Chapter 9: Sakura and the Discovery of the Heir
During breakfast on the morning after Halloween, Professor Dumbledore gave an official statement to the student body about the ominous writing on the wall and the petrified Mrs. Norris. He was flanked by the four heads of house and by the now out-of-place Halloween decorations which nobody had found time to clean up. Despite its substantial length, the statement contained remarkably little information. The main point of the speech was to emphasize that Harry and the others were not suspects and that everybody should trust their fellow classmates, but that nobody should hesitate in reporting anything suspicious to a professor.
Nobody in Ravenclaw believed any of it.
Professor Dumbledore had been a professor at Hogwarts 50 years ago, the last time the Chamber of Secrets had been opened. It was impossible that he and the other members of staff didn't know more than they were saying.
Nobody had been sent home, despite the clear and present danger in the school.
Harry had to be the Heir of Slytherin. He was caught practically red-handed at the scene. He had even been marked by You-Know-Who.
The only possible conclusion given all the facts was that Professor Dumbledore had taken the opportunity the night before to corner Harry and put a stop to his nonsense. It was the only explanation that made any sense. Maybe if Harry stopped at just a cat, the whole thing could be swept under the rug and overlooked.
Explanations and stories seemed to spontaneously emerge from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Everybody insisted they had known all about Harry and the danger he represented since forever. His dislike of Mrs. Norris had become legendary. Everybody had known all along that Harry was not to be trusted, although Sakura knew for a fact that nobody had said anything like that just the night before.
Ironically, all of these whispered rumors and speculations seemed exceedingly plausible up until Luna started saying them. She was the only person who dared to openly speak what were otherwise only whispered secrets between friends. She started talking out loud about the silence of Professor Dumbledore and analogizing it with something called the Rotfang Conspiracy, and that somehow caused the idea to lose all its credibility. Likewise, when Luna asserted that Harry was the Heir of Slytherin for certain, for who else but the Heir could be so devious as to be sorted into Gryffindor and become friends with a muggleborn girl to throw off suspicion, that particular rumor died off. That Luna supported something somehow detracted from its credibility rather than added to it.
Regardless of if the professors did or did not know what this Chamber of Secrets was and who was or was not the Heir of Slytherin, one thing was clear. Sakura's and Syaoran's preparations for this dark arts threat were woefully inadequate. Syaoran insisted no matter what Professor Lockhart knew, his "storytime" and the lack of practical work made his class utterly worthless. Some real practice was both necessary and long overdue.
Sakura agreed to a large extent. She had learned a great deal during her time in Hogwarts, but it was no comparison to her card-catching days. The life-and-death experiences catching cards were just as inapplicable to learning how to transfigure a needle to a quill as the academic classroom knowledge of Hogwarts was inapplicable to confronting and stopping The Nothing. Practical experience was necessary too.
Yet when they tried to do something about it they had little luck.
"I am quite sure Professor Lockhart will teach us everything that we need to know," Lisa said when Sakura and Syaoran had brought the subject up. "You may not have heard of him out in the colonies, but he is quite accomplished."
"The professors have got things under control," Anthony said as well, once Sakura had managed to find him. That was growing increasingly difficult as time went by. It used to be that Sakura would see him at least once a day. Ever since Halloween, she saw him less and less. Once or twice she even saw him dodge around a corner before she could call out to him.
"We got Professor Lockhart here. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, sure, he's a bit pants at teaching, but he's still Gilderoy Lockhart," Gloria said as well.
Not that that stopped Gloria from joining in with Syaoran's idea. When she found out what Syaoran intended, there was no way to keep her away. She might have thought that Hogwarts was safe under the aegis of Professor Lockhart and Professor Dumbledore, but that didn't stop her from joining in "the fun."
