Chapter Twenty-Six: The Writing on the Wall

"A plot you say?" Dumbledore watched Harry over the top of steepled fingers. "And you're suspecting that Lucius Malfoy is behind it? As a way to get back at Arthur Weasley?"

Harry nodded as he studied one of the various instruments around the office. "That's right, Sir. Dobby is the Malfoys' house elf, so while he could have heard about such a thing from a visiting family, it's highly unlikely. And while it's not much evidence, my encounters with Mr. Malfoy makes me think he's not someone who would take kindly to Mr. Weasley leading the raids on his home."

Dumbledore nodded. "I do not think so either."

"He also doesn't like you, Sir."

Dumbledore chuckled. "True. He's been trying to get the Board of Governors to dismiss me for years."

"Perhaps he thinks he has to take drastic measures now," Harry said. "Maybe he's going to try to kill you and then have the Weasleys framed for murder?" He frowned, puzzled. "I don't think you're an easy target, Sir."

"I would think not."

"But he can try to kill the Weasleys, the kids I mean," Harry said. "They're much easier targets. And then he can try to frame you for it. He'd get his revenge on Mr. Weasley and get rid of you. And it would make sense then why I would be in danger, because of my proximity to the Weasleys." His eyebrows furrowed. "That doesn't sound right. No one in their right mind would think you have good reason to kill the Weasleys." He looked up. "Am I overthinking it?"

Dumbledore shook his head. "Not at all. And even if you are, I wouldn't discourage you from doing so. It's better to overthink than to underthink after all." He folded his hands on his lap, looking thoughtful. "There isn't much we can do, except keep our eyes and ears alert."

"Yes, Sir." Even though it wasn't much of an action plan, Harry could already feel a lot of his worry lifting with his telling Dumbledore about the plot.

"It is getting late. Off to bed you go, Harry."

As Harry headed back to Gryffindor Tower, he heard a voice that chilled him to the bone. A voice that rang of death.

"Come... come to me... Let me rip you... Let me tear you... Let me kill you."

Harry was no stranger to fear. However, the pure bloodlust in the voice was such that it would have filled him with dread and paralyzed him with terror had his mind not been as well-disciplined as it was. Reining in his fear, he rushed towards the direction of the voice with the determination of a bloodhound, certain that whatever it was, it had to do with Lucius's plot.

However, when he turned the corner, he ran into someone, resulting in books and parchment thrown all over the floor. When he got his bearings, he could no longer hear the voice. It turned out that the person he had run into was Hermione, who appeared to be coming back to Gryffindor Tower from the library. "Sorry," he muttered as he helped her pick up her things.

"What's got you in such a hurry?" Hermione asked as she straightened up with a stack of books in her arms.

"You didn't hear it?" Harry asked, surprised.

"Hear what? You running down the corridor? I heard you, but I can barely see over these books. How do you expect me to - ?"

"No, no, not me! The voice!"

Hermione gave him a weird look. "No, I didn't hear anything," she said slowly.

Harry frowned before sighing. "Nevermind then."

"Are you sure you're alright, Harry?" Hermione asked worriedly.

"Yeah." He glanced at her stack of books. "Can I take some off you?"

Hermione perked up. "Oh, that would be very appreciated!"

Her enthusiasm relaxed his nerves slightly, and Harry helped carry some of her books up the stairs to Gryffindor Tower. Hermione was too easy to please. As they walked up, she told him about her readings on Transfiguration. "...the mathematical formulas behind designing some of the Conjuration spells are unbelievably complex and clever, so much more so than Charms..."

Harry listened. Charms was much more experimental and instinctive in nature. Learning the theories underlying the creation of charms was similar to learning different art styles. Creating a charm was like creating an artwork. However, Transfiguration was more mathematical and scientific. Learning the theories was similar to learning mathematical and scientific laws and theories. Creating a Transfiguration spell was like coming up with a proof for a new mathematical law. Or, depending on the nature of the spell in question, conducting scientific research.

