A/N: So, some of you thought it was great that Rigel finally messed up in some minor capacity, and some thought it was unnecessary, but as always gentle readers, you'll find that I rarely throw things in just for characterization purposes (For instance I know some of you are still wondering about the baby thing, but you'll just have to be patient ^^). All will come full circle, readers. Really, how else was she supposed to get detention?

And with those ominous words, we begin.

The Serpentine Subterfuge:

Chapter 12:

If Rigel thought the one day she endured with the school whispering about her Parseltongue behind her back was annoying, it was nothing compared to what greeted her the morning after she had been found at the scene of the Hufflepuff prefect's petrifaction.

There were no whispers in the halls when she walked by now. No one pointed or speculated behind their hands. Instead, everywhere Rigel walked, there was complete silence, only punctuated by cold or frightened stares. The Hufflepuffs, much to Rigel's dismay, were particularly venomous as far as giving her the stink-eye went, but they, like the rest of the school, were silent.

At least, it was silent until Fred and George showed up.

"There's our fledgling Dark Lord!"

Rigel only had a moment to brace herself before Fred flung his arms around her in an exuberant hug from behind.

"Hello, Fred," Rigel said, thinking that at least now the stares were more incredulous than hostile.

"I'm actually Gred today," Fred said, patting her cheek as one would a small, precocious child, "But I'll forgive you since you didn't know."

"Magnanimous of you," Rigel said, turning to nod at George, who had ambled up behind his brother, "Hello…Forge?"

George flashed a grin at her as he leant forward to ruffle her hair in a gesture that was practically automatic at this point, "How is your morning, your Utmost? Sacrifice any minions today?"

"I'm, ah, fresh out of minion," Rigel said, patting her hair back into place uncomfortably and glancing up the corridor, "I've also got to get to Defense."

Fred clutched his heart, "What's this? Going to Defense? But you've gone over to the Dark Side, puppy! We thought you'd at least be cutting class and punting canines for daring to share your moniker. Don't tell me all those petrifactions were just for kicks! Ha, get it? Kicks? As in, what you do to puppies now that you're evil?" Fred cracked up into hearty chuckles and Rigel could only shake her head.

"I didn't petrify anyone," she felt compelled to say. She knew that they knew that she hadn't, or else they wouldn't be joking about it, but she didn't want any of the bystanders to be able to say 'he never denied it.'

George laughed just a tad too loudly, "Well, obviously. It's just so obvious to anyone who isn't oblivious, after all. I mean, how obvious is it that you'd never do anything like that to anyone, since you're obviously a kind person who's never even entertained the idea of harming others? Obviously."

Rigel grimaced, "Overheard Greengrass this morning at the Slytherin table, did you?"

Fred looked sympathetic, "I think even the kids over at the Hufflepuff table heard her."

"Not that all the Hufflepuffs weren't saying the same thing," George added cheerfully, "But seriously, Rigel, don't worry about it. It really is a bit obvious to anyone who knows you that it's just a weird coincidence. Besides," he said, raising his voice again pointedly as several people tried to pretend they weren't listening in as they walked past, "Anyone who's really that evil doesn't get caught at the scene. That's just Evildoers 101."

Rigel wasn't sure if Fred and George were convincing anyone by being so sarcastic that surely people would realize how ridiculous it was, but Rigel did feel a little bit better about the eerie silent treatment she was getting from ¾ of the school, so she didn't complain.

In Defense class Lockhart requested that Rigel make the sound effects for his reenactment of the moment he cornered the Moorsville Monster. The monster, Lockhart quite earnestly insisted, had sounded exactly like an angry, cornered snake.

Rigel was a bit incredulous, but didn't want to outright refuse a professor. She awkwardly cleared her throat when Lockhart motioned to her in the midst of his air-dueling.

"Hssssss," Rigel said unconvincingly.

"Louder, Rigel," Lockhart cried, sweeping back his cape dramatically as he parried another pretend thrust with his own, equally pretend, sword.

"HSSSS," Rigel tried. Draco snorted next to her, so she shot him an annoyed look as she took a breath, "HSSSS."

Out of the corner of her eye she could see several people shudder and learn away from her table.

"That's not even Parseltongue," Millicent said scathingly, "Honestly, you lot are supposed to be Gryffindors."

"Well if he was roaring like a lion, we'd be fine with it too," Ron said, grimacing, "It's just creepy, okay?"

"Children, no talking! The best part is coming up!" Lockhart said, before launching into a long-winded monologue about why the monster should see the error of its ways.

"It's not creepy," Draco said, sounding like a snake himself as he hissed across the room, "It's an honor to be able to speak Salazar's tongue."

Rigel hadn't ever thought about it like that, either.

"Honor or not, it's…inhuman," Dean Thomas said, wrinkling his nose a bit.

"And what's wrong with that?" Blaise asked coolly from his seat beside Theo. He didn't take his eyes off of Lockhart's performance, so Rigel couldn't see his expression, but he sounded unusually annoyed.

"Nothing," Thomas said hastily, "I'm no creature-hater. I mean, it's fine for a snake to sound that way, because it's a snake. But for a person to sound like that is just…wrong."

"What's wrong," said Pansy, "Is accusing someone of a horrid crime just because he was gifted with an ability at birth."

"An ability that notoriously crops up in evil Dark wizards," Parvati said. She held up her hands when several people glared at her, "Hey, I'm not saying that all Dark wizards are evil. I'm just saying that some are, and Dark wizards with Parseltongue don't exactly have a great tract record. I mean, Slytherin's great-grandfather was a Dark Lord, and then Slytherin himself walked out on the school. Then there was Morgul Farkson, the wizard who invented about half the Torture Curses known today. Not to mention Roger Sikes, who killed his whole family—"

"Sikes was Imperioed to do that," Millicent said sharply.

"Was his grandson, also a Parselmouth, Imperioed when he sacrificed an entire herd of thestrals in a Dark ritual to make himself immortal?" Dean Thomas asked.

Millicent scowled, "Allegedly sacrificed. No one who witnessed the ritual could actually see thestrals, so—"

"Children!" Lockhart called, "Watch this next part very closely, here's where I—"

"The point is," Pansy said, "Rigel is not any of those people. There have been plenty of wizards who had Parseltongue and lived perfectly normal lives. You just don't hear about them precisely because they live normal lives. Rigel is not an agent of pure evil just because he talks to snakes."

"Hang on, we never said he was," Ron said, scratching his nose nervously, "Listen, Rigel, I know you didn't petrify anyone. I'm not stupid, for Merlin's sake. It's mostly the older kids who think that, or the first years. Anyone who experienced the sleeping sickness knows you're all right. I just think the snake-talk is a little disturbing."

Rigel wasn't so sure of Ron's assessment. She'd seen quite a few people whose minds she'd traversed giving her edgy, wide-eyed looks in the hall. "The Hufflepuffs—" she began.

"Are fiercely loyal to themselves," Ron interrupted, waving a hand unconcernedly, "After their prefect was attacked, they had no choice but to turn on the only possible suspect like rabid badgers, even if that suspect isn't terribly probable once you stop and think about it. It's their herd mentality or something."

A couple of people snorted. Although it wasn't very politic to make fun of Hufflepuffs, somehow the jokes ended up being too easy to ignore most of the time.

"Getting back to the point," Blaise said dryly, "If the only problem is the Parseltongue, Rigel will just have to make you acclimated to it."

Rigel blinked, and several people's faces screwed up in confusion. It was an interesting idea…though completely foreign to everything Parselmouths had ever stood for. Typically a wizard was merely known to be a Parselmouth—very rarely did anyone witness them speaking to snakes after the first reveal. It just wasn't something a Parselmouth did in the open. This reluctance had something to do with the fear that if others heard the language enough they could imitate it, and gain the same sort of power through hard work that Parselmouths had from birth.

It was one thing to translate what a snake said—Parselmouths were known to do that from time to time for a fee. To speak the tongue of serpents for another's benefit, however, just wasn't done.

At least, Rigel shrugged, it hadn't been until now.

She conjured the image of a snake in her head and said, "Sssun berriesss are usssed in place of glow wormsss in cccertain fluoresssccent potionsss becaussse their tassste is more palatable to the tongue."

There was dead silence in the classroom for a moment, and then Lockhart exclaimed, "Now that's a Monster! Keep it up, Rigel, I think we're really getting a feel for the fight now."

Ron looked like he wanted to move to a farther table, and most of the Gryffindors had similar expressions of distaste on their faces.

"What did you say?" Draco asked interestedly.

Rigel repeated what she'd said, in English, though she used different wording in case anyone was actually going to attempt to learn Parseltongue from listening to her speak it. She didn't care if they did, of course, but other Parselmouths might, and who knew how many of them there were in the world? They were a secretive bunch (and she firmly denied seeing any irony in that), and the last thing she needed was mysterious, unknown enemies in the world.

Parvati blinked, her face relaxing, "That's what you said? It sounded like a prophesy of doom."

Millicent said, "Say something else."

So Rigel did. She hissed, spurred on by Lockhart's eager encouragement, for the rest of the lesson. Most of what she said was about potions ingredients. Harmless sentences that no one would want to learn to say anyway, though she was still careful not to translate exactly if anyone asked.

By the end of the lesson, even Ron had relaxed a bit, though every now and then he'd grimace when she said a word with a significant number of S's in it.

Rigel was feeling a lot better about the whole Parseltongue-revealing thing as she went to lunch, though the whole caught-at-the-scene-of-the-crime thing was still rather awkward. So at lunch she was only mildly alarmed when George walked too close behind her seat to be natural and said lowly, "Heads up."

Rigel had no idea what that meant, though she did look up just in case, so she went back to eating her lunch quietly and mentally braced herself for whatever the twins had planned.

Ten minutes later, it could not have been more clear.

From the big, black colored vases that sat at increments on the Hufflepuff House table, animals erupted. Yellow badgers, the size of teacups, spilled onto the Hufflepuff table and began thrashing in confusion. Food was flung everywhere as upwards of fifty tiny badgers scurried about, rolling into people's laps and lunches.

People screamed. Nearly every Hufflepuff leapt back from the table with surprise and dismay, abandoning lunch in favor of getting away from the unexpected guests. Before anyone could properly react, dozens of little blue birds shot out of the bronze vases at the Ravenclaw table. Students dived out of the way as the birds circled down and flew low over the table, chattering and swiping bits of food as they made mayhem of the meal.

The Slytherins, and indeed everyone else at that point, could see where this was going. In a manner that would have been slightly more dignified if it hadn't been so hurried, they stood and moved away from their benches not a moment too soon. Neon-green snakes, no longer than a forearm, oozed over the tops of the silver vases and onto the table. Draco snatched up his strawberry tart a second before a snake landed on his plate, and looked mournfully at the tarts on the serving plate, which were unceremoniously squashed as several more snakes spilled out onto them.

The Gryffindor girls squealed loudly and Rigel turned to look. Kittens. The Gryffindor table was drowning under a sea of kittens. The girls were squealing in delight, not fear, and several already clutched little scarlet-haired felines to their chests.

Rigel looked toward the twins, who were each holding a ginger kitten and grinning. Fred caught her eye, and said, in a very loud and squeaky voice, "Help! Save us, oh great and powerful overlord!"

Rigel frowned in confusion, but then George spoke up.

"Those snakes look hungry!" he shouted, eyeing the little green snakes still sliding over the Slytherin table with comical apprehension, "Don't let them get the kittens, Rigel! Tell them to stop!"

Ah. Rigel shook her head at the ridiculousness of the twins' plan.

Fred leapt forward and dragged Rigel over so that she was standing between the Gryffindor and Slytherin tables—between the snakes and the kittens. "You have to do something, quick!" he said, swooning, "You're the only one who can help!"

"They aren't real snakes," she said, "They aren't even speaking Parseltongue, just gibberish."

George shot her an admonishing look, "You really ought to try, Rigel," he spread his arms wide and spoke loudly, "Thank Merlin we've got a Parselmouth here! Rigel will save the kittens!"

To Rigel's disbelief, heads were starting to turn, and she realized suddenly that people were actually waiting for her to save the kittens.

Hogwarts is ridiculous, she thought, but here goes nothing.

"Don't eat the kittens!" she said in Parseltongue, wondering vaguely if any Parselmouth had ever uttered that combination of words before.

To her utter surprise, the green snakes all swung their heads to look at Rigel, then vanished. People stared. Rigel stared back. George and Fred threw arms around her and said, "Three cheers for the Heir of Slytherin! He's saved the kittens!"

Scattered applause broke out, but mostly people were too nonplussed to react.

Fred frowned at the other tables, eyeing the way the blue birds kept trying to land on people's heads and nest in their hair, much to the Ravens' dismay, "What we need now are the Heirs of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. Heir Ravenclaw, can you do something about this?" he called.

A tiny blonde girl who must have been a first year stood up on her chair at the Ravenclaw table and said clearly, "Caw. Caw."

The birds disappeared.

"Three cheers for the Heir of Ravenclaw!" George cried, pumping a fist into the air.

The applause was louder this time, and there was laughter mixed in. The blonde girl blinked solemnly at them all before curtsying and reclaiming her seat. Rigel couldn't help but clap along, wondering how they'd gotten the dreamy-eyed girl to play along—and how they'd gotten the animals to disappear so fortuitously, though since George had his left hand in his pocket Rigel could only assume he was vanishing them at the correct moment.

The professors were all still seated up at the head table, Rigel noticed with amusement, and seemed unusually content to let the joke play out before attempting to intervene. Perhaps Fred and George had tipped off the Headmaster again.

"Heir of Hufflepuff!" Fred cried. He waited a moment, but no one spoke, "No? What? Hufflepuff has forsaken her own House? Well, I suppose they do deserve it."

