Chapter 9 : Accusations
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Disbelief and sorrow pounded against Harry's senses as Filch roughly pushed past him to reach Mrs Norris' side.
“Come on Mrs Norris,” Filch begged in a breaking voice. “Wake up, we got rule breakers to punish.” The cat, stiff as a board, of course made no response to his entreaties; in fact, she showed no signs of life at all.
Even to Harry's senses, Mrs Norris' aura was static. The sparks that marked her as a living creature didn't swirl about inside her like they should. Instead, they were frozen in place, dimmed but not doused. Harry didn't know what to make of it yet but he was fairly sure she wasn't truly dead. Had she been, there would have been no sparks at all. His study of the cat was interrupted, however, when an angry voice was directed at them.
Harry's head whipped up at the tone of Filch's voice as he came out of his stupor. The caretaker stood glaring at them with a stiffened cat in his arms. The emotions coming from him were dominated by a rage that could only be described as murderous. At the same time, Harry barely noticed a growing crowd of students who must have been coming from the feast. Their whispers filled the hallway as Mr Filch stalked toward the three boys.
Harry was knocked aside as the caretaker charged up to Draco and grabbed him by the throat. “You killed my cat,” he cried as Harry jumped to grab one of his arms in an attempt to pull him away. “I'll kill you, I'll – ”
“Argus!” roared Professor Dumbledore as he hurried through the growing crowd of students. Filch, who'd just begun to violently shake Draco, froze on hearing the headmaster's voice. “Professor,” he moaned pitifully as he held a reddening Draco by the neck, “my cat – ”
“I understand my boy,” Dumbledore soothed. “It's best, however, if we examine all the facts before assigning blame.”
The headmaster and caretaker stood in a silent contest of wills as Filch held on to the weakly struggling Malfoy heir. Harry continued to pull on the old man's arm, though more violently now as he heard something coming, both reassuring and frightening in what it's arrival would bring. Thankfully, Filch at last gave a sigh of defeat and loosened his grip on Draco. The blond, feeling his captors hands beginning to give way, pulled free with a grunt and stumbled behind Harry, holding his throat.
Draco's freedom was won not a moment too soon as a barely heard flurry of wings became deafening in Harry's ears. Hedwig invisibly entered the corridor, angry and ready to defend its master and friends. The coatl flew in circles about the two boys, searching for whatever had caused their upset. Harry felt feather kisses from Hedwig's tongue as she hovered in front of him, checking to make sure he was alright before flying over and landing on Draco's shoulders. The blond was startled for a moment before recognising and accepting her welcome touch. Turning his attention back to Mr Filch, Harry saw the old man had forgotten them all together as he went back to fussing over the rigid form of Mrs Norris while the headmaster addressed the students.
“Everyone, please follow your prefects back to you houses. There is nothing more to be seen here tonight.” Gently taking the sobbing caretaker by the shoulders, he urged, “Come with me Argus, we'll go to my office and sort this out.” Looking back at the boys, he added, “Mr's Longbottom, Malfoy and Potter, I think it's best if you come along as well.”
Professor Lockhart, who'd stayed far back as possible until calm had been restored, stepped up and made a suggestion. “You can use my office headmaster,” he offered. “It's just upstairs, I'd be glad to lend you its use.”
Dumbledore paused a moment as if holding an internal debate before he relented. “Very well, everyone please follow me.”
Harry turned back to Draco as Professor Snape swept up to them and checked his godson's neck. The Slytherin head of house had moved up silently while the headmaster was speaking to the students, but had been sensed by Harry. From the feelings coming from both Slytherins, he knew that Filch's attack was going to have repercussions for the caretaker.
“Are you alright?” Snape asked Harry as he guided them to the DADA classroom. Harry could feel the professor's gaze raking over him, searching for any sign of injury.
“I'm fine,” Harry reassured the professor. “Mr Filch only pushed me trying to get at Draco.”
Their conversation was cut short as they were shepherded into professor Lockhart's office. Mrs Norris was placed on the desk and Professor Dumbledore spent several minutes just staring at the cat, at least that's what it looked like to everyone but Harry.
