Chapter 13: Parselmouth
November 18th – Dumbledore's Office
Dumbledore sat patiently at his desk and stared at the young man before him while sucking on a Lemon Drop. Fantastic things they were. It calmed his nerves and, paradoxically, made staying up the night more bearable with his advancing age.
He pressed the bowl forward and offered one to him. "Lemon Drop, Harry?"
"…Thanks." He was hesitant to take it. Understandable, given the circumstances he found himself in. Naturally, after the professors were informed of the situation, Harry was brought into his office for questioning. "Will Rebecca be okay?"
"Madam Pomfrey revived her shortly after we retrieved her," Dumbledore told him. It was a good thing he had Mandrake Restoratives bought by Mundungus. He didn't ask how he got them, only that he did without a paper trail due to Severus' suspicions about purchases being monitored by the council's budget department. "Miss Hawthorn will be fine after a day or two of observation."
Tension seemed to leave the boy's shoulders. "Did she see who did it?"
He gave a short, single shake of his head. "She seems to be unable to recall what happened after she entered the bathroom in search of you."
And the tension returned. "Well, I've given you my version of things. I was looking for Myrtle when Peeves tricked me into that slug chamber. It took hours to find my scarf when the little bast—er, poltergeist tossed it there. Seriously, there's like a lost city down there."
"That chamber should have been locked," Dumbledore said. He made a note to check and see if Argus still had his key. While the poltergeist could technically use telekinesis, it preferred to maximize the number of people who ended up caught in its mischief.
"So am I in any trouble at all?" the young Potter asked.
"No," he said. "But because there have been two attacks near that location, we will naturally be sealing the entrance to the bathroom. Your supplies have been sent back to your tower. "
It was three actually, but the young boy didn't need to know of Myrtle's condition. Not when they were seriously considering whether or not to bind her inside of the classroom until the case was solved, after she had been un-petrified and questioned. Severus argued she was too big of a security risk at present, and if the assailant didn't think that at least one of their attacks was successful then they may escalate. He didn't find it in him to disagree exactly, even if it didn't sit well with him.
Harry frowned but nodded. "I understand, even if not to my liking. I can deal with that later."
"Then you may go," Dumbledore said. "There's a Prefect waiting to escort you to your tower and will see you back safely."
"Great." He hopped out of his chair and made for the door, murmuring under his breath about finding Peeves and Myrtle. Dumbledore just sighed as he left out, thinking of the more important issue at hand here.
With Miss Hawthorn, her memories seemed have literally stopped the moment she ended up being petrified. The last thing she recalled was hearing someone speak in a foreign tongue and then nothing else until she was revived. Even with the Mandrake Restoratives, which they should have had more in stock to begin with, it would take at least a day for the stiffness in her muscles to fade away entirely. That was fortunate, but it could have been worse had she suffered the same fate as Argus' cat.
While the young Potter was not likely the culprit, it stood to reason that either he was being framed as the one behind the attacks… or that he had possibly been the target all this time. The question then would be what to do.
He could inform Harry of his suspicions, but they were a steadily solidifying theory at this point and the boy's reaction was unpredictable. There was no sense in worrying him if he could help it, especially with the emotional issues over Qurriell's death last year. The fact he braved the Slug Pits for that scarf and the outburst with Lockhart had been evidence enough that he hadn't recovered from staining his hand at a young age, something Dumbledore could sympathize with.
He could remove the boy from the school grounds, sending him home for any number of reasons to complete his education later or in an alternate location. But whoever was responsible could likely move onto another target. Not to mention he would likely think he was being ostracized because of his reputation, which could lead to more problems in the future.
He could have the professors keep an eye on him, more than they already do. But the boy was fond of scurrying out of their sight for his own reasons and would likely notice the extra-attention. The response to that could be negative as well. What about one of his friends then?
The aged Headmaster mulled it over while sucking on a Lemon Drop, wondering just why anyone would target solely him if the theory was correct….
"Engorgio," Harry said somewhat dully as his wand went through the motions. The block of wood that had been on his desk swelled in side, growing vaster as he allowed the spell to continue its work, until the point where the wood creaked and splits formed. He cut it before it could explode and sighed.
Harry had run out of places to check for Myrtle now. There was no sign of her. And Peeves, without his constant pursuit of her, was proving himself to be elusive as well. He supposed all he could do now was wait for one of them to show up of their own accord.
