I'm sure there are a bunch of reviews that I should have replied to in the fast week or so, but the website was being a bit screwy. For some reason it kept claiming that any reviews posted after December 30th didn't exist and couldn't be replied to. Didn't even display them in the review page. Weird stuff, but it seems to have passed now.
Many thanks to Joe Lawyer for his beta-ing xD.
Anyway, here goes chapter 4. Enjoy.
The Weasley twins made a beeline for the Ravenclaw table, where they could see Harry and Luna eating breakfast. Apparently, getting sorted into the house of eagles had not made Ginny a morning person.
"I don't believe we've been introduced."
"-handsome fellow isn't he? And I'm George."
"Together we are the amazing,"
"-since when do you know that word, my brother?"
"Since yesterday, and now you've ruined the flow."
"Anyway, we are...The Weasley Twins!"
Harry looked at them blandly over the mountain of food piled on his plate, not entirely sure what to make of this introduction.
"Hi." He said and went back to stuffing his face. He always woke up with a monster appetite these days.
"I say, I don't think even ickle Ronniekins can eat that much."
"And he can eat a lot indeed."
"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day." Harry justified, despite having been one of those people who didn't eat much in the mornings before the runes. "Is there something I can help you with?"
"Indeed you can."
"You see Harry, we are fairly certain that Ginny only went to Ravenclaw because of you."
"In light of this, we would like to know-"
"-what your intentions are towards our little sister." They twins finished in unison, grinning down at him evilly.
"Intentions?" Harry echoed. He understood their meaning perfectly well, but he was friggin' twelve and Ginny was eleven. Sure, he had apparently done a number on his puberty with that ritual, but they didn't know that. Moreover, his hormones seemed to be targeting the more developed girls exclusively, for which he was thankful. It meant that he would only have trouble keeping his eyes from wandering during mealtimes, free periods and such and not during classes, with the notable exception of professor Sinistra.
Luna, who had thus far contented herself with silently making the perfect jam spread on her bread, decided to enlighten her friend.
"They want to know if you're going to put your penis in Ginny's vagina." She said serenely, bringing her bread to eye level to make sure that the jam was perfect.
Harry spat out the half-masticated morsel of food currently in his mouth, coughing violently as his body protested him nearly sending solids into his lungs.
Though shocked as badly as Harry by Luna's words, the Weasley twins had the advantage of not eating at the time and were able to recover faster.
"Aren't you a bit young to know about that?" Fred asked, somewhat hypocritically it must be said. Although they hadn't truthfully expected Harry to catch on to their insinuation and were just going to tease him.
"I watched daddy put his penis in mummy's vagina, and in her mouth, and her bum. It looked fun and I asked if I could play too, but mummy explained that it was a grown-up game and that I would know when I was old enough to play. I wanted to be good at it, so I started reading mummy's books and peeping on them when they played." Luna explained with a dreamy smile, taking a rapturous bite of her perfectly prepared slice of bread.
The three males present exchanged akward looks as the silence stretched on, heavy and oppressive with only the sound of Luna's chewing to break it. Well, that and the general noise of people having breakfast in the Great Hall. The twins were in fourth year now and old enough to understand how utterly strange Luna's statement was, while Harry's internet exposure took care of any ignorance on his part. In fact, the only one who seemed oblivious to the reality of the situation was Luna herself.
"We've got a, uh..."
"Yes! A prank to plan."
"Talk to you later Harrykins."
"Yes, much later."
"It sure was nice of the twins to come and introduce themselves to you like that." Luna commented.
"Uh...yeah." Harry replied weakly, having the dual problem of feeling incredibly awkward and pointlessly aroused by the imagery that Luna's words had brought to mind. He recalled thinking yesterday that Luna was a great distraction from his out of control hormones, but now he was wondering if she wasn't going to make it worse.
His meal was once again interrupted when he saw a smaller-than-average first year Gryffindor coming at him with a big smile and a very antique looking camera.
"Hi Harry! I'm-I'm Colin Creevey." The boy said breathlessly, edging closer tentatively. "I'm in Gryffindor. Would you...would it be alright if I...can I take a picture?" He finally managed, raising the camera hopefully.
"No, It wouldn't be alright." Harry replied irritably, feeling his runes prickling.
"Please." Colin begged. "It's to prove that I've met you. I know all about you. Everyone's told me. About how you survived when You-Know-Who tried to kill you and how he disappeared and everything and how you've still got a lightning scar on your forehead" He stared unabashedly at Harry's scar when he said this. "and a boy in my dormitory said if I develop the film in the right potion, the pictures'll move!" Colin drew a great shuddering breath of excitement and continued on. "It's amazing here, isn't it? I never knew all the odd stuff I could do was magic till I got the letter from Hogwarts. My dad's a milkman, he couldn't believe it either. So I'm taking loads of pictures to send home to him. And it'd be really good if I had one of you." He looked imploringly at Harry. "Maybe your friend could take it and I could stand next to you? And then, could you sign it?"
Harry's blood pressure had steadily been rising as the younger boy continued his unsolicited word vomit. Intellectually, he knew that Colin was just excited about magic and probably had a thing for photography. He was in all likelihood just out to get a picture of the famous Harry Potter that he'd read about so that he could brag to his parents.
Harry was far too busy trying to control the suddenl swell of disproportionate rage that the pushy and inconsiderate brat had inspired in him to think of that though. Where did the annoying little shit get off asking for photos?! And to sign them too?! Even worse, Colin had raised his voice in his desperate plea to get Harry to reconsider and attracted a lot of attention, which he had never been comfortable with and was now serving to make him even more angry.
When Colin was done talking he looked back at Harry's eyes and blanched at the furious glare being directed at him. He was about to stutter out an apology and vacate the area when a third party decided to make it worse.
