Chapter 5 – Dispelling a Myth
In the beginning of December the school governors finally descended on Dumbledore and Snape. Receiving an exasperated complaint as they had from the three other heads of houses they thought it opportune to review the accused teacher's teaching methods. Interviews with ten students randomly chosen by the school governors from each house brought forth that all non-Slytherins were of the opinion that Snape was a terrible teacher and an even worse person, and the vote of non-confidence was unanimous among those thirty students while the Slytherins praised him to the skies.
Snape was finally investigated directly and while he tried to lie himself out of his predicament the non-Slytherin students offered to deliver memories from classes as examples. The governors themselves extracted those memories and when they saw the classroom behaviour of the Potions Master, especially in mixed classes with Slytherins and other houses they were appalled. Dumbledore wasn't happy at all. The verdict from the governors was clear. This teacher had to be dismissed.
"No doubt he's an exceptional Potions Master, Albus," one of them explained. "But he's the worst possible teacher. Actually he isn't a teacher at all; he seems to confuse the classroom with a torture chamber. He simply won't do any longer. We have a reputation to uphold and neither your Defence teachers nor this sorry excuse for a Potions teacher seem to be any useful representatives of your profession."
"Severus deserves our protection, ladies and gentlemen. He has been of great service to our cause in the last war and it is not right to cast him at the side just like that," Albus tried to defend his pet Death Eater.
"What ever he may have done before he started to 'teach' is not part of this discussion though. With his talents he will have no trouble finding suitable employment, Albus. It simply does not do to have a person in a classroom that has no teaching abilities or interests at all. You can almost feel he doesn't want to be there at all. Do not tell us that you knew nothing about it. As we have been informed there were numerous complaints before and if we were to approach the parents of students from the past ten years I'm sure we'd hear more interesting facts. His teaching career is herewith over. He has until the end of this week to leave the castle and we shall ensure he will not find any other teaching employment. We ask you to give him references only based on his potion-making abilities. He will receive his teaching qualifications from us. Backed up based on these testimonies the Wizarding Educational Board will be responsible for that. Any application for future professors of your school will have to come through us, Albus. Besides all of this you are very welcome to grant him protection wherever you may wish to do, Albus, but not in this school. In fact, not anywhere *near* this school either."
Thus Severus Snape's career as a Hogwarts professor ended. While he left the castle as quietly as he could three quarters of the students cheered through the corridors and the Great Hall! Dumbledore was left to search for a new Potions Master. He advertised the position and was astonished when he only received three applications, two from two old gentlemen who were already in retirement and one from Andromeda Tonks.
The school governors easily dismissed the two old men, not because they weren't good at what they did, but because they were simply too old to be placed in a school full of lively children. They were very impressed with Andromeda, who had studied Potions, but never worked in the field after having her daughter and then taking on the responsibility of raising Draco Malfoy. She had the added bonus of having been a Slytherin, thus she would be the new head of house Slytherin as well.
Her tenure was to start right after the Christmas holidays, but she came before to have her office and classroom redecorated and moved out of the dungeons. In her school days the potions classroom had been on the ground floor and she moved it back there immediately. She checked the storage room and stocked it with what she needed. Her office was close to her classroom. Then she took hold of Slytherin house.
When she started to teach after the Christmas break she felt immediate rebellion from a good number of the Slytherin students, but disciplined them harshly every time they stepped a toe out of line. She became quickly known as a no-nonsense teacher to every student in the school, matched only by Minerva McGonagall herself, even Draco sometimes moaned, but at one point Andromeda took him to her office to explain things to him:
"I know you moan about me being harsh, Draco, but don't fret! I *have* to drive it home to my Slytherins that everyone is treated the same, no matter what house they belong. This way they might still learn that they aren't anything better than the others. They need to understand that I'm not all of a sudden turning against them, but that I hold them responsible for their actions in a way my predecessor never did. He just left them to their own devices. I want to make them understand that they *are* responsible for their actions. But it's important for them to *see* that everyone who's stepping out of line gets the same treatment. Otherwise they just feel victimised as you have been by Snape."
"I understand, Auntie. It's hard, but I do understand and I'll try to make the others see it your way, too!"
"I'm glad you do, Draco, but you've always been a clever boy, you'll figure it out! I hope that in time I will be seen the same way you all see Professor McGonagall, because she's my model."
Harry, Hermione, Neville and Hannah didn't have a problem with the new Potions professor. They loved Andy and did their best to make her proud of them.
Some of the Slytherins still held up the view of the "blood traitor" Andromeda Tonks. She had married a Muggle-born wizard after all. But they didn't dare saying it loud anymore, once Andy had given them a strict talking to in the common room. She had stopped the private tutoring of the Slytherins in Potions immediately. If one of her Slytherins needed tutoring they were now obliged to find other students to help them, either in their own or in another house. Andy did more to restore peace in the Hogwarts halls within two months than anyone in the past fifty years before her had managed. She knew but she also admitted to herself that she was probably the first one in decades who had a real interest in creating unity instead of discord.
Her sunny disposition helped her to get along famously with the other teachers as well as the students. There was a considerable cut in fights born from house rivalry within a month or so. Even Dumbledore was glad to have her on board.
The remainder of the school year passed quickly for the children. The Gryffindors were able to beat Hufflepuff soundly in their Quidditch match and the third match against Ravenclaw turned out to be the hardest one, because the fair and able playing of everyone concerned was demanding and presented a thrilling and entertaining match.
Sirius and Remus had come to see the match and brought Edgar and Ophelia, both now recognised as a first generation wizard and witch. The little ones had great fun watching Harry up on his broom. Hermione had fun to have her little siblings at Hogwarts for the first time.
The Gryffindor team won the last match of the season as well and had thus won the Quidditch Cup fair and square for the first time in a good number of years. Oliver Wood wanted to kiss his house teacher, because she had found Harry. He had an excellent team of three Chasers and two really strong beaters, so he expected the team to become even stronger in the coming years.
The party lasted well into the night!
When Harry, Hannah, Neville and Hermione returned home for their first summer break they were all four thoroughly content. They shared their compartment for the trip back to London and were left alone for the most part. Only for a few hours Fred, George and Lee came to them to chat for a while.
"Any plans for your summer break?" asked George.
"We'll probably spend our usual family holidays with the Grangers on some coast," said Hannah.
"Sounds nice. Have you done that for a while then, since you say 'usual'?" asked Fred.
"Ever since Hermione came to school with us, I think. Must be a good number of years already," replied Harry.
"It's going to get even better now, because slowly the twins are worth something and can tag along with us," Hermione remarked.
"Yes, they must have grown nicely without us."
"Mum has written about their mischief a few times. Dad seems to be plenty amused. He thinks they get it from Remus and Sirius."
"How old are they now?" asked Fred.
"Five, going on six. They were born when I was seven."
"That's a very good age to start pranking," George grinned.
"Don't you dare putting any such ideas into their heads or my parents will have yours," Hermione warned.
"I'd have to meet them first," George said with an even wider grin.
"You'll just have to come to Gargle Island for visits, we're on the Floo, but I'll have to ask daddy, whether we can give you the password."
"I suppose you're not too keen to see Ronniekins as well, are you?"
"No thanks. We prefer pranksters to prats," Hannah said with distinction.
The twins laughed and admitted:
"Don't worry, he's not enough fun to be taken anyway. He's not done well on his exams, because he's not yet checked that he has to work if he wants to pass exams. We do just enough to get by, we could be loads better, but we are using our time at Hogwarts for better things than regular subjects," Fred admitted and George went on:
"But we do what we need to do. Ron just wants to hang around and play chess, talk Quidditch and eat as much as he can shove down his bottomless throat. He'll get his when mum sees his results!"
"Why don't you want to be better? I'm sure you could be brilliant, you're both very intelligent," Hermione asked.
"Oh, we're studying alright, just maybe not what we actually should, you know," said George and whistled.
"Well, the library stores a lot of information you don't directly need for the Hogwarts subjects," she replied, grinning.
"That's it, Hermione, dear, you've just said it. But don't tell our mum or we won't hear the end of it. Besides, a lot of our studying concerns business matters, which is knowledge we'll actually need if we ever want to open our own joke shop one day."
