Chapter 40 : The Sewers
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Sounds like Dad's car has gone wild. Magical objects can do that sometimes, almost develop minds of their own. It's another of those ancient magics. Handling an object, putting as much work into it as my father put into that car tends to leave an imprint of your personal energy on it. Couple that with magical energy and sometimes things like that happen. It'll wear off eventually though. The appearance of it having a mind of it's own is just an illusion. I hope it doesn't come driving out onto the grounds though. That's the last thing my father needs -- people being reminded of that whole mess.
My parents wanted to go to Egypt to see Bill this year but there's just no way they can. The money they had saved went to paying that fine. They don't talk too much about it but I can tell from their letters that they're having a rough time right now. I still can't believe Ron did that. Stealing the car seems more like a Fred and George thing to me. I guess he's paying for it though because he still has a broken wand.
Christmas was okay but kind of boring. I broke up with that girl I was seeing. She's annoyed that I'm leaving on that expedition --- in April, by the way. It was 'if you love me, you'll stay.' Well, it's a little early for that kind of commitment so we broke up. Speaking of which, have Tonks and Gideon officially split yet? Sounds like just a matter of time.
Gideon isn't really that bad, just very traditional. He's old fashioned, has certain ideas about the way things are supposed to be, and expects things to be like that. He should have grown up in my house and he'd have known better. He'd better watch out if he thinks he's going to get Tonks to do exactly what he wants her to. Poor guy. I almost wish I could be there to see it when she sets him straight.
Remus and I had such a nice morning, reviewing Care of Magical Creatures textbooks for my future students. Kettleburn has been using the same ones for years and I think it would be nice to update. I have to find a balance between quality and expense though, because I know what it's like not to be well off and to have to buy overpriced books for school.
I can't believe that I'm actually starting to make concrete plans for my students now. It's not something that's going to happen years down the road but just in a matter of months. I'm going to be Professor Howard soon. It's just the coolest thing in the world. I love it.
Remus seemed to be having as much fun as I was, which I think is an admirable attitude since I know he'd just love to be in my place. Teaching at Hogwarts is his absolute fantasy job but it would never occur to him to mope about it or be jealous of me the way other people might. No, he's just as excited about me becoming a professor as though it was his own triumph.
I haven't forgotten my resolution to talk to Dumbledore about hiring him for next year. Dumbledore sounded interested in the idea when I presented it before this school year began, saying that there wasn't enough time to bring the school governors around to his way of thinking. I'm going to remind him of it in plenty of time for him to do so for next year. Maybe around the Easter holiday. The jinx is going to get rid of Lockhart, right? No way is that hapless moron going to do what the others have failed to do and hang onto that position.
There has to be some way to get around that jinx for next year if Remus does end up teaching. We'll have plenty of time to figure it out so I'm not worried. At the very least, what's the worst that can happen? The only one that's suffered serious injury is Quirrel and his situation was unique. That won't happen to Remus.
Anyway, I'm not the only one making preparations for my future career. Tonks came by in the afternoon to tell Mary Ann and I about her interview at the Ministry. She was looking quite professional with her blonde, chin length hair and her modestly cut robes in a demure shade of blue.
"I think it's okay." she said as she stood across the counter from Mary Ann, snacking on some chocolate chips that the latter had unearthed from a bottom cabinet where I'd tried vainly to hide them. "I didn't trip and fall in his lap or spill coffee on him or anything like that. That's half the battle there, right? My grades are good, I have good references, I've never been in trouble with the law...other than that party that magical law enforcement shut down that time. " Tonks sounded very upbeat but I waited for the other shoe to drop, sure there was a reason she was pigging out on chocolate chips. "Oh," she added casually, "Gideon and I had a huge row right in the middle of Quality Quidditch Supplies."
"He dumped you?" Mary Ann asked the question that I had in mind.
"You dumped him?"
"Of course not. His father kicked me out before either of us could do any dumping." Tonks admitted, tossing her head. "I don't care."
"I guess you told him about the interview." I said knowingly.
"I was too excited to keep it to myself. I'd have thought he'd have been excited for me." said Tonks, her brow furrowed slightly. "It's his belief about what he calls 'traditional relationships' that's the problem. Gideon is all about tradition. Well you know how he freaked out over the tattoo."
"You have a tattoo?" asked Mary Ann.
"A birthday present from Basil." I purposely interjected his name while Tonks was annoyed with Gideon.
