House hopping was what Harry called it. Show up at a mansion, a penthouse, a castle, and Imperius the stupid fools living within. It wasn't as if the hosts were suffering in the long run. They had money. They had possessions. They had power. Harry was merely borrowing from them for a time. Or stealing. Really, borrowing and stealing were interchangeable in hisf mind.
His path of destruction started in Scotland, near Hogwarts, and moved progressively southwards. He couldn't ever remember having so much fun.
In his humble opinion, destruction and fun were rather interchangeable too.
Until he got bored with his victims, he enjoyed toying with their lives. He could force them to indulge his every whim—compel them to kiss his shoes, coerce them into humiliating themselves, convince them to commit suicide. Ascertaining and abusing their fears and weaknesses was especially entertaining. Sometimes, he would return their lucidity solely to watch the horror playing across their faces. With eyes that roared a million protests, they bore witness to the actions that he made them carry out. And they could do nothing to stop him or themselves.
Playing God was just too much fun. From now on, an appropriate response to the inane "What would you like to be when you grow up?" would be "God", Harry decided. He would say it so seriously that everyone would have a good laugh and think he was joking.
If only they knew what he had been up to.
After the summer, a venal politician's reputation would forever be tarnished, an unstable actress would never land another job, and a capitalist who owned myriad sweatshops would never be able to exploit third world workers again. And the best part? No one would ever connect the strange happenings with the Boy-Who-Lived.
Now, with only a couple weeks before the start of year 2, he found himself in a wealthy London neighborhood. Just southwest of Buckingham Palace, Belgravia had a wide array of embassies and lavish abodes. Under the moonlight, his chosen residence rose up majestically. White stucco was cast into a pale gray sheen, and a single window in the upper left corner was lit in counterpart to the shadows of the eve.
First impressions were important, and Harry knew that climbing through the window in the dead of the night would send the appropriate messages that he wished to send. No introduction could be more suitable.
Reaching that window did not prove to be a challenge at all. Taking advantage of the wide terraces and his wild magic, he climbed nimbly to the top, using the glow of the glass panes as guidance. When he reached the balcony closest to his destination, he took a perch on the railing. A quiet command was enough to override the extensive security system, and a subsequent word opened the window gently. Using the overhang, he swung onto the ledge and tumbled inside.
Heart pounding with a gratifying adrenaline, he righted himself smoothly and allowed his eyes to adjust to the lighting.
Instead of the expected rectangular shape, the pastel walls curved around the room in a circle. Various expensive furniture pieces were arranged tastefully about the room—gilded vases atop a dark wood dresser, Van Gogh-esque paintings opposite a baroque vanity, ornate rugs matching ornate curtains. At the center of the masterpiece was a bed, also circular in shape. Attached to the ceiling, diaphanous yellow drapes screened off the gold sheets and excessive pillows on top of it. Sitting next to the bed on folded legs was a girl whose size made her appear almost insignificant in comparison to the rest of the room.
She peered up at him with curious eyes, so intensely green that they rivaled his own.
So intensely lonely that they made his stomach twist with a foreign sensation.
"Who're you?" Expressed in the angle of her tilted head was naïveté, not fear.
Caught off guard, the boy answered honestly. "Harry."
"Oh." Her gaze turned downwards and to the side. "D'you wanna play with me?"
Following her line of vision, Harry found himself admiring a miniature Tudor revival. It was no ordinary dollhouse; the money used to commission it could probably have fed a small country. Painstaking and meticulous, the details carved into it were simply breathtaking to behold. From his position, Harry could see the vague outlines of dolls within the house.
"Sure." He shrugged, prowling forward to sit next to her. "But shouldn't you be in bed by now?"
Pert nose wrinkling, she complained, "You sound like Ms. May."
"Who's Ms. May?"
"My nanny." Disinterestedly, she turned away and began to fumble with the dolls.
Realizing that she was trying to remove them from the house, Harry bent over to help. "What about your parents?"
"Mummy's in Hong Kong and Daddy's in Los Angels."
"You mean Los Angeles?"
She shrugged. "Yeah. They're never home 'cos of their jobs." Melancholy displeasure permeated her tone. "So Ms. May takes care of me. 'Cept Ms. May doesn't like playing with me. Mummy and Daddy don't like to, either."
At those sad words, a volatile darkness began to course through Harry's veins. "I'll play with you."
Brown curls of hair bounced happily as the girl's face illuminated with a beam of joy. "Yay!"
"What's your name?"
"Holly Pendergast," she announced eagerly.
"Okay, Ms. Holly Pendergast. Will you introduce me to your dolls?"
"'Course I will!"
An excited explanation ensued. Harry learned that the blond haired female was named Kathy, the brown haired male was named Robbie, and together they had a baby named Rachel. Kathy and Robbie always played with Rachel, Holly stressed, and they took veeeery good care of their little girl. Holly thought that it was a lotta fun. Harry thought that it was Holly projecting her inner desires onto her toys.
