A/N: This chapter was something of a bear to write. I know where this story will end but some twists popped up here that I didn't see coming. I re-wrote the chapter at least twice and I left it because I can't say it is an angle I've ever come across before and want to see where it goes. (Channelling my inner Gryffindor.)
The chapter would have also been completed sooner but I picked up the Blu-Ray 50th Anniversary boxed James Bond collection with every film from Dr No to Skyfall. But I am flying out to visit my son in Boise Idaho tomorrow and wanted to get this out there for you before I left.
Revised: 8/3/2014 – Minor corrections
Harry and his friends secured a compartment near the front of the train not too far from the Prefects' Car. Padma picked the compartment because everyone in their group except Harry and Daphne had been chosen as prefects. While Padma didn't really want to walk the length of the train going to and from the prefects meeting, she was more interested in keeping Harry out of trouble. The Ravenclaw reckoned troublemakers were less likely to cause anything so close to a known concentration of prefects.
"I can't believe they made Draco Malfoy a prefect!" Ron railed as the group returned to their compartment after their meeting.
"He was a school champion," Hermione pointed out reluctantly.
"And Harry was a host and he didn't get a badge!" Ron shot back.
Daphne looked up from her solitaire game at her returning boyfriend. "Ron, honey, you do realize that you are arguing that they should give Harry the badge they gave you, don't you? You're both Gryffindor 5th Years."
Harry looked up from the NEWT-level Runes book he was reading trying not to laugh. Ron turned red with embarrassment as his brain caught up with what he'd been saying. He was screwing up for an emotional explosion when Daphne gracefully rose from her spot on the floor and snogged the life out of him. Ron quickly forgot about his anger and got into kissing his blonde Slytherin girlfriend to the mixed disgust and laughter of their surrounding friends.
"Have to love her method of 'Ron-control'," Ernie stated, "but I wish I didn't have to see it!"
"Poor Ernie," Hermione giggled before placing a light kiss on his cheek.
Daphne released Ron long enough to settle his dazed form onto a bench seat before placing herself in his lap.
"We won't be getting any coherent thoughts out of Ron for a while," Padma commented from her own place snuggled up against Harry.
"Would we notice?" Harry quipped only to receive a little elbow in his ribs from an amused Padma.
"Now be nice," Daphne purred from her place on Ron's lap. "You should thank me for helping Ron control his emotions."
"Yes, thank you for your sacrifice," Padma responded in a dry tone. "We'd appreciate it more if you weren't deliberately winding him up half the time because you like doing it so much."
"Oh, we haven't gotten to 'it' yet, but I'll be sure to let you know once we do," Daphne purred wickedly. The glint in her eye left no doubt to her meaning. Hermione was so shocked she was actually speechless. Ernie didn't blush like his girlfriend but instead took on an innocent, concerned expression.
"But you need to be careful, Daphne," Ernie commented with a 'butter wouldn't melt in his mouth' expression.
"Why?" she asked suspiciously.
"Well, he is a Weasley after all. You might get pregnant without even doing 'it'. Hey, you could end up with your own version of the twins!" Daphne flushed with the thought of having Ron's children and then started to pink almost as bad as Ron. Harry suddenly had a horrible vision of the Weasley twins with Daphne's wicked sense of humour. The school would quickly get a R18 (X) rating.
Shaking the horrible vision away, Harry asked, "Anything new in the prefects' meeting?"
Hermione grasped onto the change of topics saying, "Not much changed in general. Professor Moody was recalled to the Aurors so he is gone. No word on his replacement. No, it is not Snape. Oh, and the Ministry is putting security measures in place. The prefects are going to be expected to support whatever they implement."
"I heard they increased the number of new recruits to the Aurors for their next class," Padma said. "Sue Bones said they want to increase the new recruits by fifty percent and they are actively recruiting experienced Aurors from other countries."
"At least the DMLE is doing something," Harry grumped. "The Wizengamot is still messing about on Voldemort's return. Some of those inbred mental midgets even tried to say the attack last week was a prank gone wrong and wanted me brought up on charges."