It was Syaoran's idea to practice their magic in a more applied situation, and Sakura went along with what her boyfriend wanted to do. It was only fair. Syaoran helped Sakura with her experiments with her skates and the various other magics she was trying to discover, so naturally sometimes she would follow his lead on what to do in their free time. It had the added benefit to Sakura of providing quite a bit of insight into the relatively unstructured and self-guided way Syaoran had learned magic back in Hong Kong. She wondered if that was just the Li family or if all of the East followed a similar model. Syaoran wasn't able to answer that question.
Luna had joined as well, having decided to take Sakura up on her offer and stick around even more often than before. After the discussion and invitation Sakura had extended just before Halloween, she couldn't really leave the girl out. Syaoran and the others didn't seem too happy, but yielded to Sakura.
Weeks later, Colin was found petrified too.
A shudder went through the entire school. However, it didn't change anything of note. There was a slight increase of tension in the student body, but that was the only real effect of the discovery of this latest victim of the Heir of Slytherin. There was no mass search, or evacuation of the school, or really anything any of the students noticed. Sakura chalked it up to more weirdness in the way they handled things in Magical Britain. She resolved that she would need to be extra careful, given how little the professors were apparently doing.
Lisa and Wayne took Colin's petrification as evidence of the enormity of the danger facing them. If the professors couldn't do anything, if even the great Professor Lockhart couldn't do anything, what chance did a bunch of second-year students have against the mysterious and legendary Heir of Slytherin? It was better to keep their heads down and try to stay out of the way.
Syaoran, and by extension Sakura, took this as evidence that they needed more practice. They stepped up their sessions and started practicing several days a week, tucked away in some classroom and occasionally outside in the frigid fields surrounding Hogwarts Castle when necessary. Their practice was much more practically oriented than the stories Professor Lockhart told in Defense Against the Dark Arts class. Gloria loved every minute of it, which was odd given how little she got out of the sessions relative to Sakura, Syaoran, and even Luna.
Sakura continued to find and invite Luna to these sessions, even as they escalated after Colin's attack. Amazingly, despite this, news of Sakura's and Syaoran's exploits did not sweep uncontrolled through Ravenclaw. Either Luna was better at keeping a secret than Sakura thought, or nobody believed the girl when she spoke of tornadoes and fireballs. Knowing Luna, it was probably some combination of the two.
It was this reason Sakura was wandering through the castle. She was trying to find Luna before meeting with Syaoran and Gloria. It was a toss-up as to whether she preferred Luna to join or not join. On the one hand, it was Luna. On the other hand, her presence did make the numbers in the group much easier to handle. Sakura would need to use The Mirror to add a fourth person to the group whenever Luna wasn't around and they paired-off to practice. That particular trick had delighted Gloria the first time she had seen it. The usage of The Mirror was draining for prolonged usage, especially as it would necessitate that Sakura use the Key and the cards during practice so The Mirror could use her wand, and very especially whenever she also used The Illusion at the same time to add that extra layer of security. It was good practice, but it was also hard. Not to mention how weird it felt the few times she ended up paired off against her own mirror image.
Locating Luna might have sounded impossible given the size of the castle, but Sakura had two distinct advantages in this fool's errand. The first advantage was that Luna's magical power was quite modest, but it was still far above the average wizard and witch in the castle. This meant that if Sakura got semi-close to the girl then she would be able to feel her. The second advantage was that Luna was unmistakable to anybody who knew her. All Sakura had to do as she wandered through the corridor was ask for the girl. Any Ravenclaw could say if they had seen Luna in the recent past. It was like how locating Harry was easy, only with more odd looks from people for asking.
On this particular day, Luna was to be found on the moving staircases talking to a trio of Weasleys. She was literally on the stairs, rather than on one of the landings like the more sensible people in the conversation. This forced the prefect, Percy, to turn back and forth to continue to face the girl as they spoke. Fred and George flanked him, each with their back to one of the two walls such that as Luna migrated back and forth, first one and then the other would face Luna in turn. Sakura stood below them and tried to make her way towards the four of them whenever the stairs allowed it.
"That's what I'm saying!" Sakura heard Percy shout. It filled the entire stairwell. Luna had a talent for getting people, especially prefects, into a shouting mood. "Why would any parents name their children the same name?"
