"Forgive me for underestimating you Hermione," Draco was grumbling as the two of them walked. "It was just that I didn't think that someone of your intellectual caliber could ever conceive a notion like this!" he finished, tugging at his beard. The motion, while it seemed habitual, actually served to remind him that the hair-growing potion Hermione had whipped up had worked correctly. His hair had been trimmed slightly long, though it was still much better kept than Potter's in his opinion. The other changes that he had made himself--changing his hair to a dark brown color and his eyes a to a piercing blue--along with the beard and the haircut made it difficult for him to recognize himself in the mirror. Without even knowing it, he had transformed himself into the very image of Morpheus, Luna Lovegood's cousin that was visiting her from someplace called Nebraska.
Hermione, now in the guise of Luna herself, walked beside him going through the items in their smallest pack. The larger ones had been shrunken to he size of walnuts to make them easier to carry...there was no good way to pack snow-shoes...but everything they had acquired that morning as well as a few of their more useful items were in the bag.
"...Extra Polyjuice, a Quick Quotes Quill, and that pendent of your grandfather's--you sure it hides the usage of even more powerful spells and even lying Draco?" Hermione asked for what Draco assumed had to be the twentieth time.
"Yes, it does. I've used it myself," he sighed. "And from now on, it's 'Morpheus.' Hermione, are you sure about this?" he asked her for what probably was the twentieth time.
Hermione turned her attention from the bag to him for a moment. "Morpheus, it's the only way to get into Azkaban. There's no way for us to sneak past the security measures, and I doubt that we could disguise ourselves as either prisoners or the staff. But they do let reporters in from time to time. It's probably our best shot, we just needed a genuine letter of endorsement from a publication to get in. And since Luna was good enough to let us have the invitation the Ministry sent The Quibbler, and to let us go as her and her cousin...."
Draco was unable to suppress a groan. "But Hermione, The Quibbler? Couldn't you think of one that sensible people use for something other than packing material? I suppose that I can believe that the Ministry has gotten such a bad time over everything that they're practically begging even The Quibbler to put a good word in for them, but still..." he said.
Hermione smiled up at him with all the sweetness of a rotten pastry. "I suppose that it's a blow to the pride of Mr. Morpheus Lovegood, rancher of magically enhanced cattle, to be writing for a publication like The Quibbler?" she asked.
Draco winced, remembering the three hours Hermione had insisted that he spend listening to Morpheus drone on about his life story and how he hoped to breed cows that produced chocolate milk. "I suppose," he mused, "that no matter what I do, it wouldn't follow him back to the green and glorious land of corn and thunderbirds? Pity, eh?"
Hermione looked at him sharply, but noticing that they were nearing their destination, snapped her mouth shut.
"And that's the other thing," Draco whispered to her. "You are going to have to practice looking vague and somewhat disoriented. Lovegood doesn't ever give anyone the impression that she's an intellectual."
"And you," she whispered vaguely as if talking to herself, "have to remember not to flirt with me cousin."
'Oh yeah,' he thought to himself. 'Just pretend that she really is Lovegood.'
Subconsciously, he stepped about two feet away from her as if he thought that she could contaminate him with whatever she decided was a good luck and/or warding item today.
"And just remember that your pride and joy is the fertilizer your cows produce," Hermione whispered at him, just as they rounded the bend in the road. Less than a kilometer away was the ocean, and the dock of the magical ship they had booked passage to Svalbard on.
'Fertilizer,' Draco was still thinking in disgust as he stepped into the boat less than half-an-hour later. 'I am impersonating a man that shovels dung, to sneak into Azkaban, to find out where the piece of the soul of the most powerful wizard in the world is--and I have no idea what I'm going to do with it if I do find it. Sometimes I am quite sure that I am going mad.'
"Sometimes," Harry heard Ron say from behind him, "I am quite sure that I am going mad."
"In that case I wouldn't worry about it much," Harry replied, climbing over the wall of rocks that had surrounded him in a perfect sphere only minutes ago. "If you were completely sane, there is no way you would hang around me. I would worry about you if you were completely mad, but seeing as your worried about it, you can't have cracked all the way yet. This half-way point suites us the best I think."
