Chapter 34 : Slytherin's Heirs
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I arrived home this afternoon to find that a lot of mail had accumulated since Tonks hasn't moved back in yet. Among all the bills and letters was a note from Professor Dumbledore asking me to inform him of my arrival as soon as I got in, because he needed to schedule an important meeting with me. No "congratulations on your grades", "welcome back," or "happy new year." The tone of the note was all business and seemed a bit out of character.
I responded immediately and received an answer about two hours later. This note was also very short, asking me to come to his office at nine tonight. There were no enlightening explanations and the whole thing had an ominous feeling to it.
To alleviate anxiety I unpacked. It didn't help much but it gave me something to do. I wondered if Severus knew what was up. Or --- had something happened to him? No, Dumbledore wouldn't have waited until nine p.m. to inform me if it had. Maybe it had something to do with my position. Maybe the board of governors wanted to interview me or something. Hundreds of possibilities flashed through my mind, but if I'd had a century to guess what Dumbledore wanted, I would never have gotten it right. Nothing could have prepared me for the reality of what he had to say.
Maybe it was my concern over why I was being mysteriously summoned to Hogwarts, but the castle seemed eerily quiet for it only being nine in the evening. At the very least, OWL and NEWT students ought to have been coming and going from the library. My feeling of dread increased.
Professor Dumbledore had given me the password to his office in his last note, "Strawberry creams," and answered my knock on his door immediately. He was sitting back in his chair and though he smiled at me just like always, I thought he looked anxious. "Kerri, how are you?"
"Fine. How are you?" I answered mechanically. I knew he had not invited me to his office to discuss my well being.
There was motion to my right. Something dark languidly slid out of the shadows along the wall. "Kerri." said Severus quietly. He looked at me severely as though trying to tell me something with his eyes alone.
"Hi." I said flatly, wondering what was going on. Severus's tenseness put me even more on edge. If the mystery wasn't solved soon I felt I would burst. "What's going on?" I asked,
"Please sit down." said Dumbledore, motioning to the chairs in front of his desk.
I sat and so did Severus. He was ramrod straight and obviously very reluctant about whatever was about to be said. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked at Professor Dumbledore with a carefully neutral expression that I could tell was entirely contrived. I looked from Severus to Dumbledore, and back to Severus again. It was like there was a dividing line between he and I and the headmaster. There was a definite "him vs. us" feeling in the room that surprised me. Severus has always been so supportive of Dumbledore in the past. How many times has he jumped on me for criticizing him? I wondered what had happened to set him at odds with the man he admired so much.
"Something's wrong, isn't it?" I asked, but it wasn't really a question.
"Unfortunately, there is." Dumbledore confirmed, his blue eyes more grave than I've ever seen them before. "I wanted to ask you...during your girlhood explorations of the castle, did you ever try to find the Chamber of Secrets?"
The old legend. Of course I knew it. Considering that it wasn't clear whether or not it was fact or myth, I was surprised to hear Dumbledore asking this question. "Well, I really was more into exploring the grounds than exploring the castle. I've read about the chamber but I was never interested in finding it. I wanted to distance myself from anything related to that side of the family as much as possible."
Severus made a triumphant sort of sound deep in his throat as though his expectations had been confirmed. Dumbledore gazed at him briefly before focusing back on me. "Severus did not want me to send for you."
"What's going on?" I asked again.
"The Chamber of Secrets has been opened." said Dumbledore simply.
There was a long pause while I absorbed this information and my mind raced to explore all the implications. "That...isn't possible." I said slowly. "Only someone of Slytherin's direct line..." I broke off midsentence. I shot a cautious glance at Severus whose face was still carefully blank and arranged my features to match his.
"I am not accusing either of you." said Dumbledore, looking from one to the other of us.
I wished Severus could have found some way to warn me ahead of time. I wondered what he knew or suspected. Somehow this felt like a family affair that Dumbledore had no business sticking his nose in.
"Well if Severus and I didn't open it, who did?" I ventured, not liking the way this was going. Not again. Not after what we'd just been through this last year.
"That is the question." Dumbledore agreed. "But not the reason I sent for you."
"Sir?" I asked tensely.
