The Many Faces of Harry Potter 11

“The Many Faces of Harry Potter: Chapter 11”

By = Fayanora

 

Chapter Eleven: Return of the Return of the Heir

 

Note 1: Text in 'Italics and British quotes' is Parseltongue.

 

Note 2: Once more, I apologize for the bits and pieces of canon dialogue/narration here and there. A bit more of it here than normal; one scene, I couldn't really improve upon or change.

 

Note 3: I have different styles for the internal speech of Alastair, Harry, and Zoey, and now Iliana (bold, italic, and underlined). (Which is also sometimes used for emphasis in Al's speech, but whatever.)

 

 

After discussing it for a couple hours that night, and later with Hermione for several hours, they all came to the conclusion that it looked like Riddle's diary was somehow the cause of the Chamber opening. They came to this conclusion after what Al had told them about what he'd seen of the emotions of Dumbledore and Riddle. Since Dumbledore was famous for being the only person Voldemort ever feared, among other things, it seemed that handsome, prefect Riddle was Voldemort in his teen years. That, and the fact that Hagrid's monster had been a giant spider, not a snake.

 

But while they came to this conclusion, it was hard to believe, and even Al wasn't really sure. After all, what if Riddle had just been mistaken? Anyone who didn't know Hagrid well enough could logically conclude that he'd gone looking for the Chamber's monster. None of them thought Hagrid was the one who'd done it, but it was a logical conclusion, especially since the attacks had apparently stopped after that.

 

In the end, they decided to continue holding onto the diary. If it really was the cause of the problems, then the attacks should stop. Al even took extra measures to secure it, putting the diary in a locking box and that box inside his trunk, putting alarms and hexes on the box. Nothing major, since he didn't know many hexes, but it should cause anyone stealing it to break out in boils.

 

 

The second years were given something new to think about during their Easter holidays. The time had come to choose their subjects for the third year, a matter that Hermione, at least, took very seriously.

 

“It could affect our whole future,” she told Harry and Ron as they pored over lists of new subjects, marking them with checks.

 

“I just want to give up Potions,” said Harry.

 

“We can’t,” said Ron gloomily. “We keep all our old subjects, or I’d’ve ditched Defense Against the Dark Arts.”

 

“But that’s very important!” said Hermione, shocked.

 

“Not the way Lockhart teaches it,” said Ron. “I haven’t learned anything from him except not to set pixies loose.”

 

“I wouldn't worry too much,” Harry said. “I've heard rumors about that position; nobody ever lasts more than a year as DADA teacher in Hogwarts. We'll have someone new next year.”

 

Which classes to take next year was a subject that had the entire Potter collective in hot discussions for days. There were lots of considerations, but Divination sounded good; they could certainly use the ability to read the future, with Voldemort as an enemy. Care of Magical Creatures also sounded useful. Arithmancy, from what they read, was a form of divination using the magical properties of numbers and numerology, but it sounded difficult. There was a lot to think about, so no conclusions came to them.

 

 

Gryffindor’s next Quidditch match would be against Hufflepuff. Wood was insisting on team practices every night after dinner, so that Iliana was Out more often than Harry was, and only had time for Quidditch and schoolwork. But their practices were getting better and drier, so that made her happy.

 

But her cheerful mood didn’t last long. At the top of the stairs to the dormitory, she met Neville Longbottom, who was looking frantic.

 

“Iliana — I don’t know who did it — I just found —”

 

Watching Iliana fearfully, Neville pushed open the door.

 

The contents of their trunk had been thrown everywhere. Their cloak lay ripped on the floor. The bedclothes had been pulled off their four-poster and the drawer had been pulled out of their bedside cabinet, the contents strewn over the mattress.

 

Iliana walked over to the bed, open-mouthed, treading on a few loose pages of Travels with Trolls. As she and Neville pulled the blankets back onto his bed, Ron, Dean, and Seamus came in. Dean swore loudly.

 

“What happened?”

 

“No idea,” she said. But she noticed all the pockets of the robes were hanging out. “Someone was looking for something.”

 

“Is anything missing?”

 

It was hard to tell in all the mess. She set about repairing books and torn linens with her wand, and only when everything was put back right did she realize the box that had contained the diary was in pieces, like someone had blasted it with their wand. The diary itself was gone.

 

My guess is they blasted it open, the alarms went screeching, they grabbed the diary, and then blasted the box to stop it screeching.

 

Iliana nodded. She turned to Ron.

 

“Riddle's diary is gone.”

 

They went out into the common room to tell Hermione. As she pointed out, only a Griffindor could have gotten into their dorm. This was not pleasant news. But Hermione was saying what Iliana and the others had been thinking.

