Chapter 19: Under Lockdown
Severus was sipping a third cup of coffee as he worked on grading essays. He'd instructed all three teens to be in his office at 9:00, and had refused to allow them entrance until that precise time simply because Miss Granger had shown up at 8:30. Honestly, it was like the know-it-all had no sense of self preservation. If she kept it up he was going to lengthen her detention and maybe even assign more since she seemed so fond of them.
Like last week, he had set the boys to scrubbing cauldrons while Miss Granger harvested bubotuber puss. If the little brat was going to steal valuable ingredients from him she was going to do the work to provide him with others.
At noon he let the three stop for a quick lunch of cold sandwiches, milk, and vegetables before he sent them back to their tasks. Harry and Ron finished the cauldrons just before two, so he told them that that was the end of their detention for the day and that he would see them at 1:00 the next afternoon. He knew that he was probably going soft on them only keeping them half a day on the weekends, but he'd dealt with them for two weeks straight already.
When the boys were told that they could go as soon as their work station was cleaned up, Hermione continued to work on her bubotuber pus harvesting. At first she had been extremely squeamish about it, but she'd been forced to get over it as she continued to plow through her crates. Now she refused to take her eyes off Harry. She could tell he was trying to ignore her and she chewed her lip as she waged an internal war with herself. She knew that Harry would be seriously upset if she brought it up, but she also knew that that diary had to be reported. Sighing, Hermione made up her mind as the boys reached for the door knob and she looked directly at her Potions Professor grading essays.
"Professor," she spoke timidly and Harry froze. "Have you ever heard the name Tom Riddle?"
When the little twit had originally opened her mouth he had figured that she would just be asking him how much longer he would be keeping her since he was letting the boys go. He already had a nasty remark to answer her, but his entire body froze when she uttered that name and he instantly snapped the quill he was holding. It didn't escape his notice that both of the boys had also frozen, so he knew that this was not something foreign to them. Suppressing a groan at what that could mean, Severus licked his lips before finally speaking in a hoarse voice. "Where did you hear that name, Miss Granger?"
"Well, I um..." Hermione scuffed her foot on the dungeon floor mentally berating herself for mentioning it to Snape rather than taking it to McGonagall. "You see... Harry..." She didn't get any further than that when the man's gaze snapped to his dark haired boy. Severus should have known that he would be the major one behind this. The boy was a trouble magnet even if James wasn't his real father.
Harry desperately wanted to wring Hermione's neck for doing this to him, but he knew there was no way around it now. Staring at his shoes, Harry didn't make him repeat the question. "I might have found an old diary with that name on it."
"You might have?" Severus snapped out. Sometimes the boy could be extremely dense. "Just when did you find this diary Harry?" He forced himself to calm his voice and use his given name figuring that was the best way to coax information out of him; without strangling him of course.
"I just found it yesterday," the boy defended himself now glaring at his bushy haired friend. "It was just a blank diary that someone threw away. I didn't think it was anything to worry about."
"I told you to turn it in the minute you told me you felt a connection with the thing," the red-head stated and Severus could feel his blood run cold. First there was the fact that they just had to mention that name. It didn't help that it was mentioned in a casual manner, the curiosity was enough to create countless amounts of danger. Now he was being told that Harry was feeling a connection with the book that had brought this name into question. It would just have to fall into the possession of his trouble magnet son.
"Why," Severus pinched the bridge of his nose in a valiant attempt to keep from knocking the two adolescent heads together, "did you not report the diary before now?"
"By the time we found out that there was anything strange about it," Harry started only to be interrupted by Ron.
"I told you there was something strange about it the second you flipped through it saying you felt a physical connection to the book."
"A physical connection?" Severus thought he was going to pass out. This was not happening. "What kind of physical connection."
"I don't know," he couldn't help the snarl that escaped his lips at the boy's shrug. "I just really felt drawn to the book. It was kind of like it was a part of me or something."