"Signed photos? You're giving out signed photos, Potter?" Malfoy asked scathingly, being deliberately loud enough for the entire Great Hall to hear. "Everyone line up! Harry Potter is giving out signed photos!"
Colin was by this point wishing that he'd never approached his hero, or at least that he'd done it somewhere more private. He knew that this situation was his fault, so he tried to help.
"You're just jealous."
Eleven year olds did not generally make good problem solvers, alas.
"Jealous?" Malfoy sneered. "Why would I be jealous of an ugly scar across my-AAAH!"
Malfoy's scathing retort turned into a scream as Harry's self-control snapped and he hurled a heavy golden goblet at the blond's face, nearly breaking his nose.
The scream snapped Harry out of the angry fog, but he knew that it wasn't gone yet. He pushed away from the table and shouldered past a stunned Colin, barely noticing as he nearly knocked the smaller boy to the ground.
"Harry!" an deeper, adult voice called loudly in what was probably supposed to be a friendly tone, a hand clamping down on his shoulder.
The plates of food trembled, some of them having their contents inexplicably explode.
"You can't just-AAAAH!"
Whatever advice Gilderoy Lockhart had been about to impart would forever remain unheard as the action renewed Harry's fury and caused him to stab a fork into the man's hand. He hadn't even registered that he was still clutching a fork.
The entire Great Hall watched in stunned silence as the Boy-Who-Lived stomped out, rage written in every movement.
"Oh dear, he blew up my jam." Luna pouted, wiping a bit of the raspberry mess from her face and leaving the table. If there was no more jam to be had, then she might as well go help her friend calm down.
Harry hadn't gone very far, only to the first empty hallway.
He was leaning on the wall and taking deep breaths, trying to ignore the incessant prickling of his runes, when Luna found him.
The sight of her with raspberry jam splattered all over her face put a crack in his anger and he couldn't help laughing at her pout.
"You blew it all over my face Harry." She chided. "It was supposed to go in my mouth."
Harry continued to laugh breathlessly as his anger drained away, wondering if Luna was deliberately using innuendo or if she was honestly clueless.
Harry had no illusions that he would be getting away with what he'd done scot free, so the summons by Dumbledore came as no surprise.
"I hope you realize that your actions in the Great Hall today were unacceptable, Harry." The headmaster said gravely, staring into the boy's green eyes.
He attempted a brief touch of legilimency, but received only a confusing kaleidoscope of impressions that made no sense to him. It was remarkably similar to what a person experienced if they ever found themselves in a fidelius protected location without knowing the secret. What had happened to the boy over the summer to change his mind in this way? How did he even function?
Harry felt Aul'El prickle on his forehead and saw the flicker of confusion on Dumbledore's face. He had to quickly clamp down on the surge of anger it made him feel. He'd already suspected that the headmaster made a habit of reading minds when he could get away with it. It made the advice of his grandparents all the more relevant. Dumbledore was not to be trusted.
"Yes sir." He answered.
He was finding it hard to regret what he'd done to Malfoy and Lockhart, but he knew that he couldn't keep throwing goblets or stabbing with forks every time he got angry. He had to find a way to control himself. Da'Roir would obviously only do so much to help him in that regard. In fact, it was doing less than he had hoped. His memory was much improved, but his emotions were far from under control.
Occlumency was supposed to help with controlling one's emotions, so maybe it was time to start learning that? He'd neglected to try it so far because the book said that it took a long time and using a rune seemed so much easier.
"Good," Dumbledore said with a nod, deciding not to mention the multitude of points that Ravenclaw had lost over this incident since he knew that the boy didn't care about the house cup. "then you will not object to having detention with Filch for a week or to making a public apology to Mr. Malfoy and professor Lockhart."
Harry's face twisted in anger. The detention he'd expected and wasn't going to object to even if it would cut into his personal time, but publically apologizing to those two blowhards?
"Are they going to apologize to me?" He asked back.
Dumbledore blinked at the cold tone, wondering where all this anger was coming from. Harry hadn't been nearly this difficult the previous year.
"Whatever for, Harry? You were the one who assaulted them."
"I didn't do it for fun." Harry retorted sarcastically. "Malfoy was deliberately provoking me and Lockhart grabbed me."
"Surely you realize that you cannot attack fellow students over schoolyard teasing, or attack a professor simply for placing his hand on your shoulder?" Dumbledore asked pointedly.
Harry did know that, but that didn't mean that he was going to apologize for it. "I'm not going to apologize for attacking them if they don't apologize for what they did."
"Harry, I thought you were more mature than this." Dumbledore rebuked, his entire manner radiating disappointment.
"It's hard to be mature when you're dealing with idiots." Harry retorted, not caring one whit about the old man's disappointment at this point. "Either everyone apologizes, or nobody does."
Harry knew – in a distant sort of way – that he was being more than a bit unreasonable here. Though Draco was undeniably a tragic waste of air, he hadn't done anything worse than countless other children who thought that getting someone else in trouble was fun. Certainly nothing to deserve getting a metal goblet to the face. Lockhart was a similar case, except that in his case it was a fork stabbing. He could only thank his lucky stars that it hadn't been Snape or McGonagall. Lockhart was quickly shaping out to be comic relief and was therefore inconsequential.
Unfortunately, he was having to deal with his rune enhanced temper and digging his heels in seemed like a perfectly fine thing to do.
While Harry did briefly attain legendary status among the Gryffindors for managing to toss a goblet at Malfoy, stab a professor and get a lengthy detention on his first day back in Hogwarts, that was no comfort to him when he had to spend several hours every day doing manual labor with Filch.
He could vaguely recall needing to do age inappropriate chores at the Dursleys, but it had been a long time since he'd done any kind of mind numbingly repetitive physical labor. The whole experience was made worse because Filch kept pontificating on the kind of punishments he'd like to use on students.
