A/N:As you have probably noticed, even though the characters read a chapter from the "Goblet of Fire" book, I have no direct quotes from that chapter in here. And it is going to stay that way. Actually, I am fairly certain that this is probably the last time that the characters will comment on a whole chapter. From now on things will go a lot faster. I.e. there will only be extracts read or things discussed after the reading has been done. That said, I will continue to name the chapters of this fic that refer to those of the book with the titles of the book chapters. That way everyone should know what the characters are talking about, or which part of the book to reread. I hope this works for everyone. :-)
Chapter 02 – The Riddle House
Helga smiled at her friend before letting her gaze wander over the others at the table. "I'll just start reading from the beginning, shall I?"
She opened the book and began to read:
"The Riddle House"
Harry perked up. Riddle as in Tom Riddle? He found that hard to believe and yet… and yet he couldn't shake the feeling that he might learn something of importance in this chapter.
"It sounds as if it has been uninhabited for quite some time", Gryffindor commented, listening attentively to the houses description his friend read out.
Hufflepuff interrupted herself, nodding. "A lovely place, it is. All it's missing is the ghosts."
"Why?" Luna Lovegood asked.
"The description makes it sound like a haunted house. Damp. Derelict. Unoccupied. The ghosts is all it's missing."
Luna pondered this for a moment, before she shrugged. "I think it sounds interesting."
"Interesting? They say something strange and horrible has happened there." Gryffindor pointed out incredulously.
"O' course, it did." Slytherin sighed.
The students stared at him.
"What's a proper haunted house without it's stories about curses an' murders an' general horrible things?" he added shrugging.
Privately, Harry agreed that this did indeed sound like a classical haunted house. And yet… And yet, it seemed to remind him of something he had forgotten. Like an itch in the far recesses of his memory.
Just as Helga Hufflepuff made to read about what had occurred in the Riddle house so long ago, Slytherin groaned out: "Oh no, they're goin' tew tell it, right?"
The plump woman smirked at him over the top of the book.
"Kin we skip it?" the blonde founder begged.
Hufflepuff shook her head; her ginger locks bounced cheerfully.
"I'd like to hear the story", Luna added. She looked at Slytherin with a small frown.
"Not to worry, luv", Gryffindor assured her, while throwing a meaningful look at Slytherin. "Nothing will be skipped."
Luna looked reassured at that, if still a bit curious.
"Salazar just doesn't like ghost stories much", Hufflepuff snickered.
The founder in question glared at her, but Harry thought it was distinctly lacking in force.
Rowena Ravenclaw let out a snort, but kept her gaze firmly on the book in her own hands.
With a grin, the Hufflepuff founder started reading again, while Slytherin leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms across his chest defensively. Harry heard him mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like: "Murder, mystery, mayhem. An' afterwards they all turned inta ghosts, o' course."
After listening to the events that had taken place in Little Hangleton so many years in the past, Helga Hufflepuff put the book down with a thoughtful look on her face. "You might have been right about the curses and the murders, Salazar."
Gryffindor frowned. "The family might well have been poisoned. What makes thou think it was a curse instead?"
Hufflepuff shrugged. "It's a book about magical things, isn't it? It seems likely that it was a magical curse that killed those people."
"In that case, let us hope that Salazar's third prediction does not come true."
The plump witch stared at Gryffindor for a moment. "Oh, you mean the 'generally horrible things'?" She frowned. "I don't think so. Those deaths are already horrible enough."
Slytherin gave her an incredulous look, but abstained from saying anything. Which was just as well, Harry thought, because he too had the feeling that the 'generally horrible things' were yet to come.
"And what in heavens does Police mean?" Gryffindor asked no one in particular.
Harry sighed. "Muggle Aurors."
hufflepuff looked at him clueless. "Muggles? Aurors?"
Harry stared blankly back, unsure if she was playing a joke on him. But one look at the other adults showed him equally baffled expression on all of their faces. He suddenly felt light-headed.
"Muggles are non-magical people", Malfoy explained, and seemed to swallow a less favourable description.
"Aurors work in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement", Neville added quietly, "they investigate crimes related to the Dark Arts."
"So", Slytherin frowned, "suffin like a night Watch?"
Harry was confused. But Luna nodded brightly. "The Aurors are much better organized and work their jobs full time", she explained, "but it's similar."
Slytherin accepted that with a nod.
"Department of Magical Law Enforcement?" Gryffindor asked.
