Interview with the Slytherin Childe
Summary: AU. A press conference after Hogwarts Castle is captured by an unknown attacker turns surreal for Rita Skeeter. She gets more of an exclusive story than she ever imagined. Dark!Harry. A short, multi-chaptered fiction.
Part I: The Public Interview
Rita Skeeter was running flat out as fast as she could. It didn't matter that she was in acid green heels. She moved like a pack of dementors were straight behind her, like a competing reporter was going to get a scoop before she managed to claw it away from him. She was not going to miss whatever this grand, mad revelation was.
She'd covered the muck of political campaigns, the goriest of divorce contests, Death Eater trials, formal dueling challenges and their bloody results, even messily nasty scandals that were largely of Skeeter's own manufacture. All presented to the public with her own brand of special commentary. But it wasn't every day that the conqueror of Hogwarts Castle – whoever it may be, the press didn't yet know who – called a press conference.
She'd received the owl less than three minutes ago. The conference was due to begin in four minutes. Whoever this demon was, he sure left things to the last minute.
While she ran from Hogsmeade, she tried to review the little she knew about the situation. It had been three days since the takeover, but the facts were still dribbling out. Apparently the overly cocksure attacker had warned all those staying at Hogwarts on July 30th to leave by the dawn of the 31st. A few were naturally gone over the summer break, but there were twelve persons still in the castle when the deadline passed, including Albus Dumbledore himself.
Then the battle ensued the next morning. About all that anyone could determine was that it concluded very rapidly. One source pegged it at twenty-two minutes from beginning to end, no one escaped.
No one had been able to enter the castle since then or even get onto the grounds. It was like the place had become a fortress without the use of any walls or guards or turrets. The wards were so thick with magic that they almost felt solid to the touch nowadays.
Skeeter collected her hundreds of questions. She'd been fomenting most of the general unrest within the wizarding world with her articles and columns, under her own name and her dozens of pseudonyms. Now she wanted some juicy quotes to fill up her column inches for the next few days or maybe even a week. She wanted to keep her name at the top of a hundred column inches every day.
She nearly ran into the back of the wretched Oddment Lovegood when she arrived at the small gathering of worldwide journalists. Her lips pursed in general frustration. She'd have to get up to her old tricks if she was going to secure some sort of exclusive coverage of this little event. She was already plotting.
Then, Albus Dumbledore – was he still a Headmaster if his school had been captured by the enemy? – walked out the main gates of the castle and started processing slowly toward the outer gate, where the reporters were gathered. He seemed to be followed out by a levitating stone basin. It could be a Pensieve, possibly, but Rita had never seen one quite that large before.
Albus arrived in front of the increasingly large gaggle of reporters. "Good morning," he said, in a drawn, sad voice.
"I have several unpleasant tasks I must do this morning…"
"Excuse me," Oddment Lovegood shouted out, "why are you giving this conference? I thought the conqueror would be addressing us…"
"He appointed me in his place, Mr. Lovegood. His letter to you only invited you to a press conference; it did not mention who would be delivering it."
The cadre of impatient, and agitated, reporters settled down so that Dumbledore would continue to speak.
"My first duty is to lay out some ground work for the rest of the conversation. I do this against my will – and my better judgment – but I must say these things for the rest of this to seem credible, I suppose. I have brought a pensieve so that I may show you how I truly defeated the Dark Lord Grindelwald, a story I have refused to share until now."
The crowd of reporters murmured. Surely this tidbit would be interesting, but it wasn't as fresh or relevant as who had taken over Hogwarts. Still, they seemed to realize that there was a procession of events. Perhaps ancient history would give way to more interesting, more relevant, and more recent history.
An image sparked up then and hovered above the edge of the pensieve. Rita was capturing every detail she could.
Then Dumbledore started to narrate. "It was the final days of the war, back in 1945. The Muggle Hitler was holed up in Berlin. But Grindelwald had abandoned his puppet by then; he fled to a small town in Austria. I learned where he was and – as you can see – I disguised myself, walked up to him on the streets near the small house where he was holed up, and killed him. Then I killed each of his remaining supporters."
The pensieve imagine showed all that – and more. It was truly brutal what Dumbledore had done. He hadn't used the Avada Kedavra curse. No, he'd beheaded every one of his opponents by chaining together his severing curses. The scared, unprepared individuals barely had time to draw their wands against the brutal ambush. Dumbledore easily felled seven people before the memory stopped.