Seriously, how did a man that wanted to use a cat o' nine tails with barbed metal tips on children work in a school?
The issue of the public apology had stalled since nobody actually wanted to do it and Harry was quite sure that whatever forbearance Snape had found for him last year had now evaporated. The Potions master had spent a large portion of the previous year looking at him as if he was a puzzle, but now he'd reverted to back to his full nastiness.
Harry suspected that he had given some pointers to Filch on how to make detention more unpleasant. At least it was the last day. The only reason his temper wasn't getting away from him again was because he'd expected it to happen and resigned himself to it. He definitely needed to get a handle on that problem though, and fast.
"Uh, Harry?" Ginny started uncertainly.
"Yes?" The boy in question asked, not looking up from his book.
"Weren't you supposed to be in detention?"
"Why would I be in detention?"
"Because you called professor Lockhart a..." Ginny paused for a moment, blushing. "...a bucket of warm piss and stomped out of his classroom?"
"I did not." Harry protested, his own face going red. This new temper of his was starting to become a serious problem. "I said that he's about as qualified to teach as a bucket of warm piss."
"Okay, but shouldn't you be in detention for that?"
"According to Lockhart, yes, but I'm not going to waste my time helping that idiot answer his fan mail."
"Do you, um, want to go for a w-walk around the lake then?" Ginny stuttered out, her previous blush returning with a vengeance.
"I have homework to do." Harry replied, going back to his book.
"O-oh, maybe some other time then!" She said in a rush and ran off, hiding her crestfallen expression.
Harry released an aggravated sigh. Why oh why couldn't she tell that he was simply not interested?
"Come ...come to me...Let me rip you...Let me tear you...Let me kill you..."
Harry paused on his way back to the Ravenclaw tower from one of his late night excursions to the Restricted Section, a chill going down his spine at the malicious voice.
"Hello?" He asked softly.
There was no answer and it was a much disturbed Harry Potter that returned to his room.
"Are you sure you weren't just hearing things?" Ginny asked sceptically the next day, after being told about the voice.
Harry paused for a moment to consider that. It was not entirely impossible that he might have been sleepy and imagined it, but he was getting that feeling of foreshadowing for plot related information over this. It was certainly ominous enough.
"No, I'm sure it was another voice and I definitely wasn't imagining it."
"Don't worry about it Harry, I hear voices all the time." Luna added reassuringly. "If your voice comes back, we could introduce it to my voices and they could be friends."
"It didn't sound like the type of voice that would have friends." Harry replied, amused.
Luna looked genuinely upset by this. "Oh. Maybe it's just lonely?"
"Luna, this is serious!" Ginny said with a scowl. She hadn't been sleeping well lately and wasn't in the mood for Luna's games.
"I know." Luna agreed wholeheartedly. "Loneliness is a terrible thing."
Ginny looked like she wanted to hit something.
"I'll be sure to try befriending the voice if I hear it again." Harry interjected, still amused. "If it still wants to kill people after that, I can point it at Malfoy and Lockhart."
Hogwarts staff room, September 30th.
A new year had arrived, meaning another start-of-year meeting between the headmaster and the four heads of house.
Most of the relevant topics ranging from school brooms to the new first years had already been discussed, leaving only things of special importance.
"Albus, you really must do something about Lockhart. The man is a menace." McGonagall said in exasperation.
"I would like nothing more, Minerva." Dumbledore replied with a sigh. "Unfortunately, I am out of options. There is literally nobody to replace him with."
"There is something of a minor revolt brewing among my house because of him." Flitwick added, a touch amused. "Apparently, Mr. Potter's dramatic exit and refusal to attend any more of the man's classes has planted the idea in many of their heads that they would be better off not attending the class at all. Ms. Lovegood and Weasley have already stopped and are using Mr. Potter's notes from last year to learn the material."
Snape made a derisive snort. His opinion on Harry Potter had taken a sharp dive since the start of the year when the boy had thrown his temper tantrum. Oh, the boy was certainly nothing like his father, but he was still a brat.
"Were you not going to convince him to attend the DADA lessons again?" Dumbledore asked.
"I tried, but he told me that he may not be able to stop himself from another stabbing if he had to answer one more question about Lockhart's favorite color." Flitwick answered. "Sadly, I cannot blame him."
This time it was Sprout and McGonagall who snorted. They couldn't blame him either. There was a reason why the boy had gotten off so lightly, mostly because all the professors had been silently gleeful at seeing Lockhart dance around with a fork sticking out of his hand. Even Poppy had been rougher than strictly necessary when she removed it.
"Have any of you noticed that Harry seems to be rather...angry this year?" Dumbledore asked, deciding not to pursue the issue of DADA attendance. Lockhart would serve as a placeholder professor just as well whether he had any students to teach or not, which was really the only thing that had ever been expected of him.
"Yes, it's the strangest thing really." Sprout said. "I remember him as being very even tempered last year, but I've seen him visibly clamp down on his anger several times in the past month."
Flitwick and McGonagall offered their own observations, which were just more of the same. Harry was occasionaly exhibiting anger management issues.
Snape let the other three heads of house debate the matter for a few minutes with the headmaster before he simply couldn't tolerate their blindness anymore.
"Has it perhaps escaped your attention that there is more going on with the boy than merely a few angry outbursts?" He asked cuttingly.
What do you mean, Severus?" Dumbledore asked.
"He has been ogling the older girls when he thinks that nobody is looking."
"Surely not...he's only twelve!" McGonagall said.
"An early bloomer then?" Dumbledore opined with a smile. "He has been having a bit of a growth spurt recently."
Severus' observation came as no small comfort for the old wizard. He had feared that this was a result of learning the prophecy, so the possibility of it being merely growing pains was a great relief. Powerful wizards often made for volatile teenagers. Dumbledore could well remember his own explosive temper when he had been growing up. He had not truly calmed down until Ariana's death had shown him the danger of rash actions done in anger.
