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Renaissance by Slide
Chapter 4: Investigations
Chapter 4: Investigations
The map was not perfect but would suit his needs, Ron decided as he looked down at the scrawls on the parchment in front of him. It might not be dimensionally perfect, it might be not even entirely accurate, and somebody else looking at it might not realise that it was meant to be a sketch of the layout of the headmaster’s office, but he could understand it, and that was the important part.
Usually, he left the slightly more routine parts of the job to Harry, who was better at sitting down, evaluating a situation, and then drawing up a plan of action. That was where Ron traditionally came in – enacting said plan. But this time he had no Harry and, unless he did the work, no plan.
So he had claimed McGonagall’s office, dismissing the headmistress – very politely, and only because she agreed – to somewhere else in the school while he set to work.
The map was basically a holding pen for all of his thoughts, from where the Sorting Hat had last been seen, to the security around the Hat itself, to the security around the room. In the margins were the notes of the security measures he knew to be in place around the entire school, with ‘Apparating Into Hogwarts Is Impossible’ written in large block capitals.
“Hogwarts, A History told me so,” he muttered to himself in a mocking falsetto tone, making a face as he did so and feeling the familiar surge of resentment that had installed itself in his stomach since reading Hermione’s interview that morning.
On another scrap of paper was a list. Hermione had always been very fond of lists, which meant that under present circumstances he somewhat distrustful of them, but knew they served their purpose. This one was a breakdown of the Sorting Hat; it’s qualities and abilities, its known history, and basically anything that would make anyone even remotely interested in it. There was another column too, with the heading of ‘Suspects. It was presently empty.
“Why would anyone,” he wondered aloud, not for the first time, “want a manky old hat like that?”
Ron stood up and stepped over to the space on the bookshelf where the Sorting Hat had been, lifting his wand up. “Owned by Godric Gryffindor. Enchanted when the Founders realised they wouldn’t be around forever, and wanted their legacies to live on.” He lifted his wand, and muttered an incantation under his breath. “Arcanus Persequor.”
A small, dull green light glowed at the end of his wand, casting a few inches in front of it in the same emerald illumination, and he slowly waved it over the space. “It contains the knowledge of what qualities the Founders wished to see in the members of their houses,” he continued muttering to himself, “and is capable of seeing into the heads and hearts of people and seeing which of those qualities they possess the most of. Also, it composes and performs its own songs. Mind-reading? Judging of character? Karaoke?” Those last three questions were said loudly, and in the direction of the quill that hovered over his list. The feather bobbed in the air briefly, before scribbling away on the parchment.
“And… nothing from you.” Ron lowered his wand with a grimace, the green light dying. Magic left a certain mark on the world around it, like a trail which could show where a powerful spell had once been cast – though it was hellish to find out what spell, exactly – or perhaps where a powerful magical item had been. The incantation he’d just used would ideally light up where the magical residue could still be found, and indeed he was getting a very strong green glow from the spot where the Sorting Hat had previously lived. Unfortunately, there was so much background magical residue in this office, possibly the most magically-saturated location in Britain, that he couldn’t find out any more than he already knew: the Hat had once been there. There was too much disturbance to try and figure out if it had been carried in a certain direction or along a certain route.
“Or maybe…” Ron glanced back at his note-taking quill. “‘May not have passed through space – may have been somehow instantly transported or contained’.” He wasn’t sure how, exactly, the Sorting Hat could have been instantly transported, courtesy of the large apparition reminder, but there were other means of travel, like Portkeys…
He paused again, looking at the quill once more. “Oh! Definitely ‘Look into Portkeys’. Find out how the bloody things work.” Could someone have created a Portkey to travel into Hogwarts? Or would the anti-apparition wards protect against that, as well?
But if there was no magical incursion made, then the next real option was the physical. And there, the arena was wide open, from someone breaking in through the window to using any secret passageways…
“Ah-ha! Make another note, ‘Talk to Harry about Marauder’s Map’.” Ron chuckled to himself, rubbing his hands together. It wasn’t bad, this brainstorming lark. It actually felt pretty good to be bringing ideas together, finding ways of figuring this out. It was all early days yet, but that just felt more promising; left him with a wide-open canvas to play with.
Still, back to the physical access points. These were potentially limitless, and so Ron decided to do as he normally did – go for the most obvious. In this case, it was the door.
“Another note, ‘Look into McGonagall’s passwords’,” he called out, even as he strode over to the door and tapped his wand against the handle. “Garrulus Porta.”
