Harry Potter, Squatter
They entered the last room on the ground floor.
It was indeed an arboretum, with open, arched walls. It had flowering shrubs and small trees that grew between paved paths that met in a semicircular patio. Devoid of sun other than the miasma outside, the room had instead two glowing globes that hung above the plants, bathing them in light.
Harry drew a deep breath, thinking that Demeter would feel right at home between the color blossoms that were seemingly omnipresent and filled the air with delightful scents.
"Marvelous," he said, half to himself and half to his friends.
"Now aren't you glad that you came in here?" Susan asked with a giggle.
"An 'I told you so'?" Harry asked with a snicker.
"Yup," the redheaded witch replied with a pop of the 'p'.
"Now, now, children," Cedric said with a straight face. "We haven't seen the dragons yet."
That made them all blink.
"I don't see the door either," Hermione said, suddenly sounding as if she wished they'd listened to Harry.
They all turned and looked – the door had indeed disappeared.
Giggles permeated the perfumed air, causing them to look around furtively. "Mischievous dragons," Harry stated, reminding them all of the description given by Cumin and Coriander.
"I guess now we know what that means," Justin said, sounding a bit freaked out by the incessant giggling.
Hermione had approached where the door had been, intently studying the straight wall.
A small, violet, cat-sized, winged, dragon materialized in front of her, making her first squeak in surprise, then coo at the sight of the cute little thing.
The remaining four turned to Hermione, surprised at the turn of events, watching in silence as Hermione reached out slowly in an attempt to pet the little dragon.
It flapped its wings and fluttered away, landing not far away. Hermione followed, the dragon fluttered away again. Susan giggled, and attempted to flank the curious little dragon; its size and rather lurid shade of violet gave it a completely harmless impression.
"I guess it's trying to distract Hermione from investigating the door," Harry said.
"Successfully, too," Cedric declared. "Come on, let's have a look ourselves."
As they approached the blank wall, more giggles sounded and a second violet dragon appeared in front of them.
It giggled, but when they didn't move, the little creature seemed to take that as a challenge as it flapped up and lightly headbutted Cedric in the chest.
"Hey!" the older Hufflepuff said with a laugh, giving it a gentle shove in retaliation. The dragon giggled again, and pushed Cedric, a little harder this time.
Soon, Hufflepuff and Faerie Dragon were engaged in the most unusual game of 'push' Harry had ever witnessed. Justin, never one to sit idly by, approached from one side.
The dragon poked him with its tail, as if saying that two on one wasn't a fair contest; the gentleness of the act and the giggling of the small dragon indicated it didn't care in the slightest about fairness. Soon, Cedric was pushing the dragon, which pushed back, while Justin attempted to push it while the dragon kept him away with pokes of its tail.
Harry laughed and poked the dragon from the other side. The dragon snickered, looked at him, and opened its mouth.
He blinked, finding himself seated on a bench on the patio, giggling incessantly to himself. He stopped the giggling, because boys shouldn't giggle, and wondered how he got here. When he stood up, and turned, he found the small dragons and his friends were playing.
For a moment, Harry wondered whether the dragons were playing with his friends, or whether his friends were playing with the dragons. Whichever was the case, they all seemed to be having a blast.
He blinked slowly, dragging his scattered wits together. It seemed like they had all lost track of what they were doing here. He saw Cedric and Justin rough-housing with the second dragon, in a fashion eerily similar to how he played with Nemmy, and snuck around them in an effort not to draw attention to himself.
He wanted to investigate that missing door.
Reaching the wall, he reached out with his hands and starting running them along the section of wall where the door was supposed to be.
His hand closed around a door handle, and grinning to himself he pulled the door open.
The illusion on it shattered like spun sugar as the door opened and the hallway beyond was revealed.
"I'm going to go investigate the rest of the mansion!" he called to his friends; Cedric and Justin were still roughhousing while Susan and Hermione were lavishing their dragon with the kind of attention Nemmy would have found imminently acceptable.
All four looked at him, freezing.
"Why were we…" Cedric started, only for the dragon he and Justin had been playing with to hit him with some kind of spell. Immediately, Cedric blinked, no longer seemingly confused, and resumed playing with the dragon.
Justin, noticing this, jumped up. Hermione and Susan hadn't seen precisely what happened, but Justin's reaction spooked them, too, so they started backing away as well.
Harry frowned, changed his perception to be able to see the magic of the world around him, squinted at the amount of magic in this extradimensional mansion and the dragons, and focused on his friend instead.
He immediately saw some kind of minor suggestion spell affecting Cedric's mind, and thought for a few moments on how he could break the spell. After those few moments, and realizing that he didn't know enough to do it in any kind of proper way, he simply threw excess power at the problem instead.
The spell disintegrated and Cedric jumped away now that his mind was clear.
"Guys. Run," the older Hufflepuff declared and made a break for it.
Immediately, the arboretum changed into a wide-open grassland; the walls and windows vanished to be replaced with wide-open spaces.
"It's not real!" Harry shouted, having been standing in the door's opening. To him, the grassland seemed superimposed on top of reality, giving him a curious sense of vertigo. "I'm in the doorway!" he added, wondering if that would help his friends.
