AUTHOR'S NOTE: Mwahah! Done:grins: Yeah, yeah -took me longer than usual, but I managed. See bio for why it took me a bit longer than usual.
All thanks goes to my dear beta friend, 'Zanne. Without her, this chapter would be riddled with flaws. :offers cookies to lovely beta:
Harry Potter and the Forgotten Heirs
Capricious Purple Clarity
Ravenclaw's Library was much bigger than anyone could have possibly imagined, though perhaps quite a bit different in shape. Aside for the single stack of books that rested behind the comfortable chair and the round table that Rowena Ravenclaw typically sat, posed right in front of the "portrait" of Zechs' den, the room was completely circular. There didn't seem to be any level, as the books simply started from the ground and continued to ascend on countless rows of shelves.
"There are three hundred and thirteen levels," Rowena informed him with a knowing smile, obviously amused when Duo tilted his head as far back as his neck allowed him. "Or an equivalent thereof, as the library extends straight up with no discernable way to reach the top. There are even scrolls from the library of Alexandria on the higher levels."
Okay. So Rowena Ravenclaw had a damn good reason to be smug. If the library was made up of her private collection, the woman had owned the largest private emporium of literature of her time.
"Nifty," Duo said, glancing at the graceful beauty in medieval dress from the corner of his eye. "I'm Duo Maxwell; we have a mutual acquaintance -ye tall, red eyes, cute as a button, calls himself the Oracle? He sent me."
The noblewoman's honey brown eyes narrowed the moment the Gryffindor mentioned red eyes. "You've met him? Truly?"
The peculiar infliction of sudden irritation in Ravenclaw's husky voice didn't escape Duo's attention, nor did the sudden dangerous twitch of her right eyelid. The American absently wondered what Orie did that brought such a mood from the Founder. Instead of prying, he filed the interesting reaction away and cheerfully replied, "Yep. He's lurking in the Chamber of Secrets as we speak. He even gave me that swanky little riddle that brought me here -hard cheese, but as you can see, I managed."
Ravenclaw stared at him, nonplused. Addressing her next statement to no one in particular, she murmured absently, "The youth of today certainly have such a strange way of speaking."
Duo shrugged nonchalantly. "I get that a lot. So... Orie mentioned that we can find a ritual here. One that requires the Heirs of Hogwarts, the Boy Who Lived, and the school's own brand of weaponry. We could really use that ritual right about now."
"Ah," Ravenclaw murmured, her expression sobering. "So it is come to pass, just as the Oracle promised." Then, with a delicate raise of an eyebrow, the Founder echoed questioningly, "Orie?"
Belatedly, Duo realized he could have subtly coaxed the Oracle's real name from the Founder without the woman becoming none-the-wiser of Duo's baiting. The birth of the realization was too little, too late. "Our mutual acquaintance isn't very forthcoming with his name."
She nodded her head gracefully. "I would expect no less from the Oracle." With an inquiring glance, she asked, "If I may be so bold, Maxwell... What is your role in this?"
Damn. He glanced at the portrait of Zechs' den and found the room empty, as far as he could tell. With his voice pitched low, he murmured quietly, "I'm the Heir of Slytherin."
He knew that his ancestor had a falling out with the other Founders before the man left Hogwarts for good. With that in mind, he warily prepared himself for some lingering animosity from Ravenclaw -not the real Ravenclaw, he pointedly reminded himself, but perhaps the closest representation of the woman that anyone would ever find. He wasn't prepared to see her eyes soften, her perfect posture relaxing into one of motherly affection. "Salazar's Heir... I've been eagerly awaiting my chance to meet you. Sal often spoke of you fondly -at least, what he knew of you through the Oracle."
Duo blinked, a little stunned by the revelation. "Really? I mean... Well, why?" The shady Founder had been anti-muggle in the worst way; why would he have been proud of a descendant who had lived most of his life as the one thing the man had despised above all others?
"Of course," Rowena said warmly, smiling again. "He often referred to you as the Redemption of the Line of Slytherin." She settled in her reading chair, gently placing the book she'd intended to read on the table beside her before she met Duo's eyes again, her expression earnest and leaving no doubt to the validity of her words. "He was despondent to hear that one of his blood would strike terror into the hearts of the innocent and provoke chaos and disorder in wizarding society. When the Oracle proposed we meddle in the affairs of the future, Sal was ecstatic that you would be playing a key role in ending the terrible reign of the Disinherited."
So Salazar Slytherin really had been cheering Duo on over a millennium ago, like the Oracle implied? Surreal...
There was sudden movement in the portrait. Duo's head snapped to the side, relaxing his tense shoulders in relief when he spotted Heero sweeping through the suite's entrance in the center of the portrait. In a lot of ways, Ravenclaw's Library and Zechs' suite resembled one another in dimensions; both rooms were circular, but where Zechs' den had doors leading to other rooms, the library was nothing but a wall of books. The bookcase that Rowena posed in front of spoiled the illusion from the other side. Likewise, the higher elevation of Rowena's portrait gave the woman an almost smugly superior view of Zechs' den, as if she were looking down on the outside world with a certain amount of transcendence. Duo wouldn't doubt that the real Rowena Ravenclaw had position her portrait double just for that affect; she would have wanted herself to have a reason to stroke her own ego.
Orie wasn't kidding about Rowena's strongest flaw -benevolent to friends, but irritatingly conceited nonetheless.
Following Heero were the others, Zechs immediately bringing up the rear behind Wufei. The Preventer prompted the wall shut before any passers-by could see into the room.
