This is just a short chapter to let you know I'm still alive and haven't given up the story... more to come. Chapter 14, Guilty Until Proven
“Hello Harry, My name is Tom.”
Harry sat back with a thoughtful expression. He'd never heard of a talking book before; then again, until last year, no one could have convinced him there was such a thing as a talking hat.
Leaning forward again, he allowed the dicto-quill to continue translating his words. “Hello Tom, what are you?”
“I'm the memory of a student that attended Hogwarts many years ago. I am an echo of who he was, including his memories and feelings.”
“You're like one of the talking portraits, then.”
“...Something like that, yes,”
Rubbing his chin thoughtfully, Harry asked, “You said that you were written a long time ago, maybe around when the Chamber of secrets was opened last? Do you know anything about it?”
The quill finished writing out what he'd said and its script vanished into the page. Long moments passed, then in glowing letters, the diary formed its response.
“I was. My maker was very worried that the school might be closed down because the attacks. Someone claiming to be Slytherin's heir opened the chamber and supposedly set the creature living there on the muggle-born students. This went on throughout the school year, ending when the final victim was killed by it. Hogwarts was very nearly closed after that but someone was caught and was thought to be behind the attacks. After he was removed from the school, the creature ceased its attacks and the school was allowed to remain open.”
“You know who it was, then,” Harry said aloud while the quill dutifully copied his words to the page. “The person who was expelled, was he the heir? Who was he and what happened to him; you have to tell me.”
“I could tell you,” the book answered. But it would be so much easier to show you instead.”
Before Harry could even react, a plume of sparks shot from the page, enveloping his senses. Moments later, he found himself standing in the headmaster's office. At first he didn't recognize it. He was used to the shimmering walls of sparks broken up by the portraits lining the walls. What he saw now was something he'd only experienced once since the accident and that had only been a fleeting moment.
Harry found himself seeing the room as if his natural sight still worked. The room was brightly lit and yet cozy. Books lined the shelves and a magnificent desk sat at one side with a balding, somewhat silly looking man behind it. It wasn't Professor Dumbledore, though that should be no surprise if this was indeed a memory from fifty years before. The headmaster was busily scribbling on a scroll, only to be interrupted by a knock at the door. Covering pictures he'd been drawing, they looked like badly drawn bunnies, with another piece of parchment, he called for the unknown party to enter.
The door opened, revealing a young man with dark hair, wearing a Slytherin badge. “You wished to see me, Professor Dippett?”
“Ah yes,” the old wizard answered. “Come in, Mr Riddle. I have the letter you sent me right here. You've requested to stay at the school over summer holidays.”
“Yes sir, I'm an orphan. I have no family to call my own and the muggle orphanage I stay at... things aren't exactly good for me there. Everybody knows I'm different somehow, they – ”
Opening a file on his desk, Professor Dippett began reading aloud. “Tom Marvolo Riddle, Wizard of mixed parentage, orphaned. You're a sixth year Slytherin prefect and at the top of your class.” Rifling through the parchment, the headmaster droned on. “You've no marks against you, disciplinary or in your assessments and Horace has only good things to say about you. During summer breaks, you stay at the Stockwell orphanage, on Vauxhall road in London.” Closing the file, Professor Dippet rested his elbows on the desk and clasped his hands.
“Policy set by the board of governors is quite specific, I'm afraid. No student can reside in the castle outside the school term.”
“I do sympathize with your dilemma, were it my choice, I'd allow you to stay. My hands are tied, however, by laws dating back to the founders time. As a wizard of mixed parentage, I can't even try placing you with a proper family so long as you have residence in the muggle world. I'm sorry, my boy, but I'm afraid you'll have to return to Stockwell once the term ends.” Nodding slowly, a series of emotions crossed the young man's face though Harry, being out of practice at such things, was at a loss to decipher them. Without another word, Tom left the office and it faded away to be replaced by a school corridor.
