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Enter the Dragon (Harry Potter/Shadowrun)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Dunkelzahn, Jul 10, 2018.

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  1. The Unicorn

    The Unicorn Versed in the lewd.

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    To clarify, my knee jerk reaction is to statements like "if people have a problem with how you write, they are free to leave".
     
  2. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    Yep, that was my understanding of your statement --- I was tacking on to the end of the conversation.

    To clarify, myself, I intended to point out that the original comment from Edmond G. Bertrand really wasn't a bad one in the first place, despite people --- including myself --- not agreeing with him. Thus, your knee-jerk reaction is a fair one, really.
     
    The Unicorn likes this.
  3. Edmond G. Bertrand

    Edmond G. Bertrand Making the rounds.

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    I didn't mean anything nasty or unkind by my comment on length. Please understand that. I TOTALLY love the story and what you've done with it.
    It's filled many, many happy hours of reading for me and I completely appreciate that! I just was pointing out that the segmentation of the
    chapters seemed arbitrary. I wasn't saying it was bad.... just *inconsistent*. I never, ever meant to be seen as being
    otherwise critical or anything else, for that matter!
     
  4. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    No worries, I got that right from the start. I was just trying to head off some of the less pleasant reactions which were arising in subsequent discussion.

    As I said earlier, if inconsistent scene length is the worst criticism you can level at my story, I'll take it as a compliment.

    Glad you've enjoyed it so far, and thanks for the commentary!
     
  5. Threadmarks: Section 3.9 - Remembered promises
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    3.9.0 Remembered promises

    Severus Snape sat quietly in his personal laboratory — for once devoid of active brewing stations — staring deep into the flickering liquid flames of a still-unopened bottle of Ogden’s firewhiskey resting on the lab bench in front of him. It was a hypnotically beautiful sight — so much so that the man was almost reluctant to crack open the bottle and disturb it.

    Tearing his eyes away from the flames, the sallow-faced man’s listless gaze wandered down to the empty glass in his hand as he sank into introspection once again.

    It was the day before Halloween — the day before the anniversary of his childhood friend’s death — and Severus Snape still struggled mightily with that fact, even after more than a decade. It was all the worse because he rightly blamed himself for the circumstances leading to her murder. It hadn’t been his intention — certainly not — nor did he cast the spell, but still…

    If only he had thought through the implications more carefully. If only he had found another way.

    If only.

    The fact remained that he hadn’t done any of those things, and the monster who had ensnared him through his youthful idiocy had murdered Lily all those years ago. That stark reality had him coming back time and again to the dubious comfort of the bottle.

    In the first few years, time had slowly managed to dull the pain somewhat; but then Avebury had happened, and Lily’s boy had been thrust into his life — green eyes, curiosity, good cheer, and a thousand different things painfully jogging the potions master’s memory at every turn.

    The wretched lizard just had to be too likeable for Snape to simply write him off as his father’s son — blasted beast!

    Snape sighed, setting his glass down on the benchtop — still empty… for now. It was the same every year, the memories of his friend were painful — full of bitter regret and self-loathing — but they were all he had left of her, and the man was loath to block them out with the oblivion of alcohol, even temporarily. Remembering was the only thing he could do for her now, but the comforting nepenthe offered by the bottle was always there in the background, promising a respite — if only for a time.

    It remained to be seen whether he would manage to resist the temptation this year.

    At least Halloween proper usually saw him too busy with school activities to dwell much on the past — small comfort though it was. Though some distractions were worse than the memories — the man gave a humorless chuckle, thinking back on the previous year’s troll incursion.

    Though, that did spark a half-forgotten memory…

    Perhaps there was something he could do for Lily, Snape thought as he stood up and made for the door, movements purposeful.

    He had a long-overdue reunion to arrange.

    3.9.1 A walk across campus

    It was an unusually sunny afternoon in late October, and the Hogwarts grounds were awash in sunlight. Tom walked through the pleasant scenery, eyes darting around to take in the scenery as if for the first time in decades.

    There! That was the bench he used to sit on and read back when he was a firstie — ooh, and that was the alcove where he practiced charms back in the day! Through the window there, you could see his favorite tree down by the lake from back when he was a student – it had grown so much!

    For Tom, the walk through the school was a trip down memory lane. It was so nice to be able to walk about once more — and to do so through his old alma mater?

    Priceless!

    Though, nostalgia aside, he was running on borrowed time — he had to get a move on. He increased his pace, heading purposefully through one of the doors back into the castle and towards one of the many flights of stairs. Tom needed to establish contact with an old friend, and then he had a certain commitment back at the dorms that could only be put off so long.

    As he turned to go up the next flight, he missed a step, catching a foot on the lip of one of the steps and falling heavily. As caught himself on his hands and got back up, he rubbed at the painful bruise forming on his delicate wrist as he tried again, more carefully this time.

    “Bloody legs!” he cursed under his breath in a pretty soprano. “Why are they so damned short? How am I supposed to get around on these bloody things?”

    Regardless, he only had so much time, so he made do, short legs or not. Now on the second floor, Tom cut through the crowded hallway, making for the the girls’ bathroom and entering unremarked-upon. He made for the sink and exchanged a friendly greeting with one of the Gryffindor sixth-year girls as she finished up at the sink and left without incident.

    Now he was alone, and it was time to get to work.

    A wand flicked towards the door, ensuring he wouldn’t be interrupted, and he turned towards the sink, eventually finding one tap ever so slightly different from the others.

    There was a low hiss, and the stonework around the sink let out a grinding noise as it opened up revealing a secret passage running down into the depths.

    Tom calmly entered. It was time to meet with that old friend.

    3.9.2 Solemn Visit

    Mr. Snape had approached him the previous evening with an offer to take Harry to visit his parents’ graves, just like they had talked about almost exactly a year before. It was an offer that Harry had quickly accepted — well-adjusted or not, Harry was still an orphan and, perhaps unsurprisingly, still quite eager for any connection he could manage to forge to his missing parents once someone had reminded him of the possibility.

    It was only after Snape had left that Harry realized he had no idea what one was supposed to do on such a visit. After all, it wasn’t like his parents would just say ‘Hello, son’ when he walked up and then things could proceed like visiting any other person for a chat.

    At least, he was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to work like that.

    So, with no idea what he was supposed to do, Harry had turned to his usual go-to for such situations…

    He had asked his damsels.

    In this instance, Suze had proven rather less than helpful as an advisor. Though intimately familiar with dealing with the grief of losing loved ones, centaurs in the Black Woods Clan burned their dead on the occasions that they were able to retrieve bodies at all — not often the case when the acromantula were on the loose in the forest — rather than burying them, and thus there were no graves to visit.

    Hermione, on the other hand, was a font of useful information, having gone with her parents on quite a few occasions to visit the graves of several family members, including one of her grandparents and several of her great uncles who had died young during the War.

    And so, armed with a wreath Suze had woven out of fresh evergreens from the forest just below the Lair — at Hermione’s suggestion — and sympathetic company in the form of his two damsels, an unusually subdued Harry walked up the path to meet with a stoic Severus Snape and a quiet Abigail waiting by the main gate of the school.

    “Are you ready, Mr. Potter?” the potions master asked without preamble.

    The young, currently human-shaped, dragon nodded affirmatively. “Yeah, and thanks for remembering about this, Mr. Snape.” At Snape’s nod, Harry turned to Abigail. “And thanks for coming, too, Abigail.” The older girl gave him a brief hug in lieu of a verbal response.

    With that, the group walked to the portkey transit point — a little off the beaten path around the school, it was in fact the same grassy area Harry remembered arriving at nearly four years previously. It was actually the first time the young dragon had been back there since; most of his portkey travel went to and from his Lair…

    Harry shook his head in an attempt to clear his thoughts. It was weird what went through his head when he was nervous about something — all sorts of unimportant trivia when he should be focusing on more important stuff…

    Important stuff like the fact that it was the eleventh anniversary of his parents’ death, and it was about time he went for a visit.

    Harry nodded to Mr. Snape, who said a word, and the quintet vanished from Scotland.

    3.9.3 Petrified cat

    From his thronelike perch at the staff table, Albus Dumbledore surveyed his domain, and he found it pleasing.

    The Halloween feast had been in full swing for some time now, and the dull roar of students enjoying the celebration was music to the old teacher’s ears. Joyful noise, happy conversations, and full stomachs stuffed with sweets — the students were a joy to observe this year, and judging by the smiles, his staff were of a like mind.

    No invading trolls, no injured students, no roar of gunfire, and no ankle-deep lakes of blood in the hallways this year!

    Admittedly, there were a few faces missing from the tableau, Albus thought with an audible sigh; though he supposed even those were more encouraging than not. He was about to reach for another lemon drop when his deputy chimed in with a question.

    “Trouble?” she asked quietly, a subtly-cast privacy charm reducing the noise of the room to the point that her low voice was easily audible.

    “No, why do you ask, Minerva?” Albus responded in a similar tone.

    “Such a sigh is not like you at this sort of celebration,” the stern Scotswoman explained.

    “Ah,” he had forgotten how good her hearing was — one of the minor traits that carried over from her animagus form. “No, I was simply reflecting on Severus’ absence — it would have been agreeable to see him enjoying one of these feasts for once. The young Mr. Potter and his friends as well, for that matter.”

    Minerva nodded in understanding, she had had to arrange for others of the staff to cover Severus’ duties after all. “It certainly would have been — though I would not discount the importance of his current errand either. It may be a more somber occasion than the current feast, but do recall that Severus hasn’t been able to bring himself to visit Lily’s grave even once before tonight. I take it as a good sign that he is finally grieving properly. Not to mention Mr. Potter finally gets to visit his parents’ gravesite.” Her face took on a distressed expression and her native brogue snuck into her diction, “Ah cannae believe ah forgot tae tell th' puir laddie where they were buried.”

    “Do not treat yourself too poorly, Minerva; you were certainly not the only friend of the Potters to forget that he would not know,” Albus commiserated. “I bear just as much fault — though I must admit it is heartening that Severus of all people was the one to remember and remedy the situation! Perhaps you are correct in your assessment of his state of mind.”