Wufei's reaction to seeing Duo inside of Zechs' portrait was the most amusing; the Chinese Ravenclaw, almond-shaped eyes impossibly wide, stumbled back into Zechs in disbelief. The older man's hands grasped Wufei's shoulders to steady him. Wufei... blushed. The former White Fang leader seemed to freeze for a moment before looking around to see if the others had noticed. He visibly relaxed when he saw the others otherwise enraptured with Duo's state.
Duo, of course, had a grand view of it.
Draco, however, was a little less surprised and a little more derogatory with his reaction. With a weary sigh, he muttered waspishly, "Oh, spirits, he's had himself painted. Portraits of Hogwarts, beware."
Without missing a beat, Duo nonchalantly replied, "Not quite -but it's a good idea. I'll have to make a note of that."
Quatre was the first to work out how Duo ended up inside of a portrait -and why. Expression brightening, the blond Hufflepuff exclaimed, "Duo! You found it!"
Trowa, visibly impressed with either Duo's success or Ravenclaw's secret entrance (or both), simply murmured, "It was right in front of us the whole time and we never noticed it... brilliant."
Lady Ravenclaw visibly preened.
"I'm happy for you," Zechs said sardonically before pointedly asking, "What is it?"
Heero cast a silencing charm on the closed wall blocking the entrance to the suite, just in case anyone would press their ears to the wall in the event that they'd been followed -unlikely that spies would have gone unnoticed by five seasoned soldiers, but a necessary precautionary nonetheless.
"Ravenclaw's Library," Draco responded to the muggle's question absently, before he turned a skeptical gaze to Heero. "How lucky are we that Agent Marquise resides in the very suite with this particular portrait?"
"Suspiciously lucky," Heero replied, frowning.
Wonderful, Duo thought peevishly. He's contributing to Hee-chan's paranoia. Good going, ferret boy.
Wufei, catching on to what Heero was implying, said incredulously, "You think Dumbledore could have known about this?"
"I doubt it," Duo said, shaking his head. "You guys scoured every book about Hogwarts you could find. Ravenclaw's Library wasn't even mentioned. Even Orie admitted the only reason anyone knew of the Chamber of Secrets was because it was meant to be found so he would be discovered."
"We shouldn't question our good fortune," Quatre pointed out logically. "Instead, we need to point Hermione in this direction so she can find the ritual we need without revealing that we were looking for it in the first place."
Oh. "Uh," Duo hummed, looking at Rowena sheepishly. "You might have to pretend you've never met me."
Intrigued, the woman prodded slowly, "Go on."
"Harry Potter -you know, the kid the Founders did all of this for -well, he and his friends are more focused on Orie's prophecy. They don't know that we're involved at all."
"But you are an Heir of Hogwarts," Rowena said with a worried frown. "Why would they not involve you?"
"Because they don't know," Draco said, only a little frustrated. "In fact, the only Heir I've officially found is Gryffindor's, and that was by pure chance."
"Ah, but I am impressed you lack only two Heirs," Rowena replied with a smug, knowing smile. "After all, helping the Child Death Refused through our descendants required there to be a way for him to find our Heirs in the first place. That is why you must now seek the Founders' Legacies."
"The Founders' Legacies?" Trowa murmured in bemusement.
"Yes," Rowena said with a superior nod. "Four complete maps of our lineage -our family tapestries, located in Hufflepuff's Hall."
Grand. "Orie neglected to mention there would be another secret room I'd have to search for," Duo said dryly. Secretive bastard...
"One of his more irritating qualities," Rowena murmured ruefully. "Just as my companions knew nothing of the location of my library other than the riddle I provided, I am equally ignorant of the location to the others -Slytherin's Chamber, Hufflepuff's Hall, and Gryffindor's Hammer. While I cannot tell you the exact location, I can provide the riddle meant to lead you to it."
"Go for it," Duo said, mustering his renewed enthusiasm. After finding Ravenclaw's Library, he felt rather optimistic about finding Hufflepuff's Hall. Bring it on, pesky hidden rooms of Hogwarts. Detective Duo is on the case.
"My legacy is no more and no less than my fellow man. Our goals are as equal on common ground. Through song, you will be enlightened."
"Oh, goody," Duo said, cheerfully sarcastic. "Can't go wrong with vagueness."
"Bringing us back to an interesting question," Trowa said, "how do we point Hermione in this direction?"
"And utilize the library for ourselves," Wufei added vehemently, crossing his arms stubbornly. "The opportunity to learn even more is in that library. I refuse to let Granger hoard it."
Smiling slowly, Duo's eyes twinkled merrily as he replied, "I do believe I have the perfect solution to our little dilemma, my friends."
So Hermione took the mysterious -and highly suspicious -stranger's advice. For three days she delayed further research into any form of ritual that would involve the Four Heirs and Harry. Though she was reluctant to admit it, Ron had the right idea. Stepping away from books that didn't involve school or fiction had given her plenty of opportunity to clear her head. She even had more time to spend with Ron and Harry.
Of course, on their outdoor venture, Hermione had to convince Trowa that the Whomping Willow wasn't exactly the best tree to climb. Unfortunately, the Slytherin could not be persuaded to see reason.
"What in the world does he think he's doing?" Hermione half-shrieked, half-demanded as she literally bolted to the group gathered a safe distance away from the volatile tree, save for the tall, slim Slytherin who was boldly approaching ground zero -the area in which the Whomping Willow could successfully land a blow with one of many of its long branches. Much to her confusion, no one was stopping Trowa. Duo was even casually crunching on a bag of muggle potato chips, though only Lord knew how he'd managed to find such a rarity unless he had taken the initiative and packed a secret stash.