"It seems a bit extreme to be merely puberty." Sprout said dubiously. Her Hufflepuffs were a generally calm sort.
"You wouldn't be saying that if James Potter had been in your house." McGonagall countered, vividly recalling the truly ridiculous amount of trouble that James and Sirius had been once puberty hit them.
"Or Lily." Flitwick chuckled. While the redhead had not shown overt interest in boys through her Hogwarts years, her temper had been a fearsome thing.
Snape sneered at the mention of his childhood nemesis and brooded at the mention of his lost love.
It was Halloween and Harry was once again shunning the feast in the Great Hall by eating in the kitchens, but this time he had company.
"I wonder if the heliopaths in the Ministry celebrate Halloween." Luna mused, gorging herself on pudding.
"Maybe." Harry replied idly as he continued to eat. He was pretty sure that heliopaths didn't exist, but why argue about it? Better to just change the subject. "What was up with Ginny today? She seemed kind of worn out."
"Oh, she was just upset that you wouldn't go to the feast with her." Luna told him airily. The redhead kept on trying to get Harry romantically interested in her no matter how many times Luna told her that Ginny's larval bizzwhizzlers simply weren't catching the attention of Harry's creeping lickbiggles.
Harry grumbled a bit at that. The redhead's ongoing crush had transformed from silent blushing to the occasional stuttering invitation to do this or that thing that he had no interest in. She was alright most of the time, but he had to struggle not to snap at her whenever she got it into her head to make another attempt at asking him out.
Harry's head snapped as the familiar malicious hiss reached his ears.
"I can hear that voice again!" He said.
"Let's go find it and make it it our friend!" Luna proclaimed, grabbing some more pudding for the road.
The two Ravenclaws tore out of the kitchen, following what vague directions Harry could give.
"...so hungry...for so long..."
"It's moving up!" He said.
"What is it saying?" Luna asked.
"Something about being hungry."
"Do you think it likes pudding?"
Harry snorted. It didn't seem very likely, given how homicidal the voice sounded.
He suddenly stopped at that thought, abruptly realizing that chasing after a murderous disembodied voice may not be the wisest course of action.
"Why are you stopping, Harry? Our new friend is getting away!" Luna called, running ahead.
"...kill...time to kill..."
"Luna!" Harry yelled and started running again, though this time it was with the intent of stopping her from potentially getting herself killed.
They sprinted right past the ground floor and further up, onto the second floor.
"...blood...I SMELL BLOOD!"
"Oh, I guess Mrs. Norris found the voice before we did." Luna said plainly, staring at the petrified form of the much disliked cat that was currently hanging from a torch bracket by her tail.
On the wall, a message was daubed in foot high letters in something that looked suspiciously like blood.
THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED, ENEMIES OF THE HEIR BEWARE.
"Luna, I think we might want to get out of here." Harry said nervously, realizing how suspicious this would look to any passerby.
Naturally, The Halloween feast just happened to have ended a short while earlier, flooding the corridor with students. Harry and Luna quickly found themselves surrounded and subjected to a lot of pointing and whispering.
"Enemies of the Heir beware! You'll be next mudbloods!" The distinct voice of Draco Malfoy broke through, they blond Slytherin himself having pushed his way to the front.
Filch was the next arrival, his mood quickly turning murderous upon seeing his beloved cat petrified. He was just about to attempt strangling Harry when Dumbledore showed up.
"Hello headmaster." Luna greeted cheerfully. "Did you hear the voices too?"
"Voices?" Dumbledore questioned.
"Harry heard a voice and we chased it up here." Luna explained, not seeing Harry's frantic signaling to stop.
"I think both of you had better come with me." The old wizard said after a moment.
"Now Harry, would you care to tell me what your friend meant by 'voices'?" Dumbledore asked once they were all settled in his office.
Harry shifted uncomfortably, not wanting to talk about it. Unfortunately, Luna had not really left him with the option of keeping things to himself.
"I heard a voice moving through the school, talking about how hungry it was and about killing something." He admitted.
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. "Have you ever heard this voice before?"
"Once, late at night." Harry replied, not mentioning the location since he'd been breaking curfew at the time.
"From your bed in the Ravenclaw tower?" Dumbledore asked, his eyes twinkling.
Harry nodded jerkily, fairly sure that the old wizard didn't believe him but unwilling to just outright admit it.
"Very well, could you describe this voice to me."
"It was..." Harry paused, not sure how to describe a voice. "cold, I guess. And it had a hiss to it."
Dumbledore's brows furrowed in thought, a suspicion growing in his mind.
"Would you like to help me test something, Harry?" He asked.
"Sure, I guess." Harry agreed cautiously.
Dumbledore nodded and took out his wand, pointing it at his desk.
Harry jumped at bit as a snake materialized on the desk, staring wide eyed at the reptile.
"Try talking to it." The headmaster prompted, noticing that young Ms. Lovegood was starting to bounce in her seat excitedly. She clearly knew what was being implied.
Harry gave him an odd look, but did so.
The snake perked up and looked directly at him. "Grettings Speaker."
"It talked back." Harry said in amazement.
"You're a Parselmouth!" Luna proclaimed, just as amazed.
"A wizard who can speak to serpents." Dumbledore explained, vanishing the conjured snake. "It is a rare gift that tends to pass through bloodlines."
"Did one of my parents have it too then?" Harry asked in interest.
"No Harry, they didn't, but Voldemort did. It is possible that some of his power was transfered to you that night." Dumbledore said, avoiding the issue of the Horcrux that was lodged in the boy's scar.
Normally, he would not be telling this to anyone besides Harry, but he was hoping that the shared secret would make their friendship tighter. Giving Harry extra reasons to feel obligated to fight Voldemort was always good.