He and George turned their backs on the Hufflepuff table, amidst murmurs and whispers, and turned instead to the Gryffindors, "Well, Heir Gryffindor, shall we?"

Percy Weasley scowled at his brothers, "I'm not doing it."

George and Fred exchanged sad looks.

"I'm disappointed, Percy, really I am."

"Here we thought you were taking your duties seriously."

"And yet when mischief is afoot—"

"—and you alone hold the key—"

"—to making order out of chaos—"

"—you do naught to deter it!"

"Fine," Percy huffed. He cleared his throat and seemed to steel himself for something awful before saying, "Me-ow."

The kittens vanished as well, much to many of the Gryffindors' dismay.

"Percy Weasley, Cat Whisperer," Fred said, chuckling to himself.

"And Rigel Black, Defender of Kittens," drawled Draco as he and Pansy walked over to where Rigel stood with the twins, "Well done, Weasley's."

"It was rather amazing, wasn't it?" Fred grinned at George, who grinned back.

Pansy nodded her head, "I think people will be less afraid of Rigel now that they know he cares about kittens. Have the two of you considered a career in public relations?"

The twins both smirked evilly.

"How about it, Rigel?" George said, "Want us to be your publicists?"

"Well, I'm not sure how you could top 'defender of kittens' as far as epithets go," Rigel prevaricated.

"What's this? Rigel, you're hiring an agent?"

Rigel could actually feel the repressed groans going around as they turned to greet Professor Lockhart, who seemed to have been discontent to watch from the sidelines any longer.

"No, Professor," Rigel said, "It was only a joke."

"Ah, I see!" Lockhart clapped his hands together, "Like this little joke, hey? Oh, what a treat it is to see you young folk so lively. Of course, in my day pranks were quite a bit more involved than this one. Yes, I was quite devious in my youth, you know—but mums the word, mind you! Good call on the publicist, though, Rigel. Bit premature, that's all. Don't want people thinking all this Parseltongue stuff has gone to your head."

Lockhart left again, leaving them to exchange exasperated looks with one another.

"Anyway," Draco said awkwardly, glancing around. His gaze lit upon the Hufflepuff table, which was still crawling with miniature badgers, "Are you going to do something about that?"

George shrugged and Fred snickered.

"They were mean to our puppy," George said, "Surely they didn't think they could just get away with it."

Draco frowned slightly for some reason or another, but didn't say anything.

Most of the students had given up on lunch after it had been rolled around in by animals—magical constructs or not—and were milling about talking about the prank or else helping the Hufflepuffs try and round up the badgers. Almost no one, Rigel was happy to note, was staring at her with thinly veiled hostility.

"Thanks, you two," Rigel said, smiling genuinely at Fred and George.

"Aw, shucks," Fred said, thumbing his nose in a falsely embarrassed way.

"Anything for you, pup," George said fondly.

-o

[HpHpHp]

-o

That evening after Quidditch practice, Flint pulled Rigel aside with the pretense of going over a technical move he wanted her to practice in her free time. They sat on the lower stands while the rest of the team headed to the locker room to change.

"So," he said, leaning against the bench behind him and stretching out his legs, "I hear your schoolwork is slipping."

Rigel scowled defensively, "One essay. I forgot one essay. Other people forget things all the time and nobody remarks upon it."

"When the world thinks you're perfect, it waits for you to fail," Flint said, snorting, "A piece of advice for you—give yourself flaws intentionally so that the universe doesn't decide to fuck with you just because you're too good to be true."

Rigel raised an eyebrow, "Is that what you do? Pretend to be lazy and mean so that no one expects anything of you?"

Flint pinned her with a look, "You think I'm pretending?"

"…no," Rigel decided with a sigh.

Flint shook his head, laughing in that eerie way of his, "I never know if I should be insulted by you or not, Rigel."

"We're on first names now?" Rigel wrinkled her nose, not sure how she felt about that.

"It's not your name anyway," Flint said. At Rigel's glare he added, sardonically, "It's just your middle name, after all."

Rigel rolled her eyes, but let it go. There wasn't anyone around to hear them anyway. "So did you just keep me here to make fun of my memory?"

"What are you gonna do about it if I did?" Flint said, barking out another laugh, "No, I kept you to ask if you need a break."

"A what?" Rigel stared.

"A what, he says," Flint rolled his eyes, "Salazar you're a thick one. Do you need a break, Rigel? Less schoolwork, less Quidditch practice?"

Rigel blinked, "The guys ask you for fewer practices all the time."

"That's because they're lazy bastards," Flint said, "Not because they need a break."

"I don't need a break," Rigel said, a tad defensively, "It was one essay."

Flint held up his hands, "Just asking."

Rigel looked away, "Well don't worry about me. I've got everything under control."

"Whatever you say," Flint said shrugging, "No polish off my broom. Just don't let the next essay be one of mine."

Rigel nodded, "Speaking of, any of the teachers still suspicious of you?"

Flint snorted, "All of them. But what can they do? My assignments are turned in, in my own handwriting no less, my tests are perfect, my practical work impeccable. They know, I know they know, and they know I know they know, but there's nothing they can do without proof. And Rigel?"

"Yes, Flint?"

"Don't give them proof."

Rigel smiled a bit, "Who'd believe it anyway? Some things are too strange to be credible, no matter how true they are."

Flint smirked at her, "You'd know all about that."

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean."

-o

[HpHpHp]

-o

February was upon them without warning. The professors were relentless in pressing assignments into their hands, determined to get the students to buckle down and start reviewing for the final exams in late May. All of Rigel's classmates complained about how heavy the workload was, but Rigel knew with uncomfortable clarity that they had it easy compared to the NEWT students. She found herself going to Percy for Transfiguration help and Blaise for Runes assistance at least twice a week as the days bled on and Flint's assignments became progressively harder. Percy was more than happy to help, seeing it as an excellent opportunity to go over his own schoolwork with a ready listener, but Blaise, in the undecipherable way he often had, was beginning to look at her sidelong every time she made a rookie mistake on a complex rune diagram.

She was catching up quickly, but there were still things she missed, obvious things that, according to Blaise, she ought to have known considering the level of work she was attempting. He told her to take her studies slower, brush up on the basics. Rigel smiled politely, but otherwise ignored the advice.

On Valentine's Day, Blaise was explaining about how to balance powerful, contradictory runes in diagrams that weren't symmetrical over breakfast, while both of them tried to stoically ignore the disgruntled atmosphere around them.

Professor Lockhart had, in his infinite capacity for making awkward situations so much worse than they had to be, decided that he'd been so inspired by Fred and George's 'little joke' that he wanted to help spread the good cheer as well. Probably well-meaning, definitely misguided, Lockhart had decorated the Great Hall before anyone else awoke that morning.

There were tiny, heart-shaped confetti pieces raining from the enchanted ceiling like snow. Everything from the pancakes to the grapefruits was heart-shaped, in fact, and tiny, winged creatures that looked a bit like gnomes were dressed in white robes, carrying heart-shaped harps, and attempting to serenade anyone who made eye-contact with them in squeaky, wobbly voices.

None of that would have been all that dreadful, and certainly none of it would have caused most of the students to glare with ill-concealed enmity at the oblivious Lockhart, but their Defense professor made a crucial, ever-so-important mistake in his decorating scheme.

He had changed the colors on the House tables. There was no blue, no green, no yellow or red to be seen. Only pink. Lurid pink tablecloths, vases, banners, and napkins. All four House tables were indistinguishable from one another, and for students whose entire social existence was bound up in House pride, it was an insult of the highest caliber.

Draco was glowering at his heart-shaped omelet next to her, and even Pansy looked a bit put off and she covered her tea with a pink napkin to stop confetti from raining into it.

"How'd that blowhard even manage all this?" Draco asked, causing Blaise to pause in his explanation of nature-affinity runes to answer, as though Blaise were simply incapable of leaving a question unaddressed.

"Observe the dark rings under Professor Flitwick's eyes," Blaise said.

They turned to look up at the Head table, and Flitwick did indeed seem to be nodding off into a very large cup of coffee.

"Oh," Draco said, turning back to his breakfast, "Figures he'd get a professor with real talent to do the work for him."

Rigel turned back to the diagram she was working on. It wasn't exactly the same as the assignment she had to do for Flint. She had changed several of the runes to similar equivalents before asking Blaise for his help, just in case Blaise somehow knew what assignments the sixth year Rune students were working on currently—you never knew with Blaise.

"I don't understand why you have to use the Thunder rune instead of the Lightning rune," Rigel said, "They both have the nature affinity of storms."

"But Thunder is a warning rune, while Lightning is an action rune," Blaise explained patiently, "You want Thunder here because when the runes are activated it will make the spell audibly perceptible. If you put Lightning here, it would still give you the storm rune you need, and even speed up the process, but you'd have no warning when the spell succeeded."

Rigel tilted her head, "And since the wards the spell is supposed to erect are invisible, you won't know if it has worked without the Thunder rune. I see."

"Additionally," Blaise said, "The Thunder rune gives a warning sound to anyone approaching the wards after they're set. If we put Lightning, someone might run right into the wards and get cooked, but this way the Thunder rune warns them if they get close, so it's overall a better choice unless the wards you're building are stealth wards or unnecessarily antagonistic."

"What do you need to build wards for?" Draco asked.

Rigel turned to shrug at him, "I don't. I'm just trying to understand how to do it."

Draco shook his head, and went back to cutting up his potatoes so that they no longer resembled cupid's arrows.

Rigel caught sight of Snape approaching their table over Blaise's shoulder and quickly but calmly—not as though she had something to hide—rolled up the diagram and tucked it away into her bag, "Thanks, Blaise, I think I've got it now."

Blaise raised an eyebrow, and was about to say something when Snape reached their table and said, "Mr. Black, my office before your first class."

"Yes, Professor," Rigel said, pretending not to notice the way Blaise's eyes flicked from her to Snape and then to her school bag where she'd stored the diagram. The boy was really too observant for her peace of mind.

"More assignments?" Draco guessed once Snape had gone.

Rigel shrugged, "Perhaps." In truth she didn't know what Snape wanted. The Polyjuice was almost done, and besides that she didn't have any other assignments pending. She'd waited about a week before starting on the Polyjuice, in case it seemed suspicious that she jumped right into a tricky, time-sensitive potion without researching and preparing first, so the batch wasn't quite finished.

She finished up her heart-shaped biscuit and thanked Blaise again for his help before heading to Snape's office, curious about what he had in store for her.

-o

[HpHpHp]

-o

Severus Snape was not by any stretch of the imagination a patient man. Patience implied a certain passivity toward the world, a willingness to allow things to progress as they would, and a sickening sense of temporal security that spawned such ridiculous sentiments as 'good things come to those who wait.' Severus Snape knew better than most that things did not happen simply because one waited for them, and so it was a rare day that found him in a position of repose, doing nothing but waiting on another member of the imminently unreliable human race.

Yet it seemed that Rigel Black had some sort of innate ability to make the world unrecognizable to itself, and so it was with little surprise that Severus found his fingers drumming on the desk before him, empty of either quill or essay, idle as he waited for Rigel—and Merlin only knew when he'd begun to refer to the brat by his chosen name inside his own head—to appear in his doorway.

Severus had yet to fathom what, exactly, made Rigel different from his peers. He knew there was something off about the boy, but hadn't deduced its exact origins. It could be simply that Rigel defied Severus' every expectation of Sirius Black's son, but Severus had, infrequently, been mistaken in his anticipations before, and once his opinion of something was updated, his confusion usually dissipated without a struggle in the face of facts.

It was something to do with the fact that Rigel did not act like any other twelve-year-old boy Severus had ever known—and considering his regrettable position in a school of adolescents, he had known an unenviable amount. Rigel did not run in the halls. He did not space out in class, groan when homework was assigned, or sigh with boredom every ten minutes or so, as the other boys did. Severus' brain offered the counter-argument that his godson Draco did none of these things, either, and that Rigel's attention in Potions might only be a result of his appreciation for the subject.

Severus dismissed these objections. Draco had been raised from birth to have the mannerisms of a grown aristocrat, and Severus still caught him yawning sleepily over the breakfast table from time to time or lounging in his seat like a lazy cat. Draco, for all the pureblood socialization he'd gone through, was a normal child. He snuck extra dessert when Miss Parkinson wasn't looking. The last few inches of his homework were often sloppier than the rest, as he hurried to get it over with. He became angry at short notice, he lashed out at people who offended or hurt him, and he visibly preened under positive attention. Draco did all of those things, as normal twelve-year-old boys did, but Rigel…Rigel did not.

Rigel was too contained, Severus had realized over time. Rigel sat almost rigidly and stood with unnatural stillness. Severus knew this to be the case even outside of the Potions classroom, for others among the staff had commented on the boy's unusual attention to posture, and meal times were no different. Severus did not think, as the other professors did, that Rigel's blank expression, soft-spoken words, and properly deferential body language stemmed from the boy's politeness or respectfulness, however. Rigel simply never relaxed. He was motionless and expressionless, be it in the classroom or in the common room, and that was not normal.

Even when the boy did show some emotion, Rigel's every response seemed contrived, a tad too clear to be believable. If he wanted to show he was confused, he always frowned in the same way, tilting his head just enough to convey a question. If he wanted you to know he was not upset about something, he smiled ever-so-slightly and ever-so-politely. Only when it came to potions did Rigel seem to emote with genuine feeling, and that level of obsession in a child not yet thirteen was also worryingly unusual. Severus should know.