To him, sparks seemed to pour out of the headmaster's eyes in twin streams. They enveloped the cat's aura, but couldn't seem to change it in any way. Harry assumed that Dumbledore was using a wordless (and wandless) medical spell to determine Mrs Norris' condition. Meanwhile, everyone waited silently for the headmaster to finish his examination – everyone except Professor Lockhart of course.
Unable to keep his mouth shut with a captive audience present, Gilderoy rattled on about what curse could have killed Mrs Norris in such a way. He then began to regale them with a story of how he'd chased down a dark wizard who'd been doing the same thing to the poodle population of Manchester. Harry was seriously thinking about rapping his head hard enough against the table to escape the mindless prattle, even for the few precious minutes he'd be unconscious when Dumbledore announced that he'd finished his examination.
“She's not dead Argus,” the headmaster said as he leaned heavily back in his chair. Harry would have thought the announcement would be good news but Professor Dumbledore was actually pulsating with anxiety. He hid it well though, Harry was fairly sure only he'd noticed it. The other professors were murmuring amongst themselves, Neville was staring at the floor, Draco was glaring at Mr Filch and the caretaker himself only had eyes for his cat.
“She's not breathing though,” the old man said in a broken voice. “She's stiff as a board – oh, Mrs Norris!” he cried.
She's been petrified,” Dumbledore explained. As he took Mr Filch by the shoulders again and gave them a reassuring squeeze. “Pomona has a group of newborn mandrakes in the greenhouse. As soon as they've matured, Severus can brew up a potion that will return Mrs Norris to her normal self.”
“Of course she was only petrified,” chirped Lockhart in a nearly hysterical tone as he quickly changed his story. “I deduced as much myself back in the corridor.”
“Why wouldn't you have mentioned it then?” asked Professor Flitwick in a patient tone one would use with a slow-witted and difficult child.
“I was – waiting – for Professor Dumbledore to confirm it,” the defence teacher said stupidly. “I wouldn't presume to speak for him in front of the students.”
“Thank you Gilderoy, you're as sharp as ever,” the headmaster said in a concilitory tone. “In any case, you've nothing to worry about Argus, she'll be fine.”
With Professor Dumbledore's reassurance, Mr Filch heaved a shaky sigh and the tension melted, if just for a moment, from both his voice and aura. That blessed state didn't last long, however, as the caretaker's ire flared and his sparks turned red with anger.
“There's still punishment to be given out to whomever hurt my cat,” Filch growled as he glared daggers at Draco. Harry couldn't see Filches pointed stare, but he didn't have to. Draco's reaction to the words, a combination of fear and outrage, told him who the caretaker blamed for his cat's condition. Any lingering doubts about who might be blamed was cast aside as he spoke.
“It was him,” Snarled Mr Filch as he stabbed a gnarled finger in their direction. “He's just like his father, arrogant pureblood trash. You all think you're better than the rest of us.” Turning to the headmaster, he cried, “You've seen it, the sneers, the evil looks he gives me and Mrs Norris... I'll wipe that smug look from his face, he can't treat me this way just because – ”
“Because what?” asked an incensed Draco. “Because I'm a pureblood, or that I'm a malfoy? If you hate me that much I'm surprised you haven't hex...” A look of comprehension crossed Draco's face as he stared at the now anxious caretaker. Fires seemed to light in his eyes as Draco voiced his epiphany.
“I've just realized it, I'd say I'd been blind but you're really beneath my notice. In the year and a half I've been here, I've never seen you cast a single spell. You're always carrying around that smelly old lamp instead of performing a proper lumos, you always clean up messes by hand (your own or a students) rather than using a banishing spell, and you can't attack me now, even though you think I hurt your precious cat.” Draco's eyes became hard and his voice even more gleeful. “You hate us don't you? All of us kids running around causing trouble with our magic and there's nothing you can do about it but feel jealous... You're nothing but a Squib, aren't you?”
Mr Filch, who'd been getting paler by the second as Draco spoke, turned beet red and tried, ineffectively, to charge at the Malfoy heir again. “You little bastard,” he roared. “You can't talk to me like that! I'll have your head mounted on my wall!”
