Sorry for the delay. As you can probably tell from my other stories, my muse has been elsewhere!
This story is now officially over a year old! It has just over two and a half times as many reviews as my next most reviewed story, more than two and a half times the number of favourites as my next most favourited story and more that than three and a half times the number of followers as my next most followed story.
And to think, we're probably not even close to being half way through yet!
I would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank everyone how has favourited, followed or reviewed this thing, as well as everyone else who has taken the time to read this story and stuck with it this far!
So a big thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you and thank you to each one of you!
Anyway, without further ado, let's get rolling with chapter 22!
Harry Potter: Junior Inquisitor
Chapter 22: Caractacus Burke
Friday afternoon found Harry having his final lesson of the week in a classroom on the fourth floor. Usually this room was unused by the staff of Hogwarts, and the last time that Harry had been into this room, the Mirror of Erised had been stored there.
The mirror was long gone by now, its current location probably only known by Dumbledore.
As it was, the room made the perfect place for Harry to receive his private potions lessons from Sarah Abbott.
For now it was just the two of them, but people had been coming up to Harry all week asking if they too could take their potions lessons from Sarah rather than Snape. Something somewhere would soon have to give. Sarah had no reason to refuse teaching those who had potions class at the same time as Harry, but anyone else would probably end up having to make other arrangements. Her first job was at the Ministry, working for Amelia Bones in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement so it wasn't like she had an excessive amount of free time.
The lesson would soon be ending, but Harry had learned quite a lot. They had not brewed anything, but they had instead gone over Morlett's Principle, which helped explain why black beetle eyes were such a common ingredient in the brewing of potions (it made for an excellent stabiliser of potentially volatile liquids when brewing), as their subject for the day.
This, according to Sarah, was basic level stuff – the sort of thing that no student at Hogwarts should have ever have brewed a potion without first being able to recite as if it were the alphabet.
Snape had never deemed it necessary to teach this to those that he allegedly taught, and Harry was only passingly familiar with it because it had come up in a Herbology essay on the potential uses of bubotuber pus.
"You know Harry," said Sarah "I'm considering taking on more students purely out of the morbid curiosity of finding out exactly what they don't know."
"Well, I would imagine that the Slytherins would have a reasonable grasp of the basics," replied Harry "I wouldn't be at all surprised if Snape conducted a lecture on the basics in the middle of the Slytherin Common Room in order to make sure that his first years outshine the rest. Beyond that, the most studious of Ravenclaws probably have the best grasp, along with those dedicated to mastering the art, like Hannah."
"You're probably right," replied Sarah. "You know, ever since Snape started teaching here, there has been a huge decline in the percentage of students who leave Hogwarts with an N.E.W.T level grade in potions."
"Can't imagine why," replied Harry, his voice dripping with sarcasm "Snape's such a charming individual."
Sarah shuddered and replied "Stop talking like that. You'll make me sick."
Harry smirked and said "Well, at least those who actually want to learn can go to Madam Pomfrey's club."
"Club?" asked Sarah "What club?"
"Madam Pomfrey runs a club every Thursday evening for anyone who wants to practice brewing healing potions," replied Harry "Surely Hannah's told you about it. She goes."
"She told me that she helps out in the Hospital Wing on a Thursday, but she never said anything about a club. You didn't go, did you?"
"Of course I did," replied Harry "I'm trying to get better at potions, remember? I'm taking all the help that I can get."
"Harry, you need to be careful around Poppy Pomfrey. Don't forget, she's still under suspicion for either not noticing or ignoring all of the ailments that I discovered back at the start of August."
"You still think that she was involved somehow?" asked Harry.
"I don't know, Harry, but a healer doesn't just miss all of that. You were malnourished, had poorly grown bones, or else ones that had broken and healed incorrectly. And that's before we take in the scars and the loyalty and compulsion potions. Pomfrey has to have been involved in some way, either following orders to ignore what she found, or else having the knowledge removed from her mind before she could take action."
Harry leaned back in his chair and tapped his fingers on the table for a few moments before commenting "I would place gold on it being the latter."