Hermione shook her head, but she didn't nag. She'd seen them do some sort of studies at the library on several occasions so she knew the twins did something, but left them alone, since they did something at all, unlike their still ignorant brother who bemoaned his fate to be the youngest of six boys who could never achieve anything because his older brothers had done it all.
"Ron's going to get some real trouble with your mum then?" Hannah asked.
"He won't be able to hide the fact that he's had less than satisfying grades in most of his subjects. And we'll rub it in that he will have to study if he wants to be someone."
"I have one problem with Ron, but that's a really big one," Neville threw in, "and that's his way of being the exact opposite of Theo Nott, bet he's going so far out that he's meeting Nott on the other end. He's so bigoted it hurts! If something doesn't fit into his very narrow model of things he won't tolerate it at all by calling it Dark. And that annoys me to no end."
"That's one part. The other is hat he's exceptionally rude, ignorant, clueless, lazy and unkempt. I've had the bad luck the other day to have to sit on the opposite side of the table when he ate. Yuck! Doesn't your mum berate him for that?" Hannah wanted to know.
"She does, but it doesn't really help. And we're no tattle tales, so we're not telling her to do it more often."
"I think you're doing right not to tell on him. You'd be lowering yourself to the levels of Percy," Hermione said.
"Exactly. And we can't do that! – Do you think we could meet your dads, Harry?"
"Of course. I'm sure they won't pull us out of the station in seconds flat. They'll have helped Dan and Emma to the platform, so we'll have some time to chat with them. I'm sure they want to meet our friends as well," Hannah said.
"I'm not sure whether they actually know your parents, but they know your oldest brothers. They said they were fifth years when Bill joined and seventh when Charlie started Hogwarts."
"Great. But you know why we really want to meet them… they're the Marauders! Well, we did meet your one dad, but that wasn't really meeting him, since he was there for professional reasons."
"Well, dad's become much more serious, papa said, because of his job. Knowing all about all those laws must rub off, but at home he's often still very silly," Hannah consoled the twins.
Sirius and Remus were indeed helping Emma and Dan to the platform. They waited with numerous other parents for the arrival of the school train, which took place shortly after five o'clock in the afternoon. As soon as the train stood still the doors were pushed open and the students spilled out of it. The platform soon looked like an ants' mound. Slowly the children found their parents or the parents the children. Harry and Hannah looked around and discovered their handsome father in the crowd. He stood out easily with his tall form and his long, shiny black hair. He beamed when he caught his little daughter in his arms. He welcomed her back with a tight hug, kisses on the cheeks and a whispered:
"I'm so glad to have you back again, love!"
"Hi daddy! I'm happy to be home for the holidays, too!"
Remus and Sirius had stood with a good number of other parents, the Grangers and some other witches and wizards. The respective children greeted them all and finally got together with the respective sets of parents. Sirius saw a sea of red heads very near them. Harry caught the twins' attention and called them over.
"Papa, daddy, these are Fred and George. You remember them, they filched the map from Filch," Harry introduced them.
Sirius and Remus shook the twins' hands and watched amusedly how the boys saluted them:
"Hail to the Marauders! We strive to scratch on your fame!"
Remus laughed and greeted the boys.
"We've heard quite a lot about the two of you from Harry and Hannah. I'm glad they also made some new friends."
"We've made loads of friends. We spent time with Draco and his friends from Hufflepuff and Padma and her friends from Ravenclaw, so we weren't only with the Gryffindors," Harry explained.
"Are we going away together again this year, daddy?" asked Hannah.
"Yes, of course. Somewhere quite special. We'll spend our vacation in the Vendée, a part of the French Atlantic coast," said Emma.
"In fact we'll leave from Gargle Island tomorrow. We are staying over and will use the ship from Jersey Island and then we'll pick up two rented cars."
The Black-Lupins and Grangers didn't hurry to leave the station. Sirius and Remus introduced the Grangers to some of their acquaintances the Grangers didn't know yet and they chatted for about an hour before the platform looked emptier because the families had started to filter out of it. A guard checked the situation so that not too many magical people fell into the main station at the same time. Finally it was time and they were let out to find their way home. Sirius and Dan flagged down taxis that drove them to the Leaky Cauldron, although the taxi drivers didn't actually know that. From the pub they flooed back home to Gargle Island.
After the long day on the train the children were quite exhausted. They didn't dispute their parents' decision to send them off to bed before nine o'clock and found their beds, Harry and Edgar in Harry's room, Hermione and Ophelia joined Hannah in hers, which left the guest room to Dan and Emma.
The next day saw the family packing what was to be taken along for their holiday and then they left, leaving Kisty to watch over the family pets. The children actually wondered, because usually the little elf joined them, but when they reached their destination in the late afternoon they quickly understood that she wasn't needed this time. They were going to stay in a small French château, which was now a very luxurious hotel.
They spent three glorious weeks of doing almost nothing, just having fun, going on little outings, playing in the swimming pool and in the surroundings of the house. The children enjoyed it as much as the adults did, especially since the adults were always there for them. Not even Hermione had tried to suggest homework to Harry or Hannah.
Nine very relaxed, tanned and happy Grangers and Black-Lupins returned to Gargle Island. The adults had their 'shagging time' as Harry put it very crudely and the children had been allowed to run wild.
They weren't back home for more than a week when the school owls arrived. Harry and Hannah studied the new book lists. While they wanted to go shopping immediately Remus told them that most probably the books weren't even available before the last two weeks before the new term started.
So instead of going shopping they invited Fred and George to Gargle. Mrs Weasley, upon hearing that, was quite put out and wanted the twins to take Ron along, but George flat out refused:
"Mum, he was really rude to Hannah, Harry and Hermione for most of the year. Do you really think they'll want him over? They clearly said they didn't."
Ron sat in the kitchen and had red ears when he heard this. His vacation so far had not been such a good one, because his father had not been pleased with his marks at all and had sat him down to catch up on his school work for a good part of the holidays. And for once Arthur had not allowed Molly to mollycoddle her youngest son, which meant that Ron actually did have to work through his first year books. The twins had not been brilliant either, but they had comfortably passed all of their subjects so they were left free for the most part.
Ginny had listened to them talking about the Potter children. She had been fed the stories about them by Molly from the earliest moments of her life and dreamed of meeting Harry Potter most every night of her life. She had collected all the little snippets from the newspapers and magazines whenever he had been mentioned for as long as she could remember. And like so many girls in the wizarding world she dreamed of one day becoming his bride. Molly did nothing to change her daughter's thoughts, even though she knew about them. She actually welcomed the opportunity of some of her children to befriend the Potter heir, because that would hopefully acquaint her with his guardians, so that she would be in time and position to offer a marriage contract between her daughter and the famed Boy-Who-Lived. She was aware that many other mothers probably schemed the same way and wanted to come in early. She was also aware that Arthur would have to be convinced, but she would do what she usually did, present him the done deed to sign and give him no time to think about it.
So she sent off the twins, reminding them to behave. Fred and George were welcomed warmly on the island. Sirius had given them the password to the Floo, which was set up for them personally, not allowing anyone else inside unless they had an invitation.
As was to be expected the twins took to the charm of the island as everyone else did. They spent a few wonderful hours together with all the other children and were amazed how many had been invited.
"There's always a bunch of us around. There are a few of us who come by regularly, have done so for ages. I think that Harry's guardians wanted a good group of children to see Harry as Harry and not the Boy-Who-Lived," Padma told George.
"Boy, that would to my mother good, she's fed our little sister stories about Harry for ages. I bet Ginny thinks she'll marry him one day," George snickered.
"Well, knowing Harry as we do we can imagine how he'd want a girl like *that* for his life-long partner!" Padma replied.
"I think he's already found his partner anyway," Fred speculated, glancing over to where Harry and Hermione sat at the table on the veranda, playing some game together.
"Parvati says so, too. She's already taught her dorm mate Lavender not even to try to wake Harry's interest."
"A nice girl, that Lavender, just a bit dim in some things. She's one for the façade, not the inside…"
"And Harry is all about the inside," Fred finished the sentence his twin had started.
Molly Weasley questioned the twins when they returned from Gargle. Like him she was quite astonished to hear that the Potter children weren't isolated on the island. That made her plan considerably more difficult, especially when Fred told her bluntly that Ginny would not even stand the point of a chance in pursuing the boy.
"I don't see why not – she's growing to be quite a beauty!" Molly exclaimed.