If he had been anyone else's son, Severus thought darkly, he would have put him on the list of potentially abused children almost immediately. Rigel was unnaturally repressed, excepting those rare moments when his emotions escaped him completely and violently, and that pattern of emotional suppression and expulsion, coupled with his defensive nature and incredible talent at twisting away from unwanted questions, usually added up to a very unsatisfactory home life.

Severus scowled at his fingers, still drumming away on the desk. It simply did not add up. Lucius had confided in him the boy's interaction with his father, and while it had apparently been suspicious in a number of ways, it was by no means unhappy. Severus himself had seen Rigel talk about his father, and while his emotions were many and conflicted, fear had not been among them.

The only explanation, after a poor home life was ruled out, was that Rigel Black was hiding something so immense that he could not afford to relax his guard for even a second. Severus had known people who lived their entire lives with a secret so large that the shadow of it consumed their every movement. That Rigel was so adept and consistent in his routine of mysterious diffidence suggested that he carried such a secret. That he was equally cagey around his friends and family, as Lucius had noted, suggested that he carried this secret alone. That he had continued to harbor such a secret for at least the time period Severus had been observing him without either breaking down or confiding in someone suggested that Rigel's will was greater than Severus had given him credit for. Yet another thing that set him apart from his peers.

Severus had no idea what Rigel was hiding, but he did know that he would figure it out before the boy graduated. Seven years was simply too long to keep a secret in a place like Hogwarts, where secrets had a way of uncovering themselves.

Three knocks sounded softly on his door, and Severus gestured to it with his wand hand. The door swung open and Rigel stepped through with his usual air of impeccable calm.

"Good morning, Professor," Rigel said, closing the door quietly behind him.

"Sit down, Mr. Black," Severus said, gesturing to the chair he had conjured earlier in expectation of Rigel's presence. "How is your Polyjuice progressing?"

"Well, Sir," Rigel said politely, blinking at Severus slowly as though he couldn't imagine why his professor would worry about such a thing.

Severus raised an eyebrow, but did not press further. Time would tell if Rigel's confidence in his Polyjuice was sound. Though, Severus thought wryly to himself, he would not be significantly surprised if Rigel managed a perfect specimen on his first attempt. In that, at least, Severus had no complaints about the boy; he was exceedingly gifted at potion-brewing, with an innate ability to hold complex, interweaving instructions in his mind without effort.

"Estimated completion time?" he asked.

"Two days," Rigel said, his tone utterly sure.

"Very well," Severus said, making a note of the date in his head, "Do you know why I've called you here today?"

"No, Sir," Rigel said.

Severus gazed assessingly at the boy, "Your detention, Mr. Black. Did you hope I had forgotten?"

Rigel's only response was to blink again, as he often did when he wanted to show he acknowledged something without revealing his reaction to it, "No, Professor. My punishment is, of course, at your leisure."

Severus nearly scowled at the stoic way in which Rigel said it. He had purposely waited several weeks before assigning the detention, intending for Rigel to have plenty of time to dwell on his indiscretion before paying the consequences for it. It was, of course, borderline unreasonable for Rigel to earn a detention over a missed essay, considering how many essays his peers missed on a weekly basis, but Severus needed Rigel to understand that he was to be held to a higher standard.

If Rigel was to become Severus' apprentice, he must be more than exceptional; he must be perfect. It was an unwritten rule that Potions Masters who taught at institutions did not take on apprentices from their own schools. It was both an effort to prevent Potions Masters from lazily picking from within the pool of potioneers closest to them, and also to ensure that apprentices received well-balanced and diverse educations in the field. To quell the jealous whispers of favoritism, Rigel must appear so undeniably capable that to not choose him would be seen as something unusual. He could afford no blemish on his record, however slight, and it was better that Rigel learn to mimic perfection now, rather than after the potion community's eyes were upon him.

Snape withdrew the slip he had already written up from his desk and handed it to Rigel, who took it without even glancing down to read it.

"You will serve your detention tomorrow night with the Groundskeeper, Hagrid. You will meet him at his residence, which is—"

"I know where it is, Sir," Rigel said.

Severus pressed his lips together. Rigel had an unfortunate habit of interrupting his superiors, but Severus had yet to correct him on it for two reasons. The first was that Rigel only interrupted when he believed the information being given him was either redundant or incorrect. Severus approved of saving time, and Rigel was almost always correct when he disagreed with someone.

The second reason was that Severus believed Rigel needed every encouragement to speak his mind. Too often the boy remained silent when Severus would rather hear what he had to say. If nothing else, allowing Rigel's tongue to go unchecked would perhaps reveal something new. Sooner or later he would let slip some piece of the recipe that Severus was missing.

"Then do not be late," Severus said.

Rigel nodded and murmured an assent. "Was there anything else, Sir?"

Severus considered the scrawny boy mutely for a moment. This was the part where some other, more compassionately inclined professor would open the floor to their student, to see whether there was anything troubling them. Salazar knew the boy had dealt with more than his share of surprises in the last month. Anyone else would be emotionally upheaved, to say the least.

"Interesting question, Mr. Black," Severus said after a considering pause, "Is there anything else?"

This, then, was the part where the student spilled his guts, stumbling over himself to relinquish his burden to a more experienced, trustworthy hand.

Rigel tilted his head, the perfect picture of innocent confusion, "Sir?"

Severus bit back a scowl, thanking Merlin that Minerva was not there to witness his ill-advised attempt at mentoring. "These few weeks have been…trying, I imagine. Is there nothing you wish to discuss? Nothing you experience a need to confide, Mr. Black?"

Rigel frowned, and Severus congratulated himself for coaxing even that small expression out of the boy. It was unfathomable how this could be the same child whose eyes lit up with embarrassing fervor at the sight of a mere stratification by-pass apparatus.

"Is there something you think I've done, Sir?" Rigel asked cautiously.

Severus mentally cursed, though he kept his facial features blank with the ease of old habit. Now the boy thought he was accusing him of something. He'd have to try a different tract. "No, Mr. Black. It merely occurred to me that perhaps your current workload has become burdensome in light of recent—"

"I don't need a break," Rigel said, his nose scrunching at the last word as though it were something distasteful. His frown was deeper now, less careful and more genuine. "Why does everyone keep saying that? I'm fine, Professor Snape. It was one essay. It won't happen again."

Severus was momentarily taken aback. Then his eyes narrowed, "Has Professor McGonagall been harboring insinuations once again?"

Rigel shook his head, "No, but Professor Flitwick did offer to give me an extension on the first quarter project." Rigel's tone of voice made it clear how ridiculous he thought such an offer. "Then Professor Sprout looked right at me when she randomly decided to cancel one of our essays last week, and even Flint tried to let up on Quidditch practice a couple of weeks ago."

Severus could feel his eyebrows creeping upward, "Marcus Flint offered to cut back the number of Quidditch practices…for the sake of his second-year beater?" Surely, the world had been hit with an overpowered Aresto Momentum at some point in the last five minutes.

Rigel went on as though he had said nothing out of the ordinary, rambling away vaguely as he was prone to when he decided to finally have something to say on a subject, "Do I look unusually pale or something? It's just that I can't fathom why people keep going out of their way to take my homework away from me." The boy looked at Severus with wide, pleading eyes. Despite knowing that this expression was entirely manufactured for his benefit, Severus couldn't help but allow his demeanor to soften imperceptibly. "Don't say I can't assist you anymore, Professor. I don't know what I'd do with any more free time."

Severus was tempted to roll his eyes at the boy, but refrained in deference to the dignity he was supposed to embody as a professor—not that the title had retained even the barest shred of dignity since Albus Dumbledore decided he would try his hand at the job.

"Your professors are concerned for your mental and emotional stability, Mr. Black, as anyone would be when it involves a student who was not only witness to multiple, psychologically disturbing crime scenes, but who also has recently had his magical heritage revealed to his classmates without permission or warning. Add to that the fact that said magical heritage includes an ability that marks the student in the eyes of his imbecilic peers as a prime suspect for the very crimes he is witness to, and some people, Mr. Black, would say that they had very good cause for concern."

Rigel was silent for a long moment. When he spoke, it was slowly and with clear traces of dawning understanding, "And I suppose if that student appeared to be perfectly fine despite all of that, it would only be cause for greater alarm to…some people. As though this student were…repressing or avoiding true coping mechanisms."

"Such a thing might be considered," Severus said dryly.

Rigel inclined his head, "I understand, Professor; I've been acting too unaffected by everything. I'll try not to seem so…normal."

Severus observed that Rigel Black had entirely missed the point, then wondered what it said about a person who thought acting normally should be just that—an act. All Severus could say was, "I don't think there will be any danger of that, Mr. Black. You may go."

Perhaps, the Potions Master reflected as Rigel slipped quietly out of his office, he ought to concentrate on Rigel's potion career and leave well enough alone with the rest of it. Really, by now he should know better than to ever try to figure out a Black—utterly mad, the lot of them.

-0

[HpHpHp]

-0

Rigel left Snape's office feeling rather bemused. The detention slip was one thing, but what had Snape been trying to accomplish with the rest of it? Had he guessed something? Seen or heard something about her that didn't match up? And that comment at the end there…what was he trying to say? She wasn't normal?

Rigel sighed. She was as normal as she knew how to be. She kept her head down, didn't draw attention to herself, never complained or gave anyone reason to complain about her. How much more blending in could she do?

-0

[HpHpHp]

-0

The next night Rigel bundled up in Archie's scarf before making the trek down to Hagrid's hut. It wasn't as cold as it usually was in February, but it was by no stretch of the imagination warm.

Hagrid was waiting outside for her when she arrived, also dressed for the cold. He handed her a pair of big rubber gloves to pull on over her regular winter gloves, which meant that her task was going to be either distasteful or hazardous.

"Come on, then," Hagrid said, his voice slightly muffled through his fur head wrap, "We're goin' 'round back."

He led her around his hut, past his garden, and to a small enclosure surrounded by a wire fence. Inside the fence there was a small shed made of white wood. The enclosure looked like an animal pen of some kind, but there were no animals roaming around in it. Probably all inside their shed, Rigel thought. She didn't blame them, considering the cold.

Hagrid gestured to the shed as he unlocked the fence gate, "That's where I keep the chickens."

Rigel looked at the ground, but there weren't any feathers lying around the coup. Probably the snow had covered them up, but it was strange that there were no tracks in the snow—it was from several days ago. Didn't the chickens ever go outside? Then again, what did Rigel know about chickens? Maybe they hibernated. She shrugged it off, wondering if she'd have to collect eggs for her detention or something.

Hagrid led her into the pen and didn't bother closing the gates behind them. Rigel raised her eyebrows; perhaps the chickens really didn't ever come outside. Still, with the forest so close you'd think Hagrid would worry about predators getting in to eat the birds.

Hagrid stopped outside the shed and turned to her, a serious expression on his face. "Yeh might want to cover yer nose with that scarf, Mr. Black. It's not pretty in there."

Rigel slipped her scarf up over her nose, already imagining the smell of chicken poop, but when Hagrid opened the door, it wasn't excrement she smelled. It was rot. There were no sounds coming from inside the coup, and it wasn't because the shed was charmed not to leak noise as she'd assumed.

Inside the coup, all the chickens lay dead in their nests.

Rigel nearly gagged at the onslaught of the stench. It smelled like death and decay, like that time she'd opened a packet of frog legs only to find they hadn't been preserved with stasis spells like they were supposed to be.

"What happened?" she choked out.

"Don't know," Hagrid grunted, his face dark as he surveyed all the dead chickens, "They started getting sick a few months back. Thought it were just a bug going 'round the pen, but it weren't. They got sicker and sicker, till they started dying a couple weeks ago."

"Do you think it's contagious to humans?" Rigel said apprehensively. Gloves or not, even she knew better than to play around with diseased animal corpses.

"Not so far as I can tell," Hagrid said, "Had Pomphrey check 'em out right quick for dangerous diseases before I asked fer a student with detention to help me get rid of 'em."

Only slightly relieved, Rigel took shallow breaths and said, "All right, what do we do first?"

Hagrid sighed, "Well, we just got to pile the poor buggers outside, and someone'll come 'round tomorrow morning to dispose of 'em."

Rigel nodded and gingerly picked up one dead chicken by the feet. It was smaller than what she thought chickens were supposed to be, as if it'd been off its feed for a while. She carried it outside, breathing deep in the fresh air while she could, and dropped it where Hagrid told her. Really, she told herself grimly, it wasn't that much more disturbing than dismembering fresh jelly slugs.

They worked in silence for a while, until Rigel came upon a rooster—the second rooster she'd picked up, to be exact.

"Hagrid," she said tentatively. She didn't think Hagrid seemed terribly broken up about the chickens, so perhaps he wasn't too attached to them, but she didn't want to be insensitive, either.

Hagrid lifted his head from where he was grabbing three chickens at once in his massive hand and said, "Yeah?"

Rigel gestured to the rooster in her hand, "I thought you could only have one rooster per coup."

Hagrid shook his head, his eyes lightening a bit as he explained, "Naw, that's muggle coups. These cocks are bred with magic. Yeh can keep about ten or so together before they start fightin' and carryin' on. I had six here." His face fell a bit. "They were the first to get sick enough for me to notice, the roosters. Stopped crowing, the little things did, almost immediately. I couldn't figure out why they were so quiet, but now I guess it was the first signs."

Rigel and Hagrid went back to work, and when they'd finished carrying all the dead chickens out, Hagrid stood by the pile of corpses for a moment, looking resigned. Rigel looked at the pile, too, then frowned, scanning it carefully.

"Mr. Hagrid," Rigel said, "How many roosters did you carry out?"

"Just one," Hagrid said absently.

"I carried out three," Rigel said, "But you said there were six. Did something get in and eat them?"

Hagrid frowned, shaking his head, "No, there's wards up around the coup to keep wild animals out. Dumbledore put 'em up when I decided to keep the creatures for the elves."

