Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.
Quick Author's Pre-Note: Yes, I know. I also have an idea that I'll pose at the post-chapter-note, but you'll have to read the whole thing before you get there (that's how the Internet works, right?).
Harry and the Mysterious Curse of the Girl-Who-Lived
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: THE HUFFLEPUFF CONUNDRUM
The next day, the school was abuzz with rumors and gossip about the attack on Filch and the mysterious Chamber of Secrets. Naturally, the study group was no exception, and when they reconvened in the library after breakfast, Hermione and the Ravenclaws immediately went to work grabbing every available book they could that might tangentially relate to the Chamber. Hermione had even insisted on borrowing Anthony's copy of Hogwarts: A History, as she had left hers at home to make room for all her Lockhart books.
"There's very little here," Hermione finally said after nearly an hour of intensely flipping through pages. "In fact, as far as I can tell, there are no references to this Chamber at all."
"I've found a few references to 'the legend of Slytherin's horror'," Anthony put in, looking up from his own pile of books. "Perhaps it's related. The legend of the Chamber of Secrets is supposed to have something to do with Slytherin, right?"
Padma nodded while still reading two books simultaneously. "Yes, Anthony. In the old tales, the Heir of Slytherin is the only one who can unleash the... did you say horror?"
"Yeah," Anthony answered.
"I think that's the best way to put it," Padma agreed.
Lavender shivered and grabbed Harry's hand for comfort, surprising him a bit.
"A horror," the girl repeated slowly. "How awful!"
Harry patted Lavender's hand and smiled at her. "No need to worry. It's probably just something they would've considered a horror way back then - you know, like a dragon or other large creature."
Ron laughed. "Have you forgotten the nonsense with Norbert last year? Little bugger almost bit my hand."
"What a shame that would've been," Parvati snarked, rolling her eyes. "You'd only be able to eat half as much food."
"You know, I don't really eat that much," Ron insisted. "I'm a bit tired of everyone saying I'm constantly hungry." After he said this, a distinct grumbling came from his stomach. "Ah, hell," Ron grumbled while Neville and Lavender burst into helpless laughter.
"Language!" Hermione said distractedly. "Anyway, it's a mystery all right. Who is the Heir? What is this 'horror'? What happened to Filch anyhow?"
Parvati's eyes glinted mischievously. "Did you say Mystery?" She overemphasized the word a bit.
"Oh, I don't know," Lavender said in a worried voice. "This seems dangerous."
"Precisely!" Hermione proclaimed, smiling at Parvati. "We do need a research project for this year, don't we?" She frowned suddenly. "That reminds me. Harriet, whatever happened to that research you were doing with your mother's work?"
It took a moment for Harry to remember that this was the lie had used to refer to his Curse. "That's a good question," he admitted. "I'm a bit stuck. I should probably talk to the Headmaster about it the next chance I get."
"If you need any help..." Hermione smiled widely. "You know we're all willing to pitch in. Some more than others."
Ron rolled his eyes. "That sounds like an insult at me. Maybe I'd be great at research, you ever figured that?"
"Brilliant!" Hermione tossed a book in Ron's lap. "Why don't you look for anything about the Chamber or Slytherin's horror?"
"Gotta stop talking so much," Ron muttered, but began to skim through Mysteries of the Founders.
"I'd love to get help," Harry told them honestly. "But unfortunately, this isn't something you can help with. Family secrets and all that," he added in a burst of inspired lying. After all, the Curse prevented them from even understanding his "problem" - and Harry realized suddenly that he really had been getting a bit too comfortable not worrying about it.
"Still, the Chamber is a good Mystery for us, right gang?" Parvati gestured a bit widely at the group.
"Padma only explained a bit to me about your mystery last year," said Anthony, scratching his nose. "Something about the details being confidential."
Hermione rolled her eyes and made a huffing sound. "Ridiculous. It's not like you're Malfoy or anything. I sincerely doubt we have anything to worry from discussing last year's Mystery."
"And that's another thing!" Parvati exclaimed and shook a finger at the Ravenclaw boy. "It's not a mystery. It's a Mystery."
Anthony blinked at her. "I don't see the distinction. You just stressed the word more the second time."
"Tsk tsk," Lavender scolded with a smile. "Leave it to a Ravenclaw to miss the obvious. Right, boys?"
"Oh, no question," Ron agreed immediately. "Utterly obvious."
"Right, right," said Neville with a nod. "Too true, too true."
"Sometimes I'm surprised we ever get anything done," Hermione muttered, almost too softly for Harry to hear.
Harry leaned over and whispered, "That's because we're lucky enough to rely on your spectacular research skills."
Hermione's lips quirked a bit. "Well." She shook her head and went back to perusing her books for something useful.
"Oh, look!" Lavender sat up straight and waved. "Hannah! Hannah Abbott! Over here!"
Sure enough, it was the shy, pigtailed Hufflepuff, clutching her books and looking quite nervous. "Hullo there," she said softly.
"Eh, what was that?" Ron asked.
Lavender smacked him on the arm. "Don't be rude"
Ron gave her a wounded look. "I wasn't being rude – honestly, I couldn't make out what she said."
