Chapter 11: Second Halloween
"Are you ready yet?" Myrtle asked her date for the evening impatiently, with her voice barely tempered as he carefully plucked a Lily from one of the jars that they grew in. It was rather fitting that she sounded as excited as a girl going to the prom, despite her actual age being in several decades older than the twelve-year old escorting her. Then again, the dead didn't age.
"Just about," he said, thankful for Neville's plant growth serum. The flower was in full bloom well before its time, the solution having done the trick. The book he inherited from Quirrell stated ghosts loved the species of flowers, and he owed Myrtle for all the things she's done for him, so he had bought them for her. With a set of tongs in hand he dipped it in a bowl with a luminous silver potion and pulled it out to find the flower now had a silvery glow lining it. "Here we are."
"Oh Harry," Myrtle said, a hitch in her non-existent breath as he set the flower into her school uniform like a corsage. The potion, which he had also learned through some digging through the text that his late mentor bequeathed him, would give that with form that ability to touch that without form for a limited amount of time. The only problem was that it was easily washed away by oils and water. "It's beautiful."
"I'm glad you like it," he stated, before gesturing towards the door. "Shall we go?"
She nodded and the pair left the confines of her bathroom on the first floor. The corridors were abandoned for the most part, but the cacophony of dozens upon dozens of students chatting in the Great Hall could be heard from behind the grand double doors in the distance. Listening to them, a thought came to her mind and left her wondering if it was okay to keep him from the feast.
"Are you sure this is okay?" she asked him. "Aren't your friends inside the Great Hall for the feast?"
"I wouldn't have agreed if I minded, Myrtle," Harry assured her as they walked towards the dungeon staircase that led below. From there they followed the poorly illuminated corridors and made a turn as they the tune of somber music reached their ears. It was then they approached the entrance of the party hall for the event, the path lined with obsidian-hue candles that burned with Bluebell flames that felt as though they sucked away heat itself. The entrance was covered with black velvet draperies that were watched by a single ghost with the attire of a butler.
"Moaning Myrtle and one guest," she told him as they came to a halt. The ghost nodded and pulled back one of the curtains to allow passage, before gesturing for them to enter. Inside the room they found a gathering of ghosts familiar and unknown.
The Hogwarts Four were there, Nearly Headless Nick wandering round and greeting the guests to his party, the Bloody Baron being given plenty of space, the Grey Lady was observing the floor from a corner, and the Fat Friar was near a man in chains while talking with a knight that had an arrow in his head. There were over a hundred ghosts at a glance…and Gene?
"What are you doing down here?" Harry asked his brother, who was looking rather bored at the spectacle.
Gene shrugged. "I owed our House Ghost a favor when it came to Filch. He asked me to show up. You?"
"Favor to Myrtle," he answered, nodding to the girl next to him. "And as if I'd pass up such an event for a feast. This is something that seems quite interesting."
Gene put off the minor urge to call him a nerd and instead turned his attention elsewhere. He didn't find it to be too fascinating overall. It was cold, the music was like fingers on a chalkboard, the atmosphere was gloomy, and the light was ghastly. Not to mention the wall of smell that hit him the moment he tried approaching the long table covered in black velvet that was littered with ruined and inedible food that had would add any human who ate it to the number of the ghosts.
But a favor was a favor. While Hermione and Ron decided to go to the feast instead, he always paid his debts back. His dad taught him that.
Harry, on the hand, seemed intrigued as looked around at the many ghosts that lingered around and their various causes of deaths and moods. He even gave the Bloody Baron a nod, which the menacing specter thought upon but returned with a slighter nod. It was then he spotted the Grey Lady and recalled he owed her thanks.
"Myrtle, may I have a minute to talk to the Grey Lady?" he asked, to be polite. "I owe her a thank you for helping me with a problem."
"Sure Harry," she said. "You'll come back for the dance, right?"
He nodded. Granted, he didn't really know how to dance but he could try.
It seemed good enough for her. Watching him go she smiled and then delicately touched the flower he gave her. It was then that Peeves came over with a jar of peanuts while smiling in his mischievous way.
Ignorant of the Poltergeist at the moment Harry approached the Grey Lady and gave her slight bow. "Might I have a moment of your time, Grey Lady?"
A light nod of her head followed. "You may."
"I wanted to thank you for your help with the young girl form before," he said. "Luna seems happier at the moment for the most part now that she can speak freely to her friend in Gryffindor and a few others in our house who surround me."
"Your gratitude is noted, Young Potter. But perhaps you should tend to your escort," the Grey Lady said as she pointed beyond his shoulder.