This took a good deal of concentration, for Transfiguration was not his strongest school of magic, and the spell he was trying to cast actually quite complicated. But it was an incantation he was familiar with and had performed several times before, it being an Auror’s bread and butter when it came to investigations like this, and he knew he could cast it.
Sure enough, within several seconds a knot in the wood of the door shifted and twisted to produce a passable imitation of a mouth, the hint of a nose and a chin bracketing it but not developing fully.
Ron had spoken to inanimate objects before. It was a hit-and-miss tactic, for although one could speak to a door, one could never guarantee they would actually be cooperative. Nor could one guarantee they even had useful information, for one could easily ask the wrong questions or, suffer possible rampant disinterest in anything other than their own function.
Fortunately, the door’s function was letting people in and out, and here it would hopefully shine.
“Good afternoon, Mister Door-to-the-Headmistress-of-Hogwarts’-Office,” he said, as calmly and politely as he could. Sheer exposure had stopped him from giggling unstoppably whenever this trick was performed, as he had during training exercises when he had managed to horribly offend a paperclip. “How are you today?”
Door seemed to consider this for a moment, pursing its lips with obvious relish at their actual existence. “I am passable, Mister Weasley. Today has been quiet, with just yourself and the mistress coming through.”
“Oh, you can hear, good.” Ron grinned – once upon a time he’d seen Harry bellowing questions at a chair, only to find out it hadn’t been uncooperative, it had merely been unable to hear any of his questions. Unfortunately, this meant it had completely missed the conversation the Death Eater who had sat in it had held about a Muggle-baiting attack, and so the entire interrogation had been pointless.
“Of course I can hear. You think the masters of Hogwarts would have their inner sanctum guarded by a door that was not superbly alert?” Door demanded, sounding quite affronted. Although rather uppity, its voice was deep and mellifluous, and the accent most definitely Scottish.
“My apologies,” Ron said hurriedly. “I’m sure you have guarded this door most professionally. In fact, that’s what I’d like to ask you about. Three nights ago, Professor McGonagall left the office at about nine in the evening, is that right?”
Door took another few moments to ponder this. “Twelve minutes past nine,” it corrected at last.
“Wow, you’ve got a watch in there too?” Ron asked, too impressed to stop himself.
“Mister Weasley, there is a clock beside the desk right behind you. I am capable of telling the time, you know.” This time, Door definitely sounded upset.
Ron grimaced, shaking his head slightly so as to try and clear it. He always needed to make sure his attention stayed on the matter at hand, instead of letting himself be distracted by something odd or entertaining. It was a serious flaw of his as an investigator, though Harry always said it meant he noticed things others didn’t.
Which was fine, when there was somebody else on the Quaffle, but right then it was him, just him, and he needed to suck up to this door like he’d never thought he’d have to do to an inanimate object.
“Of course you are,” he said hurriedly, soothingly. “It’s just… well, you’re much smarter than most doors I’ve talked to. Some aren’t even capable of noticing when someone opened them. I’m just pleasantly surprised to talk to a door of your… calibre.”
Door said nothing to this, but the slight pursing of its lips stopped, so Ron assumed he had appeased it enough for now.
“Anyway… Professor McGonagall left the office at twelve minutes past nine. That’s good. And the following morning she came in at about seven thirty?” he pressed on.
“Seven twenty-nine,” Door replied automatically. “And then left again at eighteen minutes to eight.”
“Excellent, excellent. Now, Mister Door-to-the-Headmistress-of-Hogwarts’-Office,” Ron began slowly, making sure he got the title right – he’d known items to be quite particular about such descriptors. “Did anybody come through you in between Professor McGonagall leaving for the night, and her coming back the next morning?”
“No,” Door said instantly.
“Mister Weasley, that is the third time you have cast aspersions as to my competence or my knowledge. I ask you to kindly desist your pestering of me, or find some manners,” came Door’s abrupt and very certain reply.
Ron winced again, nodding firmly. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Just one more thing. Did you see anybody inside the office in that time?”
“Excuse me?” Door sounded confused.
“Inside the office. Did you see anyone there?” Ron pressed.
“That would be impossible, because nobody came through me,” Door replied curtly. “Is this another of your ridiculous games?”
“No, not at all!” Ron said quickly. “But it looks like… someone snuck in and stole the Sorting Hat. I’m trying to find out how they got in.”
“By ‘trying to find out’, you mean ‘being rude and pestering honest folk’, don’t you.”