"Because they're twins," Luna answered. This earned two nods of understanding from Fred and George.
"Why's that matter?" Percy accused.
"It prevents confusion," Luna explained.
"That'd just create more confusion! Who'd think that'd help?" Percy asked.
"Your parents do," Luna said. She made it sound so obvious. In some sense it was, if Sakura threw all ideas of common sense out the window.
"No they don't!" Percy shouted.
"They don't? Then why'd they name both Fred and Fred Fred?" Luna asked in her usual disengaged voice. Sakura wouldn't have been at all surprised if Luna was absently staring into space while she spoke.
"She's got you there," the twin who Luna was drifting towards said.
"You can't argue with that logic," the twin Luna was drifting away from agreed.
"They didn't!" Percy shouted back.
"I see," Luna said. "I didn't know you were adopted. How are your new parents treating you?"
"You're adopted?" the twin now facing Luna asked. "Why didn't you ever tell us?"
"That explains so much," the other twin said. He didn't bother to turn to face his twin or Luna.
"I'm not adopted!" Percy shouted. He turned to face one of the twins, and then the other, and then back to the first before he gave up trying to face both of the twins at the same time.
"But you said your parents didn't name Fred and Fred Fred, so you had to have had different parents," Luna said. The stairs had started moving again, which caused her to slowly drift from one twin back to the other as the stairs ponderously made their way across the stairwell.
"That's not what I meant! I meant they didn't name them the same name!" Percy shouted. He pointed at the two twins accusingly.
"Then why are they both named Fred?" Luna asked.
"They aren't! That's what I've been trying to tell you!" Percy shouted. "That's Fred, and that's George!"
"He's right," the second named twin admitted, "only I'm Fred, and that's George."
"Okay, sorry," Percy said, slightly mollified. "I mean that's Fred, and that's George."
"He's right," the other twin admitted, mimicking the tone and gestures of the other exactly, "only I'm Fred, and that's George."
"See?" Luna asked. She continued to drift from the second Fred back to the first one until the stairs locked into place again.
"Argh!" Percy shouted. He stormed up the stairs. Luna watched him owlishly as he stalked away.
Both Freds gave each other mirroring grins of accomplishment as Luna looked at both ambivalently. She then asked them, "Really. Not knowing the names of his own brothers. Do you think the wrackspurts got him?"
The first Fred nodded knowingly. He gave a passable expression of concern as he said, "Maybe."
The second Fred said, "I never thought about that. You should go ask him and make sure he's okay."
"Hoe..." Sakura lamented. While it was none of her business, she thought she should clarify the truth to Luna before she ended up in more trouble. That could wait until after they were out of earshot of the Weasley twins. It would likely be impossible to convince Luna of the truth while the two pranksters were around.
"I'll do that," Luna said. "If he's that far gone it might be dangerous. I'll tell Madam Pomfrey too."
"Hello," Sakura greeted the three of them. "Sorry to intrude, but were you going to come to our practice session, Luna?"
"Right," Luna said noncommittally. That was about as firm an answer Sakura could expect to get from the girl.
"Syaoran-kun and Gloria are waiting for us at the usual place," Sakura said. She led Luna towards the third floor.
"Okay," Luna said. She followed behind Sakura.
Sakura took a quick look around to make sure the Weasley twins were out of earshot, and then said, "By the way, you do know that those twins are really named Fred and George, right? They aren't both named Fred."
"They are? Then why did they both say they were Fred?" Luna asked. She was staring at Sakura intently. Or staring through her. Sakura wasn't sure. Both were equally plausible.
"It was a prank, I think. They're pretty well known pranksters," Sakura said. Shortly after they entered into a proper corridor, Sakura walked through what appeared to be a stone wall but was in actuality a secret passage. The only indication that it wasn't really solid stone was the slightest bit of warble or tinge or something she couldn't really describe but could barely notice if she concentrated. Despite this indicator that everything was alright, Sakura still held her hand outstretched as she entered the portal. Every time she took this particular passage, Sakura got a mental image of running face-first into a suddenly solid stone wall.