They each looked at him, shook their heads, and winced as the illusion didn't hold up to scrutiny.
The two dragons flapped their wings and became airborne as the foursome started running toward Harry; opening their mouths they seemed to disgorge some kind of breath-attack weapon.
Whatever it was, it wasn't any kind of elemental attack. Instead, it seemed to be some kind of cloud that, if Harry's elevated perception was to be believed, would induce some kind of euphoria.
Not wanting his friends to be hit by any kind of narcotic-based breath weapon, He quickly threw more energy at a barely-there mental construct of some kind of gas-filtering bubble based around an astronaut's helmet.
The breath weapons slithered over the helmets, not affecting his friends in the least, and they made it through the door and into the hall.
Disappointed groans came from the arboretum as Harry slammed the door shut.
"Next time someone warns us to avoid the dragons, we really should avoid the dragons," Harry said, thouhtfully.
They all nodded.
"Even if it's in an arboretum," Justin added.
They all nodded again.
For close to half a minute, they stood there, silent, digesting the fact that they had been, in effect, mind-controlled by two miniature dragons.
"Sorry guys," Susan muttered. "I was the one who insisted we go see the arboretum."
Harry immediately threw an arm around her shoulders. "We all agreed, Susan," he said, comforting her. "And no damage was done, anyway. Don't worry about it."
Susan's shoulders dropped with relief. "Thanks, Harry."
The young demigod chuckled. "I'm no hypocrite, I do dumb things all the time," he told her. "Hestia told me that we learn best from our mistakes, so really, don't worry about it."
The young redhead nodded thoughtfully.
"So, who wants to go home and who wants to investigate the rest of the house?" Harry asked, just to be sure. "Because the arboretum was the only room we were warned about."
Cedric, Justin, Hermione, and Susan looked at each other. Looks and shrugs were exchanged.
Despite the dragons, who simply seemed to want to play rather than hurt them, the only dangerous thing had been that swarm of books. And that creepy mimic-chair that had tried to wrestle Cedric.
"I vote we continue," Hermione said. "Harry seems to be on top of things." She thought for a moment, then added, "Mostly."
"Hey," Harry protested amicably.
Susan, still with his arm around her shoulders, Justin, and Cedric, looked at Harry for a few moments.
"True," they all agreed simultaneously.
"Hey," Harry protested again, with a chuckle.
"Still, Harry, that was a nice bubblehead charm. Thanks," Cedric said, thinking back to the dragons.
"Bubblehead charm?" Harry asked, looking confused.
"The charm you used to shield us from the dragons' breath," the older Hufflepuff offered, confused. "That was a bubblehead charm, right?"
"Oh," Harry replied, then shook his head. "I was trying to do something like an astronaut's helmet," he confessed.
The four stared at Harry again. "Right. Has a shield stored in a ring, a sword stored in a second ring, and builds Bubblehead Charms on the fly," Cedric said, sarcastically. "Harry, you keep getting stranger and stranger."
Harry shuffled uncomfortably.
"But it's a good strange!" Susan protested, seeing how affected Harry was by Cedric's words, and threw an arm around Harry to match the arm that was slowly slipping from her shoulders. "And we wouldn't have it any other way!"
"Definitely, mate," Justin stated loyally. "Besides, I don't see any other people taking us on a cool adventure in an abandoned mansion!" he threw Cedric a look for upsetting their friend.
"Or teaching us a lot," Hermione added. She looked uncomfortable, and said, "Like getting on with others. I don't want to be a friendless swot."
Susan released Harry and hugged Hermione instead. "And you're not."
The three boys tactfully ignored the wet sheen in Hermione's eyes.
"Sorry, that didn't come out right," Cedric told Harry apologetically. "I was commenting on your extraordinary abilities, not on you yourself. You're a cool guy. You just have a lot of abilities and equipment that's straight from a storybook, that's all."
"And now we get to star in one ourselves!" Susan chirped, having released Hermione.
"That's alright," Harry said to Cedric, feeling better after the apology. "Shall we go, then?"
The four others nodded decisively, so they trekked back through the hall, passing the dining room and the kitchen before ascending the staircase.
At the top of the staircase was a landing occupied by a large and decorative-looking suit of armor standing on a wooden plinth; behind the armor was a large window that looked out on the purple mists floating around the mansion.
"Hey, there's a trap door!" Hermione said, pointing to a door in the ceiling above the armor.
"Huh," Harry said, mimicked by the rest. Shrugging, he built the mental image of a ladder, threw Shen at the problem, and climbed his freshly conjured ladder to the trap door. The others skillfully ignored him conjuring a solid ladder with neither word nor gesture.
The trap door opened upward, and Harry pushed it open. Squinting in the gloomy darkness, he looked first left, then right. The attic was dusty, obviously uncleaned for many, many years. It ran the length of the mansion, and light shone through the floorboards leading to the various rooms they hadn't yet explored.
"It's an empty attic," Harry said, lowering himself bback down his ladder, which vanished the moment he no longer needed it. "Dusty, dirty, and completely empty," he repeated.
"Well, not every room can be an adventure," Hermione said with a smile. "So, do we go left or right?"