"Oh," Duo said, a surprisingly pleased look on his face as he turned to look at her. "Hey, 'Mione. Don't worry about Tro. He knows what he's doing." He held out the open bag of chips, smiling invitingly. "Muggle junk food? I'd offer you Skittles, but Draco ganked mine.(1)"
Black shot the American a scathing look. "You gave them to me, you prat."
"Because you were eyeing them like I've seen you zeroing in on coffee," Duo said promptly, smirking at the blond. "Far be it for me to get in the way of such an obvious addiction."
"You don't have any proper junk food," Draco said bitterly, pouring a handful of the colorful candies in his palm. "This is the next best alternative. It doesn't count."
Hermione stared at them, baffled. Duo parried easily, "Yeah, but you like them best of all muggle things. Point is, you like muggle candy when it's convenient." He grinned boldly. "That's a win in my book."
Draco nonchalantly popped a couple of the candies in his mouth. "Shut up, Duo."
"What are they talking about?" Ron muttered having only been a few paces behind Hermione and Harry. Hermione shook her head wordlessly, completely lost.
"Duo is hellbent on making Draco appreciate muggle conveniences," Harry explained quietly. "They had electricity installed at the mansion. Draco knows the basic functions of a television and a disc player now."
A part of her was amused that Duo would go so far, but the sensible part was in firm control. "Isn't anyone going to stop him? He's going to get hurt!"
"Nah," Duo shrugged. "He's fine. Just watch."
Maybe they merely didn't know what the tree did, though she couldn't fathom why Black would have neglected to mention anything. "That tree swings its branches at anyone who gets close, Duo."
Duo laughed. "I know! Draco told us. That's why Trowa is going to give it a workout."
"You don't have to worry, Hermione," Quatre said earnestly, turning to smile at her. "Trowa's a professional."
"A professional... tree fighter?" Ron inquired slowly, staring as the Slytherin paused to stretch just outside the Whomping Willow's range. He must be barking mad. That has to be it.
"Nope," Duo said cheerfully, burying his hand in the bag of potato chips. "A professional circus performer." He happily stuffed his mouth with the thin potato chips, crunching on them thoughtfully as he reconsidered his original description. "Kind of like a gymnast, really, only a lot cooler."
Hermione was about to delve deeper into that rather mind-boggling revelation (Trowa Barton? Circus performer? That Trowa Barton?), but her question cut into a shout of horror when the Slytherin took a running leap into the Whomping Willow's personal space.
The tree blurred into action, violently swinging several of its long branches at the intruder. Hermione's following shriek was intercepted by a sudden lack of air, causing her to quickly inhale through her mouth. By no means had Trowa froze in wait of the blow. He ducked the first, jumped at the second that came immediately after, and flipped out of the path of a gargantuan limb that had mercilessly pounded into the ground from above.
The Willow was a little slow to recover, and Hermione hoped that Trowa had the inclination to take the chance to claim the win. The spry Slytherin took the opportunity to scale easily onto the trunk by way of several smaller branches. It had almost taken him no time at all to reach the apex, and then he sprinted down toward end of the tree's reach -a path that was leading toward his audience. Unfortunately, his actions did not seem to be following along with Hermione's private hopes because he stopped in place. Then he crouched down and grabbed the limb firmly, bracing his feet close to his body.
"Bloody hell," Ron murmured dazedly just as the Willow began raising that same, thick branch high into the air, straight up. Just as it reached into the sky, Trowa adjusted his position by hopping branches to the other side of the thick limb, releasing his grip, and using feet to spring away from the tree. The move probably saved his life; the branch wasn't so slow going down, smashing to the ground on the opposite side of the stunned audience.
Their eyes were glued to Trowa as he somersaulted and twirled in mid air, spiraling downward before he landed solidly on his feet, bracing to compensate for the sheer fall. He easily slid down the trunk. The second his feet were planted on solid ground, he was making a dash for the perimeter of the Whomping Willow's reach.
Hermione held her breath in anticipation, only to lose it when Quatre suddenly broke line and sprinted forward. It took a second to realize why. An attack from behind had forced Trowa to leap forward, just barely avoiding the swinging branch. His momentum brought him to the ground, and had he not tucked his body under and rolled, it would have been a nasty fall. He was still on his knees recovering when another winding branch attempted to blind-side him.
That was, until Quatre skidded to a halt in the path of the punishing branch, standing guard between Trowa and that which meant to harm him. He reflexively raised his forearm to protect himself.
"Shi- Quatre!" Duo yelled, starting to run to his friend's aid. His pace slowed when the tree came to a standstill -limb just inches away from striking the blond. When the Willow moved no further, Quatre brazenly reached out and laid his palm on the branch that had intended to strike at his boyfriend.
Hermione's mind was spinning. Why did the Whomping Willow stop? Unless the blond was prone to accidental magic, she hadn't seen him cast a petrifying spell. Judging by his rash stunt, he hadn't even really considered using magic an option.
And the violent Willow had stopped. It stopped for Quatre.
"That was bloody brilliant," Ron exclaimed, eagerly following the others as they moved closer to examine the strange series of occurrences and to check the status of their downed companion. Hermione followed as well, hoping to find answers to the myriad of questions floating around her mind.
They closed in at the edge of the tree's reach just as Trowa was carefully coming to his feet. He moved closer to Quatre, whose face was aglow with concentration and some amount of amazement. "What are you doing?"
"I can feel her," Quatre murmured quietly, lost in the sensation of communicating with the willow. "In my heart. It's..." Words could not describe what he was feeling.
"What does she feel like?" Trowa asked.
... 'Feel like'?
"Is this like when you said the Forbidden Forest felt... heavy? Dark?" Harry probed, as if he'd heard or seen Quatre display this unusual behavior before. Hermione wouldn't have been surprised if Harry had forgotten about it, or at least written the event off as something unimportant.
