I do not own, or receive any benefit from the Harry Potter properties.
Making new friends, losing old ones: Chapter 11
By Larry Huss
As might be imagined, the news Hermione brought to the already agitated group caused consternation. The knowledge that a rampaging monster of indeterminate nature might be even then prowling the grounds, or hiding in one of the long lost chambers or hidden caverns that Hogwarts was rumored to have in abundance, was not calculated to make any of the listeners sleep well of a night. The general consensus was that whatever menace was being labeled as 'the Beast' was either extending its field of potential victims, or was becoming desperate in its quest to spill the blood and gnaw the bones of Harry James Potter.
For Harry, the speculations were not unalloyed bad news. At least he (perhaps) wasn't uniquely vulnerable, and being now one fish in the sea granted him a certain dubious obscurity from focused hostile intentions. As to the Beast becoming desperate, as Percy put it: "It sounds as if it's running out of time." How could that be bad news? However, for those whose rooms had been devastated, even the intrepid DADA teacher, a sense of unusual vulnerability became part of their daily worries.
Percy Weasley, optimist that he was, had reported the delivery of the Fruitcake of Doom to their Head of House. But, not at all to Hermione's surprise, no further inquiry were seen to be made, and the violation of the sanctity of the Owl Post seemed to cause not a ripple of official concern. Perhaps it was Neville who said it best, though.
"We thought for years that Harry's mail's been managed. Otherwise he'd have been getting tons of the stuff every year at that Muggle place he was at. Now that's he's out in the open, so to speak, a few people seem to be cleared to contact him. Your package, unless that's your regular baking skill… don't hit so hard! Your package just shows why. Not just bad things people might send him, but tampering by Those People was avoided. Harry might have missed out with a lot of Christmas presents, but I bet a few poisoned lollys were also kept away from him, and that was a bit more important.
"Sometimes it might be a pain to be around the 'Boy Who Lived', but I for one am all for keeping Harry Potter as the 'Boy Who Keeps On Living.'"
Harry had been as good as his word in his promise to Hermione, and he started the next session of their informal, un-named, and totally unofficial DADA self-study group with a demonstration of a shielding spell, a silent movement spell, and an unlocking spell that he said was beyond the Second Year syllabus (if they had actually had one beyond the collected works of Gilderoy Lockhart), and perhaps beyond the Fourth Year one. Even the Twins stopped fooling around, as the combination of Quirrell and Lockhart had pretty much ruined their DADA training for the last two years, no matter how advanced they might feel themselves to be in self-taught dual-purpose Potions and the very oddest of Charms. Malfoy, who was there that session, naturally claimed he could do better.
Even more naturally enough, Ron challenged him to put his wand where his mouth was, and in order not to have a Weasley have the last word Draco demonstrated an absolutely delightful cutting hex. It wasn't as deep, long, or absolutely straight as the spell might have allowed, but for a Second Year it was certainly impressive, if a bit exhausting. The looks of awe from the majority of group, and the acknowledgement from Ron, "All right, you do know your stuff," was both gratifying and a bit unsettling. The feeling of gratification was easy to explain; the unsettling part was that Draco realized he actually enjoyed being praised for an accomplishment. He was a Malfoy. He should have received their adoration for that fact alone, being looked at with approval and praise should have been a natural adjunct to his mere existence. The fact that praise felt even better because it was an external to his bloodline's inherited awesomeness should have almost been upsetting. Instead, it felt right, as if he had actually enjoyed that he had earned his increased status among them. If respect (and its rewards) were given for merit… than people like Granger might really be as good (maybe better) as some of those with long and honorable wizarding genealogies. There were disturbing implications to that sort of thought. He stood up at the head of the classroom and taught the others the hex anyway.
As a type of one-upsmanship, at the next session Harry brought out a combination charm that shot out an expanding cone of blinding light and unnerving sound in the direction of his wand's tip. Draco dredged up a memory of a scene from the previous summer and half-managed an explosion on a chair forty feet away. Damning himself for revealing his limited knowledge, he waited for the catcalls and derision. Instead he was embarrassingly asked to repeat it until he got back into his rhythm. By the time of the next study session, the knowledge that he would be expected to tutor the others in such an eminently useful and inspiring spell forced him to practice until he had perfected his casting, and demolished the unconjured piece of furniture into a fountain of splinters. Applause followed, and an unusually modest blush appeared on his face.