If there was one thing that could have stopped Severus cold, it was those words. There was absolutely no way that the boy could feel that any object owned by The Dark Lord was a part of him. It was just not possible. Then something else Harry had said registered in his mind. "You said you finally found something strange about the book. What was it?"
"Well, there was nothing written in it," Harry began slowly, but quickly continued at the glare Snape was shooting at him. "Hermione mentioned that it might just be written in invisible ink or something so we did a bunch of tests on it."
Severus held in a groan as he snapped his head around to look at the bushy haired thirteen-year-old. He was seriously going to have to break the girl of the habit to assist in the schemes by performing dangerous tasks such as brewing and testing dark objects by herself. As soon as her Potions Professor turned to her however, Hermione instantly lowered her head and quickened her pace at the task she was supposed to be performing.
"None of her tests showed anything however, so I suggested actually writing in the thing like it was originally created for." Harry was speaking again so Severus refocused his attention once more. "When 'Mione dropped some ink onto it, the page just sucked the ink right in." Severus's eyes widened at this statement. That wasn't normal even in the wizarding world. "Ron and Neville weren't watching the first time, so she did it again, and then the book wrote back asking her to stop doing that."
That was just too much. Books didn't just suck ink into their pages, and they most definitely didn't respond to the writer. Whatever this was, it definitely couldn't be good. "Accio Riddle's Diary." When nothing appeared after several moments of tense silence, Severus sighed. This really couldn't be good because that spell should have worked even at a distance. "Do I dare ask where this blasted book is now?" As much as he prayed to Merlin that the boy had had the good sense to get rid of it, he also hoped just as strongly that it was on the little brat right now so he could get the item in question that much sooner.
"It's in my trunk up in the dorm room." Severus narrowed his eyes at the boy, choosing to believe that the regret he heard in his voice was due to the fact that he had forgotten to bring it with him rather than a reluctance to let it go.
"We are going to retrieve it right now. Miss Granger, I trust I can leave you alone and I will not return to find my classroom in a shambles?" At the girl's red faced nod he ushered the boys out the door billowing after them.
Under any other circumstances, entering the Gryffindor Common Room looking like a storm cloud would have given him a type of sadistic pleasure as he watched more than a few students jump a kilometer in the air at his sudden arrival. As it was however, Severus's only concern was for this mysterious diary. With any luck, this would be the connection they needed to finally put a stop to these attacks. It would certainly be a relief to get through this entire ordeal without any deaths; innocent deaths that was.
While he was on a very specific mission, Severus had noticed that any student in his path would instantly vanish. He therefore couldn't help but raise an eyebrow when the Longbottom boy, of all people, ran right up to him.
"Harry," the boy panted as he wrung his hands like a nervous house elf. Ok, so maybe he hadn't run up to him in particular, but running up to one of the boys he had in tow was close enough in his opinion. "I don't know who did it..." Now the dunderhead was making even less sense than normal. What in the name of Merlin was he blabbering about?
The boy followed them up the stairs to the boys' dormitory, and it was then that Severus understood what the blathering was all about. At first sight he had simply thought that Minerva let the Gryffindors get away with a lot more mess than he had previously thought, but a moment later it was obvious that someone had been in there looking for something. Four of the four poster beds where, indeed, in disarray. The fifth one however, the one in the center, had been completely massacred. The curtains had been heavily torn and now hung limply draping down to the floor. The pillows had both been torn viciously apart and feathers were everywhere. The sheets and blankets were strewn around a five-foot radius of the bed, and at the foot of the bed, Harry's trunk lay on its side contents spilled across the floor. Every article of clothing had been pulled out with the pockets turned. Several books were strewn around the room, some of them missing pages.
As Harry stepped in behind Severus, he stared at the mess for several moments like a gaping fish. "Get the diary Harry," Severus stated simply. "Then you can check for anything missing and we can clean this mess up."