Contrary to the ground floor, the upper floor didn't have a long central hallway; instead it had a landing, where a door in the middle of the left wall seemed to lead to a room, and a door set in the corner of the right wall seemed to lead to another.
"Right sounds right," Harry suggested, causing groans from his friends.
"That's a really old pun, Harry," Hermione mock-scolded.
"I vote that, as punishment, we go left instead," Justin said playfully.
Susan and Cedric nodded, obviously not really caring which way they went and going with the theme. Harry pretend-sulked, and mock-complained about having the worst friends.
They all had a good laugh, then went for the door in the left wall.
They entered the largest room they had seen so far; it was definitely some kind of medieval enthusiast's idea of a laboratory. The center of the room was taken up by two large wooden tables that were covered by glass vessels of all kinds and shapes, as well as various large and heavy books with hard covers. A glance showed them to be medieval illuminated manuscripts.
The walls were lined with cabinets with glass doors, which held all kinds of strange and unusual specimens; they were crowed with skulls, bones, mounted animals, rocks and minerals, dried plants, and jars with strange creatures preserved in various liquids.
The entire room was lit by colored globes that circles each other, just below the ceiling. However, the centerpiece of the room was definitely the far wall; the entire space was taken up by an intricate map of the night sky, with a golden sunburst hanging directly over a door that seemed to blend in with the rest of the map. The five brightest stars in the night sky were marked with silver sunbursts, and Harry was happy to say that he could name them thanks to Zoë's lessons in stellar navigation. He valiantly fought down the memory of that night in Alaska where she had taught him.
"Eww," Susan squeaked at the sight of the cabinets and their contents.
"Professor Snape would love this room," Hermione commented on the same, before turning to the tables in the center. Curiously, she examined the strange apparatuses that filled said tables, before she looked over the collection of books. The little bibliophile hopped up and down at the sight of illuminated manuscripts on physiology, astronomy, astrology, natural philosophy, and other sciences. She exclaimed a triumph and held up another one of the strange empty books. This one had the letter 'T' on its back. "Another one for the collection!" she said, excitedly.
"This place is creepy," Justin muttered as he stood next to Susan, wondering at the mind that would stuff cabinets full of random skulls, bones, and various mounted animals.
"I say we move through," Cedric said, pretending that the room wasn't getting to him and acting as if he were simply taking a stroll.
Hermione let out a keening noise at having to leave the precious books behind, but Harry comforted her by saying they had to pass through the room again on the way back.
The quintet opened the door in the far wall, and entered the next room.
"I take it back," Hermione said. "This is my favorite room."
The door closed behind them.
They were stood on a realistic illusion of a grassy knoll on a completely moonless night; the stars twinkling above with an almost too-bright shine. The ground level detail became blurry and indistinct after barely half a dozen meters, but the night sky seemed to go on forever.
Harry reached out and touched a wall. It definitely was solid, so the entire room was an illusion.
But what an illusion!
The planetarium further contained five telescopes, mounted on brass stands attached to polished brass plates, that were pointed to the constellations above.
In the middle of the room was a polished brass stand containing a 30-centimeter diameter sphere made of the clearest crystal.
"Whoa," Hermione said as she looked through one of the telescopes. Carefully, she tried to adjust it, to find that it adjusted really easily. She giggled as she looked through the instrument. "This is better than the Astronomy lessons at Hogwarts," she proclaimed. "I swear, I have never seen the stars this clearly."
Since there were five telescopes, and there were five of them, they were each able to claim an instrument.
After a few minutes, the newness seemed to ebb away, and Susan and Justin in particular seemed to become restless. Hermione was obliviously staring up.
Feeling the attraction fade for himself as well, Harry suddenly remembered the five brightest stars that were indicated on the map in the laboratory.
So, he pointed his telescope at one of them. He yelped when he noticed the light of Sirius, the Dog Star, coalesce in his telescope and a beam of light shot out from it to the crystall ball.
"Whoa," he exclaimed.
"What'd you do?" Hermione asked, wondering what had happened.
"I just pointed my telescope at Sirius," Harry said, confused. "It's one of the five brightest stars at the night sky, they were marked in the laboratory."
"Huh, interesting," Hermione said, pointing hers at the same star. Nothing happened.
"Try Canopus," Harry suggested.
Shrugging, the young Gryffindor tried it, to be rewarded by a second beam of light reaching out to the crystal ball. "Ooh!" she said. "Try the others!"
Justin and Susan looked at each other, before Justin shrugged and said, "We don't know the five brightest stars."
"Astronomy has been focusing on the planets, not the stars," Susan defended.
Cedric looked like he'd rather be somewhere else.
"Cedric?" Harry asked, seeing the older boy's face.
"I suck at astronomy, okay?" Cedric grumbled. "I barely got an 'acceptable' last year."
"Don't worry, we'll do it," Hermione said blithely and excitedly, obviously going for 'helpful' but not realizing that she was only making it worse for Cedric – who now had to rely on two first-years to perform a task he should have been able to perform just as well.
Soon, they had all five telescopes pointed to the five brightest stars in the night sky. Five beams of light converged on the crystal ball in the center of the room, which now glowed and illuminated a wall hidden by the illusion of the planetarium.