He looked to see there was Peeves, who was now pelting Myrtle with moldy peanuts and chasing her out of the dungeon as he chanted, "Pimply! Pimply! Pimply Myrtle!"
"Yes… I'd better…" Harry's wand was in his hand before he knew it and he was on their tail.
Gene witnessed as the Grey Lady promptly decided to excuse herself after pointing out Peeves chasing Moaning Myrtle. He figured she knew what was coming since she left straight through the ceiling to avoid being caught up in what would follow. Gene took a moment longer before he recalled the incident in their first day back and decided he didn't want to be caught in it either, so he made to do the same only to be stopped as Sir Nicolas arrived to ask him about how he was enjoying the party. Then the Headless Hunt arrived.
It was clear their presence had an adverse effect on Nicolas due to his condition of being nearly headless rather than completely. That much was evident as the head of the hunt cracked a joke at Nicolas' expense. However, no sooner than the ghost had finished talking did the barking of hounds and the screams of the Poltergeist decrying the hunt once more reach their ears.
Peeves burst in past the ghost at the entrance drapes. On his heels were three Gytrashes that seemed almost murderous. They quickly darted in between the ethereal mounts on the dance floor and around the hall, causing a disturbance.
In spite of it all the leader of the Headless Hunt cackled in jolly delight as he mounted his steed, the rest of his kinsmen doing the same. "Come along, Gents! It's the Hunt!"
Gene wisely decided that his favor had been repaid and decided to split while the splitting was good. He managed to get out after the horses started following the hounds chasing Peeves and didn't look back until he was safely on the first floor. From there he was planning on heading to the Great Hall to catch maybe a quick bite before the feast let out if he was quick enough.
That was when he heard a whisper coming from further down the hall. The voice made his stomach curl as it seemed overjoyed at the scent of blood being let, malevolence in it that was so thick that it sent a shiver down his spine as he pulled out his wand. Taking careful steps he came across a sight he hadn't expected.
Mrs. Norris was unconscious, splayed on the cold stone floor with flickering flames from the candles between the two windows illuminating the text written in blood on the walls that read: 'The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the Heir Beware'. Kneeling over her was Harry with his wand in his hand and two fingers on the cat's throat.
When he noticed Gene he immediately said, "This wasn't me. I was trying to comfort Myrtle from Peeves making her cry. When I came out I found this written on the wall and Mrs. Norris…"
"The twins might have gone too far," Gene mused as he put away his wand. While Mrs. Norris was loathed by the majority of the school none of them dared to touch the cat out of fear of its owner, who couldn't be too far away. But who else would be so brazen to attack it with…a stunner if he had to guess by how the cat was unmoving but seemingly uninjured, and then to paint the wall with fake-blood he knew they bragged about making before for a prank?
Harry shook his head. "If this is the Twins' handiwork then they're getting expelled at the very least. There's no justifying a prank this malicious."
Gene blinked. "Wait? What?"
"You can't tell because of the shadows being cast from the candles, but Mrs. Norris is dead," he stated, stressing the last word. "There's no pulse, no signs of any injuries or blood from wounds, no obstructions in her throat to cause suffocation, and the body is colder than it should be. I'd be tempted to think she just died of old age if it weren't for the wall. Someone must've done this with magic, to spite Filch if I had to guess, between the time I left the party and less than a minute ago when I came out of the bathroom."
Gene sucked in a sharp breath and realized that they probably didn't want to be there. "We need to go find the professors before the feast lets out—"
As if to prove that Fate was indeed a cruel mistress he was cut off as by the clamoring of footsteps coming forward as the feast was let out and everyone was making their way to them. There was no time to act as those who led the packs stopped when they came upon the sight and silence fell.
Naturally Draco Malfoy was the first to speak as he broke to the front to see what the hold-up was. "Enemies of the Heir Beware. You'll be next, Mud-bloods!"
Gene would be damned if he didn't think that little weasel had something to do with this somehow. He just knew it. "This was you, wasn't it?"
"You can't pin this one on me, Potter," Malfoy said. "You're the one standing next to it."
Before he could retort a cry came from the corridor behind them and rang throughout the hallways of the first floor, over the gathering of students. Gene's head turned in timing with Harry's and their eyes fell onto the caretaker, Filch, who broke through the crowd to see what was going on and dropped to his knees at the sight of his beloved cat laying splayed on the floor and limp, no life to be found. Looking to the two of them he cried, "You've killed her!"