"I didn't talk about it. It wasn't good or noble or proper, of course. It wasn't a battle; no, it was cold-blooded murder that I committed, a revenge killing, justice as it were for my wife and unborn son who'd fallen to Grindelwald twelve years earlier." Here he seemed to hesitate before he continued to speak. "There was another complication, of course. A magical cold-blooded murder of any sort creates a schism inside one's soul; nothing can stop that. Time alone can heal it, at least partially. But I did not wait. I took the next step and decided to make use of this 'advantage.' I pushed that soul fragment out of my mind and into a receptacle – a Dark artifact I manufactured known as a horcrux…"
That was news, the crew of reporters understood. Rita was writing furiously in her tiny little notebook. No time for a Quick Quotes Quill. The real news was good enough for print this time, explosive as it was.
"…and that's how I find myself here today. I was granted all the powers given by the horcrux – suspended aging, immortality; that's why I grew my beard, of course, to hide my true age and lack of progression – I did not know about the complications of the dark device. To my everlasting detriment, others did. My horcrux was recently discovered and used against me. I am now in thrall to the person, who refuses to allow me to name him, who conquered the castle. In fact, I was his chief aid in the overthrow. I no longer control my own actions in any meaningful way."
Here the questions were lobbed toward Dumbledore.
"Why'd you do it?" The reporter was obviously fishing for information on the horcrux.
"Immortality is a rather strong temptation, Ms. Price. I'd saved the Wizarding World from a Dark Lord. I rather thought I was entitled to a very special reward, even if I was ashamed of it. Black magic can tamper with one's morality; it can tempt the whitest of the white into horrible actions. People can be upstanding leaders and dark deviants at the same time, you know."
"The wizarding world has painted a rather heroic final battle between you and Dieter Grindelwald. How did that come to be?"
Albus tipped his head to the question. It was obviously something he was eager to discuss.
"I said nothing. Others interpreted my silence as nobility, as reluctant heroism. They created what they wished; a story worthy of the feat, worthy of the Order of Merlin I only reluctantly accepted."
"Why are you telling us this now?"
Albus nodded. "I was told to. I was told to permanently ruin my own reputation as partial penance for the sins I have committed. And, it was also necessary for you to understand about horcruxes. They are powerful and tricky and intoxicating. But they are also beyond dark, black, corrosive, and deeply flawed pieces of magic. Indeed, all of the ancient myths and legends of the djinn – or, more popularly, of genies inside a lamp – are actually stories about witches or wizards discovering poorly guarded horcruxes and then taking them over and controlling the spirits within. Like the famed Aladdin and his lamp; a children's story to muggles, but in reality, Aladdin was well known as a wizard in ancient Persia and he became strong, ridiculously so, through his tutelage at the knee of the djinn he discovered inside that lamp. All djinn such as Aladdin's were once witches and wizards who managed to lose their bodies but not their immortality, hence their perpetual spirit forms. They cannot die; yet they must answer to one strong enough to successful possess the horcrux housing that djinn or soul fragment. Many throughout history, like Aladdin, like Alexander the Great, and others, have risen to heights of power by coming across a horcrux and besting it, controlling it, wielding it. It is no mean thing to have an immortal magical servant capable of any feat of magic; wars can be won with such a secret alone. In my case, as I am still among the living and not in spirit form, my entire body is at the command of the one who holds my horcrux. And, no, I did not choose a lamp or lantern to hold that portion of my soul."
The joke fell flat. Reporters were too busy writing.
"Additionally, I was commanded to reveal some facts that the Ministry of Magic has not released to you; indeed, these facts have been labeled Top Secret." That only increased the interest level of the people gathered there. "Azkaban was stormed and razed to the ground two weeks ago today."
The expected, stunned silence wasn't there. No, the whole area filled with questions immediately.
"Who stormed it?"
"Why did someone raze it?"
"What happened to the Dementors?"
"What happened to Sirius Black?"
That final shouted question brought everyone else up cold. Sirius Black! Free. The reporters began casting looks around their surroundings. No one seemed to feel particularly safe, even in the middle of a clearing just in front of the Hogwarts outer gate, even in the daylight.
"The one who stormed Hogwarts was the one who took Azkaban – and he I cannot name at this time. The Dementors were pushed into the ocean, magically frozen, and should perish as they starve to death, far removed from the souls they fed upon. As for the prisoners, they were all removed from the prison. All of them were questioned – retried, as it were. It turns out that seven inmates of Azkaban never received trials of any sort. Five of them were innocent of their accusations, including Mr. Sirius Black…"
Rita scowled. "That's a terrible lie."
Other reporters shouted out their own editorials: "Is this 'Conqueror' setting himself up as a new Dark Lord?" "Preposterous hogwash."
Dumbledore kept pushing his version of the story. "Peter Pettigrew, suspected to be dead, was in fact the betrayer of the Potter Family and the one who staged his own death with the help of all those Muggles he killed at the time. He had been captured in a raid on his hiding location…."