But when they did some practice dueling (no potentially fatal spells to be used), Neville's shield turned out to be the deciding factor in his being the unofficial victor, with Hermione's accurate and fast Stinging Hex letting her come in a distant second. She immediately made a mental note to spend at least two half-hour sessions a week working on her shield spell (really Harry's Auror-taught shield spell), and Malfoy's… the explosive one. She might as well parlay her accuracy and speed in casting toward targeting specific targets, and let it become her specialty. One could never know when the Beast would discover a way through the school wards, and when (not if, she was certain) that happened, she would be ready!
After the sessions, similar thoughts were present in the minds of most of the attendees (calling them members would have run up against the bylaws for student organizations at Hogwarts). 'If we're doing this level of stuff all by ourselves,' they thought, 'why are we paying good Galleons for a series of inept Teachers?' Malfoy had another complaint, which he never quite dared bring up with the others. In two years of History not one Malfoy had been named from among those who had led the Wizarding World. A Minister for Magic, a Hogwarts Headmaster, and assorted pioneering Potions Masters… none of them ever received even the slightest mention. He would write to his father about that!
Ron was deeply ashamed of himself.
That Sunday, right after the regular Defense training session (during which Bulstrode had shown, thankfully not on him, the ability of certain domestic charms to literally pull the rug out from someone's feet), had broken up the Animagus training of Hermione, Harry, Neville, and Fred was discussed among the select company that knew about it in the first place. The further advances made in that transformation were exhibited, and advice spread pretty around. Ron almost regretted his inability to join in the fun, but only almost.
Harry had wandered off by himself afterwards, saying that he might end up missing supper, but would probably get something from the kitchens later. Neville had been blasé about it, and Hermione seemed so calm that Ron felt that she must be-in-the-know about something. So, instead of meekly going to Sunday dinner, he slipped away from the others and followed Harry out onto the dark grounds of Hogwarts Castle, keeping out of sight and sound, until the boy ducked into a small grove of trees, and disappeared from sight.
Ron followed cautiously and saw, by the half-moonlight, Harry talking animatedly with a tall and perhaps bearded man, going through the movements of casting spells, and obviously informing him of what had been going on earlier that evening.
Ron somehow felt both hot and cold at the same time. Who was Harry talking to about their most secret doings? How could he betray their confidences so? Then the man turned into a large, black dog.
OK, that was different.
It was Hermione who came upon the body first, if only by a moment. There was Filch, caught in an intimate moment with his cat, Mrs. Norris. His fingers tucked behind her ear, her head turned toward the same direction he had been facing, him kneeling there with a tidbit for her in his other hand, and both made of a fine-grained sandstone. Hermione stopped dead in the murky puddle that had seeped up from a new underground spring, and which was attempting to undermine the vast bulk of Hogwarts. Her shoes slowly leaked through as Draco Malfoy came up behind her and provided the perfect bon-mot: "What the…?"
They stood there for a few moments, an unlikely but inevitable pair. He, to try to arrange a modus viviendi with his greatest foe. Her, to make sure he wasn't bushwhacked while coming to the agreed upon meeting with Daphne Greengrass in one of the lesser-used passages that traversed the under-basements of the Castle.
Things were not made much better when the aforementioned young witch appeared from the other direction, her wand alight, and took in the whole scene in a glance.
"What have you done, Granger? Oh, it's Filch," Greengrass observed. "Congratulations, you got that mangy cat too. Hello Malfoy." The last part was said very like a growl. She had agreed to come to this parlay only on the urgings of her more peace-loving friends. For herself, war to the knife had a certain sweet tang to it. She didn't mind that Malfoy was her rival in looks in her Year and House; she was far from petty about such things. His endless snobbery was annoying, but she could have handled that by merely cutting him dead (socially) at every occasion. No, she was happy to tell anyone who would listen, it was his endless use of his family's connections and the blatant favoritism he was shown that rankled her.
Within the first week he had let it leak that he would be the star student of the First Year in Potions, having received illegal coaching for several years from the Potions Master, their House-Head, his Godfather! Daphne Greengrass would never hold an honest distinction against someone. Muggle-born Granger earning a constant trickle of points for Gryffindor due to her unhealthy obsession with study? Well… she earned them, and the poor dear would always be at a disadvantage in the Wizarding World, let her have her petty triumphs in school. Percy Weasley catching poisoners and arresting miscreants (Daphne thought too highly of Love to forgive someone who tried to cheat at it with chemicals)? More power to him! That's what a Prefect was supposed to do, after all. Malfoy's constant yammering about his family and his father (Imperiused to serve the Dark Lord her right buttock!) in that first week at school had set her teeth on edge from the start. How he had protected his minions from their rightful punishment, as far back as the day of their first Flying lesson was never far from her mind, and always at the top of her list of Reasons Draco Malfoy Should Suffer!
