Disclaimer: Calcination of Harry Potter yields JK Rowling.
Parts of this chapter are quoted from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
A/N: I wasn't going to touch this story again for a while yet, but I decided to crank out a new chapter just to move it higher in my story list and, since I'm planning to eventually continue it in long form. Enjoy.
Harry had not received any letters from Master Flamel in the stack Dobby had stolen from Ron and Hermione, but he hadn't expected to. Flamel had said he would need time to set up his new identity, and he couldn't raise suspicions by being in contact with him before his official debut. That was unfortunate since Flamel probably would have actually done something to investigate if he hadn't received replies to his letters. Unfortunately, Harry hadn't had the opportunity to contact him for help all summer, and instead, he wound up flying halfway across the country with Ron, Fred, and George in an enchanted car. At least it got him away from the Dursleys.
Mrs. Weasley predictably went ballistic and yelled at the boys for long enough to impress even Harry, and he'd grown up with the Dursleys. She let him know she didn't blame him, which was nice, but the others got an earful, a quick breakfast, and were sent out to de-gnome the garden as punishment. Harry went along with them, partly out of solidarity and partly because he was curious about life in a magical household.
"Now, let's see what Lockhart's got to say on the subject—" said Mrs. Weasley.
Harry's eared pricked up as Mrs. Weasley pulled down a heavy book from the mantelpiece. The title Gilderoy Lockhart's Guide to Household Pests was embossed in fancy gold letters on the cover above a moving photograph of a very handsome wizard with wavy blond hair and bright blue eyes.
"Mum, we know how to de-gnome a garden," said George.
"Could I see that, Mrs. Weasley?" Harry asked.
"Alright, Harry, if my boys think they know better than Lockhart. But you won't find a better creature-wrangler than him anywhere."
"Mum fancies him," Fred whispered.
"Yeah, she was heartbroken when he got married," George agreed.
"Married?" Harry said.
"Don't be ridiculous, boys," Mrs. Weasley said, although her cheeks turned pink. "It was a beautiful wedding. I saw the photos in the Prophet. Very sudden, of course, but you can't argue with true love."
Harry was pretty sure that wedding was about anything but true love—or new true love, at least. He'd bet good money that it was actually to establish Perenelle Flamel's new identity. He wondered if she would be at Hogwarts too, and what she would be doing if she were.
He looked down at the photo on the book cover. If was his first look at the man Master Flamel would be impersonating as the new Defence Professor. When he skimmed over it later, the book gave the impression of a man with lots of knowledge about magical creatures, and from what Mrs. Weasley said, it sounded like he was a powerful wizard—someone who would make a good Defence Professor. But Flamel said he'd been hurting people by misusing magic, and Lockhart sounded very self-important in the book, so Harry wouldn't be surprised if he were a big fake. But he couldn't say anything about that to Mrs. Weasley. As far as she knew, he didn't know anything about Gilderoy Lockhart.
De-gnoming the garden consisted of spinning the gnomes around and tossing them over the hedge. The RSPCA would probably have something to say about that, but the little creatures were tougher than they looked. They got right back up and crawled back under the hedge if you weren't careful. After that was done, Mr. Weasley came home and managed about five minutes sitting at the same table as Harry without noticing he was there, he was so excited about his job raiding wizards who liked to prank muggles. Ron quickly extricated Harry from that situation before Mrs. Weasley could go off again about the car. Meanwhile, Ginny was so awestruck around Harry that he could barely catch a glimpse of her. The whole Burrow seemed like complete chaos, but at the end of the day, he thought it was the best house he'd ever been in.
About a week after Harry arrived at the Burrow, Hogwarts letters arrived for everyone, including him. It wasn't much different from his original acceptance letter last year—just telling him to catch the Hogwarts Express from King's Cross on the first of September, but it did include a list of new books he would need:
Second-Year Students Will Require:
The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 2 by Miranda Goshawk
Break with a Banshee by Gilderoy Lockhart
Gadding with Ghouls by Gilderoy Lockhart
Holidays with Hags by Gilderoy Lockhart
Travels with Trolls by Gilderoy Lockhart
Voyages with Vampires by Gilderoy Lockhart
Wanderings with Werewolves by Gilderoy Lockhart
Year with the Yeti by Gilderoy Lockhart
Students may present this letter at participating bookshops to receive a discount on Gilderoy Lockhart's books.