A wall that held a door that had been carefully hidden by the illusion.
"A door hidden by a puzzle," Hermione said, sounding halfway between excited and disappointed. "Who would bother hiding a door like that?"
"Someone who didn't want their locks picked," Harry said with a chuckle. "Let's have a look; it must be something important if it's hidden like this."
The four others, Hermione included, just shrugged.
They entered a room that was stripped bare, the walls pure stonework and masonry. There was a single, solitary bookcase against the back wall of the mansion. Built into the bookshelf was a reading desk, upon which sat-
"Another book!" Hermione crowed, picking the single book off the reading desk and displaying the letter 'L' on its back. "We've got the R, the I, the T, and now the L. We're still missing the Y, the E, and the B."
Harry and the others nodded absentmindedly; they had noticed what Hermione, in her excitement, had not.
The bookcase contained three shelves, upon which sat a large number of volumes, all bound in iron covers; the covers in turn were attached to heavy iron chains that were used to secure every individual book to the bookcase.
A library of chained books – a chained library, in essence.
"I wonder why those books are chained down," Harry said, getting a really bad feeling about this place. While the books ranged in subjects from the sciences, over arcana and alchemy, to planar travel, he was in no rush to actually take a book off a shelf. Even if the books on planar travel would most likely help him build a Hammer Space pocket.
Hermione, having finally seen what the others had already noticed, scoffed slightly at their looks of trepidation. "Scaredy-cats," she muttered, reaching for one of the books.
Harry's hand snapped out and grabbed her wrist. "Hermione, I think there's something wrong with this setup. It feels… ominous."
"We should listen to the experienced adventurer," Cedric decided.
Hermione made another one of those keening noises at the idea of having to leave behind a library full of rare and mythical tomes.
"Tell you what," Harry offered. "Well step out and keep the door open. I'll summon a book. It won't get to us because it's chained down, but if there's something off, or it's trapped or something, we'll see what happens."
The young Gryffindor nodded thoughtfully, and Harry released her wrist. Carefully, the quintet stepped out of the room, back into the planetarium, and Harry reached out with Shen to pull a book on planar travel from the shelf. The heavy book left its position, quickly floating their way, before snapping to the end of its tether and dropping to the reading desk.
Hermione made an aggrieved noise at the sight of a valuable book flopping around, but the sound was replaced by one of terror as the entire book case suddenly seemed to come alive – its books flailed around at the ends of their chains, and anyone who would have been standing close enough to grab a book would have been instantly attacked.
"Holy Merlin!" Cedric yelped, voice two octaves too high for his normal doing. Susan and Justin squeaked and grabbed each other subconsciously while Hermione's plaintive noise at the sight of the abused book turned into a yell of surprise that was surprisingly deep for a twelve -year-old girl.
Harry still jumped, despite having expected something to happen, but managed to stay quiet.
The bookcase, without a target, calmed down and returned to its inanimate state; the book on planar travel was back on its shelves.
"That's one hell of a trap," the young demigod commented after it calmed down. "Almost as if it were designed to catch the Hermiones of the world."
Hermione gave him a filthy look, threw her head up, and sniffed. Harry smiled, at once recognizing the play-acting and feeling quite proud of Hermione's progress. At the start of the school year, she probably would have been offended or hurt by the joke, but now she recognized it and played along. It was nice to see her progress.
"Good catch, though, Harry," Cedric said, pulling him from his thoughts regarding Hermione's progress.
"After that swarm of books in the library downstairs, and that chair that attacked you, I've been keeping an eye out," Harry said. "Once is a coincidence, but two is a pattern, you know?"
They all nodded.
"There's more to this adventuring gig than I thought," Justin said, half to himself and half to the others.
"Definitely," Susan agreed, only now realizing that she and Justin were still holding each other. They jumped away from the other, blushing and attempting to make it look like it was no big deal.
Diplomatically, the others ignored the pair.
"Let's see what's on the other side of the house," Harry suggested. "Unless anyone wants to go home?"
"You've kept us safe so far," Susan declared with an almost fanatical confidence.
Nods all around, so they trekked back to the landing of the upper floor. As they walked through the planetarium and the laboratory, Hermione pulled Harry to the rear of the group.
"Harry?" she said, softly, hesitantly. "Thanks," she whispered. "For pulling me back."
Harry grinned and threw an arm around her shoulders. "You're welcome, Hermione. That's what friends do, right?"
The girl nodded softly but determinedly.
After reaching the landing, they entered the door set in the corner of the wall opposite the one that had chosen earlier. Behind it was a short corridor, with a door off to the right and a door at its end.
Shrugging, Harry pushed the door on the right open, preceding the group into the room.
They entered a pleasant-looking parlor with a scarlet armchair and a reading table pilled high with books. A cheery fire burnt in the fireplace, but Harry frowned when he felt no heat coming from it, and failed to find a connection to Hestia's domain from it. It was obviously an illusion of some kind.
A pair of swords hung in a rack above the fireplace, and the walls of the room were decorated with the mounted heads of various animals. Harry recognized the stag and the wolf readily enough, but there was a kind of mutated stag with obvious carnivorous teeth as well as a relative of the three-headed hound Cerberus and some kind of black dragon.