"No," the blond murmured, running his palm along the rough bark. "The forest is draining, almost malevolently so. This is alive," Quatre added immediately, smiling softly. "Very, very alive."
"Wait, wait, wait," Ron interrupted, cutting off further conversation with his hands. "You mean to tell me that you can talk to trees?"
"It's not as simple as that," Draco shot off sneeringly, throwing Ron a disgusted look over his shoulder. "Didn't you hear him say he can feel it? Trees can't talk."
Hermione could almost hear Black mentally tack on, you dolt, but the blond refrained from doing so because Harry would only kick him in the back of the knee like the last time he had caustically insulted the Gryffindor's friends for no reason.
Quatre didn't seem to notice the discussion raging on around him. He was absently stroking the trunk, brows furrowed in deep concentration.
Wait. Feel? Feel...
It clicked. "You're an empath!"
That did catch the Hufflepuff's attention. Without removing his palm from the bark of the Whomping Willow, Quatre turned half of his body towards her, smiling slightly.
"The heart," Duo said promptly, grinning playfully at her. "Remember, Hermione? Quatre's the heart."
Hermione, ready to blurt one of the thousands of questions spinning about her head dizzily, instantly closed her mouth with an audible click of her teeth. She remembered. Not long after Quatre stumbled into the wizarding world and on the very evening the rest of them followed, Duo had explained what each of his friends meant to him. While he compared most of them to some aspect of nature, Quatre had been the only one the American had likened to an organ commonly associated with emotions.
"Uh," came a timid interruption, "guys? Mind stepping away from the incredibly violent and unusually docile Whomping Willow for a second?"
It was an unusual mixture of students from different houses that gathered a safe distance behind most of the group. Of the Gryffindor House, there representing was Neville and Ginny. Pansy and Blaise stood off to the side, distancing themselves from most of the others. The Ravenclaws present were Luna and Mandy. And from Hufflepuff, Susan, Justin, and Hannah were sort of hovering uncertainly away from the rest of them, and completely opposite of the Slytherins.
"Hey, just in time," Duo said cheerfully, bounding over to the newcomers with a jubilant wave. "I'm glad you guys came. It's such a nice day out, so I thought it would be fun if we hang out by the lake today before the weather started turning."
"We?" Ron parroted blankly.
"At least he neglected to mention his plans to all of us," Mandy said dryly, shaking her head at Duo. "Really, Maxwell, a hastily scrawled 'Meet me at the Whomping Willow ASAP -Duo' conjures up negative thinking."
"Seriously?" Duo said innocently. "Whoops. Sorry about that."
Perhaps the most phenomenal part was that they were all getting along. Well, as well as anyone could get along when Draco finally tired of endlessly insulting those he felt deserved his derision. Whatever problem could have cropped up because of the snobby little prat's poor attitude was eventually prevented by Duo's cheeky wisecracks and endless retorts, which immediately inspired a battle of wits that would have gone on for hours if someone didn't change the subject as soon as the opportunity allowed.
Once everyone caught on, it wasn't long before all adopted an easygoing outlook to Draco's insults. Even Neville was quick with an easy retort when he became the subject of Draco's attitude. The Slytherin Prince, surprisingly enough, seemed pleased with the development, as if to say, "Good. I don't play with simpering losers." In fact, he did say those exact words the very first time Neville stared him in the eyes and delivered an even retort in his own defense.
This was what the Founders wanted; what the Sorting Hat had been encouraging for three years. House unity was certainly important, but Hogwarts unity was even more ideal in times of duress. And they were setting the example -five Slytherins, six Gryffindors, four Hufflepuffs, and three Ravenclaws.
On the third day, Hermione spent her final evening of rest with Ron and Harry. as it was a Tuesday evening, the others had decided to use their prefect privileges and venture into Hogsmeade. Those that did not have such privileges -namely Neville, Duo, and Trowa -had innocently requested the use of Harry's map and invisibility cloak. To be fair, Duo had been the one posing the request; Trowa didn't even look up from his book while Neville suddenly began to worry about what nefarious things were in store of him, and how he was going to get out of it.
Not that Duo would let him get out of it. Hermione suspected that Zabini intended to be in Hogsmeade by means of his own.
It was when it was just the three of them -the original Gryffindor Trio -that Hermione decided to propose a change. "I think we should clue the others in about the prophecy."
Poised to throw a card down on a growing pile, Harry froze. The card slipped from his nerveless fingers before touching the floor with a loud 'snap!' The green-eyed boy stared at her in surprise, hardly aware of the exploding card.
Ron, blinking in befuddlement, croaked hoarsely, "What?"
"Neville, Luna, Ginny, and Draco know. They even help when they can, and Draco's been working as hard as I have." Here's where she had to explain her sudden change of mind. "I'll be honest -I find it very difficult to trust Duo and his friends, mostly because they aren't very forthcoming about their pasts. But they seem so genuinely earnest about keeping us all safe, and they're very good friends of ours... Maybe it's time to bring them up to speed about what we're doing."
Harry shook himself from his shock, turning to grin at the redhead across from him. "You owe Draco a week of complacent tolerance."
Ron mumbled a stream of bitter curses under his breathe. Frowning, Hermione said, "Ron, don't swear. Harry... what?"
"Draco bet Ron that you'd eventually change your mind about keeping the others in the dark. He was pretty sure you'd realize everything would be easier with more help." Harry grinned teasingly at the redhead. "Ron said you were too stubborn to even consider it."