The professors all moved to block the caretaker and try calming him while Draco stood to the side with a rapturous look on his face, at least until he noticed Harry.
The Ravenclaw wore an angry frown on his face that was a bit reminiscent of his expression last term in the room of requirement. Draco's actions, or lack thereof, had nearly cost their friendship. Whatever he'd done this time, it was nowhere as bad as then, still he'd no time to hash it out with is friend as Dumbledore, finally calming Mr Filch and sending him back to his quarters, was regarding them with a stern yet somehow gentle demeanour.
“Now boys,” he coaxed. “Why don't you tell me what happened in the corridor earlier.”
There was a few moments silence as the three shifted about uncomfortably under the headmaster's stare. To Harry, Professor Dumbledore aura seemed less well contained than normal. Every so often, sparks would flare, conveying anger, fear and impatience. Harry did feel a bit intimidated, but held back, not wanting to give up any of his secrets quite yet. In the end, it was Neville that broke the silence first, though what he said both shocked and angered the other two.
“I didn't have anything to do with it, really!” Neville whined. “Sir Nicholas was having a Deathday party and I was coming back from that when those two came running around a corner and knocked me down. I don't know what they were doing but they were headed toward where Mrs Norris got attacked.”
Harry and Draco both wore gob-smacked expressions as Neville, who twenty minutes before had been all for joining back with their small group of friends, was now talking about them like they'd planned what happened to Mrs Norris. What even more confused Harry were the emotions raging inside Longbottom. It wasn't anger or outrage, but fear.
Neville's voice quavered with unspent emotion; his tone was unnaturally high and strained, while his aura was bathed in fear, though Harry couldn't figure out why. Draco, on the other hand, was boiling with anger and had no problem voicing it.
“What are you on about Longbottom?” he demanded when he got control of his voice back. “We all fell down because your fat arse was blocking the whole corridor. And don't pretend you don't know why we were there. Harry and I explained that earlier and you had no problem with it then.”
“You mean that nonsense about checking on a noise that Dudley heard?” scoffed Neville. “That was before I saw what you did to Filch's cat!”
“Now Neville,” the headmaster admonished softly as he place a grandfatherly hand on the boy's shoulder. “There is of yet no proof that either Mr Malfoy or Mr Potter were doing anything other than what they said. Still,” he added, turning his twinkling gaze on the boys in question, “I would like to hear, directly from them, what they were doing.”
“It's what we've been saying,” Harry protested. “Dudley heard something behind the walls and we, Draco and I, were just trying to make him feel better by checking it out. We were stunned to actually hear something too. That's what we were trying to follow when we ran into Neville.”
Professor Dumbledore's aura flared in the area of his eyes as Harry told his story. Sparks of magic flowed from the headmaster and tried enter Harry's head, causing a tingling feeling behind his eyes that Harry found more than a bit uncomfortable. The sensation was just beginning to become painful when it stopped; the stream of magic was interrupted when Professor Snape slid smoothly between them.
“If I may,” the potions master said in his silky voice. “It's most likely that the boys were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. If last year's events tell us nothing else, it is that they excel in that particular feat. After all, two second year students could hardly master a petrification spell, that's highly advanced dark magic. Few fully grown wizards would be capable of such a spell.”
“Right as always Severus,” Professor Dumbledore said at last. “Neither of them would be capable of casting that particular curse; still, Mr Malfoy brought Mr Potter into a situation that could have been potentially dangerous. For being out of bounds during the feast, you both will have five points deducted from your house.”
“What?” they cried in unison.
“Additionally,” the headmaster continued, unruffled by their protest. “Another five points will be taken from Slytherin for leading a schoolmate into unnecessary danger.”
“That's not fair!” shouted Draco as Harry fumed. “I didn't 'lead' Harry anywhere.”