That made Harry even more certain of his opinion of the real Lockhart. Unless his books really were that good in and of themselves—and Gilderoy Lockhart's Guide to Household Pests hadn't impressed him—only a really big-headed person would make everyone by all of his books when he was teaching the class. Flamel was certainly playing the part well in that case, although Harry suspected the discount was his own addition.
"That's so nice of Lockhart to offer a student discount," Mrs. Weasley said happily. Harry suspected she was more relieved than she let on. The Weasleys didn't have a whole lot of money to spare.
"Even with a discount, this many Lockhart books won't be cheap," George pointed out, comparing letters. "Look, they want Ginny and Percy to get the same books. How does that make sense?"
"I'm sure they're very good references, George," Mrs. Weasley insisted. "After all, you use Fantastic Beasts and One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi all seven years, don't you."
"Don't see why we need more creature books, then," Fred muttered. "Bet it's really 'cause the new Defence teacher's a fan." Mrs. Weasley glared at him, and he turned back to his breakfast.
"Maybe Lockhart is the new Defence teacher," Harry said, suppressing a smirk.
"Oh, I bet that would be exciting," Mrs. Weasley agreed, though doubtless for different reasons. "But I doubt it. I'm sure the man has more interesting things to do." Harry couldn't wait to see her reaction when she found out the truth.
They arranged to go shopping in Diagon Alley the following Wednesday, at the same time Hermione was going to be there. This had less than stellar results, since Harry had never travelled by Floo before and came out the wrong grate in a pawn shop in the dodgy part of town. He was a little surprised the magical world had such things, though he probably shouldn't have been. He was also surprised to see someone as posh as Draco Malfoy in there, though he shouldn't have been surprised by that either given his family's reputation. Luckily, Hagrid was there to lead him back to the Weasleys and Hermione.
After finishing their other errands, they made it to Flourish and Blott's, the main bookshop in Diagon Alley, and they were surprised to see a crowd that stretched out the door. A banner across the upper floor windows explained why:
will be signing copies of his autobiography
Today 12:30 P.M. to 4:30 P.M.
Now, that was quite the coincidence, Harry thought. What were the odds he'd be able to see Master Flamel—or at least he assumed it was Flamel by now—before he got to school?
"We can actually meet him!" Hermione squealed. "I mean, he's written almost the whole booklist!"
Harry couldn't tell her the man they were about to meet almost certainly wasn't Lockhart and was actually a far better wizard to boot, so he kept his mouth shut. Interestingly, the crowd mostly seemed to be made up of witches around Mrs. Weasley's age, and Mrs. Weasley was just as taken with him as the rest of them. They grabbed the requisite copies of The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 2 and slowly worked their way through the line.
"Oh, there he is," Mrs. Weasley pointed out, "and it looks like he's brought his wife, too."
"Gilderoy Lockhart" came into view looking very much like his pictures on the book covers, only more so. He was seated at a table surrounded by pictures of the original Lockhart's oblivious smiling face. His actual smile was so white it must have been maintained with magic and looked very self-important and over the top. Harry thought he was a really good actor.
The woman who Harry was certain was Flamel's wife lounged against the wall behind him and wore a much more natural smile. Perenelle Flamel seemed to be wearing the form of a dark-haired Italian beauty, which drew the eyes of all the wizards in the shop. She looked very young and didn't carry herself at all like she was six hundred years old—nor did Flamel himself, for that matter. Despite being young-looking, his manner had seemed even more grandfatherly than Dumbledore's back in the Hospital Wing, but now, both of their masks were flawless. Of course, they'd had a lot of time to practice.
An annoying little man with a camera started taking pictures for the Daily Prophet, and "Lockhart" looked up and noticed Harry. Then, he leapt to his feet and positively shouted, "It can't be Harry Potter!"
He dove forward and grabbed Harry by the arm, pulling him to the front of the shop. The crowd applauded for some reason Harry couldn't fathom. People had been excited to see him before, but never that excited. "Lockhart" shook his hand like he was trying to dislocate his shoulder and pulled him in for a photo.