"He doesn't see that. He sees only what's inside, Mum, and Harry likes the girls just as they are – no facades. If he gets the whiff of a suspicion that someone likes him for his fame then he'll drop them immediately."
Fred hoped that she got his message, but his mother didn't really listen. She did listen when Ron told her later that Potter was only interested in one girl, as far as he could see, because she seemed to be his best friend, and that girl was the Muggle-born witch Hermione Granger. A Muggle-born and the saviour of the wizarding world? That would not do at all. She might have been a light witch, but Molly Weasley was a proud pure-blood. She might have been poor, but she held up the pride of the Gaunts when it came to her blood purity and while she was ready to accept everyone in friendship she would have been completely opposed to any of her children marrying outside of the pure-blooded society. When she told Fred that, he just grinned.
"Well, then you shouldn't try to snatch him up for Ginny, his mother was a Muggle-born witch as well as you should know. So there."
Harry himself was far from thinking about any kind of a future bride. He enjoyed his free time – the time Hermione left him off the hook from studying and doing their summer homework anyway and waited for the day when they would all go to Diagon Alley to shop.
One night a few nights before this planned outing he returned from dinner to his room when he stopped on his toes, seeing a house-elf he didn't know sitting on his bed.
"Hello…" he said, not knowing what to say or do.
The house-elf, and that it was one of those Harry had known immediately, because the creature greeting him with the lowest bow he had ever seen from anyone looked a lot like Kisty. Contrary to the always crisp looking Kisty this one here looked poorly, clothed in what looked like an old pillow case, with rips for arm and leg holes.
"Harry Potter!" the house-elf said in a high pitched voice. "So long has Dobby wanted to meet you, sir … such an honour it is…"
"Th-thank you," said Harry, but didn't know what to think of Dobby, so he asked:
"So, you're Dobby then. Is there a particular reason why you're here?"
"Oh, yes, sir," said Dobby earnestly. „Dobby has come to tell you, sir… it is difficult, sir … Dobby wonders where to begin…"
"Sit down," said Harry politely, pointing to his bed.
To his horror, the elf burst into tears – very noisy tears.
"S-sit down?" he wailed. "Never … never ever…"
Harry didn't understand at all, so he said:
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you or anything."
"Offend Dobby!" choked the elf. "Dobby has never been asked to sit down by a wizard – like an equal…"
Harry ushered Dobby back to the bed where he sat hiccoughing, looking like a large and very ugly doll. At least he managed to control himself, and sat with his huge eyes fixed on Harry in an expression of watery adoration.
"You can't have met many decent wizards," said Harry, trying to cheer him up.
Dobby shook his head, but in the next second he jumped up and started banging his head on the wall.
"Don't! What are you doing?" Harry asked, shocked.
„Dobby is punishing himself, Dobby almost spoke ill of his family, sir…"
"Which family do you serve, Dobby? I take it they don't know you're here?"
"Oh, Dobby cannot give away their name… but they will never set Dobby free, he will have to serve them until he dies…"
"And no one can help you? Can't I? Or my dad? He's a lawyer with the ministry, you know, he knows all the laws!"
"Harry Potter asks if he can help Dobby… Dobby has heard of your greatness, sir, but of your goodness Dobby never knew…"
Harry, who has feeling distinctly hot in the face, said:
"Whatever you've heard about my greatness is a load of rubbish. I'm not even top of my year at Hogwarts, that's Hermione, she…"
But he stopped quickly, because Dobby interrupted him:
"Harry Potter is humble and modest," he said reverently. "Harry Potter speaks not of his triumph over He Who Must Not Be Named."
"Voldemort?" said Harry.
Dobby clapped his hands over his bat ears and moaned. "Ah, speak not the name, sir, speak not the name!"
"Sorry, said Harry quickly, "I know some people don't like it."
"Dobby has come to protect Harry Potter, to warn him, even if he does have to shut his ears in the oven door later, but Harry Potter must not go back to Hogwarts!"
"W-what?" Harry stammered. "But I've got to go back – term starts on September the first. I have to learn! It's where I belong to, like all the other magical children!"
"No, no, no," squeaked Dobby, shaking his head so hard his ears flapped. "Harry Potter must stay where he is safe. He is too great, too good, to lose. If Harry Potter goes back to Hogwarts he will be in mortal danger!"
"Why?" said Harry in surprise.
"There is a plot, Harry Potter. A plot to make most terrible things happen at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry this year," whispered Dobby, suddenly trembling all over. "Dobby has known for months, sir. Harry Potter must not put himself in peril. He is too important, sir!"
"What terrible things?" said Harry at once. "Who's plotting them?"
Dobby made a funny choking noise and then banged his head madly against the wall again.
"All right!" cried Harry, grabbing the elf's arm to stop him. "You can't say, I understand, you're bound to your family after all. But why are you warning me?" A sudden, unpleasant thought struck him. "Hang on – this hasn't got anything to do with Vol – sorry – with You Know Who, has it? You could just shake or nod," he added hastily, as Dobby's head tilted worryingly close to the wall again.
Slowly, Dobby shook his head, his eyes wider than ever.
"Not – not He Who Must Not Be Named, sir."
But Dobby's eyes were wide and he seemed to be trying to give Harry a hint. Harry though, was completely at sea, but then he had an idea.
"Something with your master then?"
Dobby nodded eagerly, but jumped to bang his head against the wall again. This finally brought Sirius and Remus on the plan who had heard the strange noises, which were untypical for Harry coming from the boy's room.
Because Harry had been busy keeping Dobby away from the wall he still held strongly to the house elf, so Remus and Sirius both saw the distraught little elf.
"Dear me, aren't you one of the house-elves from the Malfoy estate?" Sirius asked.
Dobby desperately wanted to pop away, but he still nodded. This answer didn't betray his current masters so it didn't hurt him.
"What is your name, little one?" Sirius asked in a kindly tone, "you seem almost too young to have served the Malfoys, but I think I remember having seen you."
"Dobby, sir, but you may not ask any more questions of Dobby, Dobby must not betray his master's secrets."
"That's the nice thing for the master about house-elf bondage, isn't it? That keeps them from losing their servants as well as helping them being criminals. Do you know me, Dobby?"
"Dobby has seen young master Black at the Malfoy estate, sir."
"Well, then you probably know I am a lawyer for the Ministry?"
"Dobby knows well, sir. You is not liked in my master's household."
"What are you doing here then?"
"Dobby came to warn me from some evil plot that's supposed to happen to Hogwarts. I have no idea what it could be though. He thinks it's worse than anything I can imagine."
"Dobby, there is Professor Dumbledore who takes care that no harm will befall the children at Hogwarts," Remus threw in and continued: "Do you think that what will happen will be something one of the most powerful wizards of all times cannot handle?"
Dobby nodded eagerly again and repeated:
"Harry Potter must not be there when it takes place! He must not go to Hogwarts. There are powers that Dumbledore doesn't … powers no decent wizard …"
"I see. Harry will go to Hogwarts, Dobby, don't try to prevent it, we have been warned that something unusual is planned, so we will watch his back especially well. Please return to your family now," Remus said and Dobby complied with a last warning shot:
"Something terrible within the school. It's to be let loose!"
When Dobby had vanished with a loud pop, Sirius and Remus looked at each other. Harry looked at them expectantly.
"How come a house-elf can just turn up here? I know the Fidelius is gone, but the house is still unplottable."
"House-elves have that kind of power, Harry. They can pass through nearly everything. If you were ever in need of one of us Kisty could apparate into Hogwarts while no wizards or witches can ever apparate there," Remus explained kindly.
"That means that any dark wizard only has to send his house-elf here with the order to murder me?"
"That's true, but believe me that it is not common knowledge, so I need to ask you to be very held back with it towards others."
"Can we find out who Dobby's owners are through his name?"
"Yes, we can and I have already planned a visit at Amos Diggory's department tomorrow," Sirius replied, grinning. "That's why I asked his name. If he came from the Malfoys' estate he's probably been bought by another Death Eater family. I know we didn't get them all; there are the Notts, the Parkinsons, the Wilsons to name but a few who we couldn't really nail down."
The next day Sirius called upon Amos Diggory and asked for the house-elf register. Amos wanted to know why and Sirius told him about the strange appearance of a strange house-elf.
