A/N: Hey everbody! It's that time of year again... haha...
Sorry for updating so slowly with this story, there's no real excuse beyond I've been busy. Again, I can't promise when I'll update again, but know that the story hasn't been abandoned.
This chapter is the last one that will resemble the events of books 2 and 3 as we know. After this, things will start going off the rails and this metaphorical train isn't going to return anytime soon.
This story has really blown up since I last wrote for it. Honestly, thank you all for your support!
The headmaster's office was a flurry of activity as teachers rushed left and right. They were checking and re-checking wards and proximity alarms across the grounds and castle in a state of nervous panic. Stein stood in the middle of it all, arms folded as the heads of houses argued amongst themselves.
"None of the proximity wards have tripped," Filius argued. "How could he have gotten in?"
"He managed to escape Azkaban and spent seven years here," Minerva pointed out, her face taut with equal parts worry and fury. "It is not implausible that he could have snuck back into the school."
"And then left again without any alarms sounding?" Pomona folded her arms, looking every bit the official witch she was. "That seems a bit too implausible for me."
"The wards at Hogwarts are unlike any others," Severus drawled, his voice calm despite the tension in the room. "Even Azkaban cannot truly compare. To have found a way in without raising suspicions; Black must have had inside help."
His eyes flickered towards Remus.
"That's quite the accusation, Severus," Minerva declared, her lips tight and eyebrow raised with challenge. "I'm sure you have some proof that Black was aided?"
"Not an accusation, Minerva, just a… suspicion."
"Oh, an unfounded suspicion then?"
"Please, would you two stop your squabbling," Pomona came between the two. "We have two petrified second-year students in the hospital wing, bickering like this won't help them."
"It is an odd thing to do though," Filius pointed out, hand on his chin. "To petrify two students like that."
"Hardly anything is odd for a madman," Pomona interjected.
"Madman he may be," Severus spoke. "But he has proven to be a cunning madman. He is not to be underestimated."
"So," Stein asked, sensing a moment to interject. "What exactly was that about a 'Chamber of Secrets' then? And what did he mean about 'enemies of the heir'?"
The four heads of houses rolled their eyes.
"The Chamber of Secrets is a myth," Minerva explained. "Said to be made by Salazar Slytherin and contains his 'monster'."
"Obvious drivel derived from propaganda," Severus added. "Merely meant to distract and dissuade us from pursuing him."
"Or to just scare the students," Pomona considered. "We should have that cleaned up before too many see it."
"Black might be using the legend to spread fear among the muggle-born members of the student body," Filius theorized. "You-know-who was very much against the inclusion of muggle-borns into our society."
"If Black is considering targeting the muggle-born students, then why was Weasley attacked?" Minerva challenged. "And furthermore, why would he pass up an opportunity to get to his main target who was a mere floor below him?"
No-one had an answer to that.
"It is simply further evidence of his insanity," Severus explained. "Arrogantly calling himself the 'heir' of Salazar Slytherin."
"Well if it was anyone it would be one of the Black family," Pomona said. "They've always been rabid about keeping their bloodline pure."
The Chamber of Secrets, Stein summarised in his head; so, it was a grandiose name that meant nothing? Stein considered this. If none of the teachers here believed it to be true, then that was likely the truth. Yet it didn't make sense. What would Black have to gain from scaring people when he had his main target dead to rights?
Of course, unless Potter wasn't his main target.
"I can't get over why he would petrify them though," Filius said, still frowning. "Someone of his capabilities and temperament would have no reason to spare them."
"Well maybe they can tell us something when Albus and Poppy awaken them," Minerva concluded. "Until then we should petition the Ministry to add further defensive measures to the castle and to remove the dementors."
"Yes," Pomona agreed. "If there's anything good to come out of this mess it's that they can't possibly justify keeping them here after it's been shown once again how useless they are."
"Never underestimate the Ministry," warned Severus.
The door opened and to the silent relief of everyone, the headmaster walked in.
"Albus, any news?" Minerva questioned.
The great wizard shook his head sadly.
"The petrification is indeed powerful," he spoke, sounding notably tired. "Too powerful, our combined expertise has concluded, to have been caused by a single wand."
A single wand couldn't have done this? Did Black have help?
"You mean, you couldn't reverse it?" Filius asked.
"No," Albus Dumbledore admitted. "Which means there is only one other possible cure."
"A mandrake draught," Pomona breathed, her brow furrowed. "We have mature mandrakes ready, of course, but the full-strength draught will take months to brew."
"I believe that nothing less than a full-strength draught will be required," Albus said sadly. "I will peruse my contacts to see if another draught can be found on short notice. In the mean-time, we must talk to the parents of young Miss Granger and Mr Weasley, and inform them of what has happened."
The teachers looked nervously amongst each other.
"As headmaster, that responsibility lies with me," Albus then turned towards Stein. "Professor Stein, did you see anything else?"
"I didn't see anything helpful, but what eludes me, headmaster," Stein spoke. "Is that if Black managed the infiltrate the castle to this extent, then why did he not go after Potter? The boy was sleeping only a floor away from where the attack happened."
"It is doubtful that Black even knew Potter was in the hospital wing at the time," Minerva decided. "It was a lucky break for the boy, and nothing more."
"Though it is odd that the alarm on the seventh floor was tripped as well," Filius added. "Was that his exit point?"
