The Fire Waltz Chapter Twenty-Nine: Deal with the Devil

I.

The next lesson that I had with Professor Quirrell was the most awkward thing in the world. It was kind of like accidentally saying you hate someone who considers them your friend while they are still in earshot and then only realising it afterwards that you would have to spend the next several months with them in a lecture. Professor Quirrell paced up and down the room, clearly looking agitated. Was he having an internal debate with Voldemort in his consciousness? How did two heads even work? We had it with the Gryffindors, so I was sat at the back of the class with Brianna. "What did you do to piss him off?" Brianna said. "I've seen him glare at you three times today, which is three times more than normal. I wasn't even aware he knew you existed."

"I don't know," I lied, although as I did, I began to formulate ideas how I could possibly get Quirrell to expose himself whilst in the room of Professor Dumbledore in a way that didn't reveal that I knew something about the future. I would run up and pull off his headgear in the middle of a dinner, but chances were, Quirrell wouldn't be there at all. He rarely showed after Halloween and on the rare occasions that he was there, he always made sure to position himself in such a way so that if I ran up there was no way another Professor wouldn't stop me first to provide his cover. And I never, ever ran into him in the classroom. We had reached a stalemate. "Probably didn't do my homework or something."

"And now," Professor Quirrell said to the class. "We are going to look at the… Raythborn. A p, p, peculiar creature, it is believed that they look older than they actually app-pear. Tell me class, hoow old do you think this creature actually looks?"

"I'd say no more than five, sir," said a Gryffindor towards the front of the class.

"In-correct," said Professor Quirrell. "This Raythborn is over two hun-dred years old. Imm-aculate. It has lived on the planet long before I was born… and it will be, be there long after I die. This week's assignment is a si-simple one. We are to look at the tell-tale signs that a Raythborn is pre-tending to be younger than its years, which is common amongst their species."

Shit. Voldemort had figured it out. He'd worked out that I was older than I appeared, and now he was using the Raythborn as an example to do… what exactly? Such a thing was impossible among humans, even in the Harry Potter world. (Unless, were vampires real here?) But regardless, I'd played my hand, too fast, too hard and too early. I think I covered my tracks fairly well, and the similarities between Rayhtborns and humans were relatively slim, but I would have to be extra careful from now on. Thankfully there were no Hermione Grangers in my year, and due to Quirrell's teaching style, a number of students including Brianna were on the verge of dozing off completely.

The lesson was surprisingly anticlimactic considering our conversation the previous day. Riddle had a secret to maintain too, and he couldn't risk his plans being uncovered. It wasn't until the end of the class where he pulled me aside and asked me to stay behind for a few moments. "Remember class, keep putting your signatures on you your assign-ments. That goes for every one of.. you. Now, Mr. Kennedy… A word."

"Good luck," said Brianna, "I'll see you in Potions at four. Have fun."

Professor Quirrell made sure that all the class had gone before shutting and locking the door. "Now, Mr. Kennedy. You are the most peculiar question indeed. Normally, I would say Polyjuice, but you have sat in this class for a whole hour and not taken one swig from anything. And Dumbledore I believe, has measures against such a spell."

That was news to me. Maybe by The Triwizard, Crouch JR had found a way to counteract them? Or Dumbledore had simply told everyone that there were anti-Polyjuice detections in place when there weren't actually any at all. "So, it has come to my conclusion that you are impossible. By all rights, you shouldn't exist. A time-traveller from the future, perhaps? Beyond more than a few hours, such a feat is impossible. You would not have found out about who I was in the next few hours, so time travel is ruled out too. And Seers do not exist, as far as I'm concerned."

"Well as soon as you find out the answer, be sure to tell me, cause I'm still trying to figure out myself how I ended up here," I said, coming to the conclusion that there was no chance of holding back. Riddle already knew as much as he was going to. "But I suppose the real question is, what do you want with me? Why am I here?"

"I want you to do something for me."

"What's that?" It was only once I asked the question, I realised how stupid I was for even entertaining the mere idea that I could be swayed by Voldemort. "And more importantly, why should I?"

"Because if you don't," Riddle said, and I realised that this was actually Riddle's voice speaking, not Quirrell's. The front of his face was motionless, but his words spoke louder. "Things are going to get very difficult for you. I may not be able to harm you personally without your fail safe being activated, but trust me, I can find loopholes."

"What's to stop me from going straight to Professor Dumbledore?"

"I don't think that will be possible once you hear what I have to say," Riddle said. "But quite simply, the fact of the matter is, I assume given that you know who I am, you also know why I am here?"

"To steal the Philosopher's Stone," I said.

"Then you know that I cannot reach it without some sort of suspicion, especially after that incident on Halloween where I was caught near the beast," Riddle said. "However, a twelve-year-old boy? They will not suspect anything. You could ask Dumbledore for the Stone itself and if you told him you were going to save the world with it for the Greater Good, he'd give it to you on a silver platter."

"I'm sorry, but I'm out. I'm not going anywhere near the Stone, and especially not for you."

"You know," Quirrell was speaking again. "You gave me an idea after our previous encounter. "You told me that you'd written letters to be delivered to Dumbledore that have some kind of contingency. Well, I decided to do the same. Thanks to the signature that you wrote on your homework, like I requested, I was able to accurately forge it to the point where it would be undetectable by even the most veteran of curse-breakers. Now let's see. Here."

