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Generated: Feb 28, 2021 3:06 PM
Post last updated: Feb 28, 2021 3:57 PM
Ellie Potter and the Serpent of Slytherin
giant snakes? in my magical boarding school? it's more likely than you think
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She's able to close on her new house - a lovely four bedroom single family home outside of a muggle town, with plenty of room for her, two children, and a kneazle - fairly quickly, though that still does leave them with an awkward week spent on top of each other in her old apartment after Hogwarts lets out for the summer holidays. It was a farm house, once, though the fields have long since gotten choked over with weeds - a perfect field for flying over, once she sets up clever enough notice-me-not wards over the property, and once she banishes all the brambles in favor of softer grass. She leaves their muggle neighbors able to see and visit the home, though she sets it so the house will alert her if anyone other than the four of them approaches.

(She sets a lot of protective wards, and she calls in favors for more. Her American friends accuse her of the world's most aggressive nesting. She jinxes them, laughing, and then draws up plans for more ways to give her home teeth.)

She sets up the fourth bedroom as a library and puts a table she can tap to fold away in the formal dining room so they can use it to practice spell casting. Most of the house isn't very obviously magical, though, and as she finds more stuff to expand into it - her tiny apartment not having nearly enough - she mostly continues forward her same eclectic taste.

(Anathema makes this... Somewhat more eclectic. She has a twelve year old's taste in decorations, access to the vaults of a family she hates, and a manic glee about buying muggle things with pureblood money. Professor Reynolds - who tells them they can call her Fay if they'd like, at least outside of classes - only somewhat tamps down on this.)

She starts them on Occlumency very early, before they even leave Hogwarts - which is just meditation, becoming steadily more focused. She explains to them the absolute importance of knowing your own mind, before you can declare mastery over it - and before you can then attempt to deny another access. She also assigns them philosophy readings and discussions - "It might seem a bit orthogonal, but developing your ability to think about your own thinking, and to know what you think, and to know how to reason, is actually fairly important to self-mastery."

Defense proper is more exciting - she focuses on teaching them how to call for help, first. Calling for house elves, sending sparks into the air (gives away your position if you're hiding), amplifying your voice (which you can add on to if you want to project it so it's not revealing where you're hidden - ideally, you'd drill this until you can do it wandlessly and wordlessly, to prevent someone from stopping you from screaming), even just creating magically noisy explosions or effects... But she also helps them get closer to mastering foundational defense spells like the Disarming Charm, and begins teaching them first aid.

In between all that -

She keeps to a routine of encouraging them to get out of the house and have fun at least an hour or two a day, of spending significant time with them on fun things at least once or twice a week - Anathema takes to video games with delight, and Fay learns to play a few. She takes them to the zoo and museums and movie theaters and an amusement park once, smiling at Anathema's wonder. She celebrates both their birthdays however they want (Anathema has apparently declared hers is on June the thirteenth.)

And, as August rolls in, she takes them to Diagon Alley - their books for most of their core classes haven't changed. The Potions textbook is different, though they seem to still have Professor Cleary, and the History textbooks are a massive list of thin books with titles that sound like they belong to a fictional series rather than a history classroom (Fay seems to really dislike their new History teacher, though she's reserved about this opinion). There's textbooks for their new electives, too, whichever four they chose at the end of last school year. (The 'Personal Enrichment' options were the same as last year - Art, Drama, Literature, Music, though it was noted they could change their elective from whatever one they had first year. There's 'Magical Studies' as the second slot - Ancient Runes, Arithmancy, Astronomy, Care of Magical Creatures, or Divination. 'Ancient Languages and Cultures' occupies the third slot - Old English, Latin, Ancient Greek, or Ancient Egyptian. And then the fourth slot is 'Cultural Studies' - Muggle Studies, Cultures of the World, Government and Law, or Comparative Religion. Fay mentions to them that the cultural studies classes are all from a wizarding perspective.)

The morning of September first arrives far too quickly.

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It has been a good summer. Ellie did a bit better than Anathema in picking up the Occlumency, though she mostly relies on her to pick their 'fun' activity. Along with her books for Ancient Runes, Old English, and Cultures of the World, she got a day planner, so she's feeling well-prepared to take on the year.

Here's hoping the train goes as well as it did last time.

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Anathema is terrible at meditating, even when Professor Reynolds exhausts her first, or encourages her to meditate while stimming or even moving - she can kind of meditate while doing yoga, actually, once Professor Reynolds runs through enough options trying to get her to calm her body and mind, and she makes a few friends in the class she ends up taking. She actively enjoys the philosophical exercises, though, giving her a bit of a sideways edge with protecting her mind.

She ends up hesitating a lot over her electives, actually - and takes Ancient Egyptian and Arithmancy, instead of going with Ellie's picks. Still, they'll have their core classes, Art, and Cultures together.

Getting on a bit early lets them claim a compartment for themselves - though it seems the train's filling up a bit more than it did last year, and they end up with two first years who don't really seem interested in talking to either girl joining them. The train ride's long but peaceful, mostly, and gets to Hogwarts as the sun's setting.

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Well that's fine.

She supposes they won't be taking the boats to the castle this year.

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Nah. Apparently they're supposed to go over to a path to the right, where a whole bunch of carriages are lined up - moving forward as each one takes off, full of students, the line stretching back murkily towards the Forbidden Forest.

They're dark, lanterns hanging outside their doors and illuminating the insides, and - they're not pulled by horses, but by - 

Smudges, maybe. Dark intimations of shadow, wisps drawing out a shape almost like a horse, almost like wings rustling to the sides. Almost like pale flickers of eyes, watching the students as the smudges in reality shift around, quiet. 

A couple of the other second years, especially the muggleborns, are talking with some interest about the carriages as if nothing's drawing them.

Six students can fit in a carriage, so they're going to have to sit with other people for the ride up, too.

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Right so Ellie is just going to try to mostly ignore these uh horse smudges. If she doesn't look directly at them it's like they're not even there, right? Right.

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Anathema does glance at them briefly, brow furrowed a bit, but climbs into the carriage without acting like anything's weird. 

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This is fine.

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Anathema glances over at Ellie. And, since no one else is in the carriage yet: "You okay?"

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"...Did you see the- horses?"

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"There were some hard to see shapes in front of the carriages? Which I guess are probably a kind of horse, since they're pulling a carriage..."

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"They're creepy."

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She shrugs. "Don't seem too weird to me... But we can ask Professor Reynolds about them?"

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"Yeah."

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"Okay."

Other students climb in the carriage, and it sets off, moving smoothly.

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Here comes another year.

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Fun!

A few of their friends from last year find them at the dining table - it does seem food won't arrive until the first years are sorted, and that the process of all of Hogwarts' upper years filing into the Great Hall takes just long enough for the first years (with some mild delay) to arrive from the boats.

There's no names they really recognize being sorted, except one kid who's maybe the younger brother of one of Anathema's friends in Hufflepuff. There's a lot more first years this time than there were last year - or at least it feels like that, sitting and waiting for the Hat to make its proclamations on a long procession of fidgeting eleven year olds.

Professor Dumbledore reiterates the school rules after the Sorting, introduces their Potions professor - Professor Cleary is in fact staying on - and their new History professor, Professor Lockhart, who looks kind of annoyingly smug.

Still, the food's good, there's a lot of gossip to catch up with, and that's what matters as far as Anathema's concerned.

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Yes, clearly the hot goss is the most important thing. As long as it's not about them.

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Gossip's pretty much about the professors - Professor Lockhart's apparently mostly known for publishing travel memoirs, which someone who's actually already skimmed through all the books thinks the 'textbooks' actually all are? That seems weird - sure, some of the elective professors published their own textbooks, but those're fields that change a lot and also the professors are experts, and also those textbooks aren't stories? Though maybe having History framed through the stories of different locations the author's traveling to is actually kinda cool? ("We have a different History professor every year," an upper year says from down the table. "Professor Dumbledore might've run out of people who're, like, actual historians.")

Also Professor Cleary had said she wasn't staying on, so why's she staying on - also this other muggleborn had assumed she was Professor McGonagall's sister in law since her actual last name's McGonagall, but their usual Professor McGonagall apparently doesn't have a brother??? Or a husband with a brother??? ("People can just have the same last name, you know," another muggleborn points out. The pureblood Ravenclaws are staring at this conversation like everyone's grown a second head, which also has a concussion.)

There's some less gossipy stuff about everyone's summers, though sometimes talking about everyone's summers gets into gossip. There was an actual fist fight at a professional Quidditch match in July, apparently.

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Ellie is among the skeptical regarding Lockheart's actual credentials as a teacher of history. The books all seem to be... rather modern. Professor Cleary staying on is good, she liked her.

Was the fist fight between players or spectators?

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Spectators, this time, though there was a player fist fight two years ago - usually it's other sports that get player fist fights, though, Quidditch doesn't have you in arm's reach of each other really often.

And yeah Anathema thinks Professor Lockhart's possibly a good, like, author? But he's teaching History not Creative Writing. ("A writing class would actually be cool," another student says. "We just read books and write essays about them in Literature. But, yeah, that's different than History, even if you could be a creative writer who also has a history degree I guess.")

"We'll have to see," Anathema says, "And plot our rebellion if he is a bad teacher."

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"You're gonna develop a reputation. The professors will start telling scary stories about you in the staff room."

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She giggles. "I'll be the cautionary tale for all the new hires."

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"Start a new style of pedagogy. Anathemaism."

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"Maybe they'll let me be the History professor some time."

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"Put your application in for next year."

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Giggle. "I think I'll probably have to be at least fourth year before I can teach History, though."

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Sniff. "If you feel you must."

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"I don't want to do a subpar job, but I might jump ahead though if Professor Lockhart's bad enough."

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Giggle.

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Heee.

(It sounds like class won't start until the next Monday, again - they have classes all five weekdays. Captain Hayes stops by to let them know Quidditch restarts next Saturday.)

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They'll be there.

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Yeah.

She's missed Quidditch.

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It's really not the same with two (or even three).

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Yeah! And racing and exploring are all a different kind of fun than a full game.

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It's nice to be back at school.

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Yeah.

Anathema settles back in just fine - and it does in fact seem like everyone's pretty much forgotten about last year's misadventure by now. They have plenty of time before classes to rediscover all their favorite hang out locations, see how Scarlet's doing, skim through the textbooks... (The History textbooks in fact don't seem to talk about history in depth a lot.)

They don't have History class until Wednesday, this time, and there's disconcerting grumbles before then among some of the older students - especially the Ravenclaws doing a History NEWT - about Professor Lockhart's ability to stay on topic. ("Why are our History professors always either evil or incompetent?" one seventh year grouches a bit too loudly.)

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That's an encouraging sign.

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Yeah...

Anathema is honestly not sure what she'd rather have between 'incompetent' and 'evil.'

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'Incompetent' at least they can do outside reading to make up for.

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True. Though Anathema'd rather be evil, herself.

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Given a choice between the two, sure.

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Hopefully it'll never come up.

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Hard to imagine circumstances in which it would, really.