"This is in confidence, Amos, because if possible we want to have the little elf protected. He came to give us his warning upon the danger of his own life."
"Do you suspect some old Death Eater?" asked Amos.
"We'll see when I know who owns Dobby. I did get a positive answer from him when I asked if his warning was for something his master might have planned."
"That's worrying, Sirius!"
"It is. That's also why I'm coming straight away. My next stop will be with Amelia."
Amos took Sirius to the office where the records were kept. They looked Dobby's name up.
"Theodore Nott… not really a surprise there, is it?" Amos asked.
"Not really, no. I'll have him observed. That's what I want to discuss with Amelia and Rufus."
"Well, good luck. Would you mind keeping me informed about the affair, Sirius?"
"Not at all, but I'll come by personally when I have news, I won't send anything written, okay?"
"That's probably better."
"Thanks for your help, Amos."
Sirius went straight to Amelia Bones, who was waiting for him with Rufus Scrimgeour, the current Head Auror.
"Morning, Sirius. What's going that you called us both?"
Sirius related his story and told them about the planned plot for Hogwarts. Rufus looked up.
"Nott, you say?"
"Yes, he got off – much to my consternation I have to admit, I know he's a Death Eater."
"I always did, but he must have found a way around the Veritaserum."
"He wasn't questioned under the truth serum, Rufus. He managed to avoid that," said Amelia.
"Can you have him observed?" Sirius asked.
"I can't tell you how thankful I am to get that opportunity, Sirius! I've wanted to do that for more than ten years."
"Have him followed then, I want to know what he's up to…"
Two days later one of the Aurors who was shadowing Theodore Nott reported to Sirius.
"Hey, Shack! How's it going?"
"Hello, Sirius! Not bad, we're following him 24/7 and seemingly he hasn't noticed anything. Tonks can change herself to so many different looks she's great at shadowing. She's found out he's keeping contraband and we wanted to know from you if you will allow us to go on a little raid."
"Don't haste, Kingsley. Before you give the game away we want to know what he's up to regarding Hogwarts."
"Okay. Do you think you'll need protection when you take your kids to Diagon Alley?"
"I don't think so, thanks. We should be fine, but it would be good to know that some of you guys are patrolling the Alley."
When the day came Sirius and Remus both went with the children to Diagon Alley. They had Harry, Hannah and Hermione with them. The twins stayed at Gargle with Kisty. They were able to get all their shopping done when they arrived at their last stop in Flourish & Blotts. Sirius groaned when he saw the posters announcing a book signing with Gilderoy Lockhart, a well-known wizarding author who sold books like peas. But he wasn't in the mood to come back again later on.
In the meantime Dora Tonks was following her target to Knockturn Alley. She was astonished that he had his son along with him. When Nott went into the Borgin and Burkes, she quickly slipped into the shop behind them, disillusioning herself completely. Nott went to the counter, his son in tow and Tonks managed to hide in a big old cabinet. The shop owner wasn't anywhere close. She watched as the young Mr. Nott stretched out his hand to touch a glass eye when the elder Nott hissed:
"Touch nothing, Theodore."
Nott, turning away from the eye disappointedly, whined: "I thought you were going to buy me a present."
"I said I would buy you a racing broom," said his father, drumming his fingers impatiently on the counter after having rang a bell.
"What's the good of that if I'm not in the house team?" said Nott, looking sulky and bad-tempered. "Harry Potter got a Nimbus Two Thousand last year. Special permission from Dumbledore so he could play for Gryffindor. He's not even that good, it's just because he's famous … famous for having a stupid scar on his forehead!"
Nott bent down to examine a shelf full of skulls.
"… everyone thinks he's so smart, wonderful Potter with his scar and his broomstick …"
"You have told me that at least a dozen times already," said Mr. Nott, with a quelling look at his son, "and I would remind you that it is not – prudent – to appear less than fond of Harry Potter, not when most of our kind regard him as the hero who made the Dark Lord disappear – ah, Mr. Borgin."
A stooping man had appeared behind the counter, smoothing his greasy hair back from his face.
"Mr. Nott, what a pleasure to see you again," said Mr. Borgin in a voice as oily as his hair. "Delighted – and young Mr. Nott, too – charmed. How may I be of assistance? I must show you, just in today, and very reasonably priced – "
"I'm not buying today, Mr. Borgin, but selling," said Mr. Nott.
"Selling?" the smile faded slightly from Mr. Borgin's face.
"You have heard, of course, that the Ministry is conducting more raids," said Mr. Nott, taking a roll of parchment from his inside pocket and unravelling it for Mr. Borgin to read. "I have a few – ah – items that might embarrass me if the Ministry were to call."
Mr. Borgin fished a pince-nez to his nose and looked down at the list.
"The Ministry wouldn't presume to trouble you, sir, surely?"
Mr. Nott's lip curled.
"I have not been visited yet, but with the likes of young Black and that snivelling Bones woman in power I wouldn't hold out for my name to stall them much longer. There are rumours about a new Muggle Protection Act – no doubt that flea-bitten, Muggle-loving fool Arthur Weasley is behind it –"
Tonks felt a strong surge of anger.
"– and as you can see, certain of these poisons might make it appear –"
"I understand, sir, of course," said Mr. Borgin, "Let me see…"
"Can I have that?" interrupted Theodore, pointing at a withered hand placed on a cushion.
"Ah, the Hand of Glory!" said Mr. Borgin, abandoning Mr. Nott's list and scurrying over to Theo. "Insert a candle and it gives light only to the holder! Best friend of thieves and plunderers! Your son has fine taste, sir!"
"I hope my son will amount to more than a thief or a plunderer, Borgin," said Mr. Nott coldly and Mr. Borgin said quickly: "No offence, sir, no offence meant –"
"Though if his school marks don't pick up," said Mr. Nott , more coldly still, "that may be all he is fit for."
"It's not my fault," retorted Theo, "The teachers all have favourites, and that Hermione Granger and Harry Potter…"
"I would have thought you'd be ashamed that a girl of no wizard family and a boy of mixed heritage beat you in every exam," snapped Mr. Nott.
'Ha!' thought Tonks, pleased to see young Nott both abashed and angry.
"It's the same all over," said Mr. Borgin, in his oily voice. "Wizard blood is counting for less everywhere –"
"Not with me, I assure you," said Mr. Nott, his dark eyes flashing.
"No, sir, nor with me, sir," said Mr. Borgin, with a deep bow.
"In that case, perhaps we can return to my list," said Mr. Nott shortly. "I am in something of a hurry, Borgin, I have important business elsewhere today."
They began to haggle, which took some time, then Mr. Nott said: "Done; come, Theodore."
While they turned to leave, Mr. Nott said: "Good day to you, Mr. Borgin, I'll expect you at the manor tomorrow to pick up the goods."
The moment the doors closed, Mr. Borgin dropped his oily manner:
"Good day yourself, Mr. Nott, and if the stories are true you haven't sold me half of what's hidden in your manor…"
Once Mr. Borgin had left, Tonks climbed out of her hiding spot and quickly followed the Notts again.
The Black-Lupin family had met up with the Weasleys, especially with Fred and George, as had been fixed between the children before. Tonks met up with them shortly while she kept watch on the Notts, who were shopping at the Quidditch shop. The family had reached Gringotts, because the Weasleys still needed to get to the bank.
"Guess where I followed Nott just now, Sirius," she said.
"Borgin and Burkes…"
"Oh – did he buy anything?" asked Mr. Weasley, all of a sudden alert.
"No, he was selling. Poisons the Ministry could find interesting if I gathered it right from what they talked."
"Ah! So he's worried," said Mr. Weasley with grim satisfaction. "Oh, I'd love to get Theodore Nott for something…"
"You be careful, Arthur," said Mrs Weasley sharply, as they were ushered into the bank by a bowing goblin at the door. "That family is trouble, don't go biting off more than you can chew."
"So you don't think I'm a match for Theodore Nott?" said Mr. Weasley indignantly.
"Leave the Notts to us, Mr. Weasley. They're already under surveillance," whispered Tonks next to the Weasley patriarch.
"Ah! That's good news."
While they waited for the Weasleys to return from the bank Tonks asked Kingsley to try and convince Borgin to help them so they could raid the Notts the next day.