“Finally,” Dumbledore said, beginning to look annoyed by the interruptions. “The way you treated Mr Filch was insensitive at best. Such disrespect for a member of the staff, regardless of his standing as wizard or squib, would normally be dealt with by harsh punishment,” he said, pausing to make the offence sound more grave. “Still, with everything that's happened this evening, it might be possible to forgo punishment if certain... actions on Mr Filch's part were given the proper perspective when and if it becomes necessary to explain this all to your families.”
A look of incomprehension quickly turned to anger on Draco's face as he digested the headmaster's request. “The bloody wanker tried to kill me!” screeched the blond. “He had me by the throat... look... bruises,” he said, pulling his collar back to expose ugly welts left by the caretaker's fingers. “He attacked me for no reason, do you really think my father will let that go because I called that stupid old man a squib?”
Sparks of agitation flared from Professor Dumbledore, directed at the Malfoy heir. Harry could also tell that the headmaster's breathing was slightly faster and his voice a bit strained. Still, the professor kept his mask of calm mostly intact as he attempted to prevent the situation from escalating.
“You and your father have every right to be upset over Argus' actions earlier this evening and it is fully within his rights to perform an investigation. I was only hoping that you could understand Mr Filch's point of view before any action might be considered. He was obviously distraught over tonight's occurrences and he wasn't in the right frame of mind. Your father will likely arrive tomorrow to discover exactly what happened before taking any action and If you spoke with him first, certain punishments might be lessened in their severity.”
“Headmaster,” an agitated Professor Snape said as he tried to interpose himself between the two. “As Mr Malfoy's head of house –”
“Please Professor,” Draco said with an odd tone to his voice that reminded Harry uncomfortably of Malfoy Sr. “I want to hear what the headmaster has to say. I mean after all, he's willing to reverse all the punishments against Harry and I for this one favour.”
“I believe that I only offered a lessening of punishment in regards to you,” corrected the headmaster with an edge back in his tone. “I said nothing about reversing them completely for you or Mr Potter.”
“He attacked me in front of dozens of witnesses,” said Draco, suddenly doe eyed. Letting his voice quaver in faked emotion, “Father and the rest of the board of governors will be devastated to find out that Hogwarts, the safest place in wizarding world is harbouring a violent maniac. It will be Azkaban for him at least.” he finished with an evil smirk.
With a heavy sigh, Professor Dumbledore relented. “Very well then, when your father arrives tomorrow, I would expect you to speak with him and mitigate as best you can, what happened tonight. In return, all reprisals for you both will be reversed until and unless you do not follow through with your promise. Doing so would void our agreement and reinstate the punishments. Severus, if you wouldn't mind escorting the boys back to their houses, the other professors and I will be looking further into Mrs Norris' condition.”
Gathering the boys without another word, Professor Snape lead them out of Lockhart's office while the other professors muttered in low tones amongst themselves. As the door closed, Harry thought he'd heard one of them saying something about the Chamber of Secrets.
Not a word was said by any of them as they made their way to Gryffindor Tower. There were a few times when Neville seemed about to speak but lost his nerve before doing so. Reaching the portrait of the fat lady, Neville turned to them one last time as the portal opened for the professor.
“Harry,” he began weakly.
“Save it Longbottom,” snarled Draco fiercely. “After everything you already said, you think he really wants to hear anything you have to say?”
Neville took a breath to retort but something, either Harry's closed expression or Snape's glare kept him from saying it. After the entrance to the Gryffindor Tower had closed behind their erstwhile friend, Harry turned on his heel to head toward the Ravenclaw tower. He pulled up short, however, as the professor's hand took his shoulder and guided him to the stairs.
Again, nothing was said by any of them as they made their way to the fifth floor. It wasn't like when Neville had been with them, they were more than comfortable with each other. They just knew that whatever they had to say could wait until they reached their destination.
Arriving at a blank stretch of wall opposite the portrait of poor Barnabas, Harry stepped forward and paced in front of it the required three times. After the last pass, a plain wooden door appeared and opened at his touch. Inside was their normal training room with the addition of a table and four comfy chairs.
After the door closed behind them, Harry strode toward the table and called out, “Sal, we need to talk to you.”