Much later in the night, Harry voiced a thought that had been simmering in his mind. "Holly, how would you like it if your parents came home and did whatever you wanted?"
"You mean play with me and stuff?"
"I'd love it! But they're never home—I already told you that." She pouted at Harry, as if the boy's forgetfulness were reprehensible.
"Oh, I remember," he assured her. "Why don't you go to sleep now. I'll have a special surprise for you in the morning."
"Promise?" Sparkling green eyes implored him to tell the truth.
Ms. May was taught not to question. In the Pendergast household, the golden rule drilled into her head was not, "Treat others the way you want to be treated." It was, "Do not object to the parents' work schedule. Do not ask when they will return from a business meeting. Do not question their actions."
So, when both parents returned on the same morning in mid-July (a coincidence that had never occurred in all her years of service), she said nothing. When they stared through her with strange, vacant expressions, she said nothing. When they spent every waking moment with their six-year-old daughter, she said nothing. When they played ridiculous games at the request of Holly, she said nothing.
However, she could not keep herself from asking about the odd appearance of a certain dark-haired boy named Harry. The answer—"He's our darling's new playmate."—was enough to satisfy her. After all, he had the appearances of an angel and acted like one too.
Or so she thought.
During the afternoon, a week after the Pendergast parents' return, she witnessed an exchange that would shatter her perceptions forever.
Harry had been conspicuously absent from the games that Mr. and Mrs. Pendergast played with Holly, and the latter had ordered her to search for him. Having no idea where to look, the elderly lady wandered up and down the halls for quite some time before a high-pitched squeal reached her ears:
"Dobby is bad house elf! Dobby is to be punishing himself!"
Eyes widening involuntarily, she scurried to the source of the noise. The door to one of the Pendergast's many drawing rooms was cracked open a bit—just enough for her to peek inside.
Certainly, her eyes must have been deceiving her!
Bashing its head into the floor was a grotesque figure. Ms. May had never seen anything like it. It had tennis ball eyes, and wore what looked to be pillow casing. A wound on his head was rapidly swelling, and dark blood was dribbling onto the Pendergast's expensive Maori-style rug.
"That's right, Dobby. Punish yourself."
Shivering, Ms. May felt more fear than she had every experienced in all her fifty-five years of life. Never had she heard a voice so dark—savoring another's anguish.
Casually, Harry was leaning against a nearby sofa, his lips twisted into a parody of a smile. "Are you sure you're punishing yourself enough?"
"No, Dobby is bad, bad elf!" More thumps onto the ground; more self-harm.
"Why don't I help you?" From seemingly nowhere, the boy produced a knife.
The silver, serrated blade was blindingly bright. The hilt was simple and well fitted into Harry's grasp. He wielded it with a finesse that could only have come from an intimate knowledge of how to use the weapon.
"Yes! Yes!" wailed the creature that called itself an elf.
Fervent distress possessed its ugly features. Tears and blood and snot pooled onto the floor. Ms. May could feel the intensity of the creature's disgust—the misery pulsed out from his vulnerable form and was so strong that it arrested Ms. May's emotions.
In a moment of extreme self-loathing, the elf plucked the knife from the boy's hands. Still bawling, it stabbed the blade into its own chest with a swift motion.
Everything came to a standstill.
Watery eyes bulged out in time with a gaping mouth. Like a snapshot, the elf froze, its face displaying so many unreadable expressions—surprise, pain...freedom at long last?
And then it keeled over.
Ms. May felt a gasp escape from deep within her protesting soul. Then, realizing that she had made a sound and drawn attention to herself, her hands flew up to her mouth in horror.
Harry's head whipped toward her. She could see his eyes, green and backlit by evil intentions. She began to shrink backwards.
Unhurried words slipped from his grinning lips. "Ms. May."
Trembling and terrified, she scampered out into the hallway. "G-get away from me! I'm going to tell Mr. and Mrs. Pendergast about this!"
A low chuckle.
"Really?" The offhanded tone of his voice suggested that he was merely commenting on the weather. "Do you think they would believe you?"
Too enraptured by her own fear, she did not register his warning. Instead—having been reduced to an animal by the situation—all she sensed was a fast approaching predator.
Flying down the thickly carpeted halls, her mind cleared slightly. At regular intervals, she darted looks over her shoulder. It seemed that the boy, if he even was a boy (she doubted his humanity after the display she had observed), was not following. Her destination was soon in sight. The tearoom where the Pendergast parents were having a party with their daughter was located just one floor above the drawing room. Gasping, she barreled to the door.
"Do you think they would believe you?"
Harry's words floated into her mind, and she found herself faltering. What would she say? She doubted that her rich employers would believe her if she told the truth. Calming down slightly, she pushed open the door.
The scene within caused her to stop completely.
As if they were no longer under a spell, the parents stared down at Holly with folded arms. All week, their eyes had been empty and they had walked the walk of the dead. Now, intelligence—along with irritation—had returned to their demeanors.