"Did they really?" Hermione asked.
"They did indeed," Ernie assured his girlfriend. The topic then was diverted and Harry leaned back into his seat and closed his eyes for a moment. Not long after he was sound asleep.
The Great Hall was filled to capacity as the new and returning students filled the tables as had not been seen before in recent memory. The staff had two stools set up for the sorting so that while the Hat sorted one student, the next was being called and seated. The poor Sorting Hat actually looked tired when 'Wilkerson, Melinda' was sorted into Hufflepuff. Once the newest Hufflepuff was seated and the Sorting Hat cleared away, Professor Dumbleodore stood up and made his normal opening announcements. Harry wasn't really paying attention until something caught his attention.
"Professor Moody has returned to the Auror Corp with the current crisis. While we shall miss his knowledge, please join with me to welcome Professor Morgan Crowling. Professor Crowling holds Masteries in Defence against the Dark Arts and Runes. Her specialty is in countering Dark rituals and curses. I am sure we will all do our best to make her feel welcome at Hogwarts."
"Look at Snape," Ron whispered. "He always looks shirty when he doesn't get the Defence job. Now he looks blank."
Harry glanced at his least favourite professor and saw the greasy haired wizard did indeed have a completely blank expression up but he could also see tension around the man's eyes. Odd. Harry looked at the newly introduced Defence instructor. Crowling was a stunningly pretty woman with long black hair held back with some kind of clip. The new professor's face had that look of indeterminate age some woman had. It was somewhat otherworldy and it made Harry wonder if she had Veela or some other creature blood in her. That face was completely impassive as she surveyed the students. Then her eyes briefly made contact with Harry's and he felt a chill run down his spine. The Beast's instincts screamed this was not a witch to be taken lightly.
Harry wanted to groan. Couldn't he have just a normal year?
"… with the return of the man known as Lord Voldemort, certain precautions will be taken this year," Dumbledore was saying pulling Harry back. "Two Auror squads will be present at Hogwarts at all times. Be warned, if they see an illegal activity, they shall respond according to their sworn duties. Normal rule breaking will be reported to Professor McGonagall but I suggest not looking at pushing just where that boundary might be." He glanced at Harry and the Weasley twins for that last part. The twins pretended to look innocent, but Harry caught the warning. He was sure elements of the Ministry would love to get him up on charges again.
Harry glanced over and caught sight of Draco. The Slytherin was scowling at the announcement. That perversely made Harry feel better. If it was one of the elder Malfoy's plans (who no one had seen since the graveyard) then his son/sycophant would have been gloating. It could still be an effort to get Harry in trouble but Malfoy would be at least as unhappy with the situation as Harry.
A month after the new school year started, Harry was sitting in the Defence classroom waiting for his classmates to finish the surprise test sprung on them by Professor Crowling. The woman was coldly polite to all of the students but no one now doubted the professor was incredibly knowledgeable. Harry easily put her on par with Remus and Moody. Harry couldn't say he looked forward to the classes like he'd done with Remus or Moody but he knew she had a lot of information to share. At the very least she wasn't worthless like his first two Defence professors. Where Remus focused on Dark Creatures and Moody focused on fighting other wizards, Professor Crowling focused on Dark Curses on people and places. She was touching a lot on ritual magics too. Some of those discussions had given Harry a bad time after flashbacks to Voldemort's ritual in the graveyard. Harry was just happy he'd been taking Runes because she pulled on both Runes and Arithmancy in her assignments and the people like Ron and Neville who'd taken neither were at a disadvantage.