"Harry," Ron hissed before smiling nervously at his girlfriend. The youngest Weasley son had every right to feel unnerved, if Hermione's stern glare was anything to go by.
"Stubborn?" she repeated archly as the redhead began to sweat. He nearly gasped in relief when an owl swooped down the staircase leading to the girls' dorm, immediately finding a perch on the arm of the chair Hermione was sitting in. One could only assume the owl had utilized an open window in the tower to find her at such an odd time during the evening, while most owl post arrived in massive droves during the morning hours.
Ire almost completely forgotten, Hermione carefully removed the small envelope that had been tied to the barn owl's leg with an emerald green ribbon. Her name was the only thing written on the front in crisp, nondescript handwriting.
Ron was instantly wary. "Who's that from?"
Without replying, she pulled the flap that had been tucked into the lower lip of the envelope and pulled out a simple square of parchment that had been folded in half.
You will locate what you desire on the fourth floor north
wing between the portrait of the angels and the battle
between giants and men.
Wait there for further instructions.
Yours in partnership,
the Heir of Slytherin
She bolted to her feet, her eyes scarcely leaving the simple note that she found herself grasping tightly in her hands. It was as the stranger -Orie -had promised; this was her sign! And from someone who signed the message as 'the Heir of Slytherin'! Yet, one thing still bothered her. How could a stranger know such a thing...?
"What is it?" Harry said, placing his forgotten cards on the coffee table before standing up and moving to Hermione's side. Ron, taking his cue from harry, scrambled from his seat on the floor to approach Hermione's other side.
"We need to head for the north wing on the fourth floor," Hermione said eagerly, fairly shoving the note into Harry's hands before hurriedly donning a warm evening cloak for the late walk through the school. Curfew wasn't for another few hours yet, though she still felt leery about venturing so far from Gryffindor Tower.
"The Heir of Slytherin!" Ron yelped, agog. "So... So You Know Who does have a kid?"
"I doubt Voldemort would go out of his way to help us in any way, shape, or form," Harry replied, frowning thoughtfully. "I'm a little curious about how someone we can't seem to find knows about what we're doing -and what he or she thinks we need that's on the fourth floor."
Hermione, thrumming with rekindled enthusiasm, smiled eagerly as she reverently breathed, "I don't know; he didn't tell me. But I suspect whatever it is, it's where I'll most likely find exactly what we need -the ritual mentioned in the prophecy!"
"He who?" Harry asked, baffled. The two boys rushed after her as she crawled out of the entrance to Gryffindor Tower.
"Draco's friend," Hermione admitted as she hurried up several flights of stairs, hardly sparing her friends a glance to see if they were keeping up with her pace. "Well, Draco's whatever -oh, wait!" She cried, finally glancing at them from over her shoulder. "Do you think this means Orie is the Heir of Slytherin?"
"Who the bloody hell is Orie?" Ron demanded, sounding oddly jealous.
"He's the one who suggested I take a break from researching, remember?" Hermione replied, finally arriving on the fifth floor before turning a corner in the direction of the east corridor. "Draco and I were arguing about him after he told us, well, about you."
"And you were alone with this Orie guy?" Ron demanded incredulously. "Hermione! The Heir of Slytherin! Remember who we're talking about here!" He stopped suddenly. "Didn't you ever think that we could be running straight into a trap?"
Harry slowed to a stop, a few paces in front of Ron. The redhead did have a valid point. Hermione had been forced to halt progress, as well, but she didn't appear to consider the idea likely. In fact, Hermione actually laughed somewhat incredulously, though she remained suspiciously silent. If Harry had to take a guess, the Head Girl thought such a statement was rich coming from either one of them.
Reason ruled out suspicion. "It's fine, Ron," Harry said in her defense. "Consider what's going on -he has to be on our side, if he's helping us find what we need."
They finally found the two paintings that Slytherin's Heir had made references to; however, between both portraits was nothing but a blank wall. There also appeared to be nothing that would give Hermione any information that would prove there was anything behind the wall.
That was, until Wufei and Trowa arrived, the Chinese Ravenclaw pointedly waving a letter similar in size of Hermione's mysterious note. With a raised eyebrow, Wufei said, "Would one of you like to explain this?"
Frowning, Hermione took the letter from Wufei and glanced over the message.
Hermione needs help. You will find her in front of Marquise's
suite. Help her search for her library.
Yours in partnership,
the Heir of Slytherin
Hermione narrowed her eyes on the note, murmuring, "Agent Marquise's suite...?" Library?
Trowa, taking the initiative, immediately pounded rhythmically on the wall between the portraits with the side of his fist one, two, pause, three-four times. With the other hand, he silently urged the Gryffindors to keep their questions to themselves by placing his finger on his lips. After only a few restless moments, the wall silently folded open.
Agent Zechs Marquise stood in the entryway long enough to note the group that stood outside of his suite before he stood aside to let them in. As soon as the wall folded back into place, he turned to the collection of teenagers in his suite and said, almost casually, "I'd hoped this wouldn't become a habit." Hermione noticed his offhand comment was directed mostly toward Wufei and Trowa.
"We hadn't intended it," Trowa said evenly.
Wufei looked at Hermione expectantly, lifting his letter again. "Want to tell us what you need help with, Granger?"
God, that condescending droll was annoying. As if sensing Hermione's irritation, Harry said, "It's a part of what we've been up to recently. It's kind of a long story, but it boils down to this: we need to find the Heirs of Hogwarts, and we need to find a ritual. Apparently, it's the ideal solution for our Dark Lord problem."
Trowa and Wufei didn't even bother to pretend to be surprised. "It's about time," the Chinese youth grunted, crossing his arms as he lifted his head proudly. "Maxwell has been trembling like an eager puppy in anticipation of joining the adventure since he put two and two together on the train."
