"She fully intended to stab me," Snape's voice said.
I was sitting outside what was apparently the principal's office, although apparently he was called Headmaster here. Hopefully he was better than Blackwell had been, letting the popular kids get away with everything and punishing the other kids.
My bugs were listening in to the conversation; it wasn't that I didn't trust Snape, although of course I didn't. But if this was the place where people got the information to get their killing sprees started, I needed all the information I could get.
"I'm sure it wasn't that bad Severus," an older man's voice said.
"She knew where to stab me to best incapacitate me. That's not normal for an eleven year old child. Her mind didn't even feel like that of a child... it was difficult to read anything other than surface thoughts, and I was only able to get bits and pieces."
There was silence for a moment.
"If she was Tom, you wouldn't have been able to read anything at all. Did you learn anything else?"
"The deaths of her parents didn't bother her in anything other than an abstract way. It was as though she didn't care about them at all."
He'd read my mind.
I felt a chill go down my spine. In my old world, mind reading had been thought to be impossible, and discovering that it wasn't was horrible. I'd been able to beat people in the past because I was smarter and a better planner. If they knew all my plans just by looking at me, then I wouldn't have any chance at all.
"I'm sure that she was just in shock. We saw a lot of that during the war," the other man said. "It will come to her in time."
"Giving people the benefit of the doubt will be the death of you," Snape said. "Not everyone can be redeemed."
"And if I'd felt that way about you?"
Snape was silent for a moment. "It's not normal for a child to be thinking about how to make me bleed to death."
"I'd suspect that some of your students might disagree."
There was a sound of expelled air, almost like Snape was trying to suppress a chuckle.
"More importantly, what if she is right?" Snape said. "It is a serious accusation that muggleborns are being targeted using information from this school."
"It's possible that it could have been a member of the board," the other man said. "If it had been a member of the staff, I would have expected there to be more deaths."
"That would depend on how much access they had," Snape said. "Given that only a few people had access, it should be easy to work out who was involved."
"The fact that there have only been four attacks suggests that someone got a quick look at a list."
"Are we sure that there have not been more attacks than the girl knows about... perhaps some who have already received their letter?"
"That would provoke the kind of response that Tom doesn't want. A few mugglesborns die before they get their letters, well, most wizards think muggles live short brutish lives anyway. But attacking Hogwarts students would risk turning the populace against him."
Snape was silent. "It seems risky to depend on his political acumen given that childrens' lives are at stake."
"Showing concern about the students? How unusual. Especially since none of them will be your direct responsibility."
"They are all of our responsibility."
Snape was silent for a moment. "Then we must find out who this leak is. If it was a member of the board, we can take action, but having a member of the staff be contributing to the deaths of students... that's unacceptable."
"I'm sure it would surprise many of the students to hear that."
"I spend far too much time and effort trying to keep the dunderheads alive to let all my work go to waste," Snape snapped.
"Then finding out who was involved will be part of your task," the older man said. "I will make other inquiries. We will discuss what we have found after the beginning of the school year."
Snape grunted in acknolwedgement.
"Well, that leaves us with the problem of young Miss Hebert. What are we to do with her?" The older man sounded cheerful, despite the topic they'd just been discussing. Either he didn't really care, or he was good at hiding his emotions.
"Leaving her out in the muggle world for the next week will probably result in someone being killed," Snape said.
"She seems quite resourceful," the other man said. "Finding Diagon Alley based on the tiny number of clues available to her... astounding."
"I wasn't talking about her," Snape said dryly. "Although it is possible that the Death Eaters will track her down. All they have to do is send her a letter by owl and then follow the owl."
"Regardless, I think you are right. Given the danger the muggleborns are in, and the likelihood that they will go after her, she should not return to the muggle world. I will make inquiries as to a Wizarding house that might be willing to take her."
"Preferably one that does not have other children," Snape said. He hesitated. "There is something seriously wrong with her."
"There are children who have natural affinities for occlumency; you were one of those if I recall. Given the trauma she has been through, we should give her the benefit of the doubt."
"It's not the occlumency that bothers me. It's the sociopathy."
"Weren't you telling me just last week that children are natural sociopaths?" The other voice chuckled. "It takes time for their moral development to... er.. mature. I'm sure she will be fine."