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There might be a super evil ritual that increases your competence, you never know.

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One that's very forgiving about how exactly it gets done?

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That might be necessary if something horrible makes her lose her competence first, yeah.

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Ellie will keep an eye out for something like that.

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That's why she's the best.

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Yep.

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Lean.

They'll be ready for Lockhart. Even if he's really dumb.

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Nothing can keep them down.

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Heee.

Yeah.

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And Wednesday evening - and their first History class - rolls around.

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Here goes. Ellie has the "text"books, notebook, note paper, pencil, and quill. (Hopefully fewer headaches this year.)

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No headache as of Professor Lockhart walking in the room!

She might have a frustration headache by the end of class, though.

For one: he has pictures of himself, mostly in various exotic locales, decorating the history classroom. A stark contrast to Professor Quirrel, who'd had images, copies, or even examples of various historic artifacts, artwork, and documents.

For two: he introduces himself with a list of all his accomplishments and rewards - "Gilderoy Lockhart, Order of Merlin, Third Class, Honorary Member of the Dark Force Defence League, and five-time winner of Witch Weekly's Most Charming Smile Award — but I don’t talk about that," with a sly smile.

For three: he gives them a quiz to determine if they read his books... Which is entirely about himself and his own adventures, rather than about history.

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What the fuck.

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Their class is looking increasingly rebellious over the course of the lesson.

After, in which they've learned nothing, Anathema wonders, as the students are filing out and they're just out of the professor's earshot: "Wonder what it'll take to get him fired..."

There's scattered laughter.

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"Probably the fifth years failing their OWLs."

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"Eesh, yeah. Wouldn't want to be them," one of their roommates says.

"Maybe he won't notice if we put cardboard cutouts of ourselves in our seats, as long as they look impressed enough," another says.

Anathema giggles. "What can he do if we just don't attend class, anyways?"

The students all exchange glances - "Uh, give us all detention, take away House points? And if we avoid detention - take away more House points. Also give us all failing grades, which... Matters for going to third year History, I think?" someone says. "But I don't think it really gets on our record if next year's History professor lets us in anyways..."

From Sophie - the Hufflepuff who organized the complaints against Snape last year - "Well if everyone avoids his classes, that'll even out... We'll just be competing for which House has the least negative points."

"I think we should try to compete for the most negative," Anathema says, laughing more.

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"That doesn't help with learning the material."

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"Yeah. We can study a bit on our own I guess? But having an actual teacher really helps..."

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"Are there TAs for this year?"

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"Like, one," one of the Hufflepuffs says. "He's the same one as last year, actually. I don't know he can take over the whole class really well, though."

"Better than nothing," a Ravenclaw says.

One of the muggleborns groans. "Man, my primary school sometimes had bad teachers but I dunno ever this bad. Why's it so different with wizards."

"Well, there's a different professor every year apparently? So I guess Headmaster Dumbledore's just running out of people to hire at all... And mom said you shouldn't go into history in muggle university, because there's a lot more history majors than history jobs, so they've probably got tons of extra people to hire hanging around... Bet that lets you be pickier."

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"Professor Dumbledore should hire some of them, then."

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"...Can muggles even see Hogwarts?"

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"He can invent another use for dragon's blood. Making muggles able to see Hogwarts."

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She giggles. "We should suggest that to him, then."

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"Wonder if he'd be any happier about this petition."

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"Maybe he's just as annoyed by Lockhart as we are."

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"He doesn't have to sit through his class," she grumbles.

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"Probably has to listen to him in staff meetings, though."

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"I think that's a little different."

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"Might be a different kind of annoying."

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"Yeah."

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"I don't think getting him thrown out's an emergency... Still, we should let Professor Reynolds know we don't like him."

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"And put together an actual reading list."

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She laughs. "Yeah. And see if we can get a refund on his books."

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"Invent a spell to turn them back into trees."

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"That'd be fun! We could reforest places."

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"Entire nations, even."

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Giggle. "Maybe a small one; I'm not sure they're that popular."

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"Doesn't mean he hasn't had a lot printed."

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"Maybe he just mails them to random people. So they'll be enlightened."

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"I would not be surprised."

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Heh.

History was their last class of the day; onward to dinner?

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A palate cleanser, as it were.

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Pfft.

If only they had one for their brains.

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Their other classes are interesting, at least.

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Yeah.

Anathema really likes that they'll be getting into actual dueling this year in Defense, not just the kiddy safety stuff from last year.

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Shouldn't forget the safety stuff, though. Otherwise Professor Reynolds will have Words for her.

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Wouldn't want to disappoint Professor Reynolds.

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Definitely not.

Dueling is gonna be fun.

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Extremely.

(Anathema is very gleeful about the prospect of hexing their classmates.)

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Most of the ones Ellie wants to hex are in Slytherin. And also in the upper years, she really doesn't like the Slytherin Beaters.

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She giggles for a few minutes.

"Maybe we can challenge them to a duel."

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"Depends how good we get. I wouldn't want to lose."

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She nods, seriously. "We might have to resort to ambush."

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"I think that's more of a fight tactic than a dueling tactic."

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"Well, we'd get to hex them either way."

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"Might get in trouble for that, though."

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"Hm... Good point. Guess we'd have to be sneaky."

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"I'll see how things go in the first game. See if they actually deserve that much effort."

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"Fair. They might just be beneath us."

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"Indeed."

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She laughs, leaning against Ellie a bit.

"Wanna go find Professor Reynolds?"

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"Sure."

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Off, then!

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Professor Reynolds opens her door when they knock, letting them in. "Good evening. How've your classes been going?"

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"Mostly all right."

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"Lockhart's obnoxious, though."

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"He set us a quiz, and all the questions were things like 'what's my favorite color' and 'how many times have I won Witch Weekly's Most Charming Smile award'. Which is five. He brought this fact up eight separate times. Nothing that happened before the twenty-fourth of January 1964 was mentioned for the entire class."

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She sighs, rubbing at her forehead. "Ugh. I - apologize. I regret to report he's even more obnoxious in staff meetings."

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"Oh. Do you think it would be inappropriate for us to try to get a teacher fired in the first week of the school year again?"

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She laughs. "Sadly, I don't think he's done anything he could be fired for..." Laughing a bit more, then: "Headmaster Dumbledore doesn't like him, either - but he was literally the only applicant for the History position this year. Even after the Headmaster owled a few contacts of his looking for more..."

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"That explains that, then."

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"Unfortunately so. I don't think we'll keep him on longer than a year - that usually doesn't work, anyways - but right now we don't have anyone to replace him with..."

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"The main problem is that no one is going to be learning any history."

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She nods. "We can try to patch that, some - but it's a hard issue, and any students who struggle with self teaching are going to fall farthest behind..."

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"Could start a club, maybe."

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She nods. "That'd be doable - the problem would be getting every student into it."

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"And finding someone with the time to run it."

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"The expertise, as well - even the NEWT History students don't know as much as we prefer professors do."

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"I was figuring that if expertise was available, we wouldn't have to be thinking about this."

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"Unfortunately, yes."

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"Ellie said Dumbledore should just hire a muggle. They've got lots of history teachers."

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She smiles, again. "A rather excellent idea... Though currently, the Ministry makes it illegal to reveal the truth of magic to muggles except in some circumstances - such as being the immediate family of a muggleborn - and makes it illegal to hire muggles as employees..."

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"So we'd have to do a bunch of political agitation to make that happen."

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"Quite a bit of work, but it'd be long overdue."

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Hum. "Not sure how feasible it would be to juggle that, self-studying History, other classes, and Quidditch... Maybe for a summer project."

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"It's important to pace yourself."

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"Exactly."

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"Your education this year is important, though, and a more short term issue..."

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"Yeah..."

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She sighs, rubbing at her forehead a bit. "I'll talk to the other Professors. We might be able to put something together... Or at least stage an intervention with Lockhart."

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"Thanks Professor."

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"You're welcome. I'm sorry your education's having so many disruptions."

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"Well I do have a pair of sticks that let me rewrite reality at my whim, so it's not all bad."

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She smiles, fondly. "Indeed it isn't."

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"Overall, I wouldn't go back."

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"I'm glad - at least that magic's been good for you."

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"Yeah."

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"It won't help all the students - but I could lead a club to teach History once or even twice a week... Though I'd want to heavily prioritize fifth and seventh years. It's - significantly easier, to make up substandard early education."

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"That makes sense."

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"Other professors might be interested in running something similar - but right now we're often running a thin margin on 'overwork', and it'd be probably impractical for all of us to replace our free period with another class unrelated to what we usually teach, even if we decided to have all the professors teach one History segment instead of having a single History professor..." She rubs her forehead.

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Commiserating shoulder pat?

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Small smile. "We'll do what we can, at least."

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"I believe in you," she says solemnly.

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"That means a lot to me."

She's not quite as good at 'solemn' as Ellie.

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Hee.

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She laughs.

"For today, I can give you two a recommended reading list - though I'd need to actually look up the usual curriculum for something more tailored to what you'll need for the OWLs..."

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"Recommended reading would help."

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She makes a list of books for them, then, including 'old History textbooks' with chapter recommendations, but also including a few more narrow focus history books.

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Professor Reynolds is great.

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"If you two have questions about anything in the books, I might also be able to help..."

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"We'll keep that in mind."

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"Yeah."

"Thanks, Professor."

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"You're both welcome."

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Smile.

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The conversation drifts elsewhere, after that - though Ellie and Anathema will eventually have to go back to their dorm and back to the grind of classes.

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Such is student life.

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Student life, sadly, continues dominating their lives over the next month and a half. They don't get Lockhart fired, or even a really systemic solution to History education set up - a couple of Professors work together to get the fifth through seventh years enough classes to not flounder too much, but the lower years are left to their own initiative pretty much. Professor Reynolds ends up helping supervise a mixed years club to learn at least some history. Professor McGonagall apparently gets annoyed at Lockhart enough to start offsetting every single time he rewards or takes away points, which makes the requirements to attend his class or serve detention with him basically toothless.

And then, on October Thirty First - a Saturday, so the first day of Samhain week, full of feasts and stories and laughter and their magical culture roommates setting up altars for the dead, curfews entirely suspended for the entire week -

Late in the evening of October Thirty First, as Ellie and Anathema are walking down the hall -

Ellie hears a voice.

Kill.

It repeats itself, soft, susurrating, rising and falling like a hiss of sand on stone.

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"-Do you hear that?"

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"The voice? It's soft, but... I think it's saying - 'kill.'"

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"Oh good, I'm not going mad. We should go tell Professor Reynolds."

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"Yeah."

"Probably there's a ghost messing with us but 'cause it's Samhain it could be something weirder and messing with people like that is bad on Samhain."

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"Never had a ghost mess like that before."

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"Yeah. Peeves isn't this subtle." She glances around, unsure, trying to figure out the best way to Professor Reynolds' quarters from here.

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"This way, I think." Ellie sets off.

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The voice recedes, vanishing.

And - in the direction they're going, nearby -

Someone screams.