Crowling set her standard when she lectured their second class of the year on the errors of defining legally restricted magic as 'Dark' and the true differences in Light, Dark, and Neutral magic. It was a good lecture and brought out a lot of discussion. As an example, Crowling used the Sonoma Ritual. The ritual placed the target into a coma and slowed the heartbeat down to nearly undetectable levels. It was used to treat victims of various poisons or curses to give time for a remedy to be developed. However, the Sonoma Curse did the same thing while leaving the mind active and fully aware of any sensations the body felt. The only difference between the two was a minor modification to the ritual. Yet one was commonly labelled as 'Dark' Magic when it was really legally restricted. True Light or Dark Magic, like a Patronus Charm or Killing Curse, included an emotional and/or physical cost to the caster. In some cases, that cost was transferred to a sacrifice (willingly or not). During the discussion, many of his classmates kept watching Harry for his reactions since most of them were convinced he was neck-deep in Light or Dark magic depending on their own point of view.
To add to the fun, the Daily Prophet broke the story of Harry's fight with Greyback and his new status as Alpha of the Marauder Pack. People didn't know if they should praise his killing of Greyback or burn this new type of werewolf at the stake. The fact that a garbled version of how Harry was infected was included in the story indicated someone in the Packs had talked. Harry had received several letters from other Alphas stating it had not come from within their pack. Harry suggested and Remus agreed that it most likely came from a former member of Greyback's pack or possibly a rogue. In either case, the wolf was out of the den.
Looking around the room at his classmates, Harry considered the first month back at Hogwarts. The attack in Diagon Alley still had many of the students in shock that first week back. The magical news services that had already appeared via the Mirrors had replayed the recordings of the fight in the Alley many times. Every aspect of the fight was broken down for commentary although some of the points of view were so wildly diverse as to make one wonder if they were watching the same fight. However, seeing the fight seemed to have made the return of Voldemort and his Death Eaters real to the rest of the students. As that shock settled though, the school settled into four camps.
The first camp was the 'Light-sided'. This group generally supported Dumbledore and/or the Ministry and were against the Death Eaters. However, many of them were uncomfortable with Harry and felt the 'needless deaths' reflected poorly on Harry's humanity. When Susan Bones made a comment that Harry should have captured the Death Eaters instead of the needless deaths, Harry responded that the only needless deaths were the two shop employees and the eleven innocent bystanders killed by the Death Eaters. This caused many of the Light-siders to label Harry as 'Grey' and vocally worry that someday Harry would be just as much a threat as Voldemort. Much of this group consisted of children of Ministry employees and Pureblood Light families.
Susan Bones, Hannah Abbott, Archibold Wiggins (7th Year Ravenclaw) and Robin Tanner (6th year Slytherin) were the particularly vocal members of this group. Susan's aunt was still running the DMLE but was the current favourite to replace Fudge when the Wizengamot got around to voting Fudge out. Wiggins father had replaced Crouch as head of International Cooperation department and was considered a rising star in the Ministry. Ernie had suggested that Susan's position against Harry was as much to protecting her aunt's position as it was towards concerns about Harry himself.
The next group were the Death Eater supporters. This group was fronted by Slytherins Peter Grayson (7th year), Pansy Parkinson, Ravenclaw Michael Corner, and Gryffindor Cormac McLaggen. All of them lost fathers in the attack on Diagon Alley although Corner's father wasn't actually dead but was in a secure DMLE facility. The elder Corner was the one who was bitten by Harry on the shoulder. His older brother also survived the attack but later died from a combination of blood loss and basilisk venom. McLaggen was a surprise to many. Sure, he was a loud-mouthed braggart but no one suspected him of having Pureblood extremist tendencies until his father's Death Eater-cloaked body was found torn to spreads by Harry's glass shard cyclone.
The third group were dubbed 'the Neutrals' by the other groups. They had no real spokesperson but generally just wanted to leave the war outside the school and get on with their studies. Some of this was cowardice but a fair amount was also the sentiment that students had no business fighting in the war. Much of the school, including the Neutrals, were shocked when Harry commented in the Great Hall that he felt they were the sanest people in the school. It also made them less antagonistic as a group towards Harry than even than most of the Light-Siders.