"It's part of the Ministry", Neville said.
The broad-shouldered man stared at him.
"The Ministry of Magic?"
Further silence answered him.
Neville looked at Harry, uncertain what else to say. Harry shrugged helplessly.
"It's the Wizarding Worlds government." Malfoy added.
"Alright", Slytherin drawled out.
He exchanged a troubled look with the other adults.
"We seem tae be more out of touch with yer world then we had previously thought", Ravenclaw said looking up from her book.
"Ye mean there exists a completely magical government?" Gryffindor asked aghast.
The students nodded perplexed. "And exclusively wizards be working there?"
"Yes, of course." Malfoy frowned.
"And this magical government is somehow apart from the -" Gryffindor swallowed "- muggles?" The term sounded strange coming from his mouth.
"What about the king?" Godric Gryffindor seemed shocked to his core.
Harry began to feel bad for him. "The muggles still have one. Or at least a queen."
He had vivid memories of Aunt Petunia browsing the Daily Mail for new royal gossip every day just before tea.
"Elizabeth II, I think."
"Godric." Helga Hufflepuff put a calming hand on his arm. "It's obvious that we are a bit out of touch with political affairs right now-"
"Understatement", Slytherin mumbled.
The witch frowned. "- but getting upset at the students won't help. We'll just have to find information from a reliable source."
"The history books in the library will be a fair good start." Ravenclaw added.
Gryffindor sank down in his chair, put his head into his hands and groaned.
"Please, Rowena", Slytherin shook his head at her, "dunt help."
After a minutes of tense silence, Gryffindor pulled himself together.
"Let us keep reading for now."
"Are you sure?" Hufflepuff asked concerned.
"Rowena is right, luv. We need to start somewhere. Why not start with the one book we be reading already?"
She accepted his decision with a nod and picked the book back up.
But she did not get very far. As soon as she repeated the villagers' gossip about the police' investigations, Gryffindor leaned forward in his seat.
"Oh! Juicy!" He chuckled, his previous agitation all but forgotten.
The other adults shook their heads at him fondly.
"Of course, it was the gardener." Luna said.
When she noticed the others' questioning looks she went on to explain: "It's always the gardener." Then, she thought for a moment. "Or the butler."
"Huh?" Slytherin wondered. "Really?"
Luna nodded serenely.
"And what war are they speaking aboot?" Ravenclaw looked up from her book. Harry noticed that she hadn't turned the page once since the last interruption.
Malfoy frowned. "The one against Grindlewald, I think."
Harry shook his head. "Frank is a muggle."
"It was probably the second World War", Luna said dreamily. "The muggles fought it at the same time, the wizards fought Grindlewald."
She smiled at Malfoy who looked at her uncertainly. Then, he accepted her statement with a curt nod.
"World War?" Slytherin asked, his eyes wide.
"There was more than one?" Hufflepuff exclaimed.
Harry remembered from muggle school. "Both occurred shortly after each other at the beginning of this century. And both started off on the continent, when Germany invaded neighbouring countries."
The adults exchanged anxious looks.
Rowena Ravenclaw, whose self-control had been thoroughly tested over the least minutes, finally gave in to curiosity, closed the book she had been skimming through and focused her attention on the people around her.
"We really need tae read up on all these historical events we have missed." She said quietly.
Her friends nodded.
"Most of the development took place in the last two or three centuries, though." Luna added brightly. "You'll probably not find that much for earlier centuries."
Slytherin pondered this. "Thass oddly reassuring."
"So", Gryffindor snapped, "they just sit there to pass around rumours about the war invalid, who gave his health and limb protecting the crown; Is that right?" He shook his head.
Harry exchanged a stumped look with Neville.
"Sir?" Neville ventured.
The founder sighed and rubbed his hands tiredly over his face.
"The Aftermath of war is never easy, boys." Gryffindor's face showed a deep understanding that awed Harry. "Everyone needs their time to come to terms with it. Some need longer than others, like this man did. Ye need to respect that. He should get the appreciation he deserves not the ridicule of the people he tried to protect."
He send a stern look at the students and Harry felt himself nodding instinctively.
"Still, the whole situation does not look good for him." Neville offered quietly.
"But if it was a curse that killed the Riddles, he couldn't have been responsible for it." Hufflepuff reminded him before turning back to the book for another few paragraphs until yet another word provoked an interruption.
"Hang about!" Gryffindor exclaimed.