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Oh that had better be a ghost prank-

Ellie summons a house elf. "Can you find Professor Reynolds and tell her that we might need help in this area, please?"

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The house elf nods, solemnly, and vanishes with a pop.

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"Should we - wait?"

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"I think we should go see what that was."

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She nods, setting off at a careful run.

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Ellie trots after, wand in hand.

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There's a Hufflepuff third year, sitting down like she was back pedaling and tripped - a second, pressed against a wall, hands over her mouth, expression horrified -

They're both looking at the same thing.

A wall, lit by torches - words scrawled in wet blood, The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. No enemy of the Heir of Slytherin will be suffered to live.

A puddle, under it, a small shape collapsed half into the water.

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Oh no.

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Anathema darts forward, kneeling by the shape - screaming herself, more angrily, almost - devastated - standing, wand in her hand, looking around with wild eyes.

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Ellie almost stumbles over next to her.

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The shape is - Scarlet, body stiff and grey, eyes discolored, pupils blown wide.

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No.

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And Professor Reynolds appears - followed within a breath by Headmaster Dumbledore -

Professor Reynolds' breath hitches, as her eyes catch on Scarlet -

And then she sets to helping Dumbledore secure the scene, directing house elves to take Scarlet and all four students to the Hospital Wing.

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This must be hard for her.

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Anathema starts crying as the medi-witch checks the students for any injuries, directing the two shaking girls to sit down on beds and drink some water. Scarlet's laid out on a third bed by the house elf who brought them in.

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"Is Scarlet- going to be okay?"

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The medi-witch sighs, turning to run her wand over Scarlet's prone form. "They seem to be petrified - alive, but frozen like stone. There's cures, though I'll need to learn more about what kind is needed, and call out... Petrification is a rare problem, and we don't have any reversal potions in stock."

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Nod.

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"It's lucky none of you got hurt, though."

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"We don't even know what happened."

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She nods, sighing. "Hopefully Headmaster Dumbledore will figure it out. Things like this are usually some student playing a prank, though."

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"Better not be," she mumbles.

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"They'll be straightened out, whoever they are," the medi-witch says, voice firm. "Now, why don't you take a seat, dear?"

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All right.

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Professor Reynolds takes a while to arrive - walking in, and then speaking with Madam Pomfrey briefly.

She comes over to Anathema and Ellie after that, pulling the still quietly crying Anathema into a hug, looking over to Ellie. "Are you alright?" she asks, voice soft.

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"Yeah. We didn't- we heard a voice in the walls and were coming to get you and then we heard a scream."

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"A voice?"

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"Saying 'Kill'. Over and over."

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She frowns. "Do you remember where exactly you heard it?"

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"Near where- where you found us. I think I could show you."

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She nods. "We're fairly sure the location's safe. Are you alright going now?"

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"Yes. Better than sitting here."

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"I wanna go too," Anathema mumbles.

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Professor Reynolds nods. "Alright." She stands, supporting Anathema briefly, then leads them back out of the Hospital Wing, letting Ellie guide them as they get closer to the scene.

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Ellie takes them back to where they heard the voice.

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She frowns, casting a few spells. "I can't find any traces of what it was..."

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"...Oh."

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"Headmaster Dumbledore might be able to find out more, though." She taps the wall with her wand. "I'll let him know to have a look."

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"Okay."

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"How long did you hear it for?"

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"Not long. It was like it was moving."

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She nods. "And it didn't sound familiar?"

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Ellie shakes her head.

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"Alright. Thank you for showing me where it was. We'll keep investigating."

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Nod.

"Do you- need anything?"

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She pauses and sighs, expression going distant. "Just - to know you guys are okay. That you'll stay okay."

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"We will, Professor."

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She nods, still not looking happy.

"I'm - worried about you two being targeted," she says, voice soft. "I don't know if reasonably so."

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"Given the events of last year..."

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Soft nod.

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Hug?

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Hug!

"You two look after each other, okay?"

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"We will."

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"Thanks."

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Pat pat.

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She ruffles Ellie's hair. "You're good kids."

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"Thanks Professor."

"Let us know if you do need anything."

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"I will."

"Thank you."

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Anathema darts in to join the hug.

And then - it's late, and Professor Reynolds escorts them to Ravenclaw Tower. There's no particular high alert, and at breakfast the next day Headmaster Dumbledore announces that someone played a 'horrid prank,' describes Scarlet's petrification, assures the students the professors are working to catch the perpetrator, and asks people to come forward if they have any information. (He also says that if the culprit turns themselves in, they will be shown more leniency about this than if someone else turns them in.)

There's a lot of gossip, of course, about what happened, students forming in little shifting knots as they leave breakfast.

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So either he didn't believe them about the voice or doesn't want to panic people. Could go either way, really.

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Serpens is in one of the knots they pass by - as one of the other students relays more or less what had been written on the wall, trying for a dramatic whisper and failing at the 'quiet' part.

Serpens scowls and turns away, spotting Ellie and Anathema.

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She's the one who hates Death Eaters and her family, right? Wonder what her deal is.

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She breaks away from her friends, walking over to Ellie and Anathema.

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"Malfoy."

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"Potter. Canta."

"You two seem less," she waves her hand vaguely, "Gossipy. Mind if I tag along for a bit?"

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"You don't want to add your two Knuts' worth?"

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Frown. "Not something this stupidly overblown. The Chamber of Secrets is the sort of conspiracy theory nonsense people's weird great-uncles get into."

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"Somebody thinks it's serious enough."

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"Or thinks it'll cause a panic."

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"Mm."

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She shrugs. "Whatever."

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"I guess you can walk with us."

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Anathema nods. "Yeah. I don't mind."

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"Okay. Cool."

She sets off beside them, mostly chattering only a little with Anathema about their History not-classes.

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The History not-class is rather terrible.

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The clubs have been kind of irregular, too...

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Hopefully they can make it up next year.

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Yeah, definitely. 

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Serpens Malfoy splits off after a bit, heading down to the dungeon with a wave at Anathema.

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"Bit weird that she'd rather ignore the gossip than take it over."

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"Yeah. She's kinda weird in general, though."

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"Yeah..."

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Shrug. "She might've just been fighting with her friends."

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"Could be, yeah."

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"I'll keep an eye to see if she keeps doing weird stuff, I guess."

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Nod.

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Onward with the holiday, then.

Anathema's down about Scarlet - and they find Professor Reynolds in the Hospital Wing sitting by them a lot. But other than some brief gossip the school as a whole doesn't seem really affected by what happened; people have pretty much decided it's just a prank from someone trying to be edgy. Poor cat, but most people don't really care.

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That's because they don't know Scarlet.

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Yeah.

But - the investigation doesn't get anywhere quickly. There's no leads. None of the portraits saw anyone at all enter the area while Scarlet was there, or before without leaving after. The writing was in conjured chicken blood, and they're not sure where from. The petrification on Scarlet is strange enough that Saint Mungo's doesn't have a specific remedy in stock, and they're going to need to brew something (and the ingredients themselves need to be fresh, but are out of season) or reach out to other, probably international, partners... Which there isn't much momentum to do, for a kneazle. No one can get a trace of what beings passed through that catches anyone not known to have been there.

Anathema's unhappy for a lot of it. Professor Reynolds seems frequently stressed. But, as November wears on, everyone but them seems to forget just about...

Until, midway through November, caretaker Filch stumbles across a fourth year student in the middle of the night, petrified just as Scarlet had been, expression terrified. She'd been frozen standing, leaning against a wall and looking out a window. No writing anywhere near her. No calling cards. Ellie and Anathema hadn't heard any voices, but they also hadn't been near the scene of the crime.

The gossip rather explodes after that.

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Typical. There's probably still no actual information, though.

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Not really. People are less sure it was a prank, now, but no one has any leads. The professors are investigating a lot more in depth, but they don't seem to have much to go on.

People do start taking the rumors of the Chamber of Secrets more seriously. It's still not something people know a lot about, but a few students start looking into the library -

And in their next class after, Professor Reynolds says they'll be pausing before covering what was on the schedule last time.

"I know you all have a lot of questions about the Chamber of Secrets and what's happened," she says, leaning against her desk and looking exhausted. "I can answer some of them, I hope."

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"What is the Chamber of Secrets, Professor?"

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"The myth is that it is a section of the castle that Salazar Slytherin built and sealed off from the rest of Hogwarts. No one really agrees on why, or if it even exists. The rumors about it were fairly sparse for the first eight hundred years after Hogwarts was built. Back then it was usually called 'The Serpent Chamber,' and not really considered very interesting, since most supposed it was just one of many of Hogwarts' secret rooms and passages, even assuming it wasn't a misinterpretation of Ravenclaw's letters, which spoke of Slytherin spending a lot of time in 'his chamber.' A rumor grew in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that it was part of the defensive network the Founders created around Hogwarts' grounds. However, Headmasters usually have access to Hogwarts' defensive measures - and they couldn't find this one."

"The rumors turned in the nineteenth century to claims Slytherin had built the Chamber with the specific goal that his heir would someday open it, purging either Hogwarts or all of the British Isles of 'Slytherin's enemies.' That claim was mostly pushed by the Gaunts, the only family who claimed provable decent from Slytherin himself."

She pauses, and another student says they heard the Chamber was opened before. Professor Reynolds nods, sighing. "Or at least someone pretending to have opened it."

"In the 1940s there were a rash of petrifications of muggleborns linked to someone claiming to be the Heir of Slytherin. There were a large number of suspects at the time, which eventually started narrowing down to one student, Tom Riddle, a fifth year. No one could actually find any evidence, though, and the Ministry of the time had far more stringent standards for criminal trials than our current one."

"In the midst of that, a student named Myrtle Lowe was murdered. The Ministry investigators concluded her murderer had used the Killing Curse. There was disagreement about whether this was linked to the petrifications directly, or someone else just being opportunistic."

"Riddle, in the furor after Lowe's death, accused another student, Rubeus Hagrid. He claimed Hagrid had bred an acromantula to petrify its victims, rather than paralyze them. Riddle did not actually report this to the authorities until after he had decided to do a citizen's arrest of Hagrid, causing the acromantula in question to escape. Hagrid's roommates confirmed that Hagrid had at the time been raising an acromantula, but that he had found it as a child, rather than breeding it, and that it was more inclined to hide than to attack."

"The Ministry charged Hagrid with illegal possession of a restricted creature, which at his age just amounted to a warning, but the government felt the evidence that Hagrid had been involved in the attacks was effectively nonexistent, especially since he had reliable alibis for most. They did not bring any additional charges, though some of the dark-aligned media at the time latched onto Hagrid as the perpetrator. Hagrid's mother removed him from the school to homeschool him in the face of harassment."

"No one actually was charged with any of it - all of the students' and professors' wands were checked, and none of them had ever cast the Killing Curse. None of the suspects had used unknown spells or spells associated with petrification while they were being monitored and while the petrifications were ongoing. And, when the petrified students were cured, none of them remembered seeing anyone or anything except 'a flash of yellow.'"