    Minerva nodded and would have continued if not for the castle Caretaker bursting into the Great Hall shouting for the Headmaster to come quickly.

    “Argus, what seems to be the matter?” Albus asked as he drew close to the man.

    “It’s Mrs. Norris,” Argus explained in the angry-sounding voice that only those who knew him exceptionally well would realize meant he was close to tears. “On the second floor near bathroom seven… someone… she’s…” the curmudgeonly man’s explanation trailed off before he finished with genuine anger, “one of the little monsters has gone too far this time!”

    Knowing that he would not be getting a coherent explanation out of the distraught man any time soon, Albus set off for the location he had described, a number of the staff and more curious students trailing along behind. When he arrived, it was to a discouraging scene.

    The hallway was flooded with a shallow puddle of water flowing out of the bathroom just down the hall — thankfully from a sink, judging by the lack of an unpleasant odor — and Argus’ pet cat Mrs. Norris was hanging by her tail from one of the candle sconces lighting the hallway. That was not to say she had been tied there by her tail, rather she had been frozen stiff, and the natural curve of her tail had been hooked over the ironwork wall sconce.

    The animal had been petrified, and that was a troubling circumstance. Particularly when the elderly wizard’s wand flashed into a standard dispel which failed to restore her to mobility. That meant it was beyond the similar charms taught to students.

    Of course, perhaps even more troubling was the message written in blood on the wall next to her — a message that hearkened back a long time indeed.

    “The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir, beware,” Minerva read, her low voice clearly audible in the quiet hallway. “Albus, if this was a prank it was done in exceedingly poor taste.”

    “Indeed, Minerva,” Albus agreed thoughtfully.

    “She’d dead!” Argus interjected angrily. “One of the little blighters killed my cat! I’ll have blood for this!”

    “She’s not dead, Argus, simply petrified,” Albus explained gently as the distraught Caretaker’s eyes lit with hope. “The restorative draught is simple enough to brew, though it requires fresh mandrake root.”

    “My second-year classes are growing a crop right now,” Pomona Sprout volunteered from her place at the back of the group of staff. “They’ll not be ready to harvest for another few months, however. I’m terribly sorry, Argus.”

    “Don’t you have any in storage?” the Caretaker asked, sounding a little desperate. “I… I‘ve got some money saved, if it’ll help.”

    “I’m terribly sorry, Argus,” the herbology professor apologized sadly. “Mandrake doesn’t keep more than a few days after the harvest, and the adult plants are far too dangerous to keep around in their live state. I’m afraid we’ll just have to wait.”

    “What about buying some from elsewhere?” the Caretaker turned to the Headmaster, grasping at any possibility. “Couldn’t we get one from the apothecary or something? Maybe even an already prepared potion?”

    “I am afraid not, Argus,” Albus said gently but firmly. “Ever since the counter-charms for petrification were developed, the demand readily-available mandrake fell through the floor, thus no one bothers to grow it regularly — aside from producing seed stock or as training specimens for learning to deal with hazardous plants. It is — much as I hate to use the term in the present circumstances — a fortunate chance that we have some growing already, shaving nearly two months off our expected wait.”

    The elderly wizard slipped into the pedantic manner he had long ago grown accustomed to during his tenure as a professor, “While the restorative draught is almost universally efficacious in reversing stasis magics — of which petrification is one of the most common — the appropriate counter-charm is also effective in the vast majority of cases.”

    “As for purchasing a prepared potion,” the Headmaster continued, “mandrake’s effectiveness in potions is dependent on the living magic of the plant — it must be ingested while the mandrake within the potion is still alive — thus the shelf-life of mandrake-based potions tends to be measured in hours. Since the development of those charms I mentioned, mandrake is almost always used in planned circumstances — such as countering the potent stasis charms used to stabilize critically injured patients — so it is not normally an issue, but it is rather inconvenient in our current situation.”

    Dumbledore sent a sympathetic look at his subordinate. “We can, of course, ask around to see if anyone has a batch further along than our own, but the likelihood is extremely small. I would be remiss to mislead you with false hope, Argus.”

    Filch slumped in disappointment. His obvious dismay prompted Sprout to speak up again, her voice artificially bright in an attempt to raise her colleague’s spirits, “At least since she’s been petrified, your cat will be perfectly safe, Argus. She’s in stasis now, so you needn’t worry about her in the meantime.”

    At that point, the flamboyant Defense professor surged to the forefront — seemingly unable to resist interjecting himself into the situation — sky-blue silk fluttering and obnoxious cologne wafting through the hallway. As soon as he was certain he had caught the eyes of everyone in the hallway, he spoke. “I’m terribly sorry I wasn’t there, my good man; I know just the countercurse that could have spared her.”

    “Be that as it may,” the Headmaster interrupted, “you were not there, and we have other things to discuss. Minerva, see to it that the children are dismissed back to their dormitories for the evening. Argus, if I could prevail upon you to intercept Severus at the gate when he returns from his current outing, please inform him that we will be holding the weekly staff meeting tonight in the west conference room to discuss recent events.”

    As the Caretaker nodded, the elderly wizard turned to his other staff. “Complete your duties for the evening and make time to attend the staff meeting, please. We have much to discuss.”

    With that, he swept out of the hallway, colorful robes swirling in his wake and mind dredging up memories of half a century previous. After all, this was not the first time such a message had been sent, and the last time had culminated in the false accusation of a good man and the addition of a new ghost to the castle.

    It would not be repeated on Dumbledore’s watch — absolutely not.

    As he walked, Albus shook his head ruefully, long white beard swaying with the motion — he had so been looking forward to a normal Halloween, too.

    3.9.4 Catharsis

    Grave markers carved of the native gray stone crowded the lush green grass of the Godric’s Hollow churchyard. The tiny parish was an ancient one, nearly two hundred years old when the village saw the birth of the one who would eventually lend it his name, Godric Gryffindor — a man who went on to help found Hogwarts. While the church looked to have been well-maintained through the dozen or so centuries of its existence, many of the grave markers plainly showed their age.

    One of the less-weathered headstones currently played host to a young boy who, after an initial awkward attempt at solemnity, now chatted animatedly to the silent headstone under the close watch of two slightly older girls and a centaur in her late teens. Standing farther back, a dark man stood his own vigil over the group.

    Severus Snape watched silently under a gray and cloudy afternoon sky as Lily’s boy reunited with his mother — at least as much as he would ever be able to in this world. It was a bittersweet scene, seeing the sad-eyed but cheerful-sounding boy who was making the best he could of a visit with his mother, but nothing would change the fact that the woman in question was dead.

    Bittersweet or not, it left the dour potions master feeling better than he had in more than a decade.

    Finally, he had managed to do at least some small thing to begin making up for his horrendous judgement, something to at least partially apologize to Lily — a pittance to start paying down the tremendous debt he had incurred at his childhood friend’s expense. Severus still dared not approach Lily’s grave himself, he had done too much — too many terrible things — to be worthy of that honor, but seeing the boy do so…

    It eased a weight on his soul the man had never thought would lift, even if only slightly.

    And so, as the gray afternoon dimmed towards twilight and the cold bite of the evening wind began to nip at him despite his robes, Severus Snape remained silent, giving Lily’s boy as much time as he needed before heading back to Scotland.

    Even if only for the briefest of moments, his troubled soul was content.

    3.9.5 Distress

    Of course, that content could not last. It would have been too much to ask for.

    “Severus!” the much put-upon voice of Argus Filch, the school Caretaker, rang out across the darkened courtyard just behind the main gate of the school.

    It was enough not only to catch the attention of the returning potions master, but also to catch the interest of the returning dragon, who paused in making his way off campus long enough to listen in on what was going on.

    “What is it, Argus?” Snape asked his colleague.

    The gray-haired squib took a deep breath. “The Headmaster wanted me to tell you that he’s moved the staff meeting to the west conference room after what happened tonight.”

    “’After what happened’? What exactly has occurred, Argus?” the potions master asked.

    “Someone got my cat!” the unkempt man wailed. “Petrified ‘er, they did.”

    “I presume with something more severe than the usual petrification jinx,” Severus surmised, “else it would have been the work of but a moment to remedy the situation. Do we have a suspect?”

    “Dumbledore said it’d take a restorative draught,” Filch relayed. “And no one’s got any idea what horrible monster attacked my poor cat! If I knew, I’d get ‘em myself!”

    “I see,” the sallow-faced man acknowledged. “Thank you for the information, Argus.”

    And with that, Severus Snape swept off in a billowing cloud of dark robes.

    “Um, Mr. Filch,” a childish voice piped up.

    The Caretaker whirled to the voice only to find the resident dragon, currently in human form, looking up at him in concern.

    “What do you want, Mr. Potter?” Filch asked gruffly, holding back on his choicer vocabulary — this Potter, after all, rarely made extra work for him, unlike his father.

    “Um, I heard you talking about Mrs. Norris,” Harry began, “and I thought I’d offer to sniff around where it happened — you know, see if I can figure out anything for you.”

    “That’s…” Argus teared up a little, that simple offer was the nicest thing any student had done for him in years. “If you’d be so kind, Mr. Potter.”

    Harry’s answering smile was like the sun coming up, and the pair made their way to the hallway in question, Harry’s damsels trailing along in his wake.

    “Achoo!” Harry’s flaming sneeze dried off a small patch of the still-damp stone of the second-floor hallway in a puff of steam.

    “What? What is it?” the Caretaker asked frantically. “Did you find something?”

    “Sorry,” Harry apologized, rubbing at his nose and breathing shallowly, before asking, “Um, was Professor Lockhart up here some time after Mrs. Norris got petrified?”

    “Aye, he was,” Filch replied. “Walked all over looking at everything. ‘E said he knew the right countercurse, but I’m not so sure.”

    “I thought so,” the young dragon said apologetically, “I’m sorry, but I can’t smell anything here other than that nasty-smelling perfume stuff he wears all the time. It’s why I sneezed.”