The final group was probably the smallest but no one took them lightly. This group consisted of Harry's friends and some other sympathizers. Including Harry's immediate circle, it was comprised of the most of the Gryffindor upper years (McLaggen moved out of the Gryffindor dorm after the first night) and a few from the other Houses including Daphne's cousin Tracey Davis. Harry pointedly told all of the Gryffindor of Third year and younger to stay out of it but come to him if they had trouble. Some agitated against that but most appreciated that Harry wanted them to be kept safe. A similar message was sent by Daphne, Padma, and Ernie to their respective Houses' lower years. Like Harry's comment in the Great Hall, this caused the Neutrals to trust Harry more (although they still stayed out of it) while the Light-siders and the Death Eater Supporters separately claimed Harry was trying to keep them 'sheep' and actively recruited from the younger years.
Harry's eyes drifted across the room to a certain pale blonde wizard. Oddly enough, Draco Malfoy was not one of the vocal Death Eater supporters. The Prince of Slytherin seemed oddly restrained. He still sat and socialized with the Death Eater children, but he wasn't out in front making noise and causing trouble. With Nott gone, Malfoy's place should have been secure but now he'd seemed to have abandoned it. Theories abounded but no one really knew anything. While Harry was happy for the respite from that quarter, it also had him on guard for any surprise attacks.
Into the boiling cauldron that was Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the Ministry added its hand as well. Two five-man Auror teams were assigned to cover the school from 'external hostile' organizations. One team actively patrolled the school grounds and halls while the second waited in a converted first floor classroom as a reaction force. It was quickly noted though by the students that whenever Harry left his common room it seemed an Auror was nearby keeping watch. But they weren't watching the area around Harry for trouble, but were watching him to make sure he didn't start trouble. This fed into the frenzy of both the Light and Dark-siders. Harry actually welcomed it for the most part because it kept the loud mouths on both sides from trying to start with him when they knew and Auror was probably somewhere nearby.
It was times like these that made Harry wonder why he didn't simply leave Hogwarts. It was an odd situation. He loved the school but didn't care for most of the students. But then the students themselves loved the Boy-Who-Lived while looking at Harry as though he were Voldemort's little brother. Even with all of the antagonism towards Harry, the Boy-Who-Lived fan clubs were still in full swing. It made no sense to Harry. It was as if he was two entirely different people to them.
The door to the classroom opened and distracted Harry from his thoughts. In stepped Professor Flitwick.
"Excuse me, Professor Crowling but we need your assistance outside the Great Hall," the diminutive Charms teacher announced.
"We are concluding an exam right now. Can it wait five minutes?" Crowling asked in her icy voice.
"I am afraid not, professor," Flitwick squeaked. "I can cover your last five minutes through."
"Oh, very well," Crowling huffed. "That should have been more than enough time for you to answer if you know the material. Mr Potter has been sitting there day dreaming for the last eight minutes. Since you all place yourselves in reference to him anyway, I am using his score as the scale. If you score higher then him you pass. Now hand in you papers and go."
Crowling's announcement caused many looks of panic amongst the Gryffindor and Slytherin students in the room. Harry was in the top ten of his year and it was well known his best subject was Defence. Harry wanted to groan. It wouldn't really affect how anyone in the room really felt about him but it would add to the already buzzing rumour mill.
When the last paper was collected, Professor Crowling was out of the room followed by Flitwick who was almost jogging to keep up with her long, fast strides.
"Wonder what that was all about," Ron murmured to Harry as they gathered up their things.
"Won't be good now would it?" Semus commented overhearing. "When has summoning the Defence against the Dark Arts professor ever been a good thing here?"
The Gryffindors made their way back to the dorms. Defence had been the last class of the day and the Quidditch team was having a practice that afternoon. Harry was looking forward at getting back into the air. Ron and Hermione were having one of their typical arguments about schoolwork that after four years was just background noise now. Reaching the Gryffindor tower, Harry made straight for his room. His roommates would be along shortly and he wanted to mirror-call Sirius before they returned.