The party reached the bookshop just as the book signing started as stated on the large banner across the upper windows:
Will be signing copies of his autobiography
Today 12.30 – 4.30 pm"
"This is the author of almost all of our new books here on the list," Hermione said excitedly. "Great, we can meet him!"
"I wouldn't be too pleased, Hermione, he's quite the fraud. Believe me, at least 90% of what he wrote actually belongs into the realm of fiction!" Remus warned her.
"Do you know him?" she asked.
Sirius and Remus looked at each other and then burst out laughing.
"Do we know him? Oh yes, we do know him! Let's just say that compared to him Xenophilius Lovegood is definitely absolutely normal and sticks to the facts!" Sirius said with a laugh.
Then he asked:
"There are books of his on your school list?"
"Seven of them actually, daddy," said Hannah.
Remus and Sirius shared a look.
"SEVEN? You don't need seven schoolbooks for one year! Who would set this rubbish as their course material?" Sirius asked.
"We'll find out, I guess. But it can't be a good choice of teacher," Remus replied with conviction.
"Must be a woman. They love his books," Sirius muttered.
A long queue had already formed in front of the bookshop when they were finally able to get inside. At the back of the shop Gilderoy Lockhart was signing his books. The kids each grabbed a copy of "Break with a Banshee" and sneaked up the line to where the Weasley matriarch had already taken up excited position in the queue, holding her favourite book reverently in her arm.
"Oh, there you are, good," said Mrs Weasley. She sounded breathless and kept patting her hair. "We'll be able to see him in a minute."
"Question is: do we…" started George.
"… really want to see him? He looks queer on these pictures… sorry, Padfoot, no offence to you guys meant…" finished Fred.
"None taken. He's giving every pouf a bad name!"
The kids laughed and Mrs Weasley looked completely shocked. She looked at Sirius disapprovingly and stated:
"You do not use such crude terms in front of my children, Mr. Black!"
"Pardon me, Madam, I'm just giving it the name it deserves. If anyone is allowed to use such 'crude' terms as you call them, then it's us – we are, after all, gay. So's this creature over there, only his homosexuality is most probably a very unhealthy one…"
She looked completely shocked.
"How… how can you say something so horrible?" she spluttered.
"Because I know him quite well, believe me. He's been at school at the same time as we were – a Slytherin, too. Yes, I know, you wouldn't know that fact, because he carefully obscures it when asked. And he's tried to get in my pants at least once a week. But I was never interested and usually hexed him away from me. I'd not trust him as far as I could throw him," Sirius said calmly.
Mrs Weasley wasn't ready to believe anything like that. She kept on spluttering that Sirius should read his books to know that he wasn't 'this way' and to claim that was just wrong. Sirius shrugged his shoulders and replied:
"Seeing is believing, I guess. But I don't believe anything he mutters, inside or outside of his books. He's queer and I'm sure not a word is actually correct in any of these books."
Nevertheless, Lockhart slowly came into view, seated at a table surrounded by large pictures of his own face, all winking and flashing dazzlingly white teeth at the crowd. The real Lockhart was wearing robes of forget-me-not blue, which exactly matched his eyes; his pointed wizard's hat was set at a jaunty angle on his wavy hair.
A short, irritable looking man was dancing around taking photos with a large black camera that emitted puffs of purple smoke with every binding flash.
"Out of the way there," he snarled at Ron, moving back to get a better shot. "This is for the Daily Prophet."
"Big deal," said Ron sullenly, rubbing his foot where the photographer had stepped on it.
Gilderoy Lockhart heard him. He looked up. He saw Ron and not far behind him he spotted Harry. He stared. Then he leapt to his feet and positively shouted, "It can't be Harry Potter!"
The crowd parted, whispering excitedly. Before anyone could stop him Lockhart dived forward, seized Harry's arm and pulled him to the front. The crowd burst into applause. Harry's face burned as Lockhart shook his hand for the photographer, who was clicking away madly, wafting his thick smoke over the Weasleys and the rest of their party.
Sirius quickly pushed people aside, but until he finally got to the front, Lockhart had already taken the chance.
"Nice big smile, Harry," said Lockhart, through his own gleaming teeth, "Together, you and I are worth the front page."
"Leave me alone, you brute," Harry cried, not intending to comply at all. "I don't need you to make front page, as you know and my dad will have your hide for this!"
"Indeed he will. Let my son go, Lockhart. I see you're still the same old. If you do not unhand Harry right this minute I'll have you arrested for assaulting a minor," Sirius said calmly.
The photographer went wild. Sirius rounded on him next:
"Just one of those photos in your rag any time and I'll sue the Daily Prophet for all its worth! You know very well that I've banned all media contact for Harry and Hannah unless I want to give a statement or allow them an interview. Are we clear?"
With a wave of his wand, Remus destroyed the photos in the camera.
"No photos now, so much is for sure," he stated calmly to his lover.
Sirius and the Weasley twins grinned. Hermione looked scandalised at first. She was giving Lockhart the benefit of the doubt, but once she heard Sirius's story she was likely to believe him and Remus. If they had gone to school with the man…
Hannah was outraged. How could he just grab her brother? He obviously wanted some of Harry's fame!
Lockhart stood, completely consternated and didn't know what to say for a moment, but then he caught himself and stood to address the adoring public:
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said loudly, waving for quiet. "What an extraordinary moment this is! The perfect moment for me to make a little announcement I've been sitting on for some time!
"When young Harry there stepped into Flourish and Blotts today, he only wanted to buy my autobiography – which I shall be happy to present him now, free of charge – " the crowd applauded again, "– he had no idea," Lockhart continued, "that he would shortly be getting much, much more than only my book, Magical Me. He and his schoolfellows will, in fact, be getting the real, magical me. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have the great pleasure and pride in announcing that, this September, I will be taking up the post of Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!"
The crowd cheered and clapped and Harry found himself presented with the entire works of Gilderoy Lockhart. He managed to throw one or two of the books into Lockhart's face and get away though, but being cut off from his family was forced to go to the edge of the room where Ginny Weasley stood next to her new cauldron.
"You have these," Harry mumbled to her, tipping the books into the cauldron. "Dad'll buy my own."
"Bet you loved that, didn't you, Potter?" said a voice Harry had no trouble recognising. He straightened up and found himself face to face with Theodore Nott who was wearing his usual sneer.
"Famous Harry Potter," said Nott. "Can't even go into a bookshop without making the front page."
"Leave him alone, he didn't want all that!" said Ginny fiercely.
"Potter, you've got yourself a girlfriend!" drawled Nott. Ginny went scarlet, as Hermione, Hannah, Sirius and Remus and the rest of the Weasleys fought their way over to them.
"Oh, it's you," said Ron, looking at Nott as if he were something unpleasant under the sole of his shoe. "Bet you're surprised to see Harry here, eh?"
"Not as surprised to see you in a shop, Weasley," retorted Nott, "I suppose your parents will go hungry for a month to pay for that lot."
Ron went as red as Ginny. He dropped his books into the cauldron, too, and started towards Nott, but the twins held him back by the back of his jacket.
"Ron!" said Mr. Weasley, struggling over. "What are you doing? It's mad in here, let's go outside."
"Well, well, well – Arthur Weasley."
It was Mr. Nott. He stood with his hand on Theo's shoulder, sneering in just the same way. He hadn't seen Sirius and Remus yet.
"Theodore," said Mr. Weasley, nodding coldly.
"Busy time at the Ministry, I hear," said Mr. Nott. "All those raids… I hope they're paying you overtime?"
He reached into Ginny's cauldron and extracted, from amidst the glossy Lockhart books, a very old, very battered copy of A Beginner's Guide to Transfiguration.
"Obviously not," he said. "Dear me, what's the use of being a disgrace to the name of wizard if they don't even pay you well for it?"
Mr. Weasley flushed darker than either Ron or Ginny.
"We have a very different idea of what disgraces the name of wizard, Nott," he said.
"Indeed we do," muttered Sirius, watching every move Nott made.
