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Chapter 2: Ruins
Fortunately for Harry's flagging sense of direction, the teachers left the feast en masse and headed for the staff common room. It looked very much like the student common rooms except that it was larger and decorated in purple and gray rather than in house colors.
Many of the staff were already heading to bed -- it was nearly midnight now, and Harry wasn't the only one who'd had a long journey -- but others seemed to be settling down to stay in the common room for a while. Charlie and Sofia had already set up a chess table in the corner by the larger fireplace, and were playing a fierce, fast game full of shouts of triumph and outrage.
Harry could hear Hagrid making his farewells, and he lingered by the hallway door, wanting to speak to him. To Harry's surprise, Hagrid had a long, low-voiced conversation with Malfoy, leaving him with a laugh and an odd forearm clasp.
"Ah, I never can forget wha' a wonder it was we got Draco back in one piece," he told Harry, nodding at Malfoy, who was now engaged in a friendly-sounding exchange with Professor Lupin. Harry wished Malfoy would get out of earshot so he could ask Hagrid if they'd all lost their minds.
"Harry," Hagrid said fondly. "The old place'll feel like home again, now yeh've come back. Almos' wish I could stay. But I've got ter trust that Charlie'll take good care o' th' creatures, an' yeh'll take good care o' yerself." He gripped Harry's forearm with one huge, shaking hand, as he had done with Malfoy. "It's the way me people greet a true comrade," he said proudly. "Look after yerself, Harry, an' if all goes well I'll see yeh come summer."
Harry sadly watched as Hagrid finished his farewells and left, then looked around for Hermione, but she was drawing Malfoy over to a couch under a tremendous bas-relief map of northern England, still arguing as they both sat down. "Then maybe it's time to abolish the House system altogether," she said, and Harry felt his mouth drop open.
Eager as Malfoy was to change everything that made Hogwarts Hogwarts, Harry was surprised to hear him disagree. "You say no houses, 'Mione, but in practice that would mean the whole school was one big house, teaching nothing but Ravenclaw magic or nothing but Gryffindor magic."
"You always think --" she began, but Malfoy interrupted her: "Or nothing but Slytherin, it doesn't matter. The point is there are different kinds of wizards and they need different things. And the House system --"
Obviously Harry wasn't going to get a chance to talk to Hermione as long as Malfoy was here. Funny how he'd been too good for her at school, and now he couldn't get enough of her.
He probably ought to go to bed, but his internal clock had decided that it was early afternoon. So after a moment's indecision, he poured himself a cup of tea from the self-replenishing pot on the sideboard and went off to sit down on another couch. After a moment, Professor Lupin dropped down beside him.
"You look good, Harry," he said.
Harry stirred his tea with more than necessary force. He was getting really tired of that comment. "You too, Professor," he said. "Sorry I didn't write to you more often." He winced inwardly, remembering all the times he'd turned the delivery goose away without even unfolding the message it had brought, unwilling to have his fragile peace disturbed by a message from home.
"Remus, please. And it's quite all right, I understand," he answered mildly, and took a sip of his own tea. Harry was afraid he understood all too well, and he looked away from Lupin's -- Remus' -- sharp eyes.
Behind the couch were several layers of purple and gray curtains, but they framed nothing but seamless stone. "Is this the normal way of decorating in the teachers' quarters? Curtains on a stone wall?"
Remus smiled rather sadly. "It used to be a window," he said. "All the windows have been filled in, didn't you notice?"
Harry hadn't. "Whatever for?"
"To stop the curses, of course." Remus looked at him curiously. "But I suppose you were out of commission that first autumn, and by the time we'd retaken the school and removed the Death Eaters, you were in America." He rose and resettled on the couch. Must be a long story, Harry thought.
"It all began with a first-year who --"
"Even in St. Mungo's we heard about Lark Brown." His voice was sharper than he intended, and he grimaced in apology, but Remus only nodded.
"Yes, when a curse kills a little girl on her way to the Sorting feast, I suppose the word gets about. And her aunt was a classmate of yours, if I remember correctly."
Harry had wanted to send Lavender a letter of sympathy, but even if he had known what to say, owls were frowned upon in St. Mungo's. As were quills, for that matter.
"Then you heard about the other attacks?"
Harry blinked, then shook his head.
"Well, the Brown girl's death was blamed on Death Eaters who had escaped justice, and Medusa Macallan eventually confessed. The Ministry ... well, no one could say they weren't very zealous in making certain all suspected Death Eaters were accounted for."
Harry glanced over at Malfoy, who was leaning toward Hermione, gesturing wildly, cheeks pink, not looking at all accounted for. If it was ever possible to account for Malfoy, which he doubted.