    “Nothing?” the Caretaker confirmed disappointedly.

    “Nothing I can smell, anyway,” Harry said sadly. “Sorry, Mr. Filch.”

    “Don’t worry about it,” the bitter man allowed. “At least you tried, better than most of the little monsters at this school. Most of ‘em would’a cheered.”

    And with that, Harry bid the man good night.

    3.9.6 Plans of action?

    Severus Snape arrived at the west conference room just as most of his colleagues were leaving.

    “I see that I have missed our planning session, then,” the sallow-faced man ventured.

    “Indeed,” the Headmaster confirmed. “Though there was precious little information to share in any case. What do you know of the situation?”

    “Only that Argus’ cat was petrified at some point using a method potent enough to require a restorative draught to counter,” Severus informed him. “Argus was not forthcoming with more detail.”

    “Ah, yes, he rarely is,” the elderly wizard allowed, “and even less so when distraught. Argus discovered the scene of the incident and informed me during the feast. Mrs. Norris was discovered, petrified and hung by her tail from a wall sconce on the second floor, at the corridor junction just outside the girls’ bathroom. The corridor was flooded by overflowing one of the sinks, and a message was written on the wall in blood…”

    “What kind of blood?” the potions master cut in.

    Albus sighed, “We are uncertain at this point. Madame Pomphrey was able to confirm that it was not human, but spellwork was done to paint the message, and any magical traces are rather muddled.” At the potions master’s raised eyebrow, the elderly wizard nodded. “I will, of course, have a sample delivered to you for an assay.”

    “Was there anything of note written in the message?” Snape asked.

    “It hearkens back to a similar set of messages written some fifty years ago, during my predecessor’s stint as Headmaster, referencing the Chamber of Secrets and an heir,” the Headmaster sighed. “It seems I will have to badger Nicholas into returning my pensieve in the near future so that you might review the scene. I am afraid Gilderoy managed to spoil most of the potential evidence in his attempts at grandstanding — behavior for which I have since reprimanded him — then the student body traipsed through the rest.”

    “I see,” Snape said tightly, lips thinned in irritation. “So, there is little hope of hunting down the culprit proactively?”

    “Almost none, sadly,” Albus said tiredly. “The order of the day is vigilance. The petrification was an advanced variant, so we are likely looking for student in their final year, or more likely an adult infiltrator.”

    The potions master nodded his agreement to the orders. “What about creatures or artifacts?”

    “Creatures are a possibility,” Albus allowed, “and a terrifying one at that, as nearly every creature known to be capable of petrification is absurdly deadly. Thankfully, they also tend to be rather difficult to move in secret, thus I am hopeful that we are not dealing with a cockatrice or — Merlin forbid — a basilisk.”

    “And an artifact?” Snape prompted.

    “If it is an artifact, then we have little to fear,” Albus stated matter-of-factly. “Anything small enough to move would have been single-use only if loaded with such a powerful curse, and I have since brought the detection wards up to wartime footing. The perpetrator will not smuggle in a replacement while they are in engaged.”

    “And how long until they will no longer be engaged?” the potions master asked pointedly.

    The elderly wizard sighed tiredly, chin falling to his chest. “I should be able to handle the strain through the end of the winter break, though I will have to drop them before the students return. The mental strain of processing so many new arrivals so quickly might well render me catatonic. We can only hope that the perpetrator will reveal his or her hand before then.”

    Snape nodded, he had thought that would be the case. Most scanning wards co-opted the mind of the their supervisor to perform such tasks, and that took its own toll — a rather hefty one at that. They were wartime wards for a reason, extraordinary times called for extraordinary measures. Though, come to think of extraordinary times, there was another possibility to bring up.

    “Concealment magics?” he asked, thinking of a similarly extraordinary time involving trolls during the previous year.

    “Such do not work well with projective magics like petrification curses,” the Headmaster reassured him. “The spell topologies interfere with each other, again necessitating a much larger container so that they might be kept separate. For concealment effective enough to evade the wartime detection wards and contain a petrification enchantment, we would be looking for an artifact about the size of one of the student beds — canopy included. I have already tasked the elves to be on the lookout for such things.”

    “Very well, Headmaster,” Snape replied. “If that is all, I believe I will seek my own rest.”

    “Severus?” When the man paused, Albus asked, “How was your visit to Godric’s Hollow?”

    The dark man fell silent for a moment. “It was… a relief.”

    “Ah,” Albus smiled genuinely for the first time since Argus had burst into the hall that evening. “Sleep well then, my friend.”

    3.9.7 Refrigerator raider

    Harry had been disappointed that hadn’t been able to help Mr. Filch find out who had petrified his cat, but the disappointment hadn’t lasted for long, soon replaced by another, more immediate, concern.

    On the morning after Halloween, Harry awoke bright and early to make his rounds of his various haunts in the forest — as he was periodically wont to do — and upon entering a particular portion of the forest, he came across a horrifying sight!

    “What happened to my spiders?” Harry demanded plaintively of the world at large.

    His acromantula ranch was running perilously low on stock — fewer than half a dozen of the remaining giant spiders were big enough to be worth eating, and there had been nearly three times that number just the previous week! Worse yet, dozens of the little ones were scattered about, stone-dead yet uneaten. It’d take months to replace them all, and who knew whether whatever killed them would happen again?

    The spiders were sure to be less than forthcoming if he asked — even though some of the largest ones could speak, they were thoroughly reluctant to speak with him when he had tried in the past. The young dragon supposed it was understandable given their respective roles in the situation — dinner and diner having some irreconciliable differences, and all — though that made the situation no less irritating. But what else could he do?

    Who else might know what had happened, if not the spiders themselves? Harry pondered the question for a few minutes while looking out over the clearing dotted with dozens of dog-sized dead spiders.

    Maybe he could ask the centaurs? They might know.

    3.9.8 Professional assessment

    To Bane’s experienced eye, it was obvious that something momentous had occurred.

    As the Great Wyrm had reported when coming to ask his aid, a number of adult spiders were missing and many of their young were scattered about the area, stone dead — a sight which inspired within the veteran centaur warrior no small amount of vindictive glee — but that was hardly the only evidence apparent to his experienced eye. Seemingly random trees were rubbed clean of bark on one side or another, strange arcing trenches were dug into the ground — always in conjunction with an adjacent ridge on the convex side of the curve — and much of the undergrowth was crushed and shredded.

    The stripped trees and the disturbed earth almost reminded Bane of the traces of a snake, but the sheer scale of them caused the experienced hunter to immediately dismiss the similarity as coincidental. A snake large enough to leave those traces would be larger than the Great Wyrm!

    Ludicrous!

    While the cause remained a mystery, there was one particular feature of the scene that nagged at the centaur — despite the damage to the clearing, there were no obvious signs of struggle from the spiders. There was no webbing strewn about, no stripped leaves in the higher branches from attempts to flee, not even any scrabbling in the dirt. The tracks around the smaller spiders indicated normal movement for the eight-legged monsters, right up to a certain point, then there was simply an unbroken line from the imprint of their last step dragged through the dirt to where the legs lay in death — obviously traced by the limb as the spider’s muscles contracted post-mortem.

    The chitinous horrors seemed to have simply dropped dead in their track — literally in their tracks — no struggle, no panicked attempt to flee, nothing, simply instant death between one step and the next.

    This left Bane rather understandably concerned.

    “I see,” the centaur mumbled.

    “Do you know what happened?” the Great Wyrm asked eagerly in his still young voice.

    “I cannot fathom the cause of it, Great One,” Bane explained, “the traces are unlike any I have encountered previously. However, the methods used to kill the spiders give me pause.”

    “What about them?” the dragon asked curiously.

    “Neither struggle nor flight are indicated by the placement of the corpses, Great One,” the centaur explained, pointing to the remaining spiders. “Every trace indicates that nearly fifty acromantula dropped dead instantly — too fast for them to even register the threat — and the remaining dead show no injury. The only method I know to kill in this manner is the wanded Killing Curse, but for so many to be cast nearly instantaneously, with such unerring accuracy — the idea strains credulity.”

    The Great Wyrm considered that for a moment before slowly nodding in acceptance. “I suppose we’ll have to keep an eye on things to see what’s going on, then. Do you think you can help?”

    “Great One, we will of course assist in this endeavor should you ask it of us — we owe you much, after all — but I ask you to recall the difference in our durability,” Bane said carefully, wincing internally at the idea of ordering any of his scouts to track a foe capable of accomplishing what he had seen with the acromantula. “We cannot prepare for that which we do not understand, and whatever killed so many of the spider plague is just such a thing. My scouts are unlikely to survive such an encounter and report what they learn.”

    “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that!” Harry exclaimed, sounding horrified at his oversight. “Sorry. Um… I guess I’ll have to check it out myself, then. I guess I can just go wait out there for something to show up, but I only have time on the weekends ‘cause of classes…”

    He squinted speculatively up at the thick forest canopy, rustling in the ever-present wind. “I’ll probably have to stay on the ground to make sure I can see whatever it is.” The young dragon looked around the area. “Maybe that one spot up on the east ridge? That’s got a good view.”

    “If I might make a suggestion, Great One?” Bane offered carefully, barely suppressing a cringe at the naivete on display in the Great Wyrm’s knowledge of hunting tactics. Though, to be fair, the centaur supposed, the Great Wyrm normally hunted from the air, perhaps different considerations came into play. “While the east ridge provides excellent visibility, it also leaves you very visible as well. You may wish to conceal your presence in order to avoid scaring off the culprit.”

    “That makes sense,” the dragon said brightly, though his face fell as he looked for another spot with good visibility that could provide him proper cover and found none. “Maybe I could wait around as a pigeon or something?”

    “Perhaps that might not be the best idea,” he said, carefully considering the situation. “You are concerned about the survival of your livestock, correct?” At the young dragon’s nod, the centaur warrior continued, “The young spiders are quite stupid, and I fear they would attack you continually were you to wear such an unobtrusive form. You would either need to kill them — defeating your own purpose — or you would need to fend them off constantly, drawing attention to your position.”