"I would hope it's that," agreed Sarah "Oh, and speaking of potions in your system, I was asked to hand this onto you."
She pulled a letter out of her pocket and handed it to him, explaining "These are the results from that treacle tart you sent off to Amelia for testing."
Harry opened the letter and pulled out the parchment contained within. It confirmed his suspicions.
"Loyalty potion, compulsion potion… wait… a befuddlement draught and a mild love potion?"
"A befuddlement draught can cause the drinker to become somewhat confused and reckless," explained Sarah "And I think that the love potion is pretty much self-explanatory."
"But I didn't test positive for either of those before, did I?" questioned Harry.
"No. I suspect that they are new additions to help keep you in line."
"Well, I suppose that some of my actions in the past have been as if I were under a befuddlement potion…" said Harry "Or at least the reckless part, anyway. But why a love potion?"
"My guess is that they wanted you to be too preoccupied with a girl to carry on as you have."
"Which girl?" asked Harry.
"No idea." replied Sarah "Are there any that you can think of who have been acting differently towards you lately?"
"Well, yeah, loads," said Harry "But that's because I'm interacting with more students."
"But are there any that stand out?"
"Not really. I mean, I'm getting on with Hannah and Susan a lot better than ever before, but that's more due to use spending the last weeks of summer in each other's company. A few Slytherin girls have begun warming up to me, but they're the ones I helped on the train… Wait, how about Padma? I went on a date with her the other day."
"But you didn't ingest the potion," said Sarah "So that can't have been what made you ask her out."
Harry blushed and replied "Well, actually she was technically the one who did the asking."
Sarah smirked at him "Oh really? I'll bet that Hannah loved hearing that."
"Yeah, she wanted to know all the juicy details, both before and after."
"So how has this Padma girl been acting towards you?" asked Sarah.
"How do you mean?" asked Harry.
"Well, has she been overly affectionate with you? Has she been extremely forward? Is there anything to suggest that she pines for you when you're not there?"
"No, I don't think so," said Harry before adding, almost absently "She's acting nothing like Cho."
His own words echoed in his mind for a moment before he fully absorbed what he had said and exclaimed "Holy crap, it's Cho! That's what's wrong with her!"
St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injures was rather quiet this evening. Officially, visiting hours were over, but two guests walked into the front door to the hospital anyway.
They approached the front desk and flashed their gold badges. The blond haired witch sitting behind the desk nodded and sent a message off to the Chief Healer as the two men began making their way towards the Admissions Department.
Chief Healer Amadeus Hopkirk met them outside his office and directed them inside.
"So," began Amadeus once he was seated in the chair behind his desk "to what do I owe this pleasure? What business does the Department of Mysteries have with St Mungo's Hospital?"
Saul Croaker and Cyrus Greengrass had been trying to set up this meeting for the better part of a week now, and only this afternoon had the Chief Healer finally consented to meet with them.
Though he was not technically an employee of the Department of Mysteries, Cyrus had collaborated with them enough times to warrant them giving him certain a few of the perks that came from working within that department, including the identification badge.
Ever since Harry Potter had levelled half of the Hall of Prophesy whilst fighting the Horcrux in his head, Cyrus had been working with the best and the brightest that the Department of Mysteries had to offer, and seeing as the Unspeakables only accepted the best and the brightest to their ranks, Cyrus had been working with a fair few minds could have given Rowena Ravenclaw herself a run for her money.
Based on every bit of information that Harry had ever given to either Cyrus, Madam Bones or Healer Abbott, they had been doing everything that they could in order to track down Lord Voldemort's other Horcruxes.
They had started at the beginning, learning all that they could about Tom Riddle's school days. This was a tough challenge as most who knew him either did not like to talk about him, or were in some way or another a puppet of Dumbledore's.
They had gleaned very little of Riddle's life before Hogwarts, only that he had come from Wool's Orphanage, a place that had long since been torn down. They had searched the place but had found nothing to suggest that Voldemort had ever returned there following his graduation from Hogwarts, far less anything that might have been a Horcrux.
This failure to find anything had caused them to look at the other end of Riddle's time at Hogwarts, trying to discover what he had done after leaving the classroom behind him.
