(NOTE from DECEMBER 2015: this is not a new chapter nor have I added new material to it (it was posted in 2012)! In the process of starting a hard edit for this entire story (my plan is to work on it throughout the week) I have taken down chapter twenty nine (which is why the story claims to have updated). I'll have the real update posted in a few days, sorry for the confusion and happy holidays!
There was something about the weather that morning that Harry found oddly settling, as though he was not alone in his scheme but rather watched by the omnipotent heavens and their family. The rain pounded heavily on the walls and windows pattered and occasionally the odd rafter would groan, a spring bearing storm weathered the stones of the castle in such a way to shape it's future. This new erosion might have been familiar to him one day, he might have felt the stones under his hands in the years at the school he had spent on his own time. The roof of the great hall was a murky grey, the kind of grey that represented all the discontent he felt in his chest. Beside him Lestrange was pouring milk over his breakfast and beside him sat Malfoy, pointedly reading the paper and ignoring them. Harry tried his own eggs and winced at the pain on his forearm when his shirt touched it. The mark, now gone had left a painful spot that was nothing more or less a wound. Stretching his hand he noticed Tom's eyes note the motion. Harry met that gaze with more gusto then he felt and went back to his eggs. He was tired, having dreamt half the night strange visions of a parlor hall and the smell cut flowers. That same dream he had had so many times, sometimes following a figure, sometimes listening to the noises as a commotion broke out.
"Potter," Malfoy drawled, licking his fingers and flipping to the style section, "have you seen today's headline?"
Harry shook his head no. "Another clip about the school?"
Malfoy raised his eyes and grinned, "Perhaps. Misinformed as usual but a good picture." Shaking it out he slid it down the table to him. Picking it up Harry had to repress his need to laugh, staring into the photograph he snorted. Smiling up at him was a picture of himself, Tom smiling almost graciously at his side and and the new caretaker beside them. Fingers shaking slightly, the cause he couldn't quite pinpoint, he read the headline, Hogwarts Moves to Maintain Continuity.
Lestrange laughed, "Sure like you two to nab the picture. Perfect students."
Malfoy put down his story on a Monet exhibition and to Harry's shock began in on him. "What, model citizens, prefects and the highest combined grade point average since Albus Dumbledore's day?" He scoffed in Lestrange's surprised area, who genuinely taken aback stared. "You suppose they should have used you?"
Lestrange recovered, "No- I, I guess-"
Malfoy smiled poisonously and opened his page with a simple flourish that would have pleased a dandy. Lestrange had the good sense not to respond but could plainly tell there had been a shift in their inner power struggle, one that had left him outside. Harry couldn't help but feel a pang of sympathy at the panic he could sense on him; one that he knew should mean nothing to him. If he lived to escape this all then he and everyone else who had been burned would never have to feel had told Malfoy he would help him cut down Lestrange in return for his support. Play the game Harry.
"I suppose they took it when the reporters came," he handed the paper to a curious young Black and drank his pumpkin juice. "Notice how they always spell my name wrong."
Tom gave a light laugh and took the paper from the boy beside him who offered it before he could ask for it. "Of course they also have the date wrong Harry, if I were you I wouldn't bother over it much."
Lestrange laughed somewhat troublingly.
Tom shot him a look softer than ash that silenced him immediately. "Perhaps it would have been better to have Lestrange in the picture come to think of it-"
Malfoy's eyes were incredulous. "For what, to make you both look better?" Gavivi sniggered and Tom folded the paper over without speaking.
The bell rang and Harry gathered up his papers and shoved them away, his arm connecting with the table. He closed his eyes to prevent shouting.
Draco Malfoy had never been patient. Not when he was a child, not where his own interests were concerned and certainly not now on the brink of becoming his own man: a man likely involved in a scheme much bigger and complex then he knew how to understand, a man with all the tools but none of the knowledge needed to cut through the snarl of complex facts. Where ambition and manipulation were important he was ruthless and effective but where the force of knowledge alone was concerned he was by this game beaten.