"Well, alright then," Lavender said, looking carefully at Ron's face. "I suppose that's fair enough."
Harry glanced around and rolled his eyes. More of this nonsense again? "Listen, Hannah," he said quickly. "Would you like to study with us?"
Hannah burst into a huge smile, but then she bit her lip. "Are you sure that's okay?"
"Yes, yes," Harry replied before anyone else could say anything. Lavender beamed at him, although Parvati seemed slightly uncomfortable. But when Harry caught her eye, she smiled at him and then started to work on some parchment. He looked over at Ron and Neville, and while the former was pretending to read his book, Neville was pretending to both read and not pay attention to anyone else. He kept looking up at Hannah every so often, who seemed to notice, because she kept doing the same thing.
All the while, Lavender chattered away meaninglessly, filling the air with nonsense, in direct opposition to Hannah's various incoherent mumbles and nods. Feeling more than a little suspicious that there was some sort of trick being playing on him, Harry leaned over to Hermione.
"What's going on with Hannah?" He asked in a whisper.
Hermione started in surprise. "Um, nothing," she said with an almost unnoticeable stutter. "Did you think of anything new about the Chamber?" She tapped her chin thoughtfully. "I've been trying to figure out what could've attacked poor Filch. It had to be something that petrified him into that unmoving, stiff form we saw."
"Filch wasn't petrified," Padma remarked without looking up.
Lavender stopped talking at Hannah and looked over. "What was that?"
"Padma," Hermione said with just a hint of anger. "If you wish to blatantly contradict me like that, at least have the common courtesy to explain yourself."
Padma raised her head and seemed slightly pleased to have gotten a reaction out of Hermione. "Filch wasn't turned into stone. If he had been, then we could have assumed that the attack was from a transfiguration attack or a creature, such as a gorgon or a cockatrice. Or maybe even svartálfar!"
"Gorgons have been extinct for a thousand years," Anthony put in. "And cockatrices don't actually turn people to stone, they're just vicious killer lizard-bird hybrids."
"What about that other thing?" Parvati asked. "The svartel... fer?"
"She said svartálfar," Hermione corrected. "But I don't know what they are."
Ron scoffed and leaned back in his chair. "They aren't real. There's no such thing as evil elves. Just a story my Mum told us to get us to behave."
Padma frowned at him. "That's not what The Quibbler said!"
"Enough!" Hermione cut in. "We don't want to get into that one again. The point, Padma and Anthony, is that petrification can also mean to make rigid like a stone. Not just literally into stone."
Anthony nodded and smiled at her. "You're right, Hermione! I had forgotten that." He brushed back his hair. "But even so, I can't think of anything - spells, monsters, or otherwise, that can cause the petrification Filch has experienced."
"Hmph," Harry grunted crossly. He still wasn't sure what was going on, but at least they were back to something a bit more interesting. The questions about what could be causing the petrification struck Harry as he realized that Dobby might be able to hint at the culprit. Well, next time the elf showed up, Harry decided he'd ask - and maybe even about that dark elf legend Ron had sneered at.
Even after a full day of classes had passed, there was nothing else the school seemed to be talking about. Harry had gotten a bit sick of it and decided to sneak down to breakfast early, while the girls were still asleep or getting ready for the day. The Hall was mainly deserted, and the only other people Harry recognized at the Gryffindor table were Percy Weasley, studiously reading a book while eating his breakfast, and little Colin Creevey, sitting by himself.
"Hullo, Harriet!" Colin waved frantically as Harry sat down. The short boy left his breakfast and jogged over to where Harry was sitting (intentionally by himself).
"Mornin', Colin," Harry said with a sort of bemused acceptance. "How are classes?"
"They're hard!" Colin said with an enormous smile. "A lot of homework. But it's worth it to be able to do magic, right?"
Harry nodded. "Can't argue with that."
Colin looked around as if he was searching for someone, then leaned over. "I've been keeping an eye on Ginny, like you asked," he whispered.
"What?" Harry asked in surprise.
"Yeah, like you asked," Colin repeated. "I think she's up to something, Harriet. She's gotten a lot meaner - she used to answer all of my questions, but now she ignores or insults me."
Harry could almost understand Ginny's reaction - in fact, ignoring seemed reasonable enough, but insulting the kid seemed a bit much. "Really? She's actually being mean to you? That's not right; I'll talk to her about it."
"Oh no no no!" Colin protested, waving his hands in the air frantically. "I don't want you two to fight! I'm sure I just did something to annoy her. That's what everyone else tells me, anyway."
There was something oddly troubling about that statement, but Harry didn't really feel like getting into it. Honestly, Colin was sort of a pest at times, even if he seemed a decent sort at heart.
"Well, don't bother her," said Harry. "Ginny's probably just getting a bit overwhelmed with the sudden rush of work and all that. You should give her some space."
"That's a great idea, Harriet!" Colin enthused with a smile. He winked at Harry. "I read you loud and clear!" And before Harry could respond, Colin darted off from the Hall, hopefully not about to annoy Ginny again.
