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Generated: Nov 20, 2020 11:30 AM
Post last updated: Nov 20, 2020 11:30 AM
hard to look right at you
Demon Cam in the Potterverse
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Three twelve-year-olds are gathered in a bathroom, copying a diagram from a book onto the floor in chalk.

"Do you know what all this writing means?" asks the green-eyed boy.

"No," says the bushy-haired girl, "and that worries me too, but we need to find out who the Heir of Slytherin is and this ritual is the best we've got."

Eventually, one or another of them draws the last bit of the outer circle.

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Is the Heir of Slytherin supposed to appear in the middle of their diagram? Because here someone is!

"...didn't anyone ever tell you not to draw on the floor?"

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"What--who are you?"

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"Blimey, Hermione, you said we'd get images of other parts of the castle, not some bloke with wings!"

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"...uh, hello, my name is Cam and I'm the demon you summoned and if that isn't what you were going for you have been failed by your educators."

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"Demons exist? Why does nobody ever tell me these things?!"

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"Hey, I didn't know that one either."

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"What are demons, exactly? Because you don't look like the ones in muggle stories and I haven't read anything about demons in wizarding books. Not that sounded reliable, anyway."

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"Muggle stories?"

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"The stories muggles tell about demons? Where they have bright red skin and pitchforks and offer you knowledge in exchange for your soul?"

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"Wait, maybe he's a muggle demon. He doesn't have a wand. You don't have a wand, do you?"

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"I can't say that I do. Or a pitchfork. And I don't think I'd look good in bright red and I don't want your souls."

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"Good, I don't have one going spare."

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"If we brought a muggle into Hogwarts we're going to be in so much trouble. But if you're not magic, how do you have wings?"

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"...because I am magic, actually? I'm a demon! Where am I, please?"

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"Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It's in Scotland; if you were British I'd say you would have heard of it if you were magic but you sound American so I'm not sure."

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"I could switch dialects but as long as this one's intelligible it's my default. Is there perhaps some sort of adult you might reasonably inform about, uh, this?"

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"I suppose we should tell Professor Dumbledore. Or Professor McGonagall. Or Professor Lockhart."

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"Why? They weren't any help last year, and that was when they knew what was going on." 

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"If we have to tell someone it should at least be McGonagall. Lockhart's useless."

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Cam has not met any of their professors. He does wonder why people who teach what look like prepubescent children style themselves "professor". "There's not a terrific rush about it if this isn't the best time."

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"Maybe you could explain what a demon is first." Maybe they can solve this without telling anyone in authority why they were doing unfamiliar rituals in a girls' bathroom.

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"We're the kind of daeva that makes stuff. Do you not know about angels and fairies either?"

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"Fairies are a sort of magical insect, but I've never heard them called daeva or compared to demons and angels. What sort of stuff do you make?"

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"Arbitrary material objects," he says, processing this assertion. "Hey, does there happen to be any magic you can do as a demo, I'd like to see."

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"Can you make a picture of the Heir of Slytherin?"

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"Ooh, yes, that," says the girl, pulling a fancily carved stick out of her pocket. "And for a demonstration--wingardium leviosa!" She gestures with the stick, and the antique-looking tome lying open beside her lifts gently into the air. She guides it up to shoulder height, then grabs it and tucks it under her arm. 

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"If 'being the Heir of Slytherin' is a conjurable parameter and the circle doesn't have a binding in it, which it probably doesn't, then maybe? Who's Slytherin?"

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"Salazar Slytherin was one of the four Founders of Hogwarts. Someone claiming to be his Heir is petrifying muggleborns, possibly with magic he left hidden somewhere."

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"If they might only be claiming to be his heir then it's less likely I can accurately conjure them, I might get an actual descendant who innocently operates a tea shop or something while their identity is used by another party. Uh, can you describe in detail more about the petrifying, thing..."

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"It's been two students, a cat, and a ghost so far. They turn up unconscious, all stiff, like statues. Except the ghost, he turned grey and they had to blow him around with a fan. The teachers say there's a potion that might cure them, but it'll take all year to brew. And . . . right before the first attack, I heard a voice nearby, talking about how it wanted to kill, but I didn't see what was talking."

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"Name one of the students for me? Or the cat, I suppose."

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"Creevey. Colin Creevey."

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Little diorama of Colin Creevy at the time of his petrifaction?

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Kid holding a camera up to his face. Patch of floor and walls. Giant menacing snake head way bigger than the kid!

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"...you said he was petrified, not, uh, vanished without a trace into this here very obvious-looking giant snake?"

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"Bloody hell. . . . Of course Slytherin's monster would be an enormous snake."

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"Harry, this explains why you were the only one who heard the voice, it's because you're a parselmouth! But I've never heard of a snake that petrified people--I need to go to the library--" she looks back and forth between Cam and the door, torn between two information sources.

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"...do you also have a guess why nobody has seen the snake, because whatever a Parselmouth is I don't think I am one and I can see this, but maybe I have failed to conjure its invisibility gland, how should I know..."

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"Well, all the attacks have been on people who were alone, but if it's not invisible whoever's controlling it would have to have a really comprehensive knowledge of the castle to get it around without passing anyone. Can I get a copy of Magickal Serpentes of the Known World?"

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"I want to know where it is now," says the redheaded kid.

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Magickal Serpentes in the left hand. Snek and environs in the right hand.

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The girl grabs the book and grins like Christmas just got rescheduled to every Tuesday.

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In the other hand: he gets the whole snek this time, and wow has it got some fangs on it. Also neon yellow eyes. The environs looks for a moment like it might be a big metal pipe that intersects itself at several points, like a nineties video game with bad hitbox programming, then the fact that metal pipe walls aren't meant to occupy the same place simultaneously makes it fall to bits.

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"...well, that's... interesting," says Cam, looking at the bits of pipe. "Do you have any... Klein plumbing... around? It interpolated itself!"

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"The Hogwarts hallways don't always make sense. You can do down a series of flat corridors and wind up a floor higher. I guess the plumbing is the same way. And if it's in the pipes, that would explain why nobody's seen it."

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"How the blazes is it meant to have entered the plumbing? It's huge! Even if Colin's a kindergartener it's huge!"

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"Colin's a first year, he's eleven. And it's supposed to have been hiding somewhere called the Chamber Of Secrets, maybe it's got a way to get something big in the pipes?"

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"The insides of the Hogwarts pipes expand to accommodate anything trying to move through them, so they can't get blocked. I read about it in Hogwarts, a History."

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"I suppose that's one way to avoid needing to do competent non-Klein civil engineering. Side question. Why is it called 'Hogwarts'. You're speaking English, it can't have escaped you."

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"Yeah, why is it called that?"

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"I dunno, when you've heard it enough times it just sounds like a word."

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"It's named after the town that used to be here before it merged with Hogsmeade, but the book didn't say where that came from."

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"I suppose there wasn't realistically going to be a better answer than that to hand. So, it's a giant pipe-going snake, is that something you call wizard animal control about...?"

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"Well, it depends what it's doing, doesn't it, if it was just a big snake then the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures would have no problem, but it can't just be that . . . Oh no."

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"Are they unable to regulate and control magical creatures that are... what, too magical?"

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"No, they can handle most things with enough wizards, but look at this." She holds out the book, open to a passage on basilisks.

Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land, there is none more curious or more deadly than the Basilisk, known also as the King of Serpents. This snake, which may reach gigantic size, and live many hundreds of years, is born from a chicken's egg, hatched beneath a toad. Its methods of killing are most wondrous, for aside from its deadly and venomous fangs, the Basilisk has a murderous stare, and all who are fixed with the beam of its eye shall suffer instant death. Spiders flee before the Basilisk, for it is their mortal enemy, and the Basilisk flees only from the crowing of the rooster, which is fatal to it.

"Someone's been killing Hagrid's roosters."

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"...well, unfortunately, I can make roosters but they come out too stupid to crow. Will recordings do?"

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"Electricity doesn't work at Hogwarts, but a phonograph might if it doesn't need a real rooster . . . Wait, are you thinking of taking on this thing yourself?"

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"I mean, it seems probably a good idea to go grab your favorite teacher, but if Magic Animal Control can't do anything then something will still need doing, right? Are your teachers better at magic animal control than the professionals?"

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"Dumbledore definitely is, but I still think telling anyone about you is a bad idea. Muggles aren't allowed in Hogwarts and they would probably decide you count as one."

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"...and then what?"

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"Dunno, but it's nothing good. We all get expelled?"

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"I'm sure they'll be more concerned with stopping the Basilisk before anyone else is attacked."

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"I mean, it wouldn't be that unreasonable for summoning like this to be an expulsion offense but 'that demon is not magical enough' would be a weird justification for that."

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"Yes, we also might get expelled for trying a ritual out of a book that didn't do what we thought it did."

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"There you go. Say, what year is it?"

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"Nineteen ninety-two."

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"I see, I see, thank you. What the hell."

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"What year were you expecting?"

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"Well, if I were expecting it very much anymore I wouldn't have bothered to ask, now, would I. 2179."

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"Wicked."

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"Wait, you've gone back in time? That's supposed to be really dangerous!"

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"No one offered me an informative pamphlet before I accepted the summon!"

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"I'm not saying you did it on purpose, but you should still be careful! If you're from that far ahead I guess you don't need to worry about running into your past self, but don't try to do anything that contradicts what you remember."

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"Oh, no, if this is my 1992 I'm off being five years old somewhere. But I don't think it is, I'm pretty sure mine doesn't have wizards."

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"Blimey, you're old."

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"Harry, I really think we have to tell a professor. We'll need help finding the basilisk and killing it, and--Cam, if if you're from another world or something, like in the Chronicles of Narnia, do you know how to get home?"

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"Whichever one of you summoned me can dismiss me, but supposing this is in fact a Narnia-type situation I'd rather stay and eradicate malaria and so on first."

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"We appreciate it. Alright, Hermione, we can talk to McGonagall, but if she doesn't believe us this time either we should deal with it ourselves again."

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"I think I'm fairly believable on inspection, I don't have an invisibility gland."

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"I hope so." He starts for the door.

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"Harry, wait. We should look around corners with a mirror first. That way if we run into the basilisk before we find McGonagall, at least we'll only be petrified and not--worse." She turns to one of the mirrors above the sink and starts trying to take it off the wall.

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"- I think you can probably improve on the Perseus trick but I don't know the parameters. Colin had a camera? Harry can hear it talking? - What does it say?"

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"Colin had a camera, Justin--Justin saw it through Nearly Headless Nick, Mrs. Norris saw its reflection so we know that works. And when I heard it . . . it said it wanted to kill."

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"Charming. Mirrored sunglasses and also looking 'round corners?"

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"Alright."

The others nod seriously.

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Cam issues everyone including himself shades and a hand mirror. "I'm indestructible but that's not been tested against basilisks."

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They all put their shades on; now they look like tiny secret agents in robes. "Indestructible? Wicked."

The outside of the bathroom looks to Cam's eyes like it's as dilapidated as the inside. Leaning walls, floors with gaps in them, stairs that look like they'll collapse if you look at them funny, let alone try to climb them.

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"Is this some kind of illusion magic?"

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"Oh, that's right, muggles see the castle as a ruin--we definitely need to find you a teacher, they'll be able to counter it for you. Just follow us for now."

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"That would be dicey if I were afraid of heights but fortunately I am not. Why does it look like a ruin in particular?" Follow follow.

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"Something people won't want to investigate as much as a castle, I think."

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"What exactly did you mean by 'indestructible'?"

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"I can get papercuts. If you attack me with a sword, it'll look sorta like I got a papercut. And either way it'll take a second or two to heal unless for some reason I want a papercut. Extrapolates as you'd expect given that."

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"That's amazing."

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"Well, hello children! And who is this?"

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Very quiet "augghh".

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"...uh, hello, I'm Cam, and you?"