"The house elves?" Rigel said, surprised.

Hagrid chuckled, "What do you think you've been eating the last two years, lad?"

Rigel grimaced, looking at the rotting chickens. She might have to go back to being a real vegetarian instead of a fake one. Something alarming occurred to her, and she said, "We haven't been…eating the sick ones, have we?"

Hagrid chuckled a bit at the ill look on her face, "Course not. I keep a close watch on 'em. Soon as their eyes started dilatin' strangely I stopped sending 'em up to the castle. Course, it weren't till their feathers started falling out that I really checked 'em over. They were drinking so much water, but I didn't think nothing of it. Turns out their little throats were near dried up—no wonder the cocks wouldn't crow."

Rigel's brain was nagging at her. Something about dry throats and airways…unusually dilated pupils…she frowned, "Hagrid, did the chickens go blind in the end?"

Hagrid's eyebrows shot up, "Well, maybe…ya know, they were moving a bit odd at the end there. I thought they were just dizzy, gettin' clumsy with aches or sommit. But blind…well, that may be. What for?"

Rigel swallowed, "Sensitivity to light and in some cases mild to severe paralysis?"

Hagrid peered at her, "Now how do ya know about all that? You know what's done it, do you?"

Rigel looked up at the big man solemnly, "I think…it sounds like belladonna poisoning."

Hagrid frowned, "Belladonna? I know better than to give that ter the chickens. Only rabbits can stomach those berries, and I woulda seen em if they'd been growing in the coup."

"They don't grow around here," Rigel said, "But I had…they're used in potions, and I had some last semester in my potions kit. But they were—" she grimaced, "They disappeared and I thought I'd misplaced them. I didn't think it was a problem, since you'd need so much to really hurt anyone, but I never dreamed an animal would get hold of it…I'm sorry, Hagrid. I'm so sorry. What if it was my belladonna that killed them?"

Hagrid shook his big head, "Don't go thinkin' that, now. It weren't yer fault. If it were belladonna, they had to be eating it for a long time in small amounts, otherwise it'd kill 'em all at once. An' if I weren't giving it to them and it weren't growing nearby, then it's foul play, and nothing more to it. Probably some mean-spirited little kid's idea of a joke. You done a good thing, figuring it out, that's all. Come inside, Mr. Black, an' let's have a cuppa. No use standing out here in the cold."

Rigel followed him inside, where Fang leapt at her face cheerfully. Rigel wasn't much of an animal lover, but something about the dog's irrepressible good nature made the pile of rotting bird carcasses fade from her thoughts for the time being.

"So," Hagrid said, setting two enormous mugs of hot tea on the wooden table, "How's yer semester going? Learning anything interesting, or is it the same codswallop about goblin wars and turnin' teacups into buttons as it used to be?"

Rigel nodded, "We do learn a lot of unlikely things, but it's only to diversify the range of our magic. I think the theory is that if you can turn a rattlesnake into a water goblet, you can turn pretty much anything to anything else."

"Well, you'd know better than I," Hagrid said agreeably.

Rigel wondered if she should apologize, for she couldn't help but feel it would be awfully painful for anyone to talk about a school they'd been kicked out of unfairly. Then again, Hagrid had brought it up, and he did choose to stay on and work there, so maybe he didn't dwell on it much.

"Speakin' of rattlesnakes," Hagrid said, peering curiously at her, "I hear you've got a bit of natural skill with 'em."

Rigel kept her face carefully blank, "Yes. I am a Parselmouth."

"Ruddy useful that is," Hagrid said wistfully, "Would ya mind if I asked yer to translate fer me sometime?"

Rigel was inwardly surprised that so many people apparently wanted to talk to snakes. Maybe it was the novelty of the idea? "They aren't great conversationalists," Rigel offered apologetically, "Mostly they just tell you they're tired or hungry or cold. They like to complain, I think. There's one at my dad's house that will tell you it's bored four times in a minute just to hear itself hiss."

Hagrid laughed in a rumbling way, "I don't doubt it. I wouldn't want to really talk to them, though—animals communicate better without words, if you ask me. It'd just be nice to have one listen ter me for a change."

Rigel couldn't help but smile a little at that. "That's definitely the most useful part of it, though half the time I think they listen out of surprise rather than actually having to," Rigel agreed, "And otherwise it's been more hindrance than help so far."

Hagrid shook his bushy head slowly, "Silly, that's what they are. Talkin' to snakes don't make you evil—beatin' house elves and killin' centaurs fer sport, that's what makes you a real monster."

Rigel softened her face in thanks, "I wish more people saw things the way you do."

Hagrid sighed, "They'll come around, they will. I know what it's like to be accused o' sommit you didn't do. When those kids wake up, though, maybe they'll 'ave seen what did it."

Rigel nodded, then paused, "Didn't anyone see what petrified them fifty years ago? I mean, you said one of the girls was too distraught, but weren't there others…?"

Hagrid heaved a sigh, "Naw, that was Myrtle, poor dear. She couldn't remember nothing in her state. The others all saw jus' one thing, though. Big, yellow eyes. Well, that coulda been anything, so it didn't clear up matters much."

Rigel could hear her breathing pause, but she was too focused on her whirling thoughts to pay it much mind. Something with big, yellow eyes wasn't much to go on, but something with big, yellow eyes that spoke parseltongue…well, that was something else entirely.

"Just two eyes, Hagrid?" she asked, a bit breathlessly from forgetting to breathe.

"I…yeah, I think so," Hagrid said, looking concerned, "Now, yer not still investigatin' this thing, are yeh? Because it's bad business, lad, very bad business indeed. It's best you leave that to the professors."

Rigel wracked her brains, trying to think of a way to be sure, and then paused, something niggling at her and diverting her train of thought, "Hagrid, did you say Myrtle…you said she was the distraught one?"

"That's right," Hagrid said blankly, before his face lit up with understanding, "Oh! 'course you wouldn't know. Myrtle left a ghost behind."

Rigel's eyes widened, "Myrtle's ghost lives here at the castle? What does she look like?"

Hagrid looked uncomfortably amused for some reason, "Well, the thing is…see, Myrtle was always a delicate sort…anyway, you won't have seen her. She keeps ter the girl's bathroom on the second floor. They call her Moaning Myrtle, now, 'cause she just cries all day long."

Rigel was struck by how sad that was. She would have to visit this Myrtle, if only to see if she remembered anything else after having fifty years to calm down. First, however, she had to go to the Library. There was something she vaguely remembered from her research with Archie on the subject, but she wanted to be sure.

"Mr. Hagrid," she said, "Have you told Dumbledore about your chickens being poisoned?"

Hagrid lifted his brows, "Course not! Professor Dumbledore is a very busy man, young Mr. Black. 'e hasn't got time to listen to everybody's problems, ya know. Gets enough o' that from the Minster, I dare say."

"So only you and Madam Pomphrey know they've been poisoned?" Rigel clarified.

"Look, even if it were your belladonna, yer not gonna be in trouble, lad," Hagrid said kindly.

"Oh, I know, sir," Rigel said, "I've got an idea, that's all. Sorry about all the questions."

Hagrid shrugged uncomfortably, "Not a problem."

"Thank you for the hot chocolate, Mr. Hagrid," Rigel said, standing, "I've got to go check something, but I'm sorry about your chickens, and I'm really grateful you answered all my questions."

"Anytime, lad, anytime," Hagrid said, standing as well. He let her out, but called her back before closing the door, saying, "Oh! I almost forgot. Last time you were asking about the creatures in the forest, right? Well, I still think ya should give up on this business, but I suppose it won't hurt nothin' to tell ya. My oldest friend in this forest, spider by the name of Aragog, moved his family's hollow a few weeks back. It's much deeper into the forest than it used to be, now, if that helps any."

"That's the giant spider Riddle found you with?" Rigel asked, nearly vibrating to get to the Library now. She knew there was something about spiders in that book, but she'd only read the passage once, not twice like she did when she was memorizing something for school.

"That's him," Hagrid said fondly, "Great species, giant spiders. You wouldn't expect it, but they're very family-oriented."

"Thank you for telling me, Hagrid," Rigel said, dropping the 'Mr.' in her distraction, "See you later."

"Bye, lad," Hagrid waved at her from his door as she jogged up the hill to the castle. She practically ran through the halls, and was only glad it was too late in the evening for her to meet anyone. It was a bit beyond curfew at that point, so Rigel began thinking out what she would say if she ran into a prefect patrol, but amazingly she didn't see anyone on her way to the Library.

The lights in the Library were off, but the doors opened with a simple Alohamora request to her wand, and Rigel slipped over to the magical creatures section quickly. She knew the author's name started with an 'R,' so it didn't take her long to find the book she was looking for. It was lucky the Hogwarts Library had a copy, but she was beginning to think it had a copy of everything.

With the passage on Basilisks open before her, Rigel began to read as quickly as she dared.

Fully grown it stretches upwards of fifty feet…

That would put its eyes at least the size of grapefruit, Rigel estimated.

Spiders flee before it…it heeds its Master's call…

Rigel scanned down a bit, and there it was, the last key.

A single rooster's cry is fatal to its ears.

Rigel sucked in a breath slowly. A basilisk. A giant, kill-with-a-look basilisk was roaming about the school. Rigel didn't know how it was getting in and out of the walls, but it was somewhere within them now, waiting until it was called again. She closed the book grimly and shelved it.

She knew what she had to do.

Five minutes later she was panting slightly, but she'd made it down to Snape's office as quickly as she could. She knocked on the door, harder than usual, and a sharp voice barked at her from within.

"Office hours are over," Snape called waspishly through the wood, "Go away whoever you are before I take points for being out of bounds after curfew. I have neither the time nor the patience to—"

"It's me, Professor!" Rigel called through the door impatiently. She would have walked right in considering the situation, but she didn't fancy getting shocked by the doorknob again for entering without permission.

A pause. "Mr. Black. Of course." The door swung open and Snape's narrow-eyed glare met her from behind his desk, "You were to go straight to your common room after detention."

"Professor," Rigel said, interjecting her voice with earnest urgency, "It's a basilisk."

Snape froze for only a moment before snapping out, "Explain."

"The thing petrifying kids. It's a basilisk," Rigel said.

Snape pursed his lips, "That is indeed one of the possibilities being considered—"

"It's definitely a basilisk," Rigel said firmly, "I've just been at Hagrid's—"

"You'd better have been," Snape muttered sourly.

"—and his friend, the giant spider, has migrated away from the castle—"

"What nonsense is this?" Snape barked, "Giant spiders? What on Merlin's green earth—"

"—and—would you listen?" Rigel said, "All of Hagrid's roosters have been killed. All of them. They've been poisoned by belladonna—my belladonna—and—and—so it's a basilisk!"

Rigel was panting slightly once she'd gotten it all out, and Snape just stared at her for a moment before sinking back into his chair.

"Basilisk," Snape said, clenching his jaw around the word, "A basilisk. Salazar, but who would—ah. Slytherin's monster indeed. All this time, a basilisk in the school. Just waiting for a Parselmouth to command its allegiance."

"I haven't—" Rigel began, but Snape interrupted her.

"Not you," he snapped, "Mr. Black, I am escorting you to the common room this instant, after which I will be going to Dumbledore's office to relate this news. You will find out with the rest of the student body when measures are taken. Until then, keep your mouth shut and your head down."

"Yes, sir," Rigel said, feeling much relieved now that the information was in the hands of a fully-grown wizard.

"Informing me was well done, Black," Snape added as they exited the office.

Rigel stared at Snape's black robes as they swept away from her. Honestly, what else was she supposed to have done? Keep it to herself?

-0

[HpHpHp]

-0

Draco stared at the letter in his hand with a detached sort of curiosity. Though the letters were in perfectly stylized English, the words were something strange, their meaning completely foreign to him.

I am disappointed, my son.

Those words could not be for him. Draco took a calming breath. His father must have accidentally sent him the letter intended for his…other son. Draco grimaced. How in Salazar's great name had it come to this? His father was disappointed in him. Like—like he'd done something wrong.

I thought you understood the stakes when I charged you with looking after our family's interests, and yet so crucial a detail has escaped your detection…

Draco scowled down at the thick, ecru parchment, tracing the engraved 'M' in the corner absently with his thumb. It wasn't as though he could write back and say, 'Actually, Father, I've known my friend was a Parselmouth for some weeks, and merely decided not to inform you of this crucial development.' Draco could hear the 'family first' lecture already. No, thanks.

Perhaps I expected too much of you.

Draco could only think rather sullenly that perhaps his father was right in that, at least. It seemed that it was too much to expect Draco to betray his friend's confidence lightly. In his defense, Rigel being able to talk to snakes wasn't directly related to the Malfoy family fortunes, so Draco hadn't actually chosen his friends over his family. He'd just chosen his friends and his family. Yes, Draco thought, rolling up the letter and re-sealing it with a quick spell, there was no reason why he couldn't have both. His father just hated to kept at the same level of ignorance as the masses, that was all. He'd get over his pique, in time.

Pansy, who was quietly reading her Charms book on the sofa next to him, turned her head slightly to catch his eye and said, "Anything for me?"

This may seem like an odd question, but Draco's mother often included little notes, correspondence cards, she called them, to Pansy in Draco's letters. Sometimes he felt Pansy knew his mother better than he did, though he certainly didn't begrudge her the knowledge.

"Sorry, Pans," Draco said, shaking his head.

"Just your father, then," Pansy said, sighing with sympathy, "Is it about Rigel's gift?"

"Figures he'd have found out so soon," Draco said. Even he didn't know how many people his father employed to spy for him. Then again, perhaps Uncle Severus had told him.