 

~

 

The next morning, the conditions for Quidditch were perfect; the weather was fair, the sun was shining, and the breeze was warm but refreshing. Oliver Wood was excited, as was Iliana, despite their worries about Riddle's diary. In fact, this thought was preoccupying them as they looked up and down the Griffindor table, wondering who the thief was. And telling a teacher about it wasn't likely to be helpful; Dumbledore wasn't being cooperative, and that didn't bode well for the other teachers being any better. And there was Hagrid to think about; if the diary was found, it would finger Hagrid for the culprit, and given that Al didn't trust Riddle... it was just a lot to think about, and it was coloring their excitement.

 

As she left the Great Hall to collect her Quidditch things, their theory about the diary seemed to be confirmed as they heard that heart-stopping voice again.

 

Kill this timelet me riptear …”

 

She shouted aloud and Ron and Hermione both jumped away from her in alarm.

 

“That voice! I heard it again. And it's definitely Parseltongue! I recognize it now.”

 

“Iliana, I've just thought of something,” said Hermione suddenly. “I've got to go to the l--”

 

But Iliana grabbed Hermione like a shipwreck victim clutching a life raft, panic and tears in her eyes. “No you are not going anywhere with that thing on the loose, do you hear me? If I have to have Zoey turn you into a turtle and carry you in my pocket, I will not let you out of my sight until this whole Heir business is done, do you hear me?”

 

The rising pitch as panic gripped her voice made Hermione's eyes go wide.

 

“Alright, Iliana, I won't go any--”

 

“What could possibly be so important you have to leave our side now anyway?” Iliana demanded.

 

Hermione turned red and looked down at her shoes. “I, um... I was going to go to the library to ask Ms. Pince about magical snake creatures.”

 

“Well it can wait! I barely knew Colin and I cried so much when he got petrified. And a girl died last time the Chamber was opened! I don't want that to be you this time!”

 

Hermione's eyes were also filling with tears. “I promise I'll stay by your side whenever we're out of our bedrooms.”

 

“Not good enough. You're sleeping in my bed until this is over, understood? Don't give me that look, there's one girl in there already, two if you count Zoey, so what's another one?”

 

Nodding silently, Hermione followed Iliana and Ron up to their bedroom as Iliana got her Quidditch things, then followed them down to the Quidditch pitch.

 

“Can I go up to the bleachers with Ron,” she asked tremulously as they approached the pitch, “or did you want me to stay with you in the changing room?”

 

“Well, I suppose it's okay. The Heir isn't likely to attack with all these witnesses.”

 

“Good. Come on, Ron.”

 

Despite what she'd said, Iliana didn't relax until she spotted the two of them in the crowd as she got on her broom. But just then, Professor McGonagall came out came half marching, half running across the pitch, carrying an enormous purple megaphone. Iliana's heart dropped like a rock.

 

“This match has been canceled,” Professor McGonagall called through the megaphone, addressing the packed stadium. There were boos and shouts. Oliver Wood, looking devastated, landed and ran toward Professor McGonagall without getting off his broomstick.

 

“But, Professor!” he shouted. “We’ve got to play — the Cup — Gryffindor —”

 

Professor McGonagall ignored him and continued to shout through her megaphone:

 

“All students are to make their way back to the House common rooms, where their Heads of Houses will give them further information. As quickly as you can, please!”

 

Then she lowered the megaphone and beckoned Iliana over. Iliana glared at McGonagall.

 

How can you think it's me this time? I've been with Ron and Hermione all morning, up until I went in to get changed for Quidditch, and one of the Weasley twins walked in on me nearly at the worst possible moment, so they can vouch for me.”

 

Ron and Hermione came over just then.

 

“Ms. Granger, Mr. Weasley, can you vouch for Potter's whereabout?”

 

The two basically repeated what Iliana had said. She then pulled the twins over and they, too, confirmed Iliana's alibi.

 

“Good. I really didn't think it was you, Potter, but given your tendency to be the first to discover attacks, I had to ask.”

 

“I understand, Professor. Um... by the way, who was attacked?”

 

“It was another double attack. We found a miss Penelope Clearwater of Ravenclaw, and Ravenclaw's ghost, the Grey Lady. It looked as though the Grey Lady had just been floating past on her way somewhere, she didn't even look perturbed.”

 

Hermione's eyes went wide at this, and she gave Iliana a Significant Look.

 

“Professor, would it be possible to stop by the library on the way back to our dorms?”

 

“No, Miss Granger, I'm afraid not. You can go to the library sometime later, perhaps, but not now.”

 

They nodded in understanding.

 

 

The whole walk back to their dorms, Iliana clutched Ron's and Hermione's hands like she didn't want to ever let go of them. And when they got back, she actually followed Hermione up to the girl's dorms as she went to get some things to spend the next foreseeable nights in Iliana's bed. This was not well met by the other boys, until Iliana started to cry and shout at them at the same time in worry over her friends, at which point they relented.