"Nice, big smile, Harry," he said. "Alaina, let's get you in the picture." His wife joined them on Harry's other side. And suddenly, he heard Nicolas Flamel's voice—not as Lockhart, but his original grandfatherly voice—in his head.
Sorry for embarrassing you, Harry, but after this, it won't look suspicious for us to be seen together. Just play along for now.
Harry nodded absently and played along by trying to get away like he would have anyway, but Flamel threw an arm around his shoulders and held him tightly in place. He addressed the crowd again:
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said loudly, waving for quiet. "What an extraordinary moment this is! The perfect moment for me to make a little announcement I've been sitting on for quite some time!
"When young Harry here stepped into Flourish and Blotts today, he only wanted to buy my autobiography—"
Are you kidding me? thought Harry. If the real Lockhart acted like that, he was glad he was anywhere but here.
"But he had no idea," Flamel continued, and Harry thought he could hear a chuckle in his head, "that he would be leaving with my entire collected works, free of charge—and that is only the beginning, for he and his schoolmates will be soon be getting the real magical me. It is my pleasure to announce that I will be taking up the post of Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!"
Harry managed a smile as he found a heavy stack of about ten books dropped on him while the crowd cheered again. Flamel made a show of carelessly ignoring his predicament. "But I'm not the only new teacher Hogwarts will be receiving," he continued. "For ladies and gentlemen, my beautiful wife, Alaina, will also be teaching at Hogwarts this autumn in her chosen field…of History."
Harry raised his eyebrows in spite of himself. That really was news to him. Maybe History class would be good for more than just sleeping through with her teaching.
The Flamels sent him on his way, slightly dazed as they continued to bask in the fame. Harry couldn't stand to play that part full time if he had to. He wondered how they managed it. As they left, he handed all of Lockhart's books to Ginny, who blushed deeply while she struggled with their weight plus her new cauldron. That would take a little more pressure off the Weasleys from having to buy so many.
The rest of the trip was disrupted by a fistfight between Mr. Weasley and Mr. Malfoy. Harry wondered if the Flamels would intervene there, but Hagrid got there first and pulled them apart. Mrs. Weasley was probably happier that "Gilderoy Lockhart" didn't see it, anyway.
The end of summer came too soon, and the day they were to go back to Hogwarts was especially hectic. George forgot his fireworks, and then Fred forgot his broomstick, and then Ginny forgot her diary, and they barely got to King's Cross in time to catch the train. For a moment, it seemed that they'd just made it, but then, just as Harry and Ron were about to go through the barrier onto Platform Nine and Three-Quarters…
Both of their trolleys slammed against a solid barrier and tipped over, scattering their belongings all over the platform and attracting the attention of all the muggles around.
"Why can't we get through?" Harry hissed to Ron.
"I dunno—" Ron replied. "I don't get it. The gateway's sealed itself. And now we've missed the train…Harry…what if Mum and Dad can't get back? What do we do? Have you got any muggle money?"
Harry scoffed and shook his head: "D'you think the Dursleys would ever give me pocket money?" He thought to himself about who he could go to for help. Flamel would certainly investigate if he didn't show up on the train, but would he know to look for him at King's Cross, or would he go to the Dursleys' house first? But Mr. and Mrs. Weasley would surely do something long before that. "Maybe we should just wait by the car," he said.
"Harry, the car!" Ron exclaimed.
"We can fly the car to Hogwarts."
"Fly the car? But—?"
"Look, we're stuck here, right? And we have to get to school. And underage wizards are allowed to use magic in an emergency."
"But…" there had to be a better way. Could he maybe send a message to Flamel? No, he wasn't confident Hedwig could beat the train. They could probably walk to Diagon Alley, but what then? "How will your parents get home, then?" he asked.
"They don't need the car!" Ron insisted. "They can Apparate! They only bother with Floo powder because we're all underage and not allowed to Apparate yet."
Wait, could that work? "Hold on, Ron. Can we Floo to Hogwarts."
Ron stopped short. "I…don't know," he said. "I wouldn't know the address or anything—if it's just Hogwarts or if it's something else."
