Disclaimer: Harry Potter is property of JK Rowling. The Dresden Files are property of Jim Butcher. Original story concept and books 1 and 2 belong to Silently Watches. For the events of those books, see his story A Deal with a Devil availableat s/11188292/1/Deal-with-a-Devil
Chapter 8: The Murderous Red Cap
"Red caps, Harry!" Tracey seemed oddly excited the following Thursday. Everyone was starting to get used to the new campus, although the watery sky still weirded most of them out. "He's actually bringing red caps into the classroom!"
"What's so special about red caps?" Harry asked to prove that he was paying attention.
"They're only the ur-example of separation between truth and muggle folklore," The brunette told him with a sigh. "Come on, you read the textbook at least?"
"Of course, but I didn't realise it was that big a deal."
"It actually is rather interesting," Lash put in. "Muggle folklore here more or less agrees with the truth of my old world. They make up a not inconsiderable part of Winter's forces."
The defence classroom was a wide, open space with racks of weapons and shields around the walls and a packed earth floor covered in sand. As they entered the room, Harry took note of a covered cage set against one wall and had a momentary flashback to Lockhart's first class on Cornish Pixies. The boggart last week hadn't exactly gone well, although that was more down to Longbottom than Lupin.
Lupin was waiting next to the cage, almost casually leaning against it. Once the majority of the class was present, he took attendance before standing straight and moving into the middle of the room.
"Alright. Who can tell me about red caps?" he asked, waiting for a moment for hands to rise. "Dean?"
"They're little goblins that wait in hiding and slit your throat so they can use the blood to dye their caps fresh, right?" The londoner asked, then flushed when the Slytherin boys and a couple of Gryffindor purebloods sniggered at him.
"Now, now," Lupin held up a hand to quell the students. "That is indeed an abbreviated version of the most common belief about red caps. Tracey, I can see that smug look. Would you care to enlighten us to your version of the redcap?"
"Er," Tracey had been caught off guard. She brushed off the glares from her housemates to nod. She knew the consequences for embarrassing the House. "They're a kind of fungus sprite, sir. They grow on murder victims."
"Very good. Five points to each of you," Lupin said with a smile. "Neville, can you tell me why we study red caps in Defence, instead of Herbology?"
"Um," Longbottom was even more on the spot than Tracey had been. "Well, that is… I don't know, sir."
"It's because they get up and walk off when fully grown, sir," Malfoy interrupted the teacher before he could say anything.
"Not quite," Lupin shook his head with a tired chuckle. "Red caps are highly toxic, capable of inflicting their victims with lethal septicaemia with the slightest scratch. In addition, they have occasionally been seen to have the ability to use tools, even wands, should they manage to disarm a wizard, and are in fact one of only three 3X dark creature to display tool use, the others being fairies and imps," He paused for a moment to let them process that. "So," He began again, "can anyone tell me why they are only classed as 3X creatures when they are so dangerous? It is not because of their size."
Theodore Nott put his hand down quickly. After a moment, Harry raised his carefully, thinking about Lash's lessons rather than the textbook.
"Is it," He glanced at her for reassurance, just a tiny flicker of his eyes, and didn't notice the way Lupin's own eyes narrowed slightly and followed his glance to empty space. "Is it because they're allergic to tin, sir?"
"It is," The professor sounded surprised that he had the right answer. "Like many of the so-called 'fair folk', red caps have a unique weakness to certain base metals. As a general rule, iron is the most effective ward against the little people. Even the muggles know about it, which led to the practices of hanging old horseshoes over doorways and sleeping with a nail under your pillow. Some creatures, however, have specific weakness to other metals that are far more severe than the aversion effect of iron. For red caps, their weakness is ordinary, common tin. Now, you'll note that I said base metals. Can anyone tell me what that means?"
"It means ordinary metals, sir," Tracey said without waiting to be called on. After a moment, she lazily raised her hand as an afterthought. "Which is why transfigured tin won't work, right?"
"Very good, although in the future please wait until I call upon you." Remus admonished her gently, then gave Weasley a sharp look when he started sniggering at her. "Ronald, perhaps you would like to go first for the demonstration part of this lesson? No? Very good," He crossed to the small stack of materials under a sheet and pulled it off, before handing out the foot-long tin rods it had been concealing. "In a moment, I will remove this sheet and you will have a chance to practice warding red caps with tin. Don't fear, you won't need to get within reach of them this time, although for homework, you will be writing a foot on strategies for evading the touch and bite of small, ground-bound creatures. Are you ready?"
He waited for everyone to nod before removing the sheet. Harry took a moment to examine the creatures in the cage – iron, he noted, rather than tin. The familiar visual split and twist of his anklet activating warned him that something was… off. The red caps were wasted-looking humanoids with wicked claws, wearing long, pointed hats that were more rusty brown than red. Iron chains were wrapped around their bodies, not impeding their movements, but clearly cutting into what little flesh they had on their bodies. Then his eyes refocused slightly and they were squat humanoid mushrooms with broad, red caps like fly agaric without the spots. Fungal gills hung like beards from their chins.