"Clearly," Nott said, his eyes straying to Emma and Dan Granger, standing a bit at the side and watching apprehensively. "The company you keep, Weasley… and I thought your family could sink no lower –"
There was a thud of metal as Ginny's cauldron went flying; Mr. Weasley had thrown himself at Mr. Nott, knocking him backwards into a bookshelf. Dozens of heavy spellbooks came thundering down on all their heads; there was a yell of "Get him, dad!" from Fred or George; Mrs Weasley was shrieking, "No, Arthur, no!"; the crowd stampeded backwards, knocking more shelves over; "Gentlemen, please – please!" cried the assistant and then, louder than all, "Break it up, there, gents, break it up – "
Hagrid was wading towards them through the sea of books and people. In an instant he had pulled Mr. Weasley and Mr. Nott apart. Mr. Weasley had a cut lip and Mr. Nott had been hit in the eye by an 'Encyclopaedia of Toadstools'. He was still holding Ginny's old transfiguration book. He thrust it at her, his eyes glittering with malice.
"Here, girl – take your book – it's the best your father can give you –"
"Better than anything you could give me any day," Ginny muttered, loud enough for the crowd close to her to hear. She was quite pleased that her father had given this evil man a good few punches.
Pulling himself out of Hagrid's tight grip Nott beckoned Theo and swept from the shop. Sirius immediately thought that something was quite fishy here.
"Did this man buy anything at the shop, sir?" he asked the still consternated looking shop assistant.
"No, I don't think he did. I've seen him and his son the other day buying the boy's school equipment."
"Oh, since he certainly wouldn't be coming for Lockhart's book signing he didn't really come in to buy any book…" Sirius muttered.
The brawl had taken away all the attention from Lockhart's announcement. It even slipped from Sirius' mind for a moment, as he watched the scene between Nott and Weasley. In his mind he congratulated Arthur to his reaction. He still mused over the possible motivation Nott had to step into the bookshop. Even though he knew Lockhart as a former classmate, he wouldn't have come in for the fop's books, Sirius was sure about that.
Kingsley, in his function as an Auror, was able to re-establish order in the shop. He had watched Nott's every movement and once the man had left the shop he would be followed by Tonks again. Kingsley came over and got Remus' attention.
"Have a look at those books there, Remus. I'm pretty sure I saw him slipping something in the girl's book."
"You did? – well, that shall be looked into right now."
Sirius looked up. So that must have been it, he must have tried to do just that.
"That's why he's just left without having the last word," he said aloud.
"May I have a look at your books, Miss Weasley, especially the one that Mr. Nott just had in his hand?" Kingsley asked kindly.
Looking at him shyly, Ginny gave him the book. Kingsley shook it and out fell a small, black book. Sirius picked it up immediately and turned it around. It was a non-assuming little book that had a date fifty years prior and the name of a bookstore in Vauxhall Road on the cover and back and nothing else. How would Nott have got what was obviously a diary from a Muggle shop? Sirius mused. He opened it and found no writing in the book other than a faded T M Riddle on the first page in it.
"This is more than strange. I'll have to have a closer look at it, Kingsley, but something with this book is fishy. Minutes ago he ranted about Arthur and his Muggle Protection Act and now he's putting something into Arthur's daughter's school things? That alone cries something is up especially with something carrying the name T M Riddle inside."
"Do you know that name?"
"Kings, you're an Auror and you don't know it? It's Voldemort's real name," Remus said, exasperatedly, but quietly.
"You mean to tell me that monster actually had an honest-to-god-real name?" Kingsley whispered.
"Let me assure you that he was indeed not born Voldemort and definitely not a Lord. He fabricated title and name because he had a more than unhealthy craving for admiration," Remus, ever the scholar, replied and then his voice grew a bit louder:
"Does no one here know about the backgrounds of one Lord Voldemort, whose real name Tom Marvolo Riddle was discarded early on when he was still at school even, because dear Tom didn't want people to know that he had no pureblood background?"
People all around him shuddered.
"Oh really! It's just a name," Hermione cried out when even Lockhart was shaking.
"But what a terrible name, young Miss. We do not speak it!" someone said with as much dignity as she could muster.
"Voldemort. It's taken from the French words vol de mort and literally means Flight of Death. All it tells you is that the individual making it up was afraid of dying."
"But he is dead now…" someone remarked.
"Oh no, he isn't – that's just what the Minister wants you sheeople to believe. Take heed that I said the 'Minister', not the 'Ministry'. Though he'd like it to be otherwise only a small group of Ministry officials actually agree on most things with Fudge," Sirius said with relish.
"What? No! That's impossible. Your own ward defeated him ten years ago!" People were speaking up, pointing at Harry, and Remus took the opportunity to plant a little seed of doubt about that fact into people's minds.
"No, Harry didn't 'defeat' him. All we know is that a killing curse bounced off the baby and hit the surprised caster instead. Voldemort had already gone very far in assuring he wouldn't die right away and so he couldn't die fully. He left, a powerless spirit. We know that he can possess people as well as snakes because we've seen it happen last school year at Hogwarts when he had possession of the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher – which is what you're up against now, dear Gilderoy, and I hope you'll thoroughly enjoy the experience – but he is definitely not fully dead."
Lockhart started to look decidedly uncomfortable. Someone looked at Remus with more interest.
"How do you know that?"
"By looking into the facts and separating them from fiction, sir. As you know we've been closely involved with his disappearance. And we don't believe everything that finds its way into the Daily Prophet."
Sirius interrupted. He had been thinking about the Horcruxes and the book could possibly be such a terrible item. So now he asked around:
"Who has followed the exchange between Mr. Nott and Miss Weasley?"
A few people spoke up.
"May we collect your memory of that for the investigation? By looking at the memories we might find prove that this item has been placed in Miss Weasley's book rather than having been in there before."
Sirius was aware that the event had taken place in a very public place and he intended to make use of the fact. It also meant that he had to let out some information, which he was able to carefully choose, but which would help him with the Minister, who would have a hard time to dispel it if it went out of the shop and into the public. Sirius didn't agree with the Hogwarts headmaster about extreme secrecy. He thought if people knew about the human (or rather non-human, but man-made) background of the un-person then they would be more ready to kick his arse the next time he tried to show his ugly snake face. Sirius had matured and he had occasionally been working together with the DMLE's more seasoned Auror leaders in the past ten years, too. He knew they would be more than ready to take the fight to the Death Eaters this time and not wait for them to attack before they were allowed to react. He had Kingsley collect the memories. He knew that the more memories he got with the permission of the on-lookers, who were aware of the fact that to see a memory up close could bring forth many more facts than they could have consciously remembered, the easier it would be to convince Fudge that his financial backer was nothing but a Death Eater.
"After so many years I may get hold of the last one before Pettigrew," Sirius whispered to Arthur.
"That would be wonderful. He's the main influence on those who still vote against the necessary laws that would hold up stability and grant equal rights to everyone," Arthur replied with a sigh.
"Exactly. Arthur, I know it would put you in a bad light because you actually started that brawl, but you also looked, may we have your memory, too?"
"Gladly. I'm quite sure that he did provoke the fight deliberately anyway."
"I would agree."
The children had dispersed to get the other books on their lists. Remus accompanied them now and went with them to pay for the books, too. Dan and Emma followed suit to pay for Hermione's books. They were still shaking their heads about the open racism that hadn't been challenged by anyone but Sirius, Remus, Arthur and Kingsley. They were especially disappointed by the lack of support Arthur got from his wife. They had never met the Weasleys before, except for George and Fred whom they liked a lot. They had quickly figured that the twins took only one thing very seriously: their pranking. And that they learned everything to become better at it. They were quite pleased to see that even their exacting daughter seemed to like them a lot.
Lockhart had lost his moment and seethed at Sirius. He knew that he wouldn't be able to bring down the scion of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Blacks, so he quietly grumped about the injustice that had brought Sirius into the shop on his big day. Even his gracious gift had been denied! And Sirius had even parted with a threat that he would bring his book list to review by the school governors. He would ruin his biggest income in the whole year! Three hundred schoolchildren who all had to buy seven of his books would bring in quite a lot of money and he urgently needed it to pay his personal tailor! How else would he get the high quality coloured robes he always wore? He could afford losing many things, but not his tailor and not his hair-charmer! He barely managed his make-up charms, so his hair was always left to his hair-charmer. It had to sit perfectly at all times!
He was quite distracted while he tried to put up his fake smile to sign all these witches' books. Dear me, how they threw themselves into position in front of him! They would have let him screw them right on the floorboards of the bookshop if he only asked them to do it. Oh, but he would never soil himself with a woman!