"Teenage?" Ravenclaw asked the student next to her, who just so happened to be Neville.
"Uhm…" Neville pointed around at Harry and the others. "Well, we are teenagers."
"All the students are teenagers." Malfoy sneered at him.
"Sae, it's merely an age description?" The witch clarified.
"From which age tae which?"
"I… I don't know", Neville stuttered. "Student age."
"From starting school at eleven, to age seventeen", Luna said. "That's when we come of age."
Rowena Ravenclaw thanked her with a nod.
"Seventeen?" Slytherin asked Luna interestedly. "Thass wholly late. So, afore that yew're considered …what? Children?"
"So many things to get used to", Gryffindor sighed.
"It does seem a bit ludicrous", Hufflepuff admitted.
"Why?" Harry wondered. "When would you consider someone to be grown up?"
"Around thy age, I guess." Gryffindor told him.
The other adults nodded.
"Around their fourteenth year", Ravenclaw clarified.
Harry stared at them. That… would actually be pretty nice, he reflected. To finally be taken seriously by adults around him.
"So, the murderer wuz a boy around yar age?" Slytherin frowned.
Tom Riddle, Harry thought. Junior? Is that possible? It seemed too easy somehow.
Godric Gryffindor nodded.
"If it really was a curse that killed those people", Gryffindor sighed "and it does indeed sound as if it was, then that means the boy was a wizard."
Harry looked at him questioningly, and the founder added: "I had hoped he would not be. It never bears well when magic is used to kill; especially if the person killed is not a wizard themselves."
Harry nodded. He had heard enough about the witch hunts to know that the auburn haired man had a good point.
"And why can those people not leave the poor man alone?"
It took Harry a moment to understand that Gryffindor's thoughts had jumped back to the gardener. Frank, or whatever his name was.
"Where else would he go, if that place is all he has? Of course, he went back there."
Hufflepuff shot him a concerned look. "Godric."
Gryffindor crossed his arms over his chest. "I apologize", he said, "I just feel… they should not talk about a combat veteran like this. He fought for the crown. For their country. Ultimately, he fought for them. He deserves recognition for that."
Harry wondered if the others felt the same lump in their throat that he felt.
"We know, Godric. We know." Hufflepuff send him an encouraging smile.
Harry, though, watched Gryffindor withdraw into himself. The founder closed his eyes and lowered his head. Only the tightness around his eyes hinted at the man's growing irritation. Personally, Harry found this quiet seething anger a lot scarier than open rage.
"On the bright side, though", Slytherin leant forward, resting his elbows on the table. "the ghost story's did with, yes?"
Harry saw the mouths of the other adults twitch suspiciously. They obviously tried very hard not to laugh at their friend's antics. Harry himself felt faintly amused, too. Luckily, it was Luna Lovegood again who voiced what he was thinking.
"Are you afraid of ghosts?"
Slytherin shook his head at her energetically. "O' course not." He shuddered. "It's only ghost stories I kin't stand."
Luna looked confused, and Harry knew he mirrored her expression on his own face.
"Thass a long story, alright?" The blond man waved his hand dismissively and Hufflepuff turned back to the book, sparing her friend any more explanations.
As she continued to read about the pranks the local children played on the Riddle's gardener, Harry peeked at the auburn haired founder next to himself. He was just in time to see an expression of righteous outrage flash across the man's face, before it dimmed down into a more general frown of disappointment. He knew then and there that he would advise the twins to stop playing pranks on Filch for now.
"Godric…" Hufflepuff hesitated.
Gryffindor shook his head. "Boys will be boys."
The other grown-ups sighed relieved.
"But one wonders, how much of their behaviour they are copying from their parents…"
Harry saw that Malfoy was itching to say something. But the Slytherin student obviously thought better of it and kept his mouth shut.
And then, something changed in the chapter. Suddenly, the Hufflepuff founder was not reading about events long past but about something that must have occurred very recently. Harry could not suppress a shudder at the feelings of gloom that settled in his stomach.
"What is going on there?" Slytherin asked.
Hufflepuff send him an amused glance over the top of the book. "Another ghost story that he lives through." She suggested with an impish smile.
Harry watched a faint shudder running through Slytherin's lanky frame.
"Seriously", Ravenclaw turned to the blond founder. "ye need tae get over that some time."
Slytherin rolled his eyes at her, but was again spared having to answer by Hufflepuff interjecting:
"It's just the children playing pranks again. See?"