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"Why, don't you know? I'm Gilderoy Lockhart! Order of Merlin, Third Class, banisher of the Bandon Banshee, and five times winner of Witch Weekly's Most Charming Smile Award. Also Hogwarts Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor. Excellent wings, by the way, very imposing."

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"Thanks, I made them myself."

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"Professor, could you get him one of the charms that let Muggles see Hogwarts?" 

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"Certainly, Miss Granger, anything for my most attentive student. Right this way." He sweeps off with a swirl of robes that's a bit too dramatic to not look rehearsed.

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Okay, they're following this guy then. It remains a really good thing Cam's not afraid of heights. "This requires going somewhere? Do you not have your wand on you or do some things require extra doodads?"

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"It's a necklace. A lot of persistent magic is enchanted objects; it's less likely to come undone that way."

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"You should be glad it's a necklace," Harry mutters too low for Lockhart to notice. "Last time he cast a spell on me he got it wrong and I spent the night in the hospital wing."

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"Huh. And there's just one around? Who-all comes to visit under typical circumstances?"

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"I think all the teachers have a couple? It's mostly people's muggle parents."

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"How considerate of them to have this, uh, disability accommodation on hand."

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"Guess so, yeah. I haven't really thought about it, all my family are magic."

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"I would be interested in pie charts of the demographics here but it is not urgent."

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"You make charts out of pie?"

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"It's a figure of speech, the charts are circles with wedges of different colors."

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"That makes more sense but it's not as much fun."

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And here's Lockhart's office! Lockhart presents Cam with a wooden disk on a leather cord and a long-winded story about how he once had to enchant one of these on the fly while rescuing the princess of some country Cam has never heard of.

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"Is that some kind of secret magic country," Cam says, donning the necklace, "or the magic name for a country Muggles know by another name...?"

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"I believe it's in the area muggles call Timbuktu. What brings you to Hogwarts, by the way? Would you like an autograph?"

 

When Cam puts the necklace on, the architecture goes from "crap even before the decades of neglect" to "beautiful and very well-maintained stonework". All the walls and doors are in the same places, at least.

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"I don't really collect autographs, thanks. I was summoned."

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"Professor, we know what Slytherin's Monster is. It's a basilisk."

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"A basilisk? Fascinating. Unfortunately I have just been, ah, called away to, ah, a very important conference. I'm sure you'll all be able to handle yourselves without me." He pulls out a suitcase and starts tossing random objects into it.

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...Cam looks at the kids because he does not know if this is expected wizard faculty behavior.

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Yeah, this is pretty unsurprising.

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No, this is very surprising!

"But you're the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher! You can't just leave when there's a monster attacking the school!"

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"Are giant snakes a dark art?"

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"The Defense curriculum is supposed to cover protecting yourself from dangerous creatures."

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"That's not the point, the point is that Lockhart's a fraud."

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"Hmm. I can't have you lot going around spreading this story," says Lockhart, closing his suitcase and drawing his wand. "Totally incongruous with my image. So just to be sure . . . obliviate!" He flicks the wand at Ron.

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"Eh? What's going on?"

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That wand is going to be encased in a block of ice now, grown so as to break his grip but probably not any fingers! "What the actual fuck did you just do?"

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"That was a memory charm. Ron, what's the last thing you remember?"

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"Uh, we just found out there was a basilisk? Why are we in Lockhart's office?"

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"Aaaaaaa! Wandless magic?!"

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"You're lucky I didn't just snap it! Memory charm? I should snap it - do those wear off, are they reversible -"

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"They might be reversible? Oh, Ron, I'm sorry, this is all my fault for trusting him."

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Lockhart tries to break the ice off his hand by banging it on a table, winces in pain, and then stands there looking stymied.

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Cam courteously melts the ice from his hand for him so the block with the wand in it rests on the table. "Do you have a... better... teacher somewhere we could try?"

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"Professor McGonagall has never actually made things worse?"

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"That sounds like a step up! I do not want to let this creep out of my sight right at this moment and mirrors or no mirrors the snake is certainly big enough to eat you guys up in one bite so I should be along for better-teacher-fetching too, so I guess he's coming with us. Are memory charms illegal, can he just be turned in or something?"

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"I think it's illegal to use on wizards? It's got to be some kind of forbidden to use it on your student. Let's bring him to McGonagall, she'll know for sure."

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"All right. Come along, Professor. Lead the way, kids. Ron, I apologize but I do not have a recording of the missing time. It was fairly uneventful though."

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"Cam couldn't see Hogwarts because of the anti-muggle spells, so we went looking for a teacher to take them off and ran into Lockhart. Hermione told Lockhart about the basilisk, so he tried to run away and wipe our memories so we wouldn't know he had."

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"Alright. Thanks, mate."

Ron and the others set off for, presumably, McGonagall's office.

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Wibble. Lockhart follows, clutching his useless icy wand.

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"I think maybe you want to put that down because I don't know under what conditions you could cast with it and if it looks like it might be occurring to you to aim it anywhere I'm just gonna wreck it. It's hard to overstate how offensive memory charms are. I will give you a pair of glasses like theirs though." Glasses.

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Lockhart maybe did not expect or want glasses spontaneously appearing on his face, but he sure does have them! He jumps. He does also put his wand in his pocket, though.

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"Your options are you have that on your person and I'm on a heck of a hair trigger about splintering it into a hundred pieces if you twitch, or I carry it and I am not," Cam tells him. "The glasses are an attempt at an anti-basilisk defense."

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He'll hand it over and look extremely annoyed about it.

"Who are you, anyway? I've never heard of you."

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"My name is Cam and you wouldn't have. Off we go."

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Off they go! More beautiful stone hallways that connect at weird angles, and doors that the kids open by poking them. There are portraits on the walls; some of them wave and one says "Good morning!".

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"Good morning," says Cam blandly, and, "are they people?"

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"I don't think so? They're more like echoes, or recordings--they don't learn, they can talk about the lives of the people they're based on but not what they did last year, that sort of thing." 

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"...okay."

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They make one last 270-degree left and Hermione knocks on an elegant wooden door. It's answered by an elderly, stern-faced woman in green robes, who says in a crisp Scottish accent, "Well, this is quite the group. What brings you all here?"

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"The monster is a basilisk in the plumbing and also this clown memory-charmed Ron. Hi, I'm Cam."

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"A basilisk? Are you certain? How did you come by this information?" She spares Lockhart a "what is wrong with you" glare, but he's clearly not the most pressing concern right now.

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"...magic? It's a long story. I can't personally distinguish basilisks from any other sort of inappropriately large snake but it looks like this." He hands her a plastic basilisk. "To scale."

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"Wandless conjuration? Without a complete visualization of the object? I find that rather hard to believe." She looks at the kids, then back at Cam. "Can you replicate the third piece of parchment from the top of the central stack on my desk?"

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Cam sighs and hands her that too.

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It's a subscription renewal form for a transfiguration journal. Her eyes go wide when she takes it. 

"Well. This is unprecedented. I have a lot of questions for you but first I must deal with the danger." Evacuating the school or sending everyone to their common rooms might tip off the Heir, and if they decided to go out in a blaze of glory the consequences could be disastrous, so, "Do you know who is controlling the monster?"

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"No, I'm not confident it's a conjurable parameter but if you want a lot of little plastic basilisks we can pan through its history and see if it's been meeting anybody?"

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"Unless any of you know where the Chamber of Secrets is, I don't immediately see a better idea. Come into my office." She steps aside to let them into a room balanced on the knife edge between "office of an extremely organized person" and "office of a person with too many jobs".

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In they go. "Is he dangerous at all while I have his wand, I'm new to all this wand-related stuff," Cam asks, gesturing at Lockhart. "I can try for the Chamber but the plumbing doesn't obey conventional geometry so I might just wind up with a lot of self-interpolating Chamber parts."

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"It's certainly worth the attempt. And if your magic works by proximity, you could try everyone who was near the basilisk at the time of the last attack." She gives a time and date.

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"I did a model of Colin Creevy - I believe it's still where I originally made it, didn't want to carry it around - and there wasn't anyone else present, but I can pan back from that." Basilisk surroundings at that time and date.

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He gets a number of unaccompanied plastic basilisks, which McGonagall vanishes as they accumulate, and eventually gets one being addressed by a redheaded girl with her hands positioned as though clutching something that didn't come through.

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"Ginny?! No way she's the Heir! She's not!"

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"I don't know what wizarding terrorism demographics look like but I wouldn't have guessed a little girl," acknowledges Cam.

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"Yeah, I'm with Ron, his sister really didn't seem the type. And your whole family's in Gryffindor; shouldn't the Heir of Slytherin be a Slytherin?"

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"Well, the legend is just that it's one of his descendants, but whoever it is has been attacking muggleborns, and I don't see why Ginny would do that."

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"Nonetheless, mister Weasley, if she has been near the basilisk and survived she might know more than we do about the matter."

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"If wizards do primogeniture it probably can't be a younger sister. Is she findable by conventional methods or do you need me for that?"

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"She's probably in the Gryffindor common room at this hour. Miss Granger, will you go and fetch her while I sort out the matter of alleged memory charms?"

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"Alright." Hermione sets off.

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"Uh," says Cam, "basilisk, roaming the pipes? Is sending her off by herself wise?"

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"It's no more dangerous than it was yesterday, but yes, perhaps we should stick together." She calls Hermione back in and examines the group. "Any further objections before we go find Miss Weasley?"

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"I, ah, I must protest against these ridiculous accu--"

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"Objections from people other than you."

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Cam has no objections. He offers McGonagall a pair of shades.

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"Thank you." She transfigures the shades to match her prescription and swaps out her spectacles.

McGonagall in mirror shades looks extremely weird, but nobody is going to point this out. They set off, McGonagall contriving to both take the lead and not let Lockhart out of her sight.

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Cam brings up the rear and conjures around corners.

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There's nothing around the corners except, on two occasions, cats.

"I don't understand your abilities," remarks McGonagall. "You're not an ordinary wizard, or a muggle, or any sort of magical creature known to wizardkind. Where did you come from, what can you do, what are your limitations?"

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"My species is in English called demons. From Hell. I can make arbitrary nonmagical material objects."

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"And this 'hell' contains what, exactly?" she asks suspiciously.

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"It started out containing literally nothing and now it has whatever we put there. It's a perfectly nice place, if a little too often radioactive for humans to be comfortable."

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"And you have no designs on human souls?" she asks, with the gaze of a woman who can hear ten students say their cat ate their homework and pick out the two whose cats really did.

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"None at all."

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"Good." The "you better not" remains unspoken. "And exactly how arbitrary is arbitrary objects, besides not being able to make enchanted items?"

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"No antimatter, nothing including vacuum unless I start it in a vacuum, nothing that begins in motion but there's ways around that, I have a volume per time rate limit and a range limit but they're big, I have to know what I'm making to pretty high granularity if I'm inventing it or be able to identify it by conjurable parameters if I'm copying it, I can do format conversion but not translation, and if I make animals they come out real dumb."

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"Those are fascinatingly different from the limits on conjuration as we know it. Except for the part about animals; conjured or transfigured animals are in most cases extremely dim."

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"An interesting commonality, that. Couldn't tell you if it means anything."

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"Neither could I. There are theories as to the cause, on our end, but nothing definitive. More immediately, how did you come to Hogwarts?"

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"Demons can be summoned. I didn't know there was something unusual about this summon till after I got here."

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"I didn't know muggles knew how to summon demons. They do keep coming up with new things, don't they."

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"This isn't the universe I'm usually summoned to."

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She looks at the trio. "How do you three manage these things?"

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Shrug.

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Shrug!

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"The book said it was a scrying spell!"

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"It's very irresponsible of the author, may warrant looking into once the immediate mess is handled."

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"Yes. The author may or may not have known what they were doing. I haven't heard of any spells summoning people from other realities before."

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"Maybe it's some kind of fluke but it bears looking into."