Luna appeared seconds later. Her voice cut in at the same time her face did, saying, "... make sense."
They ducked through the strange passage. It felt straight, but it somehow emerged on the second floor near a set of seemingly abandoned rooms on the other side of the castle.
"Raitei Shourai!" Gloria's voice called out right before Sakura entered the room she expected to find both her and Syaoran in.
Sakura couldn't remember which particular spell of Syaoran's that was, but in many ways it didn't matter. She knew what the results would be. No matter which of Syaoran's spells Gloria tried to imitate using her wand, it would always result in a stream of water emerging from it. Sometimes the blast of water would be larger, and sometimes it would be smaller. Very occasionally, for some unknown reason, it would appear in a sphere. However, no matter what Gloria did, it would always be water.
As predicted, when Sakura turned at the doorway, she saw the trail end of a stream of water flying through the air and landing against a noticeably large water mark in the stone on the wall. There was a puddle beneath the splash as well. It was much smaller than would ordinarily be expected, and it was rapidly disappearing.
"You're finally here," Syaoran said when he caught sight of Sakura. He abandoned the sheets of paper on the table between him and Gloria and approached.
"Syaoran-kun," Sakura replied. She hugged Syaoran when he was in range.
"Heya, Gloria. Still haven't given up yet?" Keroberos asked. He ignored the standard greeting between Sakura and Syaoran.
"Oh, I'll get it yet," Gloria insisted.
"No you won't," Luna said. It earned a frown from Gloria.
"Now that you're here too, I was thinking of something else today. It's been a while since I practiced my sword work," Syaoran said, irrespective of what Gloria, Keroberos, and Luna were talking about.
"What? Sword work?" Gloria jumped in.
"But I don't know anything about swords. Do you, Gloria?" Sakura asked.
"You can just use The Sword," Keroberos reminded her. It made Sakura suddenly realize that she had overlooked the obvious.
"What else would you use for sword work?" Luna asked as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Sakura ignored the question as she thought any explanation to Luna would be rife with confusion and misunderstandings. She just pulled the Key from her neck and automatically recited in Japanese, "Key which hides the powers of stars, show your true power before me. Under the contract, Sakura commands you. Release!"
By this point, everybody had seen it enough times such that nobody reacted when the charm grew in Sakura's hand. Furthermore, nobody paid particular attention when she flicked out The Sword and entreated it to form for her to practice with Syaoran. It was only when the Key transformed into the thin and ornate weapon tipped with a diamond shape did anybody pay special notice.
"What happened? Is it supposed to do that?" Gloria asked.
"You mean this?" Sakura asked, slightly waving The Sword. Was that the first time she had had the Key change shape in front of them? Maybe it was. "It is."
"So you can't use the cards anymore, then," Luna declared more than asked.
"Hoe?" Sakura asked. She turned her head a bit as she thought about it and if she had ever tried. "I don't know. I can't remember."
"Enough talk. Let's practice," Syaoran said. He already had his sword in front of him in an intimidating position.
"You sure you'll be alright, Sakura?" Gloria asked, taking a step back. "You don't exactly strike me as much of a fencer."
"I'll be fine," Sakura said as she took a position counterpointing Syaoran's. She didn't really know what she was doing, but the magic of The Sword naturally guided her body into place.
They faced off for a second. Gloria intently stared at Syaoran while Luna examined Sakura just as closely. Then Syaoran charged forward with an overhead strike.
Sakura automatically raised her hand upward and held the sword horizontally in a parry.
The beautiful sword Sakura held in her hand couldn't have been much thicker than a rapier, and its feathered form made it look more ornamental than functional. In fact, it barely even looked like it had an edge to it as Sakura held it ready. Certainty it looked much less functional than Syaoran's thick jian. It was obvious which was a warrior's weapon and which was a wall decoration.
Despite the differences in appearance of the swords, The Sword held marvelously and managed to stop the jian without being cleaved in two.