Their findings had led them here.
"We require the opportunity to ask a few questions of one of your patients," explained Croaker "We are on the trail of a criminal and we believe that one of your patients may be able to offer us a little insight into how this man's mind works."
"And which patient would that be?" asked Amadeus.
"Caractacus Burke." replied Cyrus.
The healer looked slightly stunned by this name "You do realise that the man is not exactly all there anymore, don't you? He has been here for nearly forty years now, slowly slipping down the slope towards oblivion?"
"We are aware of his… condition," said Croaker. "However, this man is our main lead. We simply have to question him."
"We also have the backing of the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement in this matter," added Cyrus "Madam Bones is most interested in learning exactly what it is that this patient knows about our target."
Amadeus rubbed a hand over his face wearily before giving a nod "Alight. Alright, I'll allow it. I can't guarantee that you'll get anything out of him, mind you. He's rarely lucid. Most of the time he just stares blankly at the pot plant in the corner of the ward and when he does speak it is usually nothing more than inane babble."
"Nevertheless…" said Croaker.
Amadeus nodded his head and stood up "Very well. I will take you to him."
They left the office and the Healer led the way up several flights of stairs until they reached the geriatric ward.
Beyond the doors they found bed after bed containing elderly wizards and witches who were no longer able to take care of themselves.
They weren't old; they were ancient, even by wizarding standards. Every single one of them was bed ridden, unable to move, far less walk. Most were bordering on being comatose, others needed special spells on them to keep their bodies breathing.
Technically speaking, most of these patients were not ill. They were simply being kept alive long after they should have died of old age. Mostly this was done by rich families who were simply refusing to accept the fact that their older relatives' time had come.
Others, though, were simply holding on, almost as if they themselves were determined to not die. Caractacus Burke was this kind.
The Chief Healer led them to him bed, which was located right at the opposite end of the ward and then left them to it.
Cyrus looked at the man in the bed and had to admit that it did appear as though answers would not be easy to get out of this man. There had been no sign that the man had noticed them arriving. His blank eyes just stared right past them as if they were not there at all.
Once the Chief Healer had left the ward, Croaker began erecting a series of protective spells that were designed to prevent them from being either overheard or interrupted.
Cyrus took the time to observe the man in the bed. He was old, frail with liver spots marking his skin, particularly on his hands, and he was nearly completely bald but for a few long, white wisps of hair that stuck out at odd angles. It was clear that he had been tall in his younger years but had shrunk with age.
Croaker finished ensuring their privacy and pulled a stoppered ampoule out of his pocket.
"Are you certain that veritaserum will be of any help here?" asked Cyrus.
"He's senile, not brain damaged." replied Croaker as he pulled out the stopper from the top of the ampoule "He'll answer just as clearly as anyone else. Hold his head back please."
Cyrus moved around to the side of the bed and tilted Burke's head back slightly. The man did not offer any resistance.
Croaker opened Burke's mouth and allowed three drops of the truth serum to land on the man's tongue.
The effect as almost instantaneous. Where most people under the potion appeared to be less able to concentrate, with Burke it was the opposite. Immediately his eyes became focused and he almost seemed to come alive.
He blinked a few times as though attempting to clear dust from them before focusing his gaze upon the two men who were now standing at the foot of his bed.
He opened his old, toothless mouth and, in a voice that sounded like it had not been used properly for more than two decades, asked "Who are you?"
Croaker began the introductions "My name is Saul Croaker, and I am an unspeakable from the Department of Mysteries. This is my associate, Cyrus Greengrass, a specialist in dealing with dark artefacts."
Burke glowered at them.
"If it's at all possible, Mr Burke" began Cyrus "we would like to ask you a few questions about a former employee of yours. A young man by the name of Tom Riddle?"
For a moment the ancient wizard looked as though he wanted to object to being questioned, but at the mention of the name Tom Riddle, his face suddenly broke out into a wide, toothless smile.
"You want to take about him, do yeh?" he asked "I wondered how long it would take for someone to come asking."
He paused for a moment before speaking up again "I don't usually bother talking with people from the Ministry, but I think I can make an exception this time. What do you want to know?"