"Let me rephrase that," Ron said. "I am quite sure that you are going mad."
Harry shrugged. "Well, it worked," he said, leaning against the remains of Slytherin's statue. There was a grating sound when a piece of what had once been Helga Hufflepuff's cup scraped the floor beneath his boot.
It was ironic, Harry thought, that he and Ron had traveled so far to find the researcher that Slughorn had told them about, only to find the cup in Hogwarts, in the Chamber of Secrets. It wasn't as if the trip hadn't been worth it. If the only knowledge the old man had given him had been that which concerned the Horcrux he was wearing, it still would have been worth it.
It had been when he had been reviewing places Voldemort could have hid his Horcruxes, the mental list Harry had of places Voldemort was connected to, then he had remembered the Chamber. Harry guessed that he hadn't thought of it before because he had been there already, but then there had been the fact that he had been rather distracted the first time he had been down there....
This visit to the Chamber, tonight, had been different. The Chamber itself was different, though much of it was as he thought it might be. It was still lit with an eerie green light, there were still pillars carved with snakes, and before Harry had started meddling with it, the statue of Slytherin had been standing there just as majestic and forbidding as it had ever been. The carcass of the basilisk had been reduced to gnawed bones--the work of rats he guessed--though the stains of its blood had not gone from the floor.
Perhaps what had been the most different was that this time he had been, in reality, the hunter instead of the prey.
The cup itself had been on the side of the Chamber furthest from the statue, wrapped carefully in silk and placed in a box that looked and fit like it was just another stone in the wall. And then Harry had noticed how the cup had shaken more and more, the closer it got to the statue. Then there was the fact that the statue itself seemed to protest. Instead of shaking, it seemed to age. Fine cracks spread throughout the stone where it had been smooth, the grating of stone against stone could be heard as the few cracks the statue already had deepened.
Harry had shouted for Ron to get outside of the Chamber, and jumped on his broom with the cup in his hand. He had flown up the side of the statue, blasted a hole where Slytherin's heart should have been, and had thrown the cup in the hole.
Harry had barely gotten his shielding charm up when the statue exploded, throwing pieces of itself everywhere.
When the dust had settled, he started working out of the pile of rocks that his shield had distributed around him while Ron had started looking for the cup. Ron had found it; the cup of Hufflepuff now no more than broken pieces of gold.
"Harry," Ron asked, "what gave you the notion to do that?"
"Well, I was gambling that some of Helga's personality was still within the cup," Harry explained, picking up half a badger from the floor. "Something as sweet and good as Helga wouldn't willingly reside within that statue, which Slytherin may have used some of his personality in its making. They both were in conflict, and destroyed each other. Had the cup been in its original state, however, I wouldn't doubt that it would have remained intact. I think that the cup saw Voldemort's soul as a...perversion...that it wanted to be free from."
"So the cup thinks...er...thought?" Ron asked.
Harry shook his head. "Not exactly," he said, "I'd probably describe it more like instinct than conscious thought. Even in Muggle culture, a work of art is in some way an imprint of who the artist is; in magical culture it is no different."
Harry frowned a moment before continuing. "Some people think of Gryffindor as Slytherin's opposite when in reality it was Hufflepuff. Salazar Slytherin operated off the premise that some people were better than others, and for reasons those people had no control over. Helga Hufflepuff, on the other hand, accepted all and encouraged the growth of character. It wouldn't surprise me if one of the main reasons Slytherin discriminated so much was because he could find no great personal worth within his character, so he built his worth on the fact that he was a Pureblood--something that no one could take away. While he may have had ambition, a desire for more, it sprung from a cowardice that refused to love. Helga, on the other hand, had the kind of quiet courage that never stopped loving, that never stopped accepting.
"Given all of that, given that the cup was probably already strained from the presence of a piece of soul as vile as Voldemort's, I thought that anything vile in addition to that would probably cause the cup to sacrifice itself. The reason Slytherin's statue exploded was because it couldn't stand someone violating its sanctuary with something so contrary to its nature as love or sacrifice," Harry finally finished.