Harry frowned at that. It sounded a bit farfetched, but who could really say what kind of price his mother's blood contract had exacted from the Dark Lord when he attempted to violate it? It could very well have torn away a piece of his magic when it failed to kill him completely.
Voldemort's not-quite-death still bugged him. The only thing he knew of that would allow an unscrupulous magic user to survive the destruction of their body was a phylactery, but Voldemort had still been a living wizard and not an undead Lich. Then again, he had no idea how magic of that sort worked in the real world, or if it was even possible to make a soul jar. He hoped it was something else. If Voldemort had made a phylactery and was at all smart, he'd hidden it in some remote corner of the world that nobody would ever think to look. It would make killing him for good hellishly problematic.
"Does that mean that I was hearing a snake of some kind?" He finally asked, focusing back on the topic at hand.
"It is possible." Dumbledore admitted with some reluctance, not wanting the two children getting mixed up in this any further. "You had best get back to the Ravenclaw Tower and get some rest. Also, I would urge to keep your Parseltongue ability a secret. Voldemort has given it a bad reputation in Britain and the other students may not look kindly upon you for having it."
When the two children left his office, Dumbledore began pacing in worry.
When the Chamber had first been opened half a century ago, they had never fully resolved the mystery. Hagrid had been blamed for it, but Dumbledore knew that the groundskeeper had not been the culprit.
Tom Riddle had always been his primary suspect, but there had been no proof.
He had done a great deal of research on the subject of permanent petrification, trying to figure out how it had been done.
There were potions that could do it, but forcibly administering a potion to unwilling students or a cat would be quite a feat. Especially in the positions they had been found in.
Dark magic was also a possibility. There were spells that would petrify people permanently. That had in fact been the assumption that Dumbledore had been working from. Tom Riddle had been an exceptional student and might have been capable of it, though he had desperately hoped it wasn't him.
There were some creatures that could petrify people, but most of them were automatically ruled out as being unable to survive since the time of Salazar Slytherin or because they would have left obvious markings on the bodies.
None were snakes.
He had not considered that the creature in question might have a Killing Gaze. He had thought that Myrtle had been an aberration in the pattern, not that the others had merely been hideously lucky.
A quick use of his pensieve confirmed what he had already feared would be the case. All the other petrified students from fifty years ago could have conceivably seen only a reflection. Mrs. Norris was a cat and would have likely kept her eyes on the ground and Dumbledore recalled that the hallways had been flooded slightly. The water would have reflected the eyes.
There was only one serpent that could have lived for a thousand years beneath the school. It was also the only serpent with a Killing Gaze.
A basilisk. The oldest one in known history. One so old that its gaze had become powerful enough to affect people even through indirect eye contact, something that had never been seen before. It must be gigantic by now.
In retrospect it was terribly obvious that Salazar Slytherin might have bred such a beast, an observation that made Dumbledore feel foolish for overlooking it.
But who was commanding the beast? Despite being a parselmouth himself, Harry had an alibi that the house elves could easily verify. Not to mention that the boy had apparently been unaware of his gift until now and Dumbledore didn't believe that he had any reason to be loosing the basilisk on the school to begin with.
They were obviously clever enough to freeze the portraits and take various other precautions that would make finding them difficult. They had even killed Hagrid's roosters, another indication of what the beast was. Roosters were not difficult to find, but the basilisk unfortunately was.
He hoped that he could find the Heir before he or she struck again. He hoped that nobody would die. He hoped that it was not Voldemort's doing. He hoped that Harry would not be targeted if it was. The boy was not ready to face his nemesis yet.
Dumbledore kept pacing in his office under the watchful gazes of past headmasters, too many hopes and too many worries weighing on his shoulders to let him sleep. It was only when Fawkes returned with his soothing phoenix song from wherever he went on these trips of his that the old wizard was able to relax enough to get some rest.
Harry and Luna found themselves on the receiving end of a lot of pointing and whispering for the next few days after that incident. Thanks to Luna's comment about hearing voices, there was a general concensus that they were both a bit loony.
Well, more loony. Harry had never quite fit in – in no small part due to his own actions the previous year and because he was more interested in magic than people– and Luna was...Luna.
This kind of reputation might have attracted bullies in most situations, but they managed to avoid that scenario.
Harry was well known to be exceptionally talented with practical magic, making him an unappealing target for people his own age and the upper years had better things to do than pick on a second year. Not to mention that his spectacular blow up in the Great Hall at the start of term made people just a bit wary of his temper.
Luna would have been an appealing target for bullies on her own, but several factors prevented that from happening. Her friendship with Harry was one of those, but only to a point since he had little to no interaction with the current first years aside from Ginny and Luna.
It was actually Ginny that was the main reason for the lack of people trying to pick on Luna. The spacey blonde was not a particularly forceful person and wouldn't have retaliated against bullies, but Ginny had grown up with six older brothers and had no problem asserting herself. Those very same older brothers were another reason why they were generally left alone. Nobody wanted the Weasley twins targeting them specifically.
The school year plodded along. Classes were had, Quidditch was played, magic was learned.
Harry focused most of his efforts on learning Occlumency, desperately wanting to regain full control of himself. It was slow going without a teacher, but there was nothing else for it. He'd nearly lost his temper several times since the start of term and if the smirk that one sixth year girl had given him, his newfound appreciation for the female form had not gone unnoticed.
He'd also gotten some comments on his height, which was fast approaching the territory of being abnormally tall for a twelve year old. On a personal level, Harry was highly pleased by this. He knew that it was going to get him some very pointed questions when he didn't stop growing, but he would just have to deal with that as it came.
Lockhart occasionally made a nuisance of himself, but was otherwise a non-factor. His class attendance continued to drop steadily, with a large portion of those who stayed being starstruck girls.
