Hey folks, in honor of Harry P's recent birthday and the big whatever it is for America birthday, here's a brand new chapter of this not abandoned story! Thanks for keeping with it!
Previously: Harry spends fruitless energy attempting to experiment on his Curse with Luna before heading back to Hogwarts. But while on the train, something happens and Harry falls into unconsciousness...
Harry and the Mysterious Curse of the Girl-Who-Lived
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: A VALENTINE AND AN ANSWER
"I don't care what he said, it's getting late. You will simply have to leave her be."
"Don't be absurd, you're not getting rid of me that easy. I don't mind skipping a meal."
"That's not the point. She needs rest, and so do you. Dementors at Hogwarts, what will the Ministry do next?"
"It wasn't my idea, obviously. But surely it's alright for me to stay a little while longer?"
"Well, you'd need permission from your Head of House to stay the night."
"Don't you think Professor McGonagall would allow that?"
"Actually, I'm not entirely sure. Minerva can get even stricter about the rules than me sometimes."
Harry winced and sat up. "Where am I?"
He saw a few blurry shapes, although the voices were already fairly obvious. "Madame Pomfrey, can I get my spectacles?"
"Here you are Harriet," said the Parvati blur.
Harry put them on and blinked a few times wearily. "Well, I can see I'm in the Hospital Wing. What happened on the train?"
Parvati scowled. "It was those blasted Dementors! They came up right near the train and you fainted. Luckily one of the Prefects knew how to Apparate, so she brought you to Hogsmeade, and then to Hogwarts. I didn't get here until the train did, although I was very loud about it."
Harry laughed. "Thanks for that. So did anyone else get hurt?"
"Most everyone felt awful, but nobody else fainted. McGonagall said it was something about your past but we shouldn't needle you about it." She gave Harry a sympathetic look. "But you can talk about it if you want."
"Did I miss the Sorting?"
Parvati blinked. "Uh, Harriet, it's January."
Harry winced. "Yes, of course you're right. Just got a bit out of my head there. I guess a better question is if there are any important announcements. Like on the Heir or Sirius Black."
"Well." Parvati glanced at Madame Pomfrey. "I've really been here the whole time, actually. So if there was anything I missed it."
"Do I have to stay here overnight?" Harry asked the nurse. "I'm feeling a lot better."
"It'll just be the night, Miss Potter," she replied. "Nothing too serious, but you had a close call. The Prefect actually made things worse by Apparating you here, you're not supposed to do that after that sort of trauma. You would likely have soon awoken on your own."
Harry frowned and said, "But if I'm fine now..."
"Not another word, you aren't convincing me," said Madame Pomfrey. "I'm not taking any chances with a Dementor attack. And you, Miss Patil, I'll let you stay, but you will not be permitted to leave until the morning, is that understood? I can't have any unknown influences on my Wing."
Parvati nodded. "That's fine. Can I get my things?"
"I'll have the house elves do it," said Pomfrey. "No need to worry. It's late already." She nodded at Harry and walked out of the room.
"How late is it?" Harry asked.
"You missed supper," Parvai said. "I think it's after nine." She yawned. "Merlin, it's been a trying day. Do you mind if rest my eyes for a minute?"
"Not at all," said Harry, amused at the obviousness. And then he yawned as well. "You're contagious. I forget, do we have class tomorrow?"
"Afternoon," said Parvati as she leaned on an empty bed, her eyes already closed.
"That's good." Harry looked up at the ceiling. "I feel like having a bit of a lie in."
It didn't take long for things to return to normal again, although everyone seemed to be a bit more on edge. After their next Potions class, Snape asked Harry to stay a moment.
"We discussed a few possibilities for defensive spells," the Professor said and then he scowled. "I had thought Black was the only problem, but these Dementors are a public menace. You need to learn how to defend against them."
"I don't like fainting or whatever," said Harry with a grimace. "So what can I do?"
There was a glint in Snape's eyes and he nodded. "I see your point, Miss Potter. Weakness should be managed. There is a spell called the Patronus charm. You may recall Professor McGonagall using it last summer as a tool to send messages, but that is a secondary purpose. It alone can keep the Dementors at bay under normal circumstances. But it is a difficult spell, one even many adult wizards cannot achieve."
"Better to try than to give up, Professor."
Snape's lip curled up and he pulled out a small book. "Quite right. We do not have time at present to go over it, but take a look at this. Chapters seventeen through nineteen specifically."
"Highly Advanced Defense. Well that's not daunting."
The Potions Professor made a sound half like a snort, half a chuckle. "I did not say it would be easy. Read those chapters, and we will work on the spell next week."
"Do I need to keep this to myself?"
Snape didn't say anything for a minute, clearly thinking it over. "You should not share the book in general," he said finally. "It would have a negative impact on their training. But the chapters I mentioned you may discuss with some of your more intelligent peers. It would serve them well to know them charm too, after all."
"Thanks, Professor," said Harry, and he carefully tucked the book away.
The book was difficult to read at first, with many words Harry didn't recognize. But eventually he began to grasp the idea, and eventually shared it with a select group of his friends.
It took Hermione and the Ravenclaws two hours to read the chapters, as Harry worked on other homework with Parvati and Susan Bones.
"Well, alright then," said Hermione when she had finally finished writing down notes on the book. "I didn't understand it all, but I think I get the important parts. The Dementors exist in a complicated way that's a bit unusual and not entirely understood, but what we do know is that they cause despair to any nearby."
"And they kind of feed off your positive memories," Anthony Goldstein added. "Although how that works I admit I don't entirely understand. Padma?"
The Ravenclaw girl was still rereading the book and made a noncommittal sound.
"That means she doesn't either," said Hermione with a laugh. "This Patronus charm though, it's meant to amplify the positive facing incipient self your personality reflects. Which I think means it uses positive memories to short circuit the absorption of the Dementors."
"Short what?" Anthony asked.
"Never mind," said Hermione and shook her head. "Muggle term. It just means to bypass it, I suppose."
"I know what you mean," Harry told her. "I don't know where that phrase comes from, but I've heard it used plenty of times."
"So we need to use positive memories for the charm to work," said Hermione and she tapped her quill against her chin. "The more personal and happy the better."