Several owls flew into the Hall, dropping off letters and several copies of the daily newspaper. The only one to get a copy at the Gryffindor table was Percy, who received one of the copies of the Daily Prophet and paid the delivery owl before beginning to read it.
Harry stopped paying attention, listlessly playing with his porridge until the sounds of consternation and chatter became louder than normal, and then Percy Weasley gasped audibly. Harry glanced over at the prefect, who saw Harry looking. Percy quickly folded up the paper and left the table in what could best be described as a mild hurry.
After this happened, Harry couldn't help but notice that more than a few people in the Hall were staring at him while discussing something. Something that had apparently been in the newspaper, but there were no copies nearby for Harry to check unobtrusively.
"Good morning, Harriet! You're up and about early." It was Parvati, walking with the other two girls.
Lavender looked around and frowned. "Goodness, what's all this about?"
"Something in the newspaper," Harry explained. "At least I think so. But I don't have a copy to check."
"Hold on a moment," said Parvati, who then walked over to the Hufflepuff table where the first years had all arrived seemingly at the same time. She had a brief but energetic conversation with them, and walked sedately back with a newspaper under her arm. "Something big happened last night, but they had a House agreement not to talk about."
Hermione frowned, sitting down next to Harry. "A House agreement? I've never heard of that. It's not in Hogwarts: A History."
"It wouldn't be," explained Parvati with a smile, sitting across from her. "This is one of those unwritten traditions, right? I'm sure Gryffindor has some too, not that we've heard about them, of course."
"So..." Lavender squeezed up close to Parvati. "Let's see the paper then!"
Parvati laid the newspaper out on the table so they could each see it. The large print of the headline proclaimed "Sirius Black Escapes Azkaban!" Almost immediately and at about the same time, Parvati and Lavender gasped loudly. But Hermione had no particular reaction other than confusion, although after only a few seconds, she had finished reading the entire front page.
"Oh, dear!" she said, worrying her hands. "Can you flip to page 13?"
"Wait, I haven't read the article yet," protested Harry.
The girls each gave him a sympathetic look.
"We'll understand if you don't want to read anymore," Lavender told him.
Harry frowned. "No, I want to read it!" He leaned over to take a look at the headline article.
The Daily Prophet has exclusively discovered that the infamous prisoner Sirius Black has escaped the supposedly impenetrable Azkaban prison. Black was noticed as missing during a routine monthly checkup in August, but the Ministry had not revealed this information to the public.
Although he denied the rumors at first, the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, admitted early this morning that Sirius Black has actually been at large possibly even longer than initially realised.
"We are working quite diligently to recapture Black," Fudge told reporters. "And it is quite a shame that such sensitive state secrets were leaked before the villain could be apprehended."
When asked if the other rumors were true, that he had told the Muggle Prime Minister about Black's escape, Fudge stuttered a refusal, then cursed at reporters and ran off.
For more on the clearly declining mental health of Fudge, turn to page 8.
For more on the sordid facts behind Black's heinous murders, turn to page 13.
For our exclusive interview with the original arresting Auror who vows to take Black down for good this time, turn to page 24.
"Blimey!" Ron said loudly, who had apparently appeared while Harry was reading the article. "You realize what this means, right?"
Hermione looked at him oddly, then gasped in shock. "Yes, I do! He must've been the one who attacked poor Filch."
"Poor Filch indeed," Lavender made a face. "Poor us, you mean. He's probably going to attack a student next!"
"Unless Filch was just caught by him - probably recognized him from Black's school days," Ron decided.
Parvati flipped through the newspaper hurriedly. "But how did he get into Hogwarts? There's nothing on the attack on Filch at all in here!"
Neville frowned and stroked his chin. "Well, he did go to Hogwarts for seven years. Maybe he discovered a secret entrance. There's a lot of old legends about that sort of thing. Maybe he attacked Filch and put up that message."
"But was he Slytherin?" Lavender asked. "I thought he was a Gryffindor."
"Does it matter?" Parvati spat angrily. "But you're right - he was disowned for being a Gryffindor. But I guess it was all a ruse, because obviously he's just a bloody Slytherin through and through. I suppose now we know who wrote that message and petrified Filch."
"That's gotta be it!" Ron said angrily. "It's gotta be Sirius Black!"
"Um," Harry began slowly. "Who's Sirius Black again?"
The others looked at him oddly.
Parvati pointed at the newspaper.
"I saw the article too!" Harry told her with a scowl. "And I get that he's escaped Azkaban and all that - I read that part already. But what did he do? And why do I get the feeling it's something to do with me?"
"Well, I don't know that much," Ron admitted. "I remember my dad and mum talking about him a bit ages ago. He was friends with your parents, Harriet, I think."
Harry blinked in surprise and frowned. "Really? But the paper says he's a murderer."
Ron shrugged. "Yeah, but I don't remember the details. Mum thought it was all a bit too much for us kids to hear."
"I know a bit," admitted Neville. "Apparently when Black killed all those Muggles -"
"He did what?" interrupted Harry in horror.