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"Yes. Magic often has strange results when things go wrong, but rarely this dramatic and this stable at the same time."

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"The being summoned part is normal for me. Just not the destination or the wizards."

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"Do you think it's reproducible here?"

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"Worth finding a volunteer to check but in case something weird is going on I do want to look for a volunteer first."

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"You can contact others of your kind from here? Have you told any of them about magic?"

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"I can write them letters and they can make the letters when they check their mail. I haven't done this yet because the basilisk and also your fellow faculty member's unpleasant habits seemed like the priority."

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"Witches and wizards have concealed our existence from all others for centuries, for our own safety. It would be unwise to disrupt that situation, even or perhaps especially with beings from another reality."

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"...your safety from... people who do not have magic?"

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"When the Statute was ratified, they outnumbered us three thousand to one. Now they have weapons that kill thousands in a moment, and outnumber us five thousand to one. Conflict between our peoples would be a catastrophe for everyone."

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"Some people approach this sort of problem with, like, political philosophy."

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"I'm not quite sure what you mean."

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"It's not very high on the triage list, never mind."

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"And here we are." She stops in front of a portrait of a large pink-clad woman, glances at Lockhart, and whispers something inaudible; the painting frame swings out to reveal a hole wide enough to climb through. Cam might need to pull his wings in all the way.

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They fold up real small.

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Inside are some people doing their homework, two boys playing cards, and the redheaded girl writing in a little black book in one corner. The boys look up at the two professors in surprise, and their deck of cards disintegrates violently.

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Cam waves in a nonthreatening manner.

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She notices him, blinks a couple times, notices Harry, squeaks quietly, and shoves the book in her bag.

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...Cam attempts to conjure a copy of the book.

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No sale.

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"Book's magic. Or something else that foxes me but probably magic. I don't know how common that is."

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"Miss Weasley, I need to speak to you for a moment. Please bring your book with you." She waves her wand and the wall acquires a door to a small office. The other children look torn between intense curiosity and "whatever trouble you're in, better you than me".

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Cam will, uh, loiter awkwardly.

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Just so long as he's loitering awkwardly inside the office where McGonagall can keep an eye on him. He and Lockhart can be Awkward Loitering Buddies.

"Miss Weasley, I'm going to need to take a look at that book of yours."

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"It's my diary? Wh-why do you want to read my diary?" 

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"I believe it may be enchanted in some way--perhaps cursed. If it proves to be merely an ordinary diary, I assure you I will return it intact."

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"It's--I--oh, take it, I don't want it anyway, I hate it!" She grabs the black book from her schoolbag, shudders, and flings it at McGonagall, then turns to the nearest wall and collapses against it.

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McGonagall levitates the book before it hits her, plucks it from the air--

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And tosses it onto the conference table, shaking her hand as though bitten. "This is some extremely Dark magic," she murmurs. "Why Albus had to be at the Confederation this week of all weeks . . ." She starts moving her wand in complex patterns over the book and incanting something which, if Cam understands Latin, is gibberish that resembles a lot of words related to perception and detection.

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Ginny turns slowly away from the wall, muscles twitching and clenching against each other, face slack and expressionless. She hisses like a snake and lunges for the book.

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WOW okay how about her ankles and wrists are all tied together now, he doesn't know if drugs work on wizards. She can crash into a pillow here.

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WHUMP. Facefull of pillow. Incoherent noises.

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"That was Parseltongue--she said 'Come to me' and then 'Kill!'"

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McGonagall opens the door to the common room and says, "Everyone into your dormitories immediately! Stay there until I say otherwise!" Students grab their things and start dashing up the stairs.

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"Is there no plumbing in the dorms?"

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"There is, but the wards are especially strong there. I hope it will be forced to come through the portrait. Mister Potter, go upstairs!"

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"I think it is headed for the portrait--Professor, maybe I can talk to it, tell it to stop--"

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He's cut off by McGonagall levitating him up the stairs and shutting the door behind him. She looks at Cam, seems about to say something, then thinks better of it and turns back to the entrance, wand out and face stony below the mirror shades.

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Cam makes little dioramas of the basilisk's location. "Should Ginny also be upstairs, or...?"

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"It shouldn't target her while she's controlling it, but it's not worth the risk." Ginny gets silencio'd and sent up the other staircase.

The basilisk has exited the plumbing and is heading up a familiar set of stairs and hallways. Very quickly.

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"Here it comes."

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CRUNCH.

There's a dent in the wall around the portrait hole.

CRUNCH.

The wall is a web of cracks.

CRUNCH.

A massive coil of scaly muscle busts through into the common room.

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The thing is supposed to be able to talk, more or less, and Cam doesn't know how to go pharmacologically nonlethal. He settles for standing in front of Lockhart and being ready to interpolate it if McGonagall doesn't have an idea.

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McGonagall has lots of ideas! She's casting multiple spells a second, beams of light and detonations and spikes shooting up from the flagstones to form a barrier of needles. 

None of it works. The wall of scales shrugs off the spellfire and crushes the spikes like so much rock candy. 

The King of Serpents draws back for a moment, but only to reposition itself. Here comes the head!

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The head is going to separate from the body now.

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The scales actually sort of manage to hang together around the interruption, but apparently it never occurred to evolution and/or dark wizards to armor the insides separately from the outsides. Now there is a dead snake pouring gore from its neck. 

(Lockhart uncurls a bit from where he had been curled up in the corner of the room.)

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McGonagall takes a moment to breathe, then starts vanishing the blood and looks over at Cam. "That was you, I take it? One hundred points to--excuse me. Thank you for your prompt intervention."

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"It wasn't that prompt, I was hoping you had a way not to kill it, since it talks."

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"I'm not sure it could actually use language in the way humans can. Regardless, I fear I didn't have a way to subdue it fatally or otherwise. You saved a lot of students today."

 

"Incidentally, you have the right to the corpse. It's quite valuable; practically every part of a creature this magical has its uses in potionmaking."

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"I do not know how to make potions. I suppose I could find a use for currency."

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"It's up to you, though I will ask you to find somewhere to store it so I can make repairs to the tower. But I believe the next item on today's list of crises is that cursed diary."

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"Unless you want me to wreck it like how I beheaded the snake that sounds like your department."

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Lockhart is trying to sneak around the snake and out of the common room/hallway/rubble zone.

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"You. I will see you in my office in three hours. Consider yourself suspended, and if I had any hope of finding a substitute you would already be sacked."

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"How is he even sort of better than nothing? He attacked a kid! Give them a textbook and set them last year's exam and at least if they learn anything they'll remember it!"

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"Once I know what exactly happened I might do just that. If it were any other day . . . . Mipsy?"

A small humanoid with large ears, wearing a toga made of towel, appears from thin air, goggles at the basilisk, and asks, "Professor McGonagall is wanting Mipsy?"

"Yes. Help mister Swan find somewhere to put this corpse. Don't worry, it's quite dead."

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"I don't think I can carry it. Uh. Nice to meet you, Mipsy."

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"Hello master Swan! Mipsy is moving your snake for you! Where is you wanting it?"

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"I think I'm too old to be a 'master', isn't there a cutoff for that somewhat lower than a hundred and seventy-two? I am not familiar with many locations, perhaps you can suggest somewhere it'll be out of the way and convenient to anyone who wants to buy and make off with pieces of it."

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She isn't quite sure what to do with Cam's first sentence, but, "There is being an empty storeroom near the kitchens! Is you wanting Mipsy to bring the snake there, or show you first?"

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(McGonagall has gone back to the side chamber, and is doing variously destructive things to the diary, now sitting in a metal box, with no effect.)

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"If you could show me that would be convenient."

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"Yes master Swan! Right this way!" Mipsy heads into the hallway at a surprising speed for how short her legs are.

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"Please don't call me that, it makes me sound like an alternate universe Batman or something," he says, following along. "Mr. Swan is fine if you prefer to be formal."

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"Yes mister Swan!" Down several flights of stairs, pause to wait for the next flight of stairs to arrive, down that one too, through a door with the handle on the left edge, turn one-eighty degrees and go back through the same door with the handle on the left again to exit into a different hallway, four left turns and here's a door. It opens onto an empty room with shelves all over the walls but plenty of space in the middle.

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When they reach the flip-door he creates a strange looking object, which sputters and smokes and sparks a bit before falling inert. "Any idea why my computer did that?" he asks Mipsy.

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The elf looks dejected. "Mipsy is not knowing what a computer is or why it is doing that. Mipsy is sorry."

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"No big deal, just means I couldn't take notes on the route. I can probably remember it. Looks like a fine place for the basilisk."

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"Mipsy is bringing it here now, then?"

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"Sure, thanks!"

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Mipsy vanishes for a minute, then the basilisk corpse appears coiled up on the floor. It piles up most of the way to the ceiling. Mipsy's head pops out of the top of the coil. "Is here being alright mister Swan?"

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"Looks good, I appreciate it!"

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Apparently house elves flap their ears when they're happy! Or at least this one does. "Is you needing anything else?"

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"I think I can find the way back but if I'm mistaken or the staircases misbehave or the professor has wandered off I'd appreciate an escort."

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"Mipsy is happy to be of service!" And she can lead the way back to the common room. The route they take up is in fact different from the route down, though possibly the former way would have worked and this way is just faster. Also, the Gryffindors have clearly been let out of their dorms, given the knots of students excitedly spreading rumors that manage to be even weirder than the truth.

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And is Professor McGonagall there?

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She is! She has gotten the wall back together, but the portrait hole no longer has a portrait on it. The portrait is on the floor, and the fat lady in the pink dress is as still as, well, a painting. She's gone back to futilely trying to destroy the diary, which is now in a different, significantly thicker box on a table now sporting several injuries.

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"Do you want me to try?"

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"Please do. I have made Miss Weasley as comfortable as I can, but I can't release her until I've severed the connection."

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How would this book like to share all its space with a similar mass of liquid nitrogen?

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Now it's in a puddle of liquid nitrogen! Now it's in a vapor cloud. Now it's fine.

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"I can start trying assorted acid or I could - if I can work around whatever went wrong with my computer - take it into space and feed it to a tiny black hole, but I'm not sure if I should expect that to work where interpolation failed."

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"Electricity doesn't work in Hogwarts due to magical interference. I have already tried acid, I'm not sure what a black hole is . . . . Hm. How much ice can you create, how fast?"

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"A lot? Uh, I think it's something like two hundred cubic miles per second at absolute top speed but I should not do that under most circumstances because it's hard to stop in the middle with suitable reaction time if you're going that quick, that's astroengineering speed."

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"And you could create it in whatever shape you wished? For example, in a hollow cylinder, continuously renewed?"

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"Sure, assuming it doesn't exceed my range which is a couple astronomical units. Uh, and I guess depending what you mean by continuously renewed, that seems like it might depend on whether any forces might change its direction or anything like that once it's made."

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"In that case, if you are willing, we might be able to safely make use of Fiendfyre. It is a form of magical fire which can destroy even very strong magical protections. It is, however, extremely difficult to control. I would not ask you to do this if a student's life were not at stake--I believe the diary is draining her life force."

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"Okay. Possibly, uh, not in the school."

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"I was intending to use the lake."

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"Sure."

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Then if he's ready to do it now, they can traverse Yet More Stairs, and also 540 degrees of clockwise hallway with no apparent elevation change, and emerge via an elaborate entrance hall into the Hogwarts grounds. They're very picturesque, with an imposing old-growth forest on one side and a large lake on the other.

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"Okay, how do you see this working?"

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"You make an open cylinder of ice near the shore, I levitate the diary in and cast Fiendfyre, you seal the cylinder and keep replacing the ice until I can put the fire out, which I expect to take not less than twenty minutes and not more than two hours assuming it remains contained within the cylinder. With your permission I will cast some protective spells on you first." She directs her wand at herself, then at the Lakeshore, murmuring more not-Latin.