"The petrifications stopped after Lowe's death, though, and the castle was swept top to bottom. No one found any evidence of unknown secret passages, or of existing danger, and none of the Aurors were targeted. The school was cautiously reopened, and the attacks didn't start back up."

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Ellie notes down the key points.

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There's a few more questions, but not a lot of new information about the Chamber. They just don't know a lot. 

They're planning to take a fairly proactive approach about safety, though - they're already recommending people travel in pairs or groups when feasible, and that people try to stay in parts of the castle overseen by portraits. Headmaster Dumbledore is spreading out their current portraits to cover as much of the castle as possible, and the house elves are keeping closer eyes on the students. They haven't settled everything they'll do if petrifications continue. Headmaster Dumbledore is looking into a secondary location for schooling, in case they conclude the threat is something within the school itself, rather than a student. 

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Well. That's something, at least.

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People still seem worried, but a bit less so now.

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People are crazy. The threat has gotten worse, not better.

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Professor Reynolds seems to agree. She's certainly not getting any less stressed.

And she impresses on them very, very heavily the importance of taking this seriously. Of keeping curfew, and traveling with others, and letting people know where you're going and when you expect to be back. She runs them through thought exercises, a sort of verbal drill - dangers they could encounter, which actions would or would not help, how to make sure help could be coming.

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At least Professor Reynolds is taking this seriously.

She's a good teacher.

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Hopefully it'll be enough. Anathema doesn't really want to get moved to somewhere not Hogwarts to learn...

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Yeah. Ellie likes it here. The castle has... character.

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Yeah.

Maybe they can help the investigations some...

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As long as they're going around in groups of two or more.

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"Me and you are a group."

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"A pretty effective one at that."

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"The absolute best."

"Where do you think we should start?"

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"Myrtle Lowe. She's the big unsolved thread from the last one."

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"Yeah. Maybe the library has records about past students or something?"

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"Yeah. And we can dig up old newspapers too."

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Nod. "Obituaries often have stuff about the dead person, right?"

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"Yep."

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To the library, then?

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Library time.

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The library does in fact have old photos and old newspapers. Myrtle is in a few class photographs. She was a fifth year Hufflepuff, who looks uncomfortable and unhappy in all her pictures, often withdrawing away from her classmates. She doesn't appear in any newspapers or newsletters before her obituary, which describes her as 'studious' and 'well remembered.' She was apparently a muggleborn, and her obituaries completely fail to mention her family or what part of the British Isles she was from. She doesn't seem to have been a member of any clubs. Myrtle herself seems to be pretty quickly forgotten, even as the papers continue churning over the case. The ones that mention her death at all in connection to the accusations and threats of trial don't even give her name.

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How extraordinarily helpful. Sigh.

"If she had left a ghost, we could just ask her instead of dealing with... this."

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"If she did, she'd be a Hogwarts ghost I bet."

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"Is there a list of Hogwarts ghosts?"

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"Dunno. The librarian might know who the ghosts are or where a list is, though."

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Time to ask.

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No one's entirely positive who all the ghosts are, though they at least know of all of them. There's surveys of them, but the most recent one's from the seventies, and you sometimes get new ghosts popping up. Are they looking for a specific ghost?

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A Myrtle Lowe.

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"Ah, yes. She's a known ghost. She usually haunts the location of her death - one of the old girl's bathrooms on the second floor, though it's closed now. Some of the students call her Moaning Myrtle, though she gets upset if she hears that. She's been increasingly reclusive over the last decade; I imagine most students might not even know she's there."

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"That's helpful, thanks."

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"Did anyone ever ask her who killed her?" Anathema says.

The librarian sighs. "Yes, though by the time she manifested enough to be interacted with it'd already been several years, and she started wailing anytime someone asked her. At first, she was also mostly interested in haunting another student, Olive Hornby, and she'd refuse to answer any questions at all, usually just angrily yelling at her target. Miss Hornby was cleared of suspicions around Miss Lowe's death, but did admit to having been 'sometimes mean' to her. Miss Lowe was confined to Hogwarts after several incidents during her haunting."

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"I see."

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Anathema nods and thanks the librarian.

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"Think it's worth finding her?"

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"I dunno we have many other leads."

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"Yeah. So. Second-floor bathroom?"

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"Yeah. We'll wanna be cautious about curfew though, I guess."

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"Maybe tomorrow, then."

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She nods. "We've got a big block in the middle of the day, too. So that works well."

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"Right."

So the next day at the appointed time, it's off to the disused second floor girls' bathroom.

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The bathroom seems empty at first. It's not really run down or grimy like you'd expect 'abandoned ghost-haunted bathroom' to be; it seems the house elves clean up here, too.

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Helpful of them.

"Hello?" she calls.

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"Who's there?" a girl's voice calls, warily.

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"Ellie Potter and Anathema Canta."

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"Don't know who you are," she mumbles. "Are you here to make fun of me?"

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"No, we're here to ask about what happened when you died."

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"Oh..." she says, sounding distant. "Why? Just that old nonsense? You don't want to talk to me?"

Anathema tilts her head. "I like hearing ghosts say how they died," she says, cheerfully. "It's interesting."

A spectral girl floats out of one of the stalls, examining them. "Well," she says, considering. "It was quite horrid, really..."

She proceeds to spin a possibly somewhat overdramaticized tale of how she was hiding in the bathroom from 'that Hornby,' when she heard a boy talking in a weird foreign language. She left her stall to tell him off, because he was in the girl's bathroom... And then (dramatic pause) all she saw were two eyes, large and yellow -

And the next thing she knew, she finishes with morbid glee, she was floating above her body - watching Hornby discover her dead hours later.

Anathema makes appreciative noises thoroughout, nodding along and asking Myrtle a few leading questions. 

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Anathema: pretty good at talking to people actually? Signs point to yes.

Yellow eyes though could match up with some of the stories from the petrification victims. Which is kind of weird, because Myrtle wasn't petrified...

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"Did you recognize the boy's voice?" Anathema asks after a bit.

Myrtle frowns, deeply. "Not really? It was - weird. I don't remember the words at all, just that I didn't understand them... He sounded older, though, not like one of the first years or something, but not really old, I don't think he was a professor or anything. And I didn't see him when I left my stall, and he was gone by the next time I was aware..."

"Huh..." Anathema frowns. "What were the eyes like? I mean, like, human eyes, cat eyes, goat eyes..."

Myrtle's expression goes different. "I don't - I just remember the eyes... Not what sort of face they were in... But I don't think they were - set like a human's? Kind of - each of them were tilted off to the side. And really, really big, and shiny... A lot like a cat's eyes, really, just... The face wasn't a cat's. It was - dark, completely, except those eyes."

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"Definitely not an acromantula."

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"Yeah, ick. I'd still be screaming if it was a spider."

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"So the boy probably had something to do with it."

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"Probably? Since he was right there... And he didn't move my body or tell anyone I'd died or anything."

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"...Bets on it actually being Tom Riddle?"

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"I wouldn't be surprised..." Anathema says.

Myrtle, though, looks a bit surprised. "That boy? He was in my year, over in Slytherin. He was a bully, but everyone else thought he was just nice. I don't... Think that voice was his? But..." She frowns.

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"It has been fifty years. It's okay if you don't know."

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She nods, slowly. "I don't think I do."

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"It's still more than we had before we talked with you."

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Anathema nods. "Yeah. Thanks!"

Myrtle smiles, slightly. "Alright. Will you - come back?"

Anathema's smile doesn't waver. "We're gonna be busy for a bit, but I walk pretty near here after one of my classes and can say hi then."

Myrtle nods. "Okay. I'll let you know if I think of something else, then..."

"Aw, thanks!" Anathema says, grinning. "You're a really big help."

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And off.

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Off!

They should make sure Professor Reynolds knows about this...

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Good idea.

And they need to get lunch at some point too.

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Maybe they can get the house elves to bring them all lunch in Professor Reynolds' rooms.

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That sounds excellent.

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Yeah.

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Professor Reynolds is available for that, too.

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Then they can share a meal and catch her up on what they learned from the ghost of Myrtle Lowe.

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She hums, frowning. "It's good you two could get her to talk... I don't know of any spells that make their victims see eyes that aren't there, before dying without a mark, though if the victims hadn't left ghosts before we just might have never known..."

She leans back a bit, brow furrowed. "Which suggests she might've actually seen physical eyes, perhaps ones with a strange effect. There's a number of magical creatures that can work magic through their gazes, but not a prohibitive amount to investigate."

"Of course, she might've also been under an illusion or had her memory altered - though there would've been no real reason to do that before her death, and it's supposed to be impossible to alter a ghost's memories."

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"When we were going through the old newspapers, there were a couple other accounts that reported a flash of yellow."

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"...Exceptionally odd."

"It's not too strange the events would be linked, but... I'm not sure there's as many creatures that could do both petrification and death... It'll narrow a search down, at least."

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Nod.

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She sighs. "And there's that voice you two heard, too... It seems likely to be connected, though I think once you narrow everything we know to 'magical creatures that can talk' you hit 'none we know of.'"

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"Myrtle said she heard talking right before she died, too."

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She nods. "Though she didn't recognize the voice, right?"

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"Not positively."

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"It's more leads than we had, though. Thank you."

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"You're welcome."

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"I'll see what I can find for possible creatures."

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"Okay. Let us know if you need more help."

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"I could use some help skimming through bestiaries, actually - there's not really an index that's useful for this, so a large part of the work that isn't 'mailing experts' will be just reading through books to list out everything that meets some of the requirements or just seems plausible."

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"We can definitely do that."

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"So the Fantastic Beasts book?"

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"That, and a few others with different focuses that the library should have. I'll make a list of titles, as well as keywords I'd recommend looking for, though you should also use your own judgement on whether something that doesn't exactly fit the descriptions might be relevant - magical creatures sometimes have odd variants, and we might not have the entire picture, here."

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"Right."

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"Thanks."

She pulls out a piece of parchment, writing several things down.

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Time for more sandwich. Extra horseradish.

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Professor Reynolds finishes her list and sets to eating as well.

She hands the paper off to both girls before they leave.

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They will see what they can make of it.

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Yeah.

They still have their afternoon class... But they can get the books from the library before that, and start going through them tonight, maybe?

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She'll have to verify that with the day planner. This investigation is throwing off her schedules.

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Yeah... They've been staying caught up on homework and studying, though, even with History being harder to do on their own.

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Probably one night won't hurt.

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Nod.

Though there's a lot of these books, so it might take a bit to get through all of them... Probably they'll have to break it up over multiple days.

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She'll work on fitting extra sessions in.

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Ellie's always the most organized.

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Otherwise she'd never get anything done! There's just Too Much.

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Very sensible.

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Too Much Sense!

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Laugh.

No such thing, at least not when Ellie's doing it.

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Ellie does it right.

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She does everything right, really.

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Her talents are indeed multifarious.

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Yeah.

Anathema figures they should probably skim through the Fantastic Beasts book, first? It seems to have the most information and the best indexes out of all of these, and it's the only one that's really an overview of well known or common magical creatures...