"Well anyway, he thinks Auror training will take too long and that the career is too dangerous." Tonks continued. "He's willing to compromise and accept me going into magical law enforcement, which I'll be qualified for straight out of Merlin. If I want to be an Auror, it will be another year of intense training and ---"
"He's afraid you'll find another man there." Mary Ann cut in.
"...and isn't ---" Tonks tried to continue.
"And he's probably afraid that you'll be tougher than he is once you're done training and it scares him." Mary Ann added, making me cover my face with my hands to hide my laughter.
"What are you going to do?" I asked when I was able to speak.
"I could just back out but that would waste my time and Scrimgeor's and make me look like an idiot. And think of all the work I've done. Especially during the last year -- I've hardly been to any concerts or parties. And do you realize how hard it is just to get an interview? It's been years since they last hired anyone on. They don't let just anyone in. I want to know if I'm good enough to make the cut."
"So you're not --- " I began.
"Going to let the big crybaby get his way?" Mary Ann finished for me.
"No, I'm not." answered Tonks. She tossed her head again and this time her hair flared bright pink with the motion. "I love Gideon but it's just not healthy for him to try to run my life for me and tell me what I can and can't do. If I don't get the invitation to do Auror training then I'll go into magical law enforcement and he'll be happy and we'll probably get married one day. I can feel satisfied that I did my best but it just wasn't in the cards for me. On the other hand, if I am invited, I'm going to take the offer. It's going to be up to Gideon to decide what he's going to do then. Maybe it's not in the cards for us to be together. I guess we'll see. My mother will be disappointed because she likes Gideon and his family. My father won't care though. He's proud of me no matter what I do, and I know he'd love it if I became an Auror."
"If you do, can you arrest my parents?" asked Mary Ann hopefully.
"Not my department, sorry."
"That's what they all say."
"But I'll be sure to have a talk with whoever's job it is." Tonks promised. "It's a bit depressing though." she said, looking at me. "Gideon and I have been seeing each other ever since I was old enough to date. I went to my first Yule Ball with him. It seems like such a waste, you know? I really thought he was going to be the one. But who knows? Maybe it will come right in the end." she said, her tone brightening.
I thought about Remus and how he might feel if he invested years in me only to regret the wasted time if he decided to dump me for the Voldemort thing.
"It's easy for you." Tonks told me. "Remus will never try to get between you and your career. All you have is the werewolf thing to worry about."
"Oh sure. That's not a problem." said Mary Ann, rolling her eyes. Some day I really think they're going to stick that way.
Severus and I went broomstick riding in the Hogwarts sewers last night. What a bizarre way to spend an evening -- and a fruitless one too.
When I arrived he was waiting for me in his chambers with two broomsticks, a vial of phoenix tears, and a map.
"How horrible is this going to be?" I asked.
"Not as horrible as I originally thought. The castle has an enchantment in the pipes that purifies the water so that it can drain into the lake without polluting it. By the time it empties into the place we're going, it's clean."
He unfurled a map with color coded lines indicating different types of pipes and channels. "These are canals that flow into the lake." said Severus, his finger tracing a pink dotted line. "All the water from the other levels is piped into them. These are pipes." he said, indicating thick blue lines. "They are very large and have purifying enchantments on them. They pipe water from floor to floor enroute to the canals. These green lines are smaller pipes, just basic plumbing that goes directly from the fixtures into the purifying pipes."
"That's a lot of plumbing." I said, feeling dismayed.
"The canals are inside passages that are high enough and broad enough for two to be able to comfortably ride abreast." Severus continued his briefing.
"What about light? A lit wand tip is not going to be much help all the way underground with a basilisk on the loose. We could just fly right into it and not know it."
"I have this." said Severus, opening a case that had been resting on the table. White light burst from the interior as a glowing orb came to hover above the case. It was bright enough to overpower the gold of the firelight to bathe everything in silver.
"Wow. Is that a will-o-the-wisp?"
"Yes. The headmaster loaned it to me. I'll send it a little ahead of us to light the way."
"Okay. That will help a lot." I said, appreciatively. "I have something I want to add though. I'm the one that can talk to the basilisk, so every time we come to an intersection you should let me go a little ahead and try calling it." I spoke reluctantly, expecting him to be unwilling to give up any control and to protest this idea.
"That makes sense." he said coolly, putting the will-o-the-wisp back into its case and snapping it shut. "Shall we go?"
I nodded, picking up the nearest broomstick, only then noticing the logo on the handle. "Hey --- this is a Nimbus 2001."
"Donated by a generous parent." Severus smirked. "We'll see how McGonagall's wonder boy does with his inferior ---"
"Oh not the Nimbus 2000 story again." I groaned.