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"I don't object, since I don't know how magical damage might interact with my being indestructible." Big ol' cylinder of ice.

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McGonagall casts the protective spells on Cam, and summons a broom so she can see down into the top of the ice cylinder for better aim.

She tosses the diary in, hovers well back, counts down "Three, two, one, now."

And there is fire, white and gold and incredibly hot. Cam can feel the heat on his face from here. Ice starts flashing into steam in moments, and glowing through the steam cloud are the firey shapes of beasts and monsters, clawing at their icy prison, roaring, boiling their way out.

 

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Freaky!

Cam tries switching to dry ice after a bit, ready to go back to normal ice if anything weird happens and wishing he'd asked about this possibility first.

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Nothing freaky happens beyond what was happening already.

McGonagall starts fighting against the spell from pretty much the moment after she casts it. The flames slowly shrink, then flare up nearly as large as they started, then shrink again. She looks gradually more and more exhausted, and by an hour in she's started to slump down on the broom, but she keeps her wand pointed rock steady at the fire.

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"Do you want... coffee or something...?"

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"Coffee . . . would be . . . lovely!" She calls. It's clearly an effort to make herself heard over the fire.

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She can have a lidded to-go cup of coffee with modest quantities of cream and sugar in her free hand, appeared slowly so she isn't startled into dropping it.

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She drinks the coffee, slowly, and with her eyes locked on the fire over the top of the cup.

The flames shrink to the size of a bonfire, then a campfire, then a very angry candle, and finally dwindle into nothing. Not even ashes remain of the diary.

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"Can I get you anything else? I wasn't expecting this to take that long." He wants a hot dog so now he has one.

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She brings the broom down, dismounts, leans on it like a walking stick for a moment before slinging it over her shoulder and setting off toward the castle at a noticeably slower stride than before. "Perhaps a cup of tea? Cream, no sugar."

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"Oh, right, this is Britain." Tea earl grey hot.

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"Thank you. For the tea and for your assistance earlier. Miss Weasley should be safe now." She drinks the tea while they hike back to Gryffindor tower, vanishing the empty cup when she's done and pausing only to grab a portrait of an armored knight off the wall, explaining to it that it needs to fill in as Gryffindor password check for the rest of the term.

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"Interesting security system you have."

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"The Founders came up with it. Ravenclaw uses riddles, but the other three all have variants on passwords. Though Gryffindor is the only one which enforces it with a portrait."

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"Does the portrait add much to the security? Do they recognize the students or something?"

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"They can learn to, though there are so many forms of magical disguise that the password is still very important. The main benefit is that they move their own frames, which makes it harder to sneak in behind someone else."

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"Oh, cool. I guess passwords probably work all right as long as computers don't."

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"I don't see the connection?"

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"Uh, when computers work a bit better than they probably do in this era they get good at trying a lot of passwords very fast and it makes it important to have heftier security but this is probably fine for your use case except when giant snakes bypass the password mechanism entirely."

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"I'm not sure how anything could try passwords faster than the portrait can hear, but as you say it's unimportant. The Basilisk was the first security breach we've had in some time." She installs Sir Cadogan, lets herself and Cam in, and goes to untie Ginny Weasley where she's asleep on a couch.

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The ropes vanishing is enough to wake her up. "Hmm? What--what happened? You wanted to look at the diary, and then . . . How much trouble am I in?"

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"None anymore, as far as I can determine. You were being controlled by the diary, but it has been destroyed and the effects of the curse should fade quickly. Nonetheless you should see Madam Pomfrey."

She looks searchingly at Ginny. "How much do you remember about what the diary was making you do?"

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Ginny answers, in a whisper, "I was attacking people . . . Justin and Colin and Mrs Norris and those roosters--I'm gonna be expelled!" She bursts into tears.

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"There, there," says McGonagall a bit awkwardly. "You're not going to be expelled, it wasn't you doing it. But can you tell me where you got the diary?"

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"I don't know. It was inside one of my textbooks when we got home from buying them."

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"...do you shop at an evil bookstore?"

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"N-no? It was the used section of Flourish and Blotts."

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"Maybe they keep records on who donates them stuff or something. Probably not though..."

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"And they probably get a lot of copies of A Beginner's Guide to Transfiguration."

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"I take it you're interested in helping trace the book? Would you like an empty classroom to work in?"

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"I couldn't conjure the book," Cam points out. "I can see if surroundings work though, sure."

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"That could work. Miss Weasley, do you remember the date you bought your books?"

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"It was the middle of August . . . it must have been the nineteenth, I remember because Professor Lockhart was doing that book signing."

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"Speaking of him, where's he gotten to, I still have his wand but if he could swipe one or something..."

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"You have--of course you do. He's probably trying to figure out how to get it back without losing face." She doesn't look amused, nope, definitely not.

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"Why do you have his wand? And why do you have wings?"

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"I have his wand because he Memory Charmed your brother Ron and I have wings because I wanted to be able to fly."

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"Um. Okay. Is Ron alright? Is everyone else alright, I don't know what the--you know about the basilisk, right?"

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"Yes, we do, and it's no longer a problem. Mister Swan here dispatched it."

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"Wow."

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"How are you holding up, you looked pretty badly off..."

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"I'm--not hurt or anything? I just--Merlin, I was so stupid, I thought Tom was my friend!" She pulls her knees up to her chest and plonks her forehead on them. "He was so nice at first," she mumbles into her robes.

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"What is even the motive to make an evil diary that possesses schoolgirls," wonders Cam.

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"Perhaps Dumbledore will know when he returns. Can you tell us more about Tom, Miss Weasley?"

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"He--he said he was Tom Riddle, and it was his diary from when he was at Hogwarts. He wanted to know all about what it's like here now, and about--about Harry Potter."

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"...was Harry Potter somehow known when he was at Hogwarts, because I have met Harry Potter and he is not very advanced in his educational career at this time. How old a diary is this?"

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"Fifty years. He didn't know about Harry before I told him, and then he wanted to hear all about how he defeated You-Know-Who. I didn't know how, of course, nobody does, that's just what he asked me about the most."

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"Huh. Well, I can go attempt amateur forensics on whence it came. Do you want, like, ice cream or something."

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She looks at him like this is probably a trick question, but says, "Ice cream . . . would be . . . nice?"

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He gives her a little bowl of chocolate ice cream with caramel sauce.

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She takes it, peers at it, and eventually deems it probably non-hazardous enough to eat a spoonful, and then another. That might be a hint of smile.

"Thank you."

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This appears to have earned him some more metaphorical points with McGonagall. "Do you have enough to work with from here?"

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"Think so. Obviously I won't recognize any bad actors who turn up so I'll need someone to identify them from models."

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"Of course. Would you prefer to work in our library, or an empty classroom? I can't leave you in here unsupervised and I need to take Miss Weasley to the hospital wing and then deal with the probably former Defense Professor. Oh, and I'll need his wand back."

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"Classroom is fine. What's going to become of his wand?"

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"I'm going to return it to him, probably right before evicting him from the castle. Only extremely serious crimes would justify keeping it from him."

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"...he erased a child's memory. With the wand, I'm not suggesting it as a punitive, it's a preventative. Is this like suggesting taking somebody's hand off in wizard culture or something?"

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"Almost any wizard would rather lose their hand than their wand, even if hands weren't more easily replaceable."

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He sighs and hands over the wand; its ice has long since melted.

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"Thank you. If it's any consolation, he will lose his reputation, and knowing him that will be almost as harsh." She pockets the wand and shows Cam to an unused classroom with a handful of desks and chairs pushed up against the wall.

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Cam sets about tracing the evil diary's steps.

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The used bookstore turns out to be blameless. Ginny's textbook doesn't acquire its evil passenger until a couple hours after purchase, when an extremely sinister-looking blond man sticks his hand in the cauldron, inserting something that can't be conjured but crushes the right amount of pages.

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Cam picks up the model of the sinister blond man and goes looking for McGonagall.

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She's in her office, pulling her head out of a small head-height fireplace on the wall. The fire in it is bright green, and goes out as she steps back.

"Hello, Mister Swan. Was your investigation successful?"

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"This guy, whoever he is, tucked the evil diary in her textbook." He displays Tiny Evil Guy.

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McGonagall sighs. "Lucius Malfoy. Utterly immoral, and politically untouchable. Still, I confess myself surprised that he would do such a thing while his son is a student here."

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"It's questionable on a lot of levels. What's politically untouchable about him, is he like Wizard Emperor?"

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"No, but he's been making generous political donations for years, and gotten away with worse crimes with more or at least more legible evidence. . . . Perhaps I should give you an overview of recent British wizarding history. I'm beginning to suspect the involvement of He Who Must Not Be Named."

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"Why must he not be named, does his name make people's ears bleed?"

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McGonagall looks slightly put out by the levity, but continues, "He Who Must Not Be Named is a dark wizard, convinced that those of "pure" wizarding blood are superior to muggles and to wizards with muggle ancestry. He and his followers terrorized wizarding Britain for years, and came perilously close to overthrowing the Ministry of Magic. Eleven years ago, he attempted to kill the infant Harry Potter and was instead somehow incapacitated. Malfoy was one of his followers. He claimed to have been controlled by the Imperius Curse, a powerful dark spell that lets the caster overrule another's will, but it is widely believed that he went willingly. And He Who Must Not Be Named was a parselmouth. Between the involvement of Malfoy and the basilisk, I believe he is somehow behind all this."

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"I guess that's a reasonable guess given those clues."

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"Didn't Miss Weasley say the spirit went by Tom Riddle? I knew a Tom Riddle at school . . . a Slytherin, and rather nastily charismatic. I don't suppose you could discern his current whereabouts, or whether he's still alive?"

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Tom Riddle and surroundings?

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Tom Riddle is . . . 

In a creepy shack!

And in the drawing room of an even creepier mansion!

And in a pile of gold in a vault!

And in a pile of random books and Hogwarts furniture!

And he's a snake in a forest somewhere!

And also he's in the Gryffindor common room, with Harry, Ron, and Hermione!

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"........what the fuck," says Cam, failing to hold all these dioramas as they tumble to the floor. "I was aiming for one guy! This wouldn't happen if he just has half a dozen namesakes. I blame wizard shenanigans, can you explain."

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"What in Merlin's name . . . I can't explain this either.You didn't even get a body for him; has he just been possessing various objects? Never mind, the most pressing one is clearly whoever or whatever is in the common room; can you narrow it down?"

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"Should be what's in the very middle which is... Harry? ...did it jump out of the diary, or Ginny -"

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She doesn't answer. Instead she twists her wand in a complicated pattern, producing an ethereal silver cat-spirit, and tells it, "Private message. Dark wizard named Tom Riddle was possessing Ginny Weasley and may now be possessing Harry Potter. Probable connection to You-Know-Who."

The cat leaps through the wall; McGonagall heads for the door. "Dumbledore should be here within the hour; in the meantime your assistance would be appreciated."

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"My assistance with..."

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"Ensuring that mister Potter retains control of his own faculties. And tracking the . . . entity, in case he tries to jump to anything else."

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"You got it."

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"Thank you."

They're not far from Gryffindor Tower; when they arrive it's still the same three kids.

"I'm glad I caught you before you went down to dinner. Mister Potter, how have you been feeling?"

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"Professor?"

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"Have you noticed any unusual emotions or sensations in the past few hours? Do you have any gaps in your memories? Have you interacted with any objects whose nature or function you did not understand?" She's moving her wand around him as she asks this.

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"Um, no? Everything's been fine except for all the stuff earlier, and you were there for that."

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"We've all been in here for over an hour, Professor. Whatever happened, Harry didn't do it."

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"I can check more precisely if nothing turns up. Or it could've been in motion?"

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"That could be beneficial. I don't see anything, or perhaps something so faint as to be almost undetectable."

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Nearest location of Tom Riddle - "Nope, still here..." He pokes the diorama through with some diameter lines. "...sitting on his head???"