However, his big announcement had been covered up and shoved to the back by a common brawl! He couldn't believe it and considered suing Weasley and Nott for stealing his lamplight.
Meanwhile, Kingsley had collected the memories of the Black-Lupin/Weasley company as well as those of about twenty bystanders. He grinned at Sirius:
"You can be sure that we'll watch these so closely that we won't miss the moment when he put it inside of her book, Sirius."
"Thanks, Kings. That will be a lot of work, but it might just be worth it. Nott sits in the Board of School Governors and I'd like to get him out of that as well."
"I think he's got a good number of enemies that one. With most of the others gone he's become the leader of the minority and not a very good one either."
"Just what I'm thinking. I know I should give this to you as evidence, but if it is what I think it is we'll have to make it harmless first. I can't utter a word about its significance, Kings, there are other items the same as this – not the same item, but the same nasty treatment. We'll need to find these in the near future to be able to get rid of the evil spirit afterwards. That's when Harry can truly start to live a normal life."
"Poor dear… I will tell Amelia about it. She might want to be informed of the significance it has, Sirius!"
"That's fine with me, but she'll have to meet me at Gargle or somewhere else safe, because this is not going out anywhere."
"I can't help but wondering. It looks perfectly innocent to me."
"It is – until you start writing in it, I'd bet. If it is what I think it is then this thing is extremely dangerous to anyone not aware of the treatment. To hand this to a young girl, even more so one who would think it perfectly fine to write in it is an act of utmost cruelty, believe me."
"Will you tell me when it's over?"
"I will. You'll be able to keep quiet about it. I don't even want this mentioned in public when it's all over."
"That must be truly horrific then."
"You really are at the forefront of this fight then, aren't you? First with the trials, then with the laws and now again with this…" Kingsley remarked.
"I am, but it became very personal when he murdered the only people I regarded as family apart from Remus. So I'll be there when he goes down, believe you me!"
"Woe to the fellow then. I know there's nothing that stops you when you really get going," Kingsley said, grinning again.
"And I can even be dead Sirius about it, too," Sirius replied, wearing the same grin.
They both laughed. Sirius joined his family again and they continued their shopping trip through the Alley. They finally parted ways when the Weasleys left through the Leaky Cauldron floo to their home and followed on to Gargle, from where the Grangers, now complete again after picking up Edgar and Ophelia returned to their own home in Oxford.
Sirius and Remus sent the children off to bed at eight and then Sirius took out the diary.
"I'm pretty sure this is one, Remus. I'm feeling the compulsion to write in it, but won't – if it is a Horcrux then it holds half of Voldemort's soul. I'm sure this was his first one, the date should be about right, 1942…"
"Better take it to Grimmauld, Siri," Remus whispered, as if the diary could hear him.
"Yes, that's what I'm going to do right now. I'll also inform Dumbledore. We'll see how we can destroy it. That book tells us how, but I didn't learn it by heart, so I'll have to check it again. I don't want to be alone when I do it."
"I'm coming along. Kisty can watch out for the children for the evening."
"I can't always take the easy way out, love, and you might need someone to pull you out, you never know."
They informed the house-elf and left to Sirius' parental home where they laid the diary on a table. Sirius floo called the headmaster.
"We need you here at Grimmauld for a moment, Albus."
"That sounds urgent?"
"It is, believe me. More important than urgent though."
"Okay, let me pass through then."
Dumbledore reached Grimmauld Place a moment later and asked:
"Well, what is so important?"
"We are sure that we have one of the things, Albus," Remus said and pointed to the diary.
Albus looked at the diary. Then he picked it up, turned it in his hands and noticed the address in Muggle London. And when he opened the book to read a bit he saw the name on the first page, he was sure the young men were on the right track.
"How did you find this?"
"We found it because Theodore Nott senior was trying to pin it to young Miss Ginny Weasley today. We have had a warning that something terrible would be happening at Hogwarts this year and since that warning came from one of Nott's house-elves we took it very seriously. We've had him shadowed since then and today one of the Aurors on this duty has followed him into Borgin and Burke's, where he handed a list of poisons he wants to sell to Borgin. We've also had Kingsley with us who observed him as well while we shopped. At the bookstore there was a little brawl with Arthur, which Nott deliberately provoked. When he got himself out he stuck this into one of Ginny's books. Thought we wouldn't notice, but of course we were watchful of his every move and found it right away. Ever since then I've felt the compulsion to use it and to write in it."
"Yes, I'm feeling it myself. Not a good thing, Sirius. We should destroy it as quickly as we can."
"I'm just about to get the book from the library where I found the information on them Horcruxes…"
The three of them studied the short entrance in the book and found that there were several options. They could use basilisk venom, fiendfyre or a Goblin made item as these were the substances strong enough to eliminate Horcruxes.
"Any of you met a basilisk lately?" Sirius quipped.
Dumbledore and Remus both grinned, but Remus gave a halt:
"Before we destroy this: be aware that it was something that was supposed to put something at Hogwarts in motion. It must be something that's already there and this seems to be the key to unleash it. So – what could be at Hogwarts that's a dormant threat? Maybe it could be eliminated if we let this take its course…"
"Remus! How can you even suggest…" Sirius was shocked.
"No! Really! We would have to supervise it closely, but we might be able to find out some things that we need to have a hold on to eliminate them in the future. What could there be at Hogwarts that's a threat to everyone, but especially Muggle-borns?"
Dumbledore scratched his beard.
"You are on to something there, Remus. I admit to be scared even thinking about it, but it might be an opportunity to cleanse the castle. The only thing that comes to my mind – and this is in relation to Riddle – is the Chamber of Secrets. Numerous people have tried to find it in the past, but no one has ever even got close."
"Isn't it only a myth?" Remus asked.
Both he and Sirius had grown up with stories of that Chamber and knew that it was believed to have been a very successful red herring planted by Salazar Slytherin when he left the other three Hogwarts founders. But Dumbledore crushed their hopes:
"No, I'm afraid, it isn't, Remus. The Chamber has actually been opened fifty years ago. And the one to open it was Tom Marvolo Riddle."
"Ah – that brings the date on the diary and Riddle's stint at Hogwarts together," concluded Sirius quickly.
"Exactly. The more a reason to find everything about that Chamber we can find. Let me tell you all about the events back then. The year was 1942 and I was a Transfigurations teacher when we suddenly had some attacks on Muggle-born students, which resulted in two students and a teacher petrified and culminated in one young girl actually killed. Her body was found in a toilet on the second floor, where her ghost still roams – you might know her, she's known as Moaning Myrtle."
"Oh yes, and I know the very toilet she haunts. We were always using it because no one ever went there. So it was a good meeting point," Sirius said, grinning broadly.
"I do think we should take this along and then pay dear Myrtle a visit. No one ever questioned her ghost…"
The three of them flooed to the headmaster's office and went down to find the defunct girls' toilet on the second floor, where Dumbledore called for Myrtle.
She was actually there and looked as sad as ever. Dumbledore, after some kind preliminaries, went to the flesh on the bone:
"Dear Myrtle, may I ask you to think back to the day when you actually died?"
"Oooh, it was terrible, Professor! I was sitting in here, crying, because that dreadful Olive Hornby had been very mean to me again, teasing me about my glasses, and then I heard someone coming in, starting to whisper something and I noticed it was a boy! He was talking in what sounded a different language, it sounded very funny anyway, so I was just getting ready to tell him off for coming into the girls' toilets when there were these big huge yellow eyes looking at me – and that's when I died. I don't know how, Professor, I swear."
"You can't know, I'm afraid. Where did these eyes come from, can you show me that?"
"Over there somewhere I think. I had only just opened the door, so I can't tell you for sure."
"I'm still sorry that this happened to you, my dear girl. I always hated to lose students to death!"
"It's not your fault, sir," Myrtle said, but started wailing.
"No, it may not be, but we were still responsible, being the staff of Hogwarts. – Now, do you know who the boy was?"
"He wasn't speaking very loudly, but I think I may have recognised the Slytherin prefect – he was a fifth year? Tom something?"
All three looked relieved. They had just solved the Mystery that had cost Hagrid his life as a proper wizard. Sirius was at that moment determined to have his right to education and to using a wand reinstated. Dumbledore followed the direction the girl had pointed out. He looked at a row of sinks and all three men started to look for anything special on and around the sinks. Finally Remus saw it: a tiny snake scratched into the copper of one tap. He pointed it out:
"Here! I'm sure that must be it!"