"I would like you to search for the chamber if you are willing. Your brother has opposed this on the grounds that he wants to keep you from Voldemort's notice for as long as possible. I do not doubt that Voldemort is behind this somehow. Severus would prefer that you kept your distance from the situation, but in light of recent events I believe emergency sanctions are necessary."
I had been watching Severus while Dumbledore was talking. He was motionless and expressionless, not even flinching when Dumbledore dropped the "V" bomb twice. Now I knew why he'd seemed overly concerned about my safety lately and the reason he'd hustled me out of the castle so quickly on the night I'd stopped by and visited Hagrid. If I hadn't been in complete shock, I'd have been furious with him for keeping it from me. "Emergency?" I repeated the word, my attention snapping back to Dumbledore.
"A cat, a ghost, and two students have been petrified between Halloween night and December nineteenth." said Dumbledore heavily.
"Petrified. You may see for yourself later."
"Why me?" I asked, feeling slightly annoyed. I knew this was not something I wanted to be involved in. As one of Slytherin's descendants, I was a potential suspect. No wonder Severus had not wanted anyone to see me that night and had made me go out through the back. "There are a lot of people here who have more experience than I do. You, Flitwick..."
"Because you are of Slytherin's direct line." said Dumbledore, pointing out the thing that I most wished he would forget.
Severus exhaled sharply, the sound almost like a hiss.
"So is he." I pointed out. It was probably not very nice but despite Dumbledore's non accusing attitude I felt ganged up on and alone.
"Yes, but you have inherited certain traits that he has not." said Dumbledore calmly.
"I know I look like V--- Tom Riddle." I amended what I had almost said for the benefit of Severus, whose blood pressure was probably through the roof despite his apparent composure. "Supposedly he was super smart and Severus seems to think I've inherited that too, but ---"
"You are highly intelligent." Dumbledore agreed. "More importantly, you are a parselmouth, something that you inherited directly from Slytherin himself. That is why I believe that you stand the best chance of finding the chamber."
"What exactly do you think is in there?" I asked.
"Professor Kettleburn has already offered his theory on that but I would like a second opinion."
"And if I do find the chamber -- by some miracle -- what then?"
"Whatever is inside must be destroyed." said Dumbledore seriously.
I started to ask a question but Severus cleared his throat significantly.
"Of course Severus, I haven't forgotten." said Dumbledore, sounding weary. "Severus is very concerned about your safety and anonymity. He and I have been discussing this ever since the first student was attacked, and have reached a compromise. You have only a small window of time in which to search. If you do not find it by the time classes begin at Merlin then you are to abandon the project."
"That's only about three weeks." I said, feeling panicked. "In the past there have been people who have searched for it their entire lives and not found it. How can I do it in three weeks time? It's so well hidden that most people think it's just a myth."
"I'm afraid that recent evidence is very much to the contrary."
"Which students were hurt?" I asked, praying that it wasn't anyone I knew.
"Colin Creevey and Justin Finch-Fletchley. A first year and a second year."
"And a ghost?"
"Sir Nicholas." said Dumbledore, getting to his feet. "Shall we go to the hospital wing?"
I did not especially want to see what Voldemort had done this time but felt that I should learn all I could if the responsibility of finding the Chamber of Secrets was going to be hung around my neck. I was glad that Severus was coming with us. For once, all his sullenness and glowering was directed toward Dumbledore, which meant that he was completely on my side.
Madam Pomfrey met us at the door to the hospital wing, looking slightly jumpy and holding tight to her wand. No wonder the school was so still. They were all expecting to walk into a monster at every turn. Dumbledore shooed her away as politely as he could and she occupied herself by going to tend a girl who was having a sneezing fit and had leaves growing out of her face.
"I think she's pollinating." said Severus with a smirk." Poor girl." he added for Dumbledore's benefit.
Under other circumstances I might have had to bite back a smile, but I was having serious feelings of dread as I followed Dumbledore to the very back of the ward where it looked like more than one bed was curtained off. I did not want to go over there. I hate hospitals enough as it is but the memory of the last time I'd been in this room was making it even worse. For the first time in quite a while, the image of Quirrel laying dead with the back of his head blown off flashed before my mind's eye. Only a sense of responsibility to Dumbledore and the school kept me from turning around and walking right back out.