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He puts a hand on his forehead-scar. "Um."

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"Um."

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"Could you check if he was already there . . . say, three years ago?"

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"...sure."

 

"Is this a broom closet?"

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"Can we just not ask why I happened to be in a broom closet?"

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McGonagall examines the little model broom cupboard and says, "Yes. For now. It seems this Tom Riddle situation is both more important and less urgent than I had previously suspected. The good news, mister Potter, is that you do not seem likely to attack anyone. The bad news is that I am uncertain what the bad news is."

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"Could track down the other locations and see if they shed any light on anything?"

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"That could be helpful, yes--" she's cut off by a massive silver bird-spirit coming through the ceiling. It says, "I'll be in my office," and fades out of existence.

"Ah, the Headmaster has returned. We should go talk to him, he's the closest thing to an expert on this sort of thing. Miss Granger, mister Weasley, I suggest you go down to dinner."

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Ron looks like he wants to protest, but eventually says, "Good luck, mate."

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"I'm sure you'll be alright, Harry. If it's been going on for years it can't be about to get worse. And Dumbledore will figure it out." She looks like she's trying to convince herself as much as him, but she and Ron do make their way out.

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"Don't worry, I'll tell you everything tonight, assuming I don't get petrified or eaten by a giant snake or discover Voldemort on the back of my head first."

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"Your head would be so crowded!" says Cam, accompanying McGonagall and Harry to the headmaster's office. "Do you want ice cream, this is probably stressful and Ginny got ice cream."

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Harry shoots him exactly the same "is this a trick question" look Ginny did and says, "Yes, please."

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"Do you have a favorite kind, I guessed for her but perhaps you don't care for chocolate with caramel sauce?"

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This is not a question he has needed to have an answer to before! "Um, cookie dough?"

(He has not actually had cookie dough ice cream but cookies are good and ice cream is good and he bets the combination will be good too.)

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Chocolate chip cookie dough! In a chocolate dipped waffle cone.

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"Thank you!" Taste . . .? Oh wow this is really good, he was totally right.

And here's a gargoyle statue guarding a blank piece of wall.

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"Fizzing Whizbee," says Professor McGonagall, and the gargoyle hops away from what turns out to be a door to a spiral staircase-escalator.

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Cam spends the spiral staircase escalator ride trying to figure out how a spiral staircase escalator works. Are steps disappearing at the top?

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Yup! He has to go a full turn above the door they're going toward to see it, but there they go, phasing into what is in all other ways indistinguishable from a solid stone ceiling.

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Okay, that's topologically satisfactory. Into the office.

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Inside is a very old man who looks like someone decided the wizards in this universe weren't stereotypical enough and set out to rectify the error.

"Hello Minerva, hello Harry. And who might you be?"

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"My name is Cam and I am a differently magical entity from an alternate universe that is also in the future but that's not important right now."

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"This is why I never say I have seen everything. I take it you were involved in uncovering the matter that has Minerva so concerned?"

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"Ginevra Weasley, one of my first-years, was possessed by a cursed diary inhabited by one Tom Riddle, who was using her to open the Chamber of Secrets. Mister Swan and I destroyed the item and miss Weasley recovered, but mister Swan then used his unique form of magic to determine that Tom Riddle was in six separate locations--and that one of them was inside mister Potter's forehead. He is showing no symptoms of possession, but I am nonetheless concerned."

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"The model wasn't high res enough to distinguish 'inside' from 'right on the surface of'," Cam clarifies, "for all I know it's a dermatological condition. Is the scar magic? Can scars be magic?"

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"Mister Swan also determined that that state of affairs has persisted for several years, which suggests to me that it does involve his scar. Unless he has encountered Dark magic on some other occasion before coming to Hogwarts."

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"No, I believe you are correct. This is very concerning. Did you say six locations?"

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"Yeah - I could go get the models or just reproduce them here?"

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"You'll want to reproduce them, I vanished everything on the way out. Also I suspect Albus wants a look at your magic."

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Cam makes a stack of dioramas, one to a shelf.

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Dumbledore watches the conjuration appreciatively,

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then inspects the dioramas

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with increasing concern.

"This is . . . not entirely unexpected, but the magnitude of the problem is greater than I thought. However, I can say that mister Potter is in no immediate danger."

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"...okay, cool. What is going on exactly, 'not in immediate danger' leaves so much room."

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"I believe he can be trusted. He has been nothing but helpful so far, and without him we would still be unaware of the problem."

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"I'm very helpful."

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Dumbledore gives Cam a long, searching look, his eyes twinkling, then turns to Harry. 

"The matters we are about to discuss are distinctly unpleasant and unlikely to require you to do anything any time soon. I suggest you go enjoy your dinner."

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Harry gets out (and determines the door to be inconveniently soundproof, and gets the rest of the way out).

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"Before anything else, I should inform you of the events of today in more detail." She explains about Ginny, and the basilisk, and the fiendfyre, and about Lockhart and her unilateral decision to sack him ("I have secured Remus Lupin as a replacement"), and Malfoy's unfortunately unprovable involvement, and the business with all the excess Tom Riddles. 

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"Unpro- okay, I guess you probably don't have a system to make forensic conjuration admissible but I'm starting to really dislike what I've seen of wizard mechanisms for keeping your preteen children safe."

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"I'm afraid you've seen a rather unusual series of events. I've had more trouble keeping my students safe today than in the entire rest of my career to date."

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"And today is, I am afraid, not over. To begin with, Minerva, your suspicions were correct: Tom Riddle and Lord Voldemort are one and the same."

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...Cam double-checks this real quick with especially tiny models, then dumps the especially tiny models into the Albanian forest.

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Yup, same dude collective of random objects.

"I know you suspected he was still alive, but what does it mean that he's in multiple locations? And that one of them is mister Potter's scar?"

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"I believe he may have undertaken certain Dark rituals to preserve his immortality, and that the diary and other objects tie him to existence. I will need to think on the implications regarding the child."

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"Are we talking possession, reincarnation, backup copy, respawn location, telepresence -"

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"He is currently lacking a body, but one of his followers may be able to restore him to one. He made an attempt at the Philosopher's Stone last year while possessing someone, and had he obtained it that would have sufficed."

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"Good to know and not what I asked."

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"The items are what enables him to exist without a body, rather than passing on to what comes next."

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"In... what way. - it is like the nineteen nineties and probably wizards don't read a lot of science fiction, I apologize, I'm asking what kind of interactions he is having or will have with the various locations in which he exists. Are those locations passively storing information about his experiences moment to moment for him to pick up in case he loses access to whatever his main storage is? Can he act through those locations in any way, especially the Harry location? If you don't know, can you tell me about past instances of similar magic being used so I can forensic it?"

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"I do not believe him to be interacting with them at all. They tie his soul to this world; he will become mortal if they are destroyed. Harry's case is stranger, and I know of no precedent for it. He has mentioned his scar hurting when Voldemort is nearby."

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"...okay. Do you think it's the same kind of thing as the other ones different only in that it's applied to a kid's head?"

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"I fear, or perhaps hope, that it is not. Multiple forms of rare magic were interacting that night, and I cannot imagine that Voldemort intended this or any other of the consequences."

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"Wait a moment--you said he will become mortal if they are destroyed. What does that mean for mister Potter's safety?"

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"I assure you, Minerva, I will take all reasonable steps to sever the connection without harm to the boy."

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"I am not an expert in this sort of magic but it doesn't seem very large. It's centered right on the scar, which is pretty superficial and has nothing else to extend into beyond his forehead in the outward direction. One could maybe just carve it out and I can put back some non-magical skin, I guess maybe also some skull if it's got some deeper bits? It'd be pretty invasive as mundane surgery goes but I could expect to do it in about five minutes without a twinge, though I dunno what your state of the art is or how much the soul anchor would object to the process."

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"The diary had a sense of self-preservation, of a sort, but then it seems to have been much more powerful. The one in mister Potter has been left unattended for years with no noticeable effect."

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"The one thing that gives me pause is his ability to speak Parseltongue. The Potters have no family history of the talent, and Voldemort was famously capable. It suggests that the . . . anchor, may have interacted with his brain."

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"Eesh. Okay, there I run into medical limits, I could make brain tissue but if we're talking lots of it he'll have a job entraining it to be good at braining on his own, I can't make a brain spring into existence with usable data on it. They did experiments with split brain patients. If it's like forty neurons we're talking nasty bump on the head, not relearn English, but it could be forty now and a million if we make it mad?"

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"There are defensive magics he could learn that would let him shield his mind from its influence, but it would take a rare talent to learn at his age."

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"You're thinking of occlumency? I agree it would be extremely difficult, but if anyone could teach him it would be you."

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"...this would be to prevent the 'a million if we make it mad' scenario?"

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"Yes. And potentially to force it out of his mind entirely, which should let you remove it without damaging his brain."

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"Can your magic determine how much of his brain it currently occupies? To a degree that would let you . . . operate . . . safely, and to determine if occlumency helps?"

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"I can try - the 'surroundings' hack is doing some work but depending on how much exactly..." He conjures some conjuration. "...looking at some brain damage here already. He wouldn't die, but unless it's actively getting worse -" He checks a few more time slices.

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It doesn't seem to be changing at all, though given that his head gets smaller the farther back you go that takes a bit of doing to be sure about.

"Well," says a perturbed McGonagall. "At least we know."

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"I will arrange to instruct him in occlumency. I'll need to construct a suitable pretext for everyone else for our visits, and something to tell him about why he needs to learn."

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"...why will you need those things?"

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"Because twelve years old is far too young to have to deal with such things, let alone have them become the subject of gossip."

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"Are you at least planning to explain to his family that their kid has this situation going on?"

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Time for the professors to look awkwardly at each other!

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"I'm afraid they would prefer not to be contacted. They . . . disapprove of magic."

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"...then why are they sending him to magic school?"

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"He wants to go, and under our laws they are not allowed to prevent him."

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"Ah-huh. So you're making decisions in loco parentis and not even informing anybody with a direct interest in the matter."

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"There's no-one it would be a good idea to inform. In the absence of any living magical relatives, I am his legal guardian in the magical world until he comes of age."

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"Why hasn't someone adopted him, if his existing family is checked out and you're not even trying to include them and they're legal non-entities and it's so important his guardians be magical?"

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"The situation is complicated. Suffice it to say that he needs to live with his relatives for his own good."

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McGonagall looks less than entirely convinced.

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"He saw the conjurations, you know."

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"And he certainly didn't seem intimidated last year. Perhaps you should tell him."

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"Perhaps when he has learned enough occlumency to prevent less trustworthy parties from finding out."

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"...are you talking about his, uh, headmate, or are other people going around reading minds?"

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"The art of legilimency allows a wizard to read surface thoughts or memories from an undefended mind. Voldemort was adept at it, and some of his followers may know it as well."

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"That's fucked," remarks Cam. "Can non-wizards learn Occlumency?"

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"I have never heard of one making the attempt, but it involves no explicit spell-casting. It's purely a mental discipline. If you want to try, I will be interested in seeing whether it works."

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"There are books of exercises you can try before practicing with a legilimens. The Strong and Quiet Mind is a good introduction, I believe."

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Cam appears one. "Thanks."

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"Alright. What's the next order of business? I assume we want to destroy the other anchors, but possibly not tonight."

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"Just so. I expect them to be heavily protected and that destroying them will take some time. Besides learning occlumency, mister Swan, what are your plans for the future?"

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"...wait a second, are you sure destroying the other anchors will not make the one on Harry's head angry?"

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"Destroying the diary had no apparent effect. When I have located another one and examined it myself it will become clearer whether it's safe to destroy them immediately or if they will need to wait."

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"...I guess you'd know more about it than I would."

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"Yes, unfortunately I have some understanding of this sort of dark magic, though I had hoped never to need it. If only Riddle had accepted his mortality . . . but it was not to be."