Parvati patted his hand and smiled at him in a calming way. "That's what he got sent to Azkaban for. He killed a bunch of people, Muggles and I think a few wizards too with a huge explosion curse."
"And... Azkaban is some sort of prison, right?" Harry asked, gesturing for the paper. "I don't think I've heard of it before today."
Ron shuddered a bit. "It's a terrible place. My dad had to go there once, and he said it was the worst feeling he'd ever had. All those Dementors and all."
"It's the wizarding prison," explained Hermione. "And the Dementors are the guards, they're some sort of highly dangerous magical creature."
"How'd you know that?" Lavender asked her in surprise.
Hermione gave her a withering look. "I read it in a book, of course."
Lavender giggled. "Oh. Right."
Harry read a bit more of the article on Sirius Black. Apparently the criminal had not only killed several Muggles, but had severely injured the wizards on the scene. And one wizard had also died, named Peter Pettigrew, who had received the Order of Merlin posthumously. Black had then seemed to go mad when the arresting Aurors (a word Harry didn't recognize, but he assumed it was the same thing as a Muggle police officer) and confessed to the crime for all to hear. The article also seemed to claim that both Black and Pettigrew were friends of his parents, but that couldn't be right.
"Neville, you were saying something about Black killing those Muggles, right?" Harry asked.
"That's right," agreed a slightly pale Neville. "I was going to say, when he killed those Muggles, he also killed a wizard."
"Peter Pettigrew, right? That's what the article said." Harry pointed to the page. "And he got something called an Order of Merlin."
"Oh yeah!" Ron leaned back and shook his head. "Now I remember. He was the first one in ages to get an Order, First Class. Big deal, that is."
"Hmm," Hermione looked down at her watch. "As much as I'd like to continue this discussion, we really should be going so we're not late for Potions."
Neville grimaced and quickly gathered up his things. "I'm going to head over right now, try to get an early start. See you there." He raced off before anyone could say anything.
Ron shook his head and sighed. "If I didn't already know he hated the class, I'd say the boy was getting a bit on the Ravenclaw side of things."
"Hardly a chance of that!" Lavender said with a laugh.
"I had wanted to ask him about this business of Pettigrew and Black knowing my parents," Harry said with a frown.
"You have plenty of time," Parvati told him soothingly. "Now let's head over there as well."
Potions was remarkably tense, even more than usual, as Professor Snape seemed just as disturbed by the news of Black's escape as everyone else - with the exception of the Slytherin students. Although, Harry reflected, that was not so odd, given that the Heir of Slytherin was supposedly on the loose.
The Slytherin girls, whose names Harry still couldn't remember besides Pansy Parkinson (although in fairness, he didn't really remember any of the boys either, with Malfoy as the one exception) kept giving him odd glares throughout the class. But it almost devolved further than that.
Harry tended to switch up his Potions partners, with Hermione tending to be the best and Neville the worst, although he was far from the mess he'd been in first year. Neville was still terrified of Snape, who was well aware of how he affected the students. When Harry paired with someone, Snape tended to be slightly less awful to the other Gryffindor, although not necessarily. It was incredibly easy for Snape to goad Ron or Parvati in particular into talking back at his little jibes, leading to a loss of points. Harry would sometimes get points back, although never enough to match the deficit.
And the compliments from Snape were always coupled with insults, in the vein of "It's too bad the other Gryffindors are so incompetent" - even Hermione had to suppress her anger at that remark. This particular class Harry had ended up working with Lavender, who was a bit below his own level, so they worked well together.
But at some point about halfway through their work, the girl working with Pansy (they were sitting behind the two Slytherin girls) said something in an almost whisper. Harry wasn't quite able to make it out, but she was looking right at them.
"What did you say, Davis?" Lavender asked, her eyes narrowing.
"Ears burning, Brown?" Pansy sneered at the Gryffindor girl. "Think you lot are so interesting we can't help but talk about you? Perhaps you think we can't stop talking about your little group of blood traitors and peasants?"
"Watch your mouth, you bloody little twat!" Lavender hissed back.
Pansy snarled audibly. "You're the twat, you twat!"
"What's all this?" It was Snape, looking quite annoyed at the commotion. "Miss Brown, stop bothering your betters and focus on your work. Five points from Gryffindor for disturbing other students' work."
Lavender bit her lip and looked like she was tried to blink back a tear.
Harry couldn't help but catch Snape's eye for a moment, but the Professor hurriedly turned away and continued pacing through the classroom.
"It's all right," whispered Harry to Lavender and then, in a fit of sudden inspiration, he patted her hand and smiled at her. Ought to do the trick.
Lavender smiled slightly and nodded, holding Harry's hand for a moment with both of hers. "We should finish up," she then told him.
"Bring forward your completed Ablative Protective - if you've even managed it, that is," Snape told the class with a haughty sneer.
When Neville walked forward, Malfoy tried to trip him in an obvious manner. Neville managed to avoid falling, but he dropped his potion (which appeared relatively decent, all things considered) on the floor, creating a film of hardened silver in an instant.