On the other side of the curtains were two beds, each with a boy in it. One was blonde with blue eyes that were frozen open in an expression of panic. The other was small and had his hands up in front of his face as though he'd been holding something in them. For some reason, Severus smirked again but I think I was the only one who saw it. I guessed that one or both of the boys were Gryffindors...or at least accident prone during potions lessons.
It was a few moments before I noticed Sir Nicholas. He was floating in the corner where the end of the curtain and the wall met. His features too were frozen in shock and he had a strange color, unnatural for a ghost --- a dark opaque gray rather than the usual wispy silver. There was a slight draft reaching him that caused him to revolve slowly in place. It put me in mind of a body hanging from a noose and made my skin crawl.
"A wizard could not have done that." I said, looking at Sir Nicholas in shock. "It's just not possible. We don 't have the power to affect ghosts that way."
"I agree." said Dumbledore, not appearing willing to offer his own theory as to what had done it.
"So it has to be either a magical being or animal." I said, leaning down to look more closely at the nearest boy. When I touched him he felt rigid, but not hard like stone. It was more like a dead person would feel after rigor set in. "Well, from the being category we can eliminate werewolves, vampires, trolls, elves, goblins and centaurs." I said, allowing the analytical part of my mind to take over. "It has to be an animal. Have you asked Professor Kettleburn ?"
"I have, but I would like a second opinion from you."
I felt for a pulse on the nearest boy and found one. "It's similar to the effect that a gorgon has but not quite. He would literally be turned into stone. " I felt my gaze go soft and unfocused as I mentally cycled through lists of animals capable of petrifying their victims in this manner and could think of none.
I virtually forgot about Severus and Dumbledore as I more thoroughly examined first one boy, and then the other. I was vaguely aware of Madam Pomfrey protesting and being sent away by Dumbledore at one point. Against my better judgment I was becoming genuinely interested in the mystery. I couldn't find any bites, burns, stings, bruises, or any other sign of trauma on either victim. "Have you tested for venom?" I asked.
"Yes." answered Dumbledore. "None was found."
Likely it was not a physical attack at all. The culprit had to be something that used some form of magical ability to lure or attack its victims. I couldn't think of a singe species that subdued its prey in quite this fashion. It puzzled me too as to why the boys were even alive if they had been so effectively paralyzed. Unless something had gone wrong....perhaps this was not the animal's usual pattern.
And then I had it. I remembered a case I had read about once for a class on the treatment of animal attack victims. "I read once about a fisherman in Turkey who was attacked by a basilisk." I told Dumbledore. "His back was to the animal and he saw it's reflection in the water. I'm wondering about the circumstances under which you found the victims. It's the only thing that seems to fit exactly what their symptoms are."
"Professor Kettleburn cited the exact same case." said Dumbledore, looking pleased. "That makes two magical creatures experts to put forth the basilisk theory."
Wow. Albus Dumbledore had called me an expert.
"I always prefer to get second opinions when possible." he continued. "I will assume from this point on that it is indeed a basilisk with which we are dealing."
"Which makes sense since a basilisk is essentially just a big snake and apparently Slytherin is the one who put it here." I reflected.
"How big do you suppose a basilisk of this age would be?"
"Huge." I answered promptly. "Similar to a dragon. I can't imagine how no one would have seen it. Where did you find the victims?"
"Sir Nicholas and Justin were found together in the corridor just off of the transfiguration courtyard. I presume now that Justin must have seen the basilisk through Sir Nicholas. Colin was found not far from the hospital wing. I suspect he was on his way to visit a friend. That one is most frustrating because I believe that I may myself have almost caught the creature, as I was the one who discovered him. Colin had taken a picture of it but the camera melted --- I assume that that is why he wasn't petrified himself. Mrs. Norris ---"
"Filch's cat?" I asked, looking around under the impression that I'd overlooked her somehow.
"Mr. Filch is keeping her in his rooms." Dumbledore explained. "She was found near a puddle of water, just like the man in the case you described."
"Enemies of the heir, beware." * said Severus darkly.
"What?" I asked.
"It was scrawled on the wall in silver paint near the place where the cat was found."