"Is Mr. Malfoy upset?" Pansy asked, tilting her head consideringly at him, as though wondering how much sympathy she could offer before it became too uncomfortable for him.

"Father doesn't get upset," Draco said, smiling wryly, "He merely grows disappointed in the world."

Pansy set her book aside and took Draco's hand consolingly. Even though Pansy was a girl and holding hands was a perfectly ridiculous way to pass the time, Draco absorbed his friend's steadfast presence gratefully, though of course that gratitude would only be sappy and cheap if he ever expressed it.

"Do you think Rigel is finished with his detention yet?" Pansy asked, yawning delicately behind her hand, "It's quite late."

Draco pulled out his pocket watch, "Should have been done half an hour ago. Something probably came up."

"Something always comes up with Rigel," Pansy said dryly, "Our friend is a trouble magnet."

"Befriending him was your idea," Draco said, leaning back into the couch with a sigh.

Pansy only laughed, "Keep telling yourself that, Drake."

Draco went to respond, but at that moment the common room entrance slid open. Normally that wouldn't merit so much as a pause in conversation, but he and Pansy were the only two left in the common area, save for a group of third years at a table in the corner, so the stone sliding against stone was quite noticeable in the quiet.

Rigel walked into the common room, his face drawn and pale, and Draco caught a glimpse of his godfather in the corridor outside before the wall slid shut once more.

Pansy waved a hand to get Rigel's attention, and the slighter boy changed direction to weave his way over to their couch with tired, heavy steps.

Rigel sank down onto the couch between them, rubbed his eyes, and said, "You two weren't waiting on me, were you?"

Draco and Pansy exchanged an amused look over Rigel's head. What else did the idiot think they were doing, sitting around this late at night?

"No, Rigel," Pansy said, fighting a smile, "We were just chatting."

"Oh," Rigel said, nodding, "Good."

"What did you have to do?" Draco asked curiously. His friend looked unusually run-down, and his robes stank of something foul.

Rigel blinked at him, then seemed to come to a realization, "Oh, the detention." Draco felt like shaking his friend and demanding to know what he had been doing that night that relegated the detention he'd just come from to some distant corner of his mind. "Right. I helped Mr. Hagrid clean out his chicken coup."

Pansy wrinkled the tip of her nose, "Sounds exceedingly pleasant. I'm surprised you aren't covered in feathers."

Rigel winced, "There weren't—I mean," he looked at Pansy askance, clearly deciding whether or not to shield her from something. At Pansy's raised eyebrow, Rigel cleared his throat uncomfortably, "Hagrid's chickens have been poisoned. They all…passed away. I was helping him move the...remains."

Draco frowned, and Pansy's face positively crumpled.

"Who would do such a thing?" Pansy said, eyes clouded with confusion.

Rigel's face was all at once blank—suspiciously blank, as Draco liked to call it—and Draco got the uncomfortably feeling that Rigel was holding something else back. Not his usual secrets, though. Draco knew there were things Rigel didn't tell them simply because he was Rigel. This was something else. This was a secret that even Rigel didn't want to be keeping.

"What's happened, Rigel?" Draco asked, voice calm, "What do you know?"

Rigel's face was still blank, but his eyes shone with frustration, "I can't tell you. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry," Draco said, "Just tell us."

Rigel softened his face enough to grimace sarcastically at Draco, "This time I want to, Draco, but Professor Snape asked me not to."

"Did he ask you to keep something quiet, or did he ask you not to tell us?" Draco asked innocently.

"Because we are the most dependable people you know," Pansy added cajolingly, "If anyone can help you keep it quiet, we can."

Rigel smiled, a tiny, fleeting motion of the lips, "You'll find out soon, I expect. Professor Snape implied that there would be an announcement of some kind once they'd decided what to do."

Draco's brow creased. "An announcement about the gamekeeper's chickens? Why would…wait." Draco's mind whirled at the implications, "This has something to do with the petrifactions, doesn't it?" It had to. What else would affect the whole school and make Rigel look so worried?

Rigel's face was smooth as stone, so Draco knew he had guessed correctly.

Pansy shook her head, "But what has murdering chickens got to do with…oh." Pansy's face went white and her hand trembled ever so slightly, "Not chickens. Roosters, wasn't it? A basilisk."

"What?" Draco could feel his own face draining of color.

Rigel bit his lip, "How did you know that?" he asked softly, and Draco wished he would take it back, tell Pansy she was wrong, that the whole thing was a joke somehow. There just couldn't be a basilisk in Hogwarts. There was simply no way.

Pansy put a hand to her head as her features settled into a solemn mask, "Edmund gave me a book on rare magical creatures for my birthday," she said, "Basilisk was toward the end. It can petrify things with its gaze, and its fatal weakness is the crow of a rooster. They're supposed to be extinct, though."

Draco was still wrapping his mind around the idea of a giant snake running around the—wait. "Rigel," Draco said slowly, "A basilisk is a snake."

"Yes," Rigel said evenly, "It is."

"Rigel," Draco's voice was not getting higher, he assured himself, "A basilisk is a giant snake. It must speak Parseltongue. Can you—have you—that's why you're always missing when an attack happens!"

Rigel's face grayed further and his eyes widened, gazing with hurt disbelief at Draco's angry expression, "No! Dray, I would never—Pan, you know I would never do something like that. I promise. I swear, I didn't—"

Draco growled in exasperation, "Stop being a prat." Rigel froze, blinking at Draco with a wary plea in his eyes. Draco rolled his own eyes, "I don't think you did it, I think you went chasing after it like some kind of idiotic Gryffindor with a hero complex."

Rigel opened his mouth, paused, closed it again slowly, and looked away from Draco's face in a sure sign of guilt and sheepishness.

Pansy shook her head sadly, "Rigel, please tell me you didn't. Don't you know how dangerous that is? You could have been really hurt. What were you thinking, running off after a basilisk?"

Rigel's eyes tightened defensively, "It wasn't like that."

"How was it like, Rigel?" Draco asked evenly.

Rigel took a steadying breath, then began to speak, "The first couple of times I heard the voice, I thought it was just some snake wandering around, lost or something. I didn't know it was connected to the petrifactions until later, but once I knew of course I didn't go chasing after it. Most of the time it was sheer coincidence that I was out of the common room when an attack happened—you know what my schedule is like. I'm nearly always out of the common room."

"When you realized the voice was connected to the attacks, did you…?" Pansy trailed off, clearly trying not to ask a leading and potentially judgmental question, but Rigel nodded easily.

"I told the Headmaster." Rigel rubbed his eyes tiredly again, "When I realized it was a basilisk tonight, I did the same. The Headmaster should inform everyone tomorrow, just don't say anything until then, all right?"

Draco and Pansy both shot Rigel offended looks. Just what kind of duffers did he take them for? Honestly.

"Is there anything else you want to tell us?" Draco asked, secretly hoping that was the end of it, "Before the whole school finds out, I mean."

Rigel sighed, "It was my belladonna that poisoned the roosters."

Draco paused while his mind attempted to reconcile that statement with his current understanding of reality.

"Oh!" Pansy said, apparently catching on quicker than Draco, "Yours went missing! He told us back on Halloween, remember, Drake? Rigel was late because he couldn't find the belladonna he needed for the potion he was brewing."

Rigel nodded, and Draco did remember something about that, now that Pansy brought it up. The girl's social recall was simply astounding at times.

"So it was stolen?" Draco guessed, thinking aloud, "But a basilisk isn't that smart. I mean, it's sentient to an extent, but it isn't clever enough to steal a potion ingredient to poison its enemy. That means someone else is doing the thinking, which means someone's controlling it. But how? It would take hundreds of years to hatch and raise a basilisk to the size that it could properly petrify someone."

"Parseltongue," Rigel said quietly, "If it has a Master, then the Master has to be someone who can speak Parseltongue to command it. That's the language's original purpose, after all. Control. They wouldn't have had to train the basilisk, just find it."

Draco shook his head—not in disbelief of Rigel's words, but in the improbability of the entire situation. "How can there be another unknown Parselmouth at Hogwarts?" he asked, "It's just plain unlikely."

On the bright side, wouldn't his father be interested to hear that?

"Well, he's kept himself well-hidden, whoever he is," Pansy said.

"She," Rigel said.

Draco raised an eyebrow, "Come again?"

Rigel hesitated, but then said firmly, "I think the other speaker is a girl. I didn't tell you guys because I didn't want to worry you—"

Draco mentally groaned—if only his friend knew how worrying those words were to hear.

"—but before winter break my lab was broken into," Rigel said, "The thief got the jump on me in the dark, but they had long hair, and there was something feminine about their voice."

"And you think that was the same person who controls the basilisk?" Pansy said.

Rigel nodded seriously, "They kept trying to get my potions kit from me. I think now they'd run out of the belladonna they'd already stolen from me, and needed more. Snape's stores are heavily warded once classes are out, and after my ingredients went missing once, I started keeping better track of them, not leaving any in the lab cupboards like I used to."

Draco noticed that Rigel flicked his eyes to the side in a mildly guilty sort of way as he said that, and wondered if it wasn't one of Snape's many rules not to leave ingredients lying about. It made sense, but Draco thought Rigel had a rather strange interpretation of rules in general. Half the time he followed them as though he couldn't imagine why anyone would want to do differently, and the other half he seemed to ignore the rules completely, as though he couldn't fathom why anyone would do something just because someone told them to.

It was a strange sort of person who could go wandering around after curfew without a care in the world and then insist that you had to check your cauldron for cracks before brewing in it even though you just checked it yesterday, because that's what you're supposed to do.

"So they got the rest of the belladonna from you as well?" Pansy clarified.

Rigel shook his head, "The kit's warded. They ran off before I could get a good look at them, but they definitely didn't get the rest of the belladonna from me."

Draco shrugged dismissively, "They probably just waited until winter break to go to an apothecary." He turned the mystery over in his head for a moment, thinking aloud even though his father always told him it was a weak mind that couldn't contain its own train of thoughts, "You think it was a girl? That narrows the suspects by half at least." In fact it was a bit more than half, since boys were more common in pureblooded families for one reason or another. "Young or old?"

Rigel hesitated, "I'm not sure."

Draco supposed Rigel's dad probably hadn't trained him to quantify his senses in a coherent way. When Draco was small, his father used to point out people on the street and ask him to guess how old they were, how much they weighed, and how tall they were. His father painstakingly corrected him until he could gauge those things with little more than a glance. Later he had learned to classify people by the sound of their voice or footsteps as well.

"Her voice was odd," Rigel said, frowning, "It was familiar, but strange. Deep, but not naturally so. The way she phrased things was…not exactly antiquated, but definitely mature. Too commanding to be a child, really."

Draco glanced at Pansy, but though the girl knew almost everyone in the school, her face showed no signs of recognition either.

Seeing that they were getting nowhere, Draco sighed and stood, "We should get some sleep. There'll be time enough to talk it over tomorrow, and with any luck the professors will have caught the culprit before we can worry about it much."

Pansy left for her own room and Draco snuck with Rigel into their quiet dorm. Blaise and Theo were asleep, or at least Theo was quietly snoring at Blaise was perhaps faking sleep very convincingly—you never knew with Blaise. Draco peeled off his uniform, moving slowly in the dark to find his pajamas and get his arms through the correct holes.

Rigel politely turned away while Draco changed, and Draco only shook his head at how weirdly modest Rigel was. The whole sleeping in his clothes thing was a bit odd, but Draco had seen odder things in the name of paranoia, so that he could overlook. What was really strange, though, was that Rigel never changed in front of anyone, and never so much as glanced at other people while they changed, unless it was on accident.

Whether it was in the Quidditch locker rooms or in the relative privacy of their dorms, Rigel changed in a closed stall or in the bathroom. As Draco watched Rigel slip off his shoes and curl up on top of his covers, all the while keeping his back to Draco, he quickly suppressed the urge to snort. It was just so funny how shy his friend was. Give the boy a half-eviscerated hinkypunk heart and he'd lean in closer and start pointing out which valves could go in a potion, but when met with any form of semi-nudity Rigel clammed up and averted his eyes.

Theo had finally noticed this a couple of months ago—to be fair, Rigel played it off casually and even Draco hadn't noticed until this year—and their roommate now took great delight in walking around the room shirtless (as long as the girls weren't present) just to see how long Rigel could avoid looking at him. Draco had to admit, the half-exasperated, half-uncomfortable expression on Rigel's face when he finally looked over and scowled at Theo was pretty entertaining. Even Blaise seemed amused at how easy it was to fluster the infamously cool and collected Rigel Black.

Draco's eyes were heavy, so he fell asleep quickly that night, untroubled by thought of basilisks roaming the hallways. After all, what was there to worry about? Once you knew what the threat was, it was only a matter of taking the proper precautions. Not knowing was much worse. Even better, the professors knew about the threat too. They would take care of everything, and Draco just had to stay with his year mates, keep his head down, and not follow the sound of any disembodied, Parseltongue-speaking voices into unlit corridors. Really, how hard could that be?

-0

[HpHpHp]

-0

The next morning Rigel sat calmly in the Great Hall while all around her there was the sound of cheerful, child-like naiveté being trampled on by a heard of metaphorical hippogriffs. It gasped, it choked, and the oblivious innocence under which a few of the students at Hogwarts had apparently been operating breathed its last.

Admittedly, Dumbledore might have chosen a more tactful way of informing the student body about the impending threat roaming the castle hallways, but at least he was clear about it.

"Dear students, you will be glad to know that what has been petrifying students these past few months was nothing more than a giant basilisk."

If pandemonium could exist in silence, that's what was born in the Great Hall at Dumbledore's words. Just open-mouthed shock all around, and the sound of several people hyperventilating. Rigel could see on people's faces that most of them were inwardly panicking, but at that point there were no words to work with other than—what? and—wait, what?