She read a few lines more before interrupting herself again.
"Oh, boy" Hufflepuff groaned.
Gryffindor frowned. "They started fire in the house? Seriously? That is far more than a prank."
Ravenclaw nodded. "People are fairly likely tae get hurt that way. They really should ken better."
"If it is the boys again", Slytherin added pensively.
"It's not a ghost, Sal." this time Hufflepuff rolled her eyes.
The blond founder bristled. "I dint say it was."
"But you thought it." The plump woman countered.
"I know you."
They stopped when their two friends sniggered openly.
Slytherin leaned back, his arms crossed on his chest again.
Harry watched the amusement on all their faces. He would never have thought it possible, but he even he saw a small smile on Malfoy's face at the Slytherin founders expense, that the student hid away rapidly.
Only Luna Lovegood turned towards the defensive founder and placed her hand on his arm.
"I don't think it's the boys either", she confided to him.
Surprisingly, that seemed to mollify him a great deal. Harry watched him send a bright smile at her.
"Thank yew, my dear."
Hufflepuff shook her head fondly and turned back to the book.
And, of course, that was when the next word came up that derailed all hope of reading through the chapter uninterrupted.
"No what? Telephone?"
Harry wondered why no one had ever written a wizarding dictionary on muggle terms. But, perhaps, he amended, they had and he just didn't knew about it. Then, he noticed that this time the question had not come from Gryffindor but Slytherin, instead. He caught himself.
How was he supposed to describe a telephone to the founder without it becoming an hour long discussion?
"It's like a muggle version of a floo call." He tried.
The adults stared at him in confusion.
"What's a floo call?"
Harry stared perplexed at the dark haired woman. Then, it registered that she meant the question seriously. Rowena Ravenclaw truly had no idea what a flu call was. Harry felt a hysterical giggle rise in his throat.
Thankfully, Luna proved her worth as a Ravenclaw again and saved him from trying to come up with an answer.
"The Floo Network connects most wizarding households and buildings with each other. It works by throwing a handful of Floo Powder into a fireplace. Then you step in and say where you want to come out."
She stopped to make sure she had everyone's attention, before continuing: "A Floo call works just the same, only you merely stick your head into the flames. Your head then appears in the other fireplace and you can speak to someone who's sitting in front of it."
The adults' faces showed an unexpected mixture of awe, bewilderment and alarm.
"When did that came up?" Ravenclaw asked Luna, shaking her head in wonder.
"A witch named Ignatia Wildsmith invented it in the 13th century."
"We use something similar", Ravenclaw acknowledged pensively. "Although, we dinna use fire tae burn the powder up."
Hufflepuff snorted in a very unfeminine manner. "It might make the whole breathing it in thing easier, though."
"True", Gryffindor said, shuddering slightly.
"So, you just, what? Breathe the powder in as it is?" To Harry's dismay, Malfoy seemed to have found his voice again. His face showed exactly what he thought about that idea.
Gryffindor nodded at him. "Yes."
"And tastes worse than you imagine right now, it does." Hufflepuff grimaced.
Malfoy looked vaguely ill. So did Neville. And Harry was ready to bet that he himself was also paler than usual.
"An' the telephone thing?" Slytherin asked, changing the topic to something more pleasant.
"You just lift up the handset, dial a number and then it connects you to the person that number belongs to." Harry explained in a rush. He held not illusions that the founder would understand, though. "And then you speak into the handset, and the person at the other end of the line can hear you and answer in the same way."
Slytherin pondered this for a moment.
"That sounds by far safer", he finally decided.
Harry gaped at him.
"But, Sir!" Malfoy protested.
Slytherin shrugged at him. "Well, it do."
"Should we read on?" Luna asked quietly around a yawn.
"Yes, we should," Ravenclaw nodded. "Otherwise we winna finish this chapter the day."
Hufflepuff started reading about Frank, the muggle gardener, leaving for the Riddle's house, ostensibly to chase away the boys he thought were hiding in the old building, when Neville leaned forward and mumbled:
"I have a bad feeling about this."
Harry nodded. Something was nagging at him in the back of his mind, but he couldn't put his finger on what it was.
"That does not sound as if children broke in", Gryffindor acknowledged reluctantly.
And Harry watched a complacent smile settle on Slytherin's features. Eerily, Luna sitting beside him exuded the exact same expression.