The matter of the Chamber of Secrets remained a popular topic of gossip, with increasingly outlandish theories being bandied about as a form of entertainment. Nobody had liked Mrs. Norris, so nobody was overly concerned about the whole thing despite Draco Malfoy's best efforts to frighten the muggleborn students with his sneering.
Right up to the point when Colin Creevey was found petrified and things suddenly became serious.
"Poor Colin, I knew him well." Luna said mournfully.
"Did you just quote Shakespeare?" Harry asked incredulously. Since when did wizards know anything about muggle literature?
"No, I actually knew Colin well. He came to ask me if I could get you to take a photo with him at least once a week." Luna answered in a confused tone. "Who's Shakespeare?"
"Where did they find him?" Ginny interjected, her face pale and frightened.
"Fourth floor, probably looking for the entrance to Ravenclaw Tower. The creepy little stalker." Harry grumbled. Colin's persistent hero worship had been so annoying that he couldn't even bring himself to feel ashamed of his relief at the boy's petrification. Maybe it would be different if he'd been killed, but as the annoying Gryffindor would only be playing statue for a few months, Harry was able to take joy in another's misfortune with zero guilt.
"Do you think it'll happen again?" Ginny asked meekly, desperately hoping to hear a denial. She still vividly remembered the blackout she'd had during Halloween and the blood she'd found on her fingers when she came to. She would never hurt Colin or even Mrs. Norris, but that was a pretty suspicious situation by any stretch.
"Probably. I doubt that this 'Heir of Slytherin' character would start something like this only to stop before any real harm was done." Harry answered. There was also Dobby's warning to consider, which he was now certain had pertained to current events. If only he could figure out who Dobby's master was, then he could make a reasonable guess at the perpetrator. He'd already asked the Hogwarts house elves and they hadn't been able to tell him anything.
He'd briefly entertained the idea that Draco Malfoy might be the culprit, but dismissed it quickly. Not even Draco would be stupid enough to keep running his mouth about the Heir 'purging' the school of mudbloods if he was responsible for this. Not to mention that it apparently needed to be a Parselmouth, which Draco wasn't as far as anyone knew.
And people would know. The blond Slytherin would have bragged about it far and wide the moment he learned that he was one.
Ginny gnawed at her lip in intense worry.
"Don't worry Ginny, I'm sure that Harry will be able to make friends with the basilisk as soon as we find it." Luna tried to comfort, only making the redhead girl pale further at the mention of the Serpent King.
It hadn't taken an exhaustive amount of research to figure out that bit of information after the talk with Dumbledore. There really weren't that many snakes that fit the criteria.
"I really don't think that the basilisk is looking for friends, Luna." Harry said in exasperation, knowing that his argument would likely fall on deaf ears. Again.
While Luna went into a lecture on the horrors of loneliness as it pertained to millenia old snakes that contained only trace amounts of logic, Ginny continued to gnaw at her lip.
She wasn't a Parselmouth, so she shouldn't be capable of commanding the basilisk that was presumably lurking in the Chamber of Secrets, but she couldn't help worrying. She'd blacked out earlier today as well, the same as she had on Halloween.
The duelling club debacle passed with little incident save to further demonstrate Lockhart's incompetence. Harry had been interested but done a 180 as soon as he saw who was hosting it, unknowingly circumventing a large amount of pointless drama.
He had decided against staying at Hogwarts for Christmas this year. He had some things he wanted to do and he couldn't do them at the castle.
Luna was also leaving, which subsequently meant that Ginny was as well since she didn't want to stay in the castle all by herself.
The only oddity about Harry's decision to go back to his foster parents for Christmas was the fact that he had no intention of actually seeing his foster parents. Or even informing them that he wasn't at Hogwarts for that matter.
Instead of getting into an expensive car and driving back to 74 Cromwell Road from King's Cross, Harry wandered into London in search of a library, internet café or something else with public internet access.
Harry logged in to his account on the website where he posted his arithmancy problems, eager to see what answers he'd gotten.
The answers were there as he had hoped, but he also had a surprising private message from another user. Why would anyone want to talk to him privately?
We need to talk. Contact me as soon as you receive this message.
The near demand sent a frisson of worry up Harry's spine. He was starting to get the feeling that his idea about posting arithmancy problems on the internet was not as clever as he'd thought it was.
I'm here. He sent simply, getting back a set of instructions not three minutes later.
Swallowing nervously, Harry followed the instructions that led him to a public chat room. One of those that were frequently used as examples of where innocent young boys and girls might encounter pedophiles in fact.
Coincidentally, this did not make Harry feel any better about the situation. Still, he was far too worried about what this might have to do with his arithmancy to be turned away. Besides, he reasoned that as long as he didn't give out his name or address, it would be fine.
He received a request for a private channel almost as soon as he entered the chat room, from someone with the almost ridiculously stereotypical username of 'xXPussyDestroyer33Xx'.
I bet you thought you were being clever by posting arithmancy problems on the internet. The presumed man on the other end began without preamble. You probably thought you were one-upping the wizard-raised by using technology to solve problems beyond your own ability. Only a European wizard could be so sheltered and judging by your vernacular I'd guess British.
Why European? Harry wrote back, not wanting to admit that his caustic interlocutor was right.
Well I suppose you could also have been American, but I doubt it. The other avoided.
Why not Chinese? Harry asked, picking a country at random.
There are no more magical enclaves in China, Mao made sure of it. Came the reply, the words somehow seeming heavier than mere text should allow.
Harry frowned. He'd never heard of anyone named Mao before. Who is Mao?
There was a long pause and Harry got the distinct feeling that he had surprised his conversation partner.
You must be very young to not know about Mao Zedong. To summarize, he was once a leader of China and is also responsible for the deaths of some 45-78 million people during his reign, among them the majority of China's magical population.
But why? Harry asked in shock.