Flashes of runic script played across the chains on the under-form as the red caps shifted and moved, and while what Harry heard was animal snarling, what he saw of the red caps' true mouths were definitely forming words.
"Oh, my. That one is rather inventive," Lash commented, pointing at the leftmost red cap. "I don't think that's physically possible even for a wizard. Still, this is very curious… they are bound with iron. We should see if we can come back tonight and have words with them, Harry."
Harry just nodded his response as he stepped forward for his part in the practical class. Remus dismissed them once everyone had demonstrated their ability to ward off the red caps, although he called Harry to wait behind a moment.
"I'll see you in the library?" Tracey asked, pausing by the door.
"Ah-" Harry hesitated. "Actually, I have something I need to do after this. I'll see you at dinner though."
"Right…" Tracey narrowed her eyes suspiciously, before leaving.
"Got a date planned, Harry?" Lupin asked once they were alone, his eyes dancing with mischief, especially when Harry shuddered in response.
"I have to meet with Professor Snape actually, sir; regarding my summer homework," He replied, rather dreading the meeting to come.
"Very well. I won't hold you then, although I would like to talk to you at some point. Good luck with your essay," Lupin gave him a nod and turned to cover the red caps' cage.
Harry was fairly sure that someone was following him as he made his way down to Snape's office in the dungeons. He lost them using a secret passage, although it nearly made him late to the meeting. The last thing he needed was for Nott or someone like him to know he was getting in trouble with his head of house.
"Come in," Snape invited, waspishly, in response to his knock at the office door. He did not rise from behind his desk. "Do you know why you are here, Potter?"
"Professor Jones indicated to me that she was unhappy with my summer homework, sir. I can't think of anything else I've been involved in that might have been brought to your attention," Harry replied, standing awkwardly in front of the desk. There were no chairs besides the one Snape was sitting in.
"So you do have a brain," The professor scowled. For some reason, this did not seem to please him. "Yet somehow, you seem incapable of focusing on the simplest of tasks when left to self-directed study," He pushed the History essay across the table. "Read that to me, Potter, and explain just what relevance each point you make has to the subject matter set by Professor Binns," He paused, then just as Harry opened his mouth to begin, spoke again. "Oh. Since you are here anyway, your first session with Healer Tonks is on Saturday at ten o'clock."
Harry suppressed a sigh and began to talk through the assignment. It was made harder by how long it had been since he'd written it, but the real obstacle to his success was Lash's sly teasing at the difference between what he was saying, and what he really wanted to say. Snape watched him the entire time, eyes seeming to bore into his skull every time he glanced up from his reading to explain the point. Suddenly, about five minutes in, and just as Lash provided a particularly scathing witticism comparing the oil used as an accelerant in witch cremations to the grease in Snape's hair, he growled in anger and rose from his chair, planting his hands firmly on the desk.
"Out!" He ordered, seeming to lose his temper. "I've heard enough. In the future, you will stay on topic, Potter!" His wand hand snapped out, pointing at the door. Harry did not need to be told twice, and left before the Professor could change his mind.
"What the hell was that about?" He asked aloud once the door was shut.
"He was attempting to gain access to your mind," Lash told him, suddenly serious, "although to what end I am uncertain. Apparently he disliked the mental noise I generated to occlude your memories."
"He was trying to- why wasn't I pulled into my mindscape?" He frowned.
"I thought it would be better if he did not know we were capable of actively shutting him out," Lash explained. "It would be a difficult ability to justify."
"Wonderful. As if I didn't have enough to worry about this year between Sirius Black, classwork, teaching Sally-Anne and figuring out Tracey Davis."
"Don't forget the mystery of the red caps, becoming an animagus, and whatever this secret project of yours is," Lash added, dryly.
"I have no idea what you're talking about. Come on, let's head to the library, I wanted to look something up," He started in that direction, only to slow as someone stepped into his path.
"Talking to yourself, Potter?" Theodore Nott asked, slyly. "The pressure must be getting to you. I suppose I'd be going crazy too if I were hiding from a notorious mass murderer like a coward."
"What do you mean, Nott?" Harry asked, scowling at the coward comment.
"Well, if it were me, I'd want revenge," Nott smirked. "Just something to think about, Potter. You and your audience," He sniggered, and strolled off.
"Well, I suppose it could be worse," Lash murmured. "He could have assumed you were in contact with a being from a higher plane."
"With great insanity comes great responsibility," Harry shot back, and the angel smiled.
Tracey hesitated, then screwed her courage to the sticking place and walked up to the little table in the library. Susan Bones, Lily Moon and Sally-Anne were there doing transfiguration homework.
"Can we help you?" Lily asked, suspiciously, as Tracey sat next to Sally-Anne.
"That is the general idea of studying together, yes," Tracey replied with a smirk then turned to the muggleborn next to her. "Sal, please tell me you found a reference for the Snufflifors spell."
Sally-Anne nudged a book over to her, shyly.
"You are an absolute life saver," Tracey groaned.