Sakura let the attack slide to her right towards the tip of The Sword. The extra momentum assisted her in twisting to the right. She kicked out with her foot behind her as she turned.
Syaoran's jian struck the tip of The Sword and caught slightly on the diamond shape. It managed to pull Syaoran off-balance just enough that Sakura's kick hit him right in the stomach. He went tumbling backward. His disarmed sword flipped through the air across the room and clattered on the floor. It then changed back into an orb form.
"Syaoran-kun!" Sakura shouted out. She dropped her weapon and ran to his side.
Syaoran gave an inarticulate groan and climbed to a sitting position.
"I'm sorry. Are you okay?" Sakura asked.
"Ooo..." Syaoran mumbled out. "Teach me to not take The Sword seriously."
"Oh, wow. Where did you learn that. Can you teach me?" Gloria eagerly asked.
"It's the magic of The Sword. It makes anybody a master swordsman," Keroberos said.
"Magic doesn't work that way," Gloria protested.
"Mine does," Sakura disagreed.
"Careful!" Syaoran shouted across the room at Luna. She had his jian in her hands and had the blade up near her eyes to closely examine it. One of her hands felt across the edge of the weapon.
Luna turned to look at Syaoran. It incidentally resulted in her face being even closer to the blade.
"Oh. How'd you do that?" Gloria asked Luna.
"Do what?" Luna asked.
"That, with Syaoran's sword. How'd you make it?" Gloria said.
"The same way Syaoran does," Luna answered.
Meanwhile, Syaoran climbed to his feet. He carefully approached the ethereal girl and then deftly disarmed her. Sakura took the opportunity to retrieve the Key as well. It was a far less dangerous proposition.
"But... what..." Gloria stuttered out. "Does that mean you can do the other stuff those two do?"
"But I don't want to banish all of the ghosts from the school. I like Paul," Luna answered. She then turned to Syaoran and asked, "You aren't going to try to get rid of Paul too, are you?"
Unlike what seemed like the entire rest of the school, Luna still remembered and referenced the exploits of Syaoran on Halloween day. The storm cloud of the Heir of Slytherin which hung over the school did have a bit of a silver lining in that it overshadowed all and seemed to have made the student body school forget about everything else, include Syaoran's confrontation with Peeves.
"Who's Paul?" Syaoran asked in return.
"He's a ghost," Luna answered blithely. Then, in a way which for anybody else would have sounded like an afterthought, she added, "And a walrus."
"They said they are usually around here," the faint voice of Lisa sounded from outside the room. Sakura ignored the undoubtedly circular discussion brewing between Luna and Syaoran and poked her head out of the room. Walking down the hallway was Lisa and Wayne. They were walking in a decided hurry.
"Hey, Lisa. Hey, Wayne," Sakura called out to the pair of them. They hurried up their already fast pace.
"What brings you two out here?" Keroberos asked.
"Did you hear?" Lisa asked.
Without waiting for a response, Wayne answered, "Professor Lockhart's hosting a dueling club."
"What's that?" Sakura said as the four of them returned to the room. It was just in time to hear Syaoran crossly say, "I know that."
"Come on, everybody. Professor Lockhart's starting a dueling club. It's about to start," Wayne repeated more loudly for the entire room.
"What? When? Where?" Gloria asked back. She was just as excited as Wayne and Lisa were.
"Now, or soon, in the Great Hall. We just heard ourselves. We simply must hurry," Lisa answered.
"What's a dueling club?" Keroberos asked, repeating Sakura's question from earlier.
"It's like this, only more formal, and Professor Lockhart's going to teach it," Gloria said. She was already hustling towards the door. "Come on. I don't want to miss it. Let's go."
Sakura, Syaoran, Keroberos, and Luna allowed themselves to swept up in the excitement the other three exhibited and followed them as they hurried to the Great Hall. Whatever this club was, those three weren't the only ones who were excited. It seemed like the entire student body was already there. Sakura and the others had to settle for watching from the back of the room.
