhat of an outsider among Draco’s friends too. The concept of friends was just not one he had yet become completely accustomed to.
He liked Daphne and her friends more than he had expected. Daphne herself was outgoing and charming. She seemed to possess a deadly amount of charisma and just had an uncanny ability to make people like her. She was also probably the most intelligent person Harry had ever met. It was strange that her wandwork was actually subpar in Transfiguration and no better than average in Charms because she knew the theory in each of them as well as he did. Her best subjects — outside of Potions — were the ones they wouldn’t start until next year; that being Ancient Runes and Arithmancy. She seemed to be a sort of prodigy in both. That coupled with her obscene ability to process information quickly and accurately was what had caught Harry’s attention early on. The fact he could not for the life of him seem to beat her at chess only added to the air, though that bit annoyed him more than he would care to admit.
Tracey was much more introverted but when she became comfortable, she had a dry, cutting sort of humour that Harry found both amusing and endearing. She was in many ways the opposite of Daphne. She had a respectable amount of talent with a wand, but her theoretical work was average at best. Though obviously intelligent, she seemed to Harry like the laziest of the bunch.
He didn’t know the other three as well. Millicent and Lillian only sometimes hung around and seemed to follow Daphne around like a pair of lost puppies. Blaise Zabini was extremely quiet. He was a tall, dark-skinned boy with dark slanted eyes and short-cropped black hair. He was very athletic-looking and seemed to always have the hints of a smirk playing at the corners of his lips. Tracey had mockingly reflected that Blaise must just be part of some kind of perpetual joke the rest of the world had not yet been made aware of.
Harry had eased slowly into the group over the past week and a half. Daphne had practically carried him through many conversations at the beginning, but the others had eventually warmed up to him. He was still very conflicted about the entire situation, but there was no doubt as to one benefit of it all. Since clearly aligning himself with the Greengrass heiress, the older purebloods who had been targeting him had all seemed to cease their attempts. They clearly had no desire to make an enemy of House Greengrass. That part was nice, at least, but it made Harry think of the words Daphne had said to him at the end of that first Potions lesson during which they had worked together.
“The Malfoys might view you as a tool, but that doesn’t mean all of us do.”
The statement made Harry feel a bit guilty for the relief he felt at being for all intents and purposes sheltered by Daphne’s name as well as wonder whether her words had been true.
Did the Malfoys view him as a tool?
They had all been nothing but kind to him with the exception of his two major arguments with Draco. Even after each of them, Diana hadn’t stopped speaking with him and it didn’t seem like either Lucius nor Narcissa bore him any ill will. He supposed it was possible. He didn’t fail to remember the way Diana had stopped Draco from putting his foot in his mouth a number of times during that first meeting, but that could really just be chalked up to Draco being Draco and Diana being responsible.
Harry was conflicted about the whole thing. He never had understood why Diana was so willing to spend so much time and effort on him and his problems. If she were manipulating him, that would be a logical explanation. Yet at the same time, she had never given him any council he had not found immensely beneficial. She had even helped him in dealing with Draco. It was possible she had guided him down a path she wanted him to walk down, he supposed. He wouldn’t discount the possibility — especially not now, whilst Grindelwald was showing him exactly how powerful such guidance was — but he didn’t see a motive.
He didn’t see what the Malfoys could possibly want with a halfblood from a family traditionally opposed to their own. His Wizengamot vote when he came of age, he supposed, but this seemed a disproportionately large amount of effort to spend on votes they could likely just buy elsewhere.
Yet now that Daphne had planted that treacherous weed deep in the soil of his mind, he could not help but overanalyze everything. The way Diana had spoken so carefully when discussing things like blood traitors and bigotry. Or the way Draco had needed to be saved in conversation by both his sister and Pansy on a number of occasions. Or even the way Lord Malfoy seemed to have taken to him with unnatural speed.
He could not decide yet, but he would be more watchful. Not that he was entirely certain Daphne didn’t view him as a tool. She may have been intelligent enough to pull off some kind of manipulation, which only made him more wary; especially after the recent collapse of his relationship with Draco. But for now, she and her friends were the best he had and he was enjoying their company. He would proceed as he had been and would just be certain not to let his guard down.
The ceiling high above reflected an overcast sky. The clouds seemed to grow thicker for a moment, but they were not clouds at all. Just the many beating wings of dozens of owls flying into the hall, bearing all sorts of letters for their owners. Hedwig was among them this morning, easily distinguishable by her dazzling white plumage and the way it stood out against the dull greys and browns of her many feathered companions.
The envelope she delivered was unmarked. Frowning, Harry reached for it and broke the seal, only to withdraw his hand just in time to avoid it being covered in a thick, yellow-ish green liquid that stank worse than the petting zoo he had visited years ago while attending his muggle primary school. The smell was difficult to describe, but it was vaguely reminiscent of petrol.
Daphne stood quickly. She grabbed both Harry and Tracey — who sat on either of her — by the arm and hauled the both of them to their feet. Blaise had risen at once and Millicent and Lillian were now scrambling to avoid the thick, viscous flow of the horrid-smelling liquid. A couple of students nearby hadn’t been nearly as lucky. Some of them were covered in the stuff. Wherever it touched them, their skin had blistered horribly and was now beginning to swell just as bad.
Harry’s heart pounded in his ears as he watched the scene before him with a numb some sort of detachment. Whatever had been in that envelope had been meant for him.
His eyes searched the Slytherin table, seeking out all who were staring at him. There were many sets of eyes and Harry met each of them briefly before he felt… something and did a double take. Damian Travers’s older brother was among the many who stared at him. Harry remembered the way he and his friends had tried to attack him last year, but they had been stopped by the then Head Girl, Gemma Fawley.
Merlin, it had been a while since Harry had thought of her. She’d helped him so much, but he could not say he held any love for her. Not after she had been the one to give him the portkey which transported him to Nurmengard and became the root of the horrible visions he saw most nights now.
When he looked at Travers, he felt… smug? It was strange because he had no reason to feel smug, yet he did. His eyes narrowed just as Travers looked away. He had a bad feeling about him… and just when he had thought the upper years might have finally decided to leave him alone.
“Bubotuber pus,” Daphne hissed in a venomous whisper. “That stuff isn’t something to play around with. Whoever sent that isn’t exactly your secret admirer.”
“I’ve noticed that, yeah.” Harry looked from the screaming victims of the pus, to Snape — who was swiftly striding towards the source of the commotion — to Daphne, who stood beside him looking pensive. “What is that stuff, anyway? Bubo… whatever you called it.”
“Bubotuber pus,” she repeated. “When diluted, it’s used for a few things, but one of the most common is to treat acne.” She scowled; Harry thought the expression failed to suit her face. “When it isn’t diluted…” she gestured vaguely in the direction of those covered in the stuff, not needing to go on.
“Aren’t you just Mr. Popular,” Blaise said softly. A smirk actually was on his lips now, though it was a thin and discrete one.
Harry made to quip back, but he became distracted by Daphne. She was very carefully wiping all traces of pus away from the envelope with a number of napkins. Harry quirked a brow, but she ignored him, pocketing the now safe envelope.
“There are things that can be done with this,” she said, “ways we might actually find who sent it.”
“Find who sent it?”
Daphne fixed him with a hard stare. “I’m not sure what it was like in Malfoy’s little clique, but I take it personally when someone tries to hurt any of my friends. I plan on finding who sent this.”
Harry glanced around to make sure no one was listening before learning into Daphne’s ear. “Maybe start with the older Travers.”
It was a mark of her composure that she did not seem even a bit taken aback by the comment. Her eyes just briefly flicked towards the boy. Knowing Daphne, she was probably quickly and accurately committing his face to memory.
If it was the case, she nodded. “Leave it with me,” she said. “I’ll come up with something.”
October 31, 1992
The Great Hall
The hall was as luridly decorated in the typical muggle fashion one might expect on the final day of October. Daphne did not look pleased about it, nor did Millicent nor Lillian. With the exception of a few snarky comments by the Greengrass heiress and a number of very testy glares sent around the hall by Millicent, none of them outwardly complained about it. Harry wondered if Draco and Theodore were cursing it all just as vehemently as they had last year.
Dumbledore stood to his feet, drawing the attention of all in the hall. His robes were a deep black this year as opposed to the vibrant orange he had dawned exactly a year ago. It seemed the man was unable to wear normal robes, however. These ones were not only trimmed in the aforementioned colour, but they were covered in a number of pumpkins of that same colour. They were all jack o’lanterns and they must have had the same magic as portraits. Their bright eyes roamed the hall in an amusing yet unnerving way. To complete the image, Dumbledore wore a tall, pointed wizard’s hat the same colour as his robes.
“Happy Halloween to you all,” said Dumbledore. “Or, for those of you who still stick steadfastly to the old ways, I hope Samhain has treated you well. Seeing as we do not seem to have any caretakers or trolls set to interrupt us this year, I think it high time the feast begins!”
Dumbledore swept his hat from his head with a theatrical gesture, and food and drinks of all kinds appeared on every available bit of table. The man smiled and took his seat, and Harry too could not help but silently reflect how much more peaceful this Samhain seemed to the last.
Meanwhile, in the dungeons…
“Remind me why we’re going to this… what’s it called again?”
Hermione sighed. “A deathday party, Ronald.”
“Right, that. Why are we going?”
“Because it would have been rude to say no.”
On the way back from practicing with Cedric, Susan, and Hannah that first night, Ron and Hermione had been stopped by Nearly Headless Nick — the Gryffindor ghost. He had invited them to his six-hundredth deathday party on the 31st of October. It would be taking place at the exact same time as the Hogwarts feast. Ron had been less than keen, but Hermione had graciously accepted before he could get so much as a word in.
“I think I’d rather a ghost think I’m rude than miss the feast,” Ron muttered, mind full of all the mouth-watering that were doubtlessly sprawled across all of the house tables even as they spoke. “Why didn’t you ask the Puffs to come, anyway? Would’ve been nice to have more living company.”
“Oh, come on, Ron, isn’t it obvious?” He just stared back at her blankly. “They’re not Gryffindors and Nick didn’t invite them. What right do we have inviting them to someone else’s party?”
“What right do you have making me miss the feast,” he muttered, but Hermione didn’t respond, for the door loomed ahead of them.
Ron’s stomach rumbled and he hoped that this ‘deathday party’ at least had some decent food for its guests.
About two hours later…
The Great Hall was filled with the cacophony of scraping benches as all of the students took to their feet, some more easily than others. Many of them were happily weighed down by the copious amounts of food they had consumed. Harry was among them and happy for it as he followed his housemates from the hall. As they exited, his brows rose as he saw Weasley and Granger clearly on their way.
Harry heard the red-head curse colourfully as they passed him by. He was muttering something about how he couldn’t believe he had missed the feast. Harry hadn’t noticed his absence, but it was odd, he thought. Weasley was no Crabbe or Goyle, but he was well-known for his appetite. Him not being at the feast seemed strange somehow.
He and the other Slytherins were about to make their way down into the dungeons when a horrible scream pierced the air. It sounded like all the cries of the fabled Greek river Acheron had come to life and let forth their anguish in one unified cry of complete and total despair.
Everyone from all four houses froze all at once. The school stood collectively still for what must have been ten long seconds while they waited for any more noise from above. More screams came and as one, the school seemed to decide that they were all suddenly much too curious and no longer weighed down by food and drink.
Many of them took the stairs up two and three at a time, shoving past each other to try and get to the front of the queue. Harry saw Crabbe and Goyle buffeting people out of the way left and right and suddenly wished he was in their wake. Millicent wasn’t doing too badly at that herself though, so Harry and his friends made good progress, even if they weren’t the first into the hallway.
He noticed the water first. It was everywhere, covering the entire corridor in a liquid layer several inches deep. It seemed to come from nowhere, yet it was everywhere and it stunk unnaturally. The next thing Harry noticed was yet another pained wale.
He looked up towards the source of the sound and saw Filch on his knees in front of a strange-looking torch bracket. Harry could not ponder why the man had decided to kneel in the water, nor why he was screaming. At least not until Daphne gasped from beside him.
“Merlin,” she muttered, sounding all of a sudden quite breathless.
Harry looked more closely, now confused, and his eyes widened once they saw what he had missed the first time. His blood ran cold at the sight. What he had thought to be a strange-looking torch bracket was far more sinister. Mrs. Norris, Filch’s cat, hung limply from the bracket, looking as lifeless as a puppet with its strings having been cut. It was clear now why the cantankerous old man had been shouting bloody murder for the entire castle to hear, but that was not what most drew Harry’s attention.
Upon the wall beneath the bracket and limp body of Mrs. Norris were sinister words written in a crimson smear that looked altogether too much like blood. Harry was sure it was indeed blood; he had seen enough of it in his dreams to identify it by now. The crimson writing spelled out an ominous message. Harry didn’t understand a word of it, but it still somehow made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.
The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the Heir, beware.
The next chapter will pick up immediately where this one left off. Apologies for the minor cliffhanger, but I’m sure many of you expected it, and I think this chapter was long enough already.
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