    The dragon nodded in understanding before his face fell. “And any other form I might take would either be too intimidating, just like my real one, or would have the same problem with the spiders… darn. I don’t think I’d be able to manage a disillusion spell any time soon, though. I mean learning that messenger spell took weeks…”

    Bane considered that for a moment. “Perhaps my clan can assist you in that,” the centaur warrior proposed tentatively, “though it would require a great deal more rope than we currently have ready. Hmm…”

    “What are you thinking of, Mr. Bane?” the Great Wyrm asked. “I mean, I can get a lot of rope if we need it, but it won’t be as strong as the acromantula silk stuff…”

    “It need not be so strong for the purpose I have in mind, Great One,” Bane assured him.

    “What are you thinking of then, Mr. Bane?” the Great Wyrm asked.

    And the experienced hunter explained.

    3.9.9 Ambush predator?

    Bane’s explanation had made a great deal of sense to the young dragon. Harry was very large and intimidating-looking — as was right and proper for a dragon — and having something like that hang out in an area was a good way to discourage any intruder from showing itself. The centaur had explained that Harry’s search would be fruitless if he advertised his presence to the world at large, and magic was off the table simply because Harry would not be able to practice enough with the spells to perform them in a reasonable period of time. Instead, the centaur had suggested that Harry hide himself through a more mundane method.

    Camouflage.

    It was a something the Black Woods Clan had used from time to time to great effect, particularly during the heights of the spider plague when the woods were at their most deadly and the prey were accordingly cautious. Tying a screen of fresh branches to the hunter provided a mobile screen against prying eyes — a screen that, unlike dyed fabrics, worked even in the face of creatures like the acromantula that viewed the world differently than most. There was no way for the spiders to tell the difference between the screen and normal foliage simply because it was normal foliage.

    Perhaps more importantly for the current situation, it was also a scaleable solution. Bane saw no reason that such a method wouldn’t work just as well for Harry as it did for a centaur — provided, of course, that they could get enough rope, which was a significant proviso to be sure.

    But once again, as it had so many times during the young dragon’s childhood, the industrial revolution came to the rescue.

    Unlike his CNC machine, the rope order had not taken long to arrive, purchased by a Gringotts-employed agent that very evening and then added to the daily train shipment to Hogsmeade the next morning. What would have represented, quite easily, years of continuous work for the centaur clan was available as ready stock from a supplier in London.

    So it was that, as the sun rose above the horizon on the next Saturday morning, the young dragon made his way down to the centaur encampment with Suze in tow and stood impatiently as his allies decked him out with a shaggy covering of various cuttings from the local underbrush. Once Bane pronounced him properly attired, Harry made his way to a carefully-chosen vantage point overlooking the spider preserve — moving carefully so as to avoid snagging his new suit on the surrounding foliage.

    Once the ambulatory hedgerow settled into place, the hunt was on; though it soon proved to be a situation to which the young dragon’s temperament was decidedly ill-suited. While the notion of quietly lying in wait to ambush his prey felt indescribably right in a deeply atavistic manner — possibly due to his new species’ long-ago origins as a sapient offshoot of their crocodilian ancestors — Harry was never a child prone to sitting patiently for long periods of time with nothing to do.

    It promised to be a long, long weekend.
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2018
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  6. RageKnight

    RageKnight My heresy senses are tingling

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    Harry, you must do as the Stone Dragons do. Become stone and scare the mother fucker who been eating your food to death. Then eat the body.
     
  7. Vallan.Mandrake

    Vallan.Mandrake Getting sticky.

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    And then harry just eats the basilisk. Stuff happens, everybody is paranoid (inkl. Tom). And sometime later, during a meal, Harry says: "tasts like that big snake I ate" ... and somebody connects the dots...
     
  8. Bashful_Walrus

    Bashful_Walrus Not too sore, are you?

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    Yes big dragon eat the bad bad snek
     
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  9. hyperspacewizard

    hyperspacewizard I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    I do kind wonder what future shadowrun people are going to think of harry.

    Like ke will he be known as the nicest dragon to ever eat you etc.. I could see him spending a lot of money on life extension tech for his damsels and friends
     
  10. CatOnFire

    CatOnFire Magically Malicious

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    Does harry still speak snake? If he does I can see the Basilisk ignoring Tom to follow the 'Scary Dragon Speaker' instead.
     
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  11. Aaron Fox

    Aaron Fox I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    I always thought that the Basilisk that was in Hogwarts was a sort of final line of defense of the school, when the wards and battlements breached and the enemy coming through the gates in droves... given the era, that sort of paranoia wouldn't be surprising for the Founders.
     
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  12. Vallan.Mandrake

    Vallan.Mandrake Getting sticky.

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    In some dark and empty tunnel, a girl speaks with a suprisingly male voice. "See that black haired boy? Lure him down to the chamber. Don't be seen clearly by him, and don't be seen by anybody else."

    Some hisses answer, but those who SPEAK can understand anyway: "Why master? That task is -very- difficult and risky."

    "He is my enemy - at least I heard so. I will dispose of him in a sufficiently poetic way."

    Spike the Basilisk felt troubled. He was always proud of his loyalty - even if he (and his Masters) always knew that it would break sometime in his very long, hopefully immortal life. His life was more important than loyalty. But he always thought it would be a difficult, sad and ambivalent decision.
    He turned around, petrified the foolish girl, and bit the strange book he felt his, now former, masters magic came from. It was the easiest choice he ever made. It felt wrong, but logic over feelings and such. Still, he was troubled.
     
  13. RedX

    RedX Know what you're doing yet?

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    Heh. Looking forward to epic Dragon vs. Basilisk kaiju fight.
     
  14. The Unicorn

    The Unicorn Versed in the lewd.

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    Very nice scene and I liked the implied explanation for Snape's canon behavior


    LOL!
    Hmm...so the useless ghost isn't around?

    Okay, this is starting to get annoying. While Abigail occasionally having stuff to do that means she can't be with Harry when something significant is happening, it seems to be happening (or being described) too much. Especially with planned outings like this.




    Nice scene, but while this explanation works for a cat, but I hope you either have a better explanation for people being left petrified, or have them not left petrified. Because Hogwarts isn't the only place in the world that makes potions. For a cat it's just barely plausabile that no one who can afford to will spend the money to get either prepared restoration potions, or fresh mandrake root from someone who had them ready, for a person it wouldn't be.
    (Yes I realize I'm objecting in advance to a scene you haven't written yet, sorry about that, but I needed to say it).

    Nice scene and a good way of preventing that quick shortcut, but I hope you have harry start noticing an odd smell around the castle as the Baslisk goes around.
    Nice description of the magic, but two obvious possibilities they seem to have overlooked:
    1)It's a rechargeable device. So single use in a way but will slowly recharge over time.
    2)The culprit already brought a dozen such devices into the Wards.

    LOL!

    This makes sense, and is well written.

    So is this.

    This however, does not make sense, not on it's own.

    Harry has been hunting, he should at this point be far from inexperienced hunter, so while him acting like the excited little kid he is and not thinking things through is reasonable, his reaction wouldn't have been "that makes sense" it would be "Oh, right. forgot that" and the only reason he'd worry about disillusionment is if his normal hunting methods weren't useable in this case, (which is something that should be mentioned), and he can't simply transform into a pigeon and wait for the culprit (I can see Bane objecting to that plan on safety grounds, but it's something that should be brought up and squashed).

    For that matter, Harry didn't mention in which form he was going to wait in so for all Bane knew he was planning to lurk as a pigeon.

    Additionally, while relationships between the Centaur and the wizards aren't anything close to cordial, this is still the sort of thing I'd expect them to cooperate about, so you really should have some excuse for why this doesn't get reported to Dumbledore and Snape.


    Amusing imagery, I hope you can come up with a way to make it fit in the story, because right now it doesn't.

    He's a Dragon, he speaks everything.
     
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  15. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    Glad it was well-received.
    She's still around somewhere, Dumbledore references the new ghost from the last Chamber of Secrets episode in 3.9.3, but including her as a character is an unnecessary complication for an already complicated story. Imagine she was hiding in a broom closet down the hall instead of the bathroom and got killed there or something. All that matters for this story is that there was a casualty the last time around.
    This particular one is kind of arbitrary. Originally I was planning on having a more detailed graveyard visit with dialogue and everything and I didn't want to have another character to keep track of, so I came up with the excuse for removing her. Then I changed my mind on the graveyard scene and it became a non-issue.

    I'll just have her going along instead.

    I'll update the graveyard scene to include her as well.
    I suppose you have a point. I hadn't put a lot of thought into it for various reasons, simply sticking with the canon portrayal...
    The cure actually wouldn't have been relevant for any major characters, since the basilisk will only have one more victim, and Harry barely knows his name, so the time frame of his recovery is not really story-relevant.
    ...but nonetheless rejoice, you now have brand spanking new mandrake lore, made up on the spot just for completeness' sake.
    He won't, sorry. I'm afraid the basilisk will not be around for long enough to really stink up the castle. Right now, she's sleeping off her large meal, so she's not moving around to do so. She'll only be going on one more jaunt undetected before she runs into a bit of a problem.
    True, they did overlook those possibilities. I think I will call that oversight a deliberate imperfection to add humanity to the characters in question --- it's late and they're tired, so they missed a couple of things.

    I had no idea I was so thorough in my characterization, thanks for pointing it out. ;)

    But seriously, it's a good point, though I think the conversation will stand well enough as it is.
    Harry's hunting expertise, such as it is, is highly dependent on flight. He swoops in at high speed and either snatches the prey up while flying (more common now after Fawkes' continuing help) or lands and strikes while his target is still frozen in absolute terror at the sudden appearance of a dragon. He's never really done stalking from concealment --- something which Bane lampshades with his comment about 'different considerations' for hunting from the air.

    This is brand new territory for him.

    That said, you do have a point about the shapeshifting.
    As for reporting it, the centaurs already know Harry knows about it, so they figure he'll do so if it needs to be done. They're certainly not going to go out of their way when they have a ready-made excuse to ignore the situation.