Sirius and Dumbledore came over. The image of the snake sparked something in Dumbledore.
"Now it becomes clear why no one ever found the Chamber – only someone blessed with a Slytherin gift could have opened it. I'm sure we're standing before something enchanted in Parseltongue. But what could be inside?"
"Well, I'd bet it's something that has to do with snakes, too…" Sirius said mindlessly.
"Any of you met a basilisk lately?" he quipped.
All three of them laughed. But then Dumbledore became very serious again. He looked at his two young companions and said:
"Let's return to the privacy of my office and discuss our options."
Once they sat in a comfortable round, Dumbledore called a house-elf to bring the four heads of houses to him. They arrived soon and Dumbledore related their findings.
"Now that we have found the Chamber, do you think we should see if this monster is still in there and how we can rid ourselves of it?"
"We'd need a Parselmouth who is trustworthy. I don't think I've ever met such a person. That said I've never met a Parselmouth at all," said Pomona.
"Actually you have – both in one even," Sirius retorted with a grin.
"I have? How can you know this?"
"Remember my ward? Small, wild black hair, glasses, green eyes? That's him. Harry has been touched by Voldemort through this blasted curse and ever since he's been able to talk to snakes. Knows every single one of them on our island and keeps looking after them."
"Oh! I never knew…"
"We asked him not to talk freely about it. You know very well how everyone regards Parselmouths with suspicion. Harry himself enjoys the gift because he says it made him some great little friends. He could open the chamber for us."
"But that would be so dangerous. What if that basilisk jumps right out of it?" Andy asked.
"Well, we know who the greatest enemy of a big, scary basilisk is, don't we? After all we learned our lessons in Defence against the Dark Arts, didn't we?" Remus asked back with a slight sneer in Dumbledore's direction.
"I think, I do remember that they aren't very fond of roosters…" Filius said.
"Exactly. We could have him open it and throw a couple of roosters in – and then just wait, they're bound to crow at some point," Sirius stated.
"Errr, Siri, I think that won't work – they need daylight to crow. Do you think you have any light down there?" Remus asked.
"Darn. There goes my simple idea."
"We'll have to take Harry along. With no one else there he could try to communicate with the beast. We do need to cover up our eyes and cover them well…" Remus suggested.
"Are you out of your mind, Remus? Harry is much too small to do something like that," Minerva intervened.
"And he's a wiry, strong little one with a good head on his shoulders. I don't think he'll be a liability down there. We all go together. I'm sure with the help of a little Imperius on the roosters this basilisk – if it is even still alive – should be defeated quickly."
"Oh, the potions ingredients we'd be able to harvest from a basilisk of this age…" Andy said dreamily.
All others grinned at her. She looked like a Muggle who had just found the biggest nugget on earth.
"What?" she started. "Can't you see how we could sell a part of them and use the money for Hogwarts? It would benefit greatly…"
"Yes, we all agree on that, but don't dissect your basilisk before we have it, dear," Dumbledore replied, smiling. Then he cautioned: "This will need to be planned out well, however."
"Absolutely. And then I'm going to take down the last of Voldemort's inner circle, Theodore Nott, the only one slippery enough to evade Ministry prosecution."
"After so many years? How do you plan to do that?" Minerva asked.
"Oh, it won't be too difficult. All I need is to give a good look at these memories we collected tonight and at least a few of them will have seen Nott placing that diary here into Ginny's cauldron. And that will grant me the right to use Veritaserum on him. Once he's under a good dose of it, repeatedly if necessary, he'll spill the rest of his crimes. If we're lucky we might get rid of Fudge and his cronies at the same time."
"In the meantime we'd actually have a few other options for a Minister, unlike back at the time he became the Minister. It would be a good opportunity," Filius agreed, "especially if you caught out that Umbridge woman as well…"
Remus could only agree with that. Loudly.
Having a lot of Goblin blood in his veins, Filius was always very outspoken in his opinions and actions towards the pureblood and Death Eater factions. He didn't tolerate any of them and because he quelled any fights in his classes quickly and deftly he never had problems with his students.
"Let's solve one problem after the other, dears," Dumbledore warned.
"What is so dangerous about this little book that it could bring Nott down, Sirius?" Minerva asked.
"This? It doesn't look dangerous, does it? But it contains half of Voldemort's soul."
"What?" four voices shrieked.
"Voldemort has placed a part of his soul into this container. And he did this when he was still a student here at Hogwarts. This once belonged to him."
"That blasted child!" Filius whispered, recognising the name in the diary instantly. "I always thought something was not right with this boy."
Dumbledore summoned a quill. He handed it to Sirius and said:
"I presume my writing would be recognised immediately. But you can do it without raising suspicion. Why don't you start writing something in the diary? I'm sure it will respond in some way. There are enough people in this room to pull you out if need be."
"Rather let Remus do it, he's way better with clever words than I am…" Sirius suspected.
Remus picked the quill up and took the booklet. When he set the quill to the paper he almost felt the book pulsating in his hand.
"I think there's a compelling charm on it – it really wants me two write something down…" he remarked.
"Hello diary," he wrote. "I got this today and though it seems to be old and used I thought that since it didn't have anything in it I could use it to note things that happened during my days."
The moment he stopped writing the ink vanished and all of them stared in surprise as something wrote itself on the page.
"Hello there! Who might you be?" they read.
Remus took a big breath and wrote:
"I'm Sally. Now, this is rather surprising! Who would you be?"
"My name is Tom Marvolo Riddle."
"That's the name stated in the book…"
"Yes, I own this book."
"How does this work? I mean, I never saw a book like that before, and believe me, I love to read, I've come across many books before."
"Would you tell me how old you are?"
"I'm 15. I've just entered my fifth year at Hogwarts now."
"So you are at Hogwarts?"
"Wonderful. That's where I belong to, you know!"
"You do? Why?"
"Oh, just because that's where I get most of my energy."
"I've never heard anything about a Tom Marvolo Riddle though. Strange name you have, too. Sounds very Muggle, apart from the Marvolo part. That's not very Muggle at all."
"Can you tell me the date?"
"12th October 1992."
A few snickers were heard from the teachers. They grinned at how easily Remus wrote down very blatant lies, which, of course, couldn't be detected by the soul part encased in the diary.
"Ah, that would be why. I've been at Hogwarts in the early 1940s, you see."
"Yes, I see. That's quite a while ago. Well, I'm sure I'll have a lot of fun corresponding with you this way. How do you come out here at all, by the way?"
"I've put some of my essence into the diary, you see. And that's what answers to you."
"Ah – a bit like the paintings?"
"Yes, similar to that."
"Great! I'll see you later then, Tom."
When Remus stopped writing all the ink vanished and what the diary had returned had vanished, too. He nodded and said:
"Imagine what would have happened if Ginny had actually started to use this diary. She would have fallen under the spell of one Tom Marvolo Riddle. It doesn't take me much imagination to know how he would twist and turn her mind and use her to do his evil deeds. You will need to have a tight reign on the investigation, Sirius, no one can know about the real nature of this thing until we have found the others. It now becomes more urgent to actually find and destroy all of his Horcruxes, Albus. This thing here forces our hand."
"I know what some of them are, but not where they could be. I know where some of them are, but not what they could be," Albus said carefully.
"The where is more important than the actual what, I believe. If you know where to look then you won't have much of a problem to actually find them," suggested Sirius.
"I agree. Wouldn't be astonished if my blasted sister had one of them, since he obviously gave one to Nott," Andy said.
"Where would she put it? Gringotts?" Sirius asked, looking up.
"I have cleared her house when she was sent to Azkaban. I've only reduced everything and threw it into my vault. We can go and have a look. Otherwise you'd have to somehow convince the Goblins to let you into her vault. You might want to throw around your head of house powers," Andy told him, grinning.
"Sometimes they are actually of value, believe me," Sirius replied.
"But what about the basilisk now?"
"We need some roosters first."
"Oh, we just need to ask Hagrid, he'll give us a few of them," Minerva said.
"But tell him nothing, just tell him that Albus needs them. He's a sweetheart but he couldn't hold a secret if his life depended on it," Sirius told her.