 

“All students will return to their House common rooms by six o’clock in the evening,” McGonagall had explained. “No student is to leave the dormitories after that time. You will be escorted to each lesson by a teacher. No student is to use the bathroom unaccompanied by a teacher. All further Quidditch training and matches are to be postponed. There will be no more evening activities.”

 

The common room was full of scared people talking. Lee Jordan pointed out that none of the victims had been Slytherins. Even upset as she was, Iliana thought it unfair for him to want to chuck all the Slytherins out; they couldn't all be bad, that was unrealistic.

 

Percy Weasley was sitting in a chair behind Lee, but for once he didn’t seem keen to make his views heard. He was looking pale and stunned.

 

“Percy’s in shock,” George told the trio quietly. “That Ravenclaw girl — Penelope Clearwater — she’s a prefect. I don’t think he thought the monster would dare attack a prefect.

 

But using their heart-reading and their skills at reading body language, Iliana didn't think that was it. Percy was plainly worrying about the well-being of someone he was in love with. But she didn't think it wise to tell the twins this. Or anyone else, lest the secret find them.

 

This whole business proves our theory right, Al said, interrupting her thoughts. That diary is the source of all this madness. And if that's true, how did it get in here? And what do we do about it?

 

But, for once, nobody else in the collective had any ideas.

 

The only thing I think we can do, Al finally thought, is get Hermione to the library so she can find out what this monster is. And then somehow figure out where the Chamber is?

 

“We have to talk to Hagrid,” Iliana found herself saying. Though unexpected, the thought felt true.

 

“Why?”

 

“It's plain he didn't do this, but he was transporting that giant spider pet of his when he got 'caught.' It seemed agitated. I don't know why, but something about that tells me he might have a clue for us.”

 

“Giant spider?” Hermione asked. “How giant?”

 

“Looked to be about the size where a toddler could ride it,” Iliana said.

 

She turned to Ron, who was looking ill. “What's wrong with you?”

 

“I don't like spiders.”

 

“You use them in potions,” she pointed out.

 

“I don't mind them dead. The live ones, though... the way they move.”

 

“A common fear.”

 

Hermione nodded.

 

“Anyway, a spider that big suggests a baby acromantula.”

 

“Spider that huge, and you reckon it's a baby?”

 

“Yes. Acromantulas can speak, they're intelligent. Maybe his spider knew what the creature was? Maybe it told him what the thing was?”

 

“So we definitely need to talk with Hagrid, then.”

 

“But McGonagall said we’ve got to stay in our tower unless we’re in class —”

 

“I think,” said Iliana, more quietly still, “it’s time to get dad’s old cloak out again.”

 

 

The Potters had inherited just one thing from their father: a long and silvery Invisibility Cloak. It was their only chance of sneaking out of the school to visit Hagrid without anyone knowing about it. They went to bed at the usual time, waited until Neville, Dean, and Seamus had stopped discussing the Chamber of Secrets and finally fallen asleep, then got up, dressed again, and threw the cloak over the three of themselves.

 

It was a tense trip. Unlike other night-time wanderings, this time there were dozens of teachers, ghosts, and prefects patrolling the halls, looking for suspicious activity. They were risking a lot more than house points this time, and breaking the promise Al had made to Dumbledore in the bargain, but this was important. What if the Heir took a friend next time? And what if that friend died? No, the stakes were too high.

 

It was a clear, starry night. They hurried toward the lit windows of Hagrid’s house and pulled off the cloak only when they were right outside his front door.

 

Seconds after they had knocked, Hagrid flung it open. They found themselves face-to-face with him aiming a crossbow at them. Fang the boarhound barked loudly behind him.

 

“Oh,” he said, lowering the weapon and staring at them. “What’re you three doin’ here?”

 

“What's that for?”

 

“Nothin’ — nothin’ — “ Hagrid muttered. “I’ve bin expectin’ — doesn’ matter — Sit down — I’ll make tea —”

 

He hardly seemed to know what he was doing. He nearly extinguished the fire, spilling water from the kettle on it, and then smashed the teapot with a nervous jerk of his massive hand.

 

“Are you okay, Hagrid?” said Iliana. “Did you hear about Penelope Clearwater?”

 

“Oh, is tha' her name? Yeh, I heard bout that, alright,” he said with a slight break in his voice.

 

He kept glancing nervously at the windows. He poured them all large mugs of boiling water (he had forgotten to add tea bags) and was just putting a slab of fruitcake on a plate when there was a loud knock on the door.