Time passed and Harry had just finished class when his favorite Hufflepuff approached him, in spite of the bags under his eyes from wandering the halls at night under the Bedazzling Hex. She regarded him for a moment with what looked to be concern. He brushed it aside preemptively. "I'm fine. What is it?"
"We heard you lost the use of your bathroom," Leanne told him. Because she used the plural 'we' instead of 'I' Harry presumed she was speaking for Gayle. "We would like to extend our hand to you and offer you a place to do your work, in exchange for your services—if you're interested, of course."
Harry raised his brows suspiciously in thought. "What exactly would she want me to make? The camp was one thing, but I'm not insane enough to try to make something like that here."
"Nothing of the sort you're thinking of. Just some minor brews and potions, aids for studying and the like that others are either too lazy or unskilled to make, with minor tweaks to the formula. You'll be paid, though not as much as market value and the room will be yours to use how you see fit provided you keep it to yourself."
He mulled it over. He needed someplace to work now that the bathroom had been off-limits. His housemates were insistent that he didn't try and make anything there, and privacy was one of the reasons he loved Myrtle's Bathroom. No one entered there with her around because of her reputation, even if it was unfortunate for the girls in the school to have their washroom options cut down by one, and she watched his things just in case someone would try and mess with them.
He cleared his throat. "Well, I still have questions about how you can cordon off parts of the castle so easily, but call me interested if you'd be willing to show me it."
Leanne smiled. "Follow me then."
She turned on her heels and walked out with her robes shifting behind her. He followed her as they went up to one of the higher corridors, whereupon he walked past an inconspicuous door while glancing at their surroundings. That was when she came to a stop.
"We're here," she said. The knowing smile told him something was off. He looked around carefully, reaching out to the wall and touching the stones and inconspicuous door, only to find nothing amiss.
"…okay, I'll bite. Where is it?" he asked. She handed him a small stone with a rune emblazoned on it. The moment it touched his skin, he became away that the inconspicuous door was actually something he should have noticed. He just… he just thought it was part of the background. "Was that Notice-Me-Not charm?"
"Mmm, something like that," Leanne said with a wry smile as she opened the door.
"How did she cast that on a part of the castle without any noticing?" Harry warily stepped inside of the room. "Trust me, I've tried to cast spells on the castle itself but the magic its steeped in can slough off a lot of them beyond physical and surface damage, and I'd suspect Dumbledore would notice."
Leanne pointed to a stone that was fixed on a pedestal. "I don't know the specifics, I'm afraid. Gayle said that she had custom ordered the rune designs, and that this was the one keyed to the keystone I gave you. We don't even take runes just yet, but I have toed the waters when she lets me read her book on it and this design is the most complex thing I've seen."
Harry took a closer look. It wasn't just a stone, but a runestone. The designs etched on it weren't familiar, nor was the stone itself. The pedestal also had runes, no doubt to prevent it from being moved and probably other factors like the range of effect.
Leanne continued after giving him time to take it all in. "Because of the runestone, this room is largely forgotten by everyone and everything that can be affected by magic. That means you'll have to keep the keystone you have on you to get in because, even if you know the location, you won't be able to notice it intentionally, even when pointed out."
"What's stopping someone from copying one?" He held up the stone between his fingers. "If you take a memory potion or have a sharp enough mind, what's stopping someone from doing that?"
"She did explain that simply memorizing the pattern or trying to copy it won't work, they have layers of small runes hidden within the surface rune, all needed for it to respond appropriately—which is why it's considered a rather complex course and breaking them in tombs and the likes requires an expertise. Not to mention that the magic also requires a certain type of medium, not just the design. The same goes for the keystones."
"Which means that if they can't be comprehended enough for the magic formula to be copied or have the appropriate materials, then she controls how many keystones are in circulation," Harry reasoned. "That means no one can make extras, and if there are a number of different ones then she knows who can access what room at all times. She probably has a master keystone too, and I bet that they have some sort of safeguard to prevent someone who isn't allied with her from using it within the rune design, sort of like an off-switch."
"Sounds like her," Leanne reasoned as she dusted off a chair to sit in.
That was something else he picked up on. Unlike the rest of the rooms in Hogwarts, he noticed it seemed a mite… dirtier. It was clean, but not the sort of clean you got when a House Elf went to town on the place. For example, there were patches of dust forming rings around one of the cauldrons that hadn't been moved in some time, overlooked by a human eye.