"I don't know what got into us," Mrs. Pendergast was saying, very much exasperated.
"Me too. I can't believe I just abandoned my meeting in Los Angeles." Mr. Pendergast glanced up, catching sight of Ms. May in the doorway. "Book me the first flight to Los Angeles, will you?" he asked.
Holly's forlorn voice piped up, "You're leaving again?"
Something about those words—perhaps the clearly discernible disappointment, perhaps the heart wrenching sadness—triggered soft, guilty looks from her parents.
Mrs. Pendergast bent down to scoop her daughter up into an embrace. "Holly, we both love you very much. We'll be back in a week. Won't we, Robert?"
The man looked from his wife to his child. "Of course, Katherine."
"Promise?" Holy asked in a small voice.
"Promise," both parents confirmed readily.
Neither noticed the nanny who was gawking at them with undisguised shock. Ms. May's incredulity was spawned from the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Pendergast had never given a set date of return. Never until today.
Head spinning, Ms. May bowed out of the room and went to fulfill Mr. Pendergast's order.
Later, she would discover that the anomaly named Harry Potter had disappeared, as if he had never been there at all. Even the bloodstains in the drawing room vanished. Holly would occasionally inquire about him but, when she reached a certain age, her queries fell mute. Ms. May was left to silently carry the burden of what she had seen in the drawing room to the grave.
Flourish and Blotts was packed with people. Witches, wizards, students. All craned their necks to get a good look at the celebrity signing books at the back of the room. None of them was aware that another celebrity was lurking in their midst, viewing the scene with a detached interest.
One would expect that not being recognized would result in being treated just like everyone else—shoved around and jostled—but, oddly enough, the customers unwittingly parted as they sensed Harry Potter moving through the masses. Nobody spared him a glance, but everybody shuffled away as he or she felt—rather than saw—the powerful young wizard. Unfortunately, having been trained to identify authoritative figures, a certain Daily Prophet photographer did swivel to look at the soon to be second year.
Recognition was instant.
"Harry Potter!" he shouted out in a nasally voice.
Excited whispers rippled through the store. Gilderoy Lockhart's eyes bulged rather unattractively.
Leaping to his feet, he exclaimed, "It can't be!"
Suddenly, he was diving forward, making to grab hold of the youth. Not expecting Harry to step nimbly to the side, he went crashing to the floor.
Lockhart's racing heart pumped blood to his cheeks. He bowed his head, allowing his blond locks to hide his blush. Someone bent down, moving closer to aid him. An elegant hand enfolded his left wrist and helped to pull him up. Raising his face, he met a pair of astonishingly green eyes. Dark humor sparkled in them—bright like the Avada Kedavra.
As Harry Potter assisted him, the boy whispered into his ear, "Don't mess with me, Mr. Lockhart. I know the truth."
Cryptic as those words were, Lockhart's mind immediately discovered the meaning of them.
"No," he denied softly, shuddering with fear.
The response was merely a wink and a smile, charming enough to rival Lockhart's own. "Have a good day."
Harry turned and walked out of the shop.
Hogwarts Express had more than enough compartments to accommodate the students, thus it was difficult for Draco Malfoy to find the person he was searching for. As he walked down the train, people jostled him. As he examined each compartment, people stared back at him with annoyance.
But he wasn't about to give up.
Malfoys never gave up whilst seeking revenge. Especially now that he had blackmail material to use against Potter, and an item that his father claimed would bring back the Dark Lord. Just thinking about the fact that he, Draco Malfoy, would be the one to initiate Voldemort's return made him giddy with disbelief. Never again would Potter be able to intimidate him, make him look like a fool or steal his signature smirk.
Draco was going to confront the half-blood about Quirrell. Draco was going to warn him:
"You better not make me angry because, if you make me angry, you'll make the Dark Lord angry. And, not only that, I'll make sure that everyone hears about what you did last year."
And that was the truth. His father had educated him over the summer: Having control over the diary meant having control over Voldemort, and knowing that Potter had been responsible for the death of Quirrell meant gaining power over the Boy-Who-Lived, too.
The image of Harry Potter cowering at his feet bestowed him with an unparalleled smugness.
However, the real image of Harry Potter smiling up at him from an empty compartment gave him pause. Abruptly, his prepared words fled from his mind, chased away by a roiling sense of dread.
With a wave of Harry's hand, the glass panel opened. Draco tried to ignore the blatant display of wandless magic.
"Hello there, Draco." Setting aside the book he had been reading, the dark-haired Slytherin patted the vacant seat next to him. "How was your holiday?"
Taking the hint, Draco went to sit down beside Harry, too afraid of the consequences if he did not obey the other boy. Then, he realized that he was slipping back into his old mindset.
There was no reason to fear Harry Potter, he reminded himself.
"Quite good." He cleared his throat, trying very hard to make himself look menacing. "I learned quite a lot about...certain things."