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Also seems to be the most accessibly-written.

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Probably why it's their textbook and not the others - they also each have a copy of it, too, so they can split it in half to skim through.

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Sounds like a plan.

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To the books!

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them doesn't actually describe many things that can petrify people, with or without gazes being involved, or that can kill with a glance. The Gorgons are the most notable of these, being a race apparently entirely composed of women (judging by their voices, and their shapes under full-body coverings). Even just seeing one turns most other creatures, including humans, to stone - they can keep the company of each other, the blind, and a few immune creatures alone. They're reclusive, having in the past fought with human mages, though Newt Scamander managed an interview with one enclave (location undisclosed), which was accomplished with safety by virtue of a screen between them, the Gorgon veiled, and Newt blind folded. The Gorgons are believed to have bred the first basilisks, which weren't documented until the early A.D. in Roman writings after some escaped. Gorgon-type basilisks were never longer than three feet, but (apparently to the surprise of the Gorgons) they killed everything not Gorgon-made that they touched or that met their gaze. No one's exactly sure how the Gorgon-type basilisks are bred, but humans, being humans, quickly tried to recreate the system. The earliest human-made basilisks were created in early medieval times, usually through witch-like traditions, and they have a tremendous variety of traits depending on how exactly they were made. They definitionally share a few traits - they cannot speak, are not beings, are reptilian, are immensely venomous, and have lethal gazes. Anyone creating a basilisk is usually its first victim, though one Swiss city was for a time protected by basilisks created by a local wizard. They're varyingly difficult to kill - one method innovated in English witchcraft starting in the 800s produced basilisks that could grow to dozens of feet long and had spell-turning hides like a dragon. These are the classic image of 'a basilisk' in English thought - an enormous snake, often with a crimson plume on its head. None have been documented in England since the 16th century, and none in the world since the 17th, and all methods of making them (save perhaps for the Gorgons, who wouldn't answer Newt Scamander about whether they still keep basilisks as pets) are believed lost.

There's also the bandersnatch, a reclusive and vicious creature believed to be native to the British Isles which has since spread throughout woodlands at the same latitudes. Its gaze usually just causes dizziness and confusion, though there's rumors of old, powerful ones causing death with just a glance. No one's sure if they can speak or use magic, or how intelligent they are (Newt Scamander believed them to be exceptionally cunning but not at all social).

Anathema also finds a few creatures that can turn others to stone with methods other than a gaze - venom or touch, usually - and a bunch that can cause fear or confusion or madness if looked at. Only one of the non-gaze petrifying creatures speaks, and it is described as having a smooth, deep voice, usually living in secluded marshlands, though no one's sure what they look like. Newt Scamander's notes include musings about whether it's linked to less well documented creatures known to petrify their victims (which aren't discussed in the book). There's also a bunch that cause paralysis, through gaze, touch, or venom, though the paralysis described is really different from what the victims they're concerned with suffered.

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...It's a start, anyway. They do seem to be collecting those. Ellie's leaning towards the thing being something native to the British Isles, given Slytherin's political leanings.

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Or some kind of snake - he was a known Parselmouth, and he used a lot of snakes in his heraldry and stuff.

Assuming it was even made by Slytherin, and not imported by someone else...

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The Chamber connection seems a bit tenuous otherwise. If, as Malfoy suggests, it is considered a crackpot conspiracy theory, why bother?

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Political reasons, maybe? She thinks pureblood supremacists might buy into the Chamber a lot more than other people...

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Could be. Not that she really wants to talk to pureblood supremacists to confirm one way or the other...

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Very fair.

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Ellie will work on fitting the other books into the schedule going forward. They might turn up more or better information.

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Yeah.

The other books seem to mostly cover creatures with poorer documentation (or that are also covered by Fantastic Beasts), or that are much rarer and so hard to encounter, or that were last encountered over a thousand years ago (or have never been encountered by European mages; one book talks significantly about Mesoamerican creatures that Fantastic Beasts doesn't touch on - these ones seem to mostly fit into the 'massively terrifying to look at' category when sight matters at all, and the ones that petrify victims mostly don't seem to turn them to stone). Still, they can find a few that meet some general requirements:

-the bandersnatch (the only British Isles native with a gaze-relevant magic, though not much is known about them)

-Gorgons (women who turn anyone who sees them to stone; while seeing them isn't deadly, one could theoretically just pick up a wand)

-basilisks as a general class (deadly serpents, some that can turn prey to stone if seen indirectly, though they don't speak)

-tzitzimitl (Mesoamerican creatures which emerge only at night and speak with strange voices, only appear roughly every fifty years, aren't believed to exist by European wizards, and have a host of strange powers and should not be looked at - what happens if you look at one isn't documented)

-the marsh-whistler (which probably turns people to stone through touch, might be capable of killing, speaks, and has never been seen; still, they're not believed to be able to survive out of marshes)

-stone-calling beasts (they're said to turn enemies of the places they guard to stone, then shatter them. They're rare, possibly created, and only speak to their masters)

There's a few others meeting gradually fewer and fewer of their constraints.

And one thing they find isn't a magical creature, but in some discussions of magical creatures ways to turn existing creatures to stone through human magic are mentioned - apparently modern guardian stone creatures (like gargoyles and lion dogs) are usually carved and then enchanted, but ancient ones were transformed from flesh to intelligent, moving stone. Britain doesn't have any native traditions of this, though - the technique likely originated in China, with some spread along trade routes from there.

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Ellie summarizes their findings periodically for transmission to Professor Reynolds.

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Professor Reynolds makes comments on a few and thanks them both for their work. She's still incredibly busy, of course, but Ellie and Anathema have taken the edge off.

And then, in early December, Minister Fudge arrives with a group of Aurors and arrests Hagrid, before declaring that the culprit has been found, the case has been closed, and therefore the Department of Law Enforcement won't be lending any more help to investigations. The Daily Prophet, Britain's only remaining wizarding newspaper of note, publishes that Hagrid has been placed in Azkaban due to 'surety of guilt.' There's no mention of a trial.

Professor Reynolds seems quietly furious about the whole affair.

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Minister Fudge is incredibly incompetent and also a terrible person.

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There's a point past incompetence where you start getting in the way, too. (Deep breath.)

Well.

Nothing to do but move forward, now. Hopefully catching the actual perpetrator will set Fudge back.

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And set Hagrid free. He doesn't deserve to be jailed.

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Of course.

It's a bit farther than Fudge has openly gone before, but - sadly in line with his mode of operation. Still, it being a step farther than usual means the arrest's more precarious - and more easy to fight.

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They are fighting it, right?

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Yes, as hard as they can - Headmaster Dumbledore has the most political pull and is taking the lead on that rather strongly. The school board members are mostly lukewarm, but they originally approved hiring Hagrid - so they're interested in proving they weren't wrong about that, if nothing else.

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Well. Good.

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A step forward, at least.

(Still, the last week before winter break goes smoothly, just with some unrest - there hasn't been a second student petrified, not yet, and people are settling down. Though everyone who can goes home over the winter break, far more than last year.)

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Ellie will be staying wherever Professor Reynolds is, of course.

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And Anathema's staying with Ellie.

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She'd been planning to spend a good bit of break in Hogwarts... But it does sound nice to try and get away from all this for a portion at least. Get a bit more use out of their house.

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They could have Christmas there?

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Sounds delightful.

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They'll have to go shopping and stuff too.

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Of course. Can't have Christmas without Christmas shopping.

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It's very important.

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They'll try to find a convenient time, then.

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Should be fun.

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Certainly.

(Christmas shopping happens soon after break again - and Professor Reynolds takes them both separately, like last time. She has a better idea now, it seems, of what gifts Anathema will like than she did a year ago.)

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Ellie gets Anathema the new Nintendo kart-racing game and a collection of shiny wrist bangles.

For Fay, she owl-orders a cursebreaking book she hasn't seen on her shelves and the next offering by a fiction author she likes.

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Fay buys Anathema a few bottles of potions to lengthen or shorten your hair, as well as some temporary dyes that're a bit more advanced than what Anathema herself can already brew, and a slim book of using magic to modify hair styles.

The next day, Anathema insists on being dropped off in London after withdrawing money, and their trip takes a bit longer than Ellie's had; still, they're done soon enough. Fay goes back to taking them out to this or that restaurant once a week, also taking them to see some Christmas-themed attractions. (Anathema is very fascinated by light displays.)

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Ellie decorates her own wrapping paper, as last year, adding a charm to make it magically sparkly.

Are they going to do a tree, since they're home this year?

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That sounds delightful, actually - and since they have electricity, they can wrap it with as many colorful strings of light as will fit, as well as an initial generic load of sparkly Christmas ornaments.

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Hurrah! Somewhere to put the presents until Christmas morning.

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Anathema has a lot of fun decorating the tree - and a lot of fun carefully stacking her presents under its boughs. "Should we also open any Yule gifts on Christmas?"

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"Dunno. Might be nice to do everything at once? Unless you don't want the holidays to get smeared together."

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"Smeared together's okay. Holidays should be a bit messy."

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"All at once, then."

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"Alright." She wiggles a bit. "I'm excited!"

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"Should be fun."

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"Yeah."

Anathema spends the intervening days rather bouncy.

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Perks of being home: they can go run around outside freely.

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Yeah!!! It's less snowy here than around Hogwarts, too - snow's fun for a little bit but enough of it seriously hampers 'running amok.' 

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It is pretty hard to run amok when you can't actually run.

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A bit of a challenge.

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There's probably a spell for it, though...

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And if there isn't, they can make one.

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Something else for the projects file.

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Giggle.

They'll get to it eventually.

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Eventually!

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Shoulder bump.

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Hee.

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Christmas rolls in fairly soon. Anathema waits for Ellie to wake up on her own again, though she's clearly vibrating impatiently.

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Typical Anathema.

Ellie doesn't keep her waiting too long.

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Such a great Ellie.

And now: presents!

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They should probably wait for Professor Reynolds, too.

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She's willing to get up early for this.

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Then yeah, presents.

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Anathema dives for Ellie's presents first.

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Ellie will return the courtesy.

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Anathema gets the bangles open first, thanking Ellie and loading her wrists up with them.

Her first present to Ellie is: a magic day planner! It'll rotate days forward automatically (though you can still retrieve previous days' agendas with a wand tap). The first page lists tasks that haven't been marked completed from past days, and the last page lets you look at neat and tidy statistics about what you've gotten done. Each 'to do' item has a little tick box you can mark to make it reoccurring, and you can write how often and how long next to it, and it'll automatically fill out future dates. You can also highlight entries in different colors, and there's a space inside the flap for you to record what your color code means - and you can tap the relevant color to get a layout just featuring your upcoming items with that color on them. It also has a 'goals' section near the back, broken down by year and month. New agenda items take up a whole page, but default collapse to just a title and short summary - they can be expanded again to view details with a wand tap. It doesn't have infinite pages, but Anathema's also bought a paper refill pack. (The labels reveal it's American make, which is probably why Ellie's never seen the like in Diagon Alley.)