"Did he jump out of a window?" Severus suggested, an eyebrow raised. "Perhaps we should have the groundskeeper check for stains on the grass?"
"Don't be so morbid, Severus," Pomona scolded.
"I have contacted the Ministry," Albus spoke, silencing them. "I'll be expecting representatives to arrive in a few minutes. If the heads of house and Professors Lupin and Stein please stay here, the rest of you may retire for the moment."
There was a general air of defeat as the rest of the staff left the room. They were too tired and too stressed to deal with this latest incident, leaving only the headmaster, the four heads of house alone with Stein and Lupin.
"First of all, Professor Stein," Dumbledore began, walking over to sit behind his desk. "I must commend you on your forethought to check on Harry whilst the break-in occurred."
"Thank you, sir."
"Although had you encountered Black on your own, I'm sure your first instinct would have been to raise the alarm and ensure the safety of the students, rather than do anything rash."
"Of course," Stein responded, with a deliberately disarming grin. "Confronting a mass murderer isn't something on my itinerary."
Dumbledore peered over his spectacles to look at Stein.
"I'm sure," the headmaster stated. "Either way, do be careful in the future."
An odd request. Again, the thought that the headmaster knew more than he let on pricked Stein. Obviously not enough to get rid of him, but enough to be suspicious of his motives. He'd have to practice his occlumency more, just in case.
At that moment, the fireplace erupted into green fire and three people strode out. Stein immediately recognised the Minister for Magic, Fudge, but the two cronies he had by his side Stein didn't know.
"Albus, we received your message and arrived as soon as we could," Fudge panted, the portly man a little out of breath.
"I'm happy you were able to respond so promptly," Dumbledore spoke calmly. "I only wish matters were more pleasant."
"If only, if only," Fudge answered, looking grave before introducing his companions. "This is Amelia Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement."
The woman was tall, towering a head over Fudge and the other wizard. She had a square jaw and a monocle over her left eye. Her soul was exceptionally large and a very dark blue, second only to Dumbledore's. Her grey eyes surveyed the room, lingering on Severus, before finally focusing on Dumbledore.
"We are well acquainted," Amelia spoke, silencing Fudge. "Dumbledore and I are very familiar with one another."
"Indeed," Dumbledore said, smiling at the woman like she was an old friend. "I am happy to see you here, Madam Bones."
"O-of course," Fudge responded. "You two are on the Wizengamot. Well I don't know, Dumbledore, if you've been introduced to our Head of the Auror Office, Rufus Scrimgeour?"
The man in question had a thick mane of brown hair along with yellow eyes and carried a walking stick. His eyes shifted across the room, surveying each of the Professors in turn, lingering for an uncomfortable amount of time on Stein.
"You said Sirius Black was sighted?" Scrimgeour clarified. "So, it's confirmed then, that the Boy-Who-Lived is his target?"
"He was not seen, so to speak," Filius pointed out. "But our internal wards were triggered, two students petrified and a message left on the wall."
"And there was no sign of how he entered?" Madam Bones asked, her eyes sweeping across the four Heads of Houses.
"Specifically, it was the wards on the seventh-floor that were triggered," Severus explained. "Almost like a distraction. Professor Stein was the first on the scene in the second-floor corridor."
"You didn't respond to the wards?" Scrimgeour was quick to interrogate Stein. "How interesting, where were you from again?"
Stein gave a deliberately nervous smile.
"Well, Remus and I were in the Great Hall at the time. Since Potter had just been excused to go to the Hospital Wing, I thought it was prudent to check on him. I'm from America…"
"I can vouch for that," Remus added. "Professor Stein was only gone for a couple of minutes before he sounded the alarm."
"A couple of minutes?" Scrimgeour raised an eyebrow. "It would hardly take a couple of minutes for a fully-grown wizard to subdue two second years."
"Mr Scrimgeour," Minerva said coldly. "I would hope that you are not accusing a member of our staff of anything nefarious."
"Of course not," the man added, saying nothing. "Merely making an observation."
"An observation?" Severus scoffed. "Well, it's certainly easier than observing that your protective measure have failed yet again."
The man's eyes narrowed at Severus, before Madam Bones put her hand up.
"That's enough, Scrimgeour," she commanded. "We did not come here to argue. Are you all certain that Sirius Black managed to infiltrate the castle?"
"No, we just enjoy petrifying innocent students and writing messages in blood on the walls," Severus drawled. "I find it really builds up the atmosphere to Hallowe'en."
"Severus," Albus warned, giving him a stern look. "As Madam Bones said, we are not here to argue."
"In answer to your question," Filius piped up. "We are certain that the school was broken into and a message regarding the Chamber of Secrets was written on the walls."
"But there's no evidence that it was Sirius Black who did this?" Fudge questioned, a strange tone of joy in his voice. "No one actually saw him?"
There was silence amongst the professors.
"Furthermore, according to your letter the outside wards were not tripped, only the inside ones," Madam Bones continued.
"The Dementors also didn't register a disturbance," Scrimgeour trumped. "So, there is literally zero evidence that it was Sirius Black who did this?"
"Zero evidence?!" Minerva fumed. "How can you say that? Who else would break into the castle? Who else would be capable of avoiding the wards and your Dementors and be brazen enough to do this?"
"Well, judging from the evidence," Scrimgeour emphasised. "It would seem someone already on the inside of the castle grounds is most culpable."
"What nonsense," Filius protested.