Listening to the tale spreading out before him, Harry felt the hairs on his neck standing on end. He had no idea why, but somehow he knew this wasn't going to end well for the muggle. It was as if he was re-hearing a story, whose end he had already heard once before, but that he couldn't remember in detail.
Judging by their expressions, the others felt much the same ill at ease.
Then, the first words of the two men in the Riddle's room fell, and Harry felt the ground under his feet lurch. It was a good thing he was sitting down.
"It's definitely not the children." Gryffindor stated. He seemed relieved about that, while at the same time worried about other possible intruders.
Harry couldn't help but agree with his worry.
"It's Voldemort", he said, his statement ringing through the room.
He was aware of the other students flinching away at the name and staring at him with wide-eyes.
"How do you know?" Neville whispered.
Harry shrugged. "Just do." he said. He wasn't going to point out how familiar this whole story seemed to him so far. And he certainly was not going to contemplate why he knew without a doubt that the man inside that room was You-know-who.
"Voldemort?" Ravenclaw sniffed.
"Who is that?" Hufflepuff asked, watching the students repeatedly flinch at the name wearily.
Neville was the first to break the silence. "Don't say his name!"
Harry rolled his eyes. "It's just a name, Neville." he said tiredly.
"You obviously have no sense at all, Potter", Malfoy sneered.
"There is no point in being afraid of a name."
"Until the Dark Lord drives the point home?"
Neville nodded, and looked surprised at finding himself agreeing with Malfoy of all people. But he plunged on nonetheless. "I don't understand why you, of all people, keep calling You-know-who that?"
Harry sighed. It was an old argument that he had grown tired off ages ago.
Hearing the term spelled out again, Harry became aware of the confused looks the adults were exchanging.
Turning to Luna, Slytherin made a complicated gesture with his hands that seemed to indicate a question for more information. "Voldemort?"
From the corner of his eye, Harry saw Neville and Malfoy flinch again. To his surprise, Luna took the name in stride. Harry's opinion of the younger Ravenclaw student immediately rose considerably.
Luna threw him a questioning look, to which Harry shrugged in answer.
The adults looked watched their silent exchange, before concentrating back on Luna.
"He is a dark wizard -" she said.
"The most evil Dark Lord of all times", Neville interjected.
Ravenclaw raised an eyebrow disbelievingly.
"He and his followers did many horrible things. Then, years ago, he disappeared and a lot of people thought he was gone for good. But some thought he was still around." She shrugged, obviously at a loss at what else to say.
Harry felt pity for her. Summoning Voldemort up in as few words as possible seemed nearly impossible to him. Even Hagrid's attempt, back when they had first met, had failed to convey the horror the evil wizard's sheer existence struck into people's hearts.
Luna's explanation failed to do so, too.
"What kind of horrible things?" Gryffindor inquired.
Luna shifted in her chair. Her eyes flickering to Harry, as if silently asking him for help.
"He killed my parents."
And just like that, he was the focus of everyone in the room.
"And a whole lot of other people, too."
It was obvious that they wanted to ask more, but Harry didn't feel ready to delve into that.
"Can we please read on?" he asked. "there are dozens of books in the library where you can read up on Voldemort -" Neville and Malfoy flinched again "- and everything he's done."
Helga Hufflepuff looked at him sharply, but to his relief she conceded with a nod and picked up the book again to continue reading.
Harry ground his teeth at the mention of Wormtail.
He felt the others watching him with curious expressions, and consciously tried to calm down. Taking a deep breath through his nose, he unclenched his fists and forced a smile. It was very difficult. Thankfully, no one called him on it, though.
Still, Gryffindor kept watching him curiously, but Harry had no intention of saying anything. So, he mutely shook his head, and hoped that it would deter the man from asking too overt questions.
It seemed to work, as the founder gave him a curt nod and returned his focus to Mrs Hufflepuff reading the book.
"He should get out of there." Gryffindor frowned, as Helga Hufflepuff continued reading the about the muggle's continued eavesdropping. "He's in no shape to defend himself against two wizards should they notice him."
Harry agreed, but deep inside he knew the man would not leave.
To him the whole story had taken on the unpleasant feeling of deja-vu.
"And do I even want to ask what the 'Quidditch World Cup' is?" Godric Gryffindor sounded faintly annoyed.
"The Quidditch World Cup is the greatest sporting event in the world", Malfoy exclaimed scandalized that the man would not know.
But Harry could see in all the adults faces that this explanation had not been helpful at all.