 

Hagrid dropped the fruitcake. The three of them looked worriedly at each other, then hid under the cloak in a corner of the room. Once he was sure they were hidden, he got his crossbow out and answered the door.

 

“Good evening, Hagrid.”

 

It was Dumbledore. He entered, looking deadly serious, and was followed by a second, very odd-looking man.

 

The stranger had rumpled gray hair and an anxious expression, and was wearing a strange mixture of clothes: a pinstriped suit, a scarlet tie, a long black cloak, and pointed purple boots. Under his arm he carried a lime-green bowler.

 

“That’s Dad’s boss!” Ron breathed. “Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic!”

 

Iliana and Hermione elbowed Ron hard to make him shut up.

 

Hagrid had gone pale and sweaty. He dropped into one of his chairs and looked from Dumbledore to Cornelius Fudge.

 

“Bad business, Hagrid,” said Fudge in rather clipped tones. “Very bad business. Had to come. Three attacks on Muggle-borns, and two ghosts down to boot. Things’ve gone far enough. Ministry’s got to act.”

 

“I never,” said Hagrid, looking imploringly at Dumbledore. “You know I never, Professor Dumbledore, sir —”

 

“I want it understood, Cornelius, that Hagrid has my full confidence,” said Dumbledore, frowning at Fudge.

 

“Look, Albus,” said Fudge, uncomfortably. “Hagrid’s record’s against him. Ministry’s got to do something — the school governors have been in touch —”

 

“Yet again, Cornelius, I tell you that taking Hagrid away will not help in the slightest,” said Dumbledore. His blue eyes were full of a fire none of the Potters had ever seen before.

 

“Look at it from my point of view,” said Fudge, fidgeting with his bowler. “I’m under a lot of pressure. Got to be seen to be doing something. If it turns out it wasn’t Hagrid, he’ll be back and no more said. But I’ve got to take him. Got to. Wouldn’t be doing my duty —”

 

“Take me?” said Hagrid, who was trembling. “Take me where?”

 

“For a short stretch only,” said Fudge, not meeting Hagrid’s eyes. “Not a punishment, Hagrid, more a precaution. If someone else is caught, you’ll be let out with a full apology —”

 

“Not Azkaban?” croaked Hagrid.

 

Iliana struggled suddenly to prevent Tier growling. He did not like the idea of Hagrid going to that horrible place when he was innocent.

 

Before Fudge could answer, there was another loud rap on the door.

 

Dumbledore answered it, and this time Iliana got poked in the ribs, for she had recognized Lucius Malfoy. He was white-blond and would have been very handsome if not for the cold cruelty in his face. In that way, Draco took after his father.

 

“Already here, Fudge,” he said approvingly. “Good, good …”

 

“What’re you doin’ here?” said Hagrid furiously. “Get outta my house!”

 

“My dear man, please believe me, I have no pleasure at all in being inside your — er — d’you call this a house?” said Lucius Malfoy, sneering as he looked around the small cabin. “I simply called at the school and was told that the headmaster was here.”

 

“And what exactly did you want with me, Lucius?” said Dumbledore. He spoke politely, but the fire was still blazing in his blue eyes.

 

Dreadful thing, Dumbledore,” said Malfoy lazily, taking out a long roll of parchment, “but the governors feel it’s time for you to step aside. This is an Order of Suspension — you’ll find all twelve signatures on it. I’m afraid we feel you’re losing your touch. How many attacks have there been now? Two more this afternoon, wasn’t it? At this rate, there’ll be no Muggle-borns left at Hogwarts, and we all know what an awful loss that would be to the school.”

 

“Oh, now, see here, Lucius,” said Fudge, looking alarmed, “Dumbledore suspended — no, no — last thing we want just now —”

 

“The appointment — or suspension — of the headmaster is a matter for the governors, Fudge,” said Mr. Malfoy smoothly. “And as Dumbledore has failed to stop these attacks —”

 

“See here, Malfoy, if Dumbledore can’t stop them,” said Fudge, whose upper lip was sweating now, “I mean to say, who can?”

 

“That remains to be seen,” said Mr. Malfoy with a nasty smile. “But as all twelve of us have voted —”

 

Hagrid leapt to his feet, his shaggy black head grazing the ceiling.

 

“An’ how many did yeh have ter threaten an’ blackmail before they agreed, Malfoy, eh?” he roared.

 

Amen, Al thought. I'm betting Lucius had something to do with this whole mess, he's one of Moldywart's followers, after all.

 

“Dear, dear, you know, that temper of yours will lead you into trouble one of these days, Hagrid,” said Mr. Malfoy. “I would advise you not to shout at the Azkaban guards like that. They won’t like it at all.”