It was, in truth, a little sad that one of Draco's more benign characteristics… loyalty and protectiveness towards his friends (even Pansy, when she was still around)… was one of the root causes of his estrangement from his Housemate. But, just as we are sometimes forgiven our faults, sometimes we are condemned for our virtues. Funny old world.
But now the three stood looking at the unexpected piece of statuary. Speculations and questions raced through their active young minds. As might be expected, it was Hermione who was first out of the gate with a plan of action.
"Malfoy, get to the Infirmary and get Matron, then a Professor. The Headmaster would be best, but anyone should do. Except Lockhart."
The other two nodded, that last piece of direction clinched it for them. Draco took off at a run, while Daphne mused out loud.
"You didn't go yourself, because…?"
"If I'd left you and Malfoy here together, alone, there would have been at least one more body not moving when I got back."
"Hmmm, sounds about right."
In the few moments before Matron Pomfrey appeared, the two girls careful inspected the locality, avoiding touching the bodies for several reasons: the first being… suppose whatever got Filch and Mrs. Norris (and what ever happened to Mr. Norris, one may ask) was contagious. And the other was… touching Filch under any conditions was simply unthinkable.
Both girls had mastered a number of spells that allowed them to illuminate the corridor, and it was Daphne that noticed a peculiarity about certain scuff marks on the floor. They had started as a slight elongation of the puddle on the stone pavement, and then become increasingly faint smears of mud, until they disappeared at a blank and solid wall.
Hermione's eyes became slightly unfocused, and she began to mutter lowly to herself. She began to lift her wand, and then suddenly her left hand smacked down on her right, bringing the magic stick to a neutral position. Daphne's look of enquiry was unmistakable.
In a slightly shaky voice Hermione answered the unasked question. "I was going to get very clever. Probably too clever by half. And if I messed things up by showing off, Harry would never let me live it down. Proper procedure, you know."
Daphne didn't, but before she could progress further on that line of thought the Cavalry arrived. Or at least a significant part of the teaching staff. Madame Pomfrey was there, as the first one Draco had informed of the whole sad affair, and also, as punishment for their sins no doubt, Professor Lockhart. Professor Snape bustled in, so quickly that he didn't even bother to have his robes billowing behind him, and also Professor Vector (looking somewhat winded) was guided to the location by a grinning Malfoy. His glee was easy to understand; something tremendous was happening, he was in on it from the start, and it certainly couldn't be blamed on him at all! What more could a lively boy ask for?
It must be admitted that for a certain value of 'amusement' the next few minutes were amusing. Professor Snape was quickly informed of the odd markings on the floor by Daphne, and bent over in a most comical stoop, his great nose almost touching the stone pavement as he followed them to their indefinite conclusion. He began to poke and probe at the wall where the marks lead, but neither finger tapping nor muttered spell managed to make the cold stones speak (metaphorically or otherwise). Meanwhile, Madame Pomfrey preformed a quick series of diagnostic spells on both man and cat. Except for unmistakable evidence of recent magical energies being exhibited the situation was one outside of her previous experience. It was Gilderoy Lockhart who managed to prove himself more talented than expected by the three students.
Finding his bespoke-appearing half-boots were less than completely impervious (it really pays to get the full assortment of waterproofing charms, instead of the cut-rate type) to the slow little rivulet that was feeding the puddle in the corridor he preformed, purely as a public service he insisted, a very successful Area Drying Charm, which had the added benefit of turning any mud smears in the area into a fine dust that blew away with the faintest of air currents.
It was then that Daphne perceived what Hermione had been talking about in the matter of "Proper Procedure."
Professor Snape's use of vile language at the disappearance of the mysterious trail of evidence was as instructional, in a slightly different way, than any lesson he had given in the classroom that year. Professor Vector, on the other hand, was merely quietly appalled at the destruction of evidence at the scene of an assault. Her father had been an Auror and had often spiced up dinner time conversations at home with humorous anecdotes about novice investigators that had ruined certain cases by unwitting actions and promiscuous spell castings.
With nothing likely to be lost anymore, Hermione decided to go for broke, and asked Professor Snape to cast as powerful a Silencing Charm as he could on the spot where the tracks had disappeared before they had disappeared.