While Harry had experience designing charms, he didn't have much experience inventing Transfiguration spells, and for good reason. He thought admiringly that it was quite impressive that Hermione could explain the theory behind the advanced Conjuration spells in such layman terms.

"Sorry if I bored you," Hermione said sheepishly as the portrait of the Fat Lady came into view. "I find all this very fascinating, but not many people do it seems. They find it rather dry..."

"Dry?" Harry said, incredulous. "Demente's Law of Producibility sounds absolutely brilliant!"

"Oh!" Hermione's eyes lit up. "You think so, too? I just thought, well...you weren't saying much on our way up. Ron actually dozed off when I tried to explain it to him."

"Hermione, I wasn't talking because I wanted to learn about a theory I've never heard before!" Harry laughed. Far from boring him, she had relieved him of his earlier tension. "You explained it so clearly I had no trouble following." Her flushed cheeks and pleased expression warmed him.

"Oh in that case, did I ever tell you about the newest theory on Switching Spells?"

"No, you didn't. Please do tell."

When they entered the common room, Harry noticed Ginny staring at them before getting up from her table and going up to her dorms.

...

Weeks passed by peacefully at Hogwarts. So peacefully in fact that Harry wondered if maybe he imagined the voice he heard that night. He didn't have much time to dwell on it though, especially when Draco privately asked for help improving his flying skills.

"I don't know why I bother practicing," Draco said as he dove and zigzagged to catch the balls Harry was throwing for him. "I'm never going to make the team." However, his tone conveyed a very different message - he was clearly enjoying himself.

"Are you sure you don't want to be a Chaser? You're light. You're fast. I can understand not wanting to be Keeper or Beater because you're not built for them, but your build can work for either Chaser or Seeker," Harry said. "It would be easier to get on the team if you're more flexible with position."

Draco shrugged. "I wouldn't mind being Chaser I suppose."

"You just prefer Seeker."

"Yeah. There's just something about searching that makes it more interesting than just trying to score." Draco dived to catch another ball that Harry threw. He pulled up next to Harry, who was looking at him with a wistful expression. "What?"

"You'd have made a great Seeker," Harry said. "I'm just thinking that it's rather selfish of Gryffindor to take both of us."

Draco blinked. Could Harry be saying - ?

Harry grinned. "I would be thrilled to play against you. Just practicing with you like this, I can tell you'd be a challenge. At the very least, you'd be able to replace the current Slytherin Seeker."

Draco could feel his cheeks heat up in pleasure. Since Harry had such a good assessment of his skills, he wondered how he would fare against Harry on the pitch.

Harry seemed to have read his mind because his expression turned mischievous. Reaching inside his robes, he pulled out a small golden ball - the Golden Snitch.

Draco stared. "Where did you - ?"

"It's a practice Snitch. I'm borrowing it," Harry said. Then he smirked. "May the best Seeker win?"

Draco snorted. "That will be me, Potter."

"In your dreams, Malfoy." Harry swung his leg over his Nimbus 1900.

"You should get a better broom for this to be fair," Draco commented. As a second-year, he had his own broom - the latest Nimbus 2001.

"I'm fond of this broom," Harry said. "Madam Malkin bought it for me."

Draco from two years ago might have laughed at the sentiment. But now, Draco surprised himself by not finding it funny. He could admire Harry for being a good son... He brushed off the nagging voice at the back of his head that told him that he was not necessarily a good son himself.

"Ready?" At Draco's nod, Harry released the Snitch.

A few minutes later, they were both flying at the Snitch, racing neck to neck. Draco was thrilled to find himself matching Harry. They dived and pulled up just as close to the ground. They wove and zigzagged around obstacles at the same speed. It appeared that Draco's faster broom made up for his lack of experience on the pitch - Harry made more finely tuned turns, wasting little space, but Draco made up for his somewhat coarser turns with speed.