He was reasonably impressed. "It even prevents the elves from noticing the room inside of the spell it's projecting, and I bet unless you destroy the stones or disrupt the connection that won't change. There's no telling how many of these rooms she has hidden all over the castle either, and given how big it is but there are so few students that parts of the castle aren't even used frequently… okay, I'll admit I've underestimated her when it comes to resources at her disposals."
Indeed. The only thing he could think of that could match this was the Fidelius Charm he had heard in mentioning once when his mother broached the topic about hiding away Remus during the Full Moon some time ago. He didn't have the full details, but he could take a guess at how it worked.
"So, still interested?" Leanne asked.
"You had me sold the moment you opened the door," Harry said. He'd still need a public lab of sorts, for when he wanted to do some work but needed others over. And a place to meet with Myrtle until her bathroom was no longer off-limits…. now that he thought about it, his Gytrashes still couldn't find her. What if she stumbled into one of these rooms? He brought it up to Leanne.
She shook her head. "No, I'm pretty sure she had these stones ordered with the ghosts of the different houses in mind. If that was the case, she couldn't willingly float into one to hide. I can ask Gayle if I can check them all though."
"Thanks," Harry said. The gratitude in his voice was as clear as the day.
"I am a bit surprised you're so worried about a ghost though," Leanne added. "Is she that important to you?"
"… She's to me what Gayle is you," he said after some thought. "You mentioned how you and her met when you were at your lowest and she lifted you up. Myrtle was there for me when I was at my lowest after having to kill Quirrell."
She looked surprised at that. "You really did kill him?"
"I'm not going to lie about it you," Harry said. "He was possessed by a wraith the entire time he was working here and wanted to kill my brother. I couldn't exorcise it, so I did what I had to in order to save Gene. He had been one of the few people I trusted outside of Myrtle and She—another person outside of Hogwarts so, when I found out it was a ploy to manipulate me, you can imagine how I felt after that."
Despite how he had been, alone and neglected by his family in his heart, Sherry had been the one to get him to accept things didn't have to be that way. She put him on the path to studying, a path different than one where he would have been stuck under his brother's shadow and constantly clawing to get out of it. Others followed after her, but she was the one who opened the door for that to happen.
Myrtle provided an unbiased ear, unconcerned with their house points and happy to have the company. An eternal victim in need of a protector, always alone and in need of a friend, she was someone whose needs could easily be filled by Harry's presence. The protectiveness he felt for her afterwards and the companionship she offered could be measured by the void he felt in her absence.
"Never once did Myrtle betray my trust. She was there with me through my lowest points, where everyone else abandoned or turned against me. I don't care whether it was out of genuine kindness or just a need to have a friend after so long being ignored or just to have someone to ward away Peeves, but she was the one who consoled me. Isn't it natural that I would do everything in my power to see that she be happy and well?"
Was it a healthy relationship? Finding himself closer to an older woman who came from across the sea and… well, Myrtle would technically be even older than Sherry, wouldn't she? He felt safer and unguarded around the two of them more than anyone else, and even when they learned of the things he had done they had never betrayed his trust.
That was also why, somehow, he was going to deal with Peeves… permanently.
He flinched when he felt Leanne's touch against his skin, having laid a hand on his cheek in an effort to console him. "What are you doing?"
She pulled it back. "Sorry, it's what Gayle does to me when she's trying to cheer me up. I suppose it's awkward for someone else."
"A bit, yeah. Seriously though, don't tell anyone what I've said here and now," he said, emphasizing the importance. "I'd rather not sour our partnership over personal details."
She shrugged with a pursed but wry smile and gestured to their surroundings. "What's one more secret between us?"
December – 17th
Around half-a-month and a 'I-will-not-blab-or-bring-unapproved-people-into-the-lab' contract with Gayle later, Harry was standing on the sidelines as a stage had been set for a Dueling Club in the Great Hall.
So far the month had been a bore for him beyond getting to break-in his new laboratory that Gayle provided. The things she asked him to make were standard concoctions that were normally available to anyone with the time to brew them, true enough. Except most of them had a little twist to what went into them, giving them side-effects that added to their values in the eyes of those who found them desirable: a hint of Euphoria in a Pepperup, combining a Brain Elixir and Beautification Potion for a 'Beauty and Brains' package—he didn't know where she got the Unicorn Hair for it from and he didn't ask—and things like that.
He had to tweak the initial formulas since most of them weren't meant to be blended. That meant experimentation and a lot of it, but she supplied the materials while he simply did the research and labor. His skills were ultimately better for it.