They were apparently a bit late, seeing how as Sakura entered the room Professor Lockhart was announcing to the entire room, "... assistant, Professor Snape. He tells me he knows a tiny little bit about dueling himself and has sportingly agreed to help me with a short demonstration before we begin. Now I don't want any of you youngsters to worry - you'll still have your Potions master when I'm through with him, never fear!"
There was some moving and shuffling, but Sakura couldn't see anything through the throng of people in front of her. She ended up making her way to the side of the room and then standing on the tips of her toes. This barely let her see the torsos of the tall professors over the heads of the students in front of her, and that was only because the professors both stood on a stage in the front of the room. They were facing each other, each holding his wand in front of him pointed at the other.
Professor Lockhart flashed another brilliant smile to the group. He announced, "As you see, we are holding our wands in the accepted combative position. On the count of three, we will cast our first spells. Neither of us will be aiming to kill, of course. One - two - three -"
Both Professor Snape and Professor Lockhart raised their wands above their hands and pointed them at the other. Professor Snape struck first, shouting, "Expelliarmus!"
A brilliant red light emerged from the end of his wand. It was the most impressive effect Sakura had seen from any professor besides Kaho and Professor Dumbledore. The next thing she saw was Professor Lockhart flying backwards through the air, off the stage, and up against the wall behind him. He then slid down out of Sakura's view. Professor Snape, on the other hand, a look of smug satisfaction on his face.
The room was filled with the murmuring of the suddenly animated student body. However, Sakura couldn't make out anything in particular being said.
Professor Lockhart climbed back to his feet. He looked far less steady than he had seconds ago. He announced to the crowd, "Well, there you have it! That was a Disarming Charm - as you see, I've lost my wand - ah, thank you, Miss Brown - yes, an excellent idea to show them that, Professor Snape, but if you don't mind my saying so, it was very obvious what you were about to do. If I had wanted to stop you it would have been only too easy - however, I felt it would be instructive to let them see..."
Professor Snape's look of satisfaction turned progressively darker until it looked like he was ready to throttle Professor Lockhart right there on the spot.
"Enough demonstrating!" Professor Lockhart said, concluding his rambling. "I'm going to come amongst you now and put you all into pairs. Professor Snape, if you'd like to help me -"
Sakura took that as her cue and fixed herself by Syaoran's side. If they were going to be paired, Sakura wanted to be paired with him.
The group was paired off in short order. Sakura got her wish and was paired up with Syaoran while Lisa and Wayne squared off against each other. Gloria ended up matched with Luna.
Professor Lockhart and Professor Snape returned to the front of the room. Once there, Professor Lockhart called out, "Face your partners! And bow! Wands at the ready! When I count to three, cast your charms to Disarm your opponents - only to disarm them - we don't want any accidents -"
"What are we supposed to do?" Sakura asked.
"I guess the same thing Professor Snape did?" Syaoran asked.
"Okay," Sakura said, unsure of herself. It sounded a bit dangerous, seeing what had happened to Professor Lockhart.
"One... two... three -" Professor Lockhart announced.
"Expelleramus," Sakura said, trying to imitate the single time she had seen Professor Snape cast the spell.
"Expellerus," Syaoran said, likewise trying to imitate Professor Snape's wand motions.
Sakura could feel her magic collapsing into something in front of her, but it dissipated without form or effect. Interestingly she could feel Syaoran's magic doing much the same, although it felt entirely different in texture and intent. Neither of their attempts resulted in anything significant occurring.
Unlike the two East Asian children, all around them bedlam was occurring. Cries of "Confundo," "Impedimenta," "Silencio," "Incendio," Rictusempra," and countless other things were shouted from the other students. These had a variety of effects, causing some people to start laughing uncontrollably, others to go fall over in a tangle, and various parts of people's bodies to grow or shrink.
"I said Disarm only!" Professor Lockhart shouted, trying to bring order to the large room. "Stop! Stop!"
"Finite Incantatem!" Professor Snape shouted, taking a more direct approach. He cast a strong wave of magic throughout the room and ended all of the various magical effects the different students had caused upon each other.