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Americans! Sometimes clever, who knew. She really likes this.

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Anathema giggles at Ellie's expression.

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"I'll have to spend some time migrating over later today."

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"One minor drawback."

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"But still worth it."

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Heeee. "Good."

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Next presents?

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Anathema squees when she opens the game from Ellie.

Her own second gift to Ellie is a small bundle of books. They're a mix of fiction and nonfiction, each on an entirely different topic, but also each not really found in Hogwarts' library. 

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How nice!

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"I read a couple of those, back before - you know, Hogwarts and all. Figured you'd like them."

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"I'll let you know what I think."

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"Okay!"

She starts sorting the rest of her presents.

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Fay, meanwhile, opens her gift from Ellie, flipping through both books.

"Thank you," she says, sincerely. "I haven't read either of these before."

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"Oh good. I didn't see either of them in your collection so I was hoping- yeah."

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She grins back. "They both look to be my taste."

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Hee.

What did Fay get for Ellie?

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Books, as well - all of them on the Animagus process, including an overall guide, as well as some theory books.

There's also a combined gift for both Ellie and Anathema - an art supply kit, nicer and more extensive than what they have access to through their art classes.

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Oh, that's very nice.

Ellie makes a note in her new planner for next summer: To do: Animagus theory.

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Anathema's extremely excited both about the hair stuff and the art supplies, bouncing rather energetically.

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"I'm glad you both like your gifts."

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"They were all really great," Ellie says with feeling.

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"Yeah!"

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"Happy Christmas, you two."

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"Happy Christmas," Anathema says, giggling.

Of course, there's more gifts - mostly minor things from the assortment of friends they've made, and food from the house elves again...

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"Happy Christmas," Fay says, softly and fondly.

There's her gifts from friends and colleagues, too - and her gift from Anathema, which she opens next, revealing a certificate from the World Wildlife Fund saying that a donation's been made in her name to wildlife conservation. (It comes with a little Amur leopard stuffed animal, too.) Fay laughs and thanks Anathema.

And - she finds a small gift in crinkly paper next, her expression going sad and pensive.

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Hm?

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"It's for Scarlet," Anathema says, softly, fidgeting a bit. "For when we get them back."

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She smiles again, blinking back tears. "Thank you. This - it means a lot." She laughs a bit. "I won't open it now, then - they deserve that pleasure for themselves."

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Anathema grins, ducking her head.

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That's really sweet.

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Fay gives Anathema a small hug, then goes back to the last of her presents.

Soon enough they've gotten everything open; Fay jokes about saving the wrapping paper for Scarlet, too, so they can attack it properly.

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It's not quite the same if they're specially allowed to.

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Fair. They might appreciate the thoughtfulness, though. 

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"Or we can throw them a party when they're unpetrified."

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"With new crinkle-paper?"

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"Proper presents in cardboard boxes and wrapping paper, except the only thing in them is more wrapping paper."

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Ellie laughs.

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"They'll appreciate it as grouchily as possible."

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"With that little ear flick they do."

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She laughs. "I can't wait."

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"Me too."

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She nods, pensive again.

"Well, they'd grouch at us more if we didn't enjoy our Christmas," she says after a moment. "And it seems to me Anathema's never seen a Christmas movie before."

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"Do you propose we rectify this state of affairs?"

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"Of course. The cheesier the better."

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"Sounds good to me. Popcorn? Cocoa?"

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"Of course. I'll get those made, if you want to pick out a movie."

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"Okay." Let's take a look at what's available.

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She seems to have actually just recently gotten a set of children's Christmas classics - there's no other indication she's ever watched a Christmas movie. Still, the set includes 'The Year Without a Santa Claus,' 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas,' 'Frosty the Snowman,' 'Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer'...

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The Grinch is good, and she liked the songs from 'The Year Without a Santa Claus'. Frosty less so, so start with those two and see how Anathema likes them.

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Anathema's bouncing a little as Ellie gets the TV set up and Fay gets the popcorn and cocoa.

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Hee. Ellie's a bit excited too, she's heard these but never been able to watch the whole thing.

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Anathema definitely seems to be having a lot of fun (the Grinch is probably her favorite, though she quickly starts humming along to the songs from 'The Year Without a Santa Claus;' she keeps humming bits of the two Meiser songs even after the movie ends, giggling).

"Movies are the best muggle thing," she declares at one point, laughing.

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"They are pretty good, some of them."

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"Well, there's really bad books, but that doesn't make books not the best ever thing."

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Serious nod. "True, true."

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She giggles, leaning into Ellie.

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"I'm glad you liked them."

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"Yeah, I did."

"Thanks."

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Shoulder bump.

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Shoulder bump. "Are the other movies any good?"

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"I don't think so," she says, "but I haven't actually watched them all the way through."

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"Well, maybe we can start on one tomorrow and stop watching if it's boring."

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"Sure."

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Grin.

"We should floo somewhere it's snowing, today."

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"Okay."

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She smiles, shoulder bumps Ellie again, and goes to find her winter clothes.

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Ellie should do the same, then. And check in with Fay.

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Fay's doing alright, and thinks going somewhere with snow is an excellent idea. (Though it does require some thought about where - Hogsmeade seems most likely, they generally have snow and have a public floo station...)

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Yes, the exact destination was a bit of an afterthought.

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Understandable.

She gets herself into a warmer robe as well, then through the fireplace to Hogsmeade Station - where the world is indeed coated in a layer of snow, just thin enough to run around in. Hogsmeade's streets have already had the snow swept aside, and the village is glowing merrily.

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It's like a postcard.

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Very much so. Hogsmeade is... A bit dedicated to being picturesque, all told.

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A nice place to visit. But she's kind of glad they didn't wind up here.

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Fay agrees, actually... Electronics are nice, if nothing else, but Hogsmeade is - tightly knit, in a way that can be pleasant but can also be cloying at times.

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Yeah.

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Anathema's happiest running into the undisturbed fields outside of town, anyways. Snow!!!

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Snow!

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Maybe a snow fight, first - on brooms, even - since Anathema's got a lot of energy right now... Though they should definitely also make snow tigers...

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Both sounds good.

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In order then. Snow fight then snow tigers.

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Snow flight.

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Anathema stands corrected, then!

She gathers a good bit of snow before rising on her broom, and promptly starts doing her best to pelt Ellie.

(Fortunately the snow is deep enough for them to swoop down and scoop up more for each snow ball.)

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Ellie favors a strategy more of agility, carrying a minimal load of snow on her broom and swooping often.

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Anathema's higher loads means it's easier for her to stay elevated for a bit, though - a height advantage is rather fun, here.

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It's not that different from chasing the Snitch near the base of the stands with a Beater on you. Good practice, actually.

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Then Anathema's happy to oblige. (Beater's her best position, too, so she can definitely give Ellie a workout here.)

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Fun.

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By the end, they're both quite covered in snow. Which probably means they both won.

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Yeah!

Maybe they can pester Fay for a Warming Charm before the tigers?

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She's rather happy to do so - and joins them for snow building.

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Oh good.

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She builds her first snow creature with just her hands, stands back, smiles at the falling apart mess, and sets to using magic for the next one.

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Aw, that's cheating!

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Anathema's pretty sure any snow creatures built via cheating are in open season for knocking down.

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That's only fair.

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She pounces at Fay's sculpture, trying to get past her to knock it over. 

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Fay laughs, leaving off the magic to catch Anathema around the waist. 

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Leaving her open for Ellie's attack.

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Anathema's hardly a passive prisoner either, kicking and shrieking with laughter. 

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Fay tries to block Ellie as well, swinging Anathema into her path. 

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She dodges, Seeker reflexes coming to her aid.

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Anathema saves a burst of serious flailing for just the right time to unbalance Fay, getting her feet in the snow and twisting.

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Fay lets go of Anathema, tries to trip Ellie.

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She makes a leap for the snow construction.

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Anathema tackles Fay directly now, slowing her down.

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Fay makes a grab for Ellie, but trips when Anathema slams into her.

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Ellie plows bodily through the pile.

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Anathema cheers as the sculpture collapses.

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Ellie emerges from the wreckage with a great gasp, fists raised in victory.

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Fay catches herself in the snow, laughing.

"Alright, alright, I won't cheat."

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"Cheaters never prosper," Ellie says primly.

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"How could I ever set such a horrible example."

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"Fortunately we are here to set you straight."

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She nods, very seriously.

And flicks her wand, sending a cascade of snow over both girls. (Herself, too, but, well. Necessary sacrifices.)

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Ahhh noooo!

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Anathema shrieks.

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Fay jumps to her feet, laughing. "Down doesn't mean out, girls."

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"We will be... avenged..."

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Anathema starts struggling out of the snow, flailing and trying not to giggle. "You haven't seen the last of us!"

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Ellie gathers up a handful of snow and tosses it at Fay without sitting up.

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She laughs. "I'll watch my back, then."

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"You'd better." Ellie levers herself into an upright position.

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She comes over to offer a hand up.

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"Thanks."

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"You're welcome, Ellie."

Back to snow creature construction, then? (No cheating, this time.)

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For a while longer, anyway.

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Fay seems to have learned a lesson, at least.

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That's all right, then.

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"Do you want to work on one together?"

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"Sure."

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"Sounds fun!"

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She smiles, setting to work beside them.

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Surely they can make something worth the effort, with all hands turned to common purpose.

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Fay's the most useful for gathering and packing snow. Still, she's pretty good at following directions - and is taller than either girl, and fully capable of picking them up to work on something taller than them.

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A tiger with dragon wings, is Ellie's vision.

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Spread is hard without magic, but they can do a tiger sitting up with wings folded along their back, surely.

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Well, if they're all working together, magic is a different matter, isn't it?

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You could certainly argue that.

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And it would be in service to a great cause. A most excellent, intimidating cause, full of thunder and beauty.

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Well, Fay's convinced. How ferocious should their magnificent dragon tiger be?

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Extremely.

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Hmm... Crouching before a pounce, perhaps, or else mid-leap...

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Mid-leap!

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Definitely. With wings flared!

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She laughs. "Alright. Your wish is my command, then."

And she starts casting at the snow, explaining as she's going along what she's doing for something this large - it's actually really basic Transfiguration, just with a few tricks for finer, slower control. Turn the snow to ice, so it'll hold, shape it, create an outer layer of densely packed snow with a thin ice crust over top to give it the right appearance...

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Super cool.

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She grins, broadly.

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"You're pretty good at this," she says, admiring the sculpture.

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"Thanks."

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Smile.

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"Do you two want to keep playing?"

(It's starting to get a bit late, now. They've been doing stuff pretty much all day.)

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"I think I'm about ready to go home."

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"Yeah," Anathema says, flapping her arms a bit. "I think I'm ready for more hot cocoa."

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"That I can do."

Time for the trek back to Hogsmeade Station, then?

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Indeed.

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It's easy enough to get back, and Fay soon has the fire back to a normal, warm roaring, hot cocoa steaming in their hands.

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A good finish to the day.

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Yeah.

Earlier was fun, but this is... Cozy.