He reached out to grab the Snitch. So close... To his surprise, however, Harry actually stood up on his broom, giving him the extra reach to snatch the Snitch out of the air just before Draco's fingers could close around it.

They stopped and got off their brooms.

Draco folded his arms. "I don't know what you're talking about. Even with a better broom I can't beat you. How then are we a close match?"

"The broom doesn't matter..."

"Bollocks!" Draco growled. He knew Harry had always been gentle with his pride, but that was too much. While he didn't think he would necessarily win, it was still humiliating knowing that he lost in such a manner. If they had the same broom and Harry won, then at least he could say they were evenly matched. But this...this was like losing to someone who was handicapped!

Harry flinched at Draco's angry tone but insisted, "I mean it! With a faster broom, you need better control. Or else you can't keep up with your own broom."

Draco pondered that for a moment. He supposed that was true.

Relieved at his friend's face lightening up, Harry said encouragingly, "You almost got me at the end actually. I stood up because I had no choice. Standing up on one's broom is generally a bad idea because it's so unstable, so you'd only do it if you have nothing to lose."

Draco's cheeks heated up from the praise. He shrugged, trying to act nonchalant about it, even though he was quite happy. "It doesn't really matter either way. It's not as though I'll ever really play."

"You never know," Harry said as he put the Snitch back into his pocket. "What if Snape gives me detention day of a game? Or what if Lockhart gets so enthusiastic with making me help act out his achievements in class that he breaks my spine? I think that almost happened when we were reenacting that scene with the werewolf."

Draco let out a guffaw. He remembered that lesson. Lockhart apparently learned not to bring live creatures into the classroom after the first lesson. Instead, he spent the subsequent lessons describing his achievements in detail, often making Harry help him act them out. As a model student, Harry didn't refuse, even though he was thoroughly embarrassed each time. In one of the reenactments, Harry was supposed to be the werewolf of interest (the entire classroom was in laughter when Harry let out a soft howl at Lockhart's insistence), and Lockhart accidentally chopped Harry in the back harder than necessary. "Don't you guys have a reserve Seeker?" Draco asked.

"We have a list of people who performed well at the last tryouts," Harry said. "We pull them in as the need comes up. A better question is why weren't you at the tryouts this year? You would have been first on the reserves list I bet." He paused. "You might have even challenged me for Seeker."

Draco wanted to. But he had many doubts about his skills since seeing Harry fly, and he was intimidated enough to shy away from trying out.

"You know what your problem is, Draco?" Harry asked as they headed back to the castle - it was getting late, and the Halloween Feast had likely already started.

"What?"

"You think way too little of yourself," Harry said as he pushed the blonde good-naturedly.

Draco shoved him back. "And you're a cauldron calling the kettle black."

"That's what people say when they can't argue the truth."

"That's what people say when it is the truth."

These were the moments that Draco enjoyed the most. While Ron and Hermione had grown on him, he still liked some time alone with Harry. Harry tended to grow quieter the more people there were. When it was just the two of them, Harry would joke and tease. But with Ron in the picture, Ron and Draco would exchange quips. When it was just the two of them, Harry would talk about his thoughts on certain magical theories. With Hermione in the picture, she and Draco would debate.

"It really is too bad wizards don't make use of their familiars in dueling," Harry said as they headed to the Great Hall. "It requires time spent training so that wizard and animal are in sync, but it's worth it."

"I don't know what you're thinking. They'll just end up dead or in the way," Draco said.

"Protective charms generally help with the former. Practice will take care of the latter. Sasha and I - "

"Harry, you have a snake. I have an owl. One is far superior as a dueling companion."

"Which? A snake has fangs and speed. An owl has flight and talons. Seems evenly useful to me..." Harry trailed off. The corridors were covered in about two inches of water.

Draco's nose wrinkled in disgust. "Charming," he said sarcastically. "Did the Weasley twins think it's funny to flood the corridors?" He walked carefully to avoid splashing the water onto his robes.