Harry, Draco and Severus sat down at the table, waiting for their enigmatic mentor to make his appearance. Minutes passed with no sign of Sal's presence so the professor began his own questioning of the boys.
“What actually happened tonight?”he asked in a calm, even tone. “Start at the beginning and leave nothing out.”
“A few nights ago, Dudley heard a voice coming from behind a wall in the second floor corridor,” Harry explained. “The voice scared him because it talked about killing people. We, Draco and I, went to check it out tonight; we didn't know what to expect, whether it was Dudley's imagination, the prank of some upper-classman or a real threat. I know that I probably should have come to you at once but I had to know if it was real or not first.”
“It's a giant snake, Severus,” Draco yelped, unable to contain himself.
“You saw it then,” Snape asked with intensity. “Can you describe it?”
“Well...” answered Harry reluctantly. “We didn't actually see it.”
“Of course you didn't, Harry,” Snape said sharply. “But you, Draco. You must have – ” A shake of Draco's head put a frown back on the professor's face. “Then how could you know what it is?”
“We heard it hissing,” Harry answered after a short pause. “It's the same thing Dudley heard.”
“You said he heard it talking about killing people,” the professor prodded impatiently. “You're saying it spoke English?”
“No,” Harry replied with a heavy sigh. “The snake was hissing.”
“Then he only thought he heard – ”
“I heard it talk about killing people, intruders, too.”
Seconds ticked by as Professor Snape lined up the pieces of a puzzle in his head and refused to fit them together. “How could you have understood what a snake was saying?” he asked slowly.
“The same way I talk to Hedwig,” he replied quietly. “I'm a Parselmouth.”
“And that means that Dudley is too,” crowed Draco. “Can you believe it? Two of them at one time... I mean for the longest time the only one was... well, you know... 'You-Know-Who.'”
Harry felt Severus' mental shields ripple as the professor digested the latest revelation. He was unsure how Snape would react, Parselmouths had a bad reputation thanks to a select few that had the gift and used it as a weapon of fear. Snape had experienced the worst of them in memory. Harry expected fear or maybe disbelief, what he got was a calm and almost amused response.
“You believe me then?” Harry asked in relieved surprise. “You don't think it makes me dark?”
“Having a dark gift hardly makes you dark,” was Snape's reply. “As for believing you, in the time I've known you, I've seen a boy capable of healing, wandless magic and extra sensory abilities capably defend himself from multiple enemies, including two encounters with the Dark Lord himself. Perhaps if you told me you were running about in your pyjamas rescuing maidens... perhaps, just perhaps it would be stretching your credibility. As for the Parseltongue, I'd suspected you might possess that ability for some time. Your revelation does nothing but confirm it. I'd be more interested to find out how Dudley came by this gift. From what I remember of your mother, she never claimed the ability. That, along with the fact that both your grandparents and Petunia herself are muggles, makes this a bit of a mystery. That aside, however...”
“Right,” Harry said, clearing his throat. “Draco wanted to go after you straight off but I was worried that it, whatever it was, would get somebody before help arrived.”
“I was just trying to keep you out of trouble,” Draco whined.
“And a wonderful job you did,” Snape added, his voice dripping with amused sarcasm. “That's when you ran into Longbottom?”
“Literally,” answered Harry with a nod. “We ran down a few corridors first,” he remembered. “Neville just happened to be coming around the same corner we did. All of us fell in a big heap, then Draco and Neville started yelling at each other.”
“Malfoys do not yell,” snapped Draco petulantly. “We just make sure our opinions are heard.”
“By everyone for a kilometre.”
“Ha – Ha,” Draco answered with a scowl. “I was just defending you anyway; you never even said a word.”
“I did too,” Harry complained. “I kept telling you both to be quiet so I could listen for the snake.”
“And then,” prodded the professor impatiently. The boys were so wrapped up in their bickering the story had ground to a halt.
“From there we just kind of walked and argued,” continued Draco, picking up the story where they'd left it. “At least until we ran into Mrs Norris; that's when Longbottom showed his true colours again.”