The Fifth Year Gryffindor dorm had changed only slightly over the years. The beds and furniture were the same but the boys' added décor had changed with them. Gone were the football and Quidditch posters to be replaced with Seamus's pin-up girls and Dean's paintings. Dean's girlfriend, a Sixth year Ravenclaw named Mackenzie Sheehy, was his favourite model. They had started dating over the summer and her numerous portraits in various seductive poses filled a lot of wall space. It kind of bothered Harry that Dean still had some suggestive pictures up of his last girlfriend, Parvati. For the sake of peace in his room, he held his tongue but felt it was in poor taste to leave them up. However, it had only been a couple weeks since they had returned to school and Dean's drawings of his new model were quickly replacing them due to scarce wallspace.
Harry dug out his mirror. "Padfoot," he called. A moment later a familiar face popped up.
"Oi, Pronglet! Me and the little miss were just talking about you!" Sirius moved the mirror to show a giggling Cassie completely covered in her food. Oatmeal was dripping down the sides of her face. Harry had to laugh at her delighted grin.
"Obviously Mommy is not at home," Harry said with a laugh.
"Girls lunch and shopping with Fleur. She has a date tonight with a certain Mr William Weasley." Harry had to laugh again at the anti-British French Veela witch ending up living in London and chasing after a British wizard. It was nice to see God or Fate had a sense of humour with other people's lives and not just his own.
"So, what can we do for you, pup?" Sirius asked.
"Just checking in," Harry answered. "Something happened and they pulled Crowling out of class. I had a bit of time before I have to be on the pitch.
"What new with the shop?"
"Business was slow when we first reopened but it's picked up," Sirius answered. "Not a lot of traffic in the store but a lot of owl-orders. We upgraded the wards on the shop but it will be a while before people are comfortable walking in there." Harry frowned at the reminder.
Wards in public places were tricky things. In simple terms, wards acted like a Boolean search. 'Allow this but exclude that'. The caster had to identify the unique property that wanted to allow or exclude. Muggle-repelling wards made anyone below a certain level of magic forget where they were going and hurry off on another task. Anti-lycanthrope wards would prevent the entry by werewolves. Private residences could lock it down to the point that only blood members of the family could enter or layer their wards to prevent several scenarios. Public places couldn't do that as it could prevent honest customers from entering just because of the layering of the wards. Anti-Death Eater wards had never been released (at least publicly) and even then the Ministry would probably not have allowed it on the Alley as being 'unfair' to the 'Imperious-ed' Death Eaters of the last war.
The MME shop had several advanced wards but the Marauders made an oversight and failed to reinforce the building itself and, most tellingly, the front plate glass window. That oversight had cost two employees their lives. That oversight was now fixed. Remus had been talking about 'active counter-measures' whatever that meant. Harry's Pack Second just smiled and said to leave it all up to him when asked. Even pulling Alpha rank got Harry nothing. The shop's back room office and storage area was warded to prevent entry by non-employees unless specifically invited by Harry, Remus, or Sirius. That may not have saved the two wizards when the window shattered but it would have given them a refuge if they had survived that first attack.
"That's good," Harry acknowledged. "Anything else new?"
"They've stopped playing that Mirror clip so frequently," Sirius answered. "I won't say it has passed but it seems to be dropping off. The Death Eaters attacked two villages two days ago."
"I heard about that."
Sirius nodded. "One of our elves caught the attack on Havertown on his crystal. He recorded the entire twenty minute attack – including nine uses of the Cruciatus Curse, six rapes, and eighteen Killing Curses. The control room alerted the Aurors immediately and it still took them twenty minutes to respond. An old wizard who lived in the village, Alfred Dawlings, killed three Death Eaters – one with a knife – before being killed himself. The Ministry started holding him up as a hero until someone asked what the difference was between him and you." Harry frowned at that. The man deserved to be lauded for making his stand.
"The good news," Sirius continued, "is that these raids have diverted attention away from you." Harry had to agree that the raid did have a silver lining for him.
Harry started to comment when he noticed something peculiar in the Mirror. Her bowl of oatmeal now empty, the impatient Cassie was in the process of summoning more from the counter without the benefit of a bowl. The entire mass was just now moving over Padfoot's head. It sure wasn't accidental magic by the look of determination on her cute little face.