No sooner than the declaration of a murder was announced did the professors of each house and several others gather around and pushed their way to the front of the packed hallways. Their eyes shifted over the blood writing and then the boys, one of whom was still kneeled over the cat with his wand out while the other looked angry. Not a good or innocent sign.
"Huh, only two months in and I'm already being framed for murder again…" Harry mused to Filch's comment rather coolly as he stood and put his wand away. He then looked to the nearest professor as asked, "Should the rest of the student body be at a murder scene? Because that's what this is. The killer is probably still around and they're going to make things easier for them to slip away."
Severus Snape bristled at that and spun on his heels towards the amassed students. "Everyone back to the Great Hall this instant or so help me you will all be scrubbing cauldrons until your fingers are bloody and raw. If even one of you is missing, everyone in your house will suffer the same as well!"
They didn't need to be told twice. The students broke for the Great Hall in a hurry, their footsteps on the hard and cold stone floor barely stifling their murmurs and whispers at what they perceived had transpired. It was then Dumbledore appeared, latest but carrying the most authority.
Looking at the blood coating the walls and the dead cat, he then turned to the boys and said, "There seems to be questions that I will need answered from you both. Would the two of you please follow Professor McGonagall to my office while professors Sprout, Gilderoy, and Sinestra ensure that the rest of the students remain in the Great Hall with the door locked?"
"Mine is nearest," Gilderoy offered.
"No, I suspect we need the utmost privacy," Dumbledore stated as Professor Snape moved past them both and pushed Harry back three steps.
The Potions Master then briefly cast a spell on Mrs. Norris that neither of the Potters recognized and his face seemed to grow tense at whatever the spell had gleamed off the corpse. He then vanished the corpse, ignoring the tormented and anguished cry the wrenched itself free from Filch's mouth. With only a glare towards Dumbledore he seemed to pass a message and made his way towards where Dumbledore's office was prematurely.
Dumbledore stroked his beard and his mouth formed a pout. He then gestured towards the wall while looking at Flitwick. The diminutive professor nodded in understanding and headed to where the blood was written on the wall merely a foot off, while McGonagall ushered the boys towards the Headmaster's office.
The Headmaster then took a moment to console the custodian. "I have an old friend who just so happens to breed Kneezles. I'm sure she can provide a young one for companionship. While it won't replace the loss you've suffered, it is the only thing we can do until justice can be metted out… and I promise you, it will. But perhaps you should take the night off?"
Filch nodded bitterly and then turned away to make for his office, no doubt to drown his sorrows and grieve the death of his companion in private. He didn't even have a body to bury her or make a grave with.
Dumbledore's office, as the Headmaster's office, was a circular room that housed the portraits of dozens upon dozens of former headmasters who once oversaw Hogwarts, remaining behind to give their wisdom to the current head and divulge their secrets. At present they were all asleep.
Resting on a perch was Fawkes, the phoenix that served as the familiar of Dumbledore and looking somewhat fatigued. It noted the boys and the presence of the other professors with a bout of curiosity, though it kept its focus on young Gene the most, to his confusion.
Standing by the trinkets and bobbles of silver instruments was Professor Snape. His arms were crossed and his eyes closed in thought. Professor McGonagall stood patiently with her hands overlapping one another as she kept an eye on the two boys sitting in conjured chairs.
Harry himself was more interested in the books that lined the shelves until the oaken door groaned as it opened. Dumbledore was there, looking all of his age as he entered the room and took his seat behind the heavy desk that stood in front of the shelf containing the Sorting Hat. Harry sat upright in his chair in anticipation of the questioning.
"Now boys, I trust you know why I've brought you here?" he asked. They nodded and he continued. "Vandalism and killing someone's pet are both heavily frowned upon, but I feel as though neither of you would be responsible for such a thing. However, the timing is most curious, as well as your absence during the Halloween Feast. Can you explain the circumstances that led up to what transpired?"
"We were both in the dungeons," Harry stated. "Every ghost in Hogwarts knows both of us were at the Deathday party below until…what, five or ten minutes ago?"
Gene nodded. "You can ask any of them for the two only living people who attended. We stood out."
"What, might I ask, were you two doing at this event?" McGonagall asked in Dumbledore's place. "As I am aware, the serving foods for Sir Nicolas' festivity aren't quite…palatable for those who still have earthly bodies, so to speak. Compared to that served at the Halloween Feast, it is an odd choice to attend."