"Everything," replied Croaker "Anything that you can tell us."
Burke appeared to think this over for a few moments before giving a nod of his head and beginning his tale "I can't say much of his early life, mind. He kept all that stuff very quiet. What his truthful heritage was, I never found out. Sure as anything, mind, the name Riddle was not the name of an old pureblood family.
"The first I ever heard of Tom Riddle was when I received an owl one October evening, back in 1945. It was from some whelp fresh outta Hogwarts looking for employment. As I said, his family name certainly didn't ring any bells but for him to apply for a job at any location in Knockturn Alley I assumed that he was at least a third generation wizard.
"Well, I had a look over his results from school and I was most surprised. Outstanding grades in every subject he turned his hand to. He had written commendations from several members of staff, including Armando Dippet, the Headmaster at the time, and Horace Slughorn, the potions master and Head of Slytherin House. All full of praise for the lad they were, mind sharp as they come, skilled with a wand, very clever with potions, and all the rest.
"I was quite surprised actually. Normally the only applications we get are from third rate wizards who mucked about in class too much and have found themselves suddenly out in the real world. And usually the request comes from the parents. But here was a young lad looking for work off his own back who actually had good credentials. Too good, in fact, for someone who wanted to work in a shop. But in his letter he had mentioned getting all sorts of offers for positions within the Ministry but he had turned them all down, feeling that they would not be challenging enough for him.
"Well, that was all that I needed to know. Someone which scores and recommendations like that, but who didn't want to work for the Ministry told me that this lad wanted to become a businessman, but who was also quite happy to start from the bottom and work their way up, which was such a nice change from some of the other usual applicants who thought that they could start out in a managerial role despite having no experience.
"I knew there and then that an opportunity like this one would not raise its head again. I had no children myself, and no desire to leave the shop fully in the control of the inept son of my business partner Everard Borgin. Here was my chance to leave the business in safe, dependable hands."
Cyrus and Croaker exchanged a look, both knowing that Burke had not gotten his wish, and that the shop had been left in the sole ownership of Everard Borgin's son, Edward.
Burke continued "I agreed to meet with the boy a couple of days later in the Spiny Serpent pub. He was well mannered and respectful, smartly dressed and above all confident. I employed him on the spot.
"To begin with I had him selling items to potential customers. This proved to be a mistake on my part. He had a keen eye for what was valuable and refused to ever back down during the inevitable negotiation stage. He was much too forceful and put off a lot of potential customers. But, after sitting down with the boy and having a frank discussion with him, he got better and I soon realised that his talents truly lay in the art of buying.
"He had a silver tongue, that boy, and before long he was persuading one witch or wizard after another to part with their treasured items for sums of gold far less than their actual worth. Soon our storerooms were fit to burst. He was bringing in items faster than we could sell them, but sell we did, allowing our profits to go through the roof.
"Business was booming and yet, I had my concerns. There was no doubt in my mind that Tom Riddle was very good at his job, but I began to become concerned at just how good he was at it. Borgin saw no problem, but I did. Our location in Knockturn Alley made certain people suspicious of us. All that was needed for one of Tom's customers to cry foul and the Ministry would have come down upon us like a mother Dragon upon a wolf that had stolen one of her hatchlings.
"I began to keep a closer eye on him. I began making detailed notes on who he bought from and how much he paid. But in the end it wasn't that which worried me the most. He had obsession with treasures.
"An obsession with treasures?" asked Cyrus, looking for clarification.
Burke nodded and relied "I don't mean what most people would consider treasure. He did not covet gold or diamonds. He was more interested in… well, I suppose he was interested in heirlooms."
"Heirlooms?" asked Croaker.
"Yes. Take a necklace, for example. If you had a necklace that was worth, say five hundred galleons, or even a thousand, he would be relatively uninterested. He would attempt to purchase it as a part of his job of course, but that was as far as his interest went. However, if that necklace had some form of actual significance to a family, something that was known to have been handed down throughout the years and perhaps had the family shield engraved upon it, then he took interest.