"Wasn't that essay due last week?" Susan asked with a frown.
"I need to hand it in next period," Tracey said, pulling out her quill and parchment. "And I left it in my textbook… which just got co-opted by one of my dorm mates."
"Your dorm mate stole your textbook?" Susan frowned.
"Of course not," Tracey rolled her eyes. "She just borrowed it without giving me a chance to say no."
"Th-that's awful…" Sally-Anne whispered. Tracey just shrugged, while Lily looked at Sally-Anne in shock at hearing her talk to someone outside their group.
"Please, come in." Healer Tonks was set up in a small room off the side of the compound's chapel. A large, unstained glass window made the room feel open and brighter than it should have. The walls were decorated with cream tapestries showing a variety of countryside scenes, while the floor was covered in layered sheepskins. A low table ran along one wall with an enchanted kettle and fixings for bovril, tea, and hot chocolate.
Two comfortable-looking chairs sat facing each other under the window with a low table between them. Tonks invited Harry to sit in one with a gesture as she went to the kettle and tapped it with her wand. "I generally find these chats proceed more easily when my guests have something to occupy their hands and mouth with. Would you like a drink?" She asked. Her voice was warm and undemanding.
"Er… tea, please, Healer Tonks," Harry replied, feeling self-conscious.
"Please, call my Andy." Tonks replied as she prepared two cups of tea. "You probably have some expectations about how these meetings are going to go?"
"I was expecting a couch," he admitted. Andy laughed gently and nodded.
"I hear that often from Muggle-raised students." She agreed, bringing the tea over on a tray and setting it on the table. Along with the teapot, the tray had a little pot of sugar, a small milk jug etched with preservation runes, and two mugs. One of them was plain white, while the other was slightly lumpy and had 'Mama's Mug' glazed onto the side in a messy, child's scrawl. Andy sat opposite him with her knees together, wrists crossed over them and leaning forwards slightly. She looked relaxed more than anything, and Harry could feel himself responding in kind. "Essentially, Harry, we are here for you to talk."
"About the basilisk," Harry said.
"About whatever you like," she corrected. "Whatever is bothering you. Everything you say will be completely confidential, although I will be reporting the overall outcomes of our meetings to the Headmaster. I will not pass along any specific information, on my oath as a Healer, and I am a trained Occlumens should you have concerns about your secrets being taken from me by force."
"Okay," Harry murmured. Experimentally, he reached forward to pour the tea. When Andy didn't reprimand him or try to take over, he gave her a questioning look.
"Dutch, please. No milk or sugar," she replied with a smile. He smiled back, relaxing further as he realised that he truly was in control of the meeting.
"I… spoke to someone over the summer," he said as he eased her mug over. "A friend. A," he hesitated over how to describe Lisette, "warrior. She helped me decompress after the stress of last year."
"That was very wise of you," Andy agreed. "Our world is generally rather backwards regarding mental health issues. Most would prefer to believe that they do not exist at all. When I decided to seek training as a Mind Healer, I needed to seek guidance among the Muggles. That you found someone who could help is commendable. So what concerns you the most?"
Harry paused. If he were totally honest, there could only be one answer, but it wasn't exactly directly related to dealing with last year's issues. Andy simply waited for him to choose his answer, sipping her tea.
"The Dementors," he admitted. "When they searched the train, two of my friends passed out, and I nearly joined them. It was like all of the bad memories from before," he stopped as he realised he'd been about to mention Lash to this complete stranger.
Andy gave him a few moments to decide whether to continue or not, before putting her mug down gently.
"Dementors are a blight upon this green earth," she told him quietly. "Occlumency, the art of controlling your mind to prevent mental attack, can provide a small measure of protection against their memory control. The more horrors you have seen, the less effective it is, and the more damaging to your mind it is to maintain."
"Then what can I do?"
"I am not supposed to be teaching you magic," Andy replied, "because using magic to control one's own mind is ultimately a crutch. An unhealthy one at that. When the destructive influence is external, however, a case can be made for magical countermeasures." She smiled at him. "I think, Harry, that you have a good head on your shoulders. You seem to have worked through the issues that we are here to discuss on your own. If you find yourself in need of someone to talk to; to vent your anger, and fear, and frustration, I am here to listen of course, but if you desire it, I will teach you a charm to protect yourself against Dementors."
"I would like that," he replied, trying not to sound too eager.
"It is a very advanced piece of magic," she warned him. "Less than one in ten adult wizards can successfully cast the Patronus charm."
"I am more than willing to put the work in, Healer Tonks."
"Just Andy," she reminded him. "The first thing to do is to find a happy memory to provide the power for the charm. Over the next week, I'd like you to work on that. Go over your memories to find the happiest ones, and examine them to choose the best one. Consciously examining your memories will also help lay the groundwork for learning occlumency, which will help you maintain focus on your happy memory in the face of a real Dementor."
"Al- alright. Thank you." Harry nodded and sipped his tea. Andy let him go once his cup was empty, and he decided to go to the library to work on feeding Lash books for the rest of his morning.