"Let's go through the back." said Severus, ignoring me. "I still prefer that you not be seen."
I followed him out of his office, across the corridor, and up the steep, tightly winding staircase that led to the ground floor. We came out near the viaduct entrance where we both froze at the sight of sudden movement, which proved to be the Bloody Baron gliding by. Severus nodded to him and we crossed the foyer to the double doors that led outside. "He's patrolling." my brother quietly explained. "Not one Slytherin student will be harmed while I am head of house."
We exited the castle and came out near the viaduct. "It's freezing." I gasped as icy wind whipped at my hair.
"There is an entrance to the sewers near the lake. We'll go through that one because it's closest to the kitchens." answered Severus, mounting his broom and disappearing over the side of the viaduct.
I quickly followed suit, following him into a dive between two towers. We continued to plunge lower, down into a little valley between two sections of castle built on rocky hills. We were facing a headwind coming off the lake which was being funneled in through the valley. Wind whistled in my ears and stung my skin as I followed Severus who glided silent and batlike just ahead.
We flew under the suspension bridge at the far end and emerged into the open, the lake suddenly below us, looking like a smooth sheet of black glass. Severus banked sharply and headed north, all but blending into the dark surroundings. Suddenly he wheeled toward shore, confidently aiming for what looked to me to be solid stone wall.
At last he came to a stop, and I pulled up beside him, looking in the direction that he was gazing. In the shadow of the wall I could make out a darker spot, shaped like a half circle at the bottom of the wall where stone met water. There was a sound of gentle running water as it flowed from the sewer into the lake.
"The canal?" I said.
"It looks small."
"That's just the opening." he promised. "The corridor inside should be larger. Hogwarts is a fortress you realize. The older entrances were built narrowly to prevent hordes of invaders swarming in all at once. That applies to the sewer entrances as well."
"I'll go make sure it's okay." I said, lighting my wand tip and approaching the entrance. "Is anyone there?" I asked in Parseltongue. There was no answer. I had to flatten myself to the broom handle to get through the low opening but once inside there was plenty of room, just as Severus had said. It was like a long corridor with a slow moving canal for a floor. Although I saw signs of rats and bats living there, there was no horrible smell. It must be one of the cleanest sewers in the world.
The corridor was filled with bright white light as the will-o-the-wisp zoomed through the archway and came to hover just beside me. Severus quickly followed.
"You're right. The water looks clean enough to drink." I told him.
"It has to be in order for the merfolk to be able to live in the lake. It's the water in the smallest pipes that we need to beware of. Fortunately, I don't think we'll have to come into close proximity with many of them, just in the wall behind the kitchen."
"So there is plenty of clean water to sustain an animal the size of a basilisk right here under the castle. It wouldn't even need to go out to get it. It must still have to go into the forest to hunt though. Which way from here?"
"This way." said Severus, giving his wand a flick to guide the will-o-the-wisp which glided ahead of us down the corridor. "Avada Kedavra." he casually added, and a rat that had been climbing up the wall fell into the water with a loud plunk.
"Well that was just mean."
"We haven't practiced for sometime. You do the next one -- there to your right."
I had the notion in the back of my mind that this was not what Dumbledore had had in mind when he'd unleashed us down here. Without much conviction I pointed my wand at the retreating rat and said the incantation. As always, nothing happened.
"Your heart isn't in it." Severus criticized as we slowly rode on.
"Well no -- I didn't really have a grudge against him."
"Please tell me you haven't forgotten cruciatus and imperius."
"Of course not. Crucio!" I said, hitting a rat that was running along a low ledge beside the water. It gave a squeak of pain and I hastily lifted the curse, not really wanting to hurt it.
"Imperio." said Severus, attacking a bat that had come zooming from the depths of the far end of the corridor. It immediately changed course and dove into the water.
"Severus -- knock it off. Don't kill the bats. They're beneficial."
Before he could answer, the will-o-the-wisp came to a halt as it reached a juncture.
"Which way from here?" I asked.
"Let me go ahead." I said, zooming forward. "Is anyone there?" I called in parseltongue. Again there was no reply. "Looks like it's okay."
Severus flicked his wand again and the will-o-the-wisp turned left and began drifting down the new corridor which was identical to the last. I spotted another rat on an upper ledge on my side of the corridor. As inauspiciously as I could, I pointed my wand at it and thought, "Imperio! Jump on my brother's head."
The rat made a fantastic flying leap, arching over my head in a jump it probably would not have been capable of without the aid of the curse. It collided with an invisible shield charm that Severus had clearly cast nonverbally, slid down what appeared to be thin air, and landed in the canal with a splash.