"Draco...look..."

Draco looked up, and his blood ran cold. On the wall in large red letters were the words:

The Chamber of Secrets has been opened.

Enemies of the Heir...beware.

Harry, his face drained of color, approached the wall to take a closer look. "It's written in blood," he said softly. He turned to Ms. Norris, who was hanging on a torch by her tail.

"I-is she dead?" Draco asked, looking nervously around, his hand on his wand for comfort.

"I don't know," Harry whispered. "She looks that way, but she's so stiff...rigor mortis doesn't set in for hours after death, and I doubt people would have missed seeing this."

Suddenly, chattering could be heard coming towards them - the Halloween Feast was over. Before either of them could move, they were surrounded by students, all of whom were staring at the wall, the cat, and them.

"Out of the way! Out of the way!" Filch had pushed through the throng of students, shuffling to the front. "What is - ?" His eyes went wide at the sight of his beloved cat. "M-Mrs. Norris? My cat! My cat!" he shrieked. His gaze landed on Harry and Draco. "You!" he snarled, his eyes filled with hatred. "I'LL KILL YOU!"

"Argus!" Dumbledore had appeared, several teachers behind him.

Filch pointed an enraged finger at Harry and Draco. "T-they killed Mrs. Norris. They killed my cat!" He turned towards them again. "I want them punished!"

"Innocent until proven guilty," Dumbledore said calmly. He walked up to the cat and pulled her off the torch. He turned to Harry and Draco. "Follow me."

Lockhart stepped forward eagerly. "My office is nearest, Headmaster - just upstairs - please feel free - "

"Thank you, Gilderoy."

As they followed Dumbledore, along with McGonagall, Snape, Filch, and Lockhart, to Lockhart's office, Draco didn't know how Harry could look so calm. They had been caught at the scene of the crime. And they had no alibi that anyone could verify because Draco had been adamant about his asking for Harry's help a secret - even if he admired Harry, there was no way he was going to let Ron, or anyone else, know that he had asked for help. He supposed since Harry and Dumbledore had such a close relationship, Harry had nothing to worry about.

When they entered Lockhart's office, there was a mass scampering as the portraits quickly hid themselves. Some still had rollers in their hair...

Dumbledore laid Mrs. Norris on the desk, ignoring Lockhart, who was going off about how it was so unfortunate that he wasn't there to save Mrs. Norris. He leaned in close to examine the cat, poking and prodding her and occasionally muttering a few diagnostic spells over her. McGonagall was examining her just as closely while Snape was sneering behind them.

Filch was sobbing in a chair, not being able to look at his cat, his face in his hands.

"She is not dead, Argus," Dumbledore finally said, his voice soft.

"Not dead?" Filch looked up. "But then why - why is she all stiff and frozen?"

"She has been petrified," Dumbledore said, turning to Harry. "How I cannot say..."

"ASK THEM!" Filch roared, pointing at Draco and Harry. "They were there! They know! They did it!"

Draco watched as Harry turned to Dumbledore, and they both shared a look. It was then that he knew - they were not in trouble. Filch seemed to have reached the same conclusion because his face fell and he slumped in the chair.

"No second-year student can do this. It is Dark Magic of the highest caliber," Dumbledore said, still looking at Harry. "However, petrification is reversible. Once the school's mandrakes mature, the Mandrake Restorative Draught can be administered to her. And she will be as good as new."

Harry's quiet response was so soft that Draco almost missed it. "I have some matured mandrakes back at home. I can go get a few."

"Suspicious, isn't it?" Snape spoke up. "That Potter just happens to have ingredients for the cure on hand."

"I plant them on a rolling basis, Sir. That way, I always have some on hand, since there are no ways of preserving them."