"Yes, good students, you will be pleased to know this, because there is a rather astonishingly simple way to defeat a basilisk," Dumbledore said, "And so I am here to inform you that classes will be cancelled for the rest of the day."

"You defeat a basilisk by canceling classes?" one brave soul piped up incredulously.

"Thankfully for education's sake, that is not the case, Mr. Jocault," Dumbledore said, chuckling, "No, we are canceling classes so that you students will be better enabled to spend the entirety of the day inside your common rooms while your professors and I deal with this little pest of ours."

" 'Little pest?' " Draco looked as though Dumbledore's speech was physically paining him, "Being blasé in the face of danger should be illegal when you're supposed to be comforting your students with a sense of power and capability."

Blaise snorted and Theo just groaned, "All day in the common room? With everyone else packed in there too? So boring."

Rigel was glad to see that her friends had their priorities sorted out.

"What if we want to help defeat the basilisk?" Fred Weasley piped up.

"Leave it to a Gryffindor," Millicent rolled her eyes.

"Admirable of you, Mr. Weasley, but I dare say we have it rather in hand," Dumbledore said, "So, tuck in and enjoy your breakfast, students. Your Head of House and prefects will escort everyone back to the dorm rooms directly afterwards. If you know of someone in your house who is not present at the table this morning, please inform your nearest prefect immediately. Thank you."

The Headmaster sat back down, and low-pitched conversation broke out across the Hall.

"Is he joking?" was the first question it seemed nearly everyone had to ask.

"Even Dumbledore wouldn't joke about this," Blaise said quietly. His gaze flicked over Draco, Pansy, and Rigel, and he raised an eyebrow, "Why aren't you three more surprised?"

"We're practicing our un-surprised expressions," Pansy said, blank-faced, "It's so gratifying to know that we've improved enough to fool even your sharp eyes, Blaise."

Blaise blinked slow-lidded at them, "You knew. How?"

"Woah, you guys knew about the basilisk already?" Millicent said, leaning close across the table so her voice wouldn't carry.

"Of course we didn't," Draco said sharply, his eyes flashing with impatience, "How could we? And if we did, we certainly wouldn't have kept it to ourselves."

"Alright, we'll drop it," Millicent shrugged, going back to her breakfast with an air of unconcern. Then she looked up and pinned Draco with a sardonic look, "But you three are not as clever as you think."

Draco looked about to argue, then glanced at Rigel and for some reason thought better of it.

After breakfast, Rigel got up to follow the rest of her house, but a hand on her shoulder held her back. She turned to see Professor Snape looking tense and serious behind her.

"Stay a moment, Mr. Black," Snape's voice was even, but his jaw was clenched as he spoke, "The Headmaster requests your assistance."

Rigel hung back as her year-mates went on ahead. Draco and Pansy sent her concerned looks, but left her there without protest.

"Mr. Black, this way, this way," Dumbledore said genially.

He reached into one of his many robe pockets and pulled out a midnight blue stone shaped like an orb.

"Now this," the Headmaster said, "Is a curious little thing. I was inspired by a muggle contraption I once saw. You see, the spells engraved in the runes act like sticky little webs, and their prey of choice is sound waves!"

At Rigel's confused look, Dumbledore twirled a finger around his beard thoughtfully.

"Well, you see it's a bit like a…no, no, it's more like…hmm, why don't I just show you?" Dumbledore cleared his throat, tapped the orb twice, and waited a moment while it began to glow with a soft, bluish-white light. Then he said, "Happy Birthday."

The orb turned red. Dumbledore tapped it again and his voice echoed loudly throughout the room.

"Happy Birthday."

"Happy Birthday."

"Happy—"

"Yes, I think I understand," Rigel said quickly. Dumbledore turned the globe off and looked at her expectantly. "What, ah, did you want me to do?"

Dumbledore smiled, "Well we can't just wait around for the basilisk to show up, you know. I happen to be quite busy most days, despite rumors to the contrary."

"Oh," Rigel understood now, "You want me to talk into that orb in Parseltongue, right? So that you can call the monster here."

"Yes, that's it precisely, Mr. Black," Dumbledore beamed down at her, "Hagrid is on his way back from the nearest market as we speak, hopefully with a good stock of roosters. Once you have safely vacated the premises we will use the recording of your call to lure the snake here and defeat it."

Rigel was not entirely sure this plan was going to work.

"Will it respond to my call if I'm not its real Master?" Rigel asked.

"It won't obey your call, no," Dumbledore said, gazing up at the ceiling thoughtfully, "But one of the many curses of sentient life is that persistent little feeling called curiosity, Mr. Black. I believe that the snake will be intrigued, if nothing else, by the sound of a new voice calling to it. And if that fails we are prepared with more…shall we say, base temptations?"

Rigel was going to ask what he meant, but at that moment about twenty house elves came scurrying in the Great Hall doors carrying an enormous platter of raw, bloody meat. Rigel's nose scrunched up involuntarily as the sickly sweet odor of fresh flesh invaded her senses. The elves seemed entirely unbothered by it, though come to think of it Rigel didn't actually know what house elves ate.

They set the platter of blood-soaked meat in the center of the hall, and Professor Flitwick hurried over to cast a charm of some kind over it.

"Aroma Amplification," Dumbledore said, nodding to the diminutive professor, "Very useful spell."

Sure enough, a moment later the smell was so overpowering Rigel had to cover her nose with her sleeve to keep from gagging indelicately.

"Oh, forgive me," Dumbledore said. He took out his wand and pointed it at her face. Rigel told herself that having one of the most powerful wizards of the age train his wand at her face did not make her break out in a cold sweat, but the moisture between her shoulder blades rather begged to differ. Dumbledore did no more than cast an air-bubble around her nose and mouth, however; the Bubble-Head Spell, she thought it was called. Able to breath easier, Rigel nodded her thanks.

"Do get on with this ridiculous farce sometime in the next millennia," Snape said. He was standing with his arms crossed, surveying the scene with cynical dismissal.

"Don't be such a Negative Nancy, Severus," Dumbledore said serenely. He tapped the orb twice, so that it glowed blue-white once more, and said, "Whenever you're ready, then, Mr. Black."

Rigel envisioned a snake in her head and said, "Come to me. Come, mighty basssilisssk, for I desssire to sssee the truth of your might and beauty. Come and meet with me, great basssilisssk. Come, come and ssspeak to me."

And so it went. She talked for a good few minutes into the orb, just general entreaties to come forth with a few bits of flattery thrown in, in case the basilisk was a vain creature.

Dumbledore eventually let her stop, and the orb turned red. "Thank you for your assistance, Mr. Black. Severus will escort you to your common room now."

Rigel left with Snape, who scowled at the air as he swiftly led her down to the Slytherin common room.

"You don't think the snake will come," Rigel observed.

"Neither does the Headmaster," Snape said, snorting, "But that is not your concern."

Rigel let the silence stretch after that, and soon she was sliding into the common room, feeling, as many pairs of eyes swung her way, that she was beginning to get deja-vu after encountering the same scene so many times in close succession.

Rigel moved to where she spotted her two best friends, their matching blonde hair readily discernable among the crowd, and was surprised to see several upperclassmen seated among them.

"Don't look so surprised," Aldon Rosier said, sliding sideways on a couch to make room for Rigel to sit, "You're the one with the information, and anyone with eyes can guess where you'll end up spilling it all. So spill."

Rigel sat down next to Rosier a bit bemusedly, still unsure where they stood after the New Year's Gala. Were they friends? Close acquaintances? "What do you want to know?" she asked, addressing the question to the group at large, all of whom seemed content to gaze at her expectantly after Rosier had announced their intentions so bluntly.

"Everything," Millicent said, her tone of voice indicating that this was obvious, "What's happening up there?"

"The house elves brought up a giant platter of bloody meat," Rigel said, no longer really surprised at the absurd things that came out of her mouth at Hogwarts, "Professor Flitwick charmed the meat to smell extra strongly, to lure the basilisk out."

"I'd say you were making that up, but it does explain the Bubble-Head Charm," Draco said wryly.

Rigel looked down and noticed that she did, indeed, still have a bubble of air around her nose and mouth. She reached for her magical core and asked it to cancel the charm. Her magic extended one lazy coil toward her mouth and began unraveling the spell, breaking it down and reconfiguring it until the energy could be absorbed by her core.

"I figured they were gassing the place," Theo shrugged, "Like what Grindelwald used to do when he laid siege to a place, you know?"

"They aren't that I know of," Rigel said, "Mr. Hagrid is importing roosters, so once they get the basilisk in the main hall I suppose they'll just…make them crow."

"That seems…kind of lame," Theo said. He lifted his hands in defense as several people looked at him with exasperation, "I'm just saying, a basilisk should go out in more style than that. I mean, the rooster doesn't even have to fight it or anything, it just…crows."

"It might be difficult to get it to crow," Pansy said consolingly.

"Not with a half-decent Sunrise Charm," Draco pointed out.

"Who cares how it's done? As long as whatever's attacking students is dealt with, I'll sleep better," Adrian Pucey said, shivering a bit, "A basilisk. Blimey, what are the odds?"

"At Hogwarts? Pretty good," Alesana Selwyn snorted from her seat beside Rookwood.

"Are they doing anything else?" Rosier asked, not speaking very loud since he was sitting right next to her, "What if its sense of smell is dulled, or it's a vegetarian like you?"

A few people laughed, but Rigel only grimaced inwardly, "It's definitely not an herbivore," she said. All that ripping and tearing business still unnerved her when she thought about it. "There is something else, though—"

"Evan!"

Pucey dived across the couch he was sitting on to sweep his hand under the end table on the other side. He withdrew his hand, and pulled his pet snake, Eve/Evan, with him. Evan was thrashing a bit with annoyance, complaining loudly in a plaintive hiss, "Let go, flessshling massster, I want to feassst."

"Where do you think you're going?" Adrian asked his snake, curling it around his arm with firm, no-nonsense movements, "You're supposed to be in your cage."

"Let go, let go, I want sssome of that deliciousss meat."

"Can you tassste it on the air it all the way down here?" Rigel asked curiously, pretending not to notice how people froze around her to listen.

"Of courssse," Evan twitched, flicking his tongue negligently to demonstrate, "Ssso good. I want a mouthful."

"He's hungry," Rigel explained to a confused Adrian Pucey.

"I just gave it a mouse," Pucey protested, "I swear."

"I don't want miccce," Evan said sulkily, "I want that feassst."

"He wants what's upstairs," Rigel said, "It isssn't for you, sssorry. It'sss for the basssilisssk."

"For the King?" Evan stopped moving immediately, "Perhapsss…I'd better leave it to Him, then…" Evan gave one last disappointed hiss before curling around Pucey's arm in a more or less docile manner.

"Oh, he's quieted," Pucey said, "Thanks, Rigel."

"All I did was talk to—"

Her words were drowned out by the sound of…her own voice. Except it was magnified a dozen times louder than she'd ever shouted and it reverberated around the entire school like a disembodied god trembling a mountain with its words alone.

"Come to me. Come, mighty basssilisssk…"

People jumped and started as the Parseltongue blew through the common room like a foul wind, sweeping through the air and leaving shivers and flinches in its wake.

"Come, come and speak to me"

"Rigel," Draco said, pitching his voice counter to the hissing echoing throughout the room, "Is that…you?"

Rigel nodded in response to that and the many questioning glances she was receiving from around the room, "Dumbledore took a record of my voice in the Great Hall, to call the basilisk to its demise."

"Rigel," Theo said seriously, looking a bit ill, "I think your gift is cool and everything, but promise me you won't ever shout in Parseltongue around me, okay? It's seriously unnerving at that decibel."

Rookwood spoke up from his seat next to Selwyn, a look of pure, academic curiosity on his face, "What are you saying? It sounds like…different variations on the same thing."

Rigel raised an eyebrow. Not many could discern the subtle differences in sound that Parseltongue employed, at least not enough to know when the words were different or not. Then again, it was being magnified a thousand times over at the moment, so it wasn't exactly nuanced.

"It's mostly the same thing over and over," she said, "Like, 'come here' or 'this way,' that sort of thing."

"Will it listen?" Pansy asked, her head tilted thoughtfully, "Will it work?"

"Professor Snape believes the creature will ignore it completely, and Professor Dumbledore thinks it will come out of curiosity once it hears the voice or smells the meat," Rigel said, "But neither thinks it would listen to me in the way you mean. I'm not its Master."

Daphne Greengrass, who was hovering at the edge of the group, listening but not contributing, snorted something that sounded like, "Sure you're not," but left it at that at least.

"So there's every possibility this won't even work," Millicent sighed, "Great. At least we missed a day of classes."

"Awful lot of trouble for something that might not even work," Theo said, "Wonder why—oh, go on then, Blaise. I can see in your eyes you're dying to explain."

Blaise sniffed in an unconvincingly uneager way, and said, "Now that the Headmaster has reliable information on what the threat is, he must be seen to do something. This kind of petrifaction can't stay as quiet as it has—it's only because most students here know better than to tell their parents what goes on for fear of being pulled out that it hasn't become common knowledge yet. Soon the Prophet will come to call, and the Ministry, and hundreds of concerned parents. They will all ask the same question—what is being done? So the Headmaster puts on his little show, and the students feel safer now that the threat is being taken seriously, but will the basilisk come? Will the petrifactions end? I think not."

Rigel had to concede the point, though that was a rather pessimistic way of looking at things. Snape seemed to be thinking along the same lines, as well, and Rigel wondered how they actually planned on handling the situation, if this was all for show.