In the sudden quiet Sakura could hear Luna say, "Here's your wand back."
"Lucky shot," Gloria muttered as she took her wand back from Luna.
Professor Lockhart announced more loudly and to the entire hall that he thought he should teach everybody how to block unfriendly spells. He spoke in a tentative and uncertain way, suggesting to Sakura that Professor Lockhart really didn't know what he was doing and was just making things up as he went along.
He and Professor Snape drafted Harry and Draco for the next demonstration. Professor Lockhart tried to show Harry how to cast a blocking charm while Professor Snape taught some type of attacking spell to Draco. Professor Lockhart's dropped of his wand during the teaching phase. It did nothing to bolster his credibility.
What happened next would forever be remembered in both the history of Hogwarts as well as the history of one Harry Potter.
"Serpensortia!" Draco called out. A long snake erupted from his wand and landed facing Harry. Sakura had never been so thankful to be in the far back of a crowd, and from the looks of things the other students were struck with the same idea. The front rows recoiled back, away from the vile looking creature.
"Don't move, Potter. I'll get rid of it..." Professor Snape said. He drew his wand and moved forward to deal with the problem.
"Allow me!" Professor Lockhart shouted while he snapped out his wand. With a bang, the snake flew through the air and landed several feet away.
It was at this point that Harry started hissing. The loud hiss he made sounded almost demonic. The snake Draco had summoned slithered forward towards Justin Finch-Fletchley in synchronization with Harry's hissing. It stopped just in front of Justin and eyed him malevolently. Harry had a similar look on his face, grinning at Justin with a glint in his eye.
"What do you think you're playing at?" Justin accused before fleeing the hall. The crowd parted to let him go. Whispers of how he had just been marked had already starting being whispered.
Professor Snape banished the snake. He and Professor Lockhart announced that the meeting was over, and they started encouraging everybody to go back to their dorms. Harry had disappeared, along with Ron and Hermione. However, nobody else was eager to leave the Great Hall and the safety of the large crowd therein. Instead, small groups cloistered together and friends talked urgently amongst themselves about what had just happened.
"That just proves Harry's the Heir of Slytherin," Luna said in what passed as frantically for her. It was barely different than her normal disengaged tone of voice. "I wonder if Ravenclaw's Heir is in Hufflepuff."
For once nobody disagreed with Luna's assertion.
It was up to Keroberos to ask, "What do you mean?"
Luna addressed Sakura's pocket as she answered, "Well if the Heir of Slytherin is in Gryffindor, then wouldn't it make sense for the Heir of Ravenclaw to..."
"Not that," Syaoran cut her off. "The bit about Harry being the Heir."
"He's a parselmouth," Luna answered. "Do you think he'll be an auror when he grows up?"
"What's a parselmouth?" Sakura asked before Gloria could interrupt as she did whenever Luna started talking about aurors.
"It is somebody who can speak parseltongue," Lisa answered.
"They can talk to snakes," Gloria explained at the same time.
"It's some dark magic, that's what it is," Wayne agreed.
"And that means Harry's the Heir?" Syaoran asked.
"Without a doubt," Lisa answered. Wayne nodded in agreement. Gloria nodded as well, albeit much more slowly.
"Sorry," Luna said to Gloria.
"What for?" Gloria asked.
"You need to share a dorm with him. You're a pureblood, right?" Luna asked.
"Oh," Gloria said. She paled a bit. She answered in a voice louder than was strictly necessary, "Of course I'm a pureblood."
The seven of them remained huddled together for a substantial period of time and talked about the Heir of Slytherin and why he had targeted Justin, but there were no easy answers to be had. Eventually a cluster of Hufflepuff students hesitantly made their way out of the Great Hall. Wayne ran off to join them. Nobody wanted to wander alone in the hallways right now. Slytherin left next, taking Syaoran with them. This was followed by Ravenclaw with their respective students.