    Harry, on the other hand, doesn't see it as a real threat. Sure it killed a bunch of spiders, but he sees that as the same threat level as a fox that found its way into the hen house --- irritating, but hardly something to bother your neighbors about, especially when they don't raise any chickens. He figures he'll find it soon enough, and then the situation will be settled --- no need to bother his friends about it.
    True. It's less that he still speaks snake, and more that he learned snake again the first time he encountered one after he turned into a dragon.
     
  16. The Unicorn

    The Unicorn Versed in the lewd.

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    Nice.

    Nice, and given your plans for the Baslisk I suppose it doesn't matter, but I'll note it doesn't actually change anything regarding my complaint. Weather it's "buy a potion from someone" or "buy a mandrake root from someone" the point remains - for a cat they might not bother (or discourage Filch from spending his life savings on it if it's that expensive), for a person they will.
    You're welcome, and very impressive the way you slipped such an oversight naturally into the scene :)

    Yes, but there wasn't any mention in the story of lurking on the ground looking for them. What made Bane think Harry wasn't just planning on flying around looking for the something holding up a big sign saying "evil spider stealing monster here" :) ?

    To an extent that makes sense, but doesn't fit well with Bane's seeming willingness to go looking for the monster if Harry insists. Something like:

    aka "why don't you get some wizards to go hunt this insanely dangerous monster and leave me out of it?"

    Or at some earlier point have Bane suggest someone in the castle may recognize what the creature is (which Harry would accept but then decide not to bother anyone with because of the events in the castle keeping all the teachers so busy.
     
  17. Vallan.Mandrake

    Vallan.Mandrake Getting sticky.

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    Well, Bane probably knows that this already happened some 50 years ago - these wizards would have to be extra stupid if they didn't know what it was...
     
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  18. ScarletFlames

    ScarletFlames Getting out there.

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    So... Average Tuesday?
     
  19. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    The point I was trying to make with that addition is that no one has such a thing available for purchase, it's not a question of price.

    Mandrake has effectively zero shelf life, and the restorative draught has even less. There is no way for anyone to keep a ready stock economically, and the issues that it treats (i.e. petrification and similar stasis issues) are by definition not urgent --- the patient will keep for the few months it takes to grow fresh mandrake --- so no one bothers to keep a rolling stock of constantly maturing lethally hazardous plants around to shave a few months off the treatment just in case.
    Bane's willingness to go through with it if Harry insists is an honor thing, the Clan owes Harry a massive debt for saving them from the spiders, and risking their lives to repay that is unpleasant, but acceptable. Trying to fob the repayment of that debt off on the wizards is not an acceptable option. This is the reason he is so careful to avoid outright refusal when he brings up his objection to Harry's request.

    For the rest, Bane and the centaurs dislike wizards as a matter of course, and they tend to ignore them whenever possible. While some of this is a product of genuine dislike, it is mostly a survival mechanism.

    Sapient magical beings in the wizarding world tend to fit into one of four categories:
    1. Beings who are wizards
    2. Beings who are enslaved to wizards
    3. Beings who were enslaved to wizards but have since won their autonomy by killing lots of wizards
    4. Beings who are of limited interest to wizards so no one bothers to enslave them... so long as they don't remind the wizards that they exist
    As a centaur, Bane fits into the fourth category. He is not going to think to call in wizards for help, because he has every reason to believe that involving wizards can only make any given situation worse. It takes a very desperate situation indeed --- like Suze's panic after Harry ate the philosopher's stone --- to shake that sort of thinking out of a centaur.

    As for using the opportunity to throw the wizards under the bus, well, that would require two very unlikely choices on the part of Bane. First, he would need to think of the possibility of calling them for help --- which we discussed above. Second, he would need to tell a respected ally that some wizard might be better at tracking something through Bane's home woods than Bane is himself --- something that Bane's personal pride would never allow. So that's two consecutive cognitive dissonance strikes right there.

    As for clarifying the exchange, here's attempt 2
     
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  20. The Unicorn

    The Unicorn Versed in the lewd.

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    I get that, my point is that it makes absolutely zero sense.

    Leaving aside the various ways someone could keep it (if they weren't at a school) given the information you've provided so far, that would simply mean that anyone selling Mandrake root would be raising small batches, starting a new batch every few days so they'd have some to sell to whoever wanted. A similar economic model to a bakery except with customers spread across the globe and much higher price for the product.

    If the demand for Mandrake root is too low the sellers might use larger intervals, or might even only use it as a training tool for their staff, like Hogwarts does, but even in that most extreme case (which sounds ridiculous to me) the chance that the soonest they can get Mandrake root is when the ones in Hogwarts matured seems extremely unlikely, and is not going to be something they'd know until AFTER they sent queries around the world, had their contacts check with their own contacts, and then the responses coming back several days later at the earliest.

    Again deciding to not go to all that effort for a cat is not unreasonable, but for a person it's a different matter.

    The friends and family of the victim will disagree, and as long as they have money, that means they're right.


    Makes sense.


    That works.
     
  21. Happerry

    Happerry The Song to the Flame

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    You have two paragraphs starting with 'Bane considered that for a moment' in very short succession in that new version, which doesn't look the best. Could one of those be rephrased?
     
  22. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    Okay, so another version --- this one with more emphasis on how rare such cases are.

    Dumbledore was troubled when his counter charm failed to dispel the petrification for precisely that reason --- a petrification which does not dispel with the standard counter is a rare circumstance indeed.

    Because of this, mandrake is mostly a legacy potion ingredient; charms development rendered it obsolete for most emergency treatments. It's current conventional use is for reversing medical stasis methods (either heavy-duty stasis charms or draught of the living death), and given how effective magical medicine generally is, those are used for really serious cases --- the kind where the timescale of growing a mandrake is comparable to, sometimes shorter than, that of the rest of the treatment --- not for routine treatments.

    As for the economics, that is a lot of overhead for saving a few months of stasis in exceedingly rare cases that the charms won't work.

    Given the sorts of circumstances where such a thing would happen unexpectedly --- either an attack by an absurdly deadly magical creature, like a cockatrice or basilisk, or a deliberate action by a malicious wizard using those aforementioned medical methods for nefarious purposes --- I'd think the loved ones in question would simply be relieved that the victim survived, rather than being miffed about the easy, guaranteed-successful treatment being slow.
    Good point. Those are all over the place, now that I'm looking for them. I've reworked it in my copy, will edit the post eventually.
     
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  23. stads

    stads Getting sticky.

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    interesting story so far thx for writing it
    here is hoping for a epic dragon verus snake battle in the chamber cousing the whole school to shake :D
     
  24. DIT_grue

    DIT_grue lurker

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    One more who's been enjoying the story.

    Another point where you have avoidable repetition cropping up. Actually, in this case I think changing it to form a deliberate echo might be at least as effective as removing it?
     
  25. The Unicorn

    The Unicorn Versed in the lewd.

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    This line addressed my issue with the original version. The rest also seems to work well.
     
  26. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    Updated the 3.9 post with the changes discussed. Including the one mentioned by DIT_grue.
     
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  27. Threadmarks: Section 3.10 - Aftermath
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    3.10.0 Aftermath

    The excitement of Halloween and its accompanying attack soon faded from the minds of the students. Whoever had been responsible had not seen fit to offer a reprise, and rightly or wrongly, a significant percentage of the student body were torn on how to view the attack.

    On the one hand, the perpetrator had left a thoroughly distasteful message written in blood on the wall of one of the hallways, but on the other… well, the only victim was Mr. Filch’s cat, bane of pranksters, troublemakers, and hormonal teenagers alike in her role as the single most effective hall monitor in the school.

    Many saw the indisposition of Mrs. Norris as a bonus.

    There was even some talk among the more mischievously-inclined students — at least those of their number not currently under the supervision of Severus Snape who were thus too busy to do much talking about anything at all — of sending the perpetrator a gift basket in thanks for his or her services.

    For most, the first weeks of November passed quietly, a blur of classes attended and homework completed, punctuated by uneventful weekends that nevertheless inevitably formed the high point of any given week.

    Of course, ‘uneventful weekends’ meant different things for different people.

    3.10.1 Correspondence

    As a thick gray layer of clouds scudded by overhead, driven by the perennial stiff breeze blowing in off the sound, the resident dragon of the Black Woods settled down into the same hollow that he had during the past weekend. The day promised to be a miserable one — dull, cold, damp, and cloudy with an occasional spattering of icy rain just to ensure that you didn’t manage find some way to get comfortable.

    Once again covered by fresh branches tied rather artfully to hide his massive form from easy view, Harry prepared for another interminable session of standing watch over his spider ranch, vigilant for any sign of the poacher who had killed so many. The young dragon thought it was bad enough he had already been forced to rework the menu for his planned Hogs Haulage Christmas Party because of the recent losses, and he didn’t want to lose the stock entirely.

    That would be a tragedy! Where else was he going to find shellfish big enough to make a meal out of?

    Despite the importance of his mission, it had nonetheless proven to be exceedingly boring. Mindful of that fact, Harry had prepared accordingly. In a waterproof case he had brought along several books, a pad of paper, a clipboard, and a self-inking dictation quill complete with penknife — all looking exceptionally tiny as he laid them out on the forest floor under his slightly-extended wing. The young dragon had craned his neck around to keep an eye on his progress as he put all those magical control exercises to a practical use unpacking for the day — he couldn’t switch to human form to use his hands for the purpose without all the ropes coming undone.

    Harry just hoped the quill would work okay with the paper — rolled parchment was way too difficult to work with on a standard clipboard, and he had yet to find a pad of the stuff. He’d read that paper tended to wear down the point on the quill much too quickly — hence his inclusion of the penknife to resharpen it — but he was nonetheless hopeful. If it wore down too quickly, he was really going to be stuck testing the limits of his fine control — turning pages with his magic was one thing, writing was quite something else. Nonetheless, he had also included a few cheap ballpoint pens in his supplies for just that eventuality.

    His massive eyes narrowed speculatively — maybe he could enchant a fountain pen instead?