 

“Yeh can’ take Dumbledore!” yelled Hagrid, making Fang the boarhound cower and whimper in his basket. “Take him away, an’ the Muggle-borns won’ stand a chance! There’ll be killin’ next!”

 

“Calm yourself, Hagrid,” said Dumbledore sharply. He looked at Lucius Malfoy.

 

“If the governors want my removal, Lucius, I shall of course step aside —”

 

“But —” stuttered Fudge.

 

No!” growled Hagrid.

 

Dumbledore had not taken his bright blue eyes off Lucius Malfoy’s cold gray ones.

 

“However,” said Dumbledore, speaking very slowly and clearly so that none of them could miss a word, “you will find that I will only truly have left this school when none here are loyal to me. You will also find that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.”

 

The man's eyes flicked in their direction. Did he know the three of them were there?

 

“Admirable sentiments,” said Malfoy, bowing. “We shall all miss your — er — highly individual way of running things, Albus, and only hope that your successor will manage to prevent any — ah — killins.

 

He strode to the cabin door, opened it, and bowed Dumbledore out. Fudge, fiddling with his bowler, waited for Hagrid to go ahead of him, but Hagrid stood his ground, took a deep breath, and said carefully, “If anyone wanted ter find out some stuff, all they’d have ter do would be ter follow the spiders. That’d lead ’em right! That’s all I’m sayin’.”

 

Fudge stared at him in amazement.

 

“All right, I’m comin’,” said Hagrid, pulling on his moleskin overcoat. But as he was about to follow Fudge through the door, he stopped again and said loudly, “An’ someone’ll need ter feed Fang while I’m away.”

 

The door closed, and they removed the invisibility cloak.

 

“We’re in trouble now,” Ron said hoarsely. “No Dumbledore. They might as well close the school tonight. There’ll be an attack a day with him gone.”

 

Fang started howling, scratching at the closed door.

 

~

 

Hagrid's advice turned out to be really hard to follow, and getting into the library was proving just as hard. So days creeped by, until one day the three of them spotted some spiders in Herbology. The many-legged critters appeared to be heading for the Forbidden Forest, filling the Potters with dread and foreboding, even though it made perfect sense. If there really was an acromantula in that dark forest, then they might be going into a trap. But they had to find out. And given that nobody was likely to be patrolling the forest, it would be easier to get into than the library, these days.

 

It was Al they were transformed into during that class, and he was not pleased to run into Ernie MacMillan while holding a bunch of shrivelfigs in his arms.

 

“What do you want?” he asked, not bothering to try to sound polite.

 

Ernie, though, looked abashed. “It's just... I spoke with Penelope before she was attacked; I saw you, Ron, and Hermione leave the building for the Quidditch pitch as I did, and then she went off to the library. I was going to watch the game, so I saw Iliana go into the changing room. What I'm trying to say is, I was wrong about you. I apologize for the things I said about you.”

 

“Your apology is heard. As to whether it will be accepted... I'll get back to you on that.”

 

Ernie winced. “Fair enough.”

 

As the four of them worked on their shrivelfigs together, Ernie talked more.

 

“That Draco Malfoy character,” said Ernie, breaking off dead twigs, “he seems very pleased about all this, doesn’t he? D’you know, I think he might be Slytherin’s heir.”

 

“That’s clever of you,” said Ron.

 

“Do you think it’s Malfoy, Al?” Ernie asked.

 

“No,” said Al, so firmly that Ernie and Hannah stared.

 

“Whoever it is has shown a desire for secrecy; they haven't been caught yet. Malfoy is way too excited about this business, makes him way too obvious a candidate. And if it were him, he wouldn't be subtle about it. He'd be bragging, and he would have been caught early on.”

 

This seemed to convince them; they looked thoughtful, and nodded.

 

It was then that they saw the spiders, and surreptitiously had a conversation about them, deciding they would have to go into the forest.

 

At the end of the lesson Professor Sprout escorted the class to their Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson. Al, Ron, and Hermione lagged behind the others so they could talk out of earshot, and plan their trip. Ron was reluctant, but Al asking him “What if it had been Hermione?” made him decide to tag along.

 

But plans aside, they still had classes to go to, and the next was Lockhart's. The idiot was the only cheerful person in the castle, as he was absolutely convinced that Hagrid had been the culprit. Al tried to resist the urge to say something, but finally he snorted so loudly that Lockhart said, “Yes, Mr. Potter? You doubt the culprit's been caught?”

 

Al tried to think of a defense of Hagrid that he could possibly know were he a normal person with a normal life, rather than someone who kept getting caught up in the middle of things like this, and couldn't think of a single thing.

 

“I can't explain it, I just know Hagrid's innocent,” he finally said. Then unfocused his eyes as he tried to ignore the resulting tide of Pompous Blowhard streaming from Lockhart.