"A favor and the fact that I'm partial to spectral studies," Harry said unashamedly. "Myrtle asked me to escort her there a few days ago and it seemed interesting. Once there I took a moment to speak with the Grey Lady and thank her for her assistance on a house matter. Unfortunately I had to leave prematurely afterwards to take care of some business involving Peeves and spent the next few minutes trying to calm Myrtle down when I left and came across the scene. When I saw the writing and Mrs. Norris I checked to see if she had a pulse and Gene found me…"
"Sir Nicolas asked me in my case," Gene added. "After Myrtle left because of Peeves harassing her and Harry followed to stop it, the Headless Hunt came in and I didn't get to leave until Harry's…business caught up to me. On the way to the Great Hall I found Harry checking on Mrs. Norris when the feast ended and you found us."
"Was there any chance someone sought to implicate you both for this crime?" Snape asked, missing his usual bite when addressing the spawn of James. His mind already singled out Lucius Malfoy, as he had warned Dumbledore that the game was afoot. But 'how' it was done was the question in his mind, as the 'why' was a good start to find out. "Who knew of your plans?"
"I don't think this was even meant to be pinned on us," Gene said. "Only Hermione and Ron knew where I was going. I don't think they told anyone."
"I kept my mouth shut about it completely, so no one knew but Myrtle," Harry said on his behalf. "I think it was really just a case of the wrong place at the wrong time and we were caught in it. I'd say it was a prank, given how it was just outside the Great Hall where everyone else could see it when the feast ended, but even if the blood was faked the Twins aren't malicious enough to kill the cat."
"I can confirm that it wasn't conjured blood or the type you would expect from the Twins," Professor Flitwick confirmed as he appeared through the door. "It's real, but all of the students are accounted for as of now and no one reported any major injuries that would allow for that much blood loss. So it's most likely not human."
"Then where would you get that much blood from in the school unnoticed?" Gene asked.
Harry shrugged. "Game animals from around the grounds, if I had to guess. Maybe taken from where the food gets prepared and then cooked, but I'm not sure where the kitchen is…"
"Leave that for us to determine," Dumbledore stated. "I've heard your arguments and I'll send for Sir Nicholas and Miss Myrtle to confirm your alibis. I must ask that you both remain silent about this matter for the time being, but rest assured we will find the ones responsible. In the meantime, Minerva and Filius, could you escort them both to the Great Hall and their tables. There should still be food left over and I'm sure they are both quite hungry."
"Of course," the Head of Gryffindor stated. "Come along both of you."
"I swear every time I'm around you something bad happens, Gene," Harry stated as they exited the room in the tow of the two teachers. "First the train station and now this…"
"This isn't my fault and you know it," Gene said in haste at the accusation. "You're the one who was kneeling over the—"
The conversation was cut off as the oaken door shut behind the two boys, leaving Professor Snape and Dumbledore alone.
"That was Dark Magic that killed the cat," Snape said immediately. "Nothing I've seen or dealt with in my time, but it had the taint of dark magic and was powerful to be certain. We have to take this as a sign and ready ourselves for more trouble by Lucius' hand."
"And what do you suggest we do?" Dumbledore asked as he steepled his fingers. "There was no outside intrusion and this time all the staff has been vetted, so we do not have an incident like the last year amongst the staff."
"Then that leaves the students," Snape stated. "From his little outburst I would hazard a guess he was responsible. It won't take long to confirm."
"The sins of the father do not transfer to the son," Dumbledore said in a sagely manner. "Young Mister Malfoy is but a boy. If this magic is as dark as you claim I doubt he could be responsible. You may keep an eye on him, but go no further, Severus"
"Monitoring him alone won't suffice," Snape argued. "He is already wary of me at his father's behest. That being said, those two he keeps by his side would make excellent and unaware spies with a little work over the course of a detention. All it would take was a slight nudging like a little voice in their heads to pay attention to any potentially useful information and store it in a partitioned section of their memories I can access with ease while leaving the rest of their thoughts untouched."
"You're talking about invading a student's privacy every waking moment," the Headmaster pointed out, "as well as tampering with the minds of two other students in the process, neither of which are acceptable."
"That was Dark Magic and more than enough to kill anyone who was hit by it," Snape countered. "Almost all the people in the castle could be accounted for in the feast at a glance and the Potters were the only ones missing at the time who had even an ounce of importance. You heard that they stumbled onto the scene possibly only minutes after it occurred and both had their wands and could put up some measure of a fight. Would it be that much of a stretch to think they were the original targets and the rest was to stir up trouble when the one responsible couldn't find them before the feast ended without the risk of being overheard since they were on the same floor?"
"The point stands, Severus," Dumbledore stated in a tone of finality. "For now we will keep our eyes and ears open while searching for the culprit. We'll need to be subtle in investigating how it was done and on-guard for any future attempts, but do not read or tamper with any of their minds. Am I clear?"