"Mister Longbottom!" Professor Snape snapped furiously. "What manner of incompetence have you sunk to now? That will take an hour of careful work to dispose of safely. I'd assign you detention to clean it up if you were capable of the cleaning spells required. Twenty points from Gryffindor for ignoring vital safety requirements. And a zero for you and Mister Weasley for incomplete work, of course."
At this, Ron, who had been working with Neville, glared at Snape and almost said something before apparently thinking better of it. He then glared at Malfoy, who merely ignored them. But then Neville slowly turned to look at Malfoy, not with anger, just with focus. Malfoy clearly noticed, although he pretended not to, hurrying out of the classroom.
As they prepared to leave, the Professor cleared his throat. "Miss Potter, a word, if you will."
Harry nodded. "I'll see you guys at lunch", he said to his friends.
"Okay," Parvati told him with a small smile. "See you there." She started to walk away with Lavender.
Neville looked over at Snape with a slightly pale face, then hurried off after them.
"Please have a seat, Miss Potter."
Harry pulled out a chair and sat in the front row. He thought he might have a pretty good idea of what this what about. "Professor, is this about Sirius Black?"
Snape's lip curled and he had a sudden look of utter hatred flash on his face before he calmed himself. "Yes, precisely," he told Harry. "I am sure I am the only one who will not coddle you with friendly lies and false comforts, when you are old enough to know the truth. Are you not?"
"Um," Harry paused for a minute. "I think so. I mean I don't know what the truth is, other than that Black was a friend of my parents and escaped Azkaban. Oh, and he killed another friend of theirs and a bunch of Muggles."
"Do not be flippant," Snape told him harshly.
"I'm not!" Harry protested, holding up his hands. "It's just a lot to take in... and you know, I never even heard about Sirius Black until I got to Hogwarts. I don't know anything about him, really."
Snape nodded. "It is not a pleasant subject, nor one suited for young ears. But you deserve to know, regardless of what Minerva thinks."
"Professor McGonagall? She doesn't want me to know about Sirius Black?" Harry was surprised at this revelation.
"No, she does not - we had a bit of a disagreement about it this morning, but the Headmaster concurred with me that you were mature enough to know the truth, which Professor McGonagall did not particularly wish to get into. But she knows I am speaking about the subject with you."
Harry considered this and nodded. "Okay, sir. What is the truth, then? Is the Daily Prophet incorrect about something?"
The Potions Professor snorted in derision. "That rag is filled with lies. But in this particular instance, its reported story is more or less accurate, give or take a few details." He took a calming breath. "In a way, this is more my story to tell than anyone else, as I alone have the most details. You know that I was friends with your mother when we started at Hogwarts, correct?"
"Yeah," agreed Harry. "But... well..." he paused, unsure of how to continue.
"We had a falling out, as I assume you are thinking about," Snape confirmed somberly. "Which had unfortunate repercussions all around, I am afraid. Neither one of us had any friends when we first came to the school; in fact, we met a little while before. We grew up in the same neighborhood, a Muggle city called Cokeworth. My father was a Muggle, you see, and insisted on living away from wizards, and Mother... well, she argued frequently with him, but she always let him have his way.
"Naturally," Snape continued. "She did not neglect my magical education, despite my father's hatred of all things magical." He gave Harry a look. "An attitude I suppose you may find familiar."
"Yeah," Harry said in agreement. "The Dursleys were actually abnormally afraid of even the word 'magic' - they got mad if I even mentioned a fairytale from school or the telly. But I didn't even know magic was real."
"We do not need to compare difficult upbringings, Miss Potter," Snape cut in softly. "That is a game no one wins. In any event, when we travelled to Hogwarts, we ran into four friends on the Express. Your father and his three compatriots. He was an arrogant sot, even then - in fact he was quite a bully, and Lily did not like him any more than I did. At least not at that point.
"As for his other friends, there was Remus Lupin, bookish and more an enabler than anything else. He was made Prefect ostensibly to keep his less mature friends in check, but he failed consistently. Then there was little Peter Pettigrew, less talented and less intelligent than the other three, but just as much a bully - that is, when standing next to them. Otherwise he was cowardly and harmless."
"He's the one Sirius Black killed, right?" Harry asked.
Snape nodded. "Yes. Because Sirius, unlike the others, was a sociopath from the start - he fooled nearly everyone with his seeming sanity, but he honestly did not care about anyone else." The Professor then had a bit of a strained look on his face. "I will admit that your father was not actually evil at heart, although he was still a spoiled prat for the majority of his life. He did mature enough for Lily to marry him, after all." This looked like it had taken a great deal of effort to say. "Not that he was good enough," added Snape. "But he wasn't Black - that one even fooled the Headmaster, although Albus realized his mistake too late."
Harry sat up in his chair. "What mistake? Trusting him?"
"Yes, the same mistake that led to leniency when Black set up a 'prank' that nearly killed me. Albus could not comprehend the concept of a Gryffindor actually trying to murder another student, although of course he now regrets that error. When your parents went into hiding, they trusted the secret of their location with him, a mistake that they paid for with their lives." Snape sighed. "I can easily picture the next part - a terrified Pettigrew, finally pushed to quasi-bravery by the betrayal of one he considered a dear friend, facing off against Black in a battle he could never win. And Black held nothing back, blowing up the entire street, killing several innocent Muggles as well."