Harry moved to do as he was told feeling very confused. What on Earth did he have that someone else would want so desperately that they would tear his belongings apart to get to it? All he had that was of any worth at all was the standard school items required of all students and his firebolt. Since his broom was locked up with the rest of the teams, it didn't make sense to destroy his room for it. As he pawed through the mess to get the little diary however, he couldn't help but gape at the Potions Master once more. "It's not here Professor. That must have been what the person was looking for in here because it's gone."
Severus closed his eyes and began a mental count to ten. This was not happening. "Who knew you had the diary Harry?" Granger and Weasley had both seemed anxious for Harry to turn it in, and they had both been in detention all morning, but he couldn't think of many other people Harry would have told about the diary.
"Neville knew about it, but I didn't tell anyone else," the boy stated simply with a frown. Instantly Severus turned on the Longbottom boy glowering at him for all he was worth.
"I-I-I d-didn't take it Professor!" the round-faced boy declared with wide eyes. "I swear."
"Neville wanted it turned in as much as Hermione and I did," Weasley spoke up again. "But anyone could have seen us with the book last night."
"What do you mean?" Severus felt a bit dizzy as he spun his attention to yet another twelve-year-old.
"The four of us were all sitting in the common room with it last night," the red-head mumbled quietly. "Hermione and Harry were trying to find invisible ink or something, and then Hermione dripped the ink into it. After the diary wrote back, Harry started writing in it. When he told the thing his name and year at Hogwarts 'Mione snatched it from him." Severus's scowl turned toward his son for a moment at learning he would blindly give out personal information so easily, and he watched the boy glare at his friend for revealing that little bit. Weasley wasn't done talking though, so Severus turned back to him. "We were there with the diary for several hours. It's quite possible that somebody saw us with it, especially since we were arguing about it"
Severus shot one more glare at his son, promising to discuss this later, before sweeping out of the dormitory and back into the common room. Students scattered once more, but he ignored them as he tried a silent summoning charm on the book. He swore when nothing happened. That book had to be full of dark magic if it wasn't responding to a summoning charm. It was as he strode towards Minerva's office door, connected to the common room, that he finally spoke. "Until further notice, this entire tower is under lockdown. Nobody is to leave, and..." Severus spun on his heel when he was suddenly cut off by a 5th year boy.
"You can't just do that; this is Gryffindor, not Slytherin. You have no jurisdiction here."
The Potions Master took 3 menacing steps towards the boy and leaned down into his face. "I can assure you Mr. Lund; it is within my jurisdiction to call a lockdown on the entire castle when I feel the safety of the students is in jeopardy. Right now, I have determined that the students in Gryffindor are in danger, so I am ordering a complete lockdown, and we can take this up with the Headmaster if you have any further complaints about my attempts to save your pathetic and idiotic life." When the fifth year didn't respond Severus spun around once more, and this time actually made it to his destination and managed to knock on Minerva's office door.
It took several moments for the infuriating woman to answer, and Severus felt the urge to knock the door in, but instead just knocked again, this time more urgently. When the door finally opened, it was to find Minerva with her lips pressed thin. "I have informed you all on more than one occasion that this entrance to my office is for emergencies only and that the primary entrance is..." She cut herself off abruptly when she saw who was standing there.
"I assume that you would consider Tom Riddle an emergency Minerva," Severus stated coolly and watched the woman's eyes go wide with shock at the mention of that name.
"A-are you quite sure Severus?" Minerva spluttered for only a moment before gaining control of herself again, and her lips thinned more at the Head of Slytherin's terse nod.
"Mr. Potter brought to my attention his possession of a diary of Tom Riddle's." Severus ignored the Transfiguration teacher as her eyes widened and she stared out at the dark haired boy in question. "When I came up to inspect it we found that it had been stolen. It is not responding to a summoning charm Minerva." This last part was spoken in a deadpan and he watched the animangus' features set further.
"I'll contact Albus." With that she quickly left, not bothering to shut the door, and Severus turned back to face the room of astounded Gryffindors. Deciding he would get a lot further with this lot if someone else led the investigation, he held off on any questioning.