As Sakura left the hall, the only people left in the Great Hall were Gloria and the rest of the Gryffindor students. None of them seemed eager to return to Gryffindor Tower.
There was a nervousness permeating the very air of Hogwarts. Unlike normal, though, it didn't feel at all celebratory. It felt closer to being a lull before a typhoon. The castle, already lacking in festive spirits ever since Colin had been found petrified, was decisively tense ever since the events at the dueling club meeting had quashed any remaining optimism. The festive decorations which appeared around the castle felt more a perfunctory formality than a celebration of the upcoming Christmas.
It was like the weather. A tremendous snowstorm had hit Hogwarts the day after the dueling club, covering the area in an oppressive blanket of snow. For an outsider it would have superficially looked like the previous year, but those actually living inside the castle could tell the difference. Rather than casting the castle and its surrounding grounds in a mystic light where anything was possible, the thick layers of snow trapped everybody in the building and raised the tension of the environment that much higher.
Everybody was nervous. Justin was nowhere to be seen. Ever since it had come out how Harry had been looking for him, the boy had practically disappeared from the castle. It was an impressive feat given the piles of snow which kept everybody trapped indoors.
Justin's fear was proved justified in short order. His attempts at avoiding Harry had clearly backfired as Harry had managed to catch him in a secluded corridor and petrify him just as he had Colin earlier. Not only Justin either. Nearly-Headless Nick was found floating next to Justin as well, seemingly petrified too. As news of his assault burned through the castle it was impossible not to remember Harry's angry, vile, almost demonic hissing as he marked the boy. It was the final piece of evidence. There was no longer any doubt. Harry was the Heir of Slytherin.
According to Syaoran, Slytherin was all a confused jumble. The very subsection within Slytherin who cheered on the idea of the return of the Heir of Slytherin and the ascendancy of purebloods didn't know how to handle the fact that The-Boy-Who-Lived was the Heir. The majority thought he couldn't possibly be the Heir. However, it was hard to argue with the facts. The only firm conclusion in Slytherin was that Harry must have been extremely devious and had amazing foresight to have been able to "sneak into Gryffindor" and then "string along a mudblood as a friend" for the sake of appearances. As much as anything, it proved how befitting he was for the title of Heir of Slytherin. This echoed Luna's comments from just after Halloween, although it somehow sounded much more convincing now.
This latest attack put the castle in a state of absolute terror. Colin's petrification was one thing, but Harry's dislike for the boy and his incessant attempts at photography was well known by now. The attack was terrible, but there was an understanding behind it. Justin's petrification made no sense. If Harry was willing to mark the boy for no reason then it meant everybody was a potential target. The fact that Harry was both willing and able to dispose of Nearly-Headless Nick, a ghost immune to almost all dangers and a staunch supporter of Harry's own house, merely for being a witness meant that nobody was safe.
People no longer traveled on their own. Even the students in Slytherin were nervous, no matter what airs they put on. According to Syaoran, blood status had become a particularly favorite topic of conversation in the house with various students incidentally mentioning in passing they were pureblood several times.
The unwillingness to travel alone made it difficult for Sakura and the others to meet up for practice. Sakura, in Ravenclaw, had it easier. Ever since that day, Lisa and subsequently Wayne had decided to join in with Luna for their self-defense practice sessions led by Syaoran. Syaoran, Gloria, and Wayne had a harder time getting to the classrooms they practiced in. Each needed to find or convince a group of students in their houses to make a trip.
The holiday could arrive none too soon. Relatively few people planned on staying behind. Most notably Harry had, which went some way to explaining the remarkably small number of others who chose to. Everybody knew Harry wasn't going home. Everybody knew where Harry was all-day, every day. Keeping close tabs on the location of the boy had become not only habitual but a self-preservation activity in Hogwarts. Those who couldn't go home had something extra to dread, and they feared the day classes would end.
And then the day arrived.
On that last day, Sakura met up with Syaoran and they both made their way to Kaho's office and its promised liberation from the horrible oppression of the castle via the floo network.
Last Updated: July 14, 2014