Tom stood anxiously at the head of a flight of stairs, watching a procession of six wizards as they came from the shadows. Moving carefully they carried a draped bundle that could only be a body. Behind them, Professor Dippet and another wizard, who looked much more like Professor Dumbledore's Chocolate Frog card, followed along with serious expressions. Dumbledore stopped as the procession passed, his sorrowful gaze lingering on the draped figure before facing Tom fully.
“All students are supposed to be in their dorms, Mr Riddle. The corridors of Hogwarts are not safe to travel alone.”
Looking more than a bit anxious, Tom replied. “I'm sorry, sir. I had to know, is it true? Will they be closing the school?”
Again letting his gaze wander to the retreating backs of his colleagues, the professor quietly answered. “I'm afraid that it is inevitable now. With a student's death, the Board of Governors will demand it, at very least until an inquiry is finished.”
“What if... What if the attacks were stopped?”
Turning with an unreadable expression to face Tom, Dumbledore said, “If the attacks stopped, the governors might be persuaded to keep the school open... Nothing short of Locating the perpetrator of these acts would convince them of that, however.... Is there something you want to tell me, Tom?”
All emotion draining from his face, the Slytherin shook his head, slightly and answered, “No sir, thank you,” before hurrying away.
Dumbledore continued to stare pensively after the retreating boy as the scene faded around Harry. It was replaced by a dank dungeon corridor, dimly lit by torches. At the far end, light spilled from an open doorway and the sounds of movement could be heard inside. It was toward this room that Harry watched Tom make his way silently. Upon reaching the doorway, his wand lit up and he boldly stepped inside.
“What do you have there, Hagrid?”
A startled yelp, sounding more like the grunt of a wounded bear, greeted Harry's ears as he hurried to see what was going on. Inside, Hagrid was standing in front of a table, trying to block Tom's view of a box that sat atop it. “I got nothin here, Riddle,” the half giant answered anxiously. “Just go on about your business, I aint done nothin.”
“You're a horrible liar, Hagrid,” said Tom as he tried to work his way around for a clear view at the box. “I know what you have there, It's responsible for the attacks... You'll be expelled for this.”
“Aragog wudn't hurt a fly!” Hagrid roared, keeping himself between Tom and his pet. “You know that!”
“I know,” Tom said with a grim tone, “that You've been harboring a rare dark creature for the better part of a year. Who's to know what abilities it has, unfortunately I'll have to kill it now just to be safe and we'll never know for sure what It could do when it was alive.” Saying that he raised his wand and cast, “Arania Exumai!”
The spell was aimed at the box but Hagrid jumped to throw off Tom's aim, sending the Slytherin crashing against the wall with bone jarring force. “Run, Aragog,” Hagrid yelled as he blocked another spell from an obviously injured Tom.
Something large and many-legged hopped from the box, skittering left and right to avoid the wildly cast spells as it darted down the corridor and into the darkness. “You'll be expelled for sure over this,” growled tom as he gingerly climbed back to his feet. And that thing will be hunted down and killed, as it deserves.” The superior and satisfied expression on Tom's face was the last thing he saw before darkness overwhelmed him again and Harry found himself back in the Merlin common room holding the diary in a tight grip.
Sagging back into his chair, Harry couldn't help feel a little disappointed in losing the second hand use of his eyes, not to mention that he felt a bit drained by the whole experience. He was so disoriented that he missed, at first, the people yelling in his ear.
“Harry,” Draco called, giving his friend a good shake. “Snap out of it, you've been just sitting and holding that book for a half hour.”
With a shake of his head, Harry ordered his thoughts and opened his senses to the world around him. Sitting at the table with him, Draco, Terry and Luna all sat with sparks of anxiety flowing through their auras. “Sorry about that,” Harry reassured them. “I've figured out how the diary works.”
“That's why you've been sitting here like a lump?,” Draco asked hotly. “The others were getting panicky and I was about to send for Professor Snape!”