"Right." Harry nodded and said, "So I was thinking we should come up with a good set of memories to try when we actually get to the charm. Snape said we shouldn't try it without a teacher around."
"What sort of memory do you think would work best?" Parvati asked. "I mean, like getting a birthday gift?"
"Or getting a good mark on an exam," said Anthony.
Susan laughed. "That would be a positive memory for me." Harry nodded at her with what he hoped was a pleasant smile. Normally he wouldn't have considered Susan to be an especially clever part of his extended study group, but he wanted to include her to keep her spirits up.
"Harriet, you know the others will want to know about this," Parvati said with a serious look in her eyes. "Obviously Ron wouldn't care to do the reading, but we all need help against those Dementors."
Harry said, "Yeah, I was thinking much the same. But I wanted to ask our smart people to look it over first."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Honestly, Harriet, sometimes I don't know if you mean to be insulting or complimentary with that sort of remark."
Harry laughed. "If you're as smart as I keep saying you are, you figure it out."
This hit the mark, and Hermione ducked her head to hide an obvious smile.
"Anyway," said Harry. "I think it has to be stronger than just a well done piece of homework. The way I understood is that it had to be like a super intense positive feeling." He almost said something about family, but held back. "I think you know what I mean," he said instead.
Parvati gave him an odd look and then she nodded. "I get it. Like how I felt when I first got my Hogwarts letter. Or my wand. I finally felt a proper witch then."
Harry smiled at her as he recalled getting his own wand. "That's a great point, Parvati. Or perhaps when I saw Hogwarts again after my first summer away. Took my breath away, I missed it so much."
"That's lovely," said Hermione with a smile. "I see precisely what you mean. Perhaps we don't need to share it all out loud, but that's a good place to start from. I think we can at least share that much with the others, don't you agree?"
"Yeah, I do," said Harry. He tasked Susan with sharing the information with her Hufflepuff friends, but it seemed less likely Padma or Anthony were as willing to do anything about it with their Housemates.
"I don't see what they have to do with it," said Padma with a haughty sniff when Harry asked her.
Anthony just shrugged, clearly not willing to go against her wishes.
"Whatever," said Harry in a grumble and let it go.
Back in the Gryffindor common room that evening, the others were quite excited to get their own tasks, even if it was a bit unusual.
"Blimey, Harriet," said Ron as he scratched his head. "Not sure what my best memories are. Maybe the first birthday cake I ever had."
Neville laughed. "Of course it's food."
"The first cake my Mum made for me, Nev," said Ron and he gave the shorter boy a sort of mock glare. "It's not just about the food."
"Yeah, well," Neville paused to consider this and then said, "I think maybe for me it's the first time I got a spell right. It was like I felt, hey, maybe I'm not a Squib after all!"
"Actually I don't know what that means," said Harry. "Didn't Malfoy mention it at some point? I just assumed it was an insult."
Ron scowled. "It is, Harriet. Malfoy's just a berk. A Squib is someone born to magical parents who hasn't got any magical ability. Can't use a wand or anything."
"You're far from that Neville," said Lavender soothingly.
"I know that now," Neville replied with a shrug. "But it was a close thing for while. It's still not so easy for me."
The conversation was making Harry uncomfortable, so he said, "I think you three get it. Right, Lavender?"
Lavender giggled. "Yes, Harriet. I believe I have just the memory too. But it's a secret, so I shan't be telling you!"
"Fine with me," said Harry. "Now if you don't mind, I have to finish some work before bed." And he assumed nothing much would happen after that.
But while he waited eagerly for the next Potions class when Snape would agree to teach the charm, there was an odd sense of tension that began to spread. It may have been the Dementors or that the Heir was still on the loose, but everyone seemed a bit more paranoid.
And then Sirius Black was spotted.
"I saw him," Ron said, his face still white. "Standing over me, looking like a bloody Inferi. I shouted, and I think it startled him so he vanished. Lucky I woke up in time."
The Gryffindor students had all been moved temporarily to their common area for safety, and everyone gathered together in clumps by their year.
Neville shivered and clutched his wand tightly. "I just saw him leave," he said in a soft voice. "I was too afraid to move."
"Bleedin' shame, it is," said Seamus Finnigan. "Not safe in our own beds, are we?"
"You reckon he was looking for me?" Ron asked, "Why else would he be staring at me?"
"Maybe he was looking for your wand," said Hermione as she bit her finger nervously. "I mean, I'd have guessed he was more interested in Harriet. Maybe he lost his wand? He can't have had one at Azkaban."
"Yeah, but how could he sneak into Hogwarts without a wand?" Harry pointed out. "Maybe it has something to do with Neville? Could he have been looking for Neville instead?"
Neville shuddered. "Harriet, don't say that! It makes too much sense! He and his Death Eater buddies trying to finish me off?"
Lavender gave Neville an odd look. "Finish you off?"
"Never mind that," said Harry quickly. "But I mean here's the thing: Ron and Neville both came from families that opposed You-Know-Who. Just like mine. Maybe he couldn't get into the girls' hall, so he figured next best thing from me was to kidnap or hurt another enemy."
Parvati grabbed Harry in a hug. "Oh, Harriet, that's awful! I expect you're right, horrible as that sounds."
"It makes an evil sort of sense," said Ron in a leaden voice.
Dean Thomas breathed out. "First time I'm glad I grew up with Muggles. Although maybe he was looking for Muggleborns? He was one of the baddies, right?"
"The Death Eaters, yeah," said Ron. "Sorry to say, any Gryffindor could be a target to Black. Our fault for being so brave and awesome."
Harry laughed. "That's putting a good spin on it. I suppose it's good he wasn't spotted near the Ravenclaws, Mandy would really think I had something to do with it then."
Lavender scowled. "That bint."
"Her friend did get petrified," Parvati reminded her. "That said, she is a bint anyhow."
Hermione sighed. "I still don't know how Black managed to petrify people. I thought I really had something with my basilisk theory, but it seems they just kill people."
"Oh, right, I remember," Harry lied. "Have you considered looking at something more obscure? Like an old book or something?"
"If you mean from the Restricted section, I'd need a professor to allow it," said Hermione with a grumble. "And I hardly think they'd agree to let a second year take a gander there."
"Lockhart might," said Ron with a laugh. "He always said we're his favorite students. You and Harriet especially."
Hermione coloured slightly but then she smiled. "You may be right, Ron. Harriet, what do you think?"
Harry scratched his chin and thought for a moment. "Yeah, okay. Why not? Maybe he'll have an idea of where to look. He's got the background as a world traveler after all, I'm sure Lockhart knows something we don't."
Lockhart was only all too thrilled to sign a permission note for Harry and Hermione. "Anything for my two favorite students," he said with a wink. Hermione blushed, but Harry pretended not to notice.
"I have some thoughts," she said as they walked to the library. "I'd like to ask Anthony for help, if that's okay."
Hermione made a face. "Padma is quite smart, certainly, but I think she'll be more useful on the analysis part. She's not particularly creative, but don't tell her I said that!"
Harry laughed. "Can I tell Parvati?"
"Hmph." Hermione rolled her eyes. "I would guess she's more than aware already."
"Okay, well if you would prefer to browse with Anthony, I have other things I can do in the meantime. Homework, for example."
"An excellent point, Harriet," said Hermione with a grin. "But we shouldn't be alone, the rules, right?"
That evening, there was a general pall as they at the dinner table. Harry couldn't help but notice two particular behaviors; Hermione was intensely writing notes on a parchment, while Ron kept looking under the table, his face pale and worried.
"Oi! Weasley!" Neville grabbed Ron's shoulder as he was about to duck down again. "What are you searching for down there? Some might think you're fancying a gander under someone's robes."
Lavender gasped. "Ron!"
Ron scowled and pulled away from Neville. "Don't say that sort of thing, Neville. I'm looking for Scabbers. He's missing."
"Your pet rat?" Parvati met Harry's eyes and made an odd little frown. "How did you notice he was gone? Isn't he usually asleep?"
"Precisely!" Ron said and then he groaned, putting his head in his hands. "He's never gone at dinnertime though. Always hangs around to get scraps or what have you. I'm worried something happened."
"What, like Sirius Black?" Lavender asked.
"W-what?" Ron shot up in alarm. "Why would he care about my pet?"
Noticing people now looking at her, Lavender shrunk a bit into herself. "I don't know," she said. "I thought you were saying he might've accidentally hurt Scabbers."
"Blimey," said Ron, looking now quite forlorn. "Maybe Scabbers defended my honour and bit the blaggard, and Black could've easily killed him."
Neville patted Ron on the shoulder. "Sorry, mate. But hey, he may just be lost."
"Yeah, thanks, Neville. Hope you're right. Eyes peeled on the floor gang, right?"
Parvati made a face but nodded. "Of course, Ron," she said. "We'll all keep a watch out."
But nobody caught even a glimpse of a rat hair over the next few days, and Ron began to get increasingly sad. Hermione spent more and more time with Anthony and Padma, whom apparently she had decided to allow to help in research.
"I'm beginning to become a tad frustrated," she confided to Harry. "Normally getting the right research comes easily to me."
"I believe in you," Harry told her. "And hey, you have the Ravenclaws with you, right? They seem smart."
Hermione laughed. "They are smart, Harriet. Padma is probably more intelligent in terms of understanding things faster, but she's not very imaginative. Anthony isn't as smart as I am, but he's easier to get along with. Although working with both of them..." She smiled slightly. "I kind of like it. They balance each other well."
"Probably why they got married," said Harry without thinking.
"What?" Hermione almost screeched this, but then she quickly calmed down. "Harriet, is that some sort of joke?"
"Oh, bollocks," Harry grumbled. "I wasn't supposed to tell people about it. But I guess I can tell you... if you promise not to say anything!"
Hermione held up a hand. "Of course!"
"They were kids, playing at being married. Parents got angry, you can guess what happened next."
"I believe I can," said Hermione and she laughed. "This will be difficult not to mention to them, but if I can trick them into talking about it, no harm, right?"
Harry gave her a look and then laughed himself. "Hermione, you're too much sometimes."
"I'm going mad," said Susan softly.
Harry nearly tripped over his feet as they walked to the library from class. The two were walking a bit behind some of the others, so Harry was pretty sure nobody else had heard Susan's little admission.
"What are you talking about?" He asked her in a hiss.
"They hate you," she said, sounding exhausted. "The Ravenclaw and Slytherin girls. They think you have something to do with Sirius Black showing up. That Ron is making it up at your request."
Harry scowled. "That's just stupid."
"I know," said Susan with a sigh. "Harriet, this whole business is driving me spare. They've been spreading rumours you're working with Black. From what I can tell, it's not that popular, but a few people have started repeating it."
"Damn it," cursed Harry. "I don't need people spreading lies about me. Can't you do something about it?"
Susan looked at him with a forlorn expression, and suddenly Harry noticed how bad she was looking. Her face was pale and her eyes sunken. Susan seemed like she was about to pass out and Harry felt suddenly awful about it.
"Let's talk with Parvati about it," said Harry. "We'll figure it out."
Susan bit her lip but then nodded. When he pulled Parvati back with a gesture of his head, she seemed to grasp the situation immediately after Susan repeated her concerns.
Parvati halted and grabbed Susan's hands tightly. "You're being utterly brave, Susan," she said. "It's practically like you're a Gryffindor in disguise."
"Oh," Susan let out a squeaky laugh. "Don't be silly."
"Look at me," Parvati said with a softer tone. "Susan, see this face? My super-serious, I couldn't be bother to lie face?"
Susan nodded, seemingly entranced and Harry felt he couldn't blame her. Parvati was putting on quite a show without saying much at all.
"I know you can do this," Parvati said. "I know you can help us keep those bloody bints at odds. I know you can try and get some more sleep."
She winked and Susan giggled.
"You're right about that much," the Hufflepuff said. "I've been knackered for days. Maybe a good lie in will rewind the dial a bit. It's just there's so much nastiness and it's hard, Parvati, you know? It makes me feel sad."
Parvati gave Harry a meaningful glance.
"Susan, you know we don't want you to feel sad," Harry said while watching for Parvati's reaction. At her nod, he continued, "If you can't help, it's alright. We'll find another way, it's not worth you being sick or anything."
Susan sighed and disentangled herself from Parvati. "I'm not sick, Harriet, just tired. And not feeling too happy. But well..." She paused and then looked carefully at Harry. "I'm actually getting a bit sick of those... those 'bints'" - at this she giggled at her own daring. "Them being so mean and nasty about you. If I'm anything, I'm cross."
Parvati laughed. "I like the sound of that, Susan. You see, that's all you need, right? Focus your feelings of righteous rage instead of sadness. We'll get through this, you mark my words!"
Susan nodded and smiled at them. "Let's hurry on, then," she said. "The others probably got all the good books already."
Harry laughed. "No bets," he said.
Slowly it seemed that Susan got back into her usual good spirits, spending most of her time studying (or mostly gossiping) with Parvati and to a lesser extent, Harry too. The massive nature of the study group and the lack of comfortable table spots began to change the group dynamics over the next few weeks.
Hermione and the Ravenclaws spent their time almost exclusively together, only emerging from their brainy bubble when someone else had a difficult question. Ernie and Ron seemed to find something hilarious every day, and Neville tended to float between all the groups. Hannah and Justin, the less talkative of the Hufflepuffs clung to Ernie and Ron, even when it seemed that they didn't get the jokes.
Harry felt less of a connection with some of these extended friends, and was a bit relieved to let his primary group shrink more. He'd always have that rapport with his old Gryffindor pals, Harry reasoned. But he enjoyed the new burgeoning relationship with Susan and Parvati, which was gratifying as Susan was so eager to please them it almost made Harry feel guilty at times..
One day, Harry was rereading one of Lockhart's books (Marauding with Monsters, the funniest one of the bunch) instead of revising when he noticed something odd.
"Hey, Parvati," he said while staring at the book. "Do you remember Professor Lockhart telling us he'd saved the last dodos from extinction?"
"Sort of," she replied distractedly, scribbling her homework on a parchment. "You oughta ask Hermione, she doesn't forget anything. She glanced up. "Marauding, eh? Haven't read that one, actually."
"Got it from the library," said Harry. "I've read some of the bits a few times already when I've been bored. Some funny stories."
Parvati shrugged. "Sorry I can't help, Harriet."
Harry grumbled and got to his head, deciding to brave the now eerily silent group of Hermione and Ravenclaw as they kept passing pieces of parchment to each other for some odd reason. "What are you lot doing?"
Hermione started and looked up at Harry. "Harriet, you startled me!"
"We're trying to figure something out," Anthony said while carefully reading two different pieces of parchment. "Something's wrong with Lockhart."
"Really?" Harry chuckled. "I was actually about to ask you about that. Hermione, you recall Professor Lockhart saying he saved the dodos?"
Hermione nodded, but she was frowning. "Why do I suspect you're about to tell me something I don't want to hear?"
Harry pointed at Marauding with Monsters. "Read this one? Hermione? Anthony or Padma?"
Anthony and Padma looked up at the same time, the same squinty expression on their face as they read the book's title. Hermione rolled her eyes. "Dramatics, honestly."
"I haven't," said Anthony. "Where did you find it?"
"Here in the library," Harry told him. "Surprised you lot didn't know about it."
"We haven't read all the books in the library, Harriet," said Hermione with a huff.
"Not for lack of effort," said Anthony with a laugh.
"I read the first chapter," Padma said and scratched her chin thoughtfully. "But I did not care for it, so I ceased reading the book."
"I think it's funny," said Harry with a smile. "Maybe that's why you didn't like it."
"Enough, please," Hermione cut in. "Harriet, what does the book say?"
Harry handed the book over and pointed at a particular paragraph. Hermione raised an eyebrow but began to read aloud.
"'While performing certain urgent ablutions, I was attacked by a veritable horde of furious fire crabs – these dastardly crustaceans obviously ignorant of the fact that I was endeavouring to save one of their kind from going the way of the dodo.' Wait a minute." Hermione looked up at Harry with alarm. "The dodo, that's what you meant?"
"Yeah, but maybe it's nothing. He could just be exaggerating or something. Doesn't mean he's lying, right?"
Hermione shook her head. "I don't know, really. There's a lot of odd inconsistencies we've been collecting on the books and our own notes on what he's said." She gestured at the pile of parchment. "It's a lot to check against, but maybe you're right. Maybe he's just using artistic whatever."
"That makes sense," said Padma and she put down her parchment and instantly grabbed a nearby book.
"Done already?" Hermione asked with an exceptionally dry tone, but Padma didn't bother to answer.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Thanks for the help guys."
But this wasn't the only odd experience of the day; during lunch, Harry got an owl letter from Luna.
Meet me by the hallway near the Gryffindor table after you finish. - Luna Lovegood
Harry carefully walked to the hallway in question, finding Luna huddled up near a corner that wouldn't be visible unless you were really looking straight at her. "Luna, you know you're supposed to be with a partner, right?"
"Yes," said Luna and she seemed oddly sad. "But my partner is supposed to be Ginny, and she's not right."
"I didn't see her at lunch," said Harry in realization. "Maybe she's ill."
"She's been not right for weeks," Luna said and she started to fidget with her necklace. "She's often a bit mean to me, although she always apologizes. She's very tired and I don't understand why."
"I don't know why either," admitted Harry. "I've noticed it too. She wasn't too great during the winter holiday either. Maybe she's stressed about the attacks and Sirius Black." He then realized something. "I think she was mean to Colin too."
Harry winced. "Colin can be a bit... annoying."
"How do you mean?"
"Just overly enthusiastic and maybe not thinking about when someone wants to be left alone."
Luna considered this and nodded. "Have I ever been annoying like that?"
"Not me," said Harry quickly. "I'd be honest with you about that. I can try to talk to Ginny if you like." Harry then nodded, partially to himself. "In fact, that's what I'll do. But in the meantime Luna, find a Ravenclaw partner, even if you have to force them. Tell them I'll be mad if they don't help you."
Luna giggled. "Okay, Hrrprr, although perhaps they'd be more amenable if I threatened to tell Professor Flitwick."
Harry nodded in agreement. "I think I've learned more words by knowing you Ravenclaws," he said with a smile.
"How perspicacious!" Luna said brightly and then she giggled. "See you later, Hrrprr!"
Harry attempted to corner Ginny a few times, but she never seemed to stay in the same room long enough. It was enough that Harry began to wonder if she was trying to avoid him altogether.
"Is your sister avoiding me?" Harry finally asked Ron as they walked to Lockhart's class.
Ron blinked in surprise. "Bloody hell, Harriet. Don't ask me! Figured you'd know more about why she's all out of sorts better than me. I'm afraid I'm as plonked as you are this time."
"I'm sorry, did you just say 'plonked'?" Harry laughed. "Nice, Ron, very nice."
The tall boy grinned back. "Can't let the smart kids be the only one making up words, can we?"
"I don't think they're making them up, but solid effort anyhow."
"Oh, my eyes!" Neville groaned, having entered the classroom with Hermione ahead of them. "It's too much for a man to take."
Hermione giggled. "Neville, you're being awfully regressive."
"I just know it's too much, that's all," said Neville. Harry and Ron glanced at each other and hurried in to see what was wrong.
Lockhart's classroom was gaudily decorated, in shades of everything purple and bright pink, with Valentine's related accoutrements everywhere. Pulsating cut out hearts with photos of Lockhart inside them, brightly colored lights dancing across the ceiling, and Lockhart himself dressed in the most ridiculous outfit had ever seen.
It was a set of solid pink robes, over which the Professor wore an expensive looking cloak covering in gold hearts and what appeared to be tiny pink sculptures of his own head. Lockhart beamed at them.
"Ah, happy Valentine's to you, Miss Potter!"
"Oh, is that today?" Harry asked and then laughed. "Well, that's a foolish question, isn't it?"
Hermione gave him a sympathetic look. "First celebration of it?"
"I think it is," said Harry after a moment's thought. "Wasn't really something we did at primary."
"Alright, everyone, please settle down and take your seats." Lockhart waited until the class was quiet and then gave them a huge smile. "I was going to do something with some hired dwarves dressed as cupids, but they haven't arrived just yet. Hopefully by lunchtime, eh?"
Lockhart laughed and then coughed. "Cupids are unusual beasties in real life, of course. Unusually tricky and mean blighters, you know the type. They can make folks experience a sensation like love, that's where it comes from."
"I thought Cupid was a Roman god, the son of Venus," Hermione said with a frown.
"No, no, that's Muggle nonsense," said Lockhart with a chuckle. He blinked rapidly and coughed again. "Now, I never wrote anything about that particular adventure in my books, as I had some... embarrassing issues with them." He smiled, and his eyes seemed a bit red. "But I'll tell more later. For now, let's go over your homework from last time."
Through the rest of the class, Lockhart continued to act a bit oddly, almost like he was ill. His stories weren't nearly as exciting as normal, and Harry wondered if the Professor was stressed out due to the constant threat of attacks.
"Give me a minute," said Harry to Parvati as they got ready to leave after the class ended. "I need to ask the Professor something."
"Okay," said his friend with a smile. "Just don't take long, I'm hungry!"
Lockhart saw Harry have this exchange and waved him over. "Miss Potter, is there something you need? Advice of some sort?"
"Something like that," said Harry and he leaned over Lockhart's desk. "Professor, are you well? You seem sick or something."
The Professor sighed and pull his hand through his hair, which was not quite as immaculate as usual. "You've always been a perceptive student, Harriet. From the start, I could tell you paid more attention than most people." He raised an eyebrow at Harry. "I count teachers among that mix too, for that matter."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I'd wager Hermione was better at that than me."
"Not paying attention to classwork," said Lockhart carefully. "You know what I mean, don't you?"
Harry nearly replied "I don't", but then paused as something began to percolate in his mind. While he waited for the answer to come to him, he changed the subject to something else on his mind. "How's the search for the attacks or Sirius Black? Any luck?"
Lockhart paled. "That's dirty gobstones, Harriet. You know very well how badly it's gone."
"Oh," said Harry as he realized it all at once. "You haven't bothered at all, have you?"
The Professor shook his head and chuckled ruefully. "Surprised it's taken you this long, Harriet. I assumed... well, that's not important."
"So about all those inconsistencies in your books.. Artistic license, are they?"
Lockhart laughed. "Ha! I like that." And then suddenly he seemed sad. "Harriet, you're not about to tell anybody about this are you?"
"No," said Harry. "I think you're a good teacher. I'd rather you keep being that way, if you're pants at tracking down real monsters or bad guys."
The Professor seemed taken aback at this remark, and he looked down, not saying anything for a few moments. "Honestly, I have tried," he said. "I have some particular sorts of skills of magic, but Defense isn't really one of those. But teaching, though..." He leaned back in his chair, gaze up at the ceiling, a dreamy expression on his face.
"It's been such fun," Lockhart said. "Challenging in a way, but not overly so. And it'd be perfect if... if." He stopped talking and his face fell.
"If there weren't people getting petrified or Sirius Black on the loose."
Lockhart said nothing and then nodded.
Harry waited a bit and then said, "I'm off to lunch, Professor. Just please, you know... try, alright?"
The Professor simply nodded once more.
At lunch, there was the expected surprise: the dwarves dressed as cupids, to a one extremely unhappy with their situation. Lockhart did not make an appearance, and Harry decided to keep quiet about it unless things changed.
"Valentines for yeh," one of the winged dwarves said, interrupting Harry's thoughts, shoving a bunch of brightly coloured cards in Harry's lap.
"I didn't ask for these," said Harry with a touch of anger.
"Oh, stop being foolish." Parvati flipped through a few of hers. "Such nice comments from all these boys! Too bad my heart's taken by you, eh Harriet?" And then she laughed.
"Uh, right," said Harry, utterly distracted and forgetting what he was angry about.
"Ron, did you send this?" Lavender held up a note. "'To a Lady of Lavender, Merry Valentines from a different coloured hair of a bloke'?"
Ron grinned. "I'll never tell," he said. "Not badly written though, innit?"
"Ron." Neville sighed and held up one of his own cards. "Did you send this? 'To a fellow with the longest bottom from a bloke with one even longer'?"
"I'll never tell," Ron said again and burst into laughter.
"Arse," said Neville under his breath.
Harry decided to look at his own cards just in case there was a similarly amusing card. But one after another, they seemed to all about praising his "beauty" and "gorgeous hair", until Harry crumbled them all into a mass of paper.
"You didn't send me one of those notes, did you?" Harry asked Ron a touch angrily.
"I know better," said Ron, holding up his hands. "I know you don't like that sort of thing."
"I didn't either," Neville put in. "But it's only because I didn't want Ron to feel bad that he forgot."
Harry laughed. "Yeah, okay you two. I believe you."
But after lunch, he ducked away from the others, pleading the toilets, and quickly made his way to Myrtle's old haunt. The ghost wasn't there when Harry arrived, which he supposed, was likely for the best. Instead, he simply crumbled all his notes into a big ball and tossed into one of the open stalls.
"Myrtle, you weren't in there, were you?" Harry asked belatedly.
And then the ghost popped her head out of the mirror. "Eh? Oh, Harriet, it's you!" She looked over at the stall. "You weren't trying to hit me, were you?"
"Never," said Harry quickly. "Actually I just wanted to toss those notes and wanted to make sure you weren't hit by accident."
Myrtle's ghostly eyes filled with spectral tears. "Oh, Harriet, you're the best! Much better that those other girls. I shall keep vigil and ensure no one else finds your notes, Harriet!"
"Um, okay, thanks. Appreciate the help." Harry nodded and left the room in a hurry.
Later as he sat with Susan and Parvati, he thought back about the conversation with Lockhart. He wondered what Professor Lockhart had meant. Perhaps he was implying that he thought Harry had known the truth of Lockhart's 'adventures' all along. Harry wished he could give himself that kind of credit, but he felt honestly unsure if he had ever noticed anything out of place until his nerdy friends started arguing about it.
"Did you like it?"
Harry shook himself alert. "What was that?"
"I asked if you liked the valentine I sent," said Susan and she giggled. "I only sent one to you and Parvati, you know, the 'thanks for being a good friend' sort."
"I saw it," said Parvati and gave Susan a hug. "I should've gotten you one too, but I didn't think about it."
"Oh, it's okay." Susan chuckled softly and looked down at the floor. "I didn't really get any myself except from my 'Puff friends."
"Um, I didn't realize you had sent me one," said Harry in a mild panic. "Hey, uh, I need to run to the bathroom. No need to worry about it."
Susan smiled and shrugged. "I don't need specifics, Harriet," and she giggled again.
Parvati raised an eyebrow and gave Harry a look. "Yeah, I'll come with, Harriet. You know the rules."
Harry grumbled but agreed. "I threw out all my cards," he said to Parvati as they hurried to the girl's toilets. "Didn't think anyone I liked sent me something."
"That's reasonable, considering it's you," said Parvati with a snorty laugh. "I didn't bother, naturally. But Susan is trying to get on well with us, you know why."
"Yeah." Harry sighed. "I do. Hopefully not all of them landed in the water."
But when he came to the stall, none of the cards were left - but then Harry started in surprise. For among the sodden papers, there was a small book that was completely dry.
Harry glanced down. It seemed clean, and he wondered if someone had lost it, so he fished it out. "Know any cleaning spells, Parvati?"
"Did you find- gross, Harriet, what is that?"
"It actually looks like a diary," said Harry and he flipped through it quickly, looking for a name. "Belongs to a T. Riddle, but I don't know the name. You know the girl?"
Parvati shook her head. "Could be an upper year girl. But I don't know. Most people stay away from this toilet, after all, with your ghostly protector hanging around." She smiled and peeked at the diary. "That's odd," she said with a frown. "The pages look completely dry."
"Yeah," said Harry but then he laughed. "Probably magically done to keep it protected, eh?"
"Ah, that makes sense. And maybe it's spelled to be blank to anyone but the owner, that's why we don't see anything."
"Yeah, but I still stuck my hand in the toilet, so... cleaning charm?"
Parvati giggled but waved her wand with a spoken phrase, instantly dying Harry's arm and leaving it vaguely smelling of roses. "Like the extra scent? I had Padma show me how to add it to the spell."
Harry sniffed again. "Brilliant," he said with a smile.
When they got back to the library, Harry asked if the diary looked familiar or if anyone had heard of the T. Riddle in question, but nobody recognized either.
"Sounds vaguely familiar," said Ernie and he stroked his chain. "I cannot say precisely how I remember that name, but it jars the mind, you know?"
Ron snickered. "Jars something else better, I'd wager."
Ernie slapped Ron's back and chortled. "Watch that mouth, old bean."
"Hermione," Harry said after a moment's thought. "I spoke to Lockhart about the inconsistencies."
The entire group fell silent and looked at him.
"He said it was due to 'artistic license', like you thought. But he's been stressed lately with the attacks and Sirius Black on the loose. Hard to manage that and teaching at the same time."
"Well, alright then," said Hermione and she sighed. "I suppose that it's not the end of the world, right? It was stressing me out as well pondering the mystery of it."
"Maybe you can focus on the Mystery of the attacks instead," Harry offered with a smile. "Help save the school, right?"
"Ooh, do that one!" Parvati said with a squeal and she clapped her hands.
"It is the intelligent choice," said Lavender in a faux-arrogant tone, her chin pointed almost entirely upwards.
But it would be just over a month later before they figured it out.
The breakthrough came when something truly unexpected happened: Luna's father had remembered to do something.
Luna had come over to the Gryffindor table with a package, smiling happily in anticipation. "I got this from my dad," she said. "He said it has the answer about our question on petrification."
"What?" Hermione dropped her fork and leaned forward. "What is it, some book?"
"I don't know," said Luna with a shrug. "Let's see!" And she ripped open the packaging to reveal three books and a few pieces of parchment. "Hmm, okay," Luna said, skimming one of the parchments. "Daddy says that the transformation matrix on dark magic is applicable with the application of Lyndon's theory of inexplicable extrications, whatever that is."
"Can I see?" Hermione asked, leaning so far over the table she seemed about to fall over.
"Why don't we wait until we're together later in the library?" Harry offered, worried about Hermione's sanity. "No need to get ahead of ourselves."
"Pff," Hermione made an annoyed sound. "Oh, very well."
Once everyone had arrived, Hermione and the Ravenclaws started their attempts to understand Mr. Lovegood's findings.
"These notes are impossible to understand," said Hermione in frustration. "Has the man never heard of proper organization techniques?"
"Oh, it's not so bad," said Anthony and then he quelled under Hermione's sudden glare. "I mean, maybe it's not great."
"I like this style," Padma said with a weird, toothy smirk of a smile. "It is thoroughly non-intuitive yet comprehensive. It reminds me of Luna."
"Thank you," said Luna with a beaming smile. "I can't say I understand a bit of it, but my father will be most pleased to hear I take after him."
"So, um, have you figured anything out?" Harry dared to ask.
Hermione shook her head. "Give us a minute, won't you?"
Harry shrugged and settled in for a short nap on the surprisingly comfortable library chairs. After an annoyingly short time, he was awakened by a legitimate shout.
"Ah ha!" Hermione said far louder than what was considered appropriate in the library. "I was right! You two were wrong."
Madame Pince suddenly appeared, a twisted expression of distaste on her face as she looked for the culprit. "Keep the volume down, students! I've been quite lenient on you so far, don't make me ban the lot of you."
Hermione nodded. "Of course, ma'am," she said in a soft voice.
"Won't happen again," said Harry.
Madame Pince looked closely at him for a full minute and then nodded. "Very well, Miss Potter. Just keep your group at check, and we shan't have any problems." She turned away and vanished back in the stacks,
"Well, anyway," said Hermione after she was sure Pince had left, "I was right though. Right?"
"It appears as much, yes," said Padma calmly.
"Yay, Hermione?" Anthony ventured with a look of someone clearly afraid to say the wrong thing.
Hermione huffed and rolled her eyes. "You two are hopeless." She turned to the others. "Do you recall how I said a basilisk might cause the petrification because it's a snake and thus tied to the Slytherin house and Heir?"
"Yeah, sure," said Parvati and she tapped her chin. "But I thought that it just killed people, not petrify them."
"Ah, but you see..." Hermione grinned and held up a page of parchment. "Mr. Lovegood helped point us in the right direction. Now, I will admit some of these higher level magical texts are frightfully complicated and beyond our level, but his notes eventually helped us figure out what he was trying to say."
"Which is that what?" Ron groaned. "I want to know already."
"I think I get it," said Neville. "I mean I think I know what she's getting at. That something about Dark magic means that a basilisk's stare can be, like, turned into petrification."
Hermione gave Neville a surprised look. "Well, yes, that's right."
"Luna was translating some of what you three were chatting about," Neville said with a grin. "At least what she could understand too."
Anthony laughed. "Well done, then. It's a simple enough theory. The basilisk gaze is actually very volatile according to the theory, so it can be easily redirected. Like with water or a mirror or something like that. But that wouldn't dissipate it entirely, thus instead of death..."
"They get petrified!" Parvati clapped her hands in excitement. "Wow, that's great work guys! So is there way to double how it... um, what was the word?"
"Dissipate," said Hermione. "Meaning weaken it, essentially. And that's a very good question. I wonder if simply something like two mirrors might be enough to knock someone into a coma instead of petrification."
Anthony shook his head. "I don't think any of us are advanced enough to figure that out, although it makes a bit of sense. Shouldn't we tell a professor about this?"
"Padma, you've not said much," Parvati told her twin. "What do you think?"
"I agree with Granger and Anthony," Padma said. "I had nothing else to contribute to the conversation so I said nothing."
Parvati rolled her eyes. "Of course not."
"I'll get a message to the Headmaster," said Harry. "I'm pretty sure he'll listen to me when I tell him it's emergency information. I mean, it is right?"
"Too true, Harriet," said Ron with a grimace. "You sure he'll listen to you?"
"Maybe you should ask Professor McGonagall first," said Hermione, chewing her quill a bit nervously. "She could be cross if you didn't go to her first."
"Yeah, sure," said Harry after a moment's thought. "I suppose there's no harm in it."
McGonagall frowned after Harry explained what he wanted to talk to Dumbledore about, having spoken to her right after supper. "The Headmaster is extremely busy," she said. "You can be sure he will have considered all of the possibilities about these attacks. And what with Black on the loose..." The Professor sighed. "It's not been easy for anyone."
"Professor, he did tell me I could always talk to him if I thought it was important enough. But it's only good form to bring it my esteemed Head of House first, true?" He grinned at McGonagall.
The Professor snorted but she had a small smile. "Well, you aren't wrong there, Miss Potter. Oh, very well then." She nodded with a harrumphing sound. "I will pass your message on to the Headmaster. Please wait in the common area until then."
It was only a few minutes later that McGonagall came back, looking a bit out of sorts. "Come along, Miss Potter," she said, a touch of annoyance in her voice. "The Headmaster wishes to see you immediately."
This got the attention of everyone else in the room.
"Do you need company?" Parvati asked.
"She does not," McGonagall said shortly. "I will be accompanying Miss Potter to the Headmaster's office and the rest of you will stay here, is that understood?"
As they walked to the Headmaster's office, Harry asked, "Professor, can you conjure four mirrors for us?"
McGonagall rolled her eyes but she nodded, creating the mirrors out of thin air. "I am not sure how well this will work in practice, even if your theory is correct, but..." She made a thoughtful noise. "I suppose it does not hurt to be a bit careful about it."
Professor Dumbledore was awake when they arrived, but he seemed exhausted. "That will be enough for now, Minerva," he said. "I will see that Miss Potter is back safely later." He noticed the mirrors and then smiled. "Clever idea, Professor. But I suggest instead you apply a duplicated outfacing mirror effect to your spectacles to achieve the same results."
The Gryffindor Professor seemed shocked but she then said, "Albus, you aren't seriously saying that this theory is true? There haven't been any basilisks in a thousand years!"
"Nonetheless," said Dumbledore. "I am afraid that Not-Miss Potter here is quite right." He sighed.
"I am?" Harry said in surprise. "Well, it's not my theory," he clarified quickly. "The help came from Luna's dad, and then Hermione and Padma and Anthony helped figure out his notes."
McGonagall snorted. "Relying on Xenophilius Lovegood for your research? That's a laugh."
"Minerva, please," said Dumbledore. "I have this handled. And please pass on the idea for the duplicated mirror to the other instructors, will you? It may be critical."
"Very well, Headmaster," said McGonagall formally, but Harry noticed a look of extreme worry in her eyes. "I shall tell the others." And then she left.
"How long have you known?" Harry asked.
Dumbledore sighed. "Too long, in truth. Xeno's research was about some specific work on Dark magic transference I am already quite familiar with. He wrote me about it, asking permission to send a package of questionable material to his daughter. Once I understood the request, I approved it."
"Ah," said Harry. "So if you know it's a basilisk, why can't you do anything about it?"
"It is a difficult question," the Headmaster said, steepling his hands together. "If Sirius Black is truly controlling the best, which is a strong possibility, he is no fool. He will know I have cottoned onto to what is causing the attacks. Unfortunately there are numerous secrets and hidden places in Hogwarts, and even a Headmaster does not know them all."
He turned to one of the portraits on the wall. "Isn't that right, Phineus?"
The portrait in question started in surprise. "Eh? Oh, yes, I suppose that's so, Dumbledore. I expect that this creature is ensconced away in the fabled Chamber of Secrets, wherever that is." He scowled. "I tried to find it, was sure it was here somewhere, but Salazar was a clever bastard."
On seeing Harry's surprised look, Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Ah, forgive me, Not-Miss Potter. This is the portrait of former Headmaster Phineas Nigellus Black. Pureblood supremacist, of course, but I would wager even he would disapprove of his Heir's actions."
The portrait scowled. "I don't need to hear it from you, Dumbledore. Clearly my Heir was influenced by You-Know-Who, addled in some way. You should've heard the things he said to my portrait as a boy. The buffoon."
"In any event," said Dumbledore with a small smile. "There are hidden secrets in Hogwarts, and one could possibly stay hidden for a century if you so desired. I have a few plans if the beast reemerges, there are a few apocryphal ways to kill a basilisk."
"A rooster's crow," said Harry remembering.
Dumbledore nodded with a proud look on his face. "That is one, yes. And certain destructive spells would injure it, and likely its eyes are unusually susceptible to damage. 'As out it flows, in it goes' as my teacher Flamel would say. Although all of that being said, I have no explicit evidence, and that has presented a problem."
He sighed. "The Governors are furious with me and want to shut the school down."
Harry gasped. "What? They can't do that!"
"I am afraid they can," said Dumbledore sadly. "It is in the charter to allow the school to be closed in cases of emergency. And I have to say, their arguments are beginning to sway me. The only reason I have against them is that their counter proposal will never work." He shook his head. "They want a score of Aurors in to search the entire the school. As if Black would simply stay here while the school was shut down! Foolish."
"So... what can we do, sir?" Harry felt his heart beat fast. "Sir, there must be something!"
The Headmaster paused and then said, "Perhaps there is, in point of fact. The mirrored glasses idea is a legitimately clever one."
"That was your idea," said Harry, unable to stop himself from interrupting.
"It was inspired by the the two mirrors you carried here," Dumbledore said with a smile. "Collaboration leads to excellent results, Not-Quite-Harriet. This 'indirect vision' may be the key to staying safe until we can track down the beastie. May I borrow your spectacles for a moment?"
He accepted them and waved his wand for a minute, muttering something softly. Harry could make out that Dumbledore then nodded and handed the spectacles back.
"They seem the same," said Harry. "I thought you added a mirror to it."
"I did," said Dumbledore and he smiled. "But only to the outside. Now then, if you don't mind, may I escort you back to your hall?"
Harry sighed. "Yeah, okay, sir. Let's go."
Harry's friends didn't seem to be too pleased with the story about Dumbledore, on the contrary they seemed more alarmed than ever. Professor McGonagall had discreetly begun handing out pairs of the magical spectacles to the students, but whatever reason she said, everyone began to wear them.
It was a bit odd for Harry to see everyone else wearing glass on their face, but he supposed it was a small price to pay for safety. Luckily, McGonagall had clearly not mentioned to the Ravenclaw or Slytherin girls that hated Harry that he was slightly involved, otherwise they probably would have refused them outright.
Harry ended up staying late by himself in the common area, staring at the blank diary from T. Riddle. He had asked around if anyone had lost a diary, but nobody said anything. Harry looked at it and wondered, crazily, if perhaps it was meant as a trap for him.
And then he laughed. "You're too bloody paranoid, Potter," he said to himself. "Myrtle would've said something for sure if it was one of the girls that hates me." Harry nodded. That made a lot of sense.
He flipped through the blank pages again for what was probably the hundredth time and sighed. Harry had never had a diary, but he supposed that perhaps the concept was sound. Jot down some thoughts, some ideas, some complaints. Maybe write about his Curse, and check if anyone else could read it.
If it was enchanted to be private, maybe it could be private for him.
Well, it was worth a try, anyway.
Harry opened to the first page and pulled out his quill.
March 23rd. The attacks have stopped for some reason. We know it's...
Harry stopped and shook his head. There was no reason to write about the basilisk, not when Dumbledore and the other professors were working on it. He crossed out the two sentences instead and continued.
I have been too busy to think about my Curse lately, but the experiments with Luna were useful. I should do more of them at some point, maybe this summer or something. The hair thing was odd, and I wonder if there's something in the way people are in pain when they try to say my real name.
Harry yawned and rubbed his eyes, suddenly feeling ready to run upstairs to sleep. Could simply writing about the Curse be that effective? He didn't feel up to writing more, but Harry decided to at least close out his little daily entry.
That's all for now. Harry P.
And then, oddly, insanely, bizarrely, all the words Harry had written disappeared, melting into the pages like they were dissolving. Harry looked at the diary in confusion. Had he triggered some sort of enchanted protection that prevented anyone else from writing in it?
And then the words appeared,
Hello Harry, my name is Tom. What is your last name?
And Harry dropped the diary in shock. "Oh," he said, shellshocked. "Maybe it was a trap."
END OF CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
Next time, it all goes a bit to pants.
"It is not good," said Dumbledore sadly, but there was an odd note of triumph in his eyes. "Stay strong, Not-Harriet. And please, don't do anything rash."
Harry grimaced. "Sir, you know very well that's not going to happen."