"Indeed? I'm quite fond of learning myself. Tell me, Draco, where are Crabbe and Goyle?"
Draco blinked. The non-sequitur had stomped all over his opening.
"They aren't here. I wanted to talk to you alone?"
"And why is that?" Amusement diffused over Harry's face, looking almost as if he were indulging the pureblood in his little game.
"I-I know what you did to Quirrell!" Much to Draco's chagrin, the accusation came out weakly.
A laugh. "Do you, now?"
"And what did I do?"
"You killed him!"
More laughter, sharp and cold like an iceberg or, perhaps, a falling star. "So, presumably, you will tell the whole school that I killed our late professor if I don't...?"
Unsure of his own demands, Draco stuttered for a moment. Perhaps his idea had not been as well planned as he'd first thought. "If-if...if you don't accept me as superior to you!"
"Draco," Harry purred, "what do I have to fear from some rumors? Rumors without evidence, I might add. Remember what people said when I was first sorted into Slytherin? If I survived those accusations, I can survive any."
"But...I am superior! I have the power of the Dark Lord behind me." Draco froze, realizing too late what he had said.
Harry's eyes narrowed minutely. "Would you like to explain your statement?"
Careful scrutiny was aimed in the blond's direction. Then, Harry seemed to come to a decision.
Waving his hands dismissively, Harry said, "Get out of here, Draco. Go tell the world about your baseless claim."
Outside, his heart slowed. Panicked thoughts no longer assaulted his brain, and taking their spot was a vehement anger. Once again, Potter had managed to outsmart him. Draco's defeat stung sharply.
"Go tell the world about your baseless claim."
Involuntarily, the boy released a growl, ignoring the odd looks that were sent his way. He was going to tell the world, all right. And Potter was going to suffer.
What Hermione Granger needed was a plan. After all, she couldn't go about accusing Harry Potter—Murderer, Mental Patient, and Boy-Who-Lived—without carefully examining all of the possible outcomes and reactions first. She didn't even know what to say to him.
"I know that you killed your relatives."
She shuddered even to think about what reactions that would garner.
Absentmindedly, she sighed and dragged a hand through her mane of bushy hair. Outside, the scenery had morphed from rolling hills to deep forest. Night had descended, and she remembered how the soothing rhythm of the train had lulled her to sleep last year. No such possibility existed this time around—not when she was plagued by the knowledge that she was in such close proximity to a murderer...
Harry Potter's unpredictability presented quite a lot of problems for her. If she confronted him about his actions, she could just imagine that sparkling laughter spilling from his lips—pleasant like wine, deadly like poison. But she could also imagine him stealing into her dorm at night, wielding the knife that he was so fond of.
"You've upset me, Ms. Hermione," he would say in that pleasant, unassuming way of his. A charming smile and a stab of the knife later, he'd whisper into her ear as she succumbed to death's grasp, "I punish those who upset me."
Trembling involuntarily, she wondered why Headmaster Dumbledore had even allowed Harry to attend Hogwarts. Surely, he knew the truth. Surely, someone else in the school knew the truth, too!
"Have you figured it out yet?"
Much to her own embarrassment, Hermione squeaked and jolted out of her seat. Blushing and averting her eyes, she scrambled back onto the cushions. From the entrance of the compartment, Harry Potter was smiling enigmatically at her. With his arms folded loosely, he leaned against the door in a fashion that suggested the door served no other purpose except to be leaned on by him.
"Have you figured it out yet?" he repeated his question, and then slid smoothly into the empty spot across from the Gryffindor.
In response, Hermione shrank backwards. "Um." (How she hated that meaningless noise of uncertainty!) "What do you mean?"
Soft laughter graced her ears, and she had to admit that Harry was as captivating as he was scary.
"Last year, you were trying to figure out why my name sounded so familiar."
Hermione gulped. "Oh."
"So?" he prompted.
This is the perfect time for you to ask him!
Don't be silly, you're all alone! He could do anything to you.
He could do anything to you anytime he wanted.
Once again, Harry spoke, drawing her away from the warring voices in her head.
"You know, don't you?" His tone was soft; his eyes glowed strangely in the dim lighting.
"How did you—"
"Figure it out? You're quite similar to the books you're so fond of, Ms. Hermione. Transparent. Easy to read."
She could feel herself blushing, much as a bird could feel the coming rain. "Wh-what are you going to do to me?"
"Why would I do anything to you?" Cocking his head to the side, he expressed a polite confusion.
"You-you aren't going to kill me?"
"Kill you?" He leaned forward, a strand of dark hair drifting into his eyes as he gazed steadily at her. "Will that be necessary?"
Hypnotized by his snake-like gaze, she exhaled shakily. "No," she whispered.
With unsuppressed terror, she unblinkingly followed the progress of his graceful hand. Slender fingers reached forward to tenderly tuck a brown lock of hair behind her ears.
"Good. I'd hate to destroy a brilliant mind like yours."