Harry opened his mouth to defend Neville but found that he didn't have the stomach for it. Draco was right about one thing at least. From the moment the questions started, Longbottom had all but accused them of petrifying Mrs Norris. The only one to try and justify his actions, much to Harry and Draco's surprise, was Professor Snape.
“What Mr Longbottom did, while being reprehensible, is at least explainable.
“Of course it is,” Draco snapped, “he's a git.”
Sending a warning look toward his godson, Severus continued, directing a question toward Harry. “You remember our conversation this summer at the Leaky Cauldron?”
“Yes sir,” Harry replied with a nod. “I guess you mean the part about Dumbledore, Neville and the prophecy.”
“Exactly,” Snape confirmed with a grim smile. “He's making Longbottom into a weapon. To do so, he's building the boy's confidence with praise and attention. Being in his situation, Longbottom can't help but to be grateful, even begin seeing the headmaster as some sort of father figure.”
“And Neville will do anything to protect their relationship,” Harry whispered, more a statement than a question.
“As I said before, it excuses none of his actions,” Snape said dismissively. “While troubling, the boy's relationship with the headmaster is second in importance to the danger posed by your creature, you're sure it was a snake?”
“I'm pretty sure,” Harry answered. “When I talk to them it's not really 'hearing.' It's like they're speaking English in my head, not with my ears.”
“And this only happens with Snakes?”
“As far as I know,” Harry replied. “Sal says it's the language of serpents but I think Loki maybe understands it as well, though I never heard him speak yet.”
“Then our priority is discovering what this mysterious snake is and who's controlling it.”
“Slytherin's heir, you mean,” supplied Draco.
Nodding, Snape continued. It was common knowledge that Salazar Slytherin was a Parselmouth and this 'heir' must be one as well to be able to control the snake. Because of that, the fact that both Dudley and yourself can speak it must stay a secret. If it became known that you could both speak it you would be suspected as the heir.”
“But he could be,” Draco said excitedly. “I mean, after all, Salazar Slytherin lived a thousand years ago... There's no telling who might be descended from him.”
“Except that I didn't set a giant snake loose in the school,” Harry reminded his friend sourly.
“Oh, right,” the blond said, his exuberance deflated a bit.
“As to identifying the creature,” Severus continued patiently. “While there can't be many snakes that size with the ability to petrify their prey, Documentation of such creatures may be difficult to locate. The ministry has deemed the study of Snakes to be a dark practice, being such, anything about them will either be well hidden in other books or Locked away.”
“Why don't we ask Sal?” asked Draco in a lazy drawl. “He's one of the caretakers, after all. Not to mention that he is Salazar. If it happened in the castle, he should know about it.”
“Unfortunately,” said an unusually grim Ric as he appeared in the table's only empty seat, “Sal is missing and none of us know exactly what happened tonight. The first we knew of the attack was when you stumbled upon Mrs Norris earlier.”
“What do you mean by 'missing',” Harry yelped
“He can't have,” Draco said reassuringly. “He's part of the castle.
“Not exactly,” Ric corrected. “While we were woven into the spells and wards that make Hogwarts magical, we all remain free spirits and have a certain amount of freedom within its walls. Sal has gone off on his own before, regularly in fact. But always near the summer solstice for personal reasons. The only other time he vanished like this was about fifty years ago.”
“Fifty years,” Severus repeated in a hollow voice. “You wouldn't happen to remember what year...”
“It was when the Chamber of Secrets was last opened,” supplied Ro from the shadows. “Just as it happened tonight, Sal vanished just before the first attack and didn't return until after the last. He's never said where he went or what happened, no matter how we asked.”
“What is the Chamber of Secrets?” Harry asked. “The message on the wall said that it had been opened again and for the enemies of the heir to beware. What does all that have to do with Sal?”
There was an uncomfortable pause after Harry's question. It was as if they were unwilling to part with the information. It was Helga who broke the silence to explain.
“The Chamber of Secrets is Sal's sanctum, the one place inside Hogwarts where he can truly be alone. It's also where his guardian beast resides.”
“What's that?” asked Harry a half moment ahead of Snape and Draco.