    The dragon shook his head, dismissing the idea for the moment. That was a question for the future — there were a lot of those stacking up. At present, Harry needed to keep an eye out for anything suspicious on the ranch while catching up on some correspondence he had been meaning to handle.

    First up was the next round in his ongoing exchange with his uncle and his cousin. The last round had informed him that Dudley had just joined the junior wrestling team at Smeltings School, and Harry wanted to congratulate his cousin on that.

    Uncle Vernon’s letter had relayed that the man was still working on getting Aunt Petunia to agree to visit; he was not hopeful for this year, but fully intended to keep on trying. Harry thanked his uncle for that, but he also wanted to share how his first experiments in automated machining had gone. The Grunnings carbide tooling Vernon had sold him had performed perfectly, and Harry wanted to let his uncle know that. Plus, it was a good opportunity to keep in touch.

    Harry had learned that it was kind of nice to just talk to family, even if it was at a distance.

    For a time, the forest was filled with the pattering of rain and the rustle of wind-blown leaves — the low mumble of the young dragon’s voice only sporadically audible as he dictated to the quill. Eventually, personal letters finished, Harry paused to sharpen the quill — a fine trick when levitating both the quill and the penknife — as he turned his thoughts to a new topic, this one somewhat less straightforward.

    The last time he had spoken with Abigail, an idea had occurred to him to help her out with a particular spot of trouble. Harry thought it would work, but he figured he ought to run it by Mr. Slackhammer first. The dapper goblin was much better versed in the labyrinthine twists of wizarding politics than he was, and Harry didn’t want to accidentally step in another metaphorical manure pile like he had with that nasty Umbridge lady a few years back. It was hard to tell ahead of time with the Ministry.

    Not to mention, he needed a name for the person to approach to get what he wanted — it was a bit hard to talk someone into doing something when you didn’t know who to talk to in the first place.

    3.10.2 Brooding

    Hermione stood alone on the lip of the Lair, attention turned inward even as she stared out over the wind-tossed tree-tops of the forest and bundled up in several layers topped with her winter cloak and pointed school hat against the windy and damp afternoon weather. She had had an embarrassment of time to think recently, and this afternoon was no different.

    The bushy-haired girl had finished organizing Harry’s library during the previous month — including assembling the rare books section to her own satisfaction. The only thing left to add was a pensieve, and Harry was still trying to track one down for purchase, so it would have to wait. With that particular diversion finished, Hermione had turned her full attention to her schoolwork, schoolwork which had proven categorically incapable of occupying her days.

    Normally, Harry would have filled the gap for her — despite his generally boyish manner, her friend was amazingly well-read for a boy his age, and there was rarely a time when he was not working on something interesting. The Lair had never lacked for conversation topics or interesting research problems to catch her interest and occupy a few dozen hours with subsequent wide-ranging investigations through Harry’s impressive library — not until recently.

    The past few weeks had been different. Hermione sighed as the rain picked up again, as it had been doing on and off all day. She pulled the brim of her hat down to ward off the spitting, icy-cold rain before settling back into her thoughts.

    Her often dragon-shaped friend had been rather thoroughly preoccupied of late, spending every weekend on some project of his involving the giant spiders. Just this morning had seen him fly off to the centaur’s current autumn camp in pursuit of it.

    Which come to think of it, meant he was bearing the full brunt of the current weather. The bushy-haired girl shivered in sympathy — she hoped he was staying warm.

    Harry had said something about ‘protection’ and ‘ambush’, though she hadn’t paid close enough attention to determine what he was doing in detail — as soon as she had heard the word ‘acromantula’ Hermione had immediately tuned out the rest. She wanted nothing to do with the cottage-sized highly-aggressive spiders, they creeped her out — no matter how delicious they were when properly cooked.

    Unfortunately, that snap decision had left the bushy-haired girl out of the loop, and being out of the loop left her with an embarrassment of free time, and an embarrassment of free time left her bored, and for someone like Hermione Granger, boredom presented her with a serious problem.

    Other people might treat quiet times as a time to shut the mind off and simply enjoy life — perhaps sitting down to watch the scenery with a cup of tea in hand. Not so for Hermione, her mind refused to shut off — she had to think about something — and without new questions to pursue she usually reverted to old, unanswered ones.

    Old, unanswered, generally frustrating ones that she gnawed at like a particularly stubborn dog worried a bone.

    Such frustrations generally led to no good — a case-in-point being her current conundrum, which had led the bushy-haired girl to stand on a ledge halfway up a cliff, outside, during a Highland rainstorm in November in hopes that the change in venue would lead to some new insight into a months-old question that really wasn’t very important in the first place but nonetheless refused to release its grip on her mind.

    As she had for the past two months, Hermione had been turning the question of the twins’ supposed punishment over and over in her head. Why had they been rewarded for making trouble? How was that fair? And perhaps more importantly, why did they get to do that when she didn’t? She couldn’t see the logic in the teachers’ actions in this case — it seemed unjust, a transgression which was rewarded rather than punished — and the perceived injustice was bothering her to no end.

    The trouble was, she couldn’t see a way to get her answers, either. She’d already asked Professor Snape months ago during the first class of the term, and he hadn’t explained anything about the why of the situation. He’d just said it was a punishment duty and left it at that!

    Some punishment!

    Advanced tutoring, helping to teach, even what was effectively an apprenticeship started years early — if that was the punishment for rule-breaking she was tempted to sign up! But she couldn’t help but think that there was something she was missing, some peculiarity of the situation that led to the twins’ ‘punishment’ that wouldn’t happen for her if she were to try to imitate them.

    She wouldn’t want to act out and ruin her reputation, only to fail to achieve the result she wanted.

    If only there was someone to ask so she could make sure. Someone who might explain the situation better…

    …well, she supposed there was someone — she would just have to make sure she asked outright this time, rather than implying things.

    3.10.3 Baby steps

    All done up in darkly varnished wood, leather cushions, brass fittings, and green glass, Crackjaw Slackhammer’s office was the picture of a plush, if somewhat old-fashioned, executive’s suite — a fitting choice for the plush, somewhat old fashioned, executive who occupied it. The goblin in question currently sat at his desk reading a letter sent to him by his youngest business partner. On reading the last of the missive, he set the paper gently down on the green leather blotter covering his desk and looked up, beady black eyes gleaming with interest.

    “Already looking into political solutions, is he?” the Vice-Director chuckled. “At least he had the good sense to seek advice before leaping in with all four paws!”

    There was a time when the young Great Wyrm had done just that to a real pond. Slackhammer smiled as he recalled the tale of the incident, relayed by a member of Color Sergeant Griphook’s security detail. After jumping in with a yell, his youthful business partner had apparently been quite surprised when the pond turned out to be much shallower than he had anticipated, leaving him ankle deep in mud with most of the water ejected out onto the surrounding moor by the rapid introduction of his not-inconsiderable bulk to the small body of water. A small, but still significant, portion of that water had ended up drenching the young Miss Suze.

    The infantry gob’s description of the poor dragon’s bewildered expression as his centaur maiden had gently but very firmly berated him for splashing her had been hilarious, drawing many a good-natured laugh from his drinking partners in the months since. He hadn’t needed to pay his bar tab for weeks.

    The Vice-Director chuckled, “Good times, good times.”

    Then the dapper goblin’s eyes narrowed, and his smile faded as his sharp mind turned back to business. “So, how best to approach this?” he mused. “The Examination Authority is headed by… hmm, she might actually be the best target, I seem to remember…”

    “Mr. Steelhammer?” the slightly rotund goblin’s voice rang out. As his aid entered with alacrity, the Vice-Director scrawled out a note. “Please pull our dossier on this witch, I need to refresh my memory of certain details.” Steelhammer took the slip of paper with a businesslike nod and left.

    Slackhammer smiled to himself as he waited for his aide to return. It was a fine thing indeed to watch over his young friend’s growth — almost as fine a thing as it had been to watch over his own sons’. Mr. Potter might not be of the Vice-Chairman’s own line, nor even of his own species, but some things seemed to be universal, growing up among them — even if the specifics varied, the gestalt remained quite familiar.

    Of course, there was also no doubting the young dragon’s critical, and thoroughly practical, importance to the future of the goblin nation. The young dragon was already directly responsible for the biggest increase in Gringott’s profits to be seen since the introduction of the steam engine, and Slackhammer could see nothing on the horizon that might slow that trend in the foreseeable future. That fact would have seen Slackhammer looking out for his young partner in any case. That the boy was so likeable was simply a generous gratuity on the exchange.

    And this particular request… well, it appealed on a number of levels.

    The young lad was seeking to ensure his friend learned to protect herself properly. To be sure, the young dragon wasn’t gifting his young lady a proper gun, but the young Miss Abercrombie was a witch, not a goblin — Slackhammer supposed different standards applied. In any case, it seemed a romantic sort of gift to the dapper goblin — much more suitable than those silly flowers or chocolates so many humans seemed to prefer. He shook his head at the foolish habits of humans, then chuckled quietly as his thoughts turned back to the exploits of young Harry.

    The goblin sighed. More importantly, it was a gift that he’d be all too happy to help his young friend procure — though not solely for sentimental reasons.

    As Mr. Steelhammer returned with the requested dossier, the Vice-Director thanked him and cracked open the folder. While the Vice-Director would hardly deny his matchmaking tendencies — nor would any of his children, who had suffered through them until they managed to find themselves mates — they were hardly his only motivation, not even his primary one. Slackhammer saw in this an opportunity to help his business partner get his feet wet in wizarding politics without making too much of a splash — a bit of a political primer, as it were.

    Best to get any adolescent floundering out of the way while the stakes were low, and failure would pose little risk to the Nation.

    Neither Slackhammer himself nor the goblin nation as a whole had any desire to see the aftermath of the Great Wyrm of Hogwarts jump into the political pond with all four paws and end up standing ankle deep in the bloody mud of a mostly-emptied wizarding world — no matter how satisfying it would be to see the wizards receive their comeuppance.