"Well this is creepy," Hermione said at the sight of the mounted heads, despite the otherwise cheerful nature of the room.
"Hey, Hermione, another one for your collection," Susan said, completely ignoring the collection of stuffed heads and going instead for the books on the reading table. One of which was empty and had the letter 'Y' on its back.
"Thanks, Susan!" Hermione said happily. "So we're only missing the E and B!"
With nothing else of interest in the room, the kids trooped out and back into the short hallway. The door at the end revealed the master bedroom.
It was open and airy, with a canopied bed with rich scarlet curtains in one of the corners. A jug and washbasin sat on top of a chest of drawers, and there was a fluffy black cat napping on a scarlet easy chair.
"Whoa," Harry said, looking at one of the walls, which had been transferred entirely into a painting of a golden dragon perching heroically atop a mountaintop.
Immediately upon their entrance, the cat seemed to wake up, noticing them. It jumped from the chair, stretched, and casually approached the intrepid band of young adventures, seemingly enticing them to play with it.
Susan, unable to help herself, leaned down and started petting it; the cat immediately dropped to the floor and started purring.
"Now I feel creepy," Cedric said, commenting out loud. "Snooping around someone's bedroom feels wrong."
"At least there's another book," Hermione said, picking the book with the letter 'E' on its spine from the chest of drawers. "We're still missing the 'b', though."
"It must be through there, then," Harry said, pointing to a door leading outside, to a balcony.
Shrugging, Hermione crossed the bedroom and pushed the door open. She obviously wanted the full set of books, so the others had no choice but to follow her.
They trooped onto the balcony, which was made from intricate wrought iron blacksmithing. Large slate flagstones were on the floor, given the impression of being imminently sturdy. At the same time, the strange and oppressive miasma seemed to press closer to the mansion than at the ground floor, making them all uncomfortable.
Even with the sight of the beautiful arboretum below them, the miasma just made them too uncomfortable to stay long, and soon they retreated through the bedroom and the short hallway back to the landing.
"We're still missing a book," Hermione complained.
"We've seen every room," Cedric replied. "I think we've seen enough."
"But the book!" the young bibliophile whined. "The set isn't complete! We're missing something!"
"We probably missed a book in one of the rooms," Justin tried to comfort her. Susan leaned in and started whispering in Hermione's ear.
The three boys shrugged at each other. "Still, we've had Harry save us from various animated things," Justin added. "So I think we shouldn't press our luck. Besides, Cedric's right, snooping around someone's bedroom is a red line that I really didn't want to cross."
"But…!" Hermione started, her bottom lip starting to tremble and moisture filling her eyes. "I won't have the complete set!" she whimpered, a tear falling down her right cheek.
"We can investigate some more!" Cedric said, hoping to placate her.
"Yeah, we have Harry here to protect us!" Justin jumped to the other side while the jumping was good.
"I don't mind investigating some more," Harry said with a grin. "But Hermione, crying on command? I didn't think that was really your style."
Cedric and Justin looked at each other, at once recognizing they had been played.
Hermione looked a bit embarrassed but a lot happy. "It worked, didn't it?" she asked, impishly.
Harry returned a grin, then looked at Susan. "That's what you were whispering, weren't you?" he asked the redhead with a chuckle.
"Poor Hermione never had any girlfriends," Susan said. "So it's up to me to teach her."
"Why you little… !" Justin said, mock-angrily and fighting a laugh as he pretended to make a grab for her throat.
Harry burst out laughing. Susan and Cedric looked confused. Hermione sighed and pretended she didn't know these people.
As they descended the staircase, Harry and Justin did their best to explain the absurdity of 'The Simpsons' to a pair of sheltered magicals.
It didn't go well, and it left poor Cedric and Susan more confused than at the start.
They reached the bottom of the staircase, and looked awkwardly at one another.
"We've seen all the rooms here," Cedric finally said. "So, where to?"
"Maybe there's a basement we missed?" Hermione suggested. Suddenly thinking of something, she added, "Or maybe there's something in the attic!"
"There isn't," Harry said, confidently. "I looked. There's nothing there but dust and grime."
"Are you sure?" Hermione asked.
"Yes," he answered, just as confidently. This wasn't his first adventure.
"So you wouldn't mind if I checked?" she pressed.
Harry motioned to the staircase. "Be my guest," he told her. "I'll even conjure a ladder for you."
"Thank you!" she said, excitedly, darting up the staircase as if she were afraid it would run away. Shaking his head, Harry trudged after her, and conjured her the ladder he promised.
Ten minutes later, Hermione descended from the attic, covered in grime and dirt and looking in serious need of a shower and some industrial-strength disinfectant.
"Nothing," she grumped.
Harry opened his mouth. She cut him off. "Don't tell me. You told me so."
"Yup," Harry said, grinning and popping the 'p'. "I may not look or act like it, but sometimes I am quite dependable," he quipped.
"Better check once too many than once too few," she countered, although her grumpiness was due to her current state of cleanliness rather than any real malcontent.
"True," Harry admitted. "So, we're sure now that the attic is, indeed, empty. That leaves some hidden basement."