Severus was smirking and I couldn't help but laugh. "How did you know?" I asked.
"All these years of teaching have made me more alert and suspicious than being a Death Eater ever did. You were impressive though, being able to cast that particular spell non-verbally, including the command."
"I hope I don't end up as bitter over my teaching career as you are over yours when I've been at it as long as you. I've been choosing text books for my students and soon I'm going to begin working out lesson plans."
"I wouldn't put in too much effort if I were you." said Severus wryly. "They'll draw on the books and whine that your classes are boring no matter what you do. At least you don't have to deal with first and second years. They're so hopelessly simple minded at that age. I had one just this morning who turned what started out as a liquid potion into a cauldron full of something that resembled cotton."
"They're not stupid." I said disapprovingly. "They're just inexperienced and uneducated."
"And deaf judging by their ability to follow instructions. I never told you about the theft either, did I?"
"No. What theft?"
This was Severus's cue to go off on an entirely new Harry Potter rant. Some potions ingredients had gone missing from his private stores a couple of months back and he suspected the kid was the culprit. Poor kid.
"All of that goes into polyjuice potion." I said thoughtfully. "What would a second year want with that? How would he get the formula? Even if he did, no way could a second year pull it off unless they were a complete genius or something."
"Which I assure you, Potter is not. With any luck he'll poison himself."
"You don't really mean that." I said, rolling my eyes in Mary Ann's signature gesture. "Is anyone here?" I called in Parseltongue as we approached another juncture.
"I am." came a soft reply. The voice sounded sleepy.
"Where are you?" I asked.
A small serpentine head appeared over the edge of the ledge above. I hovered level with it and it surveyed me in curiosity as it came more fully awake. "A person? But you usually aren't intelligent. You usually just make grunting noises."
"I'm bilingual." I answered, fighting an urge to laugh. Its tongue was flicking toward me, trying to get a better grip on my scent. I obligingly held my fingers closer to him. "Would you mind if I asked you some questions?"
"Maybe." he answered warily, his tongue tickling my fingers.
"Have you seen a gigantic snake down here? One big enough to fill this whole corridor?"
"No. But I just came in for the winter and I spend most of my time sleeping. You woke me up. It's cold."
"I'm sorry to bother you. Thanks anyway."
I returned to Severus's side and explained the conversation. He was looking at me in fascination mingled with admiration. "Which way now?" I asked.
"Right." he answered, flicking his wand in that direction so that our light source bobbed on ahead. "At any rate, I was thinking of going to Howard's to replace some of the potion ingredients that were stolen." he continued as though there had been no interruption.
"Don't the herbology students grow most of what you need through their coursework?"
"Much of it, though some things are more rare. I don't usually buy from Howards but I thought it would make a good excuse if you'd like to go with me."
"I don't think I'm ready to do that y--- OW!" I shouted as a rat hurled itself out of nowhere and landed on my shoulder. Immediately it became entangled in my hair and I was busy for a few anxious moments getting it free. "One day I'm going to get you for that." I told Severus who was laughing as I've rarely ever seen him laugh before.
"You should not start games that you don't truly want to play." he answered, still looking amused and not at all concerned about my threat.
We reached a section of corridor where a shaft opened up from above giving access to a large pipe that was pouring water into the canal. The mouth of the pipe was wide enough that I could easily have stood up inside it. "That's a big pipe."
"It's one of those with the purification enchantment. We have to go up the shaft to reach the kitchens."
"You know I'll bet the basilisk could use those pipes to travel from floor to floor. If it is...maybe there is some place where one of these pipes opens into a secret passage or something. That could be how it's getting from the chamber and into the school itself."
"I haven't noticed anything like that on the map but as the Chamber of Secrets is a secret, that should hardly be surprising. I suppose it's possible."
Severus and I flew up the shaft and came out in a narrow passage with no canal, just the other end of the thick pipe which forked to the left, right, and straight up where it disappeared through another shaft. "Which way now?" I asked.
"Left. You'd better lead. I don't think we'll fit abreast of each other and you're the one with the diplomatic skills." He directed the will-o-the-wisp in the right direction and I followed with Severus behind me.
The passage was very narrow with the thick pipe taking up most of it. I had to keep my elbows tucked in to keep them from scraping on the walls. Gradually I noticed a difference in the temperature as the air seemed to be getting warmer.
"We must be coming on the kitchens." I said over my shoulder.
"Yes. Just ahead. I confess that I'm disappointed with how narrow this passage is."
"It could still be using the pipe. This may sound like a silly question but have there been any plumbing backups lately?"