For as long as he could remember, Theodore Nott categorized people as colors. The habit didn't disappear after he arrived at Hogwarts, and he automatically assigned hues to his dorm mates.
Draco Malfoy's desire for attention colored him red. His plea was not subtle, but people ignored it nonetheless. After all, if they wanted to help him, they would have to address the problems that spawned his need. And, in order to do that, they would have to take a good, hard look at Draco's home life.
They preferred to turn the other way.
Both Crabbe and Goyle's blind faith in their leader could be described as off-white. Because smaller students feared the pair's presence and older students automatically dismissed them as petty bullies, no one realized just how innocent they actually were.
Blaise Zabini was a true Slytherin green. Although he was quiet, he knew how to navigate through social circles with ease. He regarded most people with disdain, but rarely displayed contempt openly. He wasn't confrontational.
In contrast to the rest of the first year Slytherins, Harry Potter presented quite a challenge for Theo. After much careful thought, however, the pureblood decided to label Harry as a solid, ambiguous gray. Attempting to fathom the Boy-Who-Lived was just too difficult, and Theo wasn't prepared to try.
Apparently, the rest of the school agreed with him.
Not even a week had passed since the start of Hogwarts, and a new tale about Harry Potter had already spread through the entire population, fast as a plague carried by rats. Someone said someone else said someone else's sister said that Harry was responsible for Professor Quirrell's death. Someone else said someone else's brother said someone else's friend claimed that Professor Quirrell had secretly been trying to resurrect You-Know-Who.
Nobody knew what to believe.
Everybody gave Harry Potter a wide berth.
Harry Potter acted as if nothing was wrong.
Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
Your writing is useless,
And so are you.
"Harry Potter!" gasped an outraged professor. "What is the meaning of this?"
Smirking, the boy bent down to study his own cramped writing. It was quite minimal, actually, written at the top of the test paper alongside his name. The rest of the exam—from question one about Gilderoy Lockhart's favorite color to question fifty-four about Gilderoy Lockhart's birthday—was left blank.
"Why, Professor Lockhart, it's a poem. Shall I read it to you?" Without giving the man a chance to answer, Harry launched into a facile recitation, "Roses are red, violets are blue. Your writing is useless, and so are you."
Behind him, the class snickered in unison. It was one of the rare occasions when both Slytherin and Gryffindor agreed on something.
"M-my writing is not useless!" stuttered the blond.
"Oh, really?" Harry did not sound convinced. "If all of these creatures you've written about—banshees, ghouls, hags, trolls, vampires, yetis—appeared in the classroom right now, would you be able to take them on?"
"Are you sure?"
A glint in Harry's eyes caused Gilderoy to falter. His instincts were warning him to tread carefully, but his ego was outraged: How dare the boy speak to him like this?
"Yes!" he insisted once more.
With bated breath, the class avidly awaited Harry's response. Some leaned forward in their desks; others could not suppress their amused giggles. However, the next voice to reach their ears belonged to a girl.
"Look!" shrieked Hermione Granger, pointing a quivering hand at the window.
Immediately, the atmosphere in the room changed, as sudden as a sky before rain. Something in the Gryffindor's voice incited an instant worry within them. Turning as one, the class followed her gaze.
Outside, gaunt faces had materialized, rattling the glass panes and eclipsing the sunlight. They're appearances were horrific—loose, green flesh framing deep eye sockets and upturned noses. With silent howls, they demanded entrance.
"Banshees," Seamus Finnigan whispered faintly, his face a pale, sickly color.
"Don't worry," Lockhart assured the children. "I'm sure that the mere sight of me would dissuade them from entering!"
"Because you're so ugly, they'd fear losing their eyesight?" For some odd reason, Harry's soft insult carried throughout the classroom.
Pretending not to hear, Lockhart said loudly, "And the wards around the school will not allow them entrance!"
As if waiting for the words just to contradict them, the creatures burst through the window in a duet of shattering glass and screeching voices. Their cries were echoed in the terrified students, but the banshees seemed to ignore the children completely. Like flakes of snow in a blizzard, they glided over occupied desks, knocking over books, quills, and parchment. Together, they delved toward the front of the room—
Straight at Gilderoy Lockhart.
Skeletal fingers reached for him, and he scrambled backwards as fast as his legs would take him. His heart was pounding so hard that he thought the organ might explode. Then, his back hit the wall, sending his winking portraits askew. And there was nowhere else to run.
A pair of hands grabbed him round the neck, and he suddenly found himself unable to breathe. If he weren't being throttled, the feel of rotting skin against his own would have induced gag reflexes. But, now, he was helpless to do anything. Some time ago, his wand had fallen from his limp hands.
Lockhart's lips parted in a silent scream.