It didn't take long for everyone in Gryffindor tower to be further shocked as the Headmaster himself blew into the Common Room. The room had been slightly buzzing with whispers about what was going on, but the power of the Headmaster seemed to crackle around them, and the room went completely silent as all eyes locked on him.
"It would appear," he stated calmly but with no twinkle to his eyes, "that someone has ransacked Mr. Potter's belongings, and removed something out of his possession." Everyone in the Common Room looked at those near them still silent. "Normally, this would just be a minor crime of thievery that would be looked into quietly, but the item that was taken has been deemed to be extraordinarily dangerous, and we will require all of your cooperation to locate it so that we may prevent anyone from getting hurt." Albus Dumbledore stared around the room for several moments, just letting the information and the seriousness of the situation sink in for a moment before continuing. "First of all, I believe it would be beneficial if Mr. Potter would give us a better description of the item we are looking for."
Harry felt like his throat was as dry as sandpaper when everyone stared at him. "Well, it's just a small black diary with the name Tom Riddle on the back. It doesn't seem like it's been written in, but..."
"I think that's good enough Harry," the Headmaster interrupted placing a hand on the boy's shoulder before turning to the rest of the students once more. "Has anyone seen this little black diary?" When there was only complete silence, Dumbledore sighed. "I will repeat that it is imperative that we find this diary. This could be the means to us finally putting a stop to the attacks that have been happening. If no one has seen the diary, did anyone at least see anything suspicious in the 2nd year boys' dormitory today?"
There was once again silence as the students looked at each other, until finally a third year boy stepped forward. "There was a first year girl up there earlier, she looked absolutely terrified. Said she was looking for her brother but he obviously wasn't here, so she left."
"Do you know which first year girl Mr. Spencer?" McGonagall asked with a slight frown.
"I think it was the Weasley girl," the boy responded looking once more at his friends who just shrugged their shoulders. All I really remember is that she had long red hair."
"That will be fine Mr. Spencer," Dumbledore responded with a quick nod before looking around the Common Room once more. With it being early on a Saturday afternoon he knew that many of the students would be out roaming the grounds somewhere, and he sighed when he realized that Ginerva Weasley must be one of them since she was nowhere in the crowd. "Professor Snape has ordered a lockdown on Gryffindor Tower, and that is effective immediately while we search for that diary. Prefects, I am placing you in charge here while Professor's McGonagall and Snape help me in my search. Once again, I urge anyone that has any information about this diary to report it. I can assure you that nobody will be punished for it; our concern is primarily in making sure everyone at Hogwarts remains safe." With that he took one more glance around the milling students, and led the way out of the Gryffindor Common Room with Severus and Professor McGonagall on his heels.
The search for Ginerva Weasley took more than a half an hour, and that was with the assistance of the Hogwarts Ghosts and portraits. All teachers were made aware of the circumstances, and all students were questioned and then ordered to their Common Rooms until further notice. It was Professor Sprout that finally spotted the girl in the greenhouse housing the mandrakes. She was sitting there with her face buried in her knees, red hair pouring around her, and the squat Head of Hufflepuff sent a message saying she had found the girl and would report to the Headmaster soon before sitting beside the small child.
"Miss Weasley?" It was spoken softly, but the girl still jumped a kilometer in the air. "What are you doing here child?"
Ginny looked wildly around her before bringing her eyes to meet the kindly Herbology Professor. Pomona Sprout didn't often get to see any student but a Hufflepuff up close, but looking at Ginny Weasley now, she felt like her heart was breaking. The girl's eyes were incredibly red and puffy and stood out remarkably against pale and chalky skin. It was also painfully obvious that the girl had been losing weight recently, and Pomona couldn't help but wrap an arm around the small child. This year had been hard on all of her Hufflepuff students, but she'd seen it the worst in the first years. She could only imagine that the rest of the first years were taking it all in a similar fashion. The first year was hard enough without adding in the stress of the Chamber of Secrets.
The girl looked around herself for several moments, and then sank her head into her knees once more. "I just wanted to check on the mandrakes Professor, see for myself that they are growing."