"The heir...." I reluctantly repeated, "of Slytherin? How is he doing this?" I asked, stealing a cautious glance toward Madam Pomfrey who was in her office but with the door open.
"I do not know." Dumbledore admitted.
"And it is not your place to find out." Severus added.
"Your task is to focus on finding and destroying the basilisk." Dumbledore agreed.
"But only for the next three weeks." said Severus firmly. "Nothing is to be permitted to interfere with either your safety or your schooling."
"Three weeks isn't going to be long enough. You'd think it would be easy to find the thing considering it's size, but if it's lived here undetected for centuries....three weeks just isn't enough time." I repeated, feeling panicked at the thought.
"Probably not." Dumbledore heavily agreed. "But that is the compromise Severus and I made. I do agree with him that it is necessary to keep you shielded from Voldemort's notice for as long as possible and he is right about your schooling too. With Professor Kettleburn retiring at the end of this year I do not want anything to interfere with the completion of your degree. At the very least you may point us in a direction that has not been tried before."
"Are you going to help me with this?" I asked Severus.
"I certainly wouldn't allow you to attempt it alone."
There were so many questions that it was overwhelming. I was only just beginning to get a small picture of the situation and I had so little time in which to act. I knew that when I went home later for the night I would still have lots of questions again in the morning. "Who knows this is going on?" I asked the first random one that came into my head.
"Other than the entire school?" asked Dumbledore with a touch of humor. "So far I've managed to keep it from the media but the board of governors is aware. It's only a matter of time before the Daily Prophet catches wind of it."
"Oh, great." I said sarcastically and then asked the question that was probably bothering me the most. "Do you have any idea where Voldemort ----"
"That is not your concern." said Severus brusquely.
His bossy tone annoyed me. "I want to have a serious talk with you later before I leave." I said darkly.
"I'm sure you have many questions." said Dumbledore mildly, "And Severus can answer them as well as I can if not better. I'll leave you two to discuss matters between yourselves. I am sorry to have had to involve you in this, Kerri."
"No, that's okay." I said sincerely. "You know I love Hogwarts. If something is threatening it then I want to try to stop it."
Dumbledore looked pleased, Severus looked irritated. The latter impatiently jerked his head in the direction of the door and I followed him. "There is much that he didn't tell you." he said in a low voice.
"What?" I asked.
"It may not be connected but there are things going on around here that you won't believe. Wait until we get to my chambers."
It was a long walk from the hospital wing to the dungeons, especially knowing that there was a giant basilisk on the loose. "Why didn't it kill any of the victims?" I wondered aloud.
"Luck. We think it was interrupted."
"I'll bet the school is in a complete panic."
"It isn't as though it was especially peaceful before." said Severus wryly.
"And I'm guessing this is the real reason you stayed here over Christmas?"
"For hating kids you certainly do go above and beyond to protect them."
It got colder and colder every level we descended. I was just starting to wonder how Severus can possibly stand living down in the dungeons when we arrived in his chambers with it's cozy fire and glass ceiling. A merchild was peering through the window above. "I can't get away from children anywhere." said Severus contemptuously.
"Snakes are cold blooded." I said thoughtfully. " Wherever the chamber is, it has to be somewhere where the basilisk can easily regulate its temperature. That should give us some idea of where to ---"
Severus suddenly turned to face me, almost nose to nose. Despite the fact that we were alone, his voice was very low as he said, "Potter speaks parseltongue."
"Potter ----who?" I asked in confusion.
"The only wretched Potter we have in this madhouse that Dumbledore calls a school."
"Harry Potter?" I gasped. "Is a parselmouth? How do you know?"
"Because I saw it for myself --- half of the school did. It happened at a dueling club meeting. One of the students had used a serpent summoning spell and the snake was about to attack another student. Potter spoke to it and called it off. Now with all of this "Heir of Slytherin" panic going on, most of the school thinks Potter is the culprit."
"That's just stupid." I said flatly, still scrambling to keep up with all of this new information. "Can you just start over and tell me the whole story from the beginning? Start with Halloween and don't leave anything out."
"It's a very long story."
"I kind of figured that."
"Perhaps some tea then, unless you want something stronger. I could send down to Hagrid's for some firewhi---" Severus began to say.