As if in answer, a real scream could be heard from the banshees, but it wasn't voices so much as the pure sound of murder. When it reached a certain octave, twenty-five pairs of ears began to gush crimson fluid. Fingers of blood crept down necks and under shirts, asphyxiating the skin beneath with their hot, sticky presence. All the while, the noise built and built and builtandbuiltandbuiltandbuiltand—
Somehow, Harry Potter managed to issue a command above the chaos. "Seperatus Bradamus!"
Necks severed in a chorus of horrid cracks. Four banshee heads—had there only been four of them?—tumbled to the hard wood floor, like the splattering blood droplets from a person who had just been stabbed repeatedly. Along with them, Gilderoy Lockhart collapsed—a convulsing, whimpering, pitiful heap of flesh.
The silence was golden.
"How?" McGonagall demanded of Headmaster Dumbledore. "How could such a thing have happened? Who could have taken down the wards?"
Crinkling could be heard as Dumbledore fiddled with a lemon drop, the wrapper winking brightly in the light. "Would you care for a sweet, my dear?"
"Answer the questions!" She did not raise her voice, but her tone had taken on a dangerous quality. Disheveled strands of salt and pepper hair fell around her enraged face.
"If you insist," Dumbledore sighed. "I am unsure how such a thing could have happened. It could only have been instigated by someone with a vendetta against the school and an immense power—enough power to rival my own. Right now, I suspect Voldemort." He ignored McGonagall's shudder, voicing the name grimly.
"What if they did not have a vendetta against the school, but a vendetta against someone within the school?" suggested the woman.
"Are you suggesting that someone wishes to harm dear Harry? I can see why you would think that. After all, it was his class that was attacked."
"No, Albus." McGonagall shook her head, lips set into a hard line. "I think Harry wishes to harm someone in that class. Specifically, Lockhart."
"But Gilderoy never voiced any concerns!"
If the Head of Gryffindor had to look at that apathetic expression any longer, she just might strangle the man in front of her. Wisely, she chose to avert her eyes, allowing them to land on the shelf of silver instruments behind Dumbledore. There was a wide assortment of contraptions there—from a globe that spun constantly to a band set with glittering jewels—and she had always wondered about their purposes.
"Why did you even hire Lockhart in the first place? That man can't teach to save his life! All he ever does is brag...! But I digress." Calming down slightly, she smoothed back her hair. She had learned not to expect any real answers from her colleague. "Students in the class that was attacked claimed that Harry had threatened Lockhart."
"Threatened? How so?" Dumbledore sent her a skeptical look over the tops of his half-moon glasses.
"First, Harry asked Lockhart if, in the event that banshees or other creatures appeared in their classroom, he could defeat them. Lockhart said yes, of course. And the next thing anyone knew, a horde of banshees had appeared in their room!"
"A mere coincidence." Flapping his hands dismissively, the man reached for another sweet. "Harry does not have the ability to take down the wards of Hogwarts!"
McGonagall's eyes narrowed, her eyebrows drawing downwards like storm clouds over an unsuspecting town. "If you honestly believe that," she hissed slowly, quietly, "then you are severely underestimating Mr. Potter's ability."
For a moment, Dumbledore studied her soberly. McGonagall almost thought that he would seriously consider her words.
But then, he firmly asserted, "Nonsense."
And she found herself throwing her arms in the air and stalking out of his office.
Nightmares were foreign to Gilderoy. He had dreams and he had ambitions—vivid and high flying, like birds of the tropics. But he'd never had nightmares.
Until he met Harry Potter.
The boy was both the embodiment and cause of Gilderoy's terror. Like a psychopathic killer who had already honed duality, Harry played the two roles with a suave expertise. In classes, he stared up at Gilderoy with eyes overly bright and attentive, slicing into him like the serrated blade of a knife.
I'm watching you, they seemed to say. Don't slip up, or I'll catch you.
So unsettling was his gaze that Gilderoy could not find it within himself to bask in the worship of the rest of the class. Whenever he turned his back to write upon the board, he was unpleasantly aware of the Avada Kedavra eyes assailing him. For the first time in his life, Gilderoy thought he had a taste of what an impending demise must have felt like.
It was horrid. Made his perfect hair stand on end, his manicured hands shake unappealingly, his breath come short as memories of the Banshee attack assaulted him.
And the memories were ruining his attempt at denial.
He never mentioned the attack aloud. Speaking of the occurrence was taboo, at least in his class. He was painfully aware that, even with his glowing celebrity status, he could not control the actions of the rest of the school. Sometimes, he would catch students shooting him sneers, snickering to one another and no doubt sharing snide comments.
He was afraid of what they were saying but, at the same time, desperately wanted to know how he stood in their eyes.
(...pants on fire...)
His life was spiraling downwards. He felt as if his fingers were the only things clinging to the sheer face of a cliff, keeping him from falling to his death. During meal times, he forced his lips to smile and forced his mouth to form pleasant small talk with the fellow professors. During classes, he lectured from his bestselling books, keeping count of how many lessons he had to teach before the second year Slytherins. Then, when he survived Harry's class, he would breathe a sigh of relief and restart the countdown. The cycle was vicious—as taxing as a nightmare.