"You should get 'Quidditch through the Ages' from the library. It explains everything about it." He sighed, not really feeling up to explaining the whole game to the founder right then.
Slytherin opened his mouth, but Ravenclaw interrupted before he could utter a tone.
"Salazar. It's getting real late. Let's finish this up fast. We can always find the information later."
The blond founder nodded, but it was evident that he was not happy with this at all.
The further Helga Hufflepuff read, the more the story developed, the more Harry's feeling of deja-vu intensified.
He felt he knew where this was going. But whenever he tried to drag the memory into the conscious parts of his mind, it shied away from him.
"Well, if he realized that he's dealing with criminals", his musings were interrupted, "he should go and alert the watch."
Gryffindor stared at Slytherin. "What?"
The blond founder waved his hands as if to illustrate a complicated concept. "The watch. They call it Police. That wuz already said."
Godric Gryffindor sighed. "Right. Whatever."
"Especially since that Voldemort, whoever he is, seems tae act half-way sensible", Ravenclaw added.
Harry stared at her aghast.
She shrugged. "If this Voldemort truly is such a wanted man as ye make him out tae be it would be the peak of stupidity fer him tae act publicly under these circumstances. Which means that he winna be noticed unless someone reports him tae the watch."
"Police." Slytherin threw in again.
Hufflepuff ignored him. "That Wormtail man truly is a fool, if he's thinking of acting when so many people could notice them."
"Maybe he want tew be caught", Slytherin proposed.
Gryffindor snorted. "Then he is not only a fool but also a turncoat."
Harry stifled a snigger, knowing that the man had no idea how right he was.
Neville though, was busy thinking about something else. "Harry?" he asked quietly. "What does he mean that 'it could be done without you'?"
"I don't know. What ever he's planning to do, I guess."
He looked at the worried faces around him.
"It's all right", he said resigned. Honestly, with the last year having been suspiciously Voldemort free, Harry felt he was long overdue another confrontation. He just wondered what it might include this time.
"It is not alright!"
He turned around and stared wide-eyed at the outraged founder beside him.
Helga Hufflepuff certainly did not look like a pushover right then. Actually, she bore such an uncanny resemblance to an enraged Mrs. Weasley, that Harry inched away from her with his chair.
"Why would that man even plan something involving you?"
"That's what he does", Harry answered at a loss at what else to say.
"That is not an acceptable answer, luv." Gryffindor sounded serious but not half as indignant as the ginger haired witch.
"Seriously, it'd be easier if you read up on it -"
"Harry is the reason You-know-who disappeared all those years ago." Neville answered for him.
"How?" Hufflepuff demanded.
"I don't know, okay?" Harry groused. "He came to my house, killed my parents, but when he tried to kill me, his curse backfired and he fled! Can we just keep reading, now?"
An awkward silence filled the room following his words.
Harry peeked up at the Hufflepuff founder who was chewing on her lips and seemed to weight if she wanted to keep the argument going, or not.
"Let it go, Helga." Slytherin advised.
"Salazar is right", Ravenclaw intervened. "Let it go for now."
Helga Hufflepuff exhaled resentfully, but nodded before she lifted the book back up with a violent jerk. She continued reading with an incensed expression – only to interrupt herself again just a few lines later.
"That despicable man", she snarled, "How dare he suggest sacrificing another person just like that?"
"Yew'd rather he take Harry then?" Slytherin smiled.
"Shut up, Sally." Hufflepuff hissed at the same time that Gryffindor rebuked: "Salazar!"
Harry saw the blond founder's lips twitch as Hufflepuff turned back to the book with a huff, her temper noticeably cooled down.
Listening to Wormtail trying to talk himself out of nursing Voldemort, Harry felt a strange mixture of disgust, contempt and satisfaction at the traitor's deserved unhappiness.
"He truly is a traitor, isn't he?" Gryffindor shook his head.
"And a fraidy cat to boot", Hufflepuff scowled. "Honestly, what did he think would happen? That this Voldemort would just let him walk away?"
"And what is up with this so called Dark Lord of yours?" Ravenclaw wondered. "How would he need tae be fed every few hours? And how is it sae important tae milk this Nagini?"
"What is Nagini anyway?" Slytherin added. "A goat? A snake?"
"A snake?" Hufflepuff asked him.
"You could milk it fur it's poison."
Hufflepuff made a disgusted face. "That's gross, that is. Why would anyone drink snake poison?"