"When, Miss Granger, when did you receive the authority to order your Professors around? Has the Headmaster appointed you the Hogwarts Thief-Finder General? Five points from Gryffindor!"
A red haze did not, precisely, cover over her vision, but there was a note of asperity in her voice as she recklessly answered. "I have an idea, Professor, which seems more than you do at the moment. Give me detentions for the rest of the year, or fail my next five potions in class, but I've need of a really good Silencing Charm on that spot, if you would be so kind!"
A smile, that some might have called sinister, appeared on Snape's face. If Little Miss Know-It-All was volunteering for detentions… she was not quite as useless as most Second Years, and there was always scutwork to be done in a precise manner. Just her style, and what he would use her for.
Professor Lockhart, buoyed up by his recent success in front of the students and his colleagues, forced the issue: "I'll do it; just a moment!" And he pointed his wand and cast his best shot.
From the horrified looks on Hermione's and Professor Snape's faces Draco knew at once that something was desperately wrong, and he threw himself in the path of the sickly yellow spell. His body intercepted it, and as his foot impacted the floor it made the entire corridor reverberate with the sound of rubber-soled boot (how else to sneak up on people in a place with all hard flooring?) meeting gneiss. "What just happened?" Young Malfoy asked mildly, as all the others covered their ears wincing with pain.
"I've invented a Super-Sonorus!" Professor Lockhard shouted (but still less in volume than Draco's wondering whisper) with glee.
Having seen the effect on others, and felt it himself, Malfoy kept silent and still.
After a hurried consultation between the two girls, Daphne led a tip-toeing, kettle-drum sounding, Draco far down the hall. He felt completely safe in her hands at that moment. If she attacked all he had to do was scream in agony and she'd probably end up bleeding out of both ears. In fact, perhaps it would be fun… no, Granger was up to something and it would be far more entertaining to see her either succeed, or fail.
Professor Snape now felt it was incumbent for him to uphold the honour of the teaching staff. He was sure that Septima Vector could have done a good enough job, but as he would be getting Granger's services it seemed only right for him to provide her the rope to hang herself with.
Taking out a piece of chalk (the teacher's friend) he marked the spot the trail had vanished, and standing back a dozen paces applied as high powered a Silencing Charm as he could. And waited with anticipation for Miss Granger's complete downfall and humiliation.
To his surprise, he saw her take Professor Vector twenty feet of so down the corridor, and had her place her ear against the wall, with one of her hands higher up above her head (touching stone) and one downward doing the same.
"Professor Snape, if you could go a bit down that way, and do the same? Try listening for an echo, and feeling for a vibration too?" Granger asked.
He did so, an inkling of what she was doing having come to him. Damn… even if her idea didn't work, it wasn't actually stupid. That was… awkward.
As soon as he was in place Granger preformed a decent Bombarda Charm, the spell striking the chalked target and blowing away the marking, but leaving its own scorch mark as a sign of the location. Nothing was heard through the charm, but Professor Snape caught the slightest echo, and a definite vibration with his lower placed hand. But not the upper one.
"Sorry deary, didn't hear a thing," said Professor Vector.
So either Septima was deaf, or there was a tunnel behind the corridor wall at Snape's end that was… at least five-and-a-half feet tall, and going in one direction only. But he hadn't been able to reveal or discover the probable entrance where the original traces had stopped. Albus would certainly have to be brought in on this promptly, and not allowed to obfusticate what he found or suspected this time. Right now though… right now, something painful had to done.
"Very… bright, Miss Granger. No detentions this time, and six… no, seven… points for… Gryffindor."
Albus Dumbledore was frustrated, and that meant keeping his usual benign face on was particularly difficult. Especially as he so desperately wanted to blame Miss Granger for his current situation, but knew it was quite unfair. In fact, even in the Parkinson business Miss Granger had been, after all, the completely innocent victim. It was just, he thought, an old man's grumpiness when things weren't going his way.
He had never been one for the more subterranean parts of the school, not even in his youth or his prime, when the cold and humidity had been less of an annoyance. Even Warming and Drying Charms could do only so much before succumbing to the local atmosphere and damp. Thank Merlin for thick, warm, woolen socks!