Ron just stared at him for a moment. "Harry," he said slowly, "you do know that you sound more and more like your morphing into a version of Dumbledore? One without the beard of course."
Harry gave Ron a wry grin. "Nothing will age you faster than responsibility..." he said, lowering himself to sit on one of the blocks of rubble.
Ron sat plopped down on another piece of rubble, shaking his head. "See what I mean Harry? That's exactly the sort of thing he would say."
"...And if I keep this up, I'll be one-hundred before I turn twenty," Harry finished.
Ron grinned. "Nice to see that you're still around Harry."
Harry grinned for a second. "Still, though," he mused, "it would be nice if he, Dumbledore I mean, were still around. I mean, he wasn't perfect--even he could be fooled...."
Ron nodded grimly. "He was brilliant, but trusting Snape wasn't one of his brighter moments."
"No kidding," Harry sighed. "It's just...well, I don't know why anyone would believe that story. 'Oh yes Professor, I'm sooo sorry that my archenemy and that mudblood he married are dead that I'm willing to forsake my defeated master to teach here at Hogwarts thereby escaping spending the rest of my life in Azkaban,'" Harry finished imitating Snape's vocal mannerisms.
Ron snorted. "I know that I wouldn't believe that. Maybe there was an additional reason," he suggested.
"Oh sure," Harry said. "Like maybe telling Voldemort--when are you going to stop shivering when I mention his name by the way?--that he had managed to overhear from the prophecy in order to lure Voldemort somewhere Dumbledore could kill him?"
Ron shrugged noncommittally. "How much of it did Snape overhear, just out of curiosity?"
"According to Dumbledore, only the first part about foretelling the birth of a boy in July to parents that had defied Voldemort three times. After that part, Snape got thrown out of the building before he could hear the rest of it," Harry answered.
"Then how did Trelawney notice him? You did say that she was the one that had told you that it was Snape eavesdropping," Ron said, frowning suddenly.
"What?" Harry asked.
"But I thought that in our third year when she made that prophecy about V-V...him coming back that you said that her voice got funny and then she didn't remember anything that she had said. If she remembered Snape being there..." Ron said.
"It would mean that Snape had to have overheard the entire thing!" Harry exclaimed, jumping up from his rock. "Bloody hell Ron, why would Snape tell Voldemort only the first part and not the rest? He would have if he had wanted Voldemort to win. The only logical reason he would have told him only part of it was if he wanted Voldemort to create a means to destroy himself!"
Ron shook himself, as if convincing himself that what he was thinking was real. "Harry, you don't think that it might be Snape feeding us those notes, do you? What if Dumbledore told him to stay with the Death Eaters at all costs so he could keep feeding us information? I mean, no matter what Snape did that night, Dumbledore would have ended up dead anyway. If he hadn't done it, one of the other Death Eaters would have and then finished him off most likely."
And the temperature in Harry's stomach plummeted. He knew that Ron had to be right, and he knew that if it was Snape feeding them information instead of Malfoy that he and Hermione had made a potentially serious miscalculation. Rather hesitantly, he explained this miscalculation to Ron.
"WHAT!!" Ron roared, his face as red as his hair. "I'LL KILL HIM!"
"Not necessarily," Harry said weakly. "I need the answer to one more question before we do anything...irreversible."
"It would have to be a BLOODY good answer to a BLOODY good question to keep me from tearing him limb from limb!" Ron snarled.
"Just this," Harry said. "Snape hasn't sent any warning about Malfoy. I doubt that Snape thinks that Malfoy's negligible, so that means that either Snape thinks that we won't be idiot enough to tell him anything important, or else Malfoy really did change sides and is protecting the fact that the information is coming from Snape by making us think that it's from him."
Ron opened his mouth and closed it again, grimacing as if he had a very bad taste in his mouth.
"Which means," Harry said firmly, "that there won't be any castigation, imprisonment, or dismemberment until we find out which it is."
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