This matched with what Harry had already heard, but there was a part of the story that was still a bit confusing. "Was he really crazy? Did he really confess to the murder?"
"Oh, Merlin only knows his true mental state," Snape scoffed. "I suppose if you wanted to be generous, you could argue that Black wasn't a willing traitor, but was tortured by the Dark Lady to reveal your location. That he was truly insane when they arrested him, but only due to that."
Harry's eyes narrowed. "But you don't believe that, do you?"
The Potions Professor quirked up his mouth slightly. "Obviously not. The man had always been the worst sort in Hogwarts, but dismissed as adolescent tomfoolery."
"Sir, do you know... is he the Heir to Slytherin?"
Snape was silent for a few moments. "Truly, I do not know. None of us do, but it would not surprise me at all. Minerva is still resistant to the theory that a Gryffindor, even one gone to seed like Black, could be the Heir of Slytherin. But the idea that a true Slytherin might hide in the one place no one would expect - Gryffindor - is a compelling one. The House of Black is a very old pureblood family, and is no doubt intertwined with many other families, so it is more than possible Slytherin is connected. However, as far as I know, the only Heir to Slytherin in recent memory was the Dark Lady herself."
Harry blinked. "Oh, well that makes a lot of sense. Do you think it's actually her, like last year? Maybe she possessed Sirius Black so she could break him out of prison."
Snape paled. "That is something I had not considered. I must speak with the Headmaster about this immediately."
"It's just a theory," Harry insisted hurriedly. "I mean, I have no idea."
"No, no," Snape said, packing together a few things. "It was well reasoned, Miss Potter, if incredibly worrying. Please make your way to lunch, and be careful navigating the castle - always ensure that someone else is about. I doubt Black will attempt anything in the day, so you must be especially vigilant at night. Understood?"
Harry nodded and got up to leave, his head spinning with the revelations of Black.
It wasn't too difficult for Harry to convince the others that what he learned from Snape could wait until they weren't surrounded by the rest of the school.
"I can tell you one thing," he said in a low voice as they piled into the History classroom. "Since it's just us until Seamus and Dean show up."
Hermione perked up and then got a bit of a sly look. "Go on then, Harriet."
Harry looked around, but the only other one in the room was Professor Binns, who never seemed to even notice them until the class began - and not really that much even then. "Since Sirius wasn't in Slytherin, I asked if maybe Sirius was being possessed by the real Heir, if you know what I mean."
Neville paled. "You mean... You-Know-Who?"
"Exactly," Harry replied with a nod. "They hadn't even thought of it, so Snape ran off to talk with Professor Dumbledore about it."
"Wow, Harriet," Parvati said with admiration. "That was smart of you."
"What was so smart then?" It was Seamus Finnegan, who had just arrived with Dean Thomas. "Figured out a way to finally exorcise ol' Ghost Professor over there?"
"Don't be silly," Lavender told him with a giggle. "Just something about our homework."
Seamus made a face and shook his head in disgust. "You lot are always on about your precious homework."
Binns suddenly began to start talking, startling Seamus, who knocked his leg against a desk.
"Today we will begin our discussion of the International Warlock Convention of 1289, in which a great many important facts were discussed, from the Snidget controversy to the Celt/Romani proxy war that led to the Triwizard Tournament. We must first, of course, begin in November of one year prior, when Livonian wizards requested a change to the venue, specifically to a closer location. They wished to meet near the Magyars, but naturally the Turks disagreed."
Binns stopped speaking abruptly, and this was odd enough that it interrupted Harry's descent into his typical History nap. Hermione had put up her hand, which Harry had not recalled happening since their first year.
"Miss - er -?"
"Granger, Professor. I was wondering if you could tell us anything about the Chamber of Secrets, or maybe the Heir of Slytherin. Are they connected to Sirius Black or his family?"
Parvati grinned widely. "Nicely done," she whispered to Harry. "Binns probably was around the first time it was opened!"
"Miss Granger, need I remind you that my subject is History of Magic, not Legends of Magic?" Binns responded in his dry, wheezy voice. "Nor should be we concerned with Cyrus Black, whoever that is. Unless you are thinking of the non-fictional Castor Black, scourger of the Urkdok goblin clan in the early 1400's, but we won't be covering that until next year." Binns cleared his throat. "Now to continue with our lesson plan, it was actually due to a minor battle between Turkish wizards and the pirate Darkhart of the Black Sea that... Yes, what is it now?"
Hermione stopped waving her hand. "Wouldn't you say, sir, that a knowledge of history is vital to understanding the world we live in?"
Binns frowned and had a suspicious look on his face. "Well, yes, of course, but -"
"And you'd certainly agree that Slytherin had an Heir, that's a historical fact, is it not?"
"Obviously," the Professor said slowly. "But the House of Slytherin fell into poverty four hundred years ago, so if an Heir remains alive, they do not control any significant assets."