"But," Remus went on, "even after the school was closed, the workers cleaning up the war damage were harried by attacks. It didn't matter how many Death Eaters were captured -- the next day there'd be injuries, explosions, fires.
"The best theory anyone could offer was that someone was still on the grounds somewhere, casting curses from some hidden stronghold. First the Ministry tried adding more and more security on the grounds themselves. When that didn't solve the problem, we filled in the windows in the hopes of protecting the interior.
"We worked all night in teams, closing up every window we could find," Remus said. "This was in November, just after the last of the Dementors were put down, and we still thought we'd be able to open the school late and finish out the year. And in the morning we came back, and ... "
Remus took a breath, then placed his cup and saucer on the table with careful precision. "Sirius was the first to arrive, as usual, you know, and he used his cane to push open the door --"
"Oh, no." Harry closed his eyes. When he opened them, Remus was staring down at his own clasped hands. "His wounds weren't that serious," Harry said softly. "Everyone was so sure he would recover, and then the next thing I heard --"
"Minerva turned the cane to stone and put it over the door, did you see it? It's the newest of the new memorials." Remus looked up with an off-center smile. "He always used to say he was going to use it to do something unspeakable to Cornelius Fudge."
There was a long silence then. Harry could faintly hear Hermione and Malfoy still arguing over something, McGonagall calling down goodnights as she tripped up one of the curving staircases, Sofia saying "Checkmate" in a rather smug tone.
Kat, Harry thought, would be rolling her eyes. "Unbend and give the guy a hug already, Har. You could both use one." He leaned his shoulder against Remus', and Remus leaned back briefly and sighed.
"Who did it turn out to be?" Harry said at last. Remus shrugged. "They didn't catch anyone?"
"They caught a great many people. Entirely too many, some say. But no one was ever able to explain the Hogwarts attacks."
"Are you certain it's safe to reopen?" The back of Harry's neck felt cold. He had thought he was done with this, this damned impotent worry ...
"No," Remus said flatly. "But with Durmstrang permanently shut down, and Beauxbatons crammed so tightly they don't even have seats for all the students, and all sorts of unscrupulous wizards setting themselves up as private instructors ... well, Minerva felt there was more risk in remaining closed than in reopening."
Hogwarts was still said to be the safest place in the world.
After a long moment Harry said brightly, "Well. I've been home nearly six hours and nothing's gone wrong yet."
There was no immediate explosion. He decided to take that as a good omen.
The door to Harry's rooms was guarded by a painting of a very pretty young milkmaid, who blushed and stammered when Harry introduced himself. To his surprise, she was there again on a painting hung inside the door, where at a word from him she could open the door to visitors.
"Your doorkeeper is lovely," Remus said, setting the girl to trembling and blushing again. "Mine's an Irish setter, which suggests that Albus Dumbledore's sense of humor is not altogether absent from Hogwarts." He flicked his wand to light some candles in the sitting room. "Minerva asked me to apologize for the rooms -- the ones on the upper storeys are more interesting, but none of the vacant ones are in good repair at the moment."
"Oh, no," Harry said. The sitting room was spacious and comfortable, with a fire crackling in the hearth and a wide, squishy couch. Under the filled-in windows was a study corner, with an enormous desk and a wall of bookshelves. Beyond, through an open door, Harry could glimpse a bed with bright blue curtains. "It's wonderful. But how will Hedwig --"
Before he could finish the question, there was a clicking noise, and Harry saw that a decorative panel above the outer door was actually a smaller door, just the right size for an owl to use. Hedwig greeted Remus with a friendly hair-tug, then settled down on her perch and tucked her head under her wing.
"Owls are meant to be nocturnal," Remus said curiously. "Are they subject to portlag?"
"Dunno," Harry said, and then yawned widely. "Humans are, though." He closed his eyes. It took him several seconds to open them again.
Remus smiled. "I'll let myself out."
As soon as he saw the place when he was wide awake, Harry understood why McGonagall was anxious to get on with training the next generation of wizards. Hogwarts was rather a mess.
His own rooms were normal except for the filled-in windows. Just on the other side of his door, though -- he couldn't think how he had missed it the night before -- a passageway was closed off with protections both magical and mundane, black ribbon laced through the faint shimmer of a spell barrier. And beyond that he could see that a staircase was simply missing, with nothing left but a bit of the old banister ascending into empty air.
Coven students and teachers had occasionally been called upon to treat victims of vengeful cursing or to lift the mal de ojo from an infant, but Harry had spent most of the last five years on more benign forms of magic. He'd almost forgotten the unpleasantly slippery feeling that the nastier curses left in the air until he felt it now. He turned his back on it quickly, ignoring the tension in the back of his neck.