"Does the Head of the Auror Office have any evidence that it was a member of our staff that did this?" Pomona demanded, her eyes alight. "Or will he continue to throw around baseless accusations and get nothing done?"
"Hardly baseless," Scrimgeour pointed out. "After all, who was it found guilty last time this 'Chamber of Secrets' was opened and a girl was killed? He's still on the grounds is he not?"
Stein could have heard a pin drop at the sudden silence that enveloped the room. He felt the familiar flares of rage through too many souls for him to pinpoint who was responsible. Then everyone erupted.
"How dare you!" Minerva shouted.
"Hagrid has done nothing!" Pomona protested.
"Is this what we've come too? Accusing anyone that suits us?!" Filius demanded.
"Everyone!" Madam Bones powerful voice interjected. "Pointing fingers will get us nowhere."
What did Hagrid have to do with the Chamber of Secrets? He had killed a girl? Stein suddenly felt as if everything he knew about Hagrid was turned on its head. The giant of a man didn't seemed to have it in him to kill anything, let alone a schoolgirl.
"There is no evidence that Sirius Black stepped foot in this castle," Fudge crowed, clearly more than a little relieved. "I'm afraid we can't remove the Dementors just yet."
Stein could feel the distaste for Fudge make itself clear in even Madam Bones' powerful soul, yet a sense of duty overrode it.
"We can always offer our services to add additional wards to the castle," she argued diplomatically. "But there is also not enough pressing evidence to persecute anyone at this stage."
Her latter statement was clearly directed to Scrimgeour, who huffed.
"I understand," Dumbledore spoke, his face unreadable. "However, Minister, I would hope that your employee would have more tact than to accuse one of my staff without evidence next time this occurs."
Fudge twitched and Stein felt something in his soul shift dangerously. There was no question as to who held more authority between the two, with it clear that Fudge also realised and despised this truth.
"Then it would seem we are at an impasse for the moment, Dumbledore," Fudge said. "I won't keep you or your staff from sleep any longer."
He turned to leave along with Madam Bones and Scrimgeour. The fire roared green, as they stepped in. Madam Bones gave Dumbledore an apologetic look, before a green flare swallowed all three of them and the fireplace was empty once more.
"Well it seems that was as useless as expected," Severus remarked.
His words seemed to deflate the tension a little.
"I can't believe they would rather accuse Hagrid," Pomona said, utterly shocked. "That poor man has been through too much already."
"It's more convenient for them to not admit fault," Minerva stated, giving a look towards the headmaster that screamed they would talk more about this later.
"The hardest of things is to admit that one was wrong," Dumbledore began. "Sadly, it would seem the Minister would rather avoid his faults than confront them."
"So, what should we do?" Filius asked.
"I will continue to petition the Ministry to remove the Dementors," Dumbledore spoke. "In the meantime, we are to consider any additional wards or other methods to secure the castle. I do not want a repeat of this incident."
"I will start researching right away," Filius declared.
"In the meantime, might I suggest more prudent measures?" Severus stated. "Such as having prefects escort younger classes as well as more patrols to discourage any late-night wonderings."
"I will make an announcement at breakfast tomorrow," Dumbledore decided. "We'll also discuss more safety measures at the next staff meeting. You are all dismissed."
They all turned to go except for Minerva and Severus, who remained behind.
As Stein left the room he heard the headmaster say to the deputy headmistress,
"Do keep an eye on Harry and make sure he doesn't do anything rash…"
Hmm, now there was an idea. Maybe he could use Potter to lure out Black? Although if Minerva was keeping a close eye on him, then it might be impossible. Although if he was Black's target, it may be worth keeping an eye on him.
Then there was that trouble with the Chamber of Secrets and it's 'monster'. Ordinarily, Stein would have dismissed it as just a legend or hearsay, yet that horrible putrid killing intent he had felt said differently.
No human could produce something like that. Even if they had gone mad, there was no way they could bring forth that sort of innate bloodlust. Voldemort had clearly experimented with souls, if the piece that was on Potter was any indication, so was it really that much of an assumption that his most fervent supporter might have also tampered with his soul?
Many monsters had their origins in humans messing around with things they didn't fully understand and paying the price for it. Had he become some type of pre-kishin during his stay in Azkaban, or something else?
It also didn't make sense that despite that awful intent, no one had been killed, only petrified. There could be numerous reasons as to why not, but he had no evidence to support any of them. Then there was Hagrid apparently having something to do with the Chamber being opened and a girl dying.
It was frustrating, like having too few pieces of a jigsaw and no idea what the overall picture was supposed to be.
Stein shut the door to his room and debated calling Lord Death. It wasn't like anything new had happened, so he decided against it.
For the moment, all he could do was keep an eye out for that killing intent and be ready to pursue it in case it went for Potter. Surely it wasn't a coincidence that his two best friends had been petrified a couple of corridors away from the boy himself?
But then what had tripped the wards on the seventh floor? A distraction? Was someone working with Black, or was Black working with someone else?
It was useless to speculate any further. Stein promptly did his evening katas and went to bed. Without his two friends around, it was possible Potter might try and do something stupid by involving himself. After all, that's what he did last year.
That would be interesting…
"Detention, Potter," Snape snapped. "Two days."
"I didn't do anything!" Harry protested as he stopped stirring his potion.
"Nothing?" Snape questioned, looming over Harry like an ashen tree. "Did you or did you not add the flobberworm mucus before adding the lionfish spines?"