"Don't you dare." I threatened. "I swear I'll walk out right now."
"Sit down." said Severus, motioning me to the sofa before the fire. "I'll explain all."
True to Severus's word, it was indeed a long story, especially as he went into an aside about blasting Gilderoy Lockhart off of a stage during the same dueling club meeting at which Harry Potter had spoken to the snake. Despite the gravity of the current situation we had a good laugh over it, especially as the spell Severus had used was one that a first year should have been able to defend against.
"If he was there when the cat was attacked ---you don't think Harry Potter is mixed up in all this mess, do you?" I asked, getting back to the matter at hand. "Last year he was way too close to Quirrel and....that person whose name you won't let me say."
"I'm sure he is. I'm sure he thinks it a splendid adventure, an opportunity to show off again on a grand scale."
"And you don't think....if he does speak parseltongue...it's really rare...."
"No. I do not think he has one drop of Slytherin blood in him." said Severus firmly, seeing where I was going. "Don't be ridiculous, please. It irritates me to no end to hear the students speculating about him being "Slytherin's heir." I find the idea of the Slytherin line being diluted with Potter blood extremely insulting."
"What about his mother's side of the family?"
"No. She was Muggleborn."
"That doesn't mean anything. Sometimes Muggleborns turn out to have had witches or wizards way back in the family tree." I pointed out.
"Trust me. The boy has no Slytherin blood in him."
"Do you think he may be a target of...whoever is behind this?" I asked.
"So far it's only been muggleborns."
"How is he doing this?" I asked in frustration. "Does he have a body now? Is he possessing someone again? Why hasn't anyone actually seen a basilisk slithering around here? If we find it, do we really have to kill it? I might be able to communicate with it."
"Please don't tell me you want to keep it as a pet."
"It's lived through centuries of Hogwarts history. Imagine the things it must know."
"Every rat and roach to ever ---" said Severus contemptuously.
"Slytherin put it there so it must have known him."
Severus's expression changed to one of stunned wonder. "I hadn't thought of that."
"It's been here for ages and hasn't gone after anyone before. If I could talk to it I could possibly talk it out of attacking and find out who's been ordering it to ----" I stopped short as something occurred to me. "This happened once before. I forgot."
"When?" asked Severus.
"Look it up in old newspaper clippings. I'm not going to tell you because someone involved wouldn't want me talking about it."
Hagrid. This was probably killing Hagrid if he had recognized it for what it was. I wasn't sure if Severus knew why Hagrid had been expelled but doubted that he did since it had been well before his time. As far as I knew, I was probably the only person Hagrid had ever told the story to, and that had been at a time when he was slightly less than sober. Still, after one of the students had been killed the story had been leaked to the media who had followed it avidly. Dumbledore had tried his best to hush it up but couldn't keep Hagrid's name out of it after the expulsion. I knew because I had checked.
"Look it up?" asked Severus, looking annoyed.
"Look it up. That's all I'm going to tell you. It would have been about...nineteen forty-two or so."
"How is it that you happen to have information that I don't?"
"You'll understand when you look it up, okay? I can't talk about it." I insisted. I wondered if I ought to stop by and check on Hagrid. Would he want me bringing it up, though? I knew it was a sore point. "I am getting a serious headache. It's just completely overwhelming. I wish you'd told me when this started because now I have so much to catch up on and only three weeks to do what Dumbledore wants me to do. I have hundreds of questions, some of I probably haven't even thought of yet but will when I go home and try to sleep. There's one that worries me."
"What if this comes back to us? Dumbledore isn't blaming us and no one knows that we're related to Slytherin but what if someone finds out?"
"That won't happen." said Severus confidently. "The headmaster is the only person who knows and he is prepared to protect our identity. No one has any reason to even suspect such a thing."
"But what if it keeps happening? What if it gets worse? What if Dumbledore can't keep it from the media and starts getting into trouble from it? He has to look at all options. What if he starts looking at us?"
"Even if he did -- and he won't -- we both have alibis. I was at the Halloween feast when the cat was attacked and teaching when Justin Finch-Fletchley was attacked. I know for a fact -- and so does Dumbledore, that you were in the United States when the latter happened. Possibly you can even prove your whereabouts for the other attacks as well. Professor Dumbledore already has a suspect and has absolutely no inclination to lay the blame on us. Don't worry about it."