"When he first started, we had a brooch on display near the counter that had engraved upon it the shield of the extinct Barton family. The number of times I caught him just staring at this thing. He was most disappointed when it was sold."
"Where there any family names in particular that he was obsessed with?" asked Croaker.
"Not particularly. Though, he did have a ring on his finger. A gold ring with a stone as black as the night itself set in it, though slightly cracked. That piece, in particular, he appeared most fixated upon. I only ever got a good look at it once. It wasn't a particularly nice looking ring, rather inexpertly made as a matter of fact, but there was no doubt that it was ancient. The gold band had a couple of markings on it that led me to believe that it rightfully belonged to the Gaunt family. But the stone… the stone was something else.
"How so?" queried Cyrus.
Burke shook his head and said "The stone had a symbol on it. I never figured it out until much later, but it was almost exactly the same at the symbol used by Gellert Grindelwald during his rise to power; a circle, inside a triangle, with a line running through it from the point at the top, straight down."
"Did he seem interested in Grindelwald?" asked Cyrus.
"Never mentioned him," replied Burke "Could have been a coincidence that his ring bore that symbol, but I'll tell you one thing that was not a coincidence. One of Tom's best clients was an elderly lady by the name of Hepzibah Smith, a rich, eccentric old spinster who claimed to be descended from the Hogwarts' founder Helga Hufflepuff.
"Shorty after Tom began working for me she came into the shop looking for a few new treasures for her vast collection. She took a shine to the boy and asked him to visit with her in order to look through her collection of antiques. To my great astonishment he managed to actually do business with her, returning with a dozen items following his first visit alone.
"Never, tough, did he obtain the one item that I desired to have back - locket that had once belonged to Salazar Slytherin himself. She had purchased it from my shop a few years before, and I myself had acquired it from a poor and ignorant little witch who was desperate to make a sale.
"Anyway, one day, about a year after he started working for me, Tom came back to the shop having visited Smith. He had failed to purchase an ancient suit of goblin-made armour, but his mind was clearly elsewhere. All through the rest of that day, his mind was clearly elsewhere and the next two days were the same.
"Then old Hepzibah was found dead in her home. A search revealed that her evening cocoa had been laced with a little-known poison. There was no evidence that anyone else had been in to the house and the woman's House Elf confessed to having mistakenly added the poison to the cocoa instead of sugar. The Ministry concluded that the Elf, who was old and senile, had indeed killed her by accident and did not investigate any further."
"And how was that a coincidence?" questioned Croaker.
"The day after Hepzibah Smith died, Tom Riddle turned up three hours late for work and announced that he was quitting his job right there and then," replied Burke "It was quite a shock as he seemed to have settled in very well and appeared to greatly enjoy his job. After leaving he just seemed to disappear."
Burke sat up a little straighter before continuing "But even more strange was the fact that rather than find room for her hoarded antiques for themselves, Smith's family organised it all and held an auction, which I attended. At no point was there a mention of Salazar Slytherin's Locket."
"That's not so strange," said Croaker "They could easily have decided to keep it for themselves, or found a buyer prior to the auction."
"Perhaps," said Burke "but consider everything that I have told you about Tom Riddle. His obsession with heirlooms, his behaviour prior to Smith's death, my suspicions of his use of extremely underhanded methods in his business dealings… You do know who he became, don't you?"
"We do," replied Croaker.
"Good," said Burke "Then it will pay you to also keep in mind that Smith claimed to be a descendant of Helga Hufflepuff and, if rumours were ever true, she had a small, golden cup that was an heirloom of the Hufflepuff family."
"We'll keep that in mind," said Cyrus "Thank you, Mr Burke."
The ancient wizard nodded his head and leaned back against his pillows.
Croaker lowered the protection charms around the bed and the two men made their way towards the doors of the ward.
Just as they got there, Burke called out to them "If that boy still has those treasures, then you had better be prepared to fight in order to get them, gentlemen. Especially if even half the rumours about him are true."
Severus Snape was sitting in his quarters at Hogwarts, nursing a glass of Ogden's Finest Fire Whiskey. Classes had ended for the day and a Friday evening meant that he could drink if he wanted to, especially as he no longer had Head of House duties to attend to.