"Hey, Cassie!" Harry called out. Little Cassie's head turned at the sudden calling of her name breaking her concentration. The entire dripping mass came down on Sirius's head to the great delight of Cassie and her godfather.
"Damnit, Pronglet!" Sirius yelled as some of the oatmeal slid down the back of his shirt.
Harry grinned and said, "I did nothing. I was just saying hi to my darling goddaughter. You're the one to give her Marauder genes."
Sirius started to snicker and then laughed deep from his belly. Cassie started to laugh along with her Daddy not knowing why just that she was a good girl because she made Daddy laugh. When Sirius finally calmed down he said, "You did almost the same thing to James except it was pudding. He blamed me and said karma would give him revenge." He pointed at Harry. "Just remember that, Mr Jack!"
Harry's amusement broke. "I hope karma has done enough to me. I think I deserve a little good in return."
"Isn't that the truth," Sirius agreed. "Do you think you slept with her daughter in a past life and she's going for revenge? That's the kind of thing a woman would do."
"And what is that supposed to mean, Sirius Black?" a new voice asked. It was Kalina. Still dripping with oatmeal and his daughter cheerfully dumping some on her own head to emulate her Daddy, Sirius turned to face his pregnant wife.
"Hello, dear. How was shopping?" he asked innocently.
His humour suddenly restored, Harry cheerfully called out, "Well, I can see you're busy, Padfoot, so I will talk to you later. I hope." With a final wave to Sirius's look of betrayal and Kalina's amused glare, Harry closed the connection.
'Almost makes me glad I'm at Hogwarts,' Harry thought as he settled back for a kip.
Harry stumbled into the shower after a gruelling afternoon Quidditch practice. Angelina might have a nicer arse and legs than Oliver but it seemed his former captain had somehow infected his replacement with his fanaticism. The match with Slytherin was a week away and she was in frenzy. It was the first official match since Harry's Third year so there was a lot of attention being paid by both the students and outside to the run up. Two hours in the air wasn't too bad but Angelina kept them in the air through a torrential downpour with a strong, cold wind. Harry stripped off the Quidditch gear and stepped under the strong, hot stream of water.
It was Heaven.
Harry was so wrapped up in rediscovering feeling in his extremities that he missed it at first. But then he heard it again but this time the sounds registered on his brain as speech; not normal speech but a hiss. And worse it was a hiss he understood and recognized.
"Speaker, you must come to see me, youngling. Come to the Master's Chamber tonight," the voice hissed. It seemed to come from underneath Harry's feet. It was the voice of Sasha, the Basilisk. Harry glanced around but no one else was there to hear the hissing.
"There is danger, Defender of Hogwarts. The true Master's dream can't be allowed to fade. Come to me, youngling."
Harry looked down at his drain and hissed quietly, "Tonight."
"That will do," the Basilisk hissed back. Then Harry somehow knew she was gone.
Harry leaned back into the shower stream and against the wall. He felt tense and ready to collapse at the same time. Why had the basilisk come up to find him after over two years? Harry had never ventured back down to the Chamber and had no desire to do so. But Harry could hear the concern in the creature's voice. Something had a 1,000 year-old basilisk scared. What the hell could scare a creature longer than two of the Hogwart's Express car put together and at least six feet wide? Harry felt a shiver go down his spine.
He had a horrible feeling he was going to find out.
Questions of what had disturbed Sasha occupied Harry as he dressed and made his way down to dinner. He was still distracted when he sat down next to Padma with an absent hello to his girlfriend and their friends.
"Earth to Harry," Ernie said as he waved his hand in front of Harry's face.
"Stop that," Harry grunted and swatted at the hand.
"Well, maybe if you responded to us for the last five minutes he wouldn't have done that," Padma said with an exasperated tone. "And here I thought nothing could distract you from me." Harry had to grin at the teasing tone of Padma's last comment.
"Sorry. I've had a bit of a shock and am still trying to wrap my head around it," Harry replied.