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"No more savory immortality options about?"

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"There was the philosopher's stone, until recently, but only two people ever succeeded in creating one."

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...checking... damn. "And it has terrible bandwidth? Feel free to refer me to books, by the by."

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"If you intend to remain at Hogwarts, you can take advantage of our extensive library."

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"Am I invited to do so? I am not qualified to be a student or a teacher."

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"Well, you are here due to the actions of some students, and from the sound of it you've already saved the school once. It would seem rather unfair to turn you out, whether or not you wish to participate further in the investigation."

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"I'm happy to help if there's more to investigate."

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"I am glad to hear it." Also, it occurs to him that if he told Cam to leave and he left and did his kind of magic somewhere with more Muggles around that would arguably be a Statute violation on his part.

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"There are a number of empty rooms intended for visiting staff; I can point you at one of those."

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"Sure, you probably don't want me adding to the architecture."

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"Given the quantity of magic pervading the existing architecture, and its tendency to move around, I would strongly advise against it. Is there anything else we need to arrange first?"

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"I think that's all the emergencies resolved. Unless the basilisk needs to be harvested immediately."

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"No, I think that can wait until tomorrow."

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"How do I get ahold of people as necessary, and is there a good place to commute to - some particular altitude will do - where my computer will work?"

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"I'm in my office most times I'm not teaching, and I'll let the other professors know who you are. The portraits can direct you to any of our offices; if I'm unavailable I recommend talking to Professor Flitwick. As for getting your computer to work, the wards only extend a few dozen feet above the top of the tallest tower."

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"All right. Can I have a room with a big window?"

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"Yes, alright. Are you planning to fly out of it?"

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"Sure. Place has more stairs than I care for."

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"It does have quite a lot of stairs." She can show him to a room with a big window that's not too far from her office or the great hall. "Every few years someone gets the bright idea of flying their broom indoors and promptly collides with either a wall or a fellow student."

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"Yeah, I don't have the clearance to flap indoors or I'd be tempted. Can you tell Harry and Ron and Ginny and - I have forgotten her name, the fluffy one - where I am in case they want to follow up on anything?"

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"Certainly."

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Cam goes to his room, puts sheets on the bed and so on, and then hops out the window to circle in the sky for a bit, look some things up, and descend to read them more comfortably, sipping coffee till morning.

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Nobody bothers him overnight. In the morning he could go to the great hall for breakfast if he wants a change from his own "cooking", or he could go straight to the library or wherever else he feels like going.

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He asks portraits for library directions.

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The portraits can get him to the library! It has a relatively consistent location and librarian who stares at him like she's expecting him to do something nefarious at any moment. In fairness, she stares at the handful of other patrons exactly the same way.

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"Good morning. Do you have anything on the recent history of wizard-Muggle relations, politics, secrecy, etcetera; the interaction of magic and Muggle technology; snakes in general; time travel and/or alternate universes; and the Philosopher's Stone? If books are only available to students I can make do with title recommendations."

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"My, that's a list. You want History for most of those--third shelf from the left. Snakes would be in Magical Creatures, that's on the far right in the front. I don't think we have anything on, what was it, time travel and alternate universes? Alchemy is that shelf over there. Don't damage anything and stay out of the Restricted Section."

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"...what's up with the Restricted Section?"

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"Access to the restricted section is permitted only if you have a signed note from a professor."

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"...okay, I'm just curious if it's magical hazards, age-appropriateness limitations for the kids, something else..."

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"Some of both, plus spells it's easy to hurt yourself practicing."

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"Cool, thanks."

He browses according to her directions.

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Hogwarts seems to think "recent history" is everything from the last three hundred years or so, including the Salem witch trials, which didn't kill any witches but did make a lot of them nervous. The most notable event of the period was Grindelwald's War, which was very similar to the World War 2 Cam remembers except that Hitler was being mind-controlled by wizards the whole time. It's notable both as a major war and as the closest wizards have come to losing their secrecy; reading between the lines it looks like there was some brinkmanship with both wizarding sides trying to influence the outcome of the muggle war without being blatantly obvious about it. Albus Dumbledore, yes that one, was already an adult at the time and a major player, first on the "stealthily helping Churchill" side and then killing Grindelwald in a duel shortly before the fall of Berlin, enabling same. There's also some more recent material featuring Voldemort (who many of the books refuse to name even once) and Harry Potter (about whom many of the books speculate wildly).

There are lots of kinds of magical snakes, including one with three heads, one that spontaneously generates in fires, and one that moves by biting its own tail and rolling like a hula hoop.

Alchemy is an extremely complicated and just plain weird discipline; it resembles a cross between chemistry, a pun competition, and a four-year-old's imagination games. Ingredients are sometimes treated as substances, sometimes as metaphors for concepts, and sometimes as interchangeable with their names; one of the simpler recipes involves cooking down pears until they turn into peas and harvesting the extra "r"s for a later step. The philosopher's stone is speculated about, both as an object and as a symbol of moral and intellectual perfection. A couple of the books mention Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel as the six-hundred-year-old creators of a real one, but they never explained how they did it.

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Gosh.

It seems impolite to eat in the library so he wanders out when he wants lunch.

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The hallway outside the library has decided to look like it slopes up despite not actually doing so, but that shouldn't stop him.

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When he's back in the library, a slightly scruffy-looking man drops by his table.

"Hello."

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"Hi, can I help you?"

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"Well, I'm curious about whether you're a teacher or a student. And also how you pulled off the wings; they look extremely hard to do safely."

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"I am neither a teacher nor a student. I am a magical creature here via accident and our shtick includes wings. Optionally. I picked this style out of a catalog, I take no credit for the design."

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"Sounds like things haven't gotten any less exciting since I was a student. I'm Remus Lupin, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher; pleased to meet you."

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"I am so glad there is a replacement! Please do not try to memory charm any children. Or any adults for that matter."

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Weak chuckle. "I can't think of a reason I would need to. That's generally only done when a muggle sees something they shouldn't."

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"...ah-huh." Cam writes this down. He can't use his computer but he doesn't have to use a pen; writing just appears.

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Blink. "That was impressive. Is it enchanted paper?"

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"No. The kind of magical creature I am can make things and ink is 'things'."

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"That sounds incredibly versatile. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that a magical creature who can hold a conversation can also do other unique things."

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At this point the trio wanders through,

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peering under bookcases and tables.

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"Oh, hello. Have you seen Scabbers? My rat. He's gone missing."

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"Haven't seen him. A diorama will just fall apart if he's wandered into a spatially inconsistent part of the school but might help if he's gone outside or in your pillowcase or something?"

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"If you wouldn't mind? He doesn't usually run off like this, I don't know what's gotten into him."

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Scabbers and surroundings.

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Scabbers has parked in a wall nook behind a suit of armor. 

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And Lupin . . . doesn't look like he's seen a ghost actually, ghosts are fine, he looks like he's seen something creepy and weird.

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Cam's not really watching Lupin. "Is the armor recognizable?"

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"Oh, I think that's the one on the fifth floor next to that tapestry of Edgar the Eggheaded!"

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". . . Are you okay?"

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"Ehm, pardon me, just a moment of curiosity, what would happen if you attempted to use the same technique to get the whereabouts of a dead person?"

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"...Uh, I don't know if it works on ghosts. Dead people like, say, me, works fine. I don't know what happens to locals who don't leave ghosts. Or do you mean, like, a corpse?"

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He totally misses the part where Cam is dead. "I mean someone who didn't leave a ghost . . . would you mind trying to find a wizard named Peter Pettigrew?"

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"Again, are you trying to aim for his body or learn interesting facts about the afterlife?"

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"I'm, ah, trying to remind myself that he's really dead. So, his body I suppose. Though by all accounts it was rather messy . . ."

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"Oh, thanks for the warning, I will make it real small so I don't wind up with, uh, lots of dioramas cluttering the table -" Real small surroundings of Peter Pettigrew's body.

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Same armor. Same rat.

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"How--why?!"

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"...how am I supposed to know why an invisible wizard stole a kid's rat?"

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"What? No, he is the rat, I recognized him, I thought I was mad--perhaps I am mad-- Why, in all these years, didn't he tell anyone he was alive?"

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"Rats can be wizards? Or is it 'wizards can be rats'?"

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"Some wizards can turn into animals, McGonagall does it. Are you saying Scabbers was an animagus this whole time? And who are you anyway?"

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"Remus Lupin, I'm the new Defense professor. And yes, I'm afraid so."

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(Really? They couldn't have a new Defense professor for an entire day without someone who's supposed to be dead turning up?)

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"Why would someone stay a rat for--what, ten years?"

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"Twelve. Twelve years." But Lupin isn't looking at Ron; he's back to staring at the models in anguished confusion.

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"Have you had him this whole time? How did you get him?"

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"Percy had him before me. He found him in the garden, and mum let him keep him, and then I got him when Percy got an owl. He always seemed like just a normal rat. I guess it was odd that he lived so long"

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"Okay, uh, maybe whatever apparently didn't kill him did hit him really hard on the head?" Cam suggests.

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"Maybe. I should go see if--if--" he stands up, jerkily, and starts walking toward the door, not quite steady on his feet.

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"Do - you need company -?"

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Answering that question would require understanding it and putting words in an order and speaking them, so it's not happening. Marionette-walking out of the library is what's happening.

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"I'm... sorry about your rat. He didn't act weird? Just lived a long time?"

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"Mostly he just slept a lot. I should, uh, go get him. Or try to get an explanation out of Lupin or something."

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"Do you want company or nah?"

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"Um, it'd be cool if you came? Scabbers might have gone somewhere else while we were talking. It's fine if you'd rather not though."

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"I don't mind." He follows Ron.

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So do Harry and Hermione. It's not hard to catch up with Lupin, and he doesn't seem to mind the company.

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They go up a couple floors and down a couple hallways and there's that suit of armor, distinctive axe and all.

 

When Lupin levitates the armor aside, there's the rat behind it, wide-eyed and motionless.

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"Peter? It's me. Are you alright?"

"What's the matter? Why didn't you tell anyone you were alive? You were safe--unless . . . unless they switched. Oh Merlin, Peter, just tell me it wasn't you!"

The rat dodges around Lupin's legs and bolts down the hallway, Lupin in hot pursuit a moment later.

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"I really wish you'd told me what was going on so I would know whether to help catch him!" Cam says, exasperatedly, following at the briskest walk he can.

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Lupin is still not super coherent. He yells "Traitor!" and "Murderer!" and then remembers he's a wizard and starts throwing bolts of red light. A couple of first-year Hufflepuffs emerge from an intersecting corridor, take in the scene, and head back the way they came from. 

Scabbers or Peter or whoever is a small and moving target, but there's not really anywhere to hide in this hallway; soon rat and human skid to a stop, the former unconscious and the latter panting.

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"You wanna catch us up? So we know how disturbed to be about the decade as a childhood pet thing, if nothing else?" Cam wonders, when he gets within speaking distance.

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Lupin stares at Cam for a bit, blinking like he's trying to remember where he is and how to form sentences. Eventually he starts talking, looking from Cam to the rat on the floor every few seconds as of to reassure himself the latter is still there.

"I can try. It's a long story, and I just found out it's even longer than I believed, but I can tell you what I thought I knew yesterday, at least."

"We were all friends, at Hogwarts, me and Lily and James Potter--well, she was Lily Evans then--and Peter, and--Sirius Black. And when the war came, we all fought together against You-Know-Who. And Lily and James fought as well as anyone, better, they were amazing, and it painted a target on their backs. And then they had Harry."

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(Harry and crew have caught up with them, and are listening in variously flavored bewilderment.)

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"So they had to go into hiding. Got their house magically concealed, set it up so nobody except Black could have told anyone where they were living. Everyone knows how well that went."

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"For those of us who arrived in this universe yesterday afternoon..."