Rubbing his forehead to smooth away the headache that still clung to him, he walked through the deserted staff common room. On the other side of the door, he paused, trying to remember the way to the Great Hall. Left at the first hallway, then right at the third -- or was it left at the third and then right at the first? Or was he turned round altogether?
"Straight ahead to the portrait of Usher the Untidy, Mr. Potter," came a very familiar sneer. "After that, right, right, left -- do pay attention, Mr. Potter; I had hoped perhaps even you might have made some progress in mastering that elementary skill --"
"Professor Snape?" Harry whirled, nearly stumbling over his robe, and winced as he heard his voice squeak.
The door to the staff common room had been held open the night before. Now that it was closed, Harry could see the statue that guarded it: the late Potions master in gray stone, nine feet tall and captured in full sneer.
"Your grasp of the obvious remains unparalleled, I see." The statue held a cauldron in one hand, and a lock of stone hair fell forward over its left eye. Like Dumbledore's ghost, Snape's statue was less ravaged by war than the man had been when Harry last saw him alive, though no less imperious. One robe sleeve was drawn back to reveal a shallow etching of the Dark Mark. It was possible, Harry thought with distaste bordering on disgust, to take realism too far.
"R-right, all right," he stammered. "Usher the Untidy, right, right, left --"
"Talking to inanimate objects again, Potter?" Malfoy swept through the door in a swirl of ice-blue robes, looking as if he'd slept for twelve hours rather than four. Harry scrubbed at his unruly hair. Malfoy inclined his head to Snape's statue, a sort of minimal bow, and went on down the corridor.
The statue's lips twitched, but it made no further comment. After a moment, Harry stifled an absurd urge to say, "Can I go now, Professor?" and walked off toward the dining hall.
It was still quite early, and the student tables were empty except for three Hufflepuffs who obviously thought there was no such thing as too much of an early start. At the staff table, Remus and Michelle Verte were sitting side by side, glancing at each other occasionally as though they wanted to have a conversation but couldn't decide how to get started.
Harry headed for the other end of the table, where he'd spotted Hermione eating bacon with one hand and turning the pages of the first-year Charms textbook with the other.
"You're up early," she said as he sat down beside her and helped himself to the first kippers he'd seen in five years.
"My brain thinks it's yesterday afternoon," he said. "And my head hurts. Maybe I should go ask Sofia for a portlag cure."
"Oh, no, Harry," Hermione said, closing her book. "Portlag's one of the Incurables, like hangovers, don't you remember? She'll just give you a sleep draught and a lecture. Not that you couldn't use one. A sleep draught, I mean -- if a lecture would help you'd have been better ages ago."
"Hush," he said, smiling, and on that one word his accent sounded just like Kat's. He'd catch himself saying "y'all" next if he wasn't careful.
Now that the special feast linens had been removed, he could see that the edge of the table in front of him was scraped and splintered. He looked around the dining hall and felt his chest tighten as he saw the marks of damage everywhere.
Most of the tables were scraped or chipped, and a few had been broken in half and mended. There were great gouges in the wall behind the staff table, as though something heavy had been flung against it at high speed, and marks in the floor that looked as though they had been made by claws.
He wondered what it had looked like before the staff spent the summer cleaning it.
Here, too, the air was soapy with the residue of Dark magic, so strong that Harry wondered whether it was entirely the result of old curses. He looked over his shoulder.
"Expecting to see an old enemy, Potter? Your luck is in," Malfoy said, brushing past him to sit down on Hermione's other side. Harry didn't leap out of his chair, but only through force of will.
Have a little pride, Potter, he told himself. The guy's still an arrogant weasel, but that's no reason to be so jumpy. "Listen, Malfoy," he said. "Hermione may trust you, but I'm reserving judgment."
Malfoy just raised one eyebrow. "Not jumping to a conclusion yet, Potter? Now there's a first," he said. "If you're too full of homecoming spirit to eat, I'll take that baked apple off your hands."
"Stop mooching, Draco." Hermione smacked his hand as it passed in front of her. "Harry needs all the food he can get. Didn't you eat at all in America? You're gaunt."
"I'm fine," Harry said for what seemed like the hundredth time.
The noise level in the room was rising as more students arrived. Harry hated to see them sitting at the damaged tables. Teaching was going to be a challenge, but he vowed he'd spend as much time as he could working to get Hogwarts back to normal.
"Are your rooms nice, Harry?" Hermione said. "I'm on the fourth floor -- Penelope's going to help me find the charm they used on the ceiling in here, because if I can enchant the walls I'll have a view of the lake --"
Suddenly there was a shriek from the student tables. Harry looked up in time to see one of the young Slytherins collapsing backward, chair and all, with a strange, broken wail.
McGonagall was the first to get to her, with Malfoy close behind. "I don't want to hear any more of this superstitious nonsense," McGonagall was saying severely as Harry arrived.