“The guardian beasts are just that,” Ric explained. “They're part of Hogwarts last line of defence. Sal and I both got them right after the school opened. He put his in the Chamber as a secret weapon agianst intruders; Fawkes, on the other hand has always been in plain sight.
“Fawkes?” Harry asked.
“My phoenix,” Ric explained. “He serves as companion to all the Hogwarts headmasters as well as being their eyes and ears in the castle.”
“So this guardian beast is what attacked Mrs Norris,” Harry surmised. “So what is it an why go after Mr Filch's cat?”
“I honestly don't know,” Ric answered with a frustrated sigh. “None of us do. Sal's always believed that keeping its true nature secret would make it harder for an enemy to counter.”
“Even from you?”
“So how did it get out?” Harry asked. “I mean, it sounds like only Sal can get into it.”
“Slytherin's heir,” Snape murmured quietly.
“What was that?” Harry asked, not quite hearing what the professor had said.
“The heir,” Snape repeated. “It only makes sense. Salazar would only have wanted somebody he could trust to be able to enter after him, who else than family? It's the Heir that's opened the chamber, it's him that's controlling the beast.”
“But who is it?” Harry asked. There's got to be more than two hundred students in the school along with the staff. It could be any of them.”
“Then we'll just have to find out who, won't we?” Snape answered as he stood. “In the mean time, there are two boys up long past their bedtime. Let's get you both back to your houses and we'll talk more about this later.”
Taking his leave of the remaining founders, Snape lead the two increasingly groggy youths to their houses. Harry, upon arriving at his dormitory, fell fully clothed into his bed, not even taking the time to remove his shoes.
The next morning, Harry felt like he and Draco were both the centre of every conversation in earshot. Draco appeared to have taken the role of villain in the previous night's drama, leaving Harry, Neville and Mrs Norris as his unfortunate victims, to one degree or another.
Longbottom, for his part, seemed quite content going along wth the wildly changing story about the 'Halloween night massacre', as it had come to be called, going as far to say that Draco had laughed over the frozen form of Mrs Norris when they'd found her. He hadn't gone to the point of actually accusing Draco of any misdeed to any of the students though, as of yet.
Thorne had almost been as big a bother as Neville, though not because he was accusing them of anything. Rather, he was going on and on about the Chamber of Secrets. Damien was careful never to speak loud enough for the professors to hear but made it clear to all the students nearby exactly what he thought of mudbloods and what the heir of Slytherin would do to them.
“There's the top of our list for heir,” Draco muttered over his porridge. “He's having entirely too much fun over this... that, and none of this really started until he transferred here this year.”
“I don't know,” Harry answered thoughtfully. “I mean he acts like you think the heir would, but it just seems too easy. Still – ”
Harry's thought was interrupted by the doors to the Great Hall swinging open, admitting someone who's aura was very familiar to Harry. Lucius Malfoy, flanked by two unfamiliar wizards that Draco identified as aurors, swept through the room, stopping in front of the headmaster. A privacy spell was cast by one of the wizards, blocking the students from hearing the conversation that followed though Draco informed Harry that whatever they were talking about, (as if they didn't know) the exchange was quite heated. Shortly, the headmaster, Lucius, the aurors and a Nervous Mr Filch were headed toward a side door to the hall, ostensibly on their way to the headmaster's office.
At first, Draco had had been bursting with glee over the caretaker's predicament. Filch had taken a lot of satisfaction the previous year sending them into the forbidden forest with Hagrid, not to mention all the minor detentions and point deductions he'd rained on all the houses. Mr Filch had earned Draco's enmity and it looked like the blond was going to enjoy every second of the old man's discomfort until, during the exchange at the head table, Lucius had turned to meet his son's gaze for a moment.
The surge of anger that blossomed from the elder Malfoy almost made Harry physically ill. The effect was also evident in Draco's aura, though nobody else seemed to notice.
“What's wrong with your father?” Harry asked. “I can sense that he's really mad at something.”
“It's me,” Draco said with a gulp. “I think it's got something to do with that warning he gave me before school started. He wanted me to stay out of trouble but I'm thick in the middle of it.”