 

~

 

Not wanting to waste time, the trio decided to go to the Forest that very night.

 

The Gryffindor common room was always very crowded these days, because from six o’clock onward the Gryffindors had nowhere else to go. They also had plenty to talk about, with the result that the common room often didn’t empty until past midnight.

 

Al went to get the Invisibility Cloak out of their trunk right after dinner, and spent the evening sitting on it, waiting for the room to clear. Fred and George challenged Al and Ron to a game of Exploding Snap, but they declined; Hermione had given them a list of spells to practice for their plan, and they practiced these as quietly as possible on a bunch of old Butterbeer bottles they'd gotten from the twins, as Hermione sat reading about magical monsters and taking notes, and Ginny sat watching Ron and Al, very subdued for some reason. All told, it was well past midnight when Fred, George, and Ginny finally went to bed.

 

Once they were certain they were alone, the three of them put on the cloak. Though Al immediately took it off again, handed it to Hermione, and shrunk down with barely a glimmer of light to Harry, who was much shorter; Al had felt this would be easier.

 

“Right,” Hermione said. “You've memorized those spells I gave you? Good, let's go now.”

 

They put on the cloak at last, and left the common room together.

 

It was another difficult journey through the castle, dodging all the teachers and prefects. But at last they reached the entrance hall, slid back the lock on the oak front doors, squeezed between them, trying to stop any creaking, and stepped out into the moonlit grounds.

 

“ ’Course,” said Ron abruptly as they strode across the black grass, “we might get to the forest and find there’s nothing to follow. Those spiders might not’ve been going there at all. I know it looked like they were moving in that sort of general direction, but …”

 

His voice trailed away hopefully.

 

When the three of them got to Hagrid's house, they were greeted by Fang. To prevent his barks alerting the teachers, they cemented his jaw shut with some treacle toffee. They also left the cloak behind at Hagrid's, as they wouldn't need it in the forest. But they did take Fang, who might be useful.

 

Harry and Hermione lit their wands once they got into the forest. Ron would've done his, but they didn't need any explosions. In all the bother about the Chamber, Harry realized they'd quite forgotten about getting Ron a new wand. But now wasn't the time either.

 

Harry tapped Ron and Hermione on the shoulder, pointing at the grass. Two solitary spiders were hurrying away from the wandlight into the shade of the trees.

 

“Okay,” Ron sighed as though resigned to the worst, “I’m ready. Let’s go.”

 

“Me too,” said Hermione.

 

So the three humans (or 7, depending on your point of view) and one dog set out, Harry's and Hermione's wands lighting the way, Hermione getting as nervous as Ron.

 

“Oh, I don't know about this,” she said, the deeper in they got, until they could no longer see the stars. “Maybe we should have gone to the library instead.”

 

“And have Filch catch all three of us? No thanks,” Harry said.

 

“Yes, but acromantulas eat people, Harry.”

 

Ron gagged. “You're only telling us this NOW?”

 

“Oh, sorry,” she said worriedly. “It's just... the acromantula Hagrid had in that box would be near the end of its life, and I thought maybe we'd be safe from one slow, dying giant spider. But now we're in here in the dark, following these spiders, and I have to wonder if Hagrid didn't maybe... get him a mate.”

 

Ron turned so pale he could pass for a vampire. He opened his mouth to speak, but didn't seem able. Harry spoke instead.

 

“I really hope Hagrid isn't that naïve.”

 

Maybe Hagrid's pet acromantula was a pouf, Al thought hopefully.

 

I wouldn't bet on it, Harry replied.

 

It got more and more difficult to find the spiders the deeper in they went, as the darkness turned into almost a solid thing, making their 'lumos' spells seem feeble and wan. Time was becoming hard to judge, but they must have followed the trail for at least half an hour before they finally lost the trail.

 

“Okay, let's keep looking, they're bound to be around here somewhere.”

 

It was a few moments before Harry realized that only Hermione had responded, by looking with him. He looked over at Ron, who was looking up and behind Harry, with a look of mute horror on his face.

 

Harry didn’t even have time to turn around. There was a loud clicking noise and suddenly he felt something long and hairy seize him around the middle and lift him off the ground, so that he was hanging facedown. He heard Hermione scream. Struggling, terrified, he heard more clicking, and saw Ron’s legs leave the ground, too, heard Fang whimpering and howling — next moment, he was being swept away into the dark trees.

 

Head hanging, Harry saw that what had hold of him was marching on six immensely long, hairy legs, the front two clutching him tightly below a pair of shining black pincers. Behind him, he could hear another pair of the creatures, no doubt carrying Ron and Hermione. They were moving into the very heart of the forest. Harry could hear Fang fighting to free himself from a fourth monster, whining loudly, but Harry couldn’t have yelled even if he had wanted to; he seemed to have left his voice back in the clearing where they'd lost the trail.