"Yes, of course." Pomona nodded her understanding. "Sometimes seeing something for yourself can help restore hope." The Herbology professor sighed heavily before tilting the red head's chin up to look into her face. "Miss Weasley, I'm sorry to bother you, but everyone has been looking for you for quite a while now." If possible, the girl's face drained of even more color, and the Head of Hufflepuff found herself trying to figure out how to go about this as sensitively as possible. "One of the third year boys said they saw you outside your brother Ron's dormitory and that you were quite upset. Would you care to tell me what's been going on to leave you in such a state?"
Ginny stiffened considerably at hearing that someone had reported seeing her outside Ron's dormitory. Had they seen her rummaging through the place? Had they seen her take the diary back? "I-I just really miss my parents," she finally whispered. "I was hoping he could tell me about getting through his first year since his was the most recent. When I realized he wasn't available, I decided to just take a walk and try to clear my mind for a bit."
"I understand," the older witch stated soothingly as she patted the girl's shoulder. "Being away from home for the first time can be hard, and returning from the holidays can make the nostalgia even worse." Pomona sighed when the girl didn't mention the diary on her own. If the child really was feeling homesick, she didn't want to make the girl anymore uncomfortable than she needed to. The matter at hand however was far more important than the possibility of hurting a first year's feelings. "Miss Weasley, the reason that we were all looking for you is because it has come to our attention that there is a diary with the name of Tom Riddle floating around somewhere. It was stolen out of Mr. Potter's trunk today, and it is very important that we find it. We were hoping that you might be able to help us."
The girl stiffened once again at the mention of the diary, but then quickly shook her head. "No ma-am I don't have any diary like that."
Professor Sprout frowned. She wasn't the greatest at detecting lies since Hufflepuffs tended to be very honest and trusting, but this child was much too stiff. "Are you sure Ginny?" She hoped that using the girl's preferred name would calm her enough to open up. "Have you even seen this diary at all?"
Ginny took several moments to chew on her lip as she contemplated her answer. "Yes, I saw it. I had it for a little bit after finding it. It hadn't been written in, so I decided to keep it and maybe use it myself, but then I never did. Finally I just chucked it."
"When did you chuck it?"
Ginny chewed her lip some more. She had to be very careful about how she answered these questions. She couldn't let on that she'd been conversing with Tom all year and he'd started scaring her so she finally got rid of it. Then she had seen Harry with it last night, and the thought of Tom telling him all of her secrets absolutely terrified her so she had stolen it back. Instead of write in it again however, she had hidden it. She was still so scared, but she just couldn't tell anyone that she was afraid that she had been the one attacking the students. She would surely get expelled. She'd had a brother in Hogwarts since before she could remember, and she just couldn't leave, not now that it was finally her turn. "I chucked it a couple months ago," she finally stated. "When I wrote in it for the first time, I was shocked and terrified to have it write back to me. I freaked out, and immediately chucked it." As she stated this she mentally beat herself up. Time and time again her father had warned them that they should be wary of objects that could think for themselves. Why hadn't she just chucked it when Tom had first written back?
The Herbology Professor watched the red head for a moment longer before finally nodding. This wasn't the lead they had hoped for, but she obviously wasn't going to get any more out of the girl than this. "Alright sweetheart, that was a smart thing to do." The words were meant as comfort, but they only served to tear at the girl's conscience more. "I just needed to know if you knew anything. I will ask you however, to let one of us Professor's know if you ever see it again." At getting a nod from the 11 year-old, Pomona stood up. "Now, let's get you back to the castle where it's a little bit warmer." With that she helped the girl to her feet and escorted her back to her tower before reporting to the Headmaster with her findings.
Author's Note: Another short chapter, but actually in a timely manner for once. Ginny's interaction with Sprout might not be terribly believable, but they can't find the diary for the rest of my ideas to work out, and who says that the Head of Hufflepuff can't be a bit gullible? Hope you enjoyed the chapter.