That fact caused his blood to boil. Everything had been going wrong for him lately. The Board of Governors and the Wizarding Examinations Authority has come together to demote him from his position as Head of Slytherin House, a role that he had been in since he began working at Hogwarts at the tender age of twenty one.
What was more, he was also on probation for his role as the castle's resident potions master. His every move was being monitored and if so much as one of the arrogant little bastards in his classes made a complaint about him he would likely be out on his ear.
Worse, he could not even vent his pent up frustrations by provoking that arrogant Potter brat after the insolent little whelp had had the call to file a harassment complaint and effectively gotten a restraining order against him.
Even Dumbledore could not cover for him anymore.
Snape was now wallowing in a cesspool of self-pity and loathing of the world in general. He was just wondering how in Merlin's name his life could become any more unfair when he felt a familiar burning sensation on the inside of his left forearm.
Lord Voldemort was summoning him. Fantastic!
He set his glass down and left his quarters.
All the students and other members of staff were in the Great Hall enjoying dinner as he passed the open doors. Only Dumbledore noticed him leaving.
Once he was beyond the line of wards which protected the castle and its occupants, Snape disapparated, arriving only a short moment later outside Malfoy Manor.
Black robes billowing behind him he made his way through the wrought iron gates and up the winding path that led to the front doors of the manor.
As a man who was always aware of his surroundings, Snape could not help but notice that Lucius' collection of white peacocks were looking a little thin on the ground, so to speak. This was probably a result of Lord Voldemort's beloved pet snake, Nagini.
A black robed Death Eater, Gibbon, met him at the doors and led him inside. They went through the long corridors of the ground floor until they reached the doors that led to the manor's grand ball room.
Gibbon knocked on the door and then left Snape to his fate.
"Come," instructed a high and cold voice.
Snape took a brief moment to make sure that all of his occlumency shields were in place and then pushed open the door.
The cruciatus curse struck him square in the chest and he dropped to the floor like a brick where he writhed and screamed in agony.
After two long and torturous minutes that felt more like twenty, the curse eased off.
It took a moment or two for Snape's vision to regain focus, though the spasms remained for a lot longer.
The pale face, slit-like nostrils and evil red eyes of Lord Voldemort swam into view above him.
"You have some explaining to do, Severus."
Amelia Bones listened with rapt attention as the two men told her everything that they had found out at the hospital.
Finally she said "Well, it seems that I will have to arrange a meeting with the Smith family. If they still have the locket and the cup then we can rule them out as dead end leads. If not then we've got a search on our hands."
"I'll head down to Borgin and Burkes tomorrow morning," said Cyrus "I know that Burke said that they sold the Barton brooch, but we need to find out if Voldemort tracked it down later, so knowing who they sold it to will be a good start."
"I'll begin researching the Gaunt family," said Croaker. "With any luck we'll find out what the symbol on that stone was without too much hassle."
Amelia nodded before adding "We'll give it a week or so, then we'll try questioning Burke again. That cannot possibly be all the information that he had on Voldemort."
The two men agreed to this, but unfortunately for all of them Burke passed away in his sleep during the early hours of the following morning. The Healers would put it down as being due to exhaustion from the questioning, but thankfully would not be pressing any charges. In all honestly, Chief Healer Amadeus Hopkirk believed that the sole reason for Caractacus Burke living so long was so that he could pass on all the information that he had given to Croaker and Greengrass that day.
A/N: So how was that? I know that it is short, but this chapter became a little bit of an info-dump. I know that some people don't like that sort of thing, but unfortunately that is sometimes the way it works.
Anyway, some reviewers have been asking for a while now to reveal just what is being done by those outside of Hogwarts who know the truth about Voldemort's return. I hope that this chapter gives a satisfactory explanation of such.
For those interested, in my head Amadeus Hopkirk is the father of Mafalda Hopkirk.
As for Croaker's first name, up to this point in this story and others, I have referred to him as Algernon. However, I have recently learned that his name is actually Saul. I will do my best to go back to previous chapters and change that for this story and "Harry from Another World" but any other previous that he appears in, he will remain as he is.