Privately though, Harry thought that if he had to choose one person whom he would think capable of doing that, Voldemort would definitely be at the top of his list.
"It could be a cow", Hufflepuff added.
Ravenclaw glared at her. "Dinna be preposterous."
"We would not have to guess, if thou would keep reading", Gryffindor pointed out.
Listening to Hufflepuff reading further about Voldemort's argument with Wormtail, Harry could not stop himself from commenting: "He does sound quite ill, doesn't he?"
Luna Lovegood nodded and Harry saw Malfoy frown in thought at the book in the ginger founders hands.
"I wonder what happened t' him." Slytherin cocked his head. "If he's still feelin' queer after such a sight of years…"
Ravenclaw nodded along with him. "It must have been a horrifying injury that he suffered."
"And why", Gryffindor asked, "is he so adamant about using Mr. Potter for whatever it is that he has planned?"
He considered Harry with a piercing look.
Harry shrugged. "I don't know. He's always been obsessed with me."
"You have no idea why, have you?" Hufflepuff sounded incredulous.
"No", Harry said. I would if the headmaster had just answered my question back when I first asked, he thought bitterly.
"That's certainly something tae find out", Ravenclaw stated pensively.
"What bothers me", Hufflepuff added, "is how casually they are speaking about that woman they killed."
Gryffindor nodded. "Bertha Jorkins." He looked intently at the students. "Does anyone of you know that name? Or the woman herself?"
Harry shook his head. Even though the name sounded vaguely familiar to him, he was at the same time absolutely certain that he had never met the woman.
"I think she works in the Ministry", Malfoy offered quietly. Harry and the others stared at him, and he added sullenly: "My mother mentioned the name once. She wasn't impressed with the woman."
"They knew each other?" Slytherin enquired.
Malfoy sat up a bit straighter in his chair.
"Yes, sir. I believe they were at school together."
"What wuz she doing alone in a wayside Inn?" Slytherin asked.
Malfoy shrugged helplessly.
"I don't know, Sir?" It was obviously difficult for him to admit.
"She gave him 'invaluable information'." Ravenclaw seemed to think out loud. "Judging from the description, she was tortured for it. What information could that have been?"
Malfoy shrugged again.
"What part of the Ministry did she work in? Do you know that?" Hufflepuff asked him.
"The Department of Magical Games and Sports, I think."
"That makes no sense whatsoever," Gryffindor groaned.
Luna Lovegood had a thoughtful look on her face, though. "It might have something to do with the Quidditch World Cup."
Neville nodded enthusiastically.
"No", Harry said. He thought back to the events of the World Cup. "I don't think that's what he was planning."
"But, Harry", Neville threw a furtive look at Malfoy, "there were Death Eaters there, right? It said so in the newspaper."
"Death Eaters?" Slytherin wrinkled his nose.
"You-know-who's followers", Luna told him.
"That… is an outstanding stupid name fur a group o' people."
Malfoy stared up at the blond founder, a look of outrage clear on his face.
"Who would want t' be called that?" Slytherin went on.
Hufflepuff shook her head. "Someone following a man named Voldemort." She snorted. "Anyone else see the theme here?"
"Never mind that", Ravenclaw interrupted. "How do you think that the events at that -" she waved her hands around as if trying to fish the concept out of thin air "- World Cup are what he was planning?"
Harry frowned in thought. How could he put the feeling he had in his stomach into words?
"Well, for one, no one died. And then, there was nothing to be gained for him, right?"
The adults nodded at him, and he felt encouraged enough to go on.
"And when someone casted their sign into the sky the Death Eaters fled."
brought the founders up short.
"They fled when they saw their own sign?" Gryffindor checked.
"And this sign is some kind of symbol of recognition for them?"
time Luna, Neville and Malfoy nodded.
The founders exchanged thoughtful looks.
"That is very interesting", Ravenclaw muttered. Then she went on, deep in thought: "Another thing tae think aboot is, whom dis he mean by 'his faithful servant'?"
Hufflepuff snorted. "Not the Wormtail guy, that's for sure."
She exchanged a look with Slytherin and both stifled sniggers with difficulty.
"Yes", Gryffindor sounded pensive, "but that would mean that there is some other, more loyal, servant of him at Hogwarts." He pulled the fingers of his hand through his full beard.
"That is a worrying thought", Ravenclaw agreed.
The other two founders sobered up immediately.
Hufflepuff turned back to the book with a quietly reserved look on her face.