“I'm fine, the diary is magical, it's enchanted something like the portraits. It responds when you write in it. According to what it said, it's the creation of a boy named Tom Riddle, made more than fifty years ago. He said he new who the heir was and that he'd show me. Before I knew what was happening, I was sucked into the book, or at least it seemed like it. I watched Tom talking with the headmaster then confront Hagrid, of all people. He was keeping some insect, a spider, I think, and Tom claimed that it was the creature that was attacking students.
The most incredible thing was, I saw it through normal eyes! It was incredible, everything was so crisp and clear, the colors were incredible. I've forgotten how beautiful even the simple things can be, I can't wait to go back and see if there's anything I missed...” Harry trailed off, idly stroking the book with one hand.
“What?” Harry asked distractedly.
“You said you wanted to go back into the diary,” Draco answered. “There was a 'but' in your tone, though.”
“Oh,” he answered, still not fully paying attention to the others. “It lied to me.”
“It lied, you mean the memory it showed you was false. We all kind of figured that out, it's impossible for Hagrid to have been the heir.”
“It's not that at all,” Harry answered, his full attention finally pulled away from the book. “Everything I saw happened, I'm sure of that somehow. It was just shown to me in a way that made Hagrid look guilty and it was trying to convince me.”
“I guess it could look like that,” Terry put in. “It's impossible though. You said this Tom person was a student when he made the diary; portraits are some of the most complex enchanted objected that can be created and even they can't really lie, not convincingly. It's just beyond their ability. If anything, this Tom Riddle bloke, who made the diary, just put in a false memory.”
“I guess you're right,” Harry conceded. “We'll give the book to Severus in a couple of days, first I want to look at the memory again and perhaps talk to Hagrid.”
“Along with you lot, of course,” he corrected himself as he placed the diary in his bag. “I'll keep it in my trunk for safe keeping and try to get down to Hagrid's hut before Easter holidays start.”
Unnoticed by any of them, Ginny and Neville sat a few tables away, one with a fearful expression, the other with a look of dark hunger. The two quarreled quietly before slipping away and out of the common area, barely acknowledging Professor Snape and his guest as they rushed past.
Muttering to himself about rude children, the professor approached Harry's group and signaled his presence with a quiet cough.
“Good afternoon, Professor,” Harry said quickly as he closed his bag. “You as well, Mr Smythe. What brings you back so soon, did you find anything?”
“Indeed I did, Mr Potter,” Wesley answered. “I think, though, It would be best discussed in private.”
“Of course, sir,” Harry answered with a nod. “If it's alright, I'd like Draco along as well. He's fully aware of everything that's happened up to now.”
“That's perfectly fine. Your office, perhaps, Severus?”
“Indeed,” the potions master answered, some tension apparent in his voice. “This way.” Their trip to the dungeons was made quickly, though Professor Snape's agitation fueled Harry's curiosity and made it seem forever. Finally they'd arrived and everyone was seated, Mr Smythe began.
“As you remember, I sent several missives to the ministry in regards to Sirius Black and his trial for you parent's deaths. After quite a bit of stalling on their part, they admitted that transcripts of it do not exist. I then asked for a copy of the ruling and sentence, as imprisonment at Azkaban should be impossible without it.”
“I hear an exception in the word should.”
“Sharp ear, my boy. Perhaps you should consider law as a profession after you finish school. I have a colleague in New York, in fact, Mathew Murdo-”
“Please, sir,” Harry interrupted. “You're stalling.”
“Er, yes, sorry. Exceptional ear, you have; As to Mr Black, he's been 'detained' at Azkaban since your parents deaths without proper trial or sentencing.”
“While an obvious legal blunder, one that could get him released, It's better than what he deserves after what he did to Lily,” growled Snape from behind his desk.
“It also still doesn't answer my biggest question... Why he did it.” Harry complained angrily.