"What do you think?" Draco asked and leaned back against the armchair with more haughtiness then the moment deserved. He had swallowed a mouthful of pride in coming to Knott and he would thereby assert himself at least, as far as the social order went, as superior.
Theo looked up from the blank map and blinked. "I think that If I didn't know any better, I would know you were playing a joke on me."
Draco scowled. He had never been a fan of Knott's humor or his character. Nott, born of good blood with little fortune had never possessed the fashion or the wit that bottomless fortune had given himself and because of it Nott couldn't posses the elegance, the accepted eccentricity or the easiness to please him. Draco liked to believe that he knew where to spot skill and in Nott there was an abundance. When he was feeling brave enough to admit it he could easily recognize a smartness about Nott that he himself did not have. Not that he wasn't clever but Draco knew that Nott would be a far cry closer to understanding the map's secret. Squinting he pushed himself closer, sighing "Just take a closer look."
Nott uncrossed his long fingers and looked down at the map. "It would help to know what I was looking at. As far as I can tell, you've passed me over an old piece of paper."
Draco scowled. "It's, a- a map, I know it is, Iv'e seen it," he ran his hands against his hair, "the thing is,"
Nott stopped him, "It's not yours and you don't know how to use it?"
Draco sneered and sat back against the velvet chair. "That would be the gist."
Nott nodded his head, as much in understanding as to silence him. Something about it rather bothered Draco. Nott drew the map closer to him and into the fire's light. Pausing he grabbed his bag and started to rummage through it. Draco watched him with the air of a dignitary as he pulled out a pair of glasses and slowly put them on his pale face. "So," Nott was looking down at the map, "what poor Gryffindor did you set Crabbe on to get this this from?"
Draco started placidly.
Nott shook his head in an almost disgusted way and took out his wand. "I only ask because it might help me put two and two together and see a way to open it."
Draco wrinkled his nose, "What difference does it make where I got it from? I asked you to help me open it not find a home for it."
Nott shrugged. "Things like this, homemade maps which-" he flipped it over and then back, "this clearly is are usually designed to suit the needs of the cartographer. Knowing it's origins are probably your biggest asset."
Draco started at him for a minute weighing his options. "The history is kind of convoluted." He paused. "I think it's older than it looks. I'm nearly sure the last owner didn't make it."
Nott leaned on an elbow, taking in what Draco knew was his less than calm exterior. "So who'd you nick it from then?"
Draco bit his tongue and with a scowl drummed his fist on the armrest, "It was Potter's."
Nott nodded his head, his tongue poking out. He started for a moment before chuckling and taking off his glasses. Draco watched him with some alarm, "What?"
Nott laughed, still shaking his head. "No way Malfoy," Draco blinked. "That boy goes missing for a month and you want me to poke through his clearly magical objects." He reached down and pushed the map smoothly across the table back to him. "You know I tend to keep my mouth shut where your various endeavors are and I'll stay the same to this point but there is no way I'm going to mess with it. Take the map, I'm staying out of this one."
Malfoy deadpanned, drawling, "Are you serious?"
Nott brushed off his shirt and stood up. "Completely. Quite frankly if I were you I would bring the map to Dumbledore," Draco snorted, "but I know you better than that." He touched his face for a second in thought. "What you are probably looking for is a keyword, a password. Whatever he used the map for, that probably has something to do with it, work with that and go from there."
Draco picked the map up with a snap and folded it. "Always a pleasure Nott."