She did not get very far, for when she read about Frank's encounter with the snake Nagini she was rudely interrupted again.
"Wait, what?" Slytherin yelped. "He kin talk t' snakes?"
The blond founder was grinning broadly. "Thass great! So kin I, yew know?" He turned to Luna, who nodded at him. "I wuz afraid the gift mighta be lost over time."
Ravenclaw nodded. "It has happened before", she explained to the students around the table. "A specific talent might occur in a bairn, but then it would disappear again completely. Such a waste that is."
"I don't understand", Neville frowned.
"It's simple, really", Hufflepuff explained patiently. "Salazar here can speak to snakes. Born with that talent, he was. But it might just as easily disappear with him when he dies. There's no guarantee that it will be passed on through the ages."
"But", Harry said, "he would pass it on to his descendants, right?" He threw the blond founder a scathing look. Couldn't the others see the relationship between the man and Voldemort by now?
"Not necessarily, no."
Harry blinked surprised at Slytherin.
"None o' me children inherited that specific talent." He trailed of before adding: "Well, I aren't quite sure about Selwyn, yit."
"His sisters haen't shown the gift though, so chances are he winna either." Ravenclaw added pointedly to which Slytherin dropped his head with a sigh.
"That said", the stern looking witch went on, "Salazar isnae the only Parseltongue in the land -"
"He isn't?" Malfoy interrupted frowning.
"Nae, Mr. Malfoy", Ravenclaw went on, "we dae no actually ken where the first serpent tongues originated fae, but the gift has arisen off and on in different people all over the islands for centuries noo."
To Harry this was very interesting. Luna's attention, however, seemed to have been grabbed by a different fact.
"You have children?"
Slytherin nodded. "Three. Thorve, Willa an' Selwyn."
Harry wondered how to pronounce the first one without tying his tongue into a knot, when Hufflepuff added: "We all have children."
"Really?" Luna's tired eyes shone in excitement.
Hufflepuff nodded smiling.
But before she could go on at length, Gryffindor cleared his throat audibly. "Could we possibly finish reading soon? It is getting awfully late."
"You mean early", Luna yawned.
"Early comes after the sleep", the adults recited simultaneously. Then they grinned at each other, Ravenclaw smiling somewhat abashedly.
Luna yawned again, and Harry felt himself mirroring her. It was getting late.
Hufflepuff glanced at them, before lifting the book up again.
"Yes", she said, "Let's finish this up."
She read about the muggle speaking with Voldemort and while the others all listened with morbid fascination to the man's ultimate death, Harry couldn't shake the pressing feeling of having heard all this before. When the chapter had ended Hufflepuff closed the book and set it down with a thoughtful expression on her face.
Everyone turned to Harry, who looked ponderously at the table's rough surface.
"You know", he finally nodded, "I think, I remember that. Although, I thought it was just a dream. I'd nearly forgotten…" he trailed of mumbling.
"So", Gryffindor prompted. "The book be telling the truth? It was a dream thou had?"
Harry snapped his gaze to the man beside him. "Yes." He answered. Now that he said it, he suddenly felt certain. "Yes. I dreamt it exactly like that." And how could he have forgotten? He could hardly believe himself. He should have remembered something this important.
"I guess the book really does tell about this school year, then. And about the immediate future, too." Hufflepuff stated.
Harry stared at the book in her hands with a feeling of dread.
"Well", Gryffindor broke the stretching silence by dropping both of his hands onto the table with a decisive thump. "It's too late to worry about that, in any case. Now, ye all return to your dormitories. We can contemplate this oddity later."
He stood up, stretched his shoulders and motioned Harry and Neville to join him.
"Come along. I shall escort ye back."
The other adults mirrored him.
"Sir?" Luna asked Gryffindor tiredly.
"Where will you stay?"
The auburn haired founder tilted his head. "Probably in some guest quarters. There should be quite a few around the castle."
"The house elves will find something." Hufflepuff added.
"But you'll stay here?" Harry asked, a note of desperation in his voice.
"It seems we hae no choice for noo", Ravenclaw huffed, clearly unhappy at the idea.
"Don't you worry. I'm certain we'll be around for a while." Hufflepuff agreed. Harry saw her and Slytherin exchange an excited grin behind Ravenclaw's back.
"Come along, now!" Gryffindor ordered, and soon Harry found himself trudging along beside the founder back to the Gryffindor dormitories.
Next Chapter: Covert Enquiries