The three other Hufflepuffs had staid out of the conversation and just nodded silently. Each of them looked secretly happy that they had trusted Harry at his word; if they hadn't, they would have looked like Hermione now.
As they walked downstairs again, Harry glanced at a bedraggled-looking Hermione.
"Come here," he said, softly, making a waving motion with his hand. "Let me see about cleaning you off."
Hermione trudged closer, looking intrigued. He closed his eyes, and pulled the runic construct he used to clean his clothes to the front of his mind, then added something he had been working on to replace a shower, and smashed the two together. He then picked up the pieces of both, combined them into something new, squinted slightly, broke a piece off and placed it somewhere else, then gave a sharp nod of satisfaction.
He aimed the newly created spell at Hermione, and threw Shen at the problem. As usual, he would replace quality with quantity. Marduk would be disappointed.
Hermione glowed for a second, before looking squeaky and sparkling clean.
"Whoa," the girl said, impressed, looking at herself.
"Whoa," the three other Hufflepuffs agreed, staring at Hermione.
"This is awesome," the Gryffindor witch said, still sounding impressed. She sniffed. "Why do I smell like fabric softener, though?"
"Oops," Harry muttered, looking his new runic construct over and noticing a detail. His four friends looked at him, obviously waiting for more than that. "I combined a spell I use to clean my clothes with one I have been developing to replace showering," he explained. "I forgot to switch out the soap part when combining the two, so Hermione basically got a shower in the magical equivalent of the laundry soap." He smiled encouragingly, "Don't worry, though – it's magic, so clean is clean. You'll just smell like laundry detergent instead of shower gel."
Hermione sniffed herself again. "Well, it smells good anyway," she said. "It's better than before, that's for sure."
"And it did your clothes, too, obviously," Susan said. "You should hire out in the mornings, Harry. You'd make a killing for people who need to skip showers or laundry!"
Harry chuckled. "Sorry, friends only, I'm afraid," he replied with a wink.
"You do laundry, and provide emergency shower services," Susan repeated, "if only you cooked, you'd be the ideal boyfriend."
"I love cooking, but I'm still learning," Harry answered, modestly. He loved it when people liked his food, but he was nowhere near s good as Hestia was.
"Dibs!" Susan cried, grabbing his arm, suddenly making him incredibly uncomfortable.
"Ehm… what?" the poor boy managed.
"You're my boyfriend now," Susan answered. "I called dibs." Hermione giggled in the background, but Harry ignored her. He gaped at Susan instead, trying to formulate a response – any response – that could get him out of this situation intact and without hurting Susan's feelings.
Said redhead burst out laughing. "Oh, Harry, the look on your face!" she hollered. "I'm kidding, I'm kidding. Given your adventures, I'd turn grey before leaving Hogwarts!"
Harry managed not to let out a breath of relief. He focused on the latter part instead. "I'm not that bad," he protested.
"Yes, you are," his treacherous friends all replied as one.
Cedric patted his back. "Harry, you turned an afternoon of studying into an exploration of an abandoned mansion left in some extra-dimensional void. I'm sorry to say that yes, you are that bad."
Harry pouted at him. "I didn't make you stay," he protested.
"Peer-pressure," Cedric answered casually. "It's a thing."
The demigod grouched playfully at his friends. "Instead of exploring my character flaws," he said in an effort to deflect, "shall we go take another look around and see if we can't find Hermione's missing book?"
"Thanks, Harry!" Hermione said excitedly, seeing Harry's suggestion and running with it.
They retraced their steps through the bottom level of the mansion – taking care to very much avoid the arboretum and get stuck with the 'mischievous' dragons again.
"I don't understand," Hermione whined. "There's a book missing and we can't find it!"
"It just one book," Cedric finally replied. "We should return to Hogwarts. I'm sure we're missing by this point."
"But we're missing a book!" Hermione said, turning to him, her eyes watering. "The set won't be complete without it! Who knows what we're missing?"
"Don't over-use that, Hermione," Harry told her gently. "People will grow immune to your crying if you over-use it."
"You beast, ignoring a crying girl," Susan accused him with a laugh. "But still, maybe Cedric's right and we should go home."
"But…!" Hermione protested, turning to Susan.
Harry motioned in the direction of the foyer, where the entrance doors were. "Why don't you and Cedric return, Susan?" He offered kindly. "Hermione, Justin, and I will have another look around."
Susan and Cedric exchanged a look, then a shrug, then a nod. "Alright," the older Hufflepuff said. "One more round through the house, but then we all go home, right?"
"Agreed," Harry said, ignoring the look Hermione shot him. She pouted, she grouched, she whined, and in the end, she agreed to the terms as nobody else seemed to be backed her up.
They trudged through the mansion again. "Maybe it's hidden, like with that chained library," Hermione suggested.
"I didn't see anything else that could be a puzzle," Harry replied as they entered the exercise room yet again, having come from the study just before.
Then, he frowned. "Hmm," he whispered, and started legging through the length of the room, taking deliberate steps. "Maybe I found something," he said, turned to leave the exercise room and returning to the study. He legged through the length of that room as well.
"This room is definitely less deep than the exercise room," Harry told them. "It's well-hidden to give the room the appearance of being the same length, but it isn't." He paced through the bookshelf at the far wall of the room, and started investigating it.