Currently he was in what, according to the plans of the School he had brought down from the Headmaster's Office, was the lowest level of all the basements, dungeons, oubliettes, tunnels, and corridors of Hogwarts. So why was there every indication that an impenetrable hidden passageway was behind a wall that was diving deeper into the oozing wet earth below the castle? A direct assault on the wall had, even with his spell-craft, done little more than Miss Granger's moderately powered Bombarda spell in breaching the corridor. It was her other suggestion that had led to its flooring being ripped up, and the constant series of spells needing to be cast to remove the slow moving mud, and quicker water, that was attempting to fill the ditch/tunnel they were currently excavating. So, Muggles did this sort of thing all the time, hunting with echoes? Such interesting and ingenious primitives.
Perhaps also, he conceded, part of his short temper was the result of what he had discovered was a strange yet unfailing sort of communication. Miss Granger, or Harry, or Lord Longbottom (no, no, can't use titles at school you old fool!), or Mr. Weasley would inevitably turn up wherever one of the others were involved in something none of them should have been involved in from the beginning. If for no other reason than to keep them from gossiping and spreading all sorts of rumors around the school, as he knew quite well than forbidding them from talking would be completely useless when something as juicy as this was going on, he had allowed them to stay and see the slow and tedious work of discovery. Of course, with four Gryffindors currently taking up space, Severus had demanded that at least those of his House who had been in on the original discovery should also be allowed to witness… whatever they found.
In a way, though, Headmaster Dumbledore was having a kind of fun he had missed for years, until last year's emergency had reminded him of it. These, some of the brightest of the students of their Year, were being taught the nitty-gritty of magic. The demolition and construction needed to follow the hidden tunnel was showing them how in the real world spells worked, not just a classroom demonstration. Banishing or moving waste, shoring up sides, accurately measuring and keeping things in the true. He'd even been able to let them do some of the actual shoring up and marking for the excavations. He was teaching talented students again, and it felt right.
Of course, the main work had to be done by Severus and himself. Septima had classes to teach that no one else could really substitute for, while Severus had merely to put up a short note on his blackboard that his students would be given a test on the next class day on a potion they hadn't yet mastered, and they should study for it on such and such pages of their text, to be free for the rest of the day. Professor Lockhart had exercised one of his more mysterious abilities, that of disappearing when hard labor appeared in the offing. As for himself… he'd rather be down here in the ooze than up in his office dealing with the muck of more politics.
"Looks a little precarious to me," said Draco to Ron, pointing to one of the more precarious looking piles.
The great stone blocks taken up from the floor were easily a ton apiece, maybe more, and were piled up raggedly in a series of what would have been ten foot tall wobbly columns, if their great weight hadn't been enough to make them grind down firmly on each other.
"I'm sure that the Headmaster knows his business," replied Ron, with a note of irritation. Fancy Malfoy criticizing Headmaster Dumbledore!
"And I don't see Professor Snape complaining, so shouldn't it pass your inspection?"
"Yes, it should. His Godfather can do no wrong, just ask him," Daphne added.
"It looks like the Professors have discovered the bottom of that secret tunnel. From here it looks like the sort of built-up thing some insects build with spit and sand. But it's all on a larger scale here. At least six feet around!" Of necessity, as a Herbology prodigy, Neville had become more than a casual student of insect pests, their habits, habitats, and their predators. If he could shine a bit in front of a good looking girl, and avoid the start of the next round of the Slytherin Feud… all to the good all around.
"They still can't just knock a hole in it, though," he continued. "Whoever made that tunnel must have a lot of magic."
Ron was still musing on the piled stone paving blocks: "Looks a little like the pancakes Mum makes at home, after Forge gets done with 'em. They developed this prank spell… 'Oleum' I think they call it… makes them all slip about. A really tall stack will actually go right off the plate onto the table. Drives Mum spare, having her cookin' get all messy, and on the table to boot. Not that her table ain't clean enough to eat off of!" he finished defensively.
Draco said nothing. At home the House-elves always brought the food to the table. It was always as much a piece of decorative and architectural art as a work of culinary skill. He imagined for a moment a towering stack of pancakes. He'd seen them at Hogwarts, and even when he'd gone over early to visit at Greg Goyle's house. Never tasted them, though. Greg, putting greats spurts of sauce… no, it was called syrup, wasn't it? Anyway, Greg loading them up with sweet stuff and slicing through them, and stuffing pieces of four or so into his mouth. Mrs. Goyle had always offered him some, but Draco knew enough to say that he'd already eaten. Would anyone tell on him if he indulged up here some morning? Pancakes were such… common (almost Muggle) folk food. But they always smelled so good… The thought of a yard tall pile of thin cakes slowly bending, and then cascading to the floor had definite entertainment value, but…
This was all just maudlin dithering! It wasn't how a Malfoy acted. So, asking Greengrass was an invitation to a poisoning, Wesley wasn't really as bad as he'd first seemed, but he was still… he couldn't ask a Weasley. Granger, despite her unexpected depths was still a Mu… Mu… Muggleborn. Longbottom… still almost a Squib despite his good birth. That left Potter. His equal; why did it feel good to have an equal, he was a Malfoy after all? Still… Potter.