"Of course," Hermione agreed quickly. "And Professor, if the Chamber of Secrets does exist, it follows that only the Heir could access it?"
Professor Binns looked blearily back at her. "I don't know that that logically follows at all, Miss Gibbons. Hogwarts has been searched from lowest dungeon to highest tower throughout the years, and although certainly many hidden chambers were uncovered, there was nothing that was inaccessible with the right sorts of wizards around. It is far more likely that the theoretical Chamber of Secrets was merely a legend propagated from an actually existing room where Slytherin worked, probably an office or the like."
"But then how do you explain the attack on Filch and the warning?" Parvati asked.
"I wouldn't know anything about any vandalism, Miss Partridge," Binns told her with a scowl. "If you are curious about preventing Dark Magic, you should confer with your Defense professors."
"But weren't you around the last time it was opened?" Harry decided to get in on it - besides being informative, this little discussion was quite a bit more interesting than a typical History class.
"That is quite enough," Binns said sharply, showing more emotion than Harry had ever seen on him. "If you are referring to the attacks from decades ago, which I barely even remember, they were later proved to be due to attacks by an Acromantula accidentally allowed into the school. The beast was driven out of Hogwarts and the attacks ceased. Now then, we will return to the lesson - we've wasted quite enough time already."
"Well, that was useless," Ron muttered as they all left afterwards.
"Oh, I wouldn't quite say that," Hermione mused in a thoughtful manner. "Not at all."
"She's right," Parvati pointed out. "Remember what Binns said they thought caused the attacks?"
Harry nodded. "Something called an Acromantula - sounds like a spider, but I haven't heard the word before."
Ron shuddered. "Actually, I was trying not to remember that bit."
"Still," Parvati said brightly. "Ron's fear aside, it's a good thing to research, which means Hermione and the Ravenclaws will be happy!"
Lavender giggled loudly at Hermione's sudden glare.
"You are getting entirely too good at predicting my behavior," said Hermione sternly to Parvati.
"Hey, can you predict what I'm going to want to do next?" Ron asked with a big grin.
"Food, sleep, then food again," Neville said quickly.
Ron grumbled. "Lucky guess."
"And that's how I cursed that vampire to eat only lettuce - it was a roundabout way, you see. Vampires are frightfully difficult creatures to hurt or kill, but by affecting what it could eat..." Lockhart grinned widely as he looked over the class, trailing off as a sort of question.
"It didn't have the blood it needed to survive!" Lavender exclaimed. "Did it die right away?"
Lockhart tapped his chin in deep thought. "No, no, when it... that is, when I left the vampire, it was in a weakened state. I heard later that its new diet weakened it so severely it couldn't harm even a lowly Muggle child."
Hermione looked up from her notetaking with a frown. "You heard about that later? From whom?"
"Oh, you know, some Transylvanian villagers I kept in touch with," Lockhart said dismissively. "Grateful and all that, sending me owls with the latest news. Typical sort of thing for me," he added with another toothy grin.
"I see," murmured Hermione, almost too soft to be heard.
"Can you explain the curse you used?" Harry asked, wondering what was wrong with his brainy friend.
"Well, it's difficult to reproduce," admitted Lockhart. "The incantation is something along the lines of... let me see, what was it again? Comede lactucis tantum, I believe. But it needs to be adjusted based on the situation - only works with vampires besides."
Hermione made an odd sound, like she was thinking about something, but nobody else reacted.
"But we don't need to get into that right now," the Professor said quickly. "Let's talk about some of the ways you might defeat or disable a vampire without an advanced spell only an adult wizard could perform. Any thoughts? Yes, Mister Longbottom?"
After a few bit more back and forth as the class discussed various ideas on vampires, Lockhart ended the class by assigning a short essay on how they could defend against a group of vampires.
"Not kill them, mind you," he clarified. "For most, the best move is, after all, escape - but it's not so easy from even a single vampire, as we've discussed. Good luck!."
For the rest of the day, Hermione moped about, only responding to anything anyone said with soft hums of agreement or dissent. Finally when they convened in the library later with Padma and Anthony, she seemed almost depressed.
"Are you alright, Hermione?" Anthony asked with concern.
Lavender made a clucking sound. "She's been like this since Defense. I don't know what's wrong with her."
Hermione seemed shocked at this remark. "Is it that obvious?"
Nobody said anything, and then Padma shrugged and replied, "No, I don't see anything out of the ordinary."
Parvati frowned. "She's obviously sad about something," she told her sister. "But I suppose you often don't notice that sort of thing."
Padma nodded and smiled slightly. "Yes, but what are the key indicators of sadness in Hermione Granger? Frowning is typical behavior for her during many instances of discussions not implied as 'sad', and she is not crying, an indicator I am aware of."
"Enough already!" Hermione said angrily, almost at a yell, and she closed her book with a huff. It was one of Lockhart's, Voyages with Vampires, the book they been discussing in class. She stood up and folded her arms without looking at anyone. "I'm not sad, I'm concerned."
"It's okay," Harry told her soothingly. "We aren't mad at you - just worried. What's wrong?"