That admission was strange enough that it actually encouraged a few of the reporters to engage their brains for a few moments and actually think. Some of them were pondering if this could be true or not.
"…In addition, the Death Eaters at Azkaban are now in a far more secure facility, but its location will have to remain undisclosed for the time being. And, as a final announcement, Tom Riddle, also known as the Dark Lord Voldemort, has finally been destroyed. He, too, used the horcrux magic to maintain himself after his mortal body was destroyed, but his horcrux vessel was discovered many years ago. He was destroyed by the Conqueror of Azkaban and Hogwarts…"
The newspaper was writing itself currently, Rita thought. "Ministry Withholds Truth: Azkaban Conquered and Destroyed." "Peter Pettigrew Alive; Sirius Black Suspected Innocent." "Final Proof Voldemort is Dead." "Dumbledore's Dark Secrets: Grindelwald's Assassination" "Black Magic at Hogwarts: Dumbledore's Reveals His Own Horcrux." "Innocents Discovered in Azkaban." "Conqueror Identity Remains Secret."
Rita Skeeter asked the next question. "Why would the Ministry keep such things from the public?"
"You'll have to ask the Minister of Magic. I believe it was his decision."
Rita's eyes glinted. "The Cowardice of Fudge: His Lies Through the Years."
"Why are you explaining all of this? It has nothing to do with what happened at Hogwarts…"
Albus just glared. "The same person who took Azkaban took my former school. I think there's a lot of similarity, actually. And, I am explaining about the innocents found in Azkaban because I am supposed to deliver an ultimatum in several parts."
The reporters just gripped their quills tighter. They could begin to see the arc of this conference: shocking revelations followed by demands. The 'Conqueror' was some kind of terrorist. All of what he'd done was leading up to what he wanted from the transaction.
"The ultimatum is as follows: first, leave Hogwarts alone. Do not attempt to breach the newly improved wards as no one will like the consequences. Second, do not attempt to rebuild the razed Azkaban. Find a new prison and construct it humanely. The Conqueror promises to raze the next one should it use dark creatures as guards. Third, reform and fix your own problems. You have a justice system that sends people to prison without trial. You have a Ministry so inept that it cannot keep a small force from overrunning its prison and destroying it. You have a Minister who refuses to tell the truth, even about critical matters of public security. Clean your own house."
The reporters knew to start chiming in again. The warnings had been issued.
"The man's a terrorist," Rita shouted. "Why should we, or the Ministry, listen to anything he has to say?"
"It's in your best interest, Rita. It's your neck you'll be saving if you do."
Albus had never seemed so serious to Rita's mind. She shivered a bit as she made notes in her shorthand.
"What about these wards around Hogwarts? What's so special about them?"
"That I honestly don't know. I understood the previous ones, but have no idea about what's been erected in their place. However, I can feel their strength and their malign powers. I believe they're capable of killing, but I have no direct knowledge of this."
The reporters fell silent. All of them had attended this school in years past. It only seemed to sink in now that they would never be able to return. Their children, or grandchildren, would never be able to attend.
Mr. Lovegood recovered before any of the others. "What is this Conqueror going to do to encourage the Ministry to cooperate? It sounds like there's some innocent people caught in all this…"
Albus smiled sadly. He nodded his head a few times, as well. "True, yes, very true. The five who were innocent and never received a trial have already been named to the Ministry. Full and complete pensieve memories have been duplicated and sent with the other evidence. They have three days remaining to provide full and unconditional certification that the Ministry erred and these individuals are guilty of nothing. It is not a pardon the Conqueror desires for them; it is absolute acknowledgement that the Ministry was wrong… The Conqueror has demanded that each of them receive significant compensation for their false incarceration."
Mr. Lovegood continued on. "What happens if the Ministry doesn't act within three days?"
"Then the prisoners captured when Hogwarts was taken will not be returned to the wizarding world. And the Conqueror will take additional offensive actions to ensure compliance with his demands. He will not have innocents condemned without trials."
The bristling through the corps of reporters was all too visible. The hypocrisy of the statement was obvious: I proclaim these five innocent so fix your problem or else I will kill others to show you how powerful I am. It seemed a particularly bizarre form of self-blindness. This Conqueror was able to spot faults in others, but not in himself.
Albus raised his hand. "Hold on. The Conqueror has an offering to show his good will." Albus shot a spell out through the wards, aiming at a copse of trees a good thirty feet away from the front gate. "Those men and women were the guards on duty at Azkaban. The Conqueror returns them as a token of good faith. He will return the ones captured at Hogwarts, save for myself and Severus Snape, once the Ministry acknowledges its mistakes with the five innocents. And, as one final element, I am giving each of you a duplicated pensieve memory of Peter Pettigrew's confession under veritaserum. It should, perhaps, help smooth the way toward clearing Sirius Blacks' name…"
The questions raged then. Rita got in nearly the last one. "Why did he conquer Hogwarts?"