"Well, what was it?" Hermione huffed.
"Not here. After dinner." Harry could see Hermione was about to insist he tell them now. "This isn't the time or place. After dinner."
"Does it have anything to do with the excitement earlier?" Ron asked after he swallowed his food. ('Thank Merlin for Daphne,' Harry thought.)
"What happened?" Harry asked. "What did I miss?" The group looked at Harry in disbelief.
"Harry, one of the Third year Ravenclaw witches, Melissa Turnings, is missing," Padma answered. "She is a sweet, quiet girl but today walking into the Great Hall the thing that appeared to be her … melted right in front of Professor Flitwick and the rest of her Charms class. It was a magical construct that looked and acted just like Melissa. They called in the Aurors and Professor Crowling to investigate it."
Hermione jumped in. "I heard Professor Crowling tell Professor Flitwick that there was no way of telling how long the replacement had been made. If maintained a construct can last for years. I went to the library and found out that constructs need a potion and a short ritual every five days."
"So, either she was taken five days ago or someone here was keeping it fresh until five days ago," Harry concluded with a nod.
"Exactly," Hermione agreed with a pleased smile.
Harry kept the concern from his face but wondered if this had something to do with why Sasha had approached him. It was bad enough that a reborn Voldemort was out there starting the war again, but did they have to have something here too? Would a quiet year at school be too much to ask?
Harry slipped into the Murtle's bathroom under his invisibility cloak. The school was under a complete lockdown and an extra squad of Aurors were patrolling the halls. Since most of them were former Hogwarts students, it meant they knew the school rather well. Fortunately, Harry knew it better and was adept at ghosting through the school. The cloak and a silencing spell sealed the deal.
Stepping up to the sink Harry hissed, 'Open'.
The sink slid back with a grinding that seemed loud in the quiet of the school. Harry pulled out his broom, dropped down the hole quickly, and hissed the command to close. He didn't want the DMLE stumbling on the unexpected opening and he was also afraid his friends would follow him down.
When Harry told them about Sasha's summons, they had all insisted he either not go or take them with him as backup. Harry argued he didn't think Sasha would react well to the uninvited guests and none of them had a parselmouth's protection from her gaze. They argued with him up until curfew with Padma promising all kinds of dire girlfriend punishments if he went without support. When they returned to the Gryffindor dorms, Ron and Hermione stationed themselves near the entrance to prevent Harry sneaking out. Harry realized it would be harder to escape his friends than his enemies – his enemies he could curse.
In the end, Harry used an illusion on his bed to make him appear to be safely asleep and snoring away. A Sleeping Charm on his roommates would prevent them from hearing him leave or return. As the school wards would immediately detect anyone flying around the school, he exited a window as the Beast and climbed down the tower. Re-entering the school via the window of an unused classroom on the second floor, Harry found it easy to make the last hundred metres undetected.
From under his cloak, Harry pulled out his shrunken broom stick and mounted it. A hissed word opened the sink portal and he carefully directed the broom to lower slowly into the revealed tube. Then with another hiss, he closed the portal.
Harry felt a sense of relief when the portal closed without Padma or one of the others appearing. He didn't expect the illusion to fool Hermione for long and figured there was a good chance Padma or Ernie would be making their way to the bathroom to intercept Harry. He knew this was possibly stupidly dangerous if Sasha was baiting a trap. However, he also didn't want to take the chance of angering the very large 1,000 year-old king (or queen) of all snakes, especially if she had information on what happened to Melissa Turnings.
The tunnels leading to the Chamber were unchanged for the most part. Harry could see signs of Sasha's recent passage and that had shifted some things around. The huge golden double door stood wide open and the animated snake motifs on each hissed their welcome. Harry walked though into the Chamber itself.