 

He never knew how long he was in the creature’s clutches; he only knew that the darkness suddenly lifted enough for him to see that the leaf-strewn ground was now swarming with spiders. Craning his neck sideways, he realized that they had reached the ridge of a vast hollow, a hollow that had been cleared of trees, so that the stars shone brightly onto the worst scene he had ever laid eyes on.

 

Spiders. Not tiny spiders like those surging over the leaves below. Spiders the size of carthorses, eight-eyed, eight-legged, black, hairy, gigantic. The massive specimen that was carrying Harry made its way down the steep slope toward a misty, domed web in the very center of the hollow, while its fellows closed in all around it, clicking their pincers excitedly at the sight of its load.

 

Harry fell to the ground on all fours, and heard Ron and Hermione land, too. Ron's face was a rictus of terror, and Hermione's face was little better. Ron looked exactly like Harry felt. His mouth was stretched wide in a kind of silent scream and his eyes were popping.

 

Harry suddenly realized that the spider that had dropped him was saying something. It had been hard to tell, because he clicked his pincers with every word he spoke.

 

“Aragog!” it called. “Aragog!”

 

And from the middle of the misty, domed web, a spider the size of a small elephant emerged, very slowly. There was gray in the black of his body and legs, and each of the eyes on his ugly, pincered head was milky white. He was blind.

 

“What is it?” he said, clicking his pincers rapidly.

 

“Men,” clicked the spider who had caught Harry.

 

“Is it Hagrid?” said Aragog, moving closer, his eight milky eyes wandering vaguely.

 

“Strangers,” clicked the spider who had brought Ron.

 

“Kill them,” clicked Aragog fretfully. “I was sleeping. …”

 

“We’re friends of Hagrid’s,” Harry shouted. His heart seemed to have left his chest to pound in his throat.

 

Click, click, click went the pincers of the spiders all around the hollow.

 

Aragog paused.

 

“Hagrid has never sent men into our hollow before,” he said slowly.

 

“Hagrid’s in trouble,” said Harry, breathing very fast. “That’s why we’ve come.”

 

“In trouble?” said the aged spider, and Harry thought he heard concern beneath the clicking pincers. “But why has he sent you?”

 

Harry thought of getting to his feet but decided against it; he didn’t think his legs would support him. So he spoke from the ground, as calmly as he could.

 

“They think, up at the school, that Hagrid’s been setting a — a — something on students. They’ve taken him to Azkaban.”

 

Aragog clicked his pincers furiously, and all around the hollow the sound was echoed by the crowd of spiders; it was like applause, except applause didn’t usually make Harry feel sick with fear.

 

“But that was years ago,” said Aragog fretfully. “Years and years ago. I remember it well. That’s why they made him leave the school. They believed that I was the monster that dwells in what they call the Chamber of Secrets. They thought that Hagrid had opened the Chamber and set me free.”

 

“Yes, I know about that. I also don't think you were the creature from the Chamber.”

 

“Of course I wasn't!” said Aragog, clicking angrily. “I was not born in the castle. I come from a distant land. A traveler gave me to Hagrid when I was an egg. Hagrid was only a boy, but he cared for me, hidden in a cupboard in the castle, feeding me on scraps from the table. Hagrid is my good friend, and a good man. When I was discovered, and blamed for the death of a girl, he protected me. I have lived here in the forest ever since, where Hagrid still visits me. He even found me a wife, Mosag, and you see how our family has grown, all through Hagrid’s goodness. …”

 

Harry summoned what remained of his courage.

 

“So I'm right then, you never attacked anyone?”

 

“Never,” croaked the old spider. “It would have been my instinct, but out of respect for Hagrid, I never harmed a human. The body of the girl who was killed was discovered in a bathroom. I never saw any part of the castle but the cupboard in which I grew up. Our kind like the dark and the quiet. …”

 

“But then … Do you know what did kill that girl?” said Harry. “Because whatever it is, it’s back and attacking people again —”

 

His words were drowned by a loud outbreak of clicking and the rustling of many long legs shifting angrily; large black shapes shifted all around him.

 

“The thing that lives in the castle,” said Aragog, “is an ancient creature we spiders fear above all others. Well do I remember how I pleaded with Hagrid to let me go, when I sensed the beast moving about the school.”

 

“What is it?” said Harry urgently.

 

More loud clicking, more rustling; the spiders seemed to be closing in.

 

“We do not speak of it!” said Aragog fiercely. “We do not name it! I never even told Hagrid the name of that dread creature, though he asked me, many times.”

 

“It wouldn't happen to be a snake of some kind?” Harry asked.