"I did," Harry ground out, glaring at the teacher.
"And do the instructions on the board say to add the mucus before or after?"
Snape leaned over so Harry could see his disgusting teeth.
"Detention, Potter. Four days in my office."
"Five, for talking back."
After the lesson, Harry stormed out of the dungeons with all the fury a twelve-year old could muster. It had been the last lesson of the day, which meant dinner would start soon.
He ran up the familiar steps towards the Hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey gave Harry a small smile and left him alone to talk to Ron and Hermione.
The two were frozen in unnatural-looking poses, their faces a mixture of surprise and horror. It only looked more absurd since they were placed horizontally on the hospital wing beds, like they were statues that had been moved from their original positions.
"Um, hey guys," Harry began awkwardly. "I know it's only been a couple of weeks, but Dumbledore says they still haven't managed to brew the cure yet; it's gonna take a few more months, um… sorry."
His best friends were silent.
"Well, the Duelling Club is still going on. I beat Malfoy this time! I took your advice, Hermione, studying in the library really helped. Professor Stein was really impressed. Um, quidditch is going well, we're playing Slytherin next month and we beat Hufflepuff the other day."
He struggled to think of anything else they might be interested in.
"Snape's been unbearable. He was always bad, but I swear he actively goes for me now! I've barely had an evening without detention recently."
But the words wouldn't come. He had failed his best friend twice now.
"I… just wanted to get that off my chest," he muttered, before standing up. "I'll see you two soon."
Their absence was unavoidable in his daily life. Every day, Harry would wake up with Ron's empty bed next to him. At breakfast, he wouldn't greet Hermione who would have already finished her breakfast and was memorising some textbook.
No more joking around at lunch. No more secret, whispered discussions behind Snape's back. No more staying up late eating copious amounts of sweets.
Nothing but stone-cold silence.
Harry walked down the corridor, the same one he had last seen his two friends before they were attack. He entered the Great Hall alone, sat down at the Gryffindor table alone and ate dinner alone.
Until he wasn't.
"Hello Harry!" Fred and George chirped, sitting either side of him.
"You still moping about?" one of the twins asked, Harry assumed it was Fred.
"That's no way to live!" the other added.
"What would you know?" Harry muttered.
The twins exchanged a look over his head.
"Well we would know that sneaking out every night to look at the Restricted section of the library isn't exactly the best way to cope," probably-Fred said.
"Not that we're discouraging you," probably-George chimed in. "It's always good to nurture the next generation of mischief makers."
"I'm trying to help them!" Harry hissed. "I want to do something!"
"Ah, so you're not wandering around hoping to run into Sirius Black and avenge your friends?" probably-Fred queried.
"No!" Harry frowned. "I'm not stupid, there's no way I could duel a mass-murderer!"
"Well that's a relief," probably-George wiped invisible sweat from his brow.
"I thought we were gonna have to hold an intervention, what with young hot-blooded Gryffindors and everything…"
"…running off to tackle giant three-headed dogs all by yourselves…"
"…fighting you-know-who to stop him becoming immortal…"
"…honestly, it gave Ron way too much material for a first year."
"Look!" Harry whined. "Just leave me alone!"
"Leave him alone he says," probably-George mocked, looking over Harry's head towards his twin. "Leave him alone!"
"After all we've done for him!" probably-Fred smirked, holding a hand over his heart. "My poor heart!"
"And here I was going to offer to help him…" probably-George shook his head sadly.
"Oh, you too?" probably-Fred pretended to be shocked. "Great minds do think alike…"
"What are you two talking about?"
"Helping you get around the castle and to avoid getting your adorable little head blown off!" probably-Fred explained, ruffling Harry's hair. "Or your soul sucked out."
"It's always worked for us!" probably-George continued.
"Yeah, no head explosions or your money back!"
"What about soul removals?" probably-George clarified.
"Well my soul hasn't been sucked out," probably-Fred proclaimed, before squinting suspiciously at his twin. "Not so sure about you though."
"I'll get Professor Lupin to hit me with a Patronus Charm, that should test it."
"A Patronus charm?" asked Harry, trying desperately to keep up with the confusing conversation. "What's that?"
"Repels dementors," probably-George answered. "Professor Lupin used it on the train."
"Looked wicked! Massive silver wolf tossing those creeps about!" most-likely-Fred reminisced.
"So, Professor Lupin knows how to fight the dementors?"
"Ah, planning something after all, then Harry?" probably-George wiggled his eyebrows
"Well then, it's our solemn duty to help you," declared probably-Fred. "Almost like a little tradition of ours…"
"…well a tradition that we're starting…" added probably-George. "I mean, officially anyway."
"Ordinarily we wouldn't do this…"
"…but we figured your need is greater than ours."
Harry followed the twins out of the Hall and into a nearby empty classroom on the second-floor. The two secured the door and then turned towards Harry with identical matching grins.
"Well shall we, George?" definitely-Fred asked.
"I think we shall, Fred," confirmed-George agreed.
"Harry Potter," they chorused. "We present to you: The Marauder's Map!"
"They're clearly bright kids, but they just don't focus on the work," Remus complained as he patrolled the corridors with Stein.
New security measures meant that the teachers were expected to patrol during the day as well as in the evenings, and always in pairs. Ideally, this was so one could distract Black whilst the other sounded the alarm.