It was after dinner that Harry had a moment to himself. He had patrol rounds later in the evening and he took the block waiting to walk, instead of heading towards his common room, heading up the marble staircase. He wound his way about the first floor, watching his reflection in the long windows flicker past, his face changing expressions from calm to bothered. He felt uneasy, anxious. He guessed he knew where he had been going all along but he still felt a flash of chagrin when he reached and stopped in front of the second floor girls bathroom. For a moment he debated the foolishness of entering, it was after all a girls loo and he had more than one reason for not wanted to draw any attention to it. A minute passed however and as he stood, staring around he came to the conclusion that the hallway was as empty as it could be. He pushed the door open swiftly and entered quickly. The pale light reflected off of the tiles and white dripping sinks. His eyes sought the prize. Spotting the tap with, as he looked, the small snake on it he walked closer toying with the incredible. Should he enter it? No, no why would he want to do that, he knew what he would find. But surly there was more to it than he had been able to look at when he had been there last. Surely a lot had escaped his frantic notice as he had been fighting the basilisk and Tom.
A clunking noise behind him made him stiffen, he watched through the mirror in horror as a stall door was pushed open. There was a sniffing noise as Harry made the decision not to run, thinking that it would only serve to make him look more suspicious. Straight and rigid he watched Myrtle leave the stall and wipe her face letting out a little gasp before spotting him.
"You! What are you doing here?" The look of fear on her face surprised him. Surely she didn't think he would hurt her?
"I- er, I was just looking for water. I needed a minute alone-"
Myrtle's face, he saw, was red and streaked from tears. "This is a girls bathroom, you should't be in here!"
His momentary panic was ebbing and he found his defensive ease, "Yeah," he pawed his hair awkwardly, "I looked around and didn't see anybody, I didn't mean to frighten you."
Myrtle had crossed her arms and was looking more bothered than ever, "Yeah, I'm sure you didn't. You didn't even see me when you were looking. It's not even like you would remember me. You probably don't know my name."
Harry grinned easily, "Myrtle." Her face pouted, "Look, it's not your fault I didn't spot you, I was just unobservant, I'll leave you be."
She moved forward a little as he turned to go. "What did you need to be alone for? You have so many friends, why aren't you with them?"
Harry sighed a little as he turned and with an awkward swoop, he watched her eyes move from his face, to the mirror behind him just above the entrance to the chamber of secrets. He tried his face best to keep the nervousness off his face, "Sometimes it's nice to be alone."
Myrtle shrugged, the last of the tears falling away. "I wouldn't know the difference, I'm always alone." Harry softened his features, hoping to placate her into letting him leave. she fiddled with her skirt, "You really helped me with my transfiguration you know, my grades are better."
Harry smiled roguishly. "That's good. You just need more confidence you know."
Myrtle smiled now, a bit of the ghost he would know showing up in her teeth. "It's kind of hard to be. School is hard enough with bullies, but now you add to that a giant monster and-"
Harry laughed a little, "Who knows what it could be."
Myrtle shook her head eagerly, "No, no it's a monster, a scaly one!"
Harry felt his smile turn into a grimace. "What?"
Myrtle nodded enthusiastically, clearly happy she had something interesting to tell him, "Oooh, yes. A giant scaly monster, or at least that's what Tabby says."
Harry stepped forward, eager to have her finish the tale his face a mask of the pleasant. "How well do you know Tabby? She might just be trying to scare you."
Myrtle shook her head, "No, she swears it and she was the one who found the last person! Says as she as walking down the corridor she saw the end of a great scaly monster, she heard a weird sound, like something sliding and then she saw it!"
"What?" Harry asked, unable to help himself.
It took a second for Harry to be sure his face was presentable. His palms were sweaty, if this was true, than a girl named Tabby knew a lot more than she should. His pulse beat with guilt. Because he was and if he was caught he might never be able to get back to his own life. Harry laughed smoothly, "I'm sure she was just scared, I mean, can you imagine finding girl, frozen in a dark hallway?"
Myrtle nodded, "I guess it could have been but she seemed so sure."
Harry laughed amiably. "Well, if you hear slithering than you should probably turn away just in case."
She sniffed and looked up at him.