I was panicking by this point. If they knew what I was thinking, then they'd know that I didn't belong here. I'd hijacked the body of one of their children. While it was true that she wasn't using it at the time, would they consider that a crime? Would they try to exorcise me?
"Perhaps it is best if you stay out of her mind for the time being, Severus," the other voice said. "It's not polite to look where you aren't invited."
"Is that something you are planning to abide by yourself?" Snape asked. "Because you are a better legilmens than I, and you might be able to find out just what is wrong with her."
"I see no reason to violate the privacy of a young girl's mind, not when we have bigger issues to deal with. We have three dead muggleborns with their families, and one missing. Justin Finch-Fletchley, Hannah Haywood, and Sarah Hamilton all need justice. Millie Scrivener is still missing."
"We should have Miss Hebert speak to the aurors."
"Tom always had sympathizers in the office; I have reason to believe that he has more now."
"So we are to follow this investigation entirely on our own?" Snape sounded doubtful. "Surely there are members of the Order who can be trusted."
"They are being watched," Dumbledore said. "We must be discreet. Do you have any idea who Tom has spying here?"
"Half the children in my house I am sure," Snape said. "Possibly some of the staff members."
"Perhaps you can get information from Tom himself?"
"He has only spoken to some members of the inner circle," Snape said. "I do not happen to be one of them. There are rumors about what he had to do to reconstitute himself."
"Yet reconstitute himself he has," Dumbledore said. "And his forces are gathering even as we speak. I need you to speak to as many of your old contacts as possible to find out about who is perpetrating these murders."
"They may not be willing to talk," Snape said.
"Do your best." The other man's voice was firm and didn't seem like he expected an argument. I didn't hear one from Snape.
Snape was a double agent in Tom's organization?
If wizards could read minds, how did that even work? From what the other man had said, Snape was able to resist mind reading somehow, by what sounded like natural skill and training. Yet if I was a criminal mastermind, I wouldn't trust anyone who wouldn't let me read their mind. I'd insist on it, even if I had to force them at weapon point.
Or I'd just kill them.
Having someone you couldn't trust at your back was a recipe for disaster. Whoever Tom was, he was an idiot to trust someone who could hide what he was.
Still, if Snape and the other man weren't going to invade my privacy, that still left the matter of the other wizards. Could all of them do it?
If Wizards had to learn spells, then maybe only some of them could. It would have to be something I would learn as quickly as possible. It made sense that not all wizards could do all spells, or otherwise there wouldn't be such a thriving trade in places like Diagon Alley.
Certainly, almost everyone can cook, or at least make a sandwich, and yet restaurants still exist. But convenience wouldn't be much of a factor if everyone could simply make anything they wanted. Some wizards had to be better at some things than others, or there wouldn't even be an economy.
Every wizard would be able to provide everything they needed for themselves.
I heard the door beside me open, and Snape looked out at me. I was sitting on the floor, leaned up against a wall.
"So you haven't chosen to set fire to the entire building," Snape said. "I am pleasantly surprised."
Looking up at him, I said, "I'm just sitting here doing what you asked. You can ask any of those guys."
I pointed at the moving pictures. Truthfully, they creeped me out. If I understood Snape's explanations, they were simple mental clones of people who had actually lived. How did that work exactly? Did the wizards make a copy of the mind and place it in the paint?
Wouldn't that make Wizarding paintings the perfect interrogation technique? As long as you could paint a picture without someone knowing, you could theoretically torture their painting for whatever information you wanted, and depending on how sentient they actually were, maybe even be somewhat more moral than ordinary torture?
Regardless, all they would have seen was me sitting on the floor, my back against the wall with my eyes closed. Unless they could see magic of course; there were a lot of things I didn't know, which meant that I was going to need a crash course in magic before any of this went any further.
"The Headmaster is ready to see you."
I stood up and I stepped past the gargoyle. Was the gargoyle like the paintings, or was it somehow more sapient because it was three dimensional? It had stared at me suspiciously the whole time I was sitting there.
Stepping onto the moving stone staircase, I grimaced.
If this school was the safest place in the Wizarding world, then the other places had to be deathtraps. I'd already seen moving staircases, and if OSHA had any sway in Britain, or the Wizarding world, the whole place would have been shut down before it even started.