"But why meet in Zechs' suite?" Trowa inquired thoughtfully. "And who is the Heir of Slytherin?"
"As for the Heir of Slytherin... we don't know," Hermione admitted. "So far we've only found Gryffindor's Heir; rather, Draco found them. The Weasley family."
"The whole family?" Trowa murmured, intrigued.
"As far as we know," Harry said, shrugging. "We're a little unclear on the technicalities, which is why we really need that ritual to help explain it."
"And you don't know anything about the person who sent me this letter?" Wufei asked.
"I... have a theory," Hermione replied uncertainly. "There's no way I can prove it without asking him -and I've only seen him once."
The two seemed satisfied with her response. "So why would Slytherin's Heir lead us here?" the reserved Slytherin prompted again, motioning their surroundings with a simple tilt of his head.
"Good question," Marquise muttered dryly. Instead of waiting for a response, he turned on his heels and disappeared into what appeared to have been his private office, muttering something about washing his hands of everything entirely and ignoring the fact his solace away from teenagers and children had been invaded.
Hermione, while slightly sympathetic to the man's plight, didn't feel very inclined to leave. "That, I think I do know," Hermione said slowly, her eyes taking in every inch of the room. "A library. Specifically, a hidden... one..."
She couldn't believe it. There, above the mantle of the elaborate fireplace, was the painting of a beautiful, pale brunette with honey-brown eyes and a long, graceful neck. The woman's attention appeared to be entranced in her book, but the small, knowing smirk on her painted cupid-bow lips said otherwise.
"Rowena Ravenclaw," Hermione breathed in awe, her feet carrying her closer to the fireplace. "Your picture is in Hogwarts, A History. You're Rowena Ravenclaw!"
"Such a smart witch in the House of Gryffindor," the woman responded in amusement, finally lifting her eyes from her book to stare down at Hermione in a superior fashion. "I suppose you would be the girl dear Sal's Heir told me to expect."
"Sal?" Ron mouthed almost soundlessly; the redhead glanced questioningly at Harry, who seemed more than a little stunned by Rowena's obvious fondness for a man who, according to history, left Hogwarts in a state of upheaval.
"Oh, yes," Hermione nearly squealed, hardly able to contain her building excitement. "In the note... 'her library'. Was he talking about...?" Eyes gleaming feverishly, she asked breathlessly, "Do you have a private library, Lady Ravenclaw?"
Ron stifled a groan of disappointment. Just when he was beginning to think that his girlfriend was getting over her book fetish, along came a sweeter temptation -old books.
Rowena Ravenclaw set her book on the table before beckoning Hermione forward. "An eager disciple of literature surely deserves such an opportunity to behold it. Please come in, Ms. Granger. My library has plenty to offer those who seek knowledge."
"But..." Hermione started uncertainly, not quite sure what the portrait of Ravenclaw was attempting to get across. When she finally looked at the rest of the portrait -specifically, the scenery -it finally clicked. "The portrait is the entrance," Hermione gasped, almost completely overcome with curiosity and wonder. "However did you manage such an extraordinary feat?"
"You mean creating an alternate reality wherein the portal resembles that of a painting, then leaving an independent memory of myself grounded in said alternate reality in which its own kinetic energy is enough to sustain me for this long? Simple, really." The Founder smirked with an air of smug superiority. "I'm brilliant."
"Christ," came a world-weary exclamation from an unexpected source just before the door of Marquise's office closed. To be fair to Marquise, he probably put up with the Founder's conceit daily. And even Hermione, blatantly star struck, had to admit that Ravenclaw was a little over the limit.
The Head Girl sobered, turning to look at Harry decisively. Finally, she said, "We should go find Draco first."
"Correction," Harry said bluntly, "I will go find Draco."
Swearing on his honor to be civil to Harry's friends be damned, Draco would feel the overwhelming urge to gloat and conveniently forget that Hermione was around if she came along with Harry. Best let him have his say for the sake of peace. "Ron can stay with you, too." Wouldn't be prudent to give Draco the convenience of his selective memory disorder another victim, since the redhead was the one who, in the end, lost a wager. Then again, considering what the wager was, Draco wouldn't really care if Ron was around to hear him.
"If Duo isn't in the Gryffindor common room already," Wufei said pointedly, "he's with Draco, Heero, and Quatre. They should be coming back from Hogsmeade by now." The Chinese Ravenclaw glanced at Zechs' office door, frowning a little. "I should probably talk to Marquise."
Trowa nodded in agreement. "I'll help Harry find them, then."
"I can go see if any of them made it back to their common rooms," Hermione volunteered, drawing startled glances from them. Even Trowa was visibly surprised that Hermione wasn't protesting at the undiscussed inclusion of the others, as Wufei had previously predicted.
"We'd already agreed to telling you all what was going on," Harry supplied helpfully.
Nodding thoughtfully, Trowa emitted a short 'hm' of acknowledgment before he murmured, "Didn't see that coming."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Hermione asked, forcefully calm. After Ron's little admission earlier, she was a little prickly about suspicious statements such as that.
Unfortunately, Wufei took the chance to tell her the truth in the most blunt, disgruntled way possible. "He means you're a stubborn woman, Granger."
Hermione had it in mind to scold Wufei for his assessment despite the unquestionable accuracy of it, but Ravenclaw interjected on the girl's behalf. The woman, posture prim and elegant, said smartly, "All the more power to young Granger, I believe." The Lady in the portrait smiled down at Hermione. "Not to be deterring you from your self-appointed task, child, but I would like to speak with you privately, if I may." Then, almost slyly, she cast a glance at Ron and said, quite innocently, "You may come along, as well."