"In a castle this size there are clogged drains and backed up toilets every day of the week. I already asked Filch about that and was treated to a run down of all of the plumbing incidents that have taken place over the last decade. The kitchens should be here." said Severus, halting and putting his hand to the lefthand wall. "The fireplaces are on the opposite side."
"Do you notice that there aren't any rats around here?" I asked, looking around for signs of them and seeing none. "There have been rats everywhere else we've been, but not here where it's warm. You'd think they'd be here, wouldn't you?"
"Suggesting that the basilisk keeps this area clear of them?"
"Some predator must be. I doubt that the castle cats are getting back in here to do it. It's kind of disappointing though. No solid proof of it's presence. I was hoping we'd find something here. Some tracker I am. I can't find something that doesn't leave traces."
"Next time we'll start at the entrance in the forest that the centaur told you about." said Severus reasonably. " The beast has shed it's skin there in the past. Perhaps you may find a clue there."
"Do you have any idea where that canal goes?"
"Some. I did study it in lieu of your information."
"Does it lead directly to any fireplaces?" I asked.
"Yes. Several dozen."
"Several dozen? And we don't know that it's spending time near any of them. Hogwarts is so huge --- it really could be almost anywhere. " I said, feeling overwhelmed as I thought about it. "All the dormitories, the classrooms, the teacher's offices and chambers.....how many fireplaces are in this place anyway?"
"Three hundred and six."
"How do you know that?"
"I've been studying." said Severus, with a casual shrug.
"This is impossible. We can't do this in the time limit that you've imposed. If you let me just keep ---"
"Absolutely not. It is against my wish that you are involved in this at all."
"But---" I began to protest.
"You must concentrate on your studies once school begins. Hogwarts will be in need of a new Care of Magical creatures teacher next fall. You can best serve the school by graduating from Merlin and arriving here fully qualified to teach. Even the headmaster agrees."
"I suspect that you bullied him into it."
"Don't be absurd. No one bullies the greatest wizard of this century into anything." said Severus with great contempt. "We reached a compromise."
"Well let's just keep going. Do as much as we can tonight."
"Wander at random though these passages with no plan at all and just hope that we stumble upon either the basilsik or the chamber?"
"Well then what do you want to do?" I snapped. "Just give up and go home?"
"I see no point in wandering aimlessly. It won't advance our cause. I'll study the maps, familiarize myself with the canal leading to the forest, and devise a new route to follow tomorrow."
"We'll never be able to cover it all in the amount of time I've been given. Severus -- Dumbledore sent for me because he felt I stood a better chance than anyone else. Me being here will do no good at all if all I can do is just take random stabs at it. I need more time."
"No." said Severus, looking less like my brother and more like the potions monster by the second.
"I'm going to talk to Dumbledore then. I'm not going to just go back to school and forget that students are being petrified and possibly eaten and that Hagrid might end up getting the blame."
"Oh...the oaf. That's what's at the bottom of this mania. I might have guessed."
I was so angry I could almost have exploded. A very dirty name was right at the tip of my tongue -- one that Mary Ann's mother had called me just the other day. Perhaps he sensed that he'd gone too far because he said in a tone free of sarcasm, "Speak to the headmaster then if you feel so inclined. For right now, let's not argue."
"Fine." I agreed.
He flicked his wand back in the direction from which we'd come and the will-o-the-wisp began guiding us back to the exit.
Author's Note : Reviews are always appreciated -- and those people who sent chocolate last week are very much on my good list.
Next Chapter : A chapter of odds and ends in which the basilisk search continues, Fenrir stops by to visit Mary Ann, Basil and Augustus land Muggle jobs, and Kerri and Remus talk to Vashti about a possible family for Mary Ann to live with. Also, the calendar Tonks gave Kerri for Christmas resurfaces.
When I returned from my room, Mary Ann was still eating and Remus was sitting at my desk with a peculiar expression on his face. "Sexiest Sorcerers?" he asked, holding up the calendar Tonks had given me for Christmas.
Mouth fell open in horror and I could feel blood rushing to my face. "Tonks gave me that as a joke. I had it stuffed into a drawer -- where did you find it?"
"Right here in plain view."
"Mary Ann!" I shouted.
"I was looking up when the full moon was!'' she said quickly.
"Full moon is right." I muttered, looking at Mr. January. Taking it from Remus who was looking highly amused at my reaction, I shoved it underneath a pile of books. "I swear to God I'm going to throw it away. Or maybe send it to Charlie Weasley anonymously. He'll blame Fred and George."
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