"But, Professor, the Crabbe chair -- " "Nobody ever sits --"
Malfoy was kneeling by the girl, whose heels were drumming on the floor. "Petrificus Totalus," he said, and she fell still. He looked up at McGonagall. "Kitty, get these bloodthirsty little boggarts out of the way, will you, while I --"
McGonagall herded the students back as Malfoy began to murmur in a soft, slurred voice. Harry tensed, but then recognized the words as transfiguration spells -- Malfoy was turning the chair into a stretcher. He still pronounced his spells like a native speaker, all elisions and dropped endings. Harry's spells were perfectly functional, but compared to Malfoy, he had always felt as though he were reading the words out of a phrasebook.
The girl's eyes were still open, moving wildly, and in her arms and hands and jaw Harry could see muscles clenching against the restraint of the spell. His eyes fell on someone's boiled egg, shell still unbroken. He snatched it and knelt on the girl's other side, running it over her face and murmuring, feeling a faint tingle under his fingers. Tyndall de Soto, the Coven's specialist in Latin American magic, had taught him to pull enchantment into an egg, and apparently the spell worked even when the egg was breakfast.
He was dimly aware of Malfoy on the other side of the girl, still tapping the chair with his wand and murmuring. The stretcher began to sprout wheels, then bands to hold the girl's arms and legs. She stopped tensing just as Malfoy's last words transfigured her rather gaudy necklace into a pillow to cradle her head.
Harry put the egg in Malfoy's hand. "Tell Sofia it was boiled. She may still be able to interpret the yolk. If she hasn't done it before, I can help when we're done with crowd control."
"Well," wheezed Cypherus Summs as a prefect hurried up to help Malfoy wheel the stretcher away. "That's what I call teamwork."
McGonagall declared the Slytherin common room to be the safest place for the students. The room was underground and draped all over with protective spells, but Harry was still uneasy about their safety.
"I haf removed the Petrificus and placed upon her a Consopium -- a magical coma," Sofia told Harry in her soft accent when he came to the infirmary later. "I could not otherwise stop the confulsionss, and I feared she would damage herself. But, 'Arry, I do not know what you wanted me to do with this egg."
The rest of the staff gathered round to watch as Harry broke the egg into a glass of water, but apparently this part of Tyndall's curanderismo only worked with a raw egg; he couldn't make anything at all of the shape of the yolk, no matter how he squinted at it.
"Harry, are you singing?"
He shut his mouth, embarrassed, and poured the mess of water and soft-boiled egg into the infirmary sink. Hermione was still looking at him expectantly. "Cherokee chant," he told her. "Supposed to call your manito to you -- your power, your magic, whatever. Sunday got everybody in the bad habit of humming it when we worked on something. A Potions lesson at the Coven is really something to hear."
"You always work without a wand?" Charlie said, and Harry realized his wand was still in his sleeve.
"Two weeks after I arrived in Florida, I helped Dr. Bokor lift a curse with a spatula. After that I understood what wands were for."
McGonagall was bending over the girl's bed. "I am very much afraid that this is the same curse that hit Argus Filch when he attempted to re-open the Potions wing," she said.
Filch had survived the war, but the state of the school made it quite obvious that he wasn't working as a caretaker any longer. Harry had assumed he'd simply retired. "What happened to him?"
"Poppy had a small amount of Nervalitum, a powerful nerve regrowth potion of Severus' invention," McGonagall said. "As long as she was able to administer this to Argus, his seizures were held in abeyance and his body was able to work on healing itself. When it ran out ..."
"You couldn't make more?"
"It requires powdered narwhal tusk," said Madeleine Aerie. "Which is impossible to find, now that the Ministry's reclassified it. We couldn't get at Professor Snape's supplies, and none of us has his shady contacts, more's the pity."
"Ironically," McGonagall added, "the reason Argus was in the Potions wing to begin with was to search Severus' quarters for books, notes, and ingredients that we couldn't get elsewhere." She sighed. "Poppy kept Argus alive for ten months using Animaserum, which is a more general systemic strengthener, but his convulsions continued, and his body wasted itself away."
"Where is Madam Pomfrey, anyhow?" Harry said.
"Dead," McGonagall said shortly.
She stared at the spot where the window should have been, rubbing the back of her neck with one hand and looking entirely exhausted.
Finally Harry asked her, "What was that about the chair?"
"That was Victor Crabbe's chair, and the sillier students believe it's cursed," she said.
She had already undone Malfoy's transfiguration on the chair. It stood in the corner, looking like a perfectly ordinary chair.
"We've questioned everyone," Charlie said, "and there's no sign of anything unusual. She sat down, she screamed, that's all we know."
McGonagall stared at the chair. "Something," she said, "is badly wrong."
On to Chapter 3
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