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"You-Know-Who showed up at their house and murdered them! And then, and then, what we all heard is that Peter found out Black had betrayed the Potter's, tracked him down, and Black murdered him too. But they never found a body, just a finger, and Black laughing like a madman in the ruins, and I don't know what to believe anymore."

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"...do you want dioramas of the scene, or - to call the wizard cops, or..."

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He twitches a bit at "wizard cops". "I don't think I know enough yet. If you can find out who the secret-keeper was . . . or who killed the twelve muggles when Sirius and Peter fought . . . I don't know if you can, though, will dioramas show who blew up the street?"

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"Probably not, or at least not without a lot of very careful inspection of time slices, I can't conjure magic stuff. I don't know if 'secret-keeper' is a conjurable parameter but I can try that -" He holds out his hand.

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No dice.

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"Oh, I have a thought. Whoever it was would have had to tell You-Know-Who the location in person, so they would have to have met."

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"I'd need a time."

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"It would have been not more than a few days before Halloween night in 1981."

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"That's a range, we'd wind up spying on his dinner and whatnot. I surmise the wizard justice system failed at this already but does it not have any more precise tools?"

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"Not for piecing together things that happened so long ago. And in Black's case . . . you have to understand, the war had ended literally the day before, and it looked so open and shut. He didn't get a trial."

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"...well, maybe he should get one now, unless you have some kind of double jeopardy rule about it?"

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"That. Seems like a good idea, yes." He looks at the rat again. "I think the next step is to ask Pettigrew some questions." He points his wand and does some wordless spell, and the rat grows and blurs and turns into an unconscious human in damaged black robes. He looks somewhat the worse for wear; most obviously, he's minus a finger.

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"...in the hallway? In front of the kids?"

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"It's about my parents, isn't it? I want to know."

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"Still, yes, not in the hallway would be better." He taps the unconscious man with his wand, turning him almost entirely transparent, leaving a distortion in the air like someone tried to photo-edit him out of the universe and didn't quite manage it. Then Lupin levitates him and starts looking around for the nearest available room.

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Cam can't help him there but he can say, "It's Harry's parents and Ron's rat but could you," fluffy kid whose name he still forgets, "perhaps fetch a professor, such as Professor McGonagall?"

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Well, her name definitely isn't Cat or she'd be dead of curiosity, from the look of things, but she nods and runs off as Lupin maneuvers Pettigrew into what looks to be a storage room for extra desks.

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"Thanks Hermione."

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Hermione, that was it. Cam does not conspicuously repeat this to himself.

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They're back just as Pettigrew is waking up from the stun.

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"Hello again. Miss Granger has explained the latest collection of improbable events." 

Really, this is all her fault for letting the Defense Professor get too close to the Weirdness Magnet. She should never have let them be in the same wing as each other. Except then, apparently, a man who she thought had died a hero's death would still be posing as an animal and living in her student's pocket.

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"Yeah, I thought maybe the situation would benefit from context and emotional distance and adulthood all existing in the same person at the same time?"

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"Quite," she says, shutting the door and tapping the lock with her wand. "Well, this is certainly Peter Pettigrew. An unregistered animagus?"

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"Yes. He learned while we were at Hogwarts."

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"I see. And you think he, and not Black, may have been the Potters' secret-keeper?"

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"Yes. It's just the sort of clever idea that--that Black would have come up with. And they wouldn't have told--anyone."

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Pettigrew has apparently been silent but increasingly conscious; now he shrieks, "Lies! It's all lies! Black was the traitor, not me!"

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"Why did you hide, then? Why did you live as a rat for ten years rather than tell anyone you were alive?"

"Because . . . because I was afraid he'd escape from Azkaban and come after me!"

"Don't be ridiculous, nobody's ever escaped from Azkaban."

"P-professor McGonagall--you believe me, don't you? He's trying to frame me--he's a werewolf!"

"Bloody hell, Peter--"

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"Silence!"

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They shut up like she said silencio.

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Cam feels incredibly superfluous but he can, uh, stand slightly between the children and both the murderer and the werewolf, how about that.

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McGonagall turns to Lupin. "How long?"

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"Since I was six."

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"Albus knew, then."

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"Yes."

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"And that would have been before wolfsbane potion . . . you have a source now?"

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"Dumbledore said Snape would be brewing it."

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She cannot lose a second Defense professor in a week. She cannot. She isn't just running out of qualified candidates, she's running out of people. "You, me, and Albus will be discussing this later."

"Now. Mister Pettigrew. Are you willing to repeat your story under veritaserum?"

"But, veritaserum isn't allowed in court."

"This is not a court. I intend to know whether a murderer has been living in my tower, and I intend to know today."

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Can Cam make Veritaserum, looks like no.

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"Though now that I think about it, there may be an easier way . . . Mister Swan, could you determine who was at the Potter residence in Godrics's Hollow at sunset on October 31st, 1981? The nature of the fidelius charm is such that it would have been easiest for the secret-keeper to be there in person."

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"Sunset? Sure." Diorama.

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Idyllic little house! Tall creepy snake-faced dude stalking up to it! Terrified-looking Pettigrew following him!

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"So that's what their house looked like," Harry murmurs.

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Pettigrew is shaking. "Y-y-you don't believe him, right? How could he know, he wasn't there, I, I mean presumably he wasn't . . . '

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"Yeah, wasn't there, haven't seen the house before, pulling this entire scene from objective reality."

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McGonagall is holding her wand casually at her side in a way that leaves it obviously pointed at Pettigrew.

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Lupin has no such interest in subtlety. "It's over, Peter. You can't run anymore."

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Pettigrew seems to agree; he breaks down sobbing. "You don't understand--I was so scared--I don't want to go to Azkaban!"

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"What is an azkaban."

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"It's the British wizarding prison," McGonagall answers, as ropes fly out of her wand to toe Pettigrew up. "Guarded by dementors." Her explanation ends there, with a moment's flick of her eyes toward the children. "Remus, if you would bring these three back to Gryffindor tower and call Magical Law Enforcement?"

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"Right, yes, come along you three."

They leave, the kids looking like they plan to interrogate Lupin the whole way upstairs.

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"What is a dementor?"

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"A kind of very Dark creature. They feed on happiness. In their presence, it eventually becomes impossible to do anything other than relive the worst moments of your life. All the ones in Britain are on the prison island of Azkaban, feeding on the prisoners so they don't wander the country attacking at random."

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"How about I just put him in space or something."

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"Who, Pettigrew? He needs to have a trial."

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(Pettigrew is pretty sure people die in space and isn't sure why the weird terrifying winged person would pick that method of killing him and doesn't want to ask.)

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"After that would be fine. I can only assume wizards are not members of the United Nations but you could still, like, consider their human rights declarations a loose guideline. I assume if wizards could traverse the vacuum of space you'd be doing it, I don't have to make a space station that mechanically relies on electronics for its air supply if I do a chemical or autoponics version in case him being a wizard messes up the circuitry, I guess it'd be solitary confinement but he obviously doesn't rely very heavily on charming conversation because he has been a rat for more than a decade. Unless rats can talk. Can rats talk? I can visit a pet store."

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That was a whole bunch of words McGonagall doesn't know and concepts she's never heard of and she needs to take a moment getting on top of it. "Are you saying you intend to abscond with him in the event that he's sentenced to Azkaban? That would almost certainly be illegal, though I'm not sure whether they would call it aiding a fugitive or kidnapping. And admittedly it's also unclear whether anyone would be able to stop you."

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"Well, are you saying you plan to have him tortured?"

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"A fair trial for Pettigrew is the best means I am aware of to get a fair trial for Black. It seems likely, at this point, that the latter will be exonerated and released, and the former imprisoned."

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"And tortured."

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Somber nod.

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"I really don't think that's the sort of problem best addressed by making a very sad face while it happens anyway."

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"I don't have any other options. Even if I wanted to let Pettigrew escape, that would leave Black imprisoned."

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"I concede I do not know what degree of hilarity of a legal system you are working with here but not getting a guy tortured may require more than five minutes of thought."

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"Well, the DMLE agents will have to walk here from Hogsmeade; I'm happy to spend the intervening time explaining our legal system."

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"Uh-huh."

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McGonagall starts explaining the British wizarding legal system like someone who explains complicated things for a living, with a focus on "How did Azkaban start to be a thing and why is it so hard to get rid of."

There are three main parts to the problem. First, containing wizards is hard. They can't do much more than muggles can without wands, but any solution for keeping them alive and preventing outside people from breaking them out requires guards with wands, and then you need to prevent the prisoners from stealing wands off the guards.

Someone a long time ago decided to solve this problem with dementors, but that led to problem two: it turns out that confining a bunch of dementors in one cold damp place with a steady supply of victims causes them to breed, and now Britain has way more dementors per capita than anywhere else. There's no way to kill them, and releasing them would be both dangerous to the general population and likely to cause an international incident over the odds that some would wander across the Channel. 

Problem three is that the government is corrupt and rarely does anything that doesn't benefit them personally, and even if they weren't there's a sizeable number of people who think prisoners are bad and therefore prisons should be as awful as possible.

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"Can wizards traverse the vacuum of space? For that matter, can dementors?"

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"An interesting question. Muggles have been to the Moon, so the question is whether wizards can improve on their methods. If any have done so, they haven't made it public knowledge, but I suspect it could be done by a sufficiently clever and determined wizard eventually. As for dementors, I doubt one has ever tried. They feed exclusively on people."

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"See, I can super traverse the vacuum of space so I am curious if my idea of stranding the dementors in space and/or implementing Wizard Space Prison works. But actually come to think of it I don't have a specific investment in this one guy and there are presumably other people in Azkaban also?"

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"Yes, dozens. And even if you don't find a prison solution, there are wild dementors in other countries. I expect you'll want to strand at least those ones in space?"

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"That is currently plan A."

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"I hope you're thinking of putting them on a particular planet, rather than simply adrift. They move by gliding; they might be able to return to Earth if not subject to gravity somewhere else. And what is the rest of your plan?"

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"I can put them on, say Mercury, nobody wants to live on Mercury. Or in a space station. My plan is not very firm at this time containing as it does many question marks about dementors, political realities, etcetera."

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"Do feel free to ask me any questions you think of. While of course I would never assist with anything illegal, I'm always happy to provide new residents of magical Britain with information about our society." 

(Pettigrew has no opinion on any of this and in fact seems to have fainted.)

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"A lot of it might hinge on how disruptive smaller-than-Hogwarts amounts of magic are to electronics, do you know about that?"

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"The second most warded place in magical Britain is Diagon Alley, and people who live there can use electricity, so I believe it's only a problem here unless your devices are especially delicate."

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"I will try to plan around particular robustness of devices but maybe I should try using a computer in... uh... diagonally."

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"It's a magically hidden street in London. You would need someone who can use a wand to get you in. And it would be best to avoid attention; some wizards won't react well to unfamiliar 'magical creatures'."

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"I can hide the wings and tail."

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"That will go a long way. You should also hide the computer; even if it looks like something muggles would have, wizards mostly don't use them."

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"It doesn't look like something muggles would have until its invention many decades from this calendar year, no."

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"Definitely best to be discreet, then. As for how to get you there, I expect Lupin will be called to testify at the trials; he can apparate you to London and bring you Diagon Alley before or after."

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"I would appreciate that."

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"I'll let him know. Now, the DMLE will be here soon and I'd rather not explain you; do you have any other questions you need answered in the next hour or two?"

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"Probably not."

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"In that case I'll see you later; I have classes most of the rest of today, but I've informed the other staff members of your existence and they should be able to help if anything else comes up. Though I would suggest not talking to Professor Snape if you have any other options; he's somewhat short-tempered."

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"Noted. Please don't misplace Mr. Pettigrew, I can attempt prison reform but cannot resurrect the dead." He departs.

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Despite what Cam's experiences may have led him to believe, most people at Hogwarts are in mortal danger only a very small fraction of the time! 