It unfortunately also meant that Stein, as the other newest teacher, had to spend a disproportionate amount of time with Remus. After the incident on the train together the man was under the impression they had a sense of camaraderie. That suited Stein just fine if it let him get a glimpse at that strange soul of his. They had at least an hour before they had to go and teach, so some time spent talking was clearly a relief to the socially-starved man.
"I find that getting the twins to focus isn't always worth the effort," Stein explained as Remus opened the door to his office. "They must be quite the handful, you seem run rather ragged."
Remus did in fact look paler than usual. His hair seemed wilder and less tamed, and parts of his face flushed. Strangely enough, his soul seemed slightly larger now.
"Ah, I'm just falling ill," Remus excused. "I'll ask Severus to brew something up."
"Well, the twins probably aren't helping with that," Stein continued. "When they're quiet they're usually planning something. Fortunately, this year they haven't tried sneaking into my quarters yet."
"They snuck into your quarters?" Remus verified, surprised. "No wonder you responded like that."
"Ah, well Professor McGonagall might have used your punishment on them as an example of what not to do," Remus smiled. "So, I don't think I'll be using any sticking charms anytime soon."
Like Stein's own office, it was an extension from the main classroom that Remus taught from. Presumably behind the door was his personal quarters. The inside of Remus' office looked very interesting, with a small aquarium in the back.
"Third-year project," Remus explained, seeing him eye the empty water-filled container. "Hagrid volunteered to bring it up for me."
"What's going in there?"
"A Grindylow," Remus beamed. "They're very calming to look at. When they're not trying to bite or drown you anyway."
"Well your office seems more professional than Quirrell's did," Stein commented, sitting down in a nearby chair as Remus sat behind his desk.
"Well, I was lucky to get this job at all," Remus said, smiling. "Someone very high profile had applied this year, but Dumbledore chose me instead."
Remus looked a little bashful. The dog-ears on his soul pulled back to show his embarrassment.
"Well, Gilderoy Lockhart."
"Err… you'll have to forgive me, I don't really know him."
Strange, Remus seemed almost relieved that he hadn't heard of the man.
"Ah, he's a famous British adventurer," Remus explained. "Written a lot of books about dealing with Dark Creatures. If anyone had the credentials for this position it would be him. There were a couple of Daily Prophet articles about it; hate mail isn't exactly uncommon."
"Well from my experience, whatever the Prophet writes about it's the opposite that is true," Stein said reassuringly. "I brought Quirrel in, literally had a conversation with Voldemort, yet they said he acted alone. Didn't even ask for an interview."
Remus laughed, although there was a little nervousness.
"That's good to hear then. Do you think Black might have met up with Lord Voldemort?"
"And that now they're both tormenting the school?" Stein rose an eyebrow, Remus seemed unafraid of using Voldemort's name. "I would doubt it. Last year, he was very subtle; doesn't really line up with the paint messages in blood on the walls thing. Only Severus really suspected Quirrel…"
"He did?" Remus looked surprised, yet his soul betrayed him.
Interesting. Why wouldn't Remus be surprised that Severus would suspect Voldemort? Severus seemed to suspect Remus as well, and the potions master had proven to have good instincts...
"Severus also suspected you," Stein mentioned, carefully surveying Remus' soul for a reaction. "Although he was much more upfront about it than usual."
Remus' grin was sad and his soul showed nothing but regret.
"Severus may have good reason, not that I've been in contact with Sirius!" he added quickly. "Sirius and I were best friends during school and Severus was often on the end of some… less than good-spirited pranks. I don't know what caused him to change, I never would have suspected it."
"That must be awful," Stein said, his mind whirring.
So, Remus and Sirius were good friends. Then Severus might have a point. It was honestly rather irresponsible of Dumbledore to hire him if his former best friend was an escaped mass murderer after one of the students.
Of course, Dumbledore wasn't an idiot, so this was likely a deliberate move. Such as with Fluffy last year, Dumbledore was using Remus for something and it was likely to do with Black.
But why? Stein felt himself wondering. Was he that confident that Remus wouldn't help his former friend? Did he think that Remus might know Black enough to help him be captured?
Before Stein could say anymore there was a heavy knock at the door and soon the doorway was completely-filled with Hagrid's familiar brown coat and the bottom of his beard.
"'ello Remus, Stein!" the giant beamed, stooping so he could fit through the door. "I go' yer Grindylow."
He was carrying what looked like a very small trunk that looked absolutely tiny in his massive dustbin-lid sized hands.
"Fantastic, Hagrid!" Remus shot up from his seat and with a wave of his wand, the lid to the Grindylow tank floated up. "If you could just pop it in there, that would be great."
Stein watched silently as Hagrid opened the small trunk and a strange octopus-like creature slithered out and into the water with a splash. The lid immediately closed, sealing the Grindylow inside. It's beady little eyes surveyed all three of them, it's entire body twitching a little, before swimming off to hide behind some seaweed.
"What a lovely specimen," Stein commented, quickly turning his screw.
Hagrid puffed up proudly.
"Been raisin' them meself!" he claimed. "In some of the shallows near the Lake."
"Well it looks perfect," Remus said, holding a hand out for Hagrid to shake. "Thank you."
"No problem," Hagrid's hand swallowed Remus' and he gave the man a pat on the back which nearly knocked him over. "It's been so long since I've seen yeh, Remus. Now look at yeh, a Hogwarts Professer an' everything!"
Remus grinned back.