It was very late when Harry, having finished his rounds, reached the dungeon entrance to his common room, his head full of thoughts. Most of the less then comforting. The door to the common room opened and at first Harry expected and rather saw an empty room. Then he was aware of voices coming from the end of the room.
"I've told you and you won't listen!" There was the sound of footsteps.
"I said enough Lestrange, surely you don't think me so simple that I am not be able to understand the worlds that come out of your mouth. I assure you I have heard every word you've said and more besides but of course it would never occur to you that perhaps I understand more of your own story than you do. It is hardly my fault that you have been outwitted"
The second voice that was Lestrange bit back, "Then how can you-"
Harry cut him off by stepping into the firelight. "Lestrange, Tom."
Tom looked up at him, his face the mirror image of his own, calm, stoic and unaffected.
Lestrange on the other hand paled. "Potter," he muttered and turned to walk past him. Harry could hear his footsteps as he left, fading slightly as he turned and went to their dormitory. Harry looked around and spotted a first year in an armchair, muttering and writing rapidly, clearly uninterested.
Harry had to fight the urge to follow Lestrange to bed, knowing as he did that Tom tended to enjoy this time alone, analyzing the many endeavors he singlehandedly orchestrated. Rather than let his mind get the better he sat down next to Tom assuredly. Tom who had been sitting back against the couch's headrest watched him without a look of concern, almost as though he had expected this invasion. As intimidating as usual Harry didn't find it at all calming that he had something to tell him. Sighing slightly, Harry rubbed his arm and looked at the fire over the coffee table that was spread with papers, one of them he recognized. Tom watched his hand twitch to his forearm and smiled blackly. "You've been in pain?"
Harry remained stoic for a moment before nodding. "Lestrange came to you about Malfoy and I being rude to him?"
Tom looked over at him before looking into the fire, "Out of fear yes. He sees now his miserable situation, one he didn't not have the intelligence to see was forming. He sees that our circle has expanded and will inevitably shrink and now knows that Malfoy has made his move to ensure he is not the one left in the dark. He knows he is powerless to scheme against you with the other's holding Malfoy's move as firm. He suspects rather, that you are more powerful than Malfoy will ever be but is too proud to approach you and so he solidifies his own demise."
Harry blinked. Tom rarely waxed so fully on anything without being prompted to do so. "And you don't feel any need to interfere. That is, you approve."
Tom shot an arch look. "I think it is the most logical expulsion."
Harry nodded. "Yeah, Avery, Goyle and Knott are thuggish."He was speaking aloud the thoughts he had been mulling over for nearly five months, "They want a more sophisticated cruelty. They need you. Malfoy, well, he's rich isn't he?" Tom was looking him square on now and Harry wondered for a moment if he had finally gone too far, forgotten his place out comfort. Too late now to swallow it he continued, "And you may be the smartest but certain schemes require resources. Me? I'm clever and therefore efficient. We have a lot in common but I am certainly in no position to overpower you and have no thirst to do so. Lestrange is hasty, proud and quick, all bad qualities in a friend whose sole purpose is nearly every time discretion."
Tom had not blinked. Harry fumbled a little, "I'm not saying I know what your purpose is Tom, but it seems to me that knowing the situation second to best, those would be your motives."
The moment was long but not panicked. There was a trace of something almost perfumed about his expression, finally leaning closer he might have given Harry a suggestive look, "Yes Lestrange would be the most obvious but you won't argue that the most logical can be no one but yourself."
Harry did his best to remain straight faced.
Tom's movements were slow but assured, "Surely is you have realized what a risk you are." To Harry's shock Tom smiled, "Efficient yes Harry, but only because you are the closest to me, both metaphorically and in personality. You carry out a task nearly as well as I might myself and as a result you tend to understand my motives better than anyone. This makes you powerful for me." Harry's body was screaming but his eyes stayed on Tom's. If this was finally it, he would face it without blinking. "In many ways I respect you but Harry, what is desirable in a friend is nothing less than lethal in an enemy."