"Fine," Snape said with a sneer as he turned for the exit, his robes billowing. "But if I know Lucius this is only the beginning. He won't stop at this, and you'll wish you heeded my words."
The Great Hall was abuzz with a cacophony of whispers and poorly masked accusations until Harry and Gene Potter entered the hall through its great doors, where it abruptly went silent. Nevertheless they followed as the head of houses guided them to their tables.
"Good, they left the food out," Harry mused as he sat at a vacant seat that Terry and Padma had been reserving for him without being aware of his plans of attending the Deathday Party. "So, what did I miss?"
"The majority of our year was whispering how they thought you were finally going to get expelled," Luna noted in an airy tone.
Harry raised an eyebrow and then looked around the table. The ones who didn't meet his gaze were the ones to blame. He made a mental list of their names. "Hmmm… well, whatever. I'm still here."
"Aren't you worried you're in a bit of trouble though?" Padma asked.
"Hardly," Harry said with as much enthusiasm as a sloth as he stacked rolls his plate. He was surprisingly tired and the bread would at least be filling to last until morning. "Compared to what happened last year and the incident with a troll someone being a very crude prankster and cat-murderer is a step down—"
"Don't remind me," Terry cut in with a sigh. "Honestly, being chased down by something that size wasn't fun at all. I thought it was going to tear us apart limb from limb before picking its teeth with our bones."
Padma looked guilty at that. That was a very real possibility since they came for her and Hermione. None of them should have honestly made it out alive, yet they did. But it had been so close.
"Stop selling yourself short," Harry said. "We all did well under the pressure, but it was your spell that stopped the troll's club from harming anyone. Either way, what's done is done, there's no point in dwelling on it."
"So you didn't do it?" Isobel asked blithely as always, her casual indifference suggesting she would merely accept his answer without judgment. It didn't really affect her either way. "You had nothing to do with the death of the cat or the writing on the wall?"
"Of course not," Harry answered. "What was there to gain from it? Besides, I have an alibi that's being checked and will come back clean, so I'm sure the matter will resolve itself without me getting into trouble for once. If anything I'm more annoyed that I got framed for something I didn't do again."
The conversation ended there and Harry ate in silence until the Headmaster returned and allowed for the students to return to their towers to go to bed early. Many complained, but after what transpired few were willing to argue and they all turned in for the night. Harry himself was well into dreamland when he was suddenly woken by someone whispering in his ear, only to find Myrtle floating next to his bed while everyone else slept.
"Myrtle, why are you in the boy's bedroom?" Harry asked.
"I wanted to say I'm sorry," she said. "If I hadn't left so early you wouldn't have followed me and you wouldn't have gotten in trouble with Dumbledore."
"I'm not in trouble," Harry said, covering his mouth afterwards to yawn. His body demanded he sleep again. "I'll be fine."
Myrtle shook her head. "But the Chamber of Secrets is bad news, Harry. If they think you've opened it they'll kick you out like they did the last person who opened it. They might even send you to Azkaban!"
Harry only shrugged. He was too tired for this. "I don't even see what the big deal is. The professors haven't mentioned anything about the Chamber of Secrets before so I wouldn't know what it was or when it was last opened or who was responsible."
"But you were with me," Myrtle said. "That's why the Headmaster asked me if I told you anything about it. I said I didn't, but I don't know if he believed me."
Harry yawned again before he asked, "What does it have to do with you?"
She clarified it for him. "Because, when the Chamber of Secrets was last opened someone was killed. I was attending the school then as a student."
"Who was killed?" he asked. Had he'd been more aware and not tired he would have picked up on the subtext there and put two and two together. "Was it someone important?"
She hesitated for a moment before saying, in the smallest voice she could manage, "Me."
"Oh …that's bad I guess…" It took another three seconds of dead silence before that clicked in his mind. His eyes snapped open and slumber's hold on him was broken as he sat up. "That was incredibly rude and I am so sorry about that, it was the sleep getting to me. I'll make it up to you, I promise."
"You'd better," she said with a pout. She was upset to say the least, but she knew he would make up for it. "I don't just tell anyone this stuff…"
Harry turned and set his feet on the floor. Leaning forward as the moonlight cast its rays into the bedroom where Myrtle floated in her ethereal state, Harry said, "You have my undivided attention now. What can you tell me about this Chamber of Secrets and the one responsible for your death?"
Note: Shorter chapter that I'd like, but it gets the point across and I was only covering one day.