The book on the bottom left seemed to be subtly different, and he pulled on it.
The entire leftmost bookcase slid forward on a well-oiled mechanism, before slipped to the side to reveal a hidden passage behind it.
"A trick bookcase, how cliché," Hermione said with a shake of her head.
"At least we found where your last book likely is," Harry teased her, making her shut up. The passage was narrow, with a staircase leading down.
"Welcome to the cellar of mysteries," he said with a laugh as he descended first.
"That could be the name of a book," Cedric laughed. "Harry Potter and the Cellar of Mysteries."
"As long as there isn't some ancient beast in that cellar," Susan protested. "We've been attacked quite a few times – sometimes by books, even."
"That was so wrong," Hermione said. "Books have been my only friends for so long, and to be attacked by them is just wrong."
Susan said nothing, but managed to throw an arm around Hermione's shoulders, despite the narrow passage and the equally narrow staircase. If Hermione leaned in to the embrace, neither girl commented.
They arrived at the bottom, where the passage definitely didn't widen. In front of them was a door, into an otherwise blank wall, directly in the corner. To their right was a passage that terminated against a wall. A door was set in the near wall, about three-quarters of the way down the passage.
"Let's go straight," Harry suggested, motioning for the door right in front of them. The group nodded, and Harry pulled it open.
The passage, remaining just as narrow as always, extended past the door. At the end of the passage was another door, and halfway down the short passage was a second door in the side wall.
Getting a shrug from everyone, Harry went to the door off to the side, and opened it. A deep smell wafting from the room caused them all to back up a step, before cautiously sticking their heads inside.
The room was dark. Its walls were made from solid stone, and it was nearly devoid of objects. A runic circle, about one-and-a-half meters in diameter, was etched into the solid stone floor. An empty wooden bookstand stood against the far wall, opposite the door. At each of the cardinal points of the circle stood a bronze brazier, long since burnt out.
Despite the fact that the braziers had burn out long ago, the room still stank of sulphur and charcoal, the smell of it thick and potent enough to keep them all outside still.
Harry frowned; this room looked like someone was playing up the cliché angles of summoning and rituals and such. The very fact that the smells hadn't dissipated showed that someone had gone through great lengths to play up the atmosphere.
"Ew," Justin muttered, throwing his hands in front of his nose. "This place stinks."
Finding agreeing nods from his other three friends, Harry pulled the door closed again without them actually entering the room. Considering it was empty save for an empty bookstand and some empty braziers, there was no need to explore it.
A warty toad, seated next to the bookstand, croaked confusedly at the casual dismissal.
The group went to the door at the end of the short passageway instead.
That room was illuminated well, With tables pushed against the walls. The air was filled with the smell of preservation alcohol and brine, and glass vessels of sizes various from 30 centimeters to two meters tall were placed in rows upon the tables and on the floor. Inside each vessel floated the body of a creature in a clear solution.
One container was missing its lid and was empty.
"Well, I guess we found where that attacking chair come from," Harry said, motioning to the empty jar.
"Creepy," Susan muttered as she looked at the horrendous creatures stuck within the preservation jars.
"Agreed," Justin replied, holding his hand in front of his mouth and sounding as if he were about to throw up. "Awful."
Cedric, as the oldest of them, apparently didn't want to lose face and pretended he was just taking a stroll among the jars and the sights didn't affect them. "I don't know, this looks like-" he started.
A severed hand in one of the jars was evidently still alive, as it suddenly slammed against the side of the jar in an effort to get to him. Cedric let out a girlish-sounding squeaked and raced for the door. The severed hand, with wicked sharp claws, drew long scratches on the side of its jar.
"Yeah… let's not go in there," Harry muttered. "I can see why the owner hid his cellar."
"No kidding," his friends muttered in various forms.
"I vote we go home," Susan added. "Book or no book."
"But…!" Hermione immediately protested, showing once and for all why she was in Gryffindor.
"It's just one more room, I think," Harry said as they emerged from the short passageway back into the L-shaped hallway that had the stairs to the ground floor. "Let's have a quick look in the last room before we go."
"It's probably something creepy again," Susan complained.
"Probably," Harry agreed. "But it'll keep Hermione from whinging and nagging at us."
Hermione looked like she wanted to protest when the other four looked at her.
"Yeah, true," Susan admitted.
"Susan!" Hermione protested.
"Hermione, be honest," Justin said. "You'd definitely nag at us for skipping a room."
"Well, of course I would, because knowledge and science sometimes require sacrifice," Hermione agreed. "It's just not nice to point it out."
"We're just teasing," Harry told her, patting her shoulder.
"Are we?" Susan asked, completing seriously.
"I don't know," Cedric agreed.
Hermione looked hurt.
"We are," Justin said, Hufflepuff nature coming to the fore and unwilling to hurt the girl.
"Yeah, we are," Susan said with a giggle.
"Oh, you!" Hermione huffed, but the smile on her lips took all the sting out of it.
The last room in the basement smelled of chemicals; long wooden tables, laden with vials, beakers, flasks, and other glassware containers, stretched across the room. Each container held a different liquid or powder, each one colored differently.