    The muck would splash all over everyone, including the Brethren — it was hard to make a living as the premier merchant bank serving a graveyard, after all.

    3.10.4 An ill-considered question

    As she made her way through the dim, torchlit passageways of the castle dungeon outside Professor Snape’s office on her way to ask a question, Hermione Granger wondered not for the first time why she cared so much about something that really shouldn’t properly concern her.

    Here she was, taking up some of the very limited time she normally had to spend with her friends in order to go ask her teacher about the reasoning behind the punishment he was doling out to two people she barely even knew, and not even because she thought it was too harsh. She could have understood her own motivations if she was trying to spare someone unjust punishment, even if it was a stranger — but no, she was after this because she thought they weren’t being punished enough!

    As she paused outside the closed door of her potions professor’s office, she shook her head, bushy hair rustling against her shoulders.

    Seriously, who did this kind of thing? It just seemed kind of… well… vindictive — even to her, and she was the one doing it! Did she really want to be that kind of person? Going out of her way just to make sure someone got punished enough to satisfy her sense of fair play — well, she could kind of understand that, she supposed, but it was Professor Snape doing the punishing!

    If you couldn’t trust Professor Snape to punish someone properly, then who could you trust to do it?

    The bushy-haired second-year sighed in resignation. Regardless, the question had been bugging her for months now, and she just knew it wouldn’t leave her alone until she finally got her answers — plus, she was here already, so she might as well not waste the trip.

    She knocked and then opened the door when she heard an acknowledgement from within.

    “Miss Granger,” Professor Snape spoke without looking up from the parchment on his desk. “What brings you to my office this evening?”

    “Um… I had a question, Professor,” she said before she fell silent as she tried to formulate the question properly.

    A long moment passed before her professor grew tired of waiting for her to continue.

    “And?” he prompted impatiently. “What is your question, Miss Granger? I cannot enlighten you if you do not do me the basic courtesy of telling me what you wish to know.”

    The bushy-haired girl swallowed nervously and then began, “Well, you remember back on the first day of class, when I asked you why the Weasley twins were standing in front of the class with you?” At her professor’s nod, she continued, voice gaining strength as she went. “Well, you said they were being punished for the thing at the beginning of the year, but you just had them working as your teaching assistants, and some of the older students said you were treating them pretty much like your apprentices.”

    “Yes, that is an accurate summary,” Snape confirmed impatiently. “Where, exactly, are you going with this, Miss Granger?”

    “Well, how exactly is that a punishment?” she burst out. “I mean they made all that trouble at the beginning of the year and they get apprenticeships out of it? That doesn’t seem fair at all!” she huffed.

    She was met with an expectantly raised eyebrow.

    Hermione colored. “I mean, ‘that doesn’t seem fair at all, Professor Snape’?”

    “A fair question, Miss Granger,” Snape allowed with a nod, “one which I shall endeavor to explain. Your senior colleagues engaged in two distinct escapades at the beginning of the year; one involving flying an enchanted car over the castle in a stunt which managed to trigger one of the castle siege wards, nearly killing the two miscreants through thaumotoxic shock in the process…”

    Hermione gasped at that revelation.

    “…and one which resulted in nearly the entire student body, as well as one member of the staff, being temporarily transformed into copies of the two troublemakers.” Snape continued, “The first was unquestionable idiocy, but it was idiocy which only truly risked the wellbeing of the Misters Weasley. Had that been the extent of their activities, no doubt they would have received detention as normal. The far more serious issue was the transformation.”

    “Why is that, Professor?” the bushy-haired girl asked when the man paused to take a sip from the glass on his desk. “When I asked, some of the older students said they’d pulled transformation pranks lots of times before.”

    “The issue lies in the method employed, Miss Granger,” the professor explained. “I will not name the method to you, but it is exceedingly dangerous. The Misters Weasley risked not only their own wellbeing by using it, but also that of every person who interacted with the portal to the train platform between the time they placed the trap over a week beforehand and the time law enforcement placed it under quarantine at my request during the opening feast.”

    Seeing his student’s wide eyes, Snape continued, “I have no idea what deity smiled down on us that day that we managed to avoid the worst, but by all rights, that particular bit of stupidity should have cost at least several hundred people — possibly the better part of a thousand — their lives.”

    “Oh my God!” Hermione gasped, horrified.

    “A distinct possibility, Miss Granger,” her teacher acknowledged. “In any case, had the Misters Weasley been a few years older, they would have been referred to Magical Law Enforcement and charged appropriately for recklessly endangering a significant portion of wizarding Britain. As they are still underaged, however, the worst we could do in the absence of actual deaths resulting from their actions would have been expulsion.”

    His bushy-haired student gasped in horror at the idea.

    “While such a punishment would have been quite well-deserved, it would not have dealt with the true dilemma,” Snape explained. “With this incident, the Misters Weasley have proven themselves to be both sufficiently talented to cause a great deal of damage and simultaneously foolish enough to go ahead with such actions despite the dangers.”

    He paused for another sip as Hermione listened in rapt attention. “I could not in good conscience inflict such a combination on the world, so I have taken it upon myself to… render them safe for society, as it were.”

    The bushy-haired girl thought for a time as her professor returned to whatever task had absorbed his attention before she interrupted, leaving her to her thoughts. Eventually she frowned.

    “That makes sense, I suppose, Professor,” Hermione allowed. “But it still seems odd to essentially give them apprenticeships for doing what they did — like you’re rewarding bad behavior instead of punishing it.”

    Her teacher smiled thinly — it was not a pleasant expression. “I assure you, Miss Granger, I know my business. Why don’t you ask the perpetrators themselves whether they feel properly ‘rewarded’?”

    He gestured to the other side of the room where, when Hermione turned around, she saw for the first time a table set up in a corner behind the door — thus not visible when she walked in to the room — with both the Weasleys in question hunched over separate stacks of parchment and books. They looked up at the professor’s words.

    “It’s hell,” one twin said simply, haunted eyes locked on hers as he nodded at the younger girl. “George and I haven’t done anything but eat, sleep, go to class, and work for Professor Snape since we got out of the Infirmary.”

    The other twin, presumably George, spoke up, “Not a single bloody thing,” his voice fell, “we even had to drop quidditch!”

    “Idle hands are the devil’s playground, Mr. Weasley,” the professor cut in. “You may have at least a modicum of your leisure time returned when I can trust that you and your brother will behave responsibly on your own. At present, I cannot.”

    “He does spot checks on obscure potions stuff all the time, too!” Fred volunteered.

    George broke in again, “And when we get something wrong he makes us run laps around the castle. Laps! Who does that in a wizarding school, anyway?”

    “Exercise is important for your health, Mr. Weasley,” Snape spoke up in a reasonable tone that nonetheless somehow carried an edge of sadism. “Now that I am occupying so much of your time, you do not have the luxury of regular exercise during your free time. It thus falls to me to look after you as my students.”

    His tone shifted to a pedantic one, “As to running laps in particular, Mr. Weasley, it is simply because you continue to insist on forgetting the proper order of addition for the neurogenesis potion, and that particular error would lead to the potion burning through the bench and melting off your legs at the knee. I had hoped that the burning in your legs resulting from exercise would serve as a reminder of what you would have lost and why you should study harder.”

    He smiled darkly, “See to it that you do not neglect to recall an interaction which would release toxic gas, Mr. Weasley — you will not enjoy the reminder I have in mind for that eventuality.”

    The twins both shuddered in horror, turning back to their work with a renewed fervor.

    “Their tutelage shall continue until I am satisfied that the Misters Weasley are ready to use their potions knowledge responsibly, Miss Granger,” the potions master turned his attention back to his bushy-haired student. “If they work hard, they may manage to graduate with their original cohort. If they do not… if they do not, I am prepared to continue their training until they do — or until it kills them. In this, for once, I find that I am not selective.”

    “Does that satisfy your curiosity, Miss Granger?” the potions master asked in a tone implied that any answer other than ‘Yes, Professor Snape’ would be foolish in the extreme.

    “Yes, Professor Snape.” Sharon Granger hadn’t raised any fools.

    “Excellent,” he said, pausing for a moment before continuing in a serious sort of voice. “Miss Granger, I have indulged your curiosity in this instance as it served a greater purpose,” he paused to shoot a significant glance at the two Weasley brothers, “but note in the future, that, fair question or not, the punishments of your peers are not subject to your approval as a student of this institution, nor are they within appropriate bounds of inquiry.”

    She swallowed nervously.

    “Do not interject yourself into such things again unless asked to do so by a member of the staff,” he instructed firmly.

    “Yes, Professor Snape,” she repeated, mortified at the rebuke.

    “You are dismissed, Miss Granger,” the dark man nodded, turning back to his work with the matter settled.

    After she had closed the door behind her, Hermione wandered down the hall, wide-eyed.

    She’d just been reprimanded — reprimanded for reasons she even agreed with.

    She’d known she was out of line from the beginning of this whole thing — she was just a normal student, punishments were only her business if she was the one being punished — so why had she done that, anyway? Was she really just that much of a nosy busybody?

    Hermione shook her head, disgusted with herself — she knew better than that! She should have just trusted that Professor Snape would handle things, rather than butting into it. He hadn’t even told her anything new — the explanation was basically a repetition of Suze’s take on the situation.

    Asking had been a stupid idea, and she’d known it going in, but then she’d gone and done it anyway. The bushy-haired girl continued walking quickly down the hallway as if she were hoping to outrun her embarrassment.

    What had she been thinking?

    3.10.5 Overindulgence

    “I can’t believe it took you so long to recover,” Tom hissed loudly — raising his voice to make himself heard over the grating rasp of his companion’s sedate locomotion through the otherwise empty stone hallway. “Why did you eat so much, anyway?”

    His companion hissed plaintively in response.

    “I know you were hungry, Charlotte. That’s why I let you out to hunt,” he allowed. “I just want to know why you thought it appropriate to gorge yourself. You ate so much you slept for two and a half weeks!” Tom shook his head, long hair swishing about his dainty shoulders. “You knew perfectly well I had plans for you last week!”