For some reason, Ron felt a little unnerved. He vainly hoped his unease was founded only in his imagination. Somehow, judging by the way the Lady Ravenclaw's dark eyes were glittering, he suspected that he was going to be sorely disappointed in his positive assessment.
"We'll be back soon," Harry promised his two friends as he followed Trowa to the door. Wufei was already knocking solidly on the office door before letting himself in, closing it behind him. As soon as they were gone, Hermione conjured a step ladder and scrambled to the mantel. At first, Ron didn't see how going into the library would be such an easy task, but Hermione experimentally pressed her hand to the painting only for it to slide through the cool, tingling surface.
She was completely inside the portrait in a millisecond, forcing Ron to follow her in a more reserved pace.
When Hermione rounded the corner of the single bookshelf posed in front of the entrance, she inhaled sharply as she studied what was hidden behind it. Behind the shelf was an elegant seating area consisting of a Victorian-style couch, several Elizabethan chairs, a small nondescript love seat; and a dark oak table surrounded by six mated chairs, placed a fair distance away from the more comfortable furniture. Endless towers of books neatly packed onto their shelves extended upward as far as her eyes could see. Curiously, there didn't seem to be any way to access any book higher than her hands could reach.
"How do you get to the books that are out of reach?" Hermione asked, turning to meet eyes with Ravenclaw. The woman smiled prettily, but there was an air of self-satisfaction permeating the atmosphere.
"They come at my command," Ravenclaw simpered, genuinely pleased to be exalting over her personal role in the creation of Ravenclaw's Library. "I know every book in this library intimately, just as I know exactly where each individual book is placed."
"So you're like Super Librarian," Ron piped, earning a stern glare from his girlfriend.
Luckily for him, Ravenclaw didn't seem to take offense at all. "That is one way of putting it, yes." After all, super was a good thing, in her opinion. Granted, genius and brilliant were much better labels, but super was good enough from a Gryffindor.
Ron shot Hermione a smug glance, going so far as tauntingly sticking his tongue out at her.
Ravenclaw, hardly skipping a beat, added breezily, "Of course, I prefer to call myself a greatly noted scholar acting in the place of a librarian for the greater good, but those of your ilk like to keep things simple." She slanted him a sly look. "You are Gryffindor's heir."
"Well, yes," Hermione stuttered, stunned. Ron blinked owlishly at the woman, trying to decide if he should have been honored that his kinship with Godric Gryffindor was so noticeable, or offended by the possible insult to his forefather. "How did you-?"
Ravenclaw stopped the girl's question by flicking her wrist next to her ear. "A remarkable family resemblance, nothing more. His Lordship had a stronger jaw-line. It is the bridge of the nose -not the width, mind you -and the shape and set of the eyes that first captured my interest. Godric Gryffindor had kind brown eyes, and the same ginger hair."
Then, speaking directly to Ron, she said primly, "Your ancestor was a great man. A noble man. Never in my existence have I known a man that was as brave or as brutally honest as my dear Creator's friend, his Lordship Godric Gryffindor." Than, smirking, she added dryly, "Now one can only hope a certain amount of impulse control has been bred into you. The gods know that idiot was sorely lacking any control of his own."
Ron and Hermione clearly didn't know how to reply to such a backhanded compliment. When it became obvious that Ravenclaw's words were garnering no responses, she added airily, "Though I've no doubt the infamous obstinacy of the Gryffindors has been passed down through the generations. Even my Creator could not convince that stubborn ass that keeping a basilisk as a pet -and on school grounds, even! -was a horrible idea all around." She sniffed, turning her nose in the air as she muttered disparagingly, "Talking sense into that man was the equivalent of flying straight into a brick wall and expecting to come out of it completely unscathed."
Hermione latched onto the one thing that sounded off. "Basilisk? You can't mean the one in the Chamber of Secrets, can you?"
"The same," Ravenclaw confirmed grudgingly; apparently, the impression of the Founder still felt a little bitter over the whole ordeal. "Wretched beast that it is, dear Azraiel. How is it that you know of the creature that lurks beneath?"
"No way," Ron was mumbling. "I thought the basilisk was Slytherin's monster!"
"I guess the history books got it wrong," Hermione murmured, a little dazed herself. "Well, actually, the existence of the Chamber of Secrets was only confirmed very recently, so all we really had to go on was oral legend."
"In that case," Ravenclaw said, "I suppose the monster belonging to Sal would be the only logical conclusion. In truth, he cared little for the beast aside for company when he confined himself in the Chamber. He was too softhearted to slay it by his own hands."
Salazar Slytherin? Softhearted? I'm beginning to suspect all previous conceptions about the Founders are near to becoming obsolete, Hermione mused thoughtfully. Instead of continuing down the line of conversation, she made a point to indicate the unusual choice of seating. "The furniture here is rather eclectic, and certainly before the time of the Founders."
Ravenclaw smiled, placing a hand on a one of the chairs. Right before Hermione's eyes, it changed into modern lounge chair with a matching ottoman. "The contents of this dimension is malleable to my needs. The suite outside has been subject to many changes in regards to furniture." The noblewoman bowed her head daintily. "Some new styles, I find, are to my liking. Most of the modern furniture I've seen is quite attractive, but I fear I shall always treasure the classics." She spared a husky chuckle -more of a dainty cackle, really. "By my ancestors, it is a sight more comfortable than what we had to put up with in my era."
She pointed accusingly at the table surrounded by chairs, all obviously careworn and basic compared to the rest of the room. The wood was faded and unadorned, just as the matching chairs were. It was an eyesore compared to the rest of the room. "I am unfortunate enough that I do not have a chance to see how tables have come along since my day."