Hagrid had liked his birthday gift too, which was something Harry was proud of. He didn't mention the cost of it, since the man would likely be too modest about accepting it, but he did owe him for last year's gift when he wasn't likely to get one from anyone else in the school this year… not like how Quirrell had done for him.
Harry remained nestled around a grouping consisting of Rebecca, who had recovered from her ordeal, his usual acquaintances, and Ginny next to Luna. He wasn't participating since he had gotten into another argument with Lockhart—to no one's surprise. Harry had been in an ill-mood and less tolerant of the man, and that likely wouldn't be improved until he had to return home for the holidays. Not because his parents insisted, but because he wanted to see Mister Weasley and Sherry again.
Currently, Snape was made to oversee the duels to avoid any mishaps, which he moved to do by conjuring shimmering walls between the different pairings so that they didn't hit anyone by accident, sending the entire hall into chaos. He also made it clear that anyone who used any spells that weren't within the limits of what they were supposed to would suffer greatly in untold ways… involving a trip to collect slime from Slug Pit, having derived some sort of use for it.
Harry shivered at the memory of when he was stuck there. Slime got into uncomfortable places too much for his liking. The horror.
Things went about as well as he expected after the initial volley. Most of the students, inexperienced in the art of dueling and lacking any decisive spells, resorted to schoolyard jinxes. Honestly, he and Stephen had done better during their spat last year.
In the end, Stephen, Gene, Draco, and Terry were the exceptions. Lockhart, naturally, followed up and decided to have them duel one another on the stage. The first up were Stephen and Terry, the two Ravenclaws from different circles.
"What am I doing here?" Terry mumbled to himself as Harry stood off to the side of him, barely at the level of his knees.
"Losing," Harry said bluntly. Terry gave him a look that spoke of offense. "You're on a straight-shot stage with someone who has a duelist mentality and practice. One-on-one, with no cover, and very few spells you didn't learn from the same classes as him. And everyone knows this—it's a question of when you lose, not if."
"So what? I give up now?"
"That or come at him from abstracts," Harry said. "That's how I did it the first year."
"The duel you lost during broomstick practice?"
"Tied," Harry insisted. "The point I'm making is, take away his advantages—his line of fire, his comprehension of spells, etc. Keep in mind the spells we practiced in private and don't shout the spell you're using—it's a focus, not a decree."
Terry's face scrunched and then his eyes seemed to perk up. He had something. "I'm not sure if this will work, but—"
"Start the duel!" Lockhart announced.
"Expelliarmus!" Stephen cast. He clearly didn't see the point in dragging this out. Terry wasn't someone he wanted to beat or even saw as a challenge. The fact that he fell backwards to dodge only reinforced that.
At least until Terry held his wand up and casted, "Fumos Tria!"
The next second afterwards the stage was filled with dense smoke contained inside of the invisible walls that had been put up. Like it was trapped in a bottle, it built up and both wizards disappeared from view. There were brief flashes as Stephen tried to cast spells in his direction. The familiar sound at key points of spells hitting something hard like a gong made Harry smile, to the confusion of those around him. But it was clear that Stephen was starting to choke as they heard him coughing.
"If you don't stop the duel he's going to suffocate!" Morag called out to the professors overseeing it. "That spell wasn't one you said he could use! He's cheating!"
With two swish of Snape's wand, the smoke and walls were gone to reveal that Cornfoot was doubled over and hacking up a lung while Terry was coddled behind an upright, enlarged Silver Shield with a Bubble-Head Charm so he could breathe. Snape levitated the downed boy to take him to the Hospital Wing, just so that they could make sure there were no long-term problems caused by the smoke inhalation. Morag glared in their direction before she spun on her heel and followed them out.
Terry hopped off the stage and came down next to Harry. "So, was that abstract enough?"
"Honestly, that was too abstract for me," Harry admitted. "Walk me through it after the smoke, bubble, shield and enlarging spells. I heard him cast the Disarming Charm a few times and hit the shield. It should have gone flying."
"A Sticking Charm to hold it to the ground while it was upright," he said. "That way his Disarming Charm didn't rip it from my grip. After that, I just kept thickening the smoke until someone called it."