"So, Harry, the pancakes up here any good?"
"Oh, fine. But a little unimaginative. When I make them I sometimes shake things up a bit."
"You cook, Potter?" asked Daphne.
"Yes. At first I had to. Now I still get up early, and making breakfast for people is… fun. Especially to see their faces as they come in all dull and sleepy in the morning and they see the table set and ready for them. Picks 'em right up.
"Anyway… sometimes I make Buckwheat instead of Buttermilk ones. Or put in berries, or once I put in crumbled up bits of crispy bacon. That perked everyone up." A gentle smile crossed Harry's face at the memory.
"Getting the Kitchen-elves to change their recipes, even for a special occasion is damn near impossible. Tried to get a special cake made for Tracey's birthday, they refused to make one with raspberry jam like I asked for. It's her favorite," Daphne informed them.
"House-elves live hundreds of years, I think," said Neville. "I expect after doing things one way for that long it must be quite a wrench to start taking special orders."
The others nodded at the idea. From there the conversation, with occasional comments on the cylindrical nature of the increasingly exposed secret tunnel, wandered about discussing the natures and foibles of the Hogwarts House-elves, and their resistance to change. For instance, it had taken a positive campaign by the Patil twins (with much support by the Gryff girls and many a Ravenclaw), and ably advanced by Bliggi ("What a darling!" said Daphne when Hermione had brought up the name) as an advocate to get a basic Curry added to the menu for the Winter months. Draco wondered why the others were all so enthusiastic about the idea. Curry… beyond being some beastly foreign thing to eat it was evidently also all-the-rage. Something more to risk on, then. He began to feel quite the culinary explorer.
Professor Snape was surprisingly cheerful, for someone whose clothing was mud splattered, and who had been engaged in hard magical work for the last two hours. There were several reasons for that unusual state: Draco and Greengrass seemingly had buried the hatchet. Albus was even more besmirched than he was, and his precious socks were undoubtedly chillingly soaked by now, and whatever they were doing now was new and unprecedented and interesting! Teaching endless classes of ignorant and untalented children was so tedious that he had to make what amusement he could to prevent himself from falling asleep in class. But now… an unsuspected array of tunnels (he was beginning to see a bifurcation in the tunnel they had been uncovering) within the structure of Hogwarts itself! That was something new under the sun. At least for a little time he had the pleasure of Albus being equally ignorant as he was himself, a rare event considering how much the Headmaster kept under his pointy hat.
As the students did another stint of cleaning out the trench Snape realized why they were following the hidden tunnel for such a great length before starting their serious effort to breach its wall and entering it. In a short time they would, if his rough calculations was correct, be out from under the structure of the castle. If a collapse were to take place at least the school itself wouldn't have any towers, classrooms, or corridors tumble into a pile of rubble.
"When do you think we'll clear the walls?" Snape asked his superior.
Revealingly, without a trace of a twinkling gaze, Dumbledore replied, "Perhaps a dozen or more paces, certainly no more than twenty. I see I'll have to up my game to keep you properly impressed by my omniscience, Severus."
"Have you ever thought of giving up the pretence? Being a mysterious Wizard among Muggles might be necessary, but pulling your arse out of a hat isn't really needed among wizards, is it?"
"Alas, besides being a teacher and student, I am also a politician. And those creatures needed to make a great show of their indispensability, lest they be discarded with yesterday's spoiled fish."
"Albus, who's your teacher now? Are you studying again under Flamel, or is there some other Hidden Master we may thank for your increased mastery of some hitherto unsuspected Art?" Snape's voice had an amused and almost teasing note to it. He couldn't often get Albus to be so candid and self-revealing.
Dumbledore shook his head, and looked back down the corridor to the students, Slytherin and Gryffindor, who were talking, and sometimes laughing, together.
"They are," Dumbledore indicated with a jerk of his head, "just as their predecessors for the last ninety years and more. Each year I start out thinking I know everything they will try to do, and every year I am surprised, and not un-often appalled! But mostly amazed, and frequently delighted. For instance-"
At that moment Harry Potter's voice rang out in the echoing corridor: "Watch out! Something's coming!"