Dictators do not like sharing power and the Chinese sorcerers were very powerful. They had perhaps the oldest magical civilization on the planet and were very proud of it. As they were Chinese, Mao considered them to be beholden to him. They were outraged and mocked the man for his stupidity, jeering as they turned him away, secure in their superiority and their millenia of gathered magical expertise. They learned too late that traitors, guns and strength of numbers was more than a match for their magics.
Why would wizards turn on their own? Harry wrote back, not really knowing what else to say. He remembered his housemate Su Li and wondered if her parents or grandparents had been one of those who'd escaped. Or had they been the traitors?
Why else? Because they had been scorned and derided by their own for whatever reason. Mao's offers would have sounded very appealing to them. It didn't take long before they were betrayed in turn.
My history books don't say anything about this.
Of course they don't. The European magicals like to ignore things they find inconvenient. You won't hear about the same thing happening in Russia with Stalin either. The Frost Sorcerer Cabal protected the country for centuries, sending the Great Winter to break the back of any army that threatened the motherland, but that was not good enough for Stalin. He wanted to control everything and destroyed what he couldn't.
What about Japan? Harry asked next, hoping to hear that Cho Chang, the pretty Ravenclaw one year above him, was at least a regular immigrant.
Bad luck and arrogance. Most of them were in Hiroshima and didn't believe that the warnings the Americans gave applied to them. The nuclear fire wasn't even slowed down by their wards.
So there aren't any wizards left in Asia at all?
There are. India was spared any similar madness, though the caste system of magical India is far more oppressive than the mundane one and therefore not somewhere you'd want to live unless you were born at the top.
Harry decided to look into this 'caste' system that the other had mentioned. He also wondered if Padma and Parvati's parents had been born 'at the bottom' and fled the country because of it.
There are a number of Japanese magical families in sworn service to their Emperor. These generally live in the capital and avoided the bombs. Russia and China both still have some magicals, but these are mostly focused on keeping the mundane governments from finding the newbloods and turning them into weapons.
I won't tell you any horror stories about the Middle East. I'm sure you've heard about Europe's witch trials and Islam is no more tolerant of magic than Christianity or Judaism. Even less these days.
Why don't they tell us this? Harry demanded, suddenly angry that Binns just kept droning on about the Goblin Rebellions when this kind of crap was happening elsewhere in the world.
Like I told you, European magicals like to ignore things they find incconvenient. They don't like to think about how much the world has changed since the Statute of Secrecy was put into place. They have no idea that their precious secrecy has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.
What do you mean?
Memory wipes worked fine until the internet was invented. Your Obliviators can wipe all the memories they want, but that video of an idiot wizard wearing a dress and waving a wand around is going to stay on Youtube. The poster's lack of memory is just going to make the whole thing even more suspicious. If the mundane governments weren't running their own damage control for their own reasons, the secret would have been blown wide open years ago.
I see. Harry replied, feeling a bit shaky.
Anyway, you should stop posting questions that have obviously magical origins to anyone in the know. Big Brother has eyes everywhere these days. Get a good computer and learn how to do arithmantic calculations with it yourself, but keep it off the net.
Alright, I will. Harry agreed. After what he'd just learned, he was not at all eager to draw any kind of attention to himself.
A final bit of advice for you, my young friend. Don't trust politicians; not magical ones and definitely not mundane ones. They will smile and make promises when they need something from you, but their hearts will turn to stone if you ever need their help.
Merry Christmas, bratan.
The connection was broken and Harry took a deep breath to take in what he'd just learned. The world suddenly seemed like a much darker place. He wondered who the man he'd just talked to really was and if he'd ever speak to him again.
A quick search on what 'bratan' actually meant only told him that he was probably Russian. Probably a wizard too, given how knowledgeable he was on the subject of Asia's magicals. Harry regretted not asking him about the situation in the rest of the world. If he had the correct feeling for the man's paranoia, then he probably wouldn't be able to contact him again in the same way. Maybe Charlus and Dorea would know something.
As it turned out, Charlus and Dorea didn't know anything.
"I never imagined that the situation in Asia was so bad." Charlus was saying. "I do remember that there was a sudden upswing in immigrants from those parts after the second World War, but I just thought it was better here than over there."
"What about America?" Harry asked, disappointed but not too surprised.
"America has always been something of a touchy subject for Britain." Dorea said with a grimace. "Magical America was a colony of ours the same as muggle America was for muggle Britain. Most of the nobility stayed here, but there were a few families that went searching for their fortunes over the Atlantic, the majority were half-bloods and muggleborns however. All of those families were killed alongside the goblins when America made its bid for independence. Losing control of all that territory to half-bloods and muggleborns would have been offensive enough for the British purebloods of the time, but it's the fact that the Gryffindor line was also snuffed out there that people are really unable to get over."
"I'll bet it is." Harry snorted. He'd already seen how fixated people could be on their bloodlines. Having the Gryffindor family wiped out by rebellious commoners would have the purebloods baying for blood now, much less a couple of hundred years ago when their sense of entitlement was probably even worse.
"Don't expect a warm welcome if you ever decide to visit there." Charlus warned. "I expect that there is no shortage of American wizards that would make themselves your enemies simply for being British, nevermind the fact that you're the heir of a Noble House."
"I'll keep it in mind." Harry agreed, having actually been considering a trip across the sea. "How about Australia then? Can I expect a warm welcome there?"
Dorea's lip twitched at her grandson's dry sarcasm as her husband answered.
"Hard to say. The magical community there is actually the youngest in the world, having only formed properly just before the turn of the twentieth century. The old families thought that the muggles had a grand idea about using Australia as a penal colony, only in our case it was seen as a dumping ground for squibs and the occasional problematic-but-not-criminal wizard. All that dormant magical blood eventually began producing wizards and witches that established their own community." Charlus explained.
"So they're probably resentful but not as hostile as America." Harry concluded.
"I also suspect that the Wizengamot is very quietly terrified of them." Dorea added.