"I would have sent him flying, but your way was good too. You took advantage of the environment and the fact that he wasn't likely to know the Bubble-Head Charm because you'll rarely find a need for it in a duel where you typically rely on offensive spells. Though the fact that you were cowering behind a shield might not win you any points," Harry pointed out. "And you'd better not take anything you want to keep to the Slug Pits, because judging from that look Morag was giving us she's going to push for that to be called cheating."
"Let's continue the duels!" Lockhart declared, in spite of everything. "Mister Potter and Mister Malfoy, take the stage!"
"What if the same thing happens?" one of the other students asked as Gene and Draco headed towards the stage. Lockhart's response was to not put up the invisible walls. He regretted it when, as the duel commenced, Draco ended up hanging upside down by his ankle using James' spell.
"Snape would be pissed if he saw this," Harry noted.
Rebecca overheard him and asked, "Why?"
He shook his head. "It's private. Besides, Gene made the same mistake he did with me by letting him keep his wand."
"Serpensorta!" Draco cast, conjuring what looked to be a rattlesnake in front of Gene. The broken eye contract in the threat of the poisonous serpent caused Gene to drop Draco flat on his face and turn his wand to it.
"Impressive," Harry noted. Conjuration of that nature was Sixth-Year material. Qurriell told him so, and considering the work he put into his Gytrashes he didn't doubt it. It wasn't an authentic animal, but a construct of magic that was as close to the real thing as it could be.
Of course, the price of not putting up the safety walls became apparent when Gene hit the snake with a spell to send it flying away. It landed hard at the edge of the stage. Like, right in front of Harry and Terry—the former of which briefly wondered if it was intentional until said snake decided to chime in.
'Hurt,' he heard the snake say as it looked towards them. 'Bite.'
"Don't you dare," Harry said, feeling a slight strain in his throat as he pointed his wand at it. Then everything got abruptly quiet, and he felt the weight of many people's eyes on him. He looked around to see they were staring at him confused—including the snake. "What?"
"How did you do that?" Terry asked.
"With your mouth," he clarified. "What did you say?"
"I said for it not to bite us," Harry said. "You're right next to me. How didn't you hear that?"
"Rebecca, what's wrong?" Harry heard Luna ask. He turned his head to see that she and Ginny were by the other first year, who had gone pale despite her complexion and was backing away from him.
"That's the same voice I heard before I was petrified," she muttered. "Not the same words, but… something like it."
"…why do I get the feeling I'm not going to like where this is going?" Harry asked. The rattling of the snake's tail drew Harry attention back to it and away from the girls. It was getting agitated again. He sealed it in a Bubble Cage Jinx as Professor Snape returned and pushed past the students until he was right in front of him.
"What did you say?" Snape demanded. "I want the exact words you said to it now."
"What did I do?" Harry asked. "Was I supposed to let the poisonous snake Gene tossed over bite me?"
"The words," Snape stated with heat in his voice. "Repeat them. Now."
"All he did was say for it to stop," Gene said, still on the stage. He looked just as confused. "That wasn't on purpose either."
He whirled around to Gene and stared at him intensely. "And you can verify this how?"
"I heard him," Gene said. "Clear as English can be, he said 'Don't you dare' when the snake was going to bite him. What's the big deal?"
"…Of course, it must be from James," Snape said with a scathing note in his voice. He pointed his wand at the sealed bubble containing the serpent and made both of them vanish. "Both of you come with me to speak with the Headmaster, this instant."
Harry turned to Terry and grabbed him by the shoulders. "Talk, now. What did I say that was so bad?"
"Harry, mate," Terry started. "You were speaking to the snake… in the same language as it. That's Parseltongue. And the fact that your brother understood it means he's likely a Parselmouth too."
Harry slapped himself on the forehead when he recalled the trip. It explained the Ashwinder talking to him. He should have picked it up sooner after his talk with Hagrid. Harry looked around to see others were paling at that, taking slow steps away and being cautious. "Let me guess, Parseltongue is a bad sign?"
Hermione, who had been making her way over, was hesitating to find the words as she spoke. "Salazar Slytherin was one of the most notable according to A History of Hogwarts, detailing his contributions and accomplishments. And with that message during Halloween, well…"
"She means one of you is likely the Heir of Slytherin," Isobel said. There was a time for tact and sugarcoating, and this clearly wasn't the moment for her. "If you take your reputation and how often you've been hanging out with their house into account, that'd be you. That's why they're freaking out."
Harry swore as Snape, having lost his patience, proceeded to levitate the Potter brothers and carry them out of the Great Hall. Harry couldn't help but think it going to be Quirrell all over again.