"What will they do if this doesn't work?" Theo asked, "Make us all carry around mirrors?"

"They'll probably close the school," Rookwood said. At several people's alarmed looks, he shook his head slowly, "Not forever, just until they either find the basilisk or starve it out."

"Starve it out?" Draco looked thoughtful, "You mean, take away its food supply and force it back into hibernation or something?"

"They'd have to cut off its access to the forest, of course," Rookwood said, his deep voice calm and even, "Assuming that's how it continues to nourish itself despite not having devoured any of its victims yet."

"That's nice," Millicent said, wincing.

"What do you mean 'yet'?" Theo asked.

"I'm not sure that will work," Rigel said.

"Why not?" Rosier asked, yawning and relaxing back into the cushions before draping his arm around the low back of their couch.

Rigel sat a tiny bit straighter so that she wouldn't be resting her neck on his wrist and said, "The basilisk isn't the real problem. It's a tool. It would be beneficial to remove the tool, of course, but the wielder will only find another one. Someone is controlling that monster and forcing it to petrify students."

"How do you know that for sure?" Millicent challenged. Rigel could tell the other girl thought Rigel was keeping more information from them. A fair assumption, she would be the first to admit.

"It's animal nature," Selwyn spoke up, fingering her long, dark hair absently, "If the monster was acting on its own it would either kill and eat its prey or it wouldn't bother petrifying them. It actually takes more work for a basilisk to petrify with its gaze than to kill, because it has to send its gaze through its own second eyelids and filter its killing power first. A basilisk wouldn't bother petrifying something unless it was saving it for eating later, but none of the students have been abducted and taken back to its lair. No, the basilisk's movements are too unpredictable and unnecessary to be attributed to anything but a human motive. The only question is what human motive?"

Rigel was frankly impressed at how well Selwyn understood the subject. She and Rookwood really knew their magical creatures, it seemed.

"Not to mention the explosions," Pansy said softly, "That doesn't sound like any ability a basilisk's ever been known to have."

"What is with the explosions?" Theo asked, "If you want to kill the kids, why petrify them first? And if they're not for harming the kids then why set them off when no one else is around to get hurt?"

"Because the problem is that no one else is around," Rosier said, his mouth tilted with wry distaste, "Some people just want attention, plain and simple. Whoever's doing this wants everyone to know he is, right away."

She, Rigel mentally corrected. It was definitely a she.

Eventually the sound of Rigel's magnified hissing became quieter, still audible but turned down and muted like white noise, all but ignored as the Slytherins passed the time talking, reading, or simply lazing on the couches around the fireplaces. A couple of times someone thought they heard a rooster's crowing, but the common room door never opened, and they didn't hear anything else.

At around five that evening the hissing finally stopped, replaced shortly by McGonagall's voice telling them classes would proceed as usual the next day, and then silence.

The house elves came and went, leaving piles of food around the common room to tide them over for the day. Rigel got out a book on diagnosing environmental causes of illness while Draco played a game of cards with Millicent and Theo. Pansy sat quietly in self-reflection, Blaise was reading a book on South American runic systems, Rookwood and Selwyn left to hold a private conversation somewhere else, and Rosier…

Rosier was doing his level best to annoy the patience out of Rigel, it seemed. At first he just took to staring at her out of the corner of his eyes while she read. Whenever she glanced sideways at him to silently ask what he wanted, he pretended to be examining his fingernails. Rigel eventually attempted to ignore the upperclassman's gaze altogether, and that, to Rosier, was apparently some sort of code for 'I don't mind you staring at me,' because after that he gave up all pretense of examining his nail beds and actually angled himself on the couch to get a more comfortable view.

Rigel considered asking him to stop, but she reminded herself that everyone was bored being cooped up in the common room all day, and snapping at Rosier probably wouldn't make any difference in terms of his observed behavior anyway, except he'd probably laugh at her while staring or something.

It didn't help that Pansy shot them both long, contemplative looks every now and then, which Draco eventually noticed. Draco then spent about twenty minutes alternatively glaring at Rosier's bored face and gazing imploringly at Rigel, as though urging her to say or do something—what, Rigel wasn't sure. It wasn't exactly illegal to stare at someone, after all. Draco did sigh loudly and give up his glaring after a good amount of sub-breath grumbling, and even Pansy seemed to find something else to occupy her attention after a while.

But Rosier would not stop staring.

It wasn't even really staring at that point, Rigel thought as she read the same sentence irritably for the third time. Now he was just plain examining. Dissecting. Tormenting. Her skin prickled like something was crawling on it, but she knew to squirm would be some kind of defeat, so as far as the world was concerned Rigel forgot Rosier was sitting next to her and lost herself in her medical textbook.

"You must be an exceptionally slow reader, to not have turned a page in twenty minutes," Rosier drawled softly. There was no need to speak up, since he was seated right beside her, but Rigel wished he had, for some reason, as the hushed quality to his voice was somehow awkward.

Also, apparently the world was not quite as fooled as she'd hoped it would be.

Rigel looked up from the page with an exaggeratedly unfocused expression, as though it were a struggle for her to pay attention to her surroundings when she was just so engrossed in her book.

"What?" she said vaguely for good measure, "Oh, yes, it's quite dense, this book. I have to work through the Latin roots for a lot of the terms in my head before I quite understand them."

Rosier smiled crookedly at her, "You shouldn't work your brain so hard on a day off. It'll make your hair fall out before you're fifty." He lifted his hand—the one still resting on the back of the couch—and ruffled her hair gently, tugging on the strands lightly for emphasis. Rigel stilled involuntarily. It wasn't that she was some tactilely-deprived orphan who didn't know how to respond to human contact. The twins ruffled her hair all the time, and so did Sirius, James, and a number of other people she'd met as Harry in the Lower Ally's. There was a weird look in Rosier's eyes, though. It was…Rigel didn't know what it was, but she stood up smoothly, tucking her book under her arm with exaggerated care to avoid looking at the other Slytherin.

"You're right, I should probably call it a day," she said evenly, then smiled at the loosely grouped array of acquaintances, "Good evening, everyone."

As her friends chorused a lazy, "Good evening, Rigel," back at her, Rigel couldn't resist one quick glance at Rosier's face, just in case there was something in it that would make sense to her. He was gazing at her with bored geniality, and even joined in with everyone in saying goodnight, but his fist was clenched where it rested on the back of the couch, and that strange little glint in his eyes had not gone away. If anything, it had deepened.

Rigel retreated in what she told herself was a dignified manner, too vaguely unsettled to really be self-aware as she walked to her dorm room. She toed off her shoes and plopped onto the bed with a shaky sigh, staring up at the ceiling with bewilderment.

A few moments later, Draco walked into the room and leaned against her bedpost with folded arms. He looked down at her and said, "What was that about?"

"No idea," Rigel said dully, "Let's not talk about it."

"Like hell," Draco said, scowling down at her, "What was that, Rigel? Is Rosier…is he bothering you?"

"No," Rigel said, looking away from the ceiling to gaze at Draco with open confusion, "I think we've just all been cooped up for too many hours today. With the basilisk and everything…my nerves are just a little rough, I guess. It's nothing."

"Didn't look like nothing," Draco said lowly.

"What did it look like, then?" Rigel snapped, her patience waning.

Draco set his jaw, apparently unable or unwilling to voice his opinion.

"Let's just forget it, Draco," Rigel said, sighing and looking back at the ceiling, "You know how Rosier gets when he's bored. Always has to annoy someone into entertaining him. I just overreacted because I'm a little stressed out, okay?"

"Not really," said Draco, rolling his eyes at the ceiling that Rigel couldn't seem to keep her gaze on long enough to pull off the casually-detached air she was going for, "But whatever. Goodnight, Rigel."

"Night, Draco," Rigel said, turning to curl up on her side. She might as well actually catch up on her sleep, since she was already in bed.

Draco left the dorm to rejoin Pansy and the others, and Rigel gave herself a long lecture about not acting like a skittish colt with something to hide around her friends—even the deliberately irritating ones—before falling into a shallow, flickering pool of dreams.

-0

[HpHpHp]

-0

Classes started up again the next day. Dumbledore gave a convincingly reassuring speech about how even though they hadn't found the creature, that didn't mean it wasn't dead, because they had combed the school with roosters and had reason to believe the basilisk had been hiding in the walls. Probably it had died somewhere without a fuss. Probably.

Rigel somehow couldn't believe things would be that easy, but she supposed it didn't hurt to hope they would.

The teachers handed out new schedules the next day at lunch, which were exactly like their old schedules, except instead of just having their classes listed the new schedules also had two hours each evening of library time for their House. On the top of the schedule in bold letters were the words: All Extracurricular Activities Are Cancelled Until Further Notice. Students Will Remain in Common Rooms if Not Otherwise Stated.

A roar of protest went up from the Gryffindor table, and Oliver Wood's flushed face was seen scowling fiercely up at the Head Table as he shouted a fervent denial. Further up the Slytherin table, Flint seemed to be equally pissed off, though he expressed his own distain for the new imposition with dark silence and a glowering sneer.

"So we're to be herded to every lesson like sheep," Theo said disgustedly, "Cooped up in the common room like pigeons, and let out to visit the Library once a night like poorly-trained dogs. It's a wonder they even bother teaching us magic, seeing as they're treating us like mindless animals."

"It's for our safety," Pansy said, serenely buttering a scone, "At least this way the petrifactions will stop even if the basilisk isn't dead. It'll be impossible to catch a student alone now."

"At least as long as no one goes wandering off by themselves," Draco said, looking pointedly at Rigel.

Rigel was looking mournfully at her own schedule, which didn't have any little boxes saying 'Lab Time' on it, much less, 'Morning Exercise Time' or 'Practice Foreign Language with House Elf Time.' She rather suspected her extracurricular studies were going to see a marked stalling in progress if this went on for very long.

Still, she could always read up on Healing in the common room, and Occlumency could be done anywhere. She'd have to be careful about completing Flint's assignments if her whole House had to go to the Library at the same time now, but she could pass off the interest in upper-level subjects as random extra studying for a little while at least, and she could write the essays in the early mornings since she no longer would be able to follow her training regimen.

She would have to send Krait and Burke a letter, though, and make up a reason for why she wouldn't be able to brew for them for the foreseeable future.

Snape escorted her to her private lab that afternoon to finish up the Polyjuice potion and seal the door closed. Apparently he thought it would be too much temptation for her to resist if her lab wasn't completely inaccessible until the basilisk was confirmed dead.

It was a mark of how distracted they both were by all the upset that Snape barely complimented her on the potion's impressive quality, and Rigel wasn't even disappointed by his lackluster reaction.

February bled on towards March, and Rigel was beginning to think that maybe the basilisk was dead. Either that, or the one controlling it was unable to corner any students under the new safety procedures. Soon there were only a couple of days left in February, and still no petrifaction. If the threat written on the wall had been serious, there should have been a petrifaction that month, but it seemed more and more likely that this time they were going to get a reprieve.

Then, on February 28th, an hour before midnight, an explosion rocked the castle. Rigel and the boys woke up immediately, all four of them fumbling through the darkness to the hallway, where the rest of their year-mates were spilling out as well. They all stumbled into the common room in their pajamas (except for Rigel, who was still in her school robes), and the prefects began taking role for each grade level at once.

The tense atmosphere didn't relax until Selwyn announced that all Slytherins were accounted for. The portrait of Salazar left to inform Snape, and the students all claimed various chairs and low-backed couches around the room to wait for the news.

"Probably a Gryffindor," Millicent said lowly, "Only they'd be thick enough to wander around in the middle of the night these days. Bet some idiot thought that since it's too dangerous for even the prefects to patrol anymore it'd be easy to sneak around."

"Can't be that easy," Theo said idly as he flipped over a couple cards in his game of solitaire, "No prefects, sure, but all the professors patrol now."

"It shows," Pansy said, twisting her fingers together in a self-comforting way, "Even Professor McGonagall yawned in class the other day, remember? And Professor Snape is so much more irritable lately. The only teacher who seems unaffected is Binns, though I'm not sure he even knows about the basilisk."

"I don't think he knows about anything besides goblin rebellions," Theo agreed, yawning.

They fell into a strained silence, no one really sure what to do or say. Pansy's fingers were turning white from how she clenched them in her lap, so Rigel slipped off the sofa to sit on the ground at Pansy's feet and said, "Braid my hair, will you, Pan?"

Pansy set to work immediately on the back of her short, bed-tousled hair. Theo sent her an amused look, but Millicent, who from what Rigel understood was often the victim of Pansy's compulsive braiding habits, favored her with a more wry expression. Draco took advantage of Rigel's vacated seat to stretch out horizontally on the couch, with his head on the seat next to Pansy's hip. "Do mine next," he said with a resigned sigh.

Pansy agreed primly and calmly, but her silent thanks was understood. Both Rigel and Draco knew that Pansy needed to do something with her hands when she was anxious, and if they didn't let her braid something she'd either twist her fingers until they were raw or else start picking at the threads on her pajamas until they frayed.

They tried to keep Pansy talking as they sat there waiting for news they weren't even sure was coming. They asked about her grandmother and what she would be doing over the summer, and generally passed the time in pleasant denial for as long as they could.

When Rigel had no more hair to twist together despite how tiny Pansy had tried to make the braids, Pansy abandoned her head in favor of starting on Draco's bangs. Rigel's head felt strange, and the braids clinked together when she tilted it at all. They also sort of itched and pulled at her scalp—Pansy had braided them rather tight to make the process take longer.