It turned out that the warning gave only a few seconds of preparation time. But at least it meant that when a section of wall between the students and professors became cloudy, and evidently penetrable enough for a huge serpentine head, crested with a crimson frill, to poke through it and waver back and forth for a moment before turning its vulnerable mouth away from a powerful, even if ineffective, attempt from the Headmaster to turn the creature into a worm of more normal size, that they were more beginning to be ready for an emergency. A seemingly endless length of murky green muscular body flowed out of the wall, and moved in what it had decided was the evidently less hazardous direction of the students.
Even in the dim light the bright patch of crimson being flashed up on the top of the serpent's head could be seen. Daphne, who was currently between career ambitions, had once aspired to being a daring explorer, and had devoured books on strange and dangerous beasts that she would heroically bring back to amaze the pantywaists of the more civilized climes. "It's a bloody Basilisk!" she cried out.
The Basilisk's body had meanwhile slid into the excavated trench in the floor of the officially recognized Hogwarts corridor, and it was taking the creature a moment to sort things out. From around it there flashed the different coloured lights of various spells impacting it, fruitlessly.
Harry Potter's cool and low pitched voice came out with directions to his companions:
"Ron, grease up those stones stacked up, the pile nearest us. Your brothers' spell.
"Hermione, those silly Bluebell Flames you like to play with, send them right up near its eyes, but don't look at them. If you get yourself petrified I'll be extremely unhappy with you.
"Nev, Draco, Daphne, at the count of three we start using Wingardium on the top stone of that pile, making it slip off onto the snake. Now…one… two… three!"
"We'll just have to try it again! One, two, three!"
Yet despite Ron's best lubricating efforts the stones refused to slide off each other to either hit the beast, or block its path. Hermione's Blue Flames, at the limit of her ability to control them, were keeping the creature confused and hesitant in it advance, but the constant stinging of the curses and other spells hitting its nether regions was a spur-forward that it couldn't deny. At the moment it was in a quandary. One of the drawbacks of huge size was a distinct difficulty in reversing its course without being able to double its head backwards to point in the proper direction, especially in a (for it) narrow tunnel. Once it had made its choice it had only one direction to go until it was at another entry spot to the tunnels that lead back to its nest, and a chance to sort out all the confusion.
"Potter, ain't workin'," Draco yelled out.
"Draco have you got something? Fulmina et Tonitrua!" Harry shouted, as the yellow and white streaked spell he had shown them several weeks before (thunder and lightning in a blinding and deafening cone) shot out of his wand impacting the head of the Basilisk, and if not damaging it, certainly startling it into not advancing for a few moments.
'Well, Draco, you had to complain, didn't you?' the blond thought to himself. 'Now… what do you do if something is stuck at home? Call a House-elf. Maybe not here and now, though. Give it a hard smack? Maybe…'
"At three, where the top stone block is touching the side, everyone but Weasley, Blasting Curse!
One, two three!"
As the massive block finally began to move the snake jolted forward, startled by the sound of the combined explosions and the peppering of chips of rock that blew into its sides, in some place actually penetrating its scales. It was halfway past the point of the explosion when the topmost paving stone got past its tipping-point and began to obey the demands of gravity. By that time Harry had grabbed the fainting Malfoy and called out to the others it was time for a full paced retreat, or as he said it, "Run away, run away!"
Draco Malfoy woke up in the Infirmary at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, with great difficulty breathing, as he had rolled-up gauze pads stuck in his nose. As he jolted up to a sitting position on the bed, Matron Pomfrey looked over from her desk, gave a nod, and got up and walked over.
She stifled his attempts at speech, and pulled the plugs from his nostrils. The she looked at him for a moment, and nodded again.
"When they brought you in you were bleeding from your nose and ears. Simplest thing to do was just block the flow for a bit and stop it from just getting on everything. We don't want to use spells on an unconscious person like that unless we have to. Especially when a spell or potion might mess with some delicate structures and the patient can't give feedback. You'll be able to go to dinner tonight, so don't fret too much about Hospital food," she said with a chuckle. It was then when he noticed the food tray perched on a cart next to his bed.
"How'd I get here? I remember the spell…"
"You put far too much of your magic into your casting, I'm afraid. You young daredevils tend to do that. A great part of your magical education is about learning control and rationing your strength. Let this be a lesson to you, young man! You'll be seeing a lot more of this place if you don't learn how to limit your efforts properly!"