Ron and Hermione glanced incredulously at each other behind her back. Ravenclaw's personality was far more outspoken than either of them had expected, and her behavior indicated that she was incredibly materialistic. The redheaded pointed at the Lady Ravenclaw's back and mouthed, 'Is she for real?'
The bushy-haired Gryffindor shrugged helplessly, though her expression conveyed that she suspected that the Founder was authentic. "We can bring pictures," Hermione volunteered, a little uncertain. Ravenclaw's elegant shoulders pulled back as she straightened. She turned to them with such a feverish gleam in her dark brown eyes that both of the Gryffindors unthinkingly took a step back.
"Will you really?" she whispered, reservedly ecstatic. "And books? Will you bring me books? It's been so long, and there are still many more shelves to fill..."
She's more obsessed about books than Hermione! Ron thought, flicking another glance at his girlfriend. Hermione's uncertainty had settled into an enthusiastic smile, and her head bobbed eagerly.
"Of course I will! What kind of books do you want?"
Ron inwardly groaned. Just as he thought she was starting to recover from her book fetish, he lost her to a new mission. Aw, hell, she's never going to leave now...
"It's easier to ask what I do not want in my library," Ravenclaw said, rearing her head back haughtily. Ron suspected it was only easier for her to explain what she didn't want. His theory was proven correct when she started her laundry list of banned material. "Anything on Quidditch is forbidden, and keep the books of art sparse of both numbers and words. Art is to be looked at, not read about. Both are the Lady Hufflepuff's forte, and while her talent in art is still to this day unsurpassable, her frivolous outdoor activities were absolutely horrid for a lady of her position. I care not for hunting or amazing feats of bravery, as those were Lord Gryffindor's pleasures. I do believe I already mentioned the basilisk, didn't I? The history books you bring into my library must be thoroughly authenticated, there mustn't be any self-help guides of any nature, and fiction is only necessary in small portions. Do not bring me anything with '1000 Ways' in the title, nor any books on core school curriculum. I'm not daft. Also, don't bother with anything regarding Divination of any kind, as it is a talent that simply cannot be learned. Such things are for those actually possessing the Sight."
The Lady Ravenclaw paused, running out of fingers to count things on. "Are you following me so far, Granger?"
"Um, yes," Hermione said haltingly, a little overwhelmed. "Yes, Lady Ravenclaw, I believe I understand."
"Maybe I should be writing this down," the lady mused aloud, as if she hadn't even heard the girl. Muffled sounds coming from behind the bookcase derailed her from her train of thought.
They met up on the ground floor and attempted to look inconspicuous as the large group of seven made their after-curfew excursion to Marquise's suite. Unbeknownst to Harry, Draco, Heero, and Wufei made sure to arrange that no prefect stray into their path, as the areas they were traveling through were supposed to be the places they were to patrol that night. They only had to worry about the faculty, and the only two that roamed the halls after hours were Professor Snape and Argus Filch. Otherwise, the rest of the faculty left the necessary duty up to the prefects.
"Where are Granger and the Weasel?" Draco asked as soon as the entrance of Marquise's suite was sealed behind them, almost gleeful as he searched out his prey and his prey's bookworm girlfriend.
Harry smothered a grin. "They already went in."
"Went in where?" Quatre asked, effortlessly adopting an innocent posture.
Before Harry could reply, Hermione's head peered into the portrait frame, blinking at Quatre owlishly. She was soon followed by the rest of her body, as well as Ron's and the Lady Ravenclaw. "You didn't tell them?"
Harry glanced uncertainly at the door of the Preventer's office when it opened a crack, wondering if it was right of them to welcome themselves in without so much as a knock of courtesy. However, Wufei was the only one to come out of the office, and he made sure to close the door behind him. It seemed like the man chose to hole himself up in his office without so much as a by-your-leave, so maybe he didn't care to be involved.
"Things like this shouldn't be spoken of where others can hear," Trowa said simply, walking closer to the painting.
"Apparently," Wufei said somewhat standoffishly, "this is Ravenclaw's Library. We've been given a missive from the Heir of Slytherin to help them look for something to bring about the downfall of the Dark Lord Voldemort."
"Yes!" Duo exclaimed, punching his fist in the air excitedly.
Wufei smirked. "I knew you would like that, Maxwell."
"Well, yeah!" Duo said, as if it were obvious. "No one nabs Duo Maxwell and expects to go on living. I've been wanting a piece of this action since day one."
"Hilde contained you once, and she's still breathing," Heero pointed out logically, allowing a small smirk to break his composure when his American boyfriend crossed his arms and squared his shoulders defensively.
"Hilde is different. I converted her to our side." He shrugged passively. "Besides, she's a goddess in the kitchen, and I would hate to deprive the world of her delicious baked desserts."
Ravenclaw cleared her throat pointedly. "I do believe you are digressing from the task at hand."
"She's right," Quatre said, joining Trowa and looking determinedly at the portrait. His eyes weren't for the Lady Ravenclaw; instead, he matched gazes with Hermione.
"Tell us everything."
END CHAPTER SIXTEEN
(1) 'Zanne was a bit befuddled by the word "ganked," so I figured I'd explain it in case confusion is widespread. It's slang -my supervisor says it all the time when I "gank" her DS. :grins unrepentantly: If the word had a definition, I think it would be something like, "to steal; to take something for one's own."
One hour after posting: Gaaah! Stupid, stupid, stupid. :punches herself in the head repeatedly: I forgot to give props. KD EbonyKitty came up with Trowa V. The Whomping Willow. I just did her genius bidding. :grins: