Chapter Seventeen: Remedial Divinations

The door to the Hog's Head Inn slammed shut behind the black-hooded newcomer, causing icicles to fall from the roof outside. The other patrons gave the newcomer, ahem, icy glares as the wave of cold air hit them, though the roaring hearth soon made them forget their climatological worries. The newcomer, androgynous and unidentifiable beneath the loose, silk robe looked around the inn, taking in the handful of chilled patrons, the grizzled, aged landlord, the ancient oak tables and bar. It was impossible to be certain without seeing his or her face, but something about the newcomer's bearing radiated contempt. Rapidly-melting snow was brushed away by black-gloved hands, falling to the floor with not a trace of concern for the innkeeper's floorboards, and the newcomer sat down at the bar next to another mysterious, black-robed stranger. The similarities began and ended at the colour of their wardrobes and their unidentified nature. Where the first robed figure's clothes were immaculate, tailored, and very, very expensive, the second was shabby. The second's robes were battered, faded black canvas spotted with poorly sewn-on patches of subtly different shades and materials from the base cloth, which was hardly visible. His or her robes were a tattered mess at the hem, as if they had been walked on.

The landlord passed each of them a firewhisky without a word. This sort of behaviour was not uncommon at the Hog's Head Inn.

"It appears," the first said in a slow, light drawl, "That things are going rather well for you." The newcomer somehow managed to, without any facial expression whatsoever, convey a sneer simply with the cadence and delivery.

"Well enough," the other said. This one didn't need any fancy oratorical tricks. The shrug was sufficient.

The newcomer took a sip of firewhisky. A brief flash of long, white-blond hair was visible as the hood tilted back slightly.

"Rather... impressive, don't you think? Your sudden ascent, that is," the newcomer pushed. "Almost as if you had... assistance."

"And I suppose we both know who to thank for that 'assistance.'" The stranger left the firewhisky sitting where the landlord had placed it.

"Yes," the newcomer drawled. "We do, at that." The newcomer left that hanging in the air for a moment before continuing. "I must say," the newcomer said, "that I'm rather surprised by you. You appear to be keeping secrets. You know how I feel about... secrets."

There was a loaded silence for several seconds. Then, something slight but significant changed in the stranger's posture. A gloved hand shot out from under the tattered robes, and seized the firewhisky glass. A moment later, it was slammed down on the table. Empty.

"You mean it wasn't you?" the stranger said, choking slightly.

"It wasn't you?" the newcomer gasped.

The two of them stared at each other from under their hoods for a tense second.

"I have to—"

"Questions to ask—"

In an instant, their bar stools had tumbled to the ground and both were gone.

"Buggers didn't pay," the landlord grumbled, watching the door slam shut behind them.

o—o—o—o

The scheduling of Quidditch practice times had always been a continual problem at Hogwarts. It tended to rain more-or-less three seasons a year at Hogwarts, and those three seasons, unfortunately, corresponded very closely to the school term. The rare dry day that rolled around every few weeks was highly prized by Quidditch players of all houses. However, with four teams and only one pitch, there was invariably something of a squabble for who would be the one to get the field.

Various headmasters over the years had different solutions to this problem. Most solutions involved either random chance, such as a flipped sickle (which has the unexpected problem of being hardly random at all. Keep in mind: actual magic), or requiring teams to book the field ahead of time on a first-come-first-serve basis (a practice favoured by Dumbledore), or even by sharing the pitch between multiple opposed teams at once (this 'hardly ever' resulted in 'accidental' injuries).

The newly-raised Headmaster Snape had his own, original take on the matter. He solved the problem by means of a rotating schedule in order to guarantee fairness for everyone.

This announcement caused something of an uproar in the Gryffindor Common Room, which was starting to smell (Snape had cut off House Elf privileges the week prior in order to 'build character'), as the Gryffindors had certain objections to this new organizational scheme.

"Seven seventy-one. What's the problem this time?" Milo asked distractedly from a couch. He was one of a very few number of Gryffindors who did not care one whit for Quidditch, nor, consequently, even half a whit for the logistics of its players' skill grinding. While they fretted about inconsequential matters, Milo was busy performing magic upon an ordinary-looking bucket.

"Snape," Harry spat through clenched teeth. It said something of the general morale of House Gryffindor that not even Hermione was willing to call out his failure to prefix 'Professor' to the Headmaster's name, "has the pitch rotating between all of the houses."

Milo narrowed his eyes suspiciously.

"Hold your hippogriffs," Harry said. "Fifty-four."

"What's the problem with the rotation?" Milo asked, scratching the Eye of Boccob onto the cheap tin bucket.

"Well," Harry said, "today, Hufflepuff has the pitch. Tomorrow it's Slytherin. Next it's Ravenclaw."

"Then Gryffindor?" Milo asked.

"No," Harry said. "Then Slytherin. Then Gryffindor. Then Slytherin again. Then Ravenclaw. Then Slytherin."

"Ah," Milo said in understanding as he put the finishing touches on the Wavy Eyebrow of Boccob. "Well, it's a problem easily solved."

"How do you figure?" Harry asked, sitting dejectedly beside him on the sofa.

Milo held the bucket on the ground with both feet and grabbed the handle with his hands."We break into Snape's office, steal some Polyjuice, kidnap the entire Slytherin team, and you play in disguise." With a hefty pull, he yanked the handle clean off the bucket. "Of course," he added, "we'll have to kill them afterwards, or they'll talk."

"You're kidding, right?" Harry asked, slightly apprehensively.

"'Course," Milo said. "We can just steal their memories after. I know a guy." The Memory Charm was yet another example of Arcane Magic and Wanded Magic diverging. If Milo ever wanted to erase someone's memory, he'd have to first become a mighty Bard (as if) and even then could only modify up to five minutes of memory per day—and that was only because he had, for some reason, prioritized Charisma over Constitution at character creation. Milo was still kicking himself over that particularly inspired decision.

Those goons at the Ministry, on the other hand, could literally just wave their wands and magically erase or alter, as far as Milo could tell, any amount of memory they wanted. Poof, gone.

"Ha," Harry said flatly. "Ha, ha." He glanced at Milo, who was replacing the handle with a leather strap. "That looks like a Quidditch chinstrap," he said.

"That's hardly surprising," Milo responded, threading one end of the chinstrap through a hole he'd drilled in the bucket.

Harry frowned. "That is a Quidditch chinstrap."

"Yup," Milo said.

Harry's emerald green eyes narrowed. "That's my Quidditch chinstrap."

"Yup," Milo said. "But don't worry; you won't be needing yours anymore."

"Oh?" Harry asked in a dangerous tone of voice. "And why is that?"

"I overheard Malfoy at breakfast. Snape's going to ban safety gear for future matches. He says the rate of serious injuries has been so low since the gear was introduced that it's unnecessary."

"But the rate is only low because we're wearing padding!" Harry said.

"Snape's not entirely unreasonable," Milo said. "He said that any players who are new to the team this year will still wear padding."

Harry frowned. "That doesn't sound too... Oh." After the Petrification of the majority of the Slytherin Quidditch team, almost every single player was a new recruit. Harry punched the scarlet couch in frustration. Slytherin was the only team with new players this year. "This is ridiculous!"

"Then there's good news," Milo said. "Snape's also going to be introducing a complaint-and-suggestion box. Have a complaint or suggestion for the administration, you write it on a slip of parchment and drop it in the box."

Harry blinked. "Seriously?" he asked. "That doesn't sound like Snape at all. That's actually a good idea." He frowned. "What's the catch?"

"Remember last year when Hannah discovered a secret, slippery passage that dumps you in the lake?"

"Yeah. First years have been using it as a waterslide."

"Guess where the box empties into." Milo wrapped the bucket-with-chinstrap up in thick brown postal paper. "Mind if I borrow Hedge Witch?"

"Hedwig."

"Is there any other kind?" Milo asked.

"What?"

"Of wig, that is. Any other kind of wig."

"What are you talking about?"

"Well, it's not like you could have a foot wig or a shoulder wig, could you? I mean, every wig I've ever heard of goes on your head. So calling him—"

"Her."

"—Head Wig seems a bit redundant." Milo scribbled 'COG, THE BURROW, UNITED KINGDOM, PRIME MATERIAL PLANE' on the package.

Harry sighed, covering his face with his hands. "Yes," he said. "Yes, you can borrow Hedwig."

"Cool," Milo said. "Oh, and before I forget—" he tossed Harry a heavy sack that clinked in a deliciously metallic manner. "That's the first quarter. I'll get you the rest by June."

Harry blinked in genuine surprise and stared at the money.

"How did you— no, I suppose I probably don't want to know."

Milo looked around the room suspiciously. Everyone's attention was focused complaining ineffectually about Snape's latest announcement.

"Meet me in the War Room in twenty," he whispered, tucking the wrapped bucket into his belt for later. "Spread the word, but don't all leave as one group."

"I know the drill," Harry said.

Twenty-odd minutes later, Harry, Ron, and Hermione filed one by one into the empty classroom Milo had appropriated behind the tree he'd created last year. In addition to being concealed and inconvenient to get to, the room had a few magical defenses Milo had set up. The most powerful defense, the one that would absolutely guarantee their privacy for the indefinite future, was the hastily-scrawled sign that hung from the door, reading: REMEDIAL DIVINATIONS.

"Fifteen-thousand, five-hundred and fifty-six," Milo said.

"Zero," Hermione replied.

"Fifty-five," Harry said.

Everyone stared at Ron.

"Ah," he said. "A hundred and six? No, wait, um..."

Hermione and Harry moved their hands in the general direction of their wands. Milo shook his hands out of his sleeves.

"A billion!" Ron said. "I know I haven't used that one yet. It's just hard keeping track."

Everybody relaxed. Since Death Eaters had used Polyjuice to disguise themselves as Gryffindors, paranoia had been running high—paranoia actively encouraged by Milo himself. Paranoia was the last and best defence against the DM (Detrimental Meddler). To that end, they'd created their code: upon meeting another member of their group, say a number. Any number, as long as it wasn't one you'd already used. The idea was that any infiltrator listening to them would either think it was an elaborate code and waste valuable time trying to crack it, or that they would, in their confusion, reuse a number. It was far from perfect, but it was the best Milo had been able to think up that would be simple enough for them all to get right reliably.

"We have a Defence exam tomorrow," Hermione said. "We should all be revising. Why did you call us here?"

"I think it's been long enough that we can be pretty much certain," Milo said. "The Heir of Slytherin—or, at least the relevant one—is in Lucius' camp. The only open question is who."

"How do you figure?" Hermione asked.

"Other than that it's blindingly obvious?" Ron scoffed. "The Heir is as Slytherin is can be, Lucius is as Slytherin as can be. The Heir hates Muggle borns, Lucius hates Muggle borns. If so, fact-oh."

Hermione chortled under her breath.

"What?" Ron asked defensively.

Harry leaned over to Ron and whispered, "it's ipso facto, Ron."

"But that sounds like a spell," he said. "Is it a spell?" Ron's face paled slightly. "What if it's a spell of persuasion," he said, "and that's why, whenever anyone says it, what they said sounds so reasonable!"

"Moving right along," Milo said, trying to regain control of the conversation. Honestly, it was like herding cats sometimes. "Ron's already laid out the core of the evidence, but there's a bit more to it. Snape is Lucius's right-hand man in Hogwarts, and as soon as Snape took over, the attacks miraculously stopped."

Harry frowned. "You mean you don't think the attacks were directed at Muggle borns?"

"Of course they weren't," Milo said. "Slytherin's monster took out basically the entire Slytherin Quidditch team, and they were pretty much all pure- or half-blooded, and Muggle-haters to boot. That's not exactly behaviour consistent with an agenda of ridding the world of Muggle borns, is it?"

"I always sort of figured the monster was going for some Muggle borns, but kept running into other people instead," Harry said.

"And what," asked Ron, "after Petrifying all witnesses, it just gave up and ran back into its hole? No, I'm starting to think Milo's right. If the monster wanted to get Muggle borns, there's not much anyone could do to stop it."

"How long do you think it would stay secret if it did that?" Hermione asked. "People would discover it pretty quickly if it gave up on stealth altogether."

"Yeah," Ron said, "but then what? I mean, it took McGonagall in a fair fight. McGonagall!"

Milo coughed involuntarily. He hadn't told them that it was largely his fault McGonagall had been Petrified, and had no intention of doing so.

"Maybe it just can't tell the difference?" Hermione said. "It could be that all humans look pretty much the same to it. I mean, if it Petrifies with a look, it probably hasn't had much in the way of social interaction."

"Could be," Milo said. "But then I doubt Slytherin would have picked it to be his monster with the specific aim of ridding the school of undesirables. Now, what is it that Draco always says?"

"'He started it, Professor!'" Ron suggested.

"'When my father hears about this, Potter, he'll—'" Harry said, then frowned. "I don't know what comes next. He always gets cut off somehow. I wonder if he even knows what his father will do."

"'Father always said that Dumbledore was the worst thing that ever happened to this place,'" Hermione said.

"In one," Milo said.

"So you think Dumbledore was the target, then?"

"The entire old administration," Milo said. "Lucius couldn't get Dumbledore out because he had too many friends on the board and in the Ministry. There's too much respect for him. But by Petrifying an entire group of students right under Dumbledore's nose, he disgraced him. The fact that the students all had rich, influential parents likely didn't hurt. The Heir got Dumbledore sacked and nearly killed McGonagall, leaving Snape in charge, and poof! No more attacks. How long do you think it'll be till they give him a medal for saving the school? Order of Murlynd, or whatever. So the Heir of Slytherin is probably Lucius, Snape, Draco, or another Slytherin."

"Or another disguised Death Eater," Harry said. "Or one of the same ones from before, which you let go."

"Why did you let them go, anyway?" Ron asked.

Milo shrugged uncomfortably. It had seemed to make so much sense at the time. Clearly, this world was dulling his edge. He blamed homework. "I still haven't had any luck scrying the Heir of Slytherin, despite Hermione's clever workaround. We might have to resort to more conventional methods to determine who it is, precisely."

"What if there is no Heir of Slytherin?" Hermione suggested, at the same time that Ron said "Bet it's Draco."

"What do you mean, Hermione?" Harry asked. "If there's no heir, then who's controlling the monster?"

Hermione shrugged. "What if it doesn't have to be Slytherin's actual, literal heir? What if access to the Chamber of Secrets isn't based off of what you are, but what you know?"

"A password, then?" Milo suggested. "Handed down the family line?"

"Could be, or even the directions. You don't need a password if nobody else can even find the place."

"I don't know, Hermione," Ron said. "I think you'd need to do more than just hide it. Fred and George have found dozens of 'secret' passages and rooms over the years. Nobody's found the Chamber. It can't just be hidden."

"Point," Hermione acknowledged. "But regardless, what I'm getting at is it doesn't have to be his actual heir. Just someone who knows what Slytherin knew. That's why Milo's magic hasn't been able to find him or her. He's been targeting the Heir of Slytherin specifically."

"So it could be anyone?" Harry said. "Anyone at all?"

Harry's words hung in the air as everyone realized how hopeless the situation was. They'd come all this way, and they still had seemingly nothing to go on.

"A Parselmouth," Milo said suddenly. "Whoever's controlling the Monster is a Parselmouth. It spoke to McGonagall and me in Parseltongue. And Harry was the only one who heard it speak in the Duelling Club last month."

"How'd you know it was Parseltongue?" Ron asked.

"Maaaaagic," Milo said, wiggling his fingers in the air. "It's almost as if we were all wizards or something."

Hermione coughed.

"And witch," Milo added quickly. "Wizards and witch."

"So..." Ron said thoughtfully. "Any way we can sort out who in this school is secretly a Parselmouth?"

Milo shrugged. "Who cares?" he said. "I think if there's one point Hermione's made, it's that we're focussing all of our attention on the wrong person. What I say we do is we find the monster, and hit it with everything we've got. Our mysterious foe loses his cat's paw, and either gives up or comes out into the open to do it himself."

"And what have we got, exactly?" Hermione asked. "The three of us can just about manage Stunners and Shield charms, but I doubt either of those will be much good against a giant, evil monster that we can presume is resistant to magic."

"Fair point," Milo said.

"That one went a little fast for me," Harry confessed. "Why do we know it's resistant to magic?"

"Because McGonagall transfigured knives and fired them at it," Hermione said. "The knives were real, physical objects, and only had to contend with the monster's physical defenses. If she could have used magic, she would have Stunned it—or killed it outright. The Forbidden Curses are only Forbidden against humans, after all."

"Reeeeeeally," Milo said thoughtfully.

"No," Hermione said forcefully.

"But—"

"No. No mind-slaved armies of unicorns or goblins or acromantulas."

"What I don't understand is why the Ministry hasn't combed this place with hit wizards or people from the Department of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures or something," Harry said.

"Probably Lucius keeping them out," Hermione answered. "Pulling strings at the Ministry."

Milo snorted. "He should grow a goatee. He's beginning to remind me of someone back home." He wondered how Myra (City of light! City of Magic!) was faring in his absence, and realized it had been over a month since he'd thought of home. He was surprised at how little he missed it. They didn't have anything like Every Flavoured Beans, there. Just the thought sent his mouth watering.

Idly, he popped an Every-Flavoured Bean into his mouth. He didn't recognize the sharp, tangy flavour—he hardly ever did, barely knowing the flavour of any real foods to compare it with—but enjoyed it nonetheless, if only for the novelty.

"What do we know about Slytherin's monster?" Harry asked.

"Loads," Milo said. "But somehow, not enough to identify it in any reference book. Believe me; I've tried. It speaks Parseltongue, so it's probably some kind of snake; it has fangs and venom, fitting with the snake theme; it's resistant to magic; it can Petrify with a look, but it's not a Medusa. Oh, and Mordenkainen assures me it smells terrible. Turns out there aren't many things that can cause Petrification—your kind, not mine—on a gaze attack around here. They mostly just kill people, or turn them to stone."

They spent most of the next three hours debating the possible identity of Slytherin's Monster, all without making any progress. Eventually, fed up with the futility of it, they gave up and headed to the Great Hall for dinner.

Milo lagged behind the rest of the group, frustrated. He couldn't believe how little progress they'd made. That he'd made.

It was this place. It had dulled his edge. There was no other explanation. Between the pointless classes and the delicious food and the soft mattresses, he'd lost sight of what was important.

He did have one more clue he could follow. He knew that, but he'd felt strangely resistant to the idea. The feeling was a stranger to him, but, when it came down to it, so were most.

He left the group and made for the Hospital Wing. He waited outside the door behind a suit of armour for a few minutes until Madam Pomfrey left for her evening meal.

Milo crept into the room, surprised to find it absent of one of its most permanent residents. Even his bags were gone. Neville Longbottom, it seemed, had managed to make it a whole day without getting some kind of injury.

He found McGonagall where he left her on the hospital bed, his mirror still clutched in her hand.

Milo gently placed one hand over her injury, and, with the other, drew his other mirror from his belt. This one, of highly-polished silver, had a far more specialized purpose than looking around corners without risking a headshot.

"Scry," he whispered, gazing intently into the mirror.

His reflection vanished from the mirror's surface. For an instant, Milo got the impression of slick green scales in a dark room. A moment later it was gone, the surface of the mirror broken as if someone had taken a light mace to it.

"Guess I should have expected that," he muttered, remembering what had happened to his Arcane Eye. "Mending," he muttered, and the cracks were gone as if they had never been.

It was all so frustrating. This monster seemed to be resistant to Milo's best methods of magical sleuthing. He hadn't had any luck finding any of the missing students, either. Circle Dance and Scrying had both failed outright, as if they'd been blocked. It seemed the Death Eaters had found some way to prevent their victims from being located magically. Maybe Milo really did need remedial Divinations.

But if you couldn't find someone with magic, how were you supposed to do it?

o—o—o—o

"We got one," Hannigan said, slamming the phone into the receiver triumphantly. "Patrol officer up in London made a positive ID on one 'Amycus Carrow' at a supermarket. Tailed him back to a residence he seems holed up. He's ours now; all we have to do is go and get him." It had been a simple, yet time-consuming, matter to cross-reference the wizard's histories on the 'Wizarding War' with case files from the '81—most of which were dropped under rather suspect scenarios—and come up with a list of twenty-odd suspected murderers. Now that they had relatively concrete evidence of magic in the form of the Daily Prophet's moving pictures, Hannigan had been getting a few of his friends still sore from the 1981 murders on board with the investigation. They'd been unofficially passing hints on possible positions of the culprits. Their books on the wizard's history implied that some of them had already been tried in secret wizard court and sent to a secret wizard prison, but that most of them were still at large. Apparently the wizards' judicial system was even more porous than the regular one.

"A supermarket?" Fiona asked. "Really?" She had a hard time imagining an evil wizard at a place as mundane as a supermarket, but, on the other hand, she supposed everyone had to eat.

"Was he the one that did the Petersons?" Travis asked, flipping through his notebook. "And the Lancasters. And the Walkers, too." He gave out a low whistle, reading the notes he'd made from the wizards' books. "He got a bunch of their folk, too."

"My counterpart in London wants to go in with a Firearms Unit and arrest him, but I persuaded him to wait for us. Get your coats on, both of you. You've been reading up on their abilities," Hannigan said to Fiona as they suited up. "How would you take him?"

"A high-powered rifle from three streets away," Fiona said seriously.

"Perhaps I should have specified," Hannigan said. "In this hypothetical scenario, do remember you're a copper."

"Then I'd shoot him and take the fall for it after. They have spells that kill, spells that control, spells that torture, and spells that protect."

"Even from bullets?" Travis asked as they left the station into the bitter cold and heavy snow.

"No clue," Fiona said. "The spellbook didn't say. Frankly, I don't think they even considered it. They don't seem to think of us as much of a threat. Still, we should assume they can."

Hannigan scratched his chin. He hadn't shaved in days, and Fiona doubted he'd slept more than a few hours a night, either. She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen him without a mug of cheap, black coffee in hand.

"Don't we have anything going for us?" he asked.

"Some," Fiona said. "They need a wand to do any magic at all, so if we can keep him from drawing, he's only as dangerous as you or I."

Travis made a derisive snort. "That I doubt," he said. "As dangerous as me, maybe, but I bet he doesn't know kung-fu."

"Aikido," Fiona corrected him, "and we shouldn't assume he doesn't. Also, he needs to be able to speak to cast, and it seems to take a few seconds to get a spell off."

"So it's like a gun and body armour," Travis said, "but a little worse? What's so scary about that? We get the blue berets to toss a handful of flashbangs through the window, daze the people inside too much to even think about bloody witchcraft, batter down the door and cuff everyone in a Hallowe'en costume."

"I'm not finished yet," Fiona said. "They can also teleport."

Hannigan spat coffee onto the snow.

"Like on bleeding Star Trek?" he asked.

"Pretty much," Fiona said. "To them, its equivalent to getting a driver's license. Worst of all, it didn't say if they needed a wand or not to do it."

"Well that's just bloody great," he said. "How the bloody hell do we bloody arrest a person who can just bloody teleport out of the bloody station?"

"We can't," Fiona said simply. "Ergo, a high-powered rifle from three streets away."

"Or we give him an incentive," Travis suggested. "A reason to do what we want him to do. To not leave."

"What do we have that he wants?" Hannigan asked. "He can just beam himself away and come back with half a dozen of his guys and make us all forget. Or kill us, more likely."

"Secrecy," Travis said. "We tell him if he does anything spooky, we send everything we have to the Guardian. Evil wizard or no, he wouldn't want that."

Fiona gave a low whistle. "Are we really prepared to do that?" she asked. "That could be big. Like, world-changing big."

"Ethical debate later," Hannigan said as they arrived at his car. "First, we have to nick him."