This room had changed. Gone were all signs of the fight that had occurred here at the end of his Second year. The damage to the pillars was all repaired and the place had actually been cleaned up. Harry wouldn't call it a great place to live, but the dust and musty smells were gone. The floor of the cavern was now a white sand that was warm enough that Harry could feel it through the soles of his trainers. A glowing orb at the peak of the cavern simulated the sun and based on the heat Harry felt, he bet its light included all of the sun's normal spectrums including infrared. With the large pool of water near the statue (which was also now cleaned but still hideously ugly), the cavern would make a great place for an indoor beach party.
"Speaker, you have come."
Harry turned to see the basilisk emerge from a dark pipe and slither onto the sands. A sigh that sounded very much like relief emerged from the giant snake.
"You made it sound urgent that I came," Harry answered.
"I have watched you since I have awoken. I have seen you act to protect Hogwarts and her students … even when they mistrust you due to magic's cause. True Master would have been proud of your strength and protection of his dream. Claimed you as his own he would." Harry felt an odd sense of pride at the ancient snake's words.
"True Master's Heir has lost the path. Power and ambition he has but has lost his way into madness. The ritual he used to return to a new body was a forbidden thing. Opened a pathway to creatures best left in the darkness of time. But now they are here. They seek power – power of blood, power of magic. Hogwart's wards prevent their full fury on her but they can pick at the edges. Already one of Hogwart's children has been lost to the host. The Alpha needs to defend Hogwarts and return the unwanted visitors from the past to their slumber."
Harry felt a chill at Sasha's words. What did she mean?
"Tom's ritual woke something up?"
"The Unseelie – creatures of the Fae. One of the Leanan Sidhe walks the halls of Hogwarts in search of victims. She wears a mortal seeming but I can smell her after she feeds. And she brings the Bendith as servants in her pursuit of mates. If they are not stopped more will pass over. The Alpha must act to protect Hogwarts."
"The Unseelie?" Harry repeated in English. He was shocked. Like most school children he'd read stories of the old myths of the Faries. The two courts Seelie and Unseelie. Some claimed they were Light and Dark. Others Summer and Winter (And sometimes added Spring and Autumn courts too) From Harry's understanding the Seelie weren't so much Light as being less cruel in their humour and less likely to eat their human victims. The Unseelie court was malicious and cruel to any human they fell into their power – and that would be on a good day.
After entering the Wizarding world, Harry had learned of some creatures traditionally seen as members of these courts by mundanes really did exist including banshees and red caps. And magicals used fairies to light their Yule trees. But no one mentioned that the courts really existed.
"The Unseelie truly exist?" Harry asked in near disbelief. Wouldn't this have come up in Defence at some point? Remus would have mentioned it, right? Or History of … no, it didn't include any goblins.
"Banished long ago. They were legend even by the True Master's time. The Druids banished them to walk sideways from the sun."
Druids? Druids hadn't existed in Europe or Britain since the Romans invaded. Some survived in Ireland for a while before the Catholic Church finished the purge.
"Are there any Druids left that can help us?" Harry asked.
"Rome saw the power they wielded in their defeat of the courts. But they sacrificed much for their victory. Caesar struck when they were weakened from their victory. His heirs finished what Caesar started. This fight belongs to the wizards."
The conversation continued for a while longer without giving Harry any additional information. Sasha could feel the unseelie presence within the school's wards but not enough to locate them. Harry was getting ready to leave when Sasha made one last comment.
"The Unseelie will not truly serve the True Master's Dark Heir. But they may give the seeming of it for their amusement and to add to the chaos. This joining would be a disaster for both of your worlds, Alpha. Take care."
Harry knew a dismissal when he heard one. (Who wanted to argue with a 1,000 year-old basilisk?) He quickly made his way back out of the Chamber and to the tube. Picking up his broom from where he'd left it, Harry rode back up the tube. Reaching the top, he hissed for the portal to open. What he found there almost made him go back to Sasha.
Padma, Hermione, Ron, Daphne and Ernie all stood glaring at him in the girls bathroom. To make matters worse, they had been joined by Dumbledore, McGonagall, Sirius and Remus. Maybe Slytherin had a bedroom hidden down there?
Before they could start shouting, Harry landed his broom and said, "We have a huge problem."