Draco decided not to tell her how when you have a murdering great Basilisk trying to make you lunch, conserving your precious magical energies for another day was the last thing you worried about. You had to have been there to appreciate that view of things.
A few hours later, when he entered the Great Hall for dinner, there was a great burst of cheering and clapping. By the time he had taken his seat, and the sound had been suppressed, the Headmaster stood up to make an announcement.
"Misses Granger and Greengrass; Misters Longbottom, Malfoy, Potter, and Weasley have all been extremely active in helping the School Administration investigate and excavate extremely important historical items and sites, and have been earning a hundred points each to Gryffindor and Slytherin Houses.
"The House-elves of Hogwarts have prepared a special desert for the ending of this meal in celebration, so let's tuck in and work our way through the courses until we get to it!"
As he unwrapped his eating utensils from the napkin, Millie Bulstrode leaned over and whispered (as much as she was capable of) into Draco's ear, "I noticed how Dumbledore mentioned as many Gryffs as he could before he got to us Snakes!"
Blaise, on Draco's other side, protested, "He just went alphabetically, with the girls first and then the boys!"
"And who set things up that way?" Millie said with dark suspicions. Then she continued on a happier note; "You notice… a hundred points each. That means a Slytherin is worth twice what a Gryffindor is!"
Draco made a small groan, and cradled his head in his hands.
"You notice Dumbledore never actually said what we were getting rewarded for, not honestly, anyway," Hermione said that evening as The Boys sat in a gathered circle of easy chairs in the Gryffindor Common Room. Ordinarily Second Years wouldn't have been allowed nearly so much privacy or pushiness, but for some reason The Boys (mixed gender group though they were) were generally undisturbed by the older students, except for the Weasley twins, who were a law unto themselves and not to be criticized or emulated.
"I mean, it's not as if at least the truth isn't being whispered about by everyone," she continued.
"Along with a whole raft of other rumors that are plain barmy," Neville contributed.
"Harry and Malfoy were having a death duel and were interrupted by eldritch horrors that they teamed up to defeat. I'm kind of miffed that the rest of us get so little mention in that one. After all, it's only a rumor; it wouldn't be hard to add a couple of names, give us a bit of publicity," Ron complained.
"But Greengrass was there, and no one would think that she was there acting as Draco's Second for the duel, so they can't make it into some big melee that got interrupted," Harry said reasonably.
"Do they have Seconds in melees?" Hermione asked, never having come across that situation before.
Neville, concentrating fiercely on trying to remember his lessons on Wizardly Affairs of Honor, shook his head. "Melees, battles, murderous encounters… pretty much free-form affairs on how you manage them. Come-as-you-are parties. Don't forget to bring your wand as a courtesy sort of thing."
"Is there any problem letting my dorm mates know what really happened?" Hermione asked.
"In all the confusion, I don't think anyone remembered to tell us to keep things quiet. Bit of an oversight, on the Headmaster's part," Harry said. "He must be slipping; the years catching up on him, or something."
Later that evening, Severus Snape gave a deep sigh, and approached the fireplace in his room in the Slytherin complex down in the dungeons. He had duties and obligations that he felt he could not ignore. He cast a pinch of powder into the fireplace, saying at the same time, "Malfoy House. Ah, Lucius, good to see you were at home… I wonder if you might pop in to The Three Broomsticks in an hour or so… Draco is fine, but he has had an Adventure that you should probably know about… Good! Ten it is."
At the same time, in far more dingy (if not worse lit) surroundings, the Hog's Head Inn located in the dingy alley of Hogsmeade, a town so tiny that it could only afford one dingy alley, a different conversation was taking place.
Aberforth Dumbledore, the younger scapegrace brother of the more famous Albus Dumbledore, and the proprietor of the establishment, was sitting down in the mainly deserted Main Room of the place, and sharing a long one (actually his third) with the only customer currently refreshing himself of a Sunday evening. They had been talking for at least an hour or more. Though perhaps it was best to say that Aberforth had been talking, with the handsome youth he was sitting with mostly nodding and making little encouraging sounds to spur him on.
The elderly barkeep seemed to be having some difficulty keeping his eyes open, yet seemed unable to stop the flow of the words that poured out of him. The deepest secrets and resentments of his long life kept on emerging, and the handsome young Tom Riddle sitting by his side kept on listening and drinking it all in. Drinking it all in, everything about Aberforth, every iota of his life. Tom Riddle was drinking it all in.