Ron ignored that, trying to put out of his mind the fact that he was being lectured by a door. “I was just wondering if you saw anyone in here. Or near the Hat.”
There was a short silence, in which Door seemed to be almost… uncomfortable? “I… I can’t see as far as the Hat,” it admitted, after a rather terse pause.
Ron stopped himself from saying a multitude of probably foolish things that sprung to mind at this confession. “Really,” he said instead, as neutrally as he could. “But you can see up to the clock?”
“We covered this, yes,” Door responded curtly.
“I know, I know. But can you see… any further than that portrait of Headmaster Dippet?” Ron asked, picking a point just between the desk, that he knew Door could see, and the Sorting Hat’s bookshelf.
“I can see Headmaster Everard,” Door confessed. “So slightly further. But why would I want to see very far? I am a door. I am perfectly able to perform my function, and anything else would be a distraction.”
“Of course it would. It’s very clear that you devote all of your time to guarding the doorway. After all, whoever did this theft knew you to be a, an impenetrable barrier,” Ron reassured Door, just about managing to keep a straight face. “And you saw nobody inside the room as far as you could see?”
Door made a small harrumphing noise that prompted him suppressing another snort before it finally spoke, sounding yet more put out. “There was nobody here. Nobody got past me.”
“Thank you very much, Mister Door-to-the-Headmistress-of-Hogwarts’-Office. I’ll switch you back, now,” Ron said, smiling slightly with both amusement and satisfaction of one avenue of investigation being closed off.
“You are welcome, I suppose, Mister Weasley,” Door replied, closing its lips firmly as Ron tapped his wand against the door handle and ended the transfiguration.
“Quill,” he called out once the spell was done, turning back to his diagram on the desk, “draw me a dotted line in a radius around the door, reaching out as far as Professor Everard’s portrait… so about four metres,” he judged, eyeing the distance between the two points. “Nobody was visible in that area all night.”
Of course, it didn’t mean that nobody had been in that area all night. Invisibility cloaks enough to fool a chunk of wood were easy enough to come by, unless that door had some extra enchantments – on top of being uppity – that he hadn’t anticipated. That information would be coming with Professor McGonagall once the headmistress got to him the complete run-down of the office’s security. But on taking matters at face value for now, that still suggested nobody had used the door to get in.
He moved to position himself next to the portrait of Headmaster Everard, and glanced at what of the rest of the room this gave him. “Two windows. And that’s it.”
“Awfully simplistic attitude, isn’t it?” a voice from his right drawled, and Ron glanced sharply across to look for its source. It was dimly familiar to him, but he couldn’t quite place it, as if he’d only heard it very briefly before, or a long time ago…
“Oh. It’s you,” he said at last without any relish as his eyes landed upon the portrait of Phineas Nigellus, who was sneering at him from behind his picture frame. He had encountered Hogwarts’ least popular headmaster, during the time spent at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, and had mostly avoided the portrait then. “Don’t you have someone to be sardonic at elsewhere?”
“There are too many idiots in this world, unable to recognise my greatness and honour my contributions to wizarding society by placing portraits of me in more interesting places that I might visit. So… no, not really. And I’ve just had a rather pleasant nap and you might be some cause for entertainment.” The wiry little wizard gave an exaggerated yawn and stretch, his tiny form seeming to double in size from the gesture.
“So I can again be pestered by non-sentient objects? It’s just my lucky day, isn’t it,” Ron muttered grumpily, moving over to his map and beginning to make more notes.
“That you can converse with something on your intellectual level? Yes, that must be rather rare, mustn’t it, as I don’t imagine you find many three year-olds to talk to as an Auror,” Phineas said with a slightly wistful sigh.
“You do realise,” Ron said slowly, “that you’re insulting yourself right now.”
“Oh, I know. I just thought I’d take one for the team in knocking you down a peg. With your self-importance and your… lists.” Phineas’ lip curled, as if the word offended him.
“Right. I’m the one who needs knocking down a peg,” Ron snorted, not looking up.
“Well, you are. You’re leaping to all kinds of assumptions here…” Phineas seemed to think about this for a few long moments, stroking his little pointy beard. “Though on consideration, no, you’re right, it’s not self-importance. It’s desperation.”
Curiosity got the better of him at last, and Ron lifted his head slowly. “Desperation?”
“To be important, or valued, or… useful.” Phineas shrugged. “That’s why you’re so desperate for this to be a crime, a theft, something that you can investigate and solve.”