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Oh good! He wanders around attempting to learn his way through the castle.

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The castle moves around some--especially the staircases that keep changing their minds about which pairs of floors they want to connect and swinging around like crane arms--but most bits stay connected to the same other bits persistently even if "relative location" isn't always the best way to model it. 

A translucent colorless floating man in extremely old-fashioned clothing floats up and says "Good day to you."

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"...gosh. Hello. What're you?"

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"Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, Gryffindor ghost, at your service. And yourself?"

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"I'm Cam, a demon. Demons can make arbitrary material objects! What are ghosts like?"

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"A demon? Demons would never have been allowed at Hogwarts in my day. Of course, in my day, they didn't exist. Ghosts are, well, as you see me. Incorporeal, for one thing." He sticks his hand into the wall by way of demonstration.

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"That sounds inconvenient! I notice you don't seem to have an assistant with you to accommodate that."

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Blink. "What would I need assistance with?"

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"Manipulating objects? Taking notes, arranging your decor, I guess this could be a part time thing as you presumably don't need to eat and can get around fine."

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"Mostly I just drift around and make conversation."

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"Whatever floats your boat, I guess. Are there a lot of ghosts?"

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"More here than in other places. Hogwarts is the second most haunted building in Britain, and we have six ghosts and a poltergeist."

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"Why are you, specifically, a ghost when it's so uncommon?"

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"Well, nobody knows, but there's plenty of speculation. I was incompetently decapitated; Professor Binns died in his sleep and didn't notice; Myrtle was in perfect health until she turned up dead one morning."

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"Gosh. What's it like to be a ghost, besides... possible to not notice, apparently?"

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"Well, in some ways it's very convenient, but I rather miss eating and sleeping."

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"I wouldn't have guessed sleeping! I don't sleep much myself. Do you read? Is there a way to turn pages without touching them?"

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"I wasn't particularly attached to sleeping while I was alive, but the castle is rather boring when everyone else is asleep. I can read over people's shoulders in the library sometimes, though that's usually the same set of textbooks."

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"Yeah, I'm back to thinking you need some kind of disability aide. Maybe a trained monkey if wizard labor is expensive or something, I bet a capuchin could turn pages. I could make a robot for it but it'd break here."

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"That sounds . . . bizzare, but potentially helpful. Of course, what I'd really like would be to get properly beheaded."

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"...why?"

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"Well you see, if I was a real headless ghost, I would be eligible to join the Headless Hunt. But instead I am merely 'nearly headless', and apparently that's not good enough for them."

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"The proportion of dead who become ghosts appears small enough that I'm surprised there's an entire... organization... for those who specifically were beheaded, but maybe the most haunted building in Britain has a few thousand, or most ghosts live outdoors, or beheadings specifically generate a lot of ghosts and France is teeming with them? - dwell outdoors, I guess."

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"It's an international organization. I don't know that beheadings are any more likely than anything else to result in a ghost, though some say it's based on how much you wanted to live, and I guess a lot of beheaded people would have much preferred not to be. Heaven knows I did."

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"I sympathize! I didn't want to die either but I turned into this instead of a ghost."

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"I suspect you got the better deal; you look very . . . corporeal."

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"I got a great deal. Nothing doing on corporealizing ghosts?"

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"Reviving the dead is generally believed to be beyond the power of magic.  How did you manage it? The rumors going around are so outlandish I can't work backwards to the truth."

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"I'm from another universe, this is just part of how it works there."

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"Another universe! I think that might actually be stranger than the rumor that you sold your soul to the devil for immortality and the ability to kill anything by looking at it. Pity our universe doesn't work that way."

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"How would the devil expect to profit from the soul of an immortal person?"

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Ghostly shrug. "No idea. I didn't spend much time on religion even when I was alive, and there doesn't seem to be a point to it now." He shakes his head. "Students here will exaggerate anything. The number of people I've heard being accused of secretly being dark lords just this past year . . ."

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"Well, this year may reasonably have been exceptional, there was a cursed artifact possessing at least one person."

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Slight, careful nod of acknowledgement. "So, if you are from another world, are you planning to return there? For that matter, is anyone else from your world likely to come here?"

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"There is no immediate plan for either but it could happen! Why?"

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"Just trying to get a sense of what to expect. Your world must be very pleasant, if people become magic instead of dying."

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"People only become as magic as I am if they summon magic beings like myself to the world of the living first. If they don't do that, they still remain corporeal, and they get to be indestructible, but they don't get additional powers and wind up in a realm called Limbo, and you can't get summoned out of Limbo."

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"Ah, so that's how you ended up here? I don't think anyone has tried summoning ghosts, except by means of mailing us invitations to things."

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"...mailing you - how do you open your mail?"

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"Well, if it's from another ghost it's on ghost stationery and then it's easy, but if it's on regular paper I can generally persuade the post owl to open it. Not that I get a lot of mail of either sort."

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"The post owl."

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"They're very clever little beasts."

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"I guess they'd have to be. How is it ghost paper can be written on but ghost heads can't be completely severed for your posthumous convenience?"

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"You know, I'm not sure. Perhaps it has to do with how killing parchment is more complicated than killing a person."

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"That... sounds weird but a lot of magic here sounds weird to me and I don't have a better guess."

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"Well, you're in one of the best places in the world to learn about it!"

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"I suppose so!"

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Sir Nicholas doesn't have much else to talk about; he makes his farewells and drifts off. 

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Cam heads back to the library to look up post owls!

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Post owls are sort of taken for granted by a lot of books; they tend to assume the reader is more interested in breeding them or handling their medical needs than with how they work. But he can learn that they carry mail and packages, have a magical ability to find any person or address that hasn't been magically hidden from them, and are intelligent enough to understand simple instructions like "get paid this many of this kind of coin before letting go of the package" or "wait for a reply". They're stronger and more resilient than nonmagical owls, but larger deliveries can still require a team of up to a dozen working together. International mail is often sent as a series of nested packages addressed to national post waypoints, where they can be passed on to another owl and where the first one can rest before returning home.

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Golly. What an incredibly stupid and charming mail system. He looks at one of the books about breeding them in case it explains whether you need to cast spells on them or if they just hatch that way.

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Breeding the original generations of post owls from ordinary owls was a complicated process, and even now new post owl chicks need to be fed certain potions at the appropriate ages to make sure they grow up healthy and strong and clever.

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Adorable.

Now Cam wants to know about ghosts!

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This book says ghosts happen when a witch or wizard dies with unfinished business. This book says ghosts happen when a witch or wizard dies who's unusually afraid of death and/or the afterlife. This other book says ghosts are more common in cases of murder but suicide, accident, and natural causes can also leave ghosts occasionally. A couple of them agree that ghosts will occasionally cease to exist, and that this process is at least partially voluntary on the ghost's part. They all agree that ghosts lose some of the living person's personality, and change much less than living people over time. It's very rare for a ghost to acquire new interests or move on from old grudges or, generally, grow at all. Small children almost never leave ghosts and this is generally regarded as a mercy.

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Huh. This wasn't conversationally obvious but he wasn't specifically trying to ferret it out.

Right, time to stop being distracted by the weirdnesses of random folks he meets in the halls, and instead read Strong and Quiet Mind.

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Occlumency is the discipline of protecting your mind from magic that might affect it. It's most directly useful as a counter to legilimency, a method of reading surface thoughts and memories, but it can also let one avoid the effects of the confundus charm (confusion and suggestibility), resist the effects of veritaserum, notice when one's memories have been wiped or modified, and may help with throwing off the imperius curse.

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That sounds very useful! How does one do it?

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The most basic kind of occlumency is concentrating on a single image or concept so intensely that a legilimens can't see anything else, but for that to work you have to know there's a threat. More advanced practice involves detailed introspection to notice when one's thoughts are being nudged by an outside influence, and the cultivation of mental habits that give thoughts more metaphorical inertia and make them harder to modify. There are exercises, starting with a simple "stare at an object and don't think about anything other than that object for sixty seconds" and moving on to more sophisticated introspection, concentration, and thought-redirection techniques, and some ways to tell if you're doing them right, but the only way to be sure is having someone try something on you, ideally when you aren't expecting it, and seeing if you detect and/or block it.

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That doesn't sound too hard. Cam makes himself a nice malachite sphere to stare at and meditate on for a while.

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It feels about like the book said it would. He can do all the exercises with similar ease if he puts several hours into it, though he will at some point in there get kicked out of the library.

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He will relocate to his assigned room.

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Then he can practice as much as he wants. Late in the evening he gets a note under his door inviting him to join Harry at their first occlumency lesson the next day.

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He will show up for that if it deigns to specify a time and place! (He is now wearing a mechanical watch.)

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It does; the time is after breakfast the next morning and the place is Dumbledore's office again (also the password is now apparently "blood lollipop").

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Harry is also there, looking a bit nervous.

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"Hello, hello. Let us get started. I trust you both have had a look at the mental exercises?"

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"I looked at a couple." He also had homework and needed a human amount of sleep.

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Cam nods rather than specify in an unavoidably comparative fashion how much more he has accomplished than this twelve year old.

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"Then the next step is to learn what a legilimency probe feels like. The best legilimens can be very subtle, but less sophisticated probes can be noticed if you know what to look for. This is also," he nods at Cam, "the aspect I am most confident is possible without our kind of magic. Now, does either of you wish to go first? I will of course exit your mind as soon as I have entered it and do my best not to look at anything too closely."

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"Uh, what is your credence in the hypothesis that I have actually learned to do this overnight?"

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"Oh, it's perfectly alright if you haven't; many people find they have more success with the exercises once they have a sense of what they're supposed to be countering."

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"Sure," says Cam, "but I'd in fact rather you not read my mind, so if I'm likelier to manage this after another week..."

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"You are of course welcome to wait another week, though be aware that many people reach a point of diminishing returns with the exercises until they've had some practice with a legilimens."

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"Isn't there a less invasive option? The book mentioned a truth potion, which in principle with a cooperative interlocutor wouldn't be an issue."

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"Ah, yes, veritaserum. Many people find the sensation of being compelled to speak the truth more unpleasant than that produced by legilimency, but if you wish to try that instead some can be procured. How about you, Harry? Do you have a preference?"

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Shrug.

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"I don't usually go around lying anyway and if you ask me invasive personal questions I can probably fill my mouth with caramel and then also tell everyone you did that."

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Dumbledore seems amused at the mental image. "Very well, then. I believe our potions master has some in stock; I'll ask him to send it up." He writes a note on a bit of parchment, starts a heatless green fire in the fireplace, says "Professor Snape's office" and tosses the parchment in. 

"And now we wait. Harry, would you like to try the legilimency method in the meantime? I expect you in particular will benefit from being able to recognize legilimency."

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"It's not going to hurt or anything, is it?"

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"Certainly not. It will merely feel like your mind being drawn to the memory of, hmm, how about your breakfast this morning?"

Harry nods. "Okay."

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"Excellent. Take a moment to clear your mind."

"Alright. I will make the attempt in three . . . two . . . one . . . now."

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Harry blinks and shakes his head. "That did feel odd. It was like being reminded of eating breakfast but not being reminded by anything."

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"A very astute description. On the next attempt, you may wish to try . . ." he goes into some rather metaphor-heavy descriptions of mental motions Harry could try making. Cam, having already read about this stuff, may or may not find it interesting.

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Cam does take notes of where the metaphors differ!

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They clearly come from the same general base of ideas, but there are some differences too. They try a couple more times; Harry is doing well for a twelve-year-old but that's a big caveat and it's going to take him a while to get the hang of it.

Eventually the fireplace briefly fills with green fire again and acquires a small crystal phial with a few drops of clear liquid in it. "Ah, here we are," Dumbledore says, retrieving it with a flick of his wand.

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"It just occurred to me that this substance might be expensive and I can make you, like, whatever's hot on the commodities market right now for it."