"Shouldn't I be just a little bit worried about --- Him?" I asked
"No. Leave that to Professor Dumbledore and myself. Your responsibility is the basilisk."
"The situation has to be really bad for you to not mind me wrestling with a basilisk."
"I trust that you know what you're doing within your field of expertise." said Severus simply.
"Then why have you been seeming so concerned about me lately?"
"Because I should never have allowed you to get so close to him last year. From the way Quirrel was courting you, you definitely had his interest. If he is growing stronger and decides to recruit new servants I have no doubt at all that you would be on his list."
"Well, I'll let you know if he comes knocking on my door." I couldn't resist teasing. "How does that spell go again? Avada....something? "
Severus breathed out sharply through his nose. "I suppose levity is a defense mechanism with you but I do hope you are taking the situation seriously."
"Of course I am."
"Focus on finding the basilisk. Perhaps, as you say, it may be able to tell you who exactly is behind this --- although I'm sure the headmaster's deduction is correct as they always are."
"You --- you've been arguing with Dumbledore." I couldn't resist laughing. "You were annoyed with me for saying he was reckless last year and now you've been arguing with him. Want to reconsider the idea that he might have been a bit careless last year where Harry Potter was concerned?"
"No. I think you should go home for the night and rest. Try not to worry. Tomorrow night come back here and we'll begin developing a plan of action."
"Try not to worry...sure...that'll be easy."
"It will only be a waste of energy that could be focused on solving the problem." said Severus logically. "It appears that we will be partnering on a magical creatures project after all. Congratulations. You've gotten your way."
"I'd still rather breed hairless kneazles." I told him.
And I would. Actually, I might be interested in finding the basilisk under other circumstances. I should be able to talk to it so I'm not worried too much about getting hurt. It's the Voldemort part that bothers me. Here we go again. Well, I did want to get revenge on him for the Quirrel thing, didn't I? Not to mention my mother.
I have this strong "us vs.them" feeling; Severus and I against the world. I know Dumbledore says he doesn't suspect us but how could he not at least be thinking it. On the bright side, I have a feeling that Severus and I will be even closer than ever after this. We're all each other has, after all. Well, sort of. It feels like family business and yet I, at least, do have other family elsewhere. I have my mother and she has family somewhere....All of this is making me wonder about them. Maybe it's time to ask Severus to hand over all that research. I've had some questions lately anyway. It's worth thinking about.
I'm tired but I know I won't be able to sleep. There's so much to think about. Voldemort -- the basilisk --- Hagrid....poor Hagrid. Besides this mess there are other things on my mind. If Mary Ann isn't back soon I'm going to go looking for her. If she does come back I'll be busy basilisk hunting and I'm going to have to ask Jillian if she's okay with watching her more often. Then there's Remus.
Is it possible that Voldemort has a body again? Could he really show up at my door trying to recruit me? Is the situation getting too dangerous now for me to keep Remus in the dark? So much to think about. Did I only just get back home today? It's been a very long day.
Author's Note : * Denotes direct quote from "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets."
Next Chapter: Although Kerri hasn't even started school yet her stress levels are high as she and Severus begin laying plans and she becomes more curious about the information he has compiled about her mother's family. In the meantime, Mary Ann returns home, reminding Kerri of her resolution to find a safe home for her.
So with all of this stuff on my mind, it's a miracle that I ever slept at all even after I came home from work. I did though, but was roused entirely too early by what sounded like a large boot kicking the front door. "Damn it Kerri ! I know you're in there!" It was Mary Ann and she sounded very annoyed to put it mildly.
To avoid another broken window either by magical outburst or rock being hurled through the glass, I ran to open the front door before she got any more impatient. "You do know it's freezing out here, right?" asked Mary Ann, pushing past me. I was glad to see that she was wearing the hat and scarf I'd made for her and relieved to see that she looked none the worse for wear, if a bit skinny. "Were you still in bed? Do we have groceries? I may as well eat dirt and twigs as what my dad has in that hell hole. I wish he'd go die."
And those were the last words for about the space of a half hour during which she stuffed herself with everything she could find in the kitchen.
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