"Well Hagrid, I'm certain that Dumbledore will give you Professor Kettleburn's position next year," he answered. "Everyone knows you practically do his job for him anyway."
"Yeh, ol' Silvanus ain't been the same since he lost his frontal lobe," Hagrid said sadly. "But he's been trainin' me up! Dumbledore says that when he retires I'll be the first person he asks! O and err, by the way how're yeh holdin' up? What with Sirius an' everythin?"
"I'm fine, Hagrid," Remus said curtly. "If I do encounter him, I won't hesitate to
"That's good to hear," Stein interjected. "What with Black and this Chamber of Secrets business."
Hagrid's good mood vanished.
"Terrible business that," Hagrid admitted, his soul practically screaming nervousness. "They never- they never found out who done it the first time."
"Hagrid," Stein began, sensing he wasn't going to get anything out of the man unless he was straight-forward. "Two weeks ago, when the Minister came here after the attack, they mentioned that you had a connection to the Chamber."
"I-I-…" he stammered.
"Hagrid," Remus said gently. "We know you had nothing to do with it. All of the staff agreed on that."
"They thought it was Aragog," the giant sniffed, taking out a handkerchief to wipe his eyes. "Fifty years ago, a girl was killed in one of the bathrooms. One of the students claimed it was Aragog and the Ministry were… more than willing to blame me."
That named seemed familiar to Stein.
"Oh, that was that beautiful Acromantula that died last year, wasn't it?"
"Yeh," Hagrid sobbed. "He wer beautiful, weren't he? Thanks for coming to the funeral Stein, it's what he would have wanted."
Somehow Stein doubted that Aragog would have appreciated his murderer at his and his children's funeral, of course it's the opinion of the living that matter.
"There are so few people that 'preciate those creatures," Hagrid continued, having regained some composure. "An' the Ministry weren't one of 'em. Even Aragog feared whatever monster was in there, he was innocent."
"Monster?" Stein's eyes widened. "So there actually is a monster?"
Assuming Hagrid was telling the truth and that Aragog hadn't killed a student, then that was some solid evidence that there was a monster prowling the school. Which in turn led credence to the Chamber of Secrets being real. Of course, what didn't make sense was what Black had to do with it; he wasn't old enough to have been around the first time.
"Aragog would never tell me what it was," Hagrid continued. "Poor thing would shake at the very thought; I had to cuddle him at night."
Hagrid gave another loud sob.
"He always enjoyed his cuddles!"
Even Remus seemed to think Hagrid was a little bit too attached to this giant venomous spider. He patted the man on the back, whilst sending Stein a concerned look.
"Sorry for bringing it up, Hagrid," Stein quickly said. "I was just curious."
"No problem," Hagrid sniffed. "I understand. It's all scary, isn't it? Never would have believed Sirius would have betrayed us, never."
Betrayed 'us'? That sounded a little too personal for a general betrayal. Stein was immediately reminded of the array of teachers who were involved in the guarding of the stone last year. Was there another secret organisation made up of some of the Professors that Black had been a part of?
"Hagrid," Remus interrupted a little sternly.
"I shouldn't have said that," Hagrid realised his blunder. "I should not have said that."
"Um, alright," Stein said, feigning ignorance. "Do you have any plans for Hallowe'en, Hagrid?"
"Oh, nothing beyond the usual," Hagrid responded, clearly relieved that the conversation had returned to safer topics. "Just growing the pumpkins for the kitchen elves. Can't wait for the feast, eh, Remus? You're far too thin, now you're back we can fatten yer up again!"
"I can't wait," Remus said sincerely.
There was a polite knock at the door. Stein raised an eyebrow, immediately activating soul perception and identifying the segment of Voldemort's soul that showed it was Potter.
The twelve-year old's eyes practically bugged out of his head at the sight of two Professors and Hagrid all cramped together in the small office.
"Um…" Potter's eyes darted between Remus and the Stein. "Sorry to disturb you Professors, Hagrid."
"What is it, Harry?" Remus asked kindly. "Don't worry, you're not interrupting anything."
The boy's eyes flickered towards Stein and Hagrid.
"I've just… I was wondering if there was a way to fight off a Dementor's influence?"
Potter's soul was an interesting mixture of roiling guilt and unwavering determination. Stein wondered what the boy sought to prove by conquering h
"Why is that, Harry?" Remus questioned. "You're not planning on confronting them, are you?"
"No!" Potter claimed and his soul agreed. "It's just- when I first encountered them with Ron, I couldn't do anything, I just… passed out, but Ron didn't. I've asked around and no-one else passed out on the train."
Harry's eyes shifted towards Stein for a fraction of a second. It would have been subtle for a twelve- year old, but Stein had to bite back a snarl. It would seem word of him fainting against the dementors had spread.
So much for any reputation he'd built up.
"You wish to be able to defend yourself against them," Lupin summarized thoughtfully. "Well, I can't say it's unexpected after what happened."
"Can you teach me?"
Remus hesitated and Stein had to restrain himself from leaning forwards in interest. Any chance to learn about how Wizards utilised their soul wavelengths in combination with magic would be invaluable.
"I've never claimed to be an expert at fighting dementors, Harry – if anything I'm the opposite-,"
Remus was looking into Potter's determined face and something deep within his soul softened. He took a breath and said,
"I'll see what I can do, though it'll have to wait – maybe even until next term."
"Thank you, Professor," said Harry. "I'll be there."
Stein smiled wide, unseen by anyone.