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Yep.

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Fay curls up on the couch, humming.

"Today's been wonderful," she says, softly.

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"I liked it."

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"Yeah." She wraps herself in a big fluffy blanket while nursing her hot cocoa.

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She smiles, softly, and then yawns.

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It's been a long day for everyone. Ellie's getting tired too.

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"Goodnight," she says, after another small yawn. "I'll see you two in the morning."

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"Night..."

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Anathema grumps a bit. "I'm gonna sleep in front of the fire." Yawn.

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"It is very cozy..."

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"I'll make sure she doesn't burn up," Ellie yawns.

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Smile. "Sleeping out here does sound nice, actually."

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"Might need a couple more blankets."

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"Easy enough."

She flicks her wand, lazily, and a good assortment of blankets and pillows float out into the living room, one by one.

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Magic: It's Convenienttm.

Snuggle time.

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Best time.

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Fay flows into her tiger form, jumping down from the couch to laze nearer to the fire.

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Sleep time.

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Zzzzz.

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The rest of their winter break goes just as wonderfully. Anathema quickly grows bored of Frosty and Rudolph, at least.

The students return far more cheerful than they left. The news out of the Hospital Wing isn't the best - the anti-petrification potion isn't really shelf stable, so it needs to be brewed fresh, and nowhere has it in stock... And the main ingredient, mandrakes, are intensely seasonal and not in demand enough to be grown in greenhouses so they're maturing continuously. Hogwarts grows mandrakes for Herbology practice - in Ellie and Anathema's classes, actually - but it'll take until nearly the end of the school year for them to be ready.

The first few weeks of the spring term involve a good bit of settling back into the routine of classes.

And then, in the last week of January -

Ellie and Anathema's roommate, Lisa Turpin, is discovered petrified on the sixth floor.

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Well, the Christmas spirit couldn't last forever. Not that she really expected anything to miraculously solve itself in the background over break.

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Most of the students seem to have! They are very, very freaked out, especially the other students in their years - the Ravenclaws and muggleborns more so than anyone else, but a lot of their year mates visit Lisa in the Hospital Wing, asking after her.

Even Serpens Malfoy, who's never seemed close to really anyone, takes to hovering anxiously, her face pale and stressed.

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Odd behavior for her, especially considering how she seems to disdain most inanities, but these are stressful times.

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Anathema's stressed too, though not in a way that leads to hovering - she doesn't see the point - but rather to nearly obsessive research. (They still don't have a ton of leads... Lisa was found alone, again, in the girl's bathroom, frozen peering into the mirror. The bathrooms, dorm rooms, and deep dungeons used just for storage are, at this point, basically the only parts of the castle not watched over by one or more portraits, and none of the portraits outside had seen or heard anything.)

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There's got to be- something. Something they can find, something they can do.

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Yeah.

She doesn't want to really - stop, until they find something.

(Their grades don't super suffer from this, because they're so ahead, but... There's still not much.)

And, about two weeks after Lisa was found - when tensions have just kept getting higher - they're passing through the common room on their way to study. The common room's quiet, tense, and full of people talking quietly or trying to read.

That quiet's shattered when a snake drops on one of the girls. She shrieks, flailing, and the snake falls to the ground, hissing in rather extreme displeasure about STUPID humans putting him in a STUPID box and dropping him on OTHER stupid humans and AHHHHHH he was trying to SLEEP in his DEN what is WRONG with these THINGS he wants to BITE someone about it and he doesn't know where that STUPID first human went -

Other students are jumping to their feet, the girl backpedaling and drawing her wand, as the snake thrashes and then coils, baring his teeth in warning and repeatedly slamming the tip of his tail against the stone floor, making a staccato rattling sound.

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"Hey!" Ellie says to the snake. "Calm down, you're just making things worse. If you tell me where your den is, I'll put you back, okay?"

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Anathema's face is very pale, eyes wide, but she still goes to pull the freaked out girl back (and also stop her from aiming her wand at the snake).

The snake coils, swaying a bit and turning to eye Ellie. "You can talk?" he says, clearly startled. (Still agitated, but a significant portion of the common room is now staring at Ellie, so he's marginally less freaked out.) He rattles his tail a bit slower, pupil dilating, swinging his head now to look around the room full of humans. He lowers himself and starts slithering over to her remarkably quickly, students jumping out of his way. "It's in the big rocks by the lake." He gets behind her, putting her between him and the rest of the room. "But if you put me in a box or try to steal it, I'll bite you."

The girl Anathema's holding tries to yank her arm away enough to keep pointing her wand at the snake, who hisses at her. Anathema makes a frustrated noise and grabs her wand ("It's just grumpy 'cause someone woke it up," Anathema snaps, "It's not even venomous, stop provoking it - ").

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"I have my own den. You can climb on me if you want. Let's go."

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The snake slithers up her body, resting grouchily on her shoulders and looking around. Anathema lets go of the girl, jogging over to Ellie. The other students are all giving them a wide berth.

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Ellie exits the dormitory and heads in the direction of the lake.

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The snake keeps up a bit of a running commentary at first. 

Anathema catches up to Ellie. And, after glancing to make sure there's no one around, "Uh, can you usually talk to humans?" she asks the snake. 

He eyes her, tilting his head. "Humans can't talk. Normally. You two can, and that's weird."

Anathema frowns.

"...Ellie, are you normally able to - talk to snakes?"

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"Yes? I mean, I haven't met a lot of snakes, but there was a python at the zoo..."

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"Uh. That's. Not a common ability." She's frowning.

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"Huh. I guess I haven't really seen it talked about. But it's not like it would come up a lot."

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"Yeah. There's not a lot of snakes here..." Anathema says. "I don't think so?"

The snake raises his head. "It's warm enough most of the time, and none of you humans go very underground much anyways, especially when it's cold, so we live down there. But all the mice ran away and then everyone was really uneasy about staying down there this cold so we left but there's not a lot of nice dens outside so we had to fight over them. But also humans are big and dumb and noisy, so we avoid them. I've heard them chirp at each other but don't see them often."

Anathema frowns again. To Ellie (and kind of the snake), "Talking to snakes is supposed to be one of those weird magical talents people sometimes get. Like, muggles can be born as mages, and mages can end up born with extra magic like being a metamorphagus - or a parselmouth, which means you can talk to snakes. It runs in families after that. It's supposed to be that all the British parselmouths are descended from Salazar Slytherin, who was one, though there's other parselmouths elsewhere so probably anyone's ever moved in. Or just gotten it at random."

"The last known British parselmouth was Voldemort. Neither of my parents were parselmouths - they woulda bragged about it everywhere..." She bites her lip.

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"Oh."

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"...I guess we could just. Both randomly be - new talents..."

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"Not with our luck."

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"Yeah."

She seems pretty upset. 

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"You shouldn't let on about it to anyone. People can think it's just me."

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She nods.

"Thanks."

"...Though maybe we should tell Professor Reynolds."

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"I think it should be okay for her to know."

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"Yeah. She's been - good."

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"Better than most people."

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Firm nod. "I like her."

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"Me too."

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Anathema sighs. 

It's a bit of a walk to the lake, and a bit more of a walk to figure out which big pile of rocks the snake meant. He slithers into his den after thanking both girls. 

Anathema stares out over the water after. 

"...People are gonna be gossiping. I dunno I wanna go back to the dorm right now."

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"Could go to the dragon room for a bit."

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"Yeah. Or see Professor Reynolds."

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"Or that. Depends if you wanna talk to her now or later, I guess."

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"...I think now."

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"Okay." Off to see Professor Reynolds.

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It's her office hours right now, so she's in the room off her usual classroom. Fortunately, no one's taking advantage of those - she seems to be grading papers, which she sets down when the two girls appear in the open doorway. 

"Good morning," she says. "Come on in."

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"Good morning, Professor." Ellie takes a seat.

"So apparently I can talk to snakes."

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Anathema closes the door behind them, sitting by Ellie.

"... Me too."

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"Oh," she says, blinking a bit. "That has - implications."

"Are you two okay?"

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"For now. Someone was trying to play a prank in the Ravenclaw common room with a snake. We took it back outside."

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"Good for you both - five points to Ravenclaw for kindness to animals."

"But then I'm guessing people overheard you speaking to it?"

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"Practically everyone, yeah."

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"Not me, though. Just Ellie. But I understood the snake and could talk to him while we looked for his den. He said he's not a magic talking snake or anything."

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She sighs. "Alright. Parselmouths are rare, so there'll likely be gossip... And some students might try to be mean over it. I'll put my foot down over that whenever I see it."

"Hopefully it'll just be brief gossip, though. Neither of you are frequent subjects of rumors..."

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"Thanks, Professor."

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Anathema nods.

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She sighs. "You're welcome."

Then, small smile: "If either of you decide you want a pet snake in light of this, I'm sure Scarlet can be convinced to share."

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"If we ever meet a nice one, maybe. All the ones I've met so far have been a little grumpy."

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She smiles. "Most reptiles aren't social creatures, sadly."

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"Yeah..."

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"We can keep an eye out, though."

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"Okay."

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She laughs a bit. 

"I do need to grade these papers..." she says. "But I wouldn't mind some company, if you two want to study here."

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"Sure."

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"Yeah, that sounds nice."

Anathema curls up with her book, mood apparently well settled.

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Professor Reynolds does have that effect.

Studying!

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Sadly, they eventually have to go to lunch and then their afternoon classes.

Still, this was a nice break.

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It's always nice to spend time with her.

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Yeah.

Off to lunch, then.

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Hopefully it won't be too bad.

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It's bad enough some of the tables near them quiet when they enter the Great Hall, followed by an outbreak of whispering and staring.

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Oh. Goodie.

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Anathema hesitates, glancing around.

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The best way out is through.

Ellie moves roughly towards a couple open seats, ignoring the whispers.

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Anathema follows her.

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Seats. Food. Eating.

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No one's whispering directly to them, yet. Anathema eats quickly.

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Ellie doesn't linger over her food.

Since they're not welcome here, they can go somewhere else to wait before class.

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Yeah.

The gossip doesn't seem to have jumped all the way to the Slytherins that're sharing their class - or at least the Slytherins care less - but Ellie and Anathema are definitely sitting on their own.

Still, Professor McGonagall doesn't tolerate any gossip, so there's no whispers.

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Good. Transfiguration is one of the classes Ellie likes to pay attention in.

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And no one seems inclined to stop them from leaving after, though Anathema still has her shoulders hunched a bit.

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Bump.

"It's gonna be okay. We're together."

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Small smile. "Thanks." She bumps back. "Dunno why people care so much..."

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"Nothing better to do?"

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"I guess. Or something to talk about that isn't the Chamber stuff..."

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Shrug. "They should get hobbies."

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Snicker. "Yeah. You'd think there were enough clubs..."

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"Yeah."

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"Well, we can just stay out of people's ways until they get bored, I guess..."

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"Hopefully short attention spans work in our favor."

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"Yeah."

There's not a huge gap before their next class - of course, Hogwarts is huge, so it's still pretty easy to sit and study in an unused room until then.