    Another hiss.

    “You weren’t sure when you’d have another chance?” Tom asked, incredulity obvious in his hissing voice. “Did you actually think I’d just leave you down there without a chance to eat?”

    Yet another hiss.

    “I’m sorry about that, Charlotte, but I couldn’t figure out a way to manage it,” Tom explained, scrubbing at his face with one hand in embarrassment. “And even then, I made sure to put you back in stasis! Seriously, what kind of friend do you take me for?”

    There was yet another hiss, this one somehow apologetic-sounding.

    “It’s alright, Charlotte. Just try not to do it again,” he sighed, reaching up to pat his companion comfortingly on the side. “We’ll figure things out, just you wait and see. I only ask that you make sure to let me know about these sorts of things ahead of time, so I can plan around them.”

    At the sound of another hiss, this one somewhat more involved, Tom perked up. “Not for another couple weeks, you say? That is rather helpful, Charlotte, thank you. Just don’t push yourself too long; I don’t want you to eat so much at once again. Things will be easier if you are indisposed more frequently for short periods rather than infrequently for long ones.”

    He was answered by an affirmative-sounding hiss as the pair ambled on down the empty hallway. Silence descended for a time, broken only by the dull rasp of the movement of Tom’s companion, until he spoke up once more as they came to a junction with another hallway.

    “Charlotte, make your way to the Badgers’ territory. Your target will be returning there within the hour after he completes his detention — remember, inner eyelids shut!” He drew to a stop at his companion’s interrogative hiss, hand moving to pat his companion’s side. “I need this one alive for now. There’s a rhythm to this sort of thing; we need to keep the fear building so people don’t forget, but if we push too fast, we’ll get more of a response than I can manage at this point. Slow and steady is the way to go — it will put the prey in the right mindset while my subordinate puts the rest of the plan in motion. I will let you know when the time comes to strike in earnest.”

    Another affirmative hiss came from Charlotte.

    “I had planned to start with that annoying brat with the camera,” Tom narrowed his eyes in distaste. “A small target, but annoying enough that most people would be torn between fear that he was attacked and relief that they didn’t have to deal with him — and they’d be feeling a subtle undercurrent of guilt for thinking the latter. It’s always easier to put something over on someone if you manage to convince them they deserve it. It would have been ideal for promoting delay and indecision. Since you were asleep for so long, though,” he shot a pointed look at Charlotte, “he’s no longer going out to take pictures of the campus at night — got caught by one of the prefects. He’d have been ideal, but we can make do.” He nodded to himself, long hair bouncing with the motion. “We can make do.”

    Tom turned to his companion briskly. “After you finish, await me in your lair,” he commanded. “Take care, my friend, and let no one aside from your target see you.”

    With one final hiss of acknowledgement, the pair parted company — Tom heading off towards the nearest stairway up, and his companion pausing before a seemingly blank section of wall before a hissed command had the stone grating aside to reveal a secret passage.

    As the doorway to the hidden passage closed after her, the grinding of stone on sliding on stone faded, leaving the hallway silent as a tomb.

    3.10.6 Building concerns

    The morning had begun like any other, Harry had awoken after a good sleep, gotten ready for the day, and made his way to the school, carrying his damsels along for the ride. All seemed well with the world until the trio arrived at the doors to the Great Hall — the tension was thick enough to cut with a knife.

    Heck, it was even thick enough that Harry noticed it right away.

    As the two children and a slightly older centaur made their way to their customary place at the Hufflepuff table for breakfast, Harry took in the worried looks on the faces of his on-campus housemates. The young dragon reviewed his memories of the previous few days to try to think of anything that might have upset so many people. He couldn’t think of anything to fit the bill.

    “What happened to make everyone so upset?” Harry asked of the table at large.

    Cedric, who had been staring blankly at his currently untouched plate, jerked at hearing his younger housemate’s voice. “Huh? Oh, Harry, good morning. Um, what did you ask?”

    “I was just wondering what’s got everybody so nervous,” the currently human-shaped dragon reiterated. “I mean, I don’t remember anything…”

    “Oh!” the fifth-year exclaimed in understanding. “I forgot you didn’t come to campus over the weekend. Right.” He paused long enough to take a fortifying breath. “There was another attack over the weekend.”

    “An attack?” Hermione asked, concerned. “Did someone get hurt?”

    “Oh, hello, Hermione,” the handsome older boy smiled wanly in greeting. “And, yeah, they got Justin.”

    Harry’s eyes widened at that. Justin Finch-Fletchley wasn’t a close friend, but he was a fellow Hufflepuff, and to lose him over the weekend… no wonder everyone was so down.

    “I am sorry for your loss,” Suze spoke up sympathetically.

    “What do you…? Oh,” Cedric shook his head, “sorry, I misspoke. He’s not dead, just petrified — like Mrs. Norris back on Halloween. If he’d died the place would be swarming with aurors now. As it is though, since it’s just a petrification, it falls under school jurisdiction — the way the law’s written it doesn’t matter that it’s a fancy kind that doesn’t respond to the standard dispel, Susan asked her aunt already. At least he’ll be okay once they get the restorative draught brewed, but it won’t be ready until the mandrakes the second-years are growing mature — close to the end of the year.”

    “How did you know we’re growing mandrakes?” Hermione asked. “Did you do that too back in your second year?”

    “No, it changes every year; we grew fanged geraniums,” Cedric replied absently before continuing. “The whole situation is the talk of the school, so the mandrake thing came up more than a few times. Most people are trying to figure out who’s going to be next, though. A whole lot of people are really worried.”

    “Is it really that bad?” Harry asked.

    “Yes,” Susan spoke up for the first time from her spot at the table, absently holding her friend Hannah’s hand in reassurance. “It was bad enough with Mr. Filch’s cat because of the severity of the curse and the fact that no one knew who did it. Now that whoever it is has attacked a student… well, people are talking about having to close the school if they can’t find the culprit.”

    “Close the school!” Hermione hissed in outrage. “They can’t do that!”

    Harry frowned thoughtfully. “Huh. I tried to sniff out who petrified Mrs. Norris, but I couldn’t smell anything over that perfume stuff Professor Lockhart wears. You guys have any idea where to look to find out who did it?”

    “No,” Cedric answered, not thinking too hard about the younger boy’s implicit declaration that he could hunt by scent. It was Harry after all, those sorts of revelations had long since become normal — Cedric doubted anyone in Hufflepuff would bat an eyelash if they found out he could see magic after the past year-and-a-bit. “The professors couldn’t find anything either.”

    The young dragon closed his eyes in thought for a few long moments before opening them again and looking at the older boy rather intensely.

    “Well, I’m not sure how to find the one doing this stuff, and I got a couple other things I’m working on so I’m kinda busy,” Harry admitted, “but as soon as you figure anything out about who’s doing this, you let me know. I’ll fix his shit.”

    And with a firm nod, Harry sat down to eat, his piece said.

    3.10.7 Unusual resolve

    Pastel silk robes fluttered behind him as Gilderoy Lockhart made his way through the passageways of Hogwarts. He walked with a firm step and an uncommonly stern expression on his overly pretty face. It was an unusual occurrence for the man who normally sported a winning smile specifically tailored — he practiced in front of a mirror — to win over the affections of the fairer sex.

    All in all, it was an unusual look for the man. Then again, he was on an unusual errand, so perhaps an unusual look was to be expected — it wouldn’t do to be improperly attired.

    These latest developments were an unexpected and thoroughly unwelcome, wrinkle on Gilderoy’s tenure as a professor. He had expected a simple and uneventful year during which he could teach the young Potter to navigate the pitfalls of fame; then he would leave, secure in his reputation as the young hero’s mentor and able to milk that reputation for everything it was worth. He did not expect to have to deal with a crisis such as the one this situation was rapidly becoming.

    It was the sort of thing he thought he’d left behind at the Department when he resigned.

    However, expected or not, he was now a professor, and it was now his job to look after the wellbeing of the students and school. Ulterior motives aside, he had taken the job in good faith, fully intending to perform the duties expected of him to the best of his not-inconsiderable abilities, and Gilderoy was hardly going to renege on that agreement in the face of a crisis. Teaching might be touch-and-go, but crisis management was his bread and butter.

    The methods he used in that pursuit were simply not the ones advertised in his books.

    Before he had insinuated himself into the role of gentleman hero, Gilderoy Lockhart had been a Ministry obliviator. The everyday grind at the Department involved dropping into an unknown, probably hostile, crisis situation and taking charge of it through a combination of quick thinking, psychology, charisma, and sheer bloody-minded audacity — aided, of course, by a judicious helping of magic — before adjusting or rewriting the perceptions of everyone involved to fit the story Gilderoy wanted to tell. Dealing with crisis situations and delicate public perceptions was simply what a Ministry obliviator did.

    And Gilderoy Lockhart was a very skilled obliviator.

    Admittedly, it had taken a little while for Gilderoy-the-author to collect his wits and recall his old habits, but recall them he had, and he was now applying all those crisis management skills to his current employment. The restrictions posed by the situation — specifically the injunctions against mind-altering magics used against the students — made for an unusual challenge, but it was nothin Gilderoy-the-obliviator couldn’t handle, given a bit of time to think.

    And after a bit of time to think, Gilderoy had concocted a plan on how to proceed, a plan which would keep his students calm and focused in the face of danger, a plan which would channel their nervous energy into something other than panic — a plan that he now had to sell to the Headmaster.

    As the blond dandy opened the door to said Headmaster’s office, he smiled and prepared to do exactly that.
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2018
    buffog, Ayashi, MaddTitan and 112 others like this.
  28. RinKaihou

    RinKaihou Lolice Officer

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    Could it be?

    A competent Lockhart?

    And, and, not an actively malicious one?
     
  29. stads

    stads Getting sticky.

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    nice chapter thx for writing it
    and thx for sending me hiding under my bed gilderoy having a plan o_O:eek:
     
    QafianSage likes this.
  30. Aaron Fox

    Aaron Fox I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    That's fucking rare as hen's teeth...
     
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