Ron straightened up, fixing Phineas with a suspicious look. “What else is it going to be? The Sorting Hat didn’t just wander off on its own!”
“Didn’t it?” Phineas raised an innocent eyebrow. “What do you think it just happened to do when, say, the famous Harry Potter needed its assistance in the Chamber of Secrets? Or when the oh so courageous Neville Longbottom defeated that snake?”
“Fawkes carried it to Harry in the Chamber of Secrets. Voldemort himself summoned it on the battlefield. I was there,” Ron replied curtly.
“And it’s just coincidence and happenstance that a phoenix transported it, or that the Dark Lord summoned something that, it transpired, actually brought about something of his downfall. Interesting.” Phineas didn’t sound in the least bit interested, still stroking his chin.
“With Voldemort, that was just chance. As for Fawkes… Dumbledore sent him to Harry.” There was a pause as Ron considered his own words, then looked down at his carefully crafted notes and felt his heart begin to sink. “Nobody sent it anywhere this time. It’s not like Professor McGonagall ordered her cat to take the Sorting Hat to help some Gryffindor in need and then just forgot about it.”
“Dumbledore wasn’t in Hogwarts when Potter was in the Chamber of Secrets. Did he send in Fawkes to break into the office and retrieve the Hat? Or did he communicate with Fawkes from a distance? That’s an impressive feat.” Phineas snorted.
“Harry said that it was his loyalty to Dumbledore that summoned Fawkes,” Ron said curtly, trying to cut off this irritating conversation.
“And Fawkes just happened to bring the Sorting Hat along, did he?” Phineas gave a wry chuckle. “Thought he’d take it on a bit of a trip?”
“No, he…” Ron’s voice trailed off as he considered this, then looked forlornly back again at his map. There was a long silence as he took a deep breath, forcing himself to swallow his pride before he looked back up at Phineas and tried to keep his voice as neutral as he could. “How did Fawkes know to do that, then?”
The image of Phineas gave an exaggerated shrug. “How should I know? I’m not Fawkes. Or Dumbledore.” He rolled his eyes as Ron looked around sharply. “And don’t even bother trying to find him here, he seems to spend most of his time in Chocolate Frog Cards or something. I think I saw him poking his long nose in some time last month, so don’t hold your breath.”
Ron sagged at the complete ignorance of his conversation partner, scrubbing his face with his hands. “Did you see anything that night? Did you spot the Sorting Hat moving?”
“I was asleep, like all normal people are at night. And don’t point out that I’m just a portrait, I still have a sleep cycle,” Phineas replied curtly. “And don’t change the subject. Do you honestly think, in a world of this much magic and destiny, that it was just an accident for Voldemort to summon the Hat to him? It’s possible that fate just happens to run amok, but if the Sorting Hat has absolutely no power to manipulate its immediate environment – to make things happen so it can get to where it’s needed – then I’ll eat… it.” He shrugged.
There was another pause as Ron made a few more notes with the quill by hand, before finally giving Phineas a reproachful look. “Why are you bothering me with this? Apart from to amuse you?”
“Apart from that? Because you annoy me. You have a serious situation and opportunity in your hands, and you’re approaching this in the most mundane and dull way possible. Did someone break in? Maybe, though I imagine you’ll find no breaches at the window, and no other signs of physical entry. And the magical is patently impossible. So all that is left is… the other magical.” Phineas gave a broad, toothy and rather unpleasant smile.
“I haven’t finished with the physical. Nor have I finished with the magical. I’ll go talk to Harry about the Marauder’s Map, too, to find out if there’s anything in this office I don’t know about. There are loads of avenues of investigation to pursue and I’m not going to jump ahead of myself just because you, some two-bit portrait of Hogwarts’ least popular headmaster, are bored.” Ron waved a hand irritably and dismissively at the picture.
“That’s fine.” Phineas chuckled wryly to himself. “But you know perfectly well you’re going to have to look into the magical makeup of that Hat soon enough. And this delay is just… well, a delay for its own sake.”
Ron didn’t look up, by now sitting down at the desk and continuing making notes. It was a long few seconds before he spoke again, this time in a rather curt and aggravated voice. “You really did just come here to torment me by telling me to do something I really want to avoid, didn’t you,” he asked Phineas at last, looking back up slowly at the portrait.
But as he looked, the headmaster was gone, the corner of his robes seen disappearing out of the edge of the picture frame, and the only response being his sharp, mocking laughter echoing off into the distance.