Books were stacked between the glassware and the chemicals, while yellowed charts and blackboards full of complex formulae covered the walls.
"Well this is a cartoon laboratory if I ever saw one," Harry said with a grin.
Hermione playfully swatted his shoulder. "Laboratories still make use of glassware, harry," she said. "This looks like an old-time alchemical laboratory, from back in the day people were looking for the Philosopher's Stone."
Harry grit his teeth to prevent revealing Nicky's secret. Instead, Susan piped up, "The only one who ever made one is Nicholas Flamel. He's famous."
"Someone actually made one?" Hermione asked, fascinated.
Susan nodded. "He's still alive, he's 600-odd years old now. Nobody's ever been able to replicate it, though."
"But… if he's still alive, he could explain how he did it!" Hermione exclaimed.
"He's not telling, for obvious reasons," Cedric replied. "Imagine what would happen if nobody ever got sick and nobody ever died."
"Well… true…" Hermione muttered. "But still, knowledge should be shared!"
"Some knowledge is just plain dangerous," Susan said. "Remember our earlier conversation in the library. In the magical world, there are things that draw power just from you knowing about them."
Hermione pursed her lips. "Still… it feels wrong," she muttered.
"It can feel wrong, but that's just how it is," Susan said with a giggle and a pat on Hermione's shoulder.
"I think our mysterious owner was trying to same," Harry said, pointing to one of the blackboards. "Because this seems to detail a formula to transmute lead into gold. Or an attempt at one, anyway, because I am not sure this would work."
"And just how would you be able to read something this complex?" Cedric asked, surprised and intrigued.
Harry looked down at his feet, awkwardly. "Miss Athena, one of my tutors, has determined that a proper young gentleman should know more than just magic, and chemistry is one of those subjects," he explained.
"She's right," Hermione stated decisively. "I wish I could have tutors like that," she added, wistfully. "But Hogwarts keeps me plenty busy. I don't know how you find time for it, Harry."
Not wanting to admit to Athena's boon giving him a leg up, he replied instead with, "she also taught me time management and study techniques." It was the truth, but not the whole truth.
"You are so teaching me that!" Hermione decided.
"Please," Harry added with a grin.
The Gryffindor witch blinked, looked embarrassed for a moment, and said, "Sorry, Harry. Will you please teach me?"
"Sure," Harry said with a grin. "As usual, anyone who wants to learn is welcome."
Susan, Cedric, and Justin playfully declined; they had enough on their plates with magic, thank you very much!
"The book!" Hermione shouted excitedly, making her way to one of the tables and grabbing the book with the letter 'B' on its spine from where it was leaning against a beaker.
"Well, there you have it," Justin said. "We have the complete set now, meaning we've seen everything. Let's go home."
"Thanks, everyone," Hermione said, before they could turn. "I know I'm a bit obsessed and all… so thanks for sticking with me. It would have bugged me forever if I hadn't found them all."
"You may be a bit obsessed," Susan said, "but you're still our friend."
Hermione looked like she was about to cry, for real this time.
They turned away to give her a few moments to collect herself. No need to embarrass her.
Returning to the ground floor, Harry gave the command word in the foyer to open the door back to Hogwarts. When they stepped through, nothing had changed.
As a matter of fact, the sunlight coming in through the window was still in the same position!
"It looks like nothing happened," Cedric said, confused. "In fact, it doesn't look like any time had passed at all!"
"Let me check," Harry said, quickly exiting the room. He returned a few moments later. "Yup, no time has passed at all. I asked Madam Pince for the time."
"Tempus," Cedric said, waving his wand and looking at the time and date that appeared.
"You couldn't have said that before I bothered Madam Pince?" Harry grouched playfully.
"You didn't say anything," Cedric shot back, just as playfully. "Let's do some studying. We were here for a reason, after all."
The four others nodded at his suggestion and re-took their seats around the table.
Harry felt relieved at the knowledge no time had passed. He had been worrying about that secret tracking spell Professor Sprout used to track Hufflepuffs; it was likely to have caused problems if they really had been away for several hours.
But still, there was something he had to do, so he pulled out a piece of parchment and a quill and started scrawling a message.
Promethea, his faithful owl, who always knew when he needed her, landed on the back of his chair.
Four people stared at her, wondering how she got into a closed room.
Promethea puffed herself up. She was awesome, that's how!
Harry blew on the ink of his message, ignoring the byplay.
The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces? Really?
Your fellow student,
Folding the message up, he gave it to Promethea. "Can you take this to Nicky, please, Promethea?"
The snowy owl nipped at him for daring to ask, took the message, and flew away.
"I followed her, and I still don't know how she left the room," Cedric replied.
"She's awesome, that's how," Harry teased with a grin, returning to his studies. He'd get the secret to building extra-dimensional storage lockers, especially ones in which time did not pass, from Nick and Penny at some future opportunity, that was sure.
AN: The crossover is adventure number one in 'The Candlekeep Mysteries', a Dungeons and Dragons module consisting of various different adventures. When I first got the book, the whole setup screamed 'Hogwarts Library' at me, so I decided on a little side-quest, especially as that first adventure fit so well. ;)
Congratulations to those who guessed right. :)