"Can someone else here help us?"
"I dunno. Walk to Diagon Alley maybe?"
"All that way with our trolleys and Hedwig and Scabbers?" Ron said incredulously. "We're already attracting too much attention. Come on." He started pushing his trolley towards the exit.
"Ron, wait!" Harry called after him. "Can you even drive?"
"Sure. It can't be that hard."
Harry wasn't convinced. You had to be seventeen to drive in the muggle world, and even in the air, this couldn't be that safe. As much as it sounded like a great adventure, it also sounded like a bad idea. He'd had a lot of time to think over the summer. Master Flamel had told him he needed to get more serious about training and learning magic, and yet, he always seemed to be running off on some dangerous adventure that nearly got him killed. In fact, of the half dozen times he could have died last year, most of them had been his own fault for charging off on some dangerous adventure—often for good reasons, but still in a very foolish way.
Did he really expect three first years to be able to do anything to stop the dark wizard he'd thought was Snape? Or even to get through security features that had stymied a mature wizard for months? It was ridiculous, and after Flamel revealed Dumbledore's "test" for what it was, he realised it had been laughably easy, and he could think of a dozen ways to make it more secure without hardly trying.
And before that, did he really think it was a good idea to run off and warn Hermione on his own that there was a man-eating beast loose in the school when there was a prefect right there he could have told instead? And now, there was apparently a prophecy that he would defeat Voldemort, and he didn't want to die trying, much less in some stupid accident before he even got that far.
Which was why his better judgement was shouting at him that two twelve-year-olds trying to fly an enchanted car across the country was a really bad idea! He just needed to find a logical argument that would convince Ron (and himself, a little bit) that it was better to wait.
"Look, Ron," he said, hurrying to keep up. "There were other people on the platform besides your mum and dad. They wouldn't be able to get back through either, and some of them had little kids, right? I mean, you can't be the only one with a little sister." In all honesty, Harry didn't know anyone personally who he knew had a younger sibling who wasn't in Hogwarts yet, but he'd seen younger kids on the platform before, so it wasn't like they all stayed with a sitter or something.
Ron slowed down and tilted his head. "Yeah, I suppose," he admitted. "So I guess hopefully one of them knows what to do—or at least can Apparate to the Ministry and ask for help."
"Like your dad?"
"Er, yeah," Ron said, embarrassed. "In fact, he's probably done that already by now. I mean, he knows everyone there."
"So they'll probably have it sorted pretty soon," Harry said. "We'd better get back before they get through…And besides, flying the car's probably a bad idea," he noted. "Your Mum already got mad when you took the car once."
Ron turned a very pasty shade and nodded quickly. "Yeah, we'd better get back," he agreed.
They were none too soon getting back to the barrier, for just minutes after they did, several wizards in official-looking robes walked up at a brisk pace and started casting spells Harry didn't recognise on the whole area, including the passing muggles.
"Oh, good, the Ministry's here," Ron said.
"What are they doing?" asked Harry.
"Obliviating the muggles—making sure they don't remember anything weird. They always do that when magic stuff happens where they can see it."
"Huh…" Harry said.
A man in a brown robe that resembled a trench coat walked over to them. "You boys missed the train?" he asked.
"Er, yes, sir," Harry said. "The barrier sealed itself right before we went through."
"Well, we'll get you taken care of as soon as we unseal the platform," he assured them.
A man whose nametag read Cattermole was running his wand over the barrier. A moment later he gave a shout and jumped back, and suddenly, several witches and wizards came tumbling out of it.
"You got it?" the man in the trench coat asked him.
"No, the barrier unsealed itself, Auror," Cattermole replied. "There was definitely some kind of seal on it, but it vanished almost as soon as I started poking it. I didn't even get a good look at it."
"Well, stay here until we get the platform cleared out, just in case," the Auror told him. "If it doesn't come back, we'll just have to chalk it up to magical vandalism, I suppose."
A few minutes later, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley came rushing back through the barrier. "Ron! Harry!" Mrs. Weasley exclaimed and hugged them conspicuously so that Ron was decidedly embarrassed. "Thank goodness we found you! We thought you were right behind us."