My father worked with the Dockworkers, and while they'd had their arguments with the Occupational and Safety administration, he had to admit that a lot of their rules made sense.
Stairs should have rails, and small children shouldn't be sent plummeting to their deaths. While having paintings watch over the children was creepy, it wasn't like they could do anything to save anyone.
As we reached the actual office, I stepped inside, and then looked around. It was a large circular room, with knick knacks and odd items everywhere. Dumbledore was apparently like a lot of old people I'd known; an avid collector of strange things and unwilling to let any of it go.
There were portraits of old men and women on the walls, most of the people in them were asleep.
There was a bird in the corner. It snapped at the air and ate one of my bugs. It turned to look at me, and then it coughed violently. It made a choking sound and then it suddenly caught on fire.
It fell over, and the fire was burning merrily. I stared at the corpse, which collapsed into ashes faster than should have been possible.
The sad thing was that I knew exactly how long it took a body to go from living to dead and then to ashes because of fire.
"Fawkes is a phoenix," an old man said. He was sitting on a high backed chair. "His life cycle includes burning to death and then rising again. His species is essentially immortal."
"I know how he feels," I muttered.
The man looked like Gandalf. Was that deliberate? Did Lord of the Rings even exist in this universe?
"I understand that you have had quite the experience," Dumbledore said. "And that you have been very
clever at surviving things that most grown wizards would not."
"What else could I do?" I asked. "Lay down and die?"
"And yet you continued trying to look for your parents' murderers, despite the clear danger that would be involved."
"They were after me," I said. "I had to find them first."
Even a wizard would die from a knife in the back, and they had to sleep sometimes.
He didn't flinch, which meant that either he wasn't reading my mind, or he was a better actor than I'd thought.
"Still, that was an amazing act of bravery from a girl who had no power but her own wits and her own determination."
"What happens to me now?" I asked.
"You will stay at Hogwarts until the end of the week. You will then be taken to London, where you will board the train with the rest of your classmates."
"Why would I do that if I am already here?"
"The train ride is an important opportunity to bond with your classmates. It helps to create friendships that may last for your entire lives."
"I'm not that interested in making friends," I said. "I'm here to find out who is targeting me, and I'm going to make them pay."
"Revenge is never the way to achieve happiness," Dumbledore said. "It only causes more pain."
I stared at him. It was like he wasn't even listening to what I was saying.
Was stopping a mad dog revenge, or was it simply prudent? What made him think that these people were going to stop killing muggles and muggleborns? Unless someone stopped them, it was only going to get worse.
Snape got it; unless I was mistaken, he'd been a double agent in the other organization, which meant that he'd seen and probably done horrible things.
I knew what that was like. There were things that I'd done that I still had the occasional nightmare about. I'd done them for the best of reasons, for the greater good, but I'd never liked them.
"Fine. I'll give up on the whole thing and leave it to the adults, who I am sure know much better than I do."
Dumbledore smiled at me, but I could see that Snape wasn't buying it.
"Excellent," he said. "While you are here, you will have access to the approved sections of the library, and the dining hall. You will be staying in one of the Gryffindor rooms; perhaps those are rooms you will be spending a lot of time in over the next seven years.
I could hear Snape snorting next to me. What did that even mean?
"The paintings will keep watch over you. I would ask that you stay out of the Forbidden forest. Despite your... unusual survival skills, there are a number of creatures in the forest who are known Wizard killers."
The library would be useful. It would give me a greater sense of this world that I'd stepped into, even more than the school books that I'd bought.
"I would like for Madam Pomprey, our Medi-witch to examine you, to see that your adventure in the muggle world didn't leave any continuing problems."
Just what would a witch healer be able to determine about me? Was I really some kind of zombie, reanimated, but not really alive? Or was something else going on.
Maybe I really was Millie Scribner, and Taylor Hebert's memories had overwritten hers. Or maybe Taylor Hebert's soul had possessed her, although I wasn't sure if I really believed in the existence of a soul.
My stomach clenched. If they discovered that I really wasn't who they thought I was, what would they do with me ?
Dumbledore must have seen my sudden look of anxiety.
"Many muggleborn students worry about visits to the healer. I can assure you that you will not be subjected to any injections or other intrusive tests such as the muggles tend to do. It will be entirely painless."
Somehow I found that hard to believe.