Harry swallowed. "I am not an enemy." The closest in personality.
Tom's face was almost passive, "I have repealed Lestrange and in doing so I have made it clear to him that you may do as you wish."
Harry felt a strange burning in his skin. He felt it almost without reacting. Blushing. In some strange and twisted way this was perhaps the most telling sign he had ever had of Tom's favoritism; he had had authority beyond that of the rest for some time but it had never been backed up by Tom himself. Tom had never denied or accepted this unspoken truth and Harry now found himself validated. The effect was strangely numbing. The lack of pretense was unusual and Harry felt a need to carry it to that effect. "You will not regret it."
Tom's face lacked the usual appeal of it's handsomeness. He was not hiding behind a laugh. "You wanted to tell me something?"
Harry tried to remember if he had mentioned his conversation with Myrtle. Tom let out a silvery breath, "Why else would you have disturbed me?"
"Is it so impossible that I like spending time with you?" Tom's eyes reacted slightly to this and Harry inwardly felt a surge of pride at his sheer excess of balls. "I ran into Myrtle on my rounds." This was a lie, he had seen her before he had been on patrol but that would have involved his admitting to visiting the entrance to the chamber of secrets.
Tom sat back slightly, indicating that he should finish the story.
"It was just a little thing, the run in but she said something I thought was odd."
"And that was?"
"She knew the monster was a reptile, she also knew, or rather she may know, that it hisses."
Tom remained fairly calm, "I imagine it can't be expected that nothing of the monster will be known."
Harry hid his surprise. "I guess the girls in that year have been talking about it. Tabby?"
Tom looked more intent now. "She told her friends this?"
Harry squinted in confusion, "No, they told her."
Tom nodded as though taking in more than he had knowingly presented him with. "That is unfortunate."
Harry worried his lip, "I thought it was somewhat disturbing." There was something strange about the conversation, Harry thought, trying hard to decide what it was. That Tom had suspected Myrtle had told her friends something immediately? That was not a casual response. Still though he found nothing in it and he soon had moved on.
That night as he was preparing for bed though, taking books off his pillow and slipping his glasses into a drawer he found more explanation than he would ever have hoped for when as he shifted his schoolbooks a piece of paper he had stolen and then forgotten tumbled onto the blankets: the note he had taken from Myrtle's bag several days before, the on in Tom's handwriting. Picking up the paper gingerly as though holding something explosive Harry suddenly remembered why he had managed to live for so long before discovering ambition: sometimes things just came to you.
"What exactly are you doing Draco?"
Draco was bent over Professor Snape's desk, next to pile of uncorrected homework scribbling a note on a piece of paper. The innate guiltiness of the position was unfortunate and as though to prove he wasn't tampering with homework he stepped back hastily, "Leaving a note sir."
Snape had reentered the room, "Of course you know I welcome a correspondence Draco but for future reference If think surely it would be easier to seek me out."
Draco's cheeks went pink and he took the note off the desk before Snape could reach it. "Yes, next time I'll look for you-"
Snape took his seat and Malfoy backed away further, disposing of the note in the waste bin. "I suppose it is a matter of importance that could not wait for my return?"
Malfoy fought down the flush. "No, it's really more a curiosity."
Snape made a movement with his hand that indicated Draco should be seated, "I am interested."
Draco took the seat with less poise and character than he usually did, wondering for the thousandth time if this was a mistake. Surely asking Knott had been a wise move but Snape was much smarter and much better spotting a falsehood. There was danger here. He knew Snape's relationship with his family gifted him with certain allowances from his favorite professor. Snape's relationship with Dumbledore could not be ignored.
Still, Snape had never seen the map and there was a good chance he would be better equipped than he was.
"It's about a map sir."
Don't know about you guys, but I have a feeling he's seen that map a'fore.
As always, comments, questions and suggestions are very welcome and all shall be responded to.