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Still, this going out of their way thing will get old quickly.

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Yeah. Maybe just today, then.

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Mm.

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Anathema thinks she'd usually care less, anyways, but -

She's not comfortable with the thing they're gossiping about, really.

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Yeah. There's too much- context.

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Very, very firm nod.

And, after classes, while they're curled up in the Dragon Room, Anathema looks up, hesitantly, and says - "I. I'm scared my - birth dad might've been. Voldemort." Frown. "I don't like being scared..."

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"I don't think that's something to worry about."

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"Why not?"

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"'Cause you're you, not him. And it's not like you knew him either way."

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Grin. "Yeah." She kicks her legs. "I'm just..." She shrugs.

(She'd had nightmares, after the mess at the end of first year. A lot of them.)

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Shoulder bump. "We stick together."

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Lean. "Yeah, we do."

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"And nothing can keep us down."

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Heee.

Back to the dorm, then?

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Yep. Back to the dorm.

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People are mostly going to bed by now, so they're able to get up to their room easily enough. The other three girls are sitting on their beds, talking quietly - Lisa's is empty with its curtains pulled closed, like it has been since she got petrified.

The girls quiet down a bit when they come in, turning to look at them both. Anathema squares her chin.

Mandy, the other muggleborn girl in their year, glances at Padma and Sue briefly, frowning, before turning back to Ellie. "You're not the Heir of Slytherin, right?" she asks, bluntly.

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"No. I am not the Heir of Slytherin."

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Anathema scowls. "Why would you even think that?"

Mandy shrugs. "I didn't, but that's the rumor going around, 'cause people are dumb I guess and haven't noticed two of the victims are people you like. And none of them are Parkinson, which, like, if you gave me the power to petrify people..." Padma kicks her, making Mandy grumble.

"They think Parseltongue's only a thing for Slytherin's descendants," Padma interjects. "Which, I know British wizards have their heads up their asses - " Sue giggles " - but there's Parselmouths all over the place! And all the British Parselmouths have been white, which makes thinking you're from Slytherin's line kind of extra dumb - no offense."

"Yeah, I know there's some in China, though a lot of the famous Parselmouths are actually from Vietnam - aren't the Potters from there, too?" Sue asks. Shrug. "Anyways, I really doubt you're any related to Slytherin."

Mandy flops back on her bed. "Or if you were it wouldn't matter. I don't agree with my mom about anything; why would anyone have the same politics as some random dude from a thousand years ago, just 'cause he's in their family tree? By that logic, Genghis Khan's in a lot of people's family trees, so we should all quit school and conquer Eurasia."

Sue perks up. "Sounds fun! I'm in."

The room dissolves into laughter, Anathema joining, the tension melting out of her shoulders.

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Heh.

All right, maybe this will help.

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Anathema goes to flop on her bed, quickly falling into joking with their roommates about the logistical difficulties of remaking the Mongol army in order to embrace their completely speculative ancestry. (They, for one, don't have any horses, though Anathema maintains brooms are an acceptable substitute...)

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Acquiring them in sufficient quantity would be difficult. Horses reproduce on their own but broom do not.

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There's broom-wood trees, though, which do reproduce on their own. The real question is if breeding and training quality horses or growing and making quality brooms is harder to do at scale.

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They'd have to do some testing...

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Hm... This also sounds like the type of thing that gets recorded, at least on its own - probably any historical army's kept records about horse logistics...

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Probably, though those records may not be at Hogwarts' library.

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Muggle libraries might have them... And Hogwarts might have stuff about brooms, or they can owl a broom-maker.

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So there's options, if this is actually a problem that needs solving.

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Possibly 'should we even go to war' is an important consideration, yeah.

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Not as long as interlibrary loans are a thing.

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Giggle.

Maybe they can build a shadowy conspiracy, controlling the world from the library...

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You mean the world doesn't already work that way?

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It seems to usually require a bit of standing in front of crowds making speeches.

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That's just what they want you to think. Who really writes the speeches??

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She giggles - increasingly in intensity as Padma suggests getting her twin to read their speeches for them ("She's good at crowds and also a Gryffindor, so people think she's all valiant.").

"Deal. I'll write the speeches. Shiny Gryffindors can read them."

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"That's efficient distribution of labor."

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She leans back, laughing and then yawning a bit.

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Bed time?

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Ugh. She wants to stay up plotting, but they do have morning classes tomorrow...

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Plotting will be there in the morning, too.

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Fair enough. (Yawn.)

Goodnight.

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Good night.

Zzz.

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The gossip's not any better the next day, but their roommates are in their corner - Padma, apparently, can be scathing when she thinks someone's being an idiot, and shames a few Ravenclaws into at least not gossiping in front of them.

Anathema sticks by Ellie. She seems more annoyed at all the gossip than stressed at least, now.

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That's... a marginal improvement, at least. (It's easier for Ellie to deal with when she's not just pretending it doesn't exist and someone else is fighting back.)

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Not all the school's convinced, at least, even outside of their circle of friends, and all the professors seem to think the idea's ridiculous (which helps slow it down slightly).

Still, people are - turning against them, fairly notably.

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Well. It's not her.

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Yeah.

The Ravenclaw Quidditch team comes down on Ellie's side, too, expanding their circle of defenders, but the rumors become more and more convinced maybe Ellie's the villain as the week wears on. The whole school seems strained near to breaking apart. Some of the most vicious rumor-spreaders - not even anyone in their year, the people they've gotten into arguments with before like Pansy Parkinson don't actually like muggleborns and are staying out of the fray - start claiming Ellie's a danger to have in Hogwarts.

That keeps to a mild grumble, mostly. The vast majority of the school's in an uneasy middle, where Ellie seems like the only suspect, but not like the best suspect, and everyone who knows her is defending her, and the professors are defending her, and it makes no sense to flip from 'fundamental enemy of the Death Eaters' to 'core example of the Death Eaters' so quickly -

And then the third petrification happens.

One of the Gryffindor girls in their year - the only one who's muggleborn, Hermione Granger - is found petrified. She's found leaning against a corner, staring intently at a mirror she's holding out in front of her at an odd angle, a worried expression on her face. The portraits on both corridors are petrified as well.

The school rather explodes after that.

People are now very, very sure someone should do something.

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Someone absolutely should do something.

Like release Hagrid maybe, since it's beyond obvious he had nothing to do with this and the problem was not solved by removing him, or evacuate the school.

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(Professor Reynolds expresses, in no unclear terms, that Fudge is welcome to try arresting Ellie, if he's burning to find out why she was the most decorated fighter in the Death Eater War. Fortunately, she expresses this opinion in private, to Ellie and Anathema only.)

'Evacuate the school' actually seems to be Headmaster Dumbledore's approach - he's not quite wording it as an evacuation, and according to Professor Reynolds there's been significant blow back from the Ministry anyways (Fudge seems to have declared the problem solved and is accusing Dumbledore of making up the further petrifications). But they're setting up to move the students out in good order. The biggest delays have been getting a location (Dumbledore pulled shenanigans, it sounds like, and the property he got was originally a muggle school, fallen into disrepair) and sorting out logistics of how to actually move people (both 'at all' and 'safely'). Getting the Hogwarts Express seems to be a non-starter for some reason, which means portkeys (which the Ministry won't approve) or floo (which needs to be supervised, especially with younger and muggleborn students, and is fairly slow). They stop classes and tell people to stay in their dorms until further notice (and each dorm has at least one professor and at least ten house elves stationed in it at all times), and begin evacuating the first years.

And, after the last first year is out, while the second years are being readied for their own move -

A white bird, translucent and ethereal and large - familiar - bursts through the closed door as Professor Flitwick turns, his eyes wide.

The bird shrieks as it's dissolving - "Second floor! Basi-"

It dissipates into a shimmery mist.

The words were in Professor Reynolds' voice.

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They have to go find her. Ellie tugs urgently on Anathema's sleeve.

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Anathema's already turning toward the door.

Flitwick has his back to them - raising his wand to cast the Patronus Charm, creating equally white and shimmery dogs who bound through the walls and floor, ignoring the students - who're muttering among themselves, not looking at either girl -

They're able to get out of the common room with no one the wiser.

Anathema breaks into a run toward the nearest staircase.

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Second floor. As fast as possible.

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Anathema practically leaps down the stairs, nearly heedless of potential injury.

The second floor's big, of course, massive, it'd take forever to search methodically - 

Anathema makes directly for Myrtle's second floor bathroom.

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Good idea, she will probably have seen something-

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There's a body sprawled outside her bathroom, curled in on herself, head turned up at an odd angle, hand reaching out to a wand lying numbly. There's water pooling around her, pouring from the bathroom. A mirror placed in front of her agonized face, fallen over.

A large - something, almost like a fang, jutting out of her thigh.

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She's not dead she's not dead she's not dead she can't be dead-

"Myrtle!"

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Anathema falls to her knees beside Fay, checking her -

She seems petrified.

Myrtle phases out of the wall, eyes wide, expression shaken. "Run away - " she says, voice quick, almost babbling. "That boy came back - I thought I saw a girl, but it was his voice, and there was a big - big monster - and the professor fought it - you should get out of here - "

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"Where did it come from?"

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"The sinks," Myrtle says, "The one across from my stall - and it went back into them, there was a big hole and then there was a grinding sound and it closed - "

Anathema stands. "We're not running away," she says, voice cold and flat like Ellie's never heard it. "That thing isn't getting away with this."

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Ellie inspects the sinks for- a key, a lever, a switch, something.

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There's no mechanical things apparent on any - just an incredibly detailed carving of a snake on the only sink whose faucet handles won't turn.

Anathema speaks grimly to Myrtle while Ellie's inspecting the sinks, convincing Myrtle to let someone - anyone - know where Professor Reynolds is.

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...Snakes are Slytherin, and Slytherin was a Parselmouth...

"Open," Ellie commands the carving, hissing the word angrily.

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The snake twists, and the sink and both on either side of it slide away from her before clicking and moving down. Tiles slide in place over the gap they left, revealing a dark corridor.

Anathema steps up beside Ellie, wand in hand.

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Ellie pulls out Discovery, casts a Lumos.

Down the corridor.

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Anathema keeps pace.

The corridor ends at a large trap door, currently wedged firmly shut. Anathema gets it open, revealing a wide cylinder descending into the dark, a ladder on one side. It's impossible to tell from here how far down it goes.

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Whatever hurt Professor Reynolds is down there. They're going.

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Anathema wants to go first.

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All right. Ellie will follow after.

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The tunnel is very, very long. Anathema's arms are shaking by the end, and she staggers when she finally drops into the thin layer of water and mud at the base. The cylinder opens into a large domed room, a metal door on the other side decorated with seven snakes holding it to the wall.

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"Open up," Ellie hisses again.

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The snakes slither aside, two staying still to act as hinges, allowing the gate to swing open.

Anathema leads the way, her wand in front of her. The tunnels here are labyrinthine, and the floor's wet. Still... There's signs the muck's been disturbed - a path through the general se