But, compared to the dreams he had, it was nothing.
In his sleep, the past came back to haunt him. Always, a group of monsters—savage hags, buck-toothed ghouls, angry yetis—would approach, slinking slowly toward him as if to prolong the torture. They would corner him, much in the same way as the banshees had, and then proceed to assail him. With gnashing teeth and tangible ire, they tore at his body, severing flesh from his face, fingers from his hands, toes from his feet. When they were satisfied, they tossed him into a pit full of damp dirt and writhing earthworms and hungry maggots, and doused him with rancid-smelling oil.
And then another face—the face of a person he had Obliviated—would appear above him, a shadow against the dark sun. Gilderoy would plead until his voice was hoarse, but the person never deviated from his or her task. A fire would be lit, then sent tumbling into his pit.
And Gilderoy would always wake to the scent of burning flesh.
When he showed up at Quidditch tryouts, Draco Malfoy was confused, angered, and disappointed to find out that the Seeker's position had already been filled. Furthermore, Marcus Flint had refused to tell him who the new Seeker was, smirking and saying something about a secret weapon.
Seething, Draco stomped back to his dorms and immediately retrieved the diary.
He had never suspected the Dark Lord to be kind and sympathetic but, more and more, Draco found himself depending on the diary for comfort. Tom M. Riddle cared about him, understood him, knew just what to say to console him. Draco basked in the attention and, at the same time, basked in the knowledge that he was the only one who would ever be treated like this by the Dark Lord.
He poured his soul into the diary and, in return, the diary poured the feeling of being special back into him.
From the moment that he'd witnessed Harry Potter controlling Peeves, the Bloody Baron knew he'd found a kindred spirit in the boy. Slytherin House's ghost had only ever met one other student who possessed the same dark power as Harry. That other student—Tom Riddle—had attended Hogwarts over fifty years ago.
Harry asked a lot of questions about Tom.
But that was nothing outside of the norm. Harry asked a lot of questions in general, ranging from "What was life like when you were alive?" to "What is it like being a ghost?"
The Bloody Baron was happy to oblige the inquiries.
When he received the invitation to Nearly Headless Nick's deathday party, he knew that Harry would be the perfect companion. Nick would be ecstatic—beside himself with happiness because a celebrity had deigned to attend his party. Harry would jump at the chance to meet more ghosts and study the interactions between them. The Baron would be satisfied with the conversation that Harry provided, since most beings—both alive and dead—tended to avoid him. It was a win on all three fronts.
As expected, Harry questioned him about this and that as they made their way down the drafty, stone corridors. Several floors above them, eager students trekked into a Dining Hall ornamented by orange and black, pumpkins and bats. Below, however, swathes of pearly-white spirits ghosted smoothly into a spacious dungeon. Burning with eerily blue flames, black candles cast flickering light onto the room and its occupants—winking off the handsome, silver plates laden with rotting food and throwing shadows over the dark floor.
"It's cold," Harry noted, before quickly warming himself up with a spell. His calm elegance testified to his ability to adapt. If he were ill at ease in the presence of so many dead, he certainly gave no indications. "The decorations are rather...out of character for Nick, don't you think?"
The Baron snorted. "Trying to impress Sir Patrick Podmore, most likely."
"Organizes the yearly headless hunt, Sir Podmore does. Refuses to allow Nick to participate, though. Always saying that Nick is only nearly headless."
"That must be quite a blow to the ego." On the dance floor, the swirling motion of the phantoms was mirrored by the dancing interest in Harry's bright eyes.
His interest was diverted by a particularly mournful soul, floundering forlornly at the edge of the crowd. Contrasted against happy laugher and animated chatter, her dampened mood leapt out in sharp relief.
"Any particular reason why she's so sad?" a mild curiosity spurred him to ask.
Shrugging, the Baron replied, "She's always sad. She's Moaning Myrtle."
"Moaning Myrtle?" He arched an eyebrow at the name.
"Yes. Haunts a toilet most of the time."
The eyebrow rose higher, but there was no irreverent smile tugging at his lips. "A toilet?"
"Indeed. Died in one. Haunts one now."
Seeming to come to a decision, Harry strolled up to her. When she realized that she had been approached, her dark watery eyes onto him.
"What do you want?" Her voice was grating, but not as grating as the horrid, orchestral cacophony in the background.
"Good evening to you as well, Ms. Myrtle."
Translucent crinkles manifested on her forehead, a display of confusion. From Harry's suave manner, it was impossible to discern whether or not he was mocking her.
"It's nice to see you outside of your haunt," the boy continued, voice smooth as a budding leaf in spring.
"Well, I certainly can't stay in the second floor girl's bathroom all of the time." Still feeling uncertain, she resorted to an admonishing tone.
He agreed easily, "Of course." A pause. Then, with a façade of genuine empathy, he inquired, "But may I ask why you spend so much time in the bathroom?"