"I wish I knew, Ms. Skeeter. He hasn't seen fit to tell me."
"And why will you and Mr. Snape not be returning to the wizarding world?" That was from Mr. Lovegood.
"Mr. Snape has been classed among the Death Eaters, as he does indeed bear the Dark Mark. I, because of my horcrux, am not my own person any longer. My will belongs to the Conqueror. I must do his work, whatever it might be."
More and more questions flew through the air, but Dumbledore sadly shook his head. "Our time here is done, I think. Report the truth of what you've seen today. And carefully review the veritaserum testimony from Peter Pettigrew. Do not get on the Conqueror's bad side. You will rue the consequences with your dying breath."
He turned around and the pensieve lifted up and levitated behind the man. And, in the fraction of a second before the wards triggered a massive illusion to mask the castle and the grounds, Rita Skeeter, among others, swore she saw a small black-haired boy smirking at her from just the other side of the gate. And that small child was riding atop a massive serpent.
"No, a trick of the light. Impossible." She whispered to herself.
When she looked back to see if he was still there, all she saw were the massive ruins of a long destroyed castle. Even though she knew with her mind that it was an illusion, it was still quite a shock to her heart to see such a thing. Her school, in ruins. This was the illusion that Muggles saw when they ventured too near to Hogwarts. It was horrifyingly effective.
After staring dumbly for five minutes at it, she realized she had a lot of writing to do. And a lot of pseudonyms to manufacture. She decided, also, to heed Dumbledore's warning about the truth. If she couldn't be vicious about this Conqueror person, then it was at least open season on Cornelius Fudge.
Rita spent most of the daylight hours writing nine stories. And the rest of the paper was turned over to this news conference, too. Sirius Black's history was dug up and reexamined. Fudge's dealings at the Ministry were rehashed. A full history of Azkaban found its way into the pages, too.
This was all in compensation for still knowing next to nothing about how Hogwarts had been captured, save for the fact Dumbledore had participated.
It would take the Ministry admitting its mistakes to free the other Hogwarts teachers. And then they would be able to explain what had happened. Rita was very interested in that particular story.
However, when her stories were all filed, her mind turned toward being the first to flesh out the Hogwarts story. She stood up, grasped her handbag and quills, and almost ran out of the building. She apparated out of the office building and arrived just outside Hogsmeade. She made the transformation into her beetle form and flew towards the wards.
But she couldn't penetrate them. They were truly solid in some inexplicable way.
So, she decided to sit in hiding. She'd wait for someone coming along and try to hitch a ride. Rita had learned patience in her long years of chasing after worthy quarry.
It was a few hours after sunset when a single man walked the path between Hogsmeade and Hogwarts. He seemed old and somewhat frail, but Rita would not look askance at such a gift. She flew down from the branch of a bush and attached herself to the man's oversized robes.
She watched as the man finished his walk. He came to the outer gates. Then he set his hands on something outside the gates. It looked like nothing at all, but the way his hand shaped around the object there was clearly something there. Something that was plainly invisible. The man began to chant in a language Rita didn't understand.
But, she did feel the relaxation of the wards a few moments later. It was like the most carefree feeling in the world for a few moments. Then old man walked through the formerly inaccessible gates. And he just stopped.
A massive wave of power descended as the wards resealed themselves. And Rita found herself in a precarious position. She was no longer on the old man's robes. And she was no longer a beetle. Instead, she was lying haphazardly on the ground staring up at the night sky and the old man.
"Ah, I see he was only partially right. He was expecting more than one person to try to sneak in with me. But I thought no one would be so foolish. Did you not listen to Dumbledore's warning about the wards, Ms. Skeeter? They are more powerful than you know…"
"Who are you? What are you going to do to me," the vicious reporter pleaded.
The old man lifted back his hood. Rita recognized the face from somewhere. A chocolate frog card perhaps?
"Oh, good," the old man said after a moment of intense concentration. "He's on his way down. It seems that the Conqueror was expecting you…"
"You're not him," she said.
The old man shook his head. "No. Like Albus I was foolish in my youth. The Philosopher's Stone I am famous for creating isn't a lamp, nor is it Albus' sword, nor is it even a piece of alchemy. It is the disguising name of the horcrux I created five hundred eighty nine years ago – it grants immortality, but has none of the other properties I hinted at. No transmutation of gold, for example." The man gave a mock bow. "I am Nicholas Flamel, madam. And you have made a grave, grave mistake in coming here."