'So will I'.
The couple of weeks leading up to Hallowe'en passed quietly. The Duelling Club continued like normal, although this time all three professors were more careful and escorted the students back to their dormitories after each session.
It wasn't long before Stein was sitting down for the feast at Hallowe'en just like last year, with all the students and staff eating and drinking and enjoying themselves.
For once, Stein could observe some of the tension that had gathered over the last two months ease up a little as everyone made merry. Even Stein had had some of the fire whiskey that Hagrid insisted everybody try. Honestly, Stein was beginning to suspect that Hagrid was brewing it himself…
"It's honestly coming along quite succintly," Poppy Pomfrey continued to babble next to him. "She says here that she's had a recent breakthrough in her research."
Pomfrey was reading the cut-out from the back of the Daily Prophet towards Stein's face. Poppy was still under the apprehension that he could understand the jargon of magical healers, something that hadn't exactly been a priority.
"That's good to know, I hope her reasearch turns up something favourable," he responded politely.
"Well that's the hope," Poppy answered, taking a long sip of firewhiskey. "She is a genius! She developed improvements to Skele-Gro so that it could regrow bones lost by even the most powerful dark magics."
"Very useful," Stein replied absent-mindedly, unable to focus on the conversation.
There hadn't been any more signs of Sirius Black entering the castle or any of this Chamber of Secrets business. Which in Stein's opinion meant he was most likely planning something. More than a little paranoid, Stein quickly surveyed the tables and realised that Potter wasn't there, perhaps he was still in his house common room?
With an extension of his Soul Perception, Stein could soon detect that familiar sliver of Voldemort's soul up in Gryffindor tower. Satisfied it wasn't a nefarious plot, Stein withdrew his soul perception, only to catch something odd.
He focused, there was a soul that didn't seem familiar on the six floor, and it was going up. Not for the first time, Stein cursed his imprecise soul perception. It was too far away for him to get a good look at.
Casually, he stood up with an excuse to go to the restroom. Stein took the staff exit and as soon as he was out of the Hall, he moved.
With superhuman speed, he began to run towards the position of the soul. The staircases were all moving and switching, at this rate he wouldn't get there in time. Of course, here in Hogwarts the walls quite literally had eyes, as well as mouths. The portraits would snitch on him in an instant if he displayed obvious superhuman ability.
Stein kept a metaphorical eye on the soul as he ascended staircase after staircase. It was anxious, he could now tell. Anxious and angry, frustrated with something.
The soul suddenly darted away from the seventh floor and was descending rapidly, but somehow without using the stairs.
It must know of some secret passage!
Stein cursed and turned around to go back down. He had just reached the fifth floor and had to chase this intruder!
It had to be Black!
"Ere, aren't you gonna help her?!" a random portrait asked as he sprinted past.
"I am!" Stein yelled back, quickly figuring out how to reach the fleeing soul and ignoring the portrait.
It wasn't long before he could hear the hard patter of shoes on the stone floor. He was catching up! A glimpse of shaggy black hair as he rounded a corner.
He was so close!
Stein turned the last corner, only to find a dead-end. Soul Perception wasn't to be fooled – he could feel Black's soul getting further and further away. There was a secret passage, but Stein didn't know how to open it.
He looked under the tapestry, only to reveal nothing. This might have been his best chance to capture Black.
"I will not let this stupid castle ruin this," Stein muttered, taking out his wand.
He just had to think logically. Diagon Alley involved tapping bricks with a wand, this might be similar, except unlike a Wizard, Stein was going to cheat.
Spreading his soul wavelength out through his want and into the tapestry, it had the same effect as tapping on each individual brick.
The wall vanished.
With a triumphant cry, Stein sprinted through, only moderately aware of the wall reappearing behind him.
It was a stuffy passageway that angled downwards. One that contained too many cobwebs and too little light to be used regularly. Black must have known about it since school. Stein had to partly climb through bits of masonry that had crumbled, leaving the passage difficult to navigate.
But there was only one direction to go and Stein was on Black like a bloodhound.
The passage suddenly angled up and Stein pushed up on a trapdoor. Opening it and trying to get out he immediately hit his head against something wooden.
Stein looked around to realise he was under what looked like a familiar looking hut. This was Hagrid hut – well under it. There was little room to open the trapdoor and get out, but Stein just about managed. He crawled out from under Hagrid's hut and stood, more than a little angry, facing the Forbidden Forest.
Black's soul was still nearby and Stein had to resist the temptation to laugh.
If the fool thought he could lose him in there, then he was even madder than Stein.
This time there was nothing stopping him from sprinting at full speed. The ground cracked where he sprang off and he rocketed into the forest. Trees blurred by as Stein sprinted, using soul perception to trace Black's location.
He was even closer now!
There was no escape for Black. They were still too close to Hogwarts for him to disapparate. If he goes much further, the dementors will sense him.
He was trapped!
With a manic grin, Stein cleared the last set of trees. He skidded into the clearing, wand raised and lightning crackling in his hands.
And startled a pack of wolves.
Five wolves immediately jumped to their feet growling and snarling at him. Stein ignored them, looking around for where Black could be hiding. He couldn't see anything. There was no man huddled up anywhere in the clearing or hiding in the wolf den. Stein growled, Black may have shielded himself from sight. But there was no magic that Stein knew of that could hide from soul perception, so he extended his senses, fully expecting to see Black's quivering soul hiding nearby.
But there was nothing.
Just him and the five wolf souls. One of them approached, hackles raised.
Electricity surged through the ground, striking the wolf and knocking it backwards. With a terrified whine, it returned to its feet and sprinted away, the rest following after.
Stein ignored them and quickly turned his screw. This was impossible! He had been right on him. How did Black get away?
There was no trace of Black's soul, even at maximum range past the dementors. How did he get away?
'He can fool soul perception!' Stein realised, anger and intrigue rising within him. 'That's how he escaped Azkaban! He must have some sort of spell or technique that can mask him from soul perception.'
That would make things much harder, almost impossible.
"Lord Death didn't say I had to bring him back in one piece," Stein muttered. "I'm sure we could spend some time together, learning about exactly he can do on my operating table."
Feverishly, Stein began turning his screw. It was noisy, getting tighter and tighter against his skull, the pain trying to bring him back.
One of the nearby wolves hadn't left the clearing and was watching him cautiously. Stein caught its eye. The creature was half-starved, yellow-eyed and filled with fear and confusion.
He could always take his frustrations out on these simple creatures. His hand twitched, lightning arced between his fingers. His screw wouldn't tighten any further.
It would be so easy.
Stein blinked and suddenly he was looking into the innocent eyes of Maka.
No, Stein forced his hand closed and blinked away the vision. The black wolf, clearly sensing the close encounter with death, quickly trotted away.
These were the intelligent wolves that lived in the Forbidden Forest. A result of the mating of two werewolves during the full moon, they were trained to watch for wandering students and protect them.
As tempting as it was to dissect them, he would have to abstain. These would be missed. Not to mention this one looked half-starved, it'd probably not yield any worthwhile information at all.
Stein lit a cigarette, annoyed and frustrated.
Well, better think of a good cover story for when he got back. Not to mention report Black's confirmed capabilities to Lord Death. Honestly, these wizards were lucky to have him. Black had been moments away from breaking into Gryffindor tower where Potter was!
Maybe he could dissect something on the way back.
There were still a few unicorns around somewhere…
A/N: And that's the latest chapter. Stein came very close to capturing Sirius, but was evaded at the last moment.
I'm also going to try to reply to all those who asked questions on the last chapter so... oh boy this will be a long one. If you have questions that I missed or just want to ask more, PM me and I'll answer.
Krazyfanfiction1: True. If Stein did give Sirius a chance to explain himself and he was able to explain something that contradicted the official story he might pique Stein's curiousity. If not, then Stein will probably just disregard whatever he says. Of course, if Lord Death vouched for Sirius that would be a different story...
Suzululu4moe: Oh yeah, this year will be very different without Ron to keep Harry happy and Hermione to keep him grounded. Of course, there are plenty of other characters who he might and fill the void. Oh yeah, Ron is SO screwed.
The Richmaster: The 'Madness Throughs' will have an impact later in the story, when things inevitably collide. I'm also happy I suprised you with Ron and Hermione getting petrified. It was something I really struggled with because on one hand they're great characters and I'd love to explore them more, but on the other hand the story could go into some interesting directions if they aren't around, directions I personally haven't seen happen before.
mellra: Yeah, Lord Death is probably easier to persuade than Stein in this case.
The 10th Wand: Harry may be expanding his social circle a little more than he's used to next chapter ;).
kyugan: They don't exactly share a hive mind. It's difficult in canon to ascertain exactly how smart dementors are. I've settled for not quite sentient, but definitely smarter than animals. They can communicate with each other though. Stein is definitely considered a threat, which will only rile them up more.
skie89: Because I can explore Harry's character more without those two. Without either of them, I can change the plot significantly as well as explore more options that wouldn't be available if they were there. Yeah, Harry is going to feel isolated and how he deals with it will hopefully be entertaining and meangingful.
La Gazouilleuse: Thank you so much! I don't think I received a PM, let me know if whatever it was is still on your mind.
umbreonix: Love your long review! I'm ecstatic that you think so much of it! Yeah, I'm hoping to expand Ginny's character a little, which will be easier to do when she is forced to see a different perspective of the world when in Slytherin.
Takei Daloui: For consideration, Soul Eater canon will start next summer in Harry's third year.
MephilesKira: Not to spoil anything but yes, the Soul Eater Witches will have a role to play in the plot. No Stein, isn't parseltongue, definitely not. It's part of the killing intent wavelength that it wants to do nothing but kill. He can sense intentions from unguarded souls. The Basilisk in addition to being powerful, as anything that has been trapped for 1000 years, has also gone insane and is only bound by the magic that keeps it under the heir's control.
J: I haven't got any plans for pairings to be honest, so anything can happen. Harry also doesn't trust Stein either, so that isn't possible yet.
King of Fans: Maka and Medusa will get more involved with the plot very soon. How he survived the spell will be explained and I don't have any plans for the Shibusen kids to be students at Hogwarts. Stein as DADA teacher though, isn't too far off. Technically Dementor is more life sucking, Crona's poetry was more for comedy, but Excalibur has another far more devastating effect that will be explored later. Thank you for your kind words! Hope you enjoyed this chapter!
Guest: I don't know about exact soul percentages, well done for noticing the wand choice! I don't remember if anyone else pointed it out.
Sand Soldier: Almost!
And an extra thank you to everyone else who reviewed, favourited or followed! All of your support is unimaginably important to me.
Hope to see you all next chapter!