Hermione sat back down and sighed.
"Wait a minute," Anthony said as he peered at Lockhart's book. "This is something about Lockhart, isn't it? The discrepancy with the dates for that book and Travels with Trolls? I assumed it was a typographical error or just a less accurate retelling of the events to make it more exciting. Those sorts of discrepancies are all over his books if you pay attention."
"Huh?" Lavender looked at him in confusion. "Are you saying someone's wrong with the Professor's books?"
"So you did notice," Hermione said in obvious relief. "I thought I was going mad."
Padma tilted her head in what Harry recognized as classic "Padma is curious" fashion. "I don't think I understand the confusion. His books are fictional."
"No, they aren't!" Parvati insisted with a scowl. "They're travelogues - you know, thrilling true tales of his exciting adventures!" She looked over at the others. "Back me up here!"
Ron held up his hands quickly. "Don't look at me," he insisted. "I've barely read them."
"And I've only read the one we've been assigned in class," Neville put in. "And even then, just the chapters we get to."
"You know," said Harry slowly. "If they weren't meant to be taken literally, that makes more sense. I had noticed some things that didn't seem possible a few times. But I assumed I had missed something; I skimmed a lot."
Hermione turned to Padma. "You interpreted the books as being fictional, you say? The entire time you've had them?"
Padma nodded, still looking confused. "Yes, of course. Was that not the point?"
"I assumed they were a mix of fiction and reality," said Anthony with a smile. He shrugged. "But I could be wrong."
"But... if they were meant to be taken literally." Hermione gasped. "That means Lockhart is hiding something - because then the books are impossible."
Parvati huffed in an annoyed manner. "Well, I don't see it that way at all. But I suppose if you must, consider it another Mystery to investigate."
"Don't you think we have enough to worry about... you know, with the Chamber and all?" Neville asked hesitantly.
"If we get stuck on Chamber stuff, then we can try to figure out Lockhart's big secret," Lavender decided with a big smile. "Or if he even has one."
"He might just be lying in his books," Anthony pointed out. "It's just as likely as anything else."
"Say, is that...?" Ron looked up and over behind them. "It is! That Hufflepuff fellow Ernie something. Oi there Ernie, how are you doing?"
"It's actually Ernie Macmillan, as I'm sure you already know," the Hufflepuff in question said a bit stiffly. "How are you folks doing? I heard quite nice things from Hannah and Susan about your little study sessions already."
Harry frowned and slammed down his book. He looked over at his friends, who seemed to all be acting suspiciously. Neville and Ron weren't meeting his eyes, Hermione was pretending to read again, and both Lavender and Parvati were smiling a bit too politely. The two Ravenclaws, though, seemed not to be acting any differently, so perhaps they weren't in on... whatever was going on.
"I think I see what's going on here," he said with the slightest touch of anger. "Ernie, care to explain?"
"Um," Ernie seemed surprised by the question.
"Right, of course," Harry stood quickly. "I doubt Hannah will say anything, wherever she is, because she barely talks in the first place. Perhaps you might know where Susan is?"
"I think she's just down the hall," Ernie answered and then looked embarrassed. "Wait, you don't need to say anything to her about this."
"I think I do," Harry told him. With just the barest nod to the others, Harry grabbed his things and rushed out of the library as fast as he could without Pince getting angry. He moved quickly through the corridors, keeping a careful eye, until he finally spotted Susan talking with Hannah and Justin, one of the other Hufflepuffs.
As he walked closer, Justin spotted him and clearly noticed Harry's frustration, because he looked quite pale suddenly.
"H-Harriet, how are you?" He managed to say when Harry came close.
Hannah said nothing, but her face was bright red.
"I'm fine," said Harry dismissively. "Susan, may I talk to you for a moment?"
The other two Hufflepuffs looked at Susan in concern, but she waved them off and smiled at Harry. "Of course, Harriet. Let's go take a walk to the Lake, how's that?"
Harry nodded. "Yes, that'll be fine."
Neither one said anything as they navigated through the school. As they finally walked a bit from the front gates, Susan turned to Harriet.
"So I assume you've figured it out?"
"Not exactly," admitted Harry. "But I know there's something going on with you four Hufflepuffs and my Gryffindor friends - seems like Anthony and Padma don't know about it."
Susan nodded and adjusted her robes slightly. "You're right, Harriet. Something is going on. What do you want to know?"
Harry stopped walked and looked straight at Susan, who looked back with what looked like a mix of confidence and apprehension.
Next time, the game's afoot. And more than love is in the air.
"What is it?" Hermione asked in concern. "What happened?"
Ron looked stricken and horribly pale. "It's Neville. He's in the Hospital Wing."
Author's Post Note:
As I've noted on my profile, I now have one those "tumblr" blogs the kids are all talking about. That'll be a good place to see my latest updates and the like (I'll be using a progress tracker in the header as well). Also, I was wondering about another idea to help keep me on a good update schedule - writing a chapter "in progress" using a live document. If anyone's interested in that sort of thing (a sort of preview and "how it goes" of the process), let me know. Cheers!