"Why?" Harry asked, puzzled.
"A lot of families have died out since the practice of exiling squibs was put into place, Harry." She explained. "There are likely quite a few wizards and witches in Australia that are now able to claim Lordships of those families. If they decided to do so, they could wield considerable influence in the Wizengamot."
"And the Wizengamot couldn't stop them because the seats are hereditary." He finished, unable to keep from snickering as he realized the full extent of the quandary the purebloods had created for themselves. Australia was filled with an unknown number of potential Wizengamot Lords, none of which were purebloods by their definition or even British.
The Australians could, theoretically, claim all of those lordships and paralyze the legislative body of Wizarding Britain out of sheer spite.
"This is going to be your problem too one day." Dorea told him pointedly. "You do, after all, have a seat of your own on the Wizengamot."
"Fuck the Wizengamot." Harry replied succintly. He had no intention whatsoever of playing the politician. There was so much to see in the world that sitting in a stuffy room and arguing with the inbred social elite of magical Britain held no appeal.
"Harry, language." Dorea scolded.
Harry snickered some more at the absurdity of being scolded by his furniture. It had stung to realize that the portraits of his grandparents were still just portraits at the end of the day, not real people. They were an incredible bit of spellwork to be sure, but anyone that spent enough time talking to a magical portrait eventually realized that they had a limited range of personality and couldn't really adapt to change.
"Leave the lad be, Dorea." Charlus told his wife, grinning openly. "It's not like I haven't thought the same thing every time I had to attend a meeting."
"It's unseemly for the heir of a Noble House to be so crass." Dorea sniffed.
Harry rolled his eyes. He suspected that he would end up doing a lot of things that were unseemly for the heir of a Noble House. He had built up quite a bit of disdain for 'proper' behavior after having to deal with Robert and Katherine since he was seven.
"Anyway, I wanted to get your thoughts on my next ritual..."
He explained to them the runes he intended to use and the effect he was going for. It was one that he was particularly excited to try, as it would work to increase the size of his magical core and make him more powerful over time in the same way that his first set made accelerated his maturity.
Unfortunately, he quickly hit a snag.
"Harry, you can't do this ritual." Charlus said, exasperation coloring his tone.
"Why not?" Harry near demanded. It was perfect! He knew it was.
"Because there is no such thing as a 'magical core'." Charlus explained.
"But my research..." Harry started.
"Yes, I know you've come across the term in your research." The portrait cut him off. "The term 'magical core' is frequently used to describe a wizard's unused, latent magic, but it is terribly misleading. It gives the impression that wizards and witches are born with different sized pools of magic inside their bodies, but that simply isn't the case. Exceptional people make for exceptional magic users, but I guarantee you that any shopkeeper in Diagon Alley has the same magical potential as Dumbledore."
"How does that make any sense?" Harry asked, baffled.
"The exact mechanics of it aren't known to anyone except maybe the Unspeakables, but the gist of it is that people with high willpower, intelligence and a number of other personality traits will also have more powerful magic, whereas simpletons and cowards will invariably be weak. That's why people under great emotional duress can sometimes perform feats of magic far above their usual ability and why there is no such thing as a power enhancing ritual."
Harry rubbed the back of his head, feeling the outline of Da'Roir, the rune that was meant to enhance his willpower. If what Charlus was saying was correct, then it would certainly explain why his memory was noticeably improved with the rune, but the willpower enhancement had always been something he hadn't been sure if it had even worked.
"Why does everyone seem to think that power levels are inborn then?" He asked.
"I suspect it makes them feel better to think that the powerful have an inborn advantage." Charlus shrugged.
Harry snorted. That sounded about right.
With his plans to do a power enhancing ritual foiled, Harry tried to put together a different one, having wanted to carve a new set of runes into his flesh over the holidays.
Unfortunately, with the internet denied to him as a resource, he simply wasn't good enough with arithmancy to put together a ritual. Not yet. Charlus had taken the subject when he'd been going to Hogwarts, but it had decades since the last time he'd made use of that knowledge and he was more than a little rusty. Neither he nor Harry were willing to chance something going wrong due to impatience.
Though disgruntled by the need to put off any further rituals, Harry relented. He did however make a resolution to buy himself a high end laptop for that kind of thing. It probably wouldn't work under the wards of the manor, not to mention the lack of electricity or Wi-Fi, but he could always camp out somewhere in London if he needed to.
He would have completely forgotten about Christmas if Teeny, Charlus and Dorea hadn't reminded him.
Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but he had actual friends now. Friends for which he had no idea what kind of presents to buy.
After a good bit of headscratching, he decided to keep it simple. He had no better ideas and he didn't want to encourage Ginny's crush.
Seeing as both of them were completely wizard-raised, he figured that getting them something non-magical might count as a novelty.
Luna got a book, more specifically Alice in Wonderland. Talking to her frequently made him question which rabbit hole he'd dropped into and he was also curious what she'd make of the book.
Ginny was a lot more problematic to buy something for, to the extent that he started wondering if sending her a small bag of galleons would be considered rude.
Christmas was so much less complicated when you didn't have friends.
Eventually he gave up on finding something that seemed like a good idea and got her a flower themed hairband that the sales lady had assured him would go well with red hair. He really hoped that she wouldn't take it as a declaration of romantic interest.
He also got both of them a large bag of potato chips, mostly as a silent protest to the lack of salty junk food in the Wizarding World.
He spent most of Christmas day wondering what they would get him and felt more stung than he'd expected to be when no owls showed up. Charlus, Dorea and even Teeny did their best to keep his mind off the fact that his supposed friends had apparently decided not to bother sending him any presents for Christmas, but he still ended up being a bit more surly than normal.
By the time the holidays were over, he'd mostly cooled off, but he was still determined to give both Luna and Ginny a hard time over it.