She shrugged, determined indifference ruined by the slight wobbling of her lips. "Everyone hates me, so I might as well stay out of their way."
"Now, now. That can't be true. You were invited here, weren't you?"
Another shrug. "I suppose..."
"You still aren't convinced, are you? Tell me, Ms. Myrtle, why do believe others think so poorly of you?"
"They always have."
"Oh? Since when?"
"Since my Hogwarts years." Though a familiar distress roiled in her chest, she felt compelled to answer by those green, green eyes.
Gentle, but imploring, he prompted her to continue, "Those must have been a long time ago."
"Fifty years." She shuddered. "But I can still remember my Hogwarts years like they were yesterday. There was a girl who would always, always tease me... Oh, she made me so miserable!"
"She sounds like a dreadful person. Surely, she wasn't the one who..." Appropriately, he hesitated. "Who brought about your death?"
Myrtle was responding faster now, eager to share her tale, "Olive Hornby was a dreadful person, but she never killed me." Halting dramatically, she lowered her voice so that Harry was forced to lean in. "No, all I remembered before my death was a pair of big, yellow eyes."
Killed by eyes?
Harry's mind was working rapidly. "That's—"
A hunting horn sounded, drowning out his words. Silence descended upon the dungeon, followed immediately by the descent of a dozen, ghostly horses. Each magnificent steed was ridden by a headless specter. Some were dressed in archaic knight's armor while others were dressed in embroidered riding clothes.
"It's the headless hunt." The Bloody Baron had floated up behind Harry, disdain clear in his eyes. "Might as well leave now, before this party turns into a shouting match."
Harry offered an apologetic look at the girl ghost. "I have to go now, Ms. Myrtle. It was a pleasure talking to you."
She reciprocated, but her words were nearly indiscernible as Podmore and Nick began to vie for attention. Harry and the Baron backed out of the room.
When they had reached the hall, the Baron slowed down. "Myrtle seemed rather taken by you."
The boy at his side nodded, momentarily distracted.
"Harry?" the ghost prompted.
"Hmm?" Harry's expression was thoughtful. "Sorry. I thought I'd just heard something. What were you saying about Ms. Myrtle?"
Though the Baron shot Harry an inquisitive look at the odd title, he said nothing. "Just that she didn't start ranting at you."
"Is that normally what she does?" With more purpose now, Harry led the path up the stairs, across the Entrance Hall, then up another flight of stairs.
All the while, the Baron seemed not to have noticed Harry's faster steps. Instead, the Slytherin ghost started explaining about Myrtle's general attitude toward the world—the way she thought everyone was against her, the way she sobbed quietly to herself in her toilet, the way she almost appeared to take pleasure in self-pity.
Finally, the Baron registered his surroundings and said, "Actually, this here's the floor that Myrtle's bathroom is—" He stopped abruptly, eyes landing on a point beyond Harry's head. "Merlin. What is that?"
That referred to an ominous warning daubed onto a wall between two windows. It was painted by a dripping, red liquid that looked suspiciously like—
"Blood," Harry whispered.
As he scanned the words, his eyes glittered with an emotion that the Baron could not put a name to (or, rather, did not want to put a name to).
THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED.
ENEMIES OF THE HEIR, BEWARE.
Beneath the message, Mrs. Norris was strung by her tail onto a torch bracket.
"How creative." Harry's comment was no more than a whisper, sibilant like the hiss of a snake.
And, suddenly, the two Slytherins were not alone. Bustling and chattering from down the corridor informed them of the approaching masses.
The Baron pursed his lips. "Come."
He beckoned the boy down the hall and around a corner. There, in the shadows, they could safely watch the proceedings.
"My cat!" Argus Filch was shrieking, voice choked thickly. "My cat! What's happened to my poor dear?"
The corners of Harry's lips turned up in a small sneer, but he continued to observe the scene silently. Soon after, Dumbledore arrived, with both his bright, blue robes and his anxious, unnerved staff trailing behind him. The teachers ushered the shocked students out of the corridor, and then—believing that there were no more eavesdroppers—began to argue about topics that piqued Harry's interest.
The Chamber of Secrets.
From the Baron's furrowed eyebrows, Harry could tell that the ghost also had a reaction to the occurrence and the discussion. However, the second year suspected that the Bloody Baron possessed some interesting background knowledge as well.
Carefully schooling his expression into the right amount of curiosity, Harry turned to his companion. "Baron, what do you know about the Chamber of Secrets?..."
Year 2 To Be Continued
Blessings be given to imadoodlenoodle for betaing.
The following have all contributed to the ideas in this chapter: Memory King ("Don't show Dobby any mercy at all."), Meteoricshipyards (Banshees+Lockhart), The Dark Lord Mudblood (Harry+Lockhart=Slaughter), leona-the-critic (Harry=abnormally cruel), henriette (Hermione figures Harry out over summer). Thanks so much!