With a sigh, Rigel reached up to start undoing the braid behind her right ear, which pulled her hair in a direction it wasn't accustomed to being pulled. The braid was at an awkward angle, though, and she frowned slightly as her fingers fumbled a couple of times trying to untangle it. It felt as though Pansy had started braiding one section, then braided it into another section further behind her head. She'd have to undo the second section first, but upon feeling out that one she realized that it, too, had been braided into a third section. Rigel wasn't sure how Pansy had done something so complicated with the five inches of hair she had to work with, but it felt like she'd have to get a mirror to start untangling it, or else wait for Pansy to finish braiding Draco's.

"Oh, come here, Rigel. I'll do it."

Rigel's hands paused from their exploration, and she looked over to where Rookwood and Rosier sat on a different low-backed couch across from the one Rigel was leaning against. Rookwood was perusing a thick textbook that seemed to be on mammal taxonomy, and Rosier was tapping his fingers impatiently on the armrest of the couch as he gestured to the ground in front of him with his other hand expectantly. "Really, you'll never get it undone by yourself. Trust me, Pansy's braiding skills are rather legendary."

Rigel had just had a similar thought, but for the past couple of weeks she'd been…pretty much avoiding Rosier, actually. She realized, of course, that when you became closer friends with someone they often changed how they acted around you as they relaxed their formal manners and defenses. She supposed that a certain level of familiarity was understandable after she and Rosier had become better acquainted over winter break, and certainly if it was Fred or George offering to de-braid her hair she wouldn't hesitate to agree, and yet…

She couldn't put her finger on it, but something about the situation with Rosier made her wary. She didn't think he'd hurt her—it wasn't that kind of caution, exactly. It was more like she sensed an unknown element in their interactions lately, and Rigel had never been very good at dealing with the unknown, unless one counted ignoring it. That, she was quite accomplished at.

"I don't really mind them," she said, shrugging in a way that she hoped was nonchalant, "It'll probably wash out in the shower tomorrow anyway."

"Water will only make the mess worse," Rookwood said mildly, not looking up from his textbook.

"Oh," Rigel said, for lack of anything better to say. On the one hand, she didn't really want to go over there, but on the other hand acting defensive about it would only draw attention to her inexplicable paranoia over the whole hair-touching thing. And after she'd just let Pansy braid the whole thing—volunteered, even—it would probably come off as incredibly rude if she outright refused. "You don't have to," she attempted once more, "I think I've made it worse, poking at it. It's just a mess, now."

Rosier favored her with a dry look, "I assure you I've nowhere better to be at the moment. Come here, imp, and stop being so distrustingly churlish. I'm not going to put glue in it."

Rigel conceded with whatever dignity she had left, and stood smoothly and without obvious reluctance. She could at least attempt to downplay her hesitation, since she could give no articulate cause for it. She walked the short distance to Rosier and Rookwood's couch, mentally grimacing as she realized she'd have to sit at Rosier's feet to allow him access to her head. Her face was studiously neutral, however, and almost relaxed as she waited for Rosier to shift his feet to the side before sitting on the ground before the upperclassman.

Leaning back against the couch, she caught sight of Draco's expression. He was frowning at her from the corner of his eyes, since he couldn't turn his head to glare at her full on without disrupting Pansy's braiding. At least she wasn't the only one who thought the situation odd.

Rosier's fingers worked gently at the tangled web of braids covering her short head of hair, loosening bits here and unraveling bits there. After a few moments of awkward hyper-awareness of the random tugs on her scalp, Rigel was mostly able to ignore it.

Apparently no one else was as concerned with the situation as she was, for conversation continued without pause around them as the others talked about anything and everything to pass the time.

"It's been an hour at least," Millicent said, rolling her neck in a stretch, "Maybe Snape isn't coming to tell us what's happening after all."

"Of course he will," Blaise said over the scroll he was scribbling away at, "Our Head of House always tells us what's going on, and even if he were inclined to keep us in the dark for some reason on this occasion, Salazar's portrait would have at least told him we were all waiting up to hear something. Either way he will show up eventually to send us back to our dorm rooms."

"Don't you ever get tired of being so logical?" Millicent complained good-naturedly.

"No more than you ever get tired of asking questions you already know the answer to," Blaise returned, smirking at the way Millicent scowled back at him, "Or do you get tired of it?"

"No more than Draco gets tired of eating strawberry tarts, I expect," Millicent sniffed.

"Don't drag me into this," Draco grumbled. It was a bit hard to hear him because Pansy had made him turn over on his stomach so she could reach the back of his hair.

"Oh, go on, Draco," Millicent said, waving her hand at him while yawning a bit, "You do one."

"Fine," Draco sighed, "No more than Rigel gets tired of brewing potions."

"Too easy," Millicent said, "But we'll take it. Now you, Rigel."

Rigel thought a moment, then said, "No more than Pansy gets tired of looking at unicorns."

Pansy laughed, a light, cheerful sound that seemed to have a soothing effect on everyone in their circle of armchairs and couches, "True enough, but no more than Edmund gets tired of challenging Alice in their animal game."

"No more than Aldon gets tired of learning secrets," Rookwood said without looking up from his book.

Rosier chuckled softly over her shoulder, "No more than Pansy gets tired of trying to burn down her mother's kitchen under the pretense of baking."

Pansy huffed, but said, "No more than Millicent gets tired of arranging all her textbooks and school supplies by color."

Millicent stuck her tongue out at Pansy and said, "No more than Theo gets tires of losing at solitaire."

"No more than Blaise gets tired of staring at Hannah Abbott," Theo said slyly.

Blaise narrowed his eyes at Theo in a show of pointed annoyance, "No more than Draco gets tired of telling Rigel what to do."

"No more than Rigel gets tired of being so ridiculous that he needs telling what to do," Draco snapped.

"I'm not sure that one counts," Millicent said. At Draco's flat look, she shrugged, "Okay, Rigel is kind of ridiculous. We'll allow it."

Rigel felt she should defend herself, but didn't know how, so she said, "No more than Rookwood gets tired of humoring his friends."

"Too nice," Theo rolled his eyes.

Rookwood's voice was amused when he went next, "No more than Aldon gets tired of teasing Draco with Rigel's hair."

Rigel could feel Rosier's hands pause as he shrugged and said, "No more than Blaise gets tired of teasing everyone with that all-knowing smirk of his."

Blaise displayed said smirk rather proudly, "No more than Theo gets tired of teasing Rigel with his naked chest."

There was a moment of silence as everyone processed that statement. Then—

"What?"

"Yes, what?"

Rigel very much agreed with the question, but was too busy being embarrassed to add her voice to Millicent and Pansy's.

Blaise tilted his head slightly, "Perhaps I shouldn't have said that out loud."

"On the contrary," Rosier's voice was definitely amused now, and his fingers halted their untangling motions completely as he said, "Please explain."

"Please don't," Rigel said lowly. It was vindicating to have proof that Theo had been making her uncomfortable on purpose—as she'd half-suspected—but she didn't need her discomfort discussed by everyone she knew.

"You simply must," Pansy said, pausing her own braiding fingers to glance at Rigel with a teasing smile.

"Or else we shall imagine the worst," Millicent said, snickering.

Theo groaned, "Why'd you have to say it like that?"

"It didn't sound quite so socially untoward in my head," Blaise said thoughtfully.

"Things never do with you," Draco sighed, "But that was particularly poorly-phrased. What he meant to imply is that Theo teases Rigel about his acutely developed sense of modesty by confronting him with his own immodesty unnecessarily. It's really more amusing and less scandalously intriguing than Blaise's turn of phrase might lead one to believe."

There was another moment of silence as several people in the group wondered whether or not to believe the explanation offered. Rigel could feel her face flushing in response to their speculative looks. It wasn't really that the sight of half-naked boys embarrassed her—Archie wasn't exactly the most reserved of people to grow up with, and the Quidditch locker rooms, too, were teeming with opportunities to become disenchanted with the male form. It was just that some ingrained part of her felt guilty when boys revealed their bodies around her because they didn't know she was a girl. It felt rude to look when if they knew the truth they wouldn't be undressing, so she studiously—and politely, she thought—simply avoided looking in such situations.

Apparently, her respect for the privacy of others only made her come off as shy and uncomfortably modest. Her insistence on changing where no one could see her probably exacerbated this trait and gave her the general reputation of a repressed ninny, and that, more than anything, was what embarrassed her enough to have her turning red now, under the amused scrutiny of her friends.

"Insert awkward change of subject here," Millicent said after a lengthy pause, shaking her head at the ridiculousness of boys in general, "Seriously, though, how much longer are we going to sit here before going back to sleep?"

"Feel free to turn in any time you want," Blaise said, "It's not as though you won't hear all about it tomorrow."

Millicent grinned, "And miss any more gems like that coming out of your mouth? I think not."

"Is that why you changed back into your school robes before coming out to the common room?" Rosier asked curiously, "Because of modesty?" His tone of voice was a bit incredulous, but he seemed to be trying not to outright laugh at her, at least.

Before Rigel could answer, Theo laughed and said, "No, Rigel just sleeps in his clothes. But that's probably more due to his unhealthy paranoia than his modesty."

"Paranoia?" Rosier shifted his feet to a more comfortable position to Rigel's right and said, "Isn't it a bit much to say that about your roommate?"

"Not when it's Rigel," Theo said, grinning at Rigel despite her thoroughly unamused look, "Never lets his guard down, this one. Just look how uncomfortable he is sitting with his back to you," Theo gestured to Rigel's tense posture with a sweeping hand movement even as Rigel attempted to relax her shoulders and belie the statement, "He doesn't like to be too close to people, in case you haven't noticed."

Theo's tone made it quite clear that he thought everyone should have noticed this, and Rigel felt compelled to at least say, "Sitting right here, still," in case it made any difference.

Rosier's fingers pressed along her scalp as he combed through an area he'd already detangled in a slow, soothing movement, "Don't listen to them, Rigel," he murmured, "Edmund and I don't mind a bit of paranoia, do we?"

"Wouldn't be in Slytherin if we did," Rookwood said without any indicative inflection.

"I'm not paranoid," Rigel said half-heartedly, "I exercise a perfectly reasonable amount of caution. Do you know how many potions a stolen hair can be used in for nefarious purposes? Polyjuice isn't even the tip of the iceberg. Is it my fault if I seem paranoid in comparison to people who walk around exposing their unprotected skin to anyone who wants to dump a can of itching powder on it?"

"Is this a therapy session or something?" Millicent snorted, "Please, Rigel, tell us how growing up with notorious pranksters has emotionally haunted you for life."

"It's just too painful to talk about, really," Rigel said flatly.

Most of her friends laughed at that, and let it go. Pansy did send her a couple of concerned looks, but she stopped when Rigel let a reassuring smile cross her lips briefly.

It felt to Rigel like most of her hair was free of braids now, but Rosier's fingers had slowed. He spent more time combing through the already-detangled strands than he did unbraiding the still-knotted ones, and Rigel wondered if she should move away or do something, only she wasn't sure what. Everything she thought of—mentioning it, moving away, un-doing the rest herself—seemed awkwardly rude or ungrateful somehow. She contented herself with the thought that he was probably just prolonging the task so he wouldn't have to go back to being bored when it was finished, and did nothing.

Still, she couldn't relax under Rosier's ministrations like she had when Pansy was braiding her hair. Maybe because she trusted Pansy more, maybe because Pansy didn't look at her like she was a particularly amusing meal at times, but probably because she knew why Pansy wanted to braid her hair—to calm her nerves. She had no idea what Rosier hoped to gain from it, if he wasn't in fact plucking hairs for Polyjuice, of course.

Millicent was the first to notice when Professor Snape came into the common room. She stopped arguing half-heartedly with Blaise and sat up straighter, clearing her throat. Pansy stopped braiding and Draco sat up to look toward the entrance wall as well. Rigel took the opportunity to stand and move away from Rosier, back to where her place between Pansy and Draco had opened up again.

Snape surveyed them all with a closed off expression, no hint of emotions visible on his face, "Tonight Professor Lockhart has been petrified. Defense Against the Dark Arts classes are cancelled until a replacement professor can be found. Please return to your dormitories. That is all."

Their Head of House left as suddenly as he'd come, leaving a disturbed and unsettled air in his wake.

No one had really liked Lockhart as a professor, but there was something very disturbing about the fact that a teacher was attacked in the first place. Somehow the professors had always seemed to untouchable, even through the sickness. Lockhart was unarguably an imbecile, but his petrifaction was like a slap to the face nonetheless.

Like saying no one is safe.

They went to sleep that night quietly, no one really sure what to say. It would have been in poor taste to say, 'good riddance,' even if they might actually get a decent replacement professor now, so they said nothing, just bid one another good evenings and slipped quietly into their beds.

Rigel was perhaps more upset by the news of Lockhart's petrifaction than her classmates. She hadn't liked the teacher any more, but his petrifaction meant that the pattern would continue uninterrupted. One every month until the end of the term, and then…Rigel clenched her eyes shut in heavy despair. Someone would be killed, not petrified, if the monster wasn't stopped by the end of May.

-0

[HpHpHp]

-0

[end of chapter twelve].

A/N: Regarding belladonna, the effects outlines above are based on truth. I don't know if it will make a rooster stop crowing, but it does severely dry the throat. Interestingly, it was originally used in cosmetics as eye-drops to dilate women's pupils, since that was considered seductive and attractive, hence the name belladonna: beautiful woman. That was before they realized it was slowly poisonous, of course.

A/N2: All I have to say about Rigel and Rosier is this: Rigel is twelve. She won't be romantically available, much less interested, for another year at least. That doesn't mean that certain perceptive, patient people capable of long-term manipulation wouldn't make opportunities to begin acclimating Rigel toward an idea, however. I also tried something new with POV this time—namely leaving the changed POV sections unmarked as one reader suggested, so let me know if it's clear or not whose POV the different scenes are in.

Best,

-Violet