 

More of that loud clicking and rustling.

 

“Yes, it is. A serpent of enormous size and power,” said Aragog. “And that is all I will say on the matter. Even that may be too much.”

 

Looking around at the creeping acromantulas, Harry silently gulped. “Well thank you for the information. We'll be going now, so we can help get Hagrid free.”

 

“Go? I think not. My sons and daughters do not harm Hagrid on my command. But I cannot deny them fresh meat when it wanders so willingly into our midst, even on the promise of helping Hagrid. Goodbye, friends of Hagrid.”

 

“Do we panic now?” Ron croaked out feebly.

 

“Harry,” Hermione said, her voice shrill with fear. “Acromantulas don't like light.”

 

“Yes, he said that. I don't... Oh.”

 

As the giant spiders closed in on them, Harry realized that Tier had been chomping at the bit to be let loose, and so he let down the barriers keeping him back. His friends closed their eyes just in time for the brightest flash of light their transformations had ever made, making the giant spiders hiss and click in pain as Tier made some truly interesting changes to their shared body. When the light stopped, Tier grabbed Hermione, Ron, and Fang and carried them on his back. The animal-like Tier had become a very large creature indeed, looking like a mutated, sloppily-created hybrid of a human, a wolf, and a dragon, though he was not even as big as the acromantulas. It looked mostly like a giant wolf, if it had mange, and a dragonish head and tail.

 

Tier blew flames at the spiders, lighting their dome-shaped web on fire and eliciting screams from them, then tore ass as fast as he could back toward Hogwarts on wolf-like legs, dodging most of the trees, but letting branches and some saplings and bushes get shoved aside or broken off by his force-field.

 

The spiders were following him at quite a clip. Hermione and Ron shot spells at them, and every now and then Tier turned his head back to shoot flames at them, setting some of them on flames, the giant spiders screaming inhumanly, something sure to haunt their nightmares. But mostly, he had to focus on where he was going, to avoid the larger trees that wouldn't yield to his magical shield.

 

After several close calls, they started into the less dense areas of the forest, and the acromantulas started shying away from the light. But Tier didn't slow down. Instead, he burst out of the forest altogether, and seemed to be heading right for the castle when something made him stop so suddenly that his passengers almost fell off, turning just as quickly and slamming himself through Hagrid's front door. Ron and Hermione and Fang tumbled off, and Tier huddled, shaking, under Hagrid's bed with Fang.

 

The other two didn't look much better. Ron puked in the same pail he'd been coughing slugs into, and Hermione looked about ready to blow, too.

 

However, the fear seemed to be so bad for Tier that he couldn't cope anymore. With a flash of light, Tier became Harry again.

 

“Follow the spiders,” said Ron weakly, wiping his mouth on his sleeve as Harry crawled out from under the bed. “I’ll never forgive Hagrid. We’re lucky to be alive.”

 

“I bet he thought Aragog wouldn’t hurt friends of his,” said Harry.

 

“That’s exactly Hagrid’s problem!” said Ron, thumping the wall of the cabin. “He always thinks monsters aren’t as bad as they’re made out, and look where it’s got him! A cell in Azkaban!” He was shivering uncontrollably now. “What was the point of sending us in there? What have we found out, I’d like to know?”

 

Harry turned to Hermione, who had her chin on her knees.

 

“Well,” Harry said. “We've confirmed it's a snake monster. And we found out where exactly the girl who died was discovered; a bathroom.”

 

Ron snorted. Plainly this wasn't good enough for him.

 

Once they were recovered enough, the three of them got back under the invisibility cloak and headed back to the castle and up to Harry and Ron's bedroom. To make things less awkward, Harry had Zoey bring Iliana Out, and as soon as Ron closed his bed's curtains, the two girls got changed into nightgowns, then crawled into bed together.

 

Neither of the girls could sleep. They were both too scared and recovering from the adrenaline, and the collective's shared mind was buzzing with what they'd learned.

 

It was only when she finally started to feel drowsy that she realized it. Turning to Hermione, finding the other girl awake still, she got her friend's attention.

 

“Hermione. That girl who died. Aragog said she was found in a bathroom. What if she never left?”

 

Hermione's eyes went wide. “Moaning Myrtle?”

 

“Exactly my thoughts.”

 

 

 

 

End note: No, I do not have any plans to ship Iliana and Hermione together. Iliana, like Harry does both here and in the canon material, thinks of Hermione as a sister. That, and Rowling's other reasons for not shipping Harry and Hermione, makes too much sense to me to change. I can also assure you that the reasons are not because of any heterosexuality on Iliana's part. (I'm already fairly certain she's bisexual, though we shall see; when I write, my characters tend to surprise me sometimes.)

 

 

 



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