“I thought you might feel that way,” Wesley answered quickly. I've requested a visit with him as your solicitor. The owl came back just today, It's scheduled Tuesday, two weeks hence.”
“That's after holidays start,” Harry murmured to himself. Louder, he added, “I'm going as well.”
“Absolutely not!” Snape shouted. “Even in Azkaban, the man is dangerous!”
“I'd have you there as well, if you'd come.” Harry wheedled softly. “I trust you to protect me.”
“And Petunia as well, I'd expect,” the potion's master sneered, not sounding at all convinced.
“No!” Harry snorted. “I don't want him dead before I can get my answers.” he added with a tight grin.
“Just Mr Smythe, you and I.”
“And me, as well,” answered Draco forcefully. “I'm going too.”
“I think not, Mr Malfoy,” Snape growled again, sounding even more angry than before. “Even if I allowed Harry to go, which won't happen, there's no cause for your presence.”
“I'm Heir Regent.”
A gusty sigh from Mr Smythe caught Harry's attention. “Heir Regent? What's that?”
“Heir regent is the last surviving male member of a great house,” Wesley grumbled.” Your mother's side, I presume?” At Draco's nod, he continued. “As heir to the Malfoy name and titles, young Draco will become the next Lord Malfoy, as will his first son. On his majority, he will also take over duties as Regent of house Black until such a time as his second son comes of age and takes the title, proper.”
“So your mum is regent now?”
“Don't be silly, she's a woman,” Draco scoffed while Harry cursed his lack of a tape recorder... oh, the blackmail material... “The House of Black is held in trust for me until I turn seventeen. Even as a minor, however, as Heir Regent, I still have some power in regards to members of the house, including visitation rights to imprisoned members.”
“Still sounds a bit shady to me,” Harry grumbled, a bit torn as to whether he wanted his friend there.
“Regardless, all of his is moot,” Severus thundered, the sparks in his aura swirling angry red. “I'll have neither of you that close to Black, I forbid it.”
“This is important to me,” Harry reminded him softly, building up is courage for what he'd say next. “In the end, you really don't have a say in this.” To Smythe, he asked, “As Heir for House Potter, do I have the same rights?”
“The Potters, while well respected and successful family, never gained House status with the Ministry,” Wesley answered, crushing Harry's hopes for an instant. “The laws, however, do allow you, as Lord Black's godson, the same right.”
Wincing at the feeling of betrayal that Snape was emanating, Harry pushed on. “You can't stop me visiting him,” he continued, “but I need you there Severus. I need somebody there that can protect me and someone I can trust.”
His emotions back under control, or at least properly shielded, Snape regarded the boy coolly. You realize, of course, Your aunt will be made aware of this decision.” At Harry's pained nod, the potions master continued. “Very well, then. Provided you survive your arrival home for holidays, I will escort the two of you as well as Mr Smythe for the visit.”
“Well, now that's taken care of, I have several missives to send off to the Ministry regarding our expanded visit,” Wesley said as he rose. “I'll see you all in two weeks, six sharp, in the morning.” Shaking hands with Snape, Harry and Draco, the solicitor made his way out, leaving tow very uncomfortable boys alone with their mentor.
“That will be all for now, Mr Potter, Mr Malfoy, I'll see you in class, later.”
Wincing at the abrupt dismissal, Harry got up and trudged out the door, followed closely by Draco. “Well,” the blond said after a bit. That could have gone better.”
“I know that Severus and them had a history,” Harry agreed. “But I had no idea he'd be so against us just seeing him, even for an interrogation.”
“Well, if he changes his mind, we still have my status as Heir Regent. We'll go in there with an Auror escort and hex it out of him.”
“Speaking of that,” Harry said, his mood suddenly lightening. “So your second son will be Black heir... I'd better warn Hermione when she wakes up...”
“..Shut up!” yelled Draco as he pelted off after his fleeing friend.
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