Harry never found out what was said in that meeting, nor what Lucius had said to Draco in private later that morning. All he knew was that Mr Filch hadn't been arrested like everyone had thought, rather he walked around with a more sour expression than ever, not daring to touch any of the students but more than willing to pass out detentions, even for the slightest offences. He went as far as to dock a Hufflepuff boy ten points for breathing too loudly. The rest of his time was spent trying, unsuccessfully, to clean the writing off the wall where Mrs Norris was attacked.
Draco refused to say exactly what was said between him and his father that day, though he voiced a suspicion that they had all had from the beginning. “He's part of this somehow,” the blond said as he and Harry sat perched atop the astronomy tower later that day.
Putting down his flute, Harry waited a few seconds for his friend to continue before asking, “A part of what?”
“He repeated the warning he gave me before school started, he told me to stay away from you. I think he knew all this was going to happen, that the chamber was going to be opened.”
“Did he say anything else?” Harry asked.
“Nothing I'd repeat,” Draco answered. “Just how disappointed he is in me... I don't think he exactly trusts me anymore.”
“Well I can understand that,” Harry said consolingly. “I mean its not like we can trust him all that much either.”
Taking the half hearted laugh from his friend as a good sign, Harry went back to playing and thinking about what they should do next.
Weeks passed and life picked up a routine again. Dudley, warned by Harry to keep his parseltongue gift a secret continued to meet with the study group regularly. Mr Filch continued to harass the students in the only ways he could, with a sharp tongue and detentions. The way that the other students acted around them changed markedly though.
Harry and Draco's classmates still gave the Malfoy heir fearful looks and whispered about him being Slytherin's heir at every turn. Harry was uncomfortable with it but Draco seemed to bask in the attention. “They're going to say it anyway,” he told Harry one day early the first week, after making a Hufflepuff boy panic and bolt, face first, into a stone wall. “I may as well have a little fun with it while I can.”
Their morning training continued even with Sal's continued absence. Ric, Ro and Helga worked to improve their physical and magical prowess, while Professor Snape began teaching them the rudiments of a mental discipline called Occlumency.
The evening of the attack, Snape had recognised the headmaster's attempt to access Harry's thoughts. He'd interrupted Dumbledore easily enough but recognised the need to teach his charges to protect themselves. After hearing the reasons behind the lessons, both Harry and Draco threw themselves into their practice sessions with a passion.
Attendance in their study group dropped sharply after Halloween. Most of the students from every house believed Draco was responsible for Mrs Norris condition and kept their distance. From the original group of almost twenty first and second years, the only remaining students that were willing to study with them were Terry and Luna from Ravenclaw, Dudley from Hufflepuff, Blaise from Slytherin and Ron Weasley from Gryffindor.
Draco had been shocked at first to see the Weasel supporting him, their relationship could never have been called even remotely friendly. Ron had explained, however, after Draco had kept watch over him last term when he'd been hurt while they'd gone after the stone. To him, it proved that Draco wasn't all bad. “Plus,” the redhead added with a smirk, “Malfoy is too dense to be the heir of Slytherin.” A war of insults followed that remark but Weasley stayed with the group. Ron turned out not to be the only Gryffindor that believed in them, however, as they found out a few days later.
They were pouring over books in the library, searching for snakes that fit the facts that they had when Hermione quietly sat down beside Draco and asked if she could help. Harry and Draco put their heads together as whispers went back and forth between them. Finally, after a short conversation and a nearly imperceptible nod from Harry, Draco pushed his book over to share with her while he explained, quietly what they were doing.
Harry smiled to himself as he heard Draco's breathing become a bit more rapid, likely due to their being so close together. Satisfied that his friend would be preoccupied for a while, Harry turned back to Luna, who'd been trying to convince him that everything that happened was due to a mirror monster known as a Ksilisab. She swore that they were a real problem and her father's paper, The Quibbler, had posted several articles about them already.
Harry fought the impulse to laugh and pretended to take her input very seriously. He never really knew if she was joking or serious but either way, Luna always found a way to make him smile.
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