"We were, Mum," Ron insisted. "The barrier sealed itself on us. We would've been on time if it hadn't."
"What happened? Why couldn't you get through?" Mr. Weasley asked.
"No idea," Harry said. "But how will we get to school, though?"
"Oh, no need to worry about that, Harry, dear," Mrs. Weasley said. "We'll drive you to the Leaky Cauldron. It's just three sickles to take the public Floo to Hogsmeade. You can take a carriage from there with the rest of the students who live in the village."
Harry groaned. He didn't like the sound of that. "The Floo?" he said. "That didn't go so well last time. What if I come out in the wrong city?"
"You'll never get any better unless you practice," she insisted. "Come along."
Fortunately, Harry didn't botch the Floo and successfully came out in the Three Broomsticks like he was supposed to. Mr. Weasley came through with him and Ron and explained to the landlady, Madam Rosmerta what had happened. She agreed to hold their trunks in the back room and make sure they got on a carriage to make it to the castle in time for the Welcome Feast. And after that, they were left to their own devices, as Mr. Weasley had to go to work.
"Well, this is nice," Ron commented as they sipped a pair of gillywaters (Mr. Weasley had told them no butterbeer). "Students don't normally get to come here till third year—you know, unless they live here. It's too bad Hermione's not here, though."
"Yeah, it's nice," Harry said absently. He was busy jotting down a message to Master Flamel. He figured he would want to know about the strange goings-on he'd experienced this summer. Harry rose and opened Hedwig's cage, holding the note out to her. "I want you to take this to Professor Lockhart," his whispered to her.
Hedwig barked in a tone he took to be annoyance.
"Sorry, Gilderoy Lockhart—that is, the man pretending to be him. You know who I mean?"
She barked approvingly and held out her leg for him. He tied the note to it, and she flew off.
"Who're you writing at a time like this, Harry?" Ron asked.
Harry grinned at him: "You're gonna think I'm mad, mate. It was Gilderoy Lockhart."
"Lockhart? You are mad. What're you doing writing that git?"
"There's a lot about him you don't know, Ron," he replied.
About half an hour later, "Gilderoy Lockhart" swaggered into the Three Broomsticks. He winked at Madam Rosmerta (despite playing the part of a newly-married man), ordered some kind of expensive, fruity cocktail, and sauntered over to Harry's and Ron's table.
"Harry, Harry, Harry," he said with a patronising grin. He ignored Ron's glare. "I heard you had a spot of trouble with the train this morning."
"Yes, Professor," Harry started.
"Mind if I join you?" Flamel said even as he sat down.
"Don't mind if I do."
"Er, this is my friend, Ron Weasley, Professor," Harry cut in.
Flamel only spared Ron a casual glance, but Harry caught the intense look in his eyes and was sure he was taking in every detail. "Yes, of course," he said carelessly. "So let's hear about this trouble with trains. I'm sure it's a fascinating tale."
Harry explained, with some grudging help from Ron, about how the barrier sealed itself and what happened when the Ministry officials arrived.
"And the Auror said it was probably vandalism," he finished.
"Very interesting," Flamel said. "It definitely sounds like someone was targeting you—either with a spell keyed to you or lurking in the shadows. Did you notice anyone around."
"I—I wasn't really looking," Harry admitted.
"Always be aware of your surroundings, Harry. That's lesson one," Flamel replied. "You never know when trouble is going to find you." Ron perked up and paid attention now that "Lockhart" had said something practical for once. "Now, we can't rule out a prank, but it's definitely suspicious. Do you know of anyone who would want to keep you from getting on the train?"
"No—well, there's Dobby…But he must have known I'd get to Hogwarts some other way."
"What's this, now? Who's Dobby?"
"That's the other thing I wanted to tell you about, Professor. You see, on my birthday, this mad house elf showed up in my bedroom and tried to convince me not to go back to Hogwarts because there was a plot to make something really bad happen."
"Aha, a fiendish plot!" Flamel said eagerly. "Sounds like something that's right up my alley. Come, now, Harry. Spare no detail."