Draco finally understood the exchange of looks between Dumbledore and Harry. Dumbledore knew Harry had some available but didn't want to volunteer his supplies for him. Harry knew that the school's Mandrakes were planted once per year, in sync with the second-year Herbology class curriculum. After visiting Harry's home, Draco knew that his friend was careful with keeping stock of potion ingredients not readily found at the Apothecary. He was quite impressed that Harry had not gone insane from his duties. Draco himself certainly would have. It was also disconcerting how in sync Harry and Dumbledore were.

"It would be most appreciated, Harry," Dumbledore said, smiling.

Harry turned to Filch, who was staring at him as though uncertain as to whether to continue accusing him or to hug him. "I really didn't petrify her, and I sincerely hope Mrs. Norris gets better, Mr. Filch."

Draco mentally rolled his eyes. Leave it to Harry to be the only one outside of Filch to actually care about the well-being of Mrs. Norris. As for Draco, he was a little more concerned about how the cat got petrified in the first place.

...

"Well, that's not creepy at all," Ron said when they exited Binns's class. "Home of a monster. Always knew Slytherin was a nutcase."

Harry was quiet, his mind reeling from what he had learned in class. What did the Heir of Slytherin, the Chamber of Secrets, and ridding the school of muggleborns have to do with Dumbledore and the Weasleys? Harry wasn't so sure if those were the motives behind Lucius's scheme anymore.

Maybe Lucius thought that if enough muggleborn students were killed, Dumbledore would be removed from his position as Headmaster? Harry dismissed the idea as soon as it came. No one in their right mind would replace Dumbledore in that case - if he couldn't handle it, no other wizard can. The most plausible explanation would be that Lucius convinced the Heir to use the monster to kill Dumbledore, an avid muggle supporter. Even though his Headmaster was powerful, Harry wasn't sure how he would fare against a monster created by a founder of Hogwarts. Once Dumbledore was out of the way, the Heir would be free to pursue their murderous goals...

He glanced at Hermione worriedly. Dumbledore wasn't the only one in danger.

Draco saw his glance and cleared his throat. "Granger," he began. "Maybe you should avoid going places by yourself for a while."

Hermione stared at him.

Draco gamely met her gaze.

Then she smiled appreciatively and said, "Thanks. I'll try not to."

Draco blinked. "Just like that?"

She looked confused. "It was a good suggestion."

"Oh." Draco shrugged. "I'm surprised you didn't yell at me like the other times. I was under the impression that you didn't like people caring about your wellbeing."

Hermione sighed exasperatedly. "Malfoy, you're really intelligent sometimes, but other times, you can be really thick."

Draco folded his arms. "I take offense at that."

"It's okay, Malfoy," Ron said sympathetically as they sat down for lunch. "She calls me thick all the time."

"Was that supposed to be comforting?" Draco asked rhetorically as he opened up the newspaper that dropped in front of him.

"I wonder what the monster is though," Ron said before shoveling food into his mouth. "It probably has like ten heads and sharp teeth..."

Harry had a few ideas. "Slytherin was a Parselmouth. So the monster's probably a sort of sn- "

"Harry, what the hell is this?" Draco demanded, shoving the Daily Prophet into Harry's face.

Alarmed, Harry took the newspaper and read the article.

Professor Albert Mihai – The Next Newt Scamander?

Today, Professor Mihai showed us a brilliant performance of a dragon that he himself tamed. On command, the Antipodean Opaleye, whom he named Ferdinand, breathed fire, flew, and roared to the applause of over five thousand spectators. Never before had such control been demonstrated. To give the commands, he simply played a musical note.

"Dragons, like most creatures, have a harder time comprehending human speech. It's like a German speaker talking to a French speaker. Everything sounds like gibberish. However, music is a universal language," said Professor Mihai.

Training a dragon, however, had not been the only project he had been working on. Just last week, he published several papers describing potions that could be used to heal dragons of their maladies, including deadly illnesses such as brainheat. From unknown to fame almost overnight, he revolutionized our knowledge of dragons.

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