Ron actually started to get into it as Harry told his tale, though he'd only heard most of it secondhand. Harry mentioned how he'd first seen Dobby staring at him from the hedges and ran through as much of the conversation in his bedroom as he could remember, Ron filling in a couple of things he'd forgotten. Dobby was—or at least claimed to be—coming to him without his master's permission. He strongly implied that his master was the one behind the plot to "make terrible things happen" at Hogwarts. It was pretty clear that his master treated him very badly to the point that he had to regularly punish himself. Unfortunately, he couldn't tell who his master was. Flamel acted dismissive of that, but he made particular note of what Harry thought was a hint to who was behind the plot.
"He said it wasn't Voldemort with emphasis on 'He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named'," Harry explained. "It sounded like a hint, but I don't get what he was driving at, though."
"No…Very odd…" Flamel agreed. "If I had to guess, I'd say he was trying to tell you it was one of Voldemort's followers. Of course, that category includes most of the people in the country who would do something like that, so it doesn't help us much. But never fear. Gilderoy Lockhart is on the case. I'll riddle it out before you can say Peskipiksi Pesternomi."
That made Harry feel better. Later, as he finished his story, Flamel raised an eyebrow at him getting a warning letter for Dobby's Hover Charm, but didn't comment on it. However, when Harry mentioned in passing getting in big trouble with his relatives, he pressed him to explain further. Then when Harry told him about the Dursley's locking him in his room and half-starving him ("We had to rip the bars off his window with the car," said Ron), Harry saw the man's facade crack for the first time—as Flamel or as Lockhart—and start to look genuinely angry.
"Harry, Harry, Harry," he said, sounding calm, though Harry knew he wasn't. "It's too bad I wasn't there. I could've set things straight. I don't suppose you could've got a letter out?"
"No, Professor. Even if Dobby hadn't been stealing my letters, the Dursleys kept Hedwig locked in her cage all summer."
"Ah. The classic mistake. A word of advice, Harry: if you ever need to get hold of someone in the magical world, you can usually send a letter through muggle post, and it'll go through. Even if you don't know their address, you can write 'Care of the Muggle Liaison Office, Ministry of Magic', and they're supposed to deliver it."
"Really?" Harry said in surprise.
"Of course, it's their job to help us all navigate the muggle world after all. That would be a good place to start…Or what about your little friend, Granger. She's a muggle-born, isn't she? Doesn't she have a telephone?"
Harry smacked himself in the forehead.
"Harry! Ron! Where have you been?" Hermione scolded them when they met her at the carriage stand. "We couldn't find you anywhere on the train. Fred and George said you were right behind them."
"The barrier sealed itself so we couldn't get through," Harry said.
"Yeah, Dad had to go get the Ministry and everything," Ron added. "Then, we came to Hogsmeade by Floo and hung out at the three broomsticks."
"But why was the barrier sealed?" Hermione demanded.
"Dunno. Harry even sent a note to Lockhart, and he came and asked us about it, but he didn't know either."
"You talked to Professor Lockhart?" Hermione said excitedly.
"Yeah. I told him about Dobby, too," Harry said.
"He's not too bad," Ron said. "Mind, I still think he's a git, but at least he's a smart git."
Hermione looked scandalised. "Well, I should hope so," she said. "Just look at what he's done."
They argued good-naturedly until they got to the castle. The Sorting went by without incident, although the Sorting Hat sang a different song than last year. Ginny was the last to be Sorted, joining them at the Gryffindor Table where she sat next to a hyperactive muggle-born boy named Colin.
Dumbledore then introduced the Professors Lockhart. Harry was almost certain that Dumbledore knew their true identities, but he didn't show it. "Gilderoy" made a boastful, but mercifully short speech in which he blathered on about his accomplishments—and some about "Alaina's" as well—and how excited he was to start teaching the next generation of adventurers, and then, they were sent to bed.
"A new history teacher," Hermione said. "That'll be interesting. Hopefully she'll be better than Professor Binns."
"She's already got that," said Harry. "She's actually breathing."
"Not to mention easy on the eyes," Fred pointed out.
Hermione scoffed at him: "Boys." But she didn't sound angry.
At the end of the day, Harry was really glad he and Ron hadn't flown to Hogwarts in the car. Who knew what kind of trouble they would have got in if they had?