He produced a piece of paper from a desk and read it in front of me. "To the Dark Lord. I am going to steal the Stone tonight. Everything is in place for my extraction. I will meet you afterwards at the Astronomy Tower. Signed… Robin Kennedy."

I tried to snatch it out of his hands rather foolishly, but he merely waved it higher and laughed. "You're going to have to do better than that. But Lord Voldemort is merciful," The Dark Lord in question spoke. It was never going to be any less than weird, seeing words coming out of Quirrell's head but Quirrell wasn't the one saying them. "I will give you a deadline. Until The end of the year."

"What about truth potion?" I said, asking Voldemort, who didn't need to say what would happen if I didn't do it before the end of the year. "If I'm caught, surely, I can just testify under Veritaseum that you manipulated me?"

"Oh Mr. Kennedy, you are mistaken if you think they will bother with such a complex potion for you. To them you are worthless," he said. "They didn't question Sirius Black, so what makes you think they'll question you? They will be glad to be rid of the boy who dared to introduce muggle tradition to Hogwarts and tried to steal the Philosopher's Stone. The newspapers are already crying for your blood, saying that you are poisoning children's beliefs and breaking down our proud culture."

II.

Brianna Marshall had planned to wait outside for Robin to come out of the classroom. She found the boy rather odd, truth be told, too charismatic for a Hufflepuff but too caring about other people to be a Gryffindor – her House could get awfully selfish at times, if she was honest. The Troll incident had still left her cautiously looking around the corridors so that when the next attack came, she was not surprised in the slightest. Unlike the others, unlike poor Bobby, Mal, Stevie, Eli and Robin when they were first attacked, Brianna knew enough about The Clown to turn and run the moment that she saw her father in the distance. There was no way her father could be at Hogwarts after all.

Yet the moment she turned the corner, it was almost as if The Clown had apparated (and apparition was impossible inside Hogwarts grounds unless you were a House Elf, and The Clown was very much not a House Elf) in front of her. Her father was carrying a wooden bat, the same that he used to keep around the house just in case his wand was disarmed, and it had spikes attached to the end of it. Brianna had been on the receiving end of the bat before the spikes were implemented, and she had no desire to be on the receiving end of it ever again. "You should be at home, Brianna," her father said. "It's lonely without you."

"Expelliarmus!" Brianna shouted at The Clown, telling herself over and over again that this was not a him, it wasn't him, but that dread was there, the smell was there, that same vile smell of alcohol. For all intents and purposes, he was a pureblood who made an exception in only one case, the alcohol. Wizards didn't know how strong muggle beer was, he always used to say. It was one of the reasons why he was an outcast from the community, and why any chance of Brianna going somewhere in life was shattered before she even stepped foot in Hogwarts because of her reputation. She tried again to cast a spell, more out of anger than anything. "Diffindo!"

There was no effect. The Clown had chased her down the corridor and away from the room, so she tried to angle her way back by running up another level of stairs and proceeding in the opposite direction. The Clown followed, and she realised that by now she was very late to Charms, and not for the last time she cursed Robin and the rest of the Hufflepuffs for having a free period on a morning that she did not. But McGonagall – and most likely detention, could wait. Survival was more important.

She reached the end of the stairwell at the opposite end of the corridor but to her horror, the stairs hadn't come back towards her level yet. She was a sitting duck, and her father – The Clown – was advancing towards her. There was no escape. She frantically tried, even tried clawing at the locked door nearby the stairs, but to no avail. "Diffindo!" Brianna shouted, loudly at The Clown, once again, using the spells that she knew how to perform. But nothing was coming out of the wand, it was like it had the power to cancel magic entirely.

She almost felt like jumping, even though it was so high up that she would die. But it was either jump, or get… eaten? The horrifying teeth of The Clown seemed to suggest that would be the case. She was seriously contemplating the jump – just about to do so, almost, before the door that she was trying to open before unlocked and The Clown vanished from view.

"Renée!" she said, relieved, running to embrace her in a hug. But the girl backed away.

"Sorry," she said, and Brianna noticed that she hadn't been wearing any gloves, like normal. "But I don't do hugs."

"You sure?" Brianna said. "I feel like I could use one after that."

"The Clown, huh?" Renée said. "You saw it too."

"Yeah."

"I haven't yet," she said. "But I'm expecting a haunting anyday now."

Brianna wondered where she had found out about The Clown, and who had told her. "I got some wonderful news, this morning."

"Is that why you weren't in today's Defence lesson?" Brianna asked her.

"Something like that," she said, and Brianna noticed that she seemed almost happy. She had rarely seen the other girl happy. "Don't worry, I confirmed beforehand when I got the letter. It's a lot to take in while having to worry about without having to concentrate on Defence as well."

"Hold up, what letter?" Brianna said.

"My parents found me!" she couldn't contain the excitement anymore. "My parents wrote to me this morning. It's amazing, Brianna. They were looking for me forever, and now they've finally found out where I am!"

"Wow," said Brianna. "That's fantastic, Renée. I'm so happy for you."

All fear of the Clown was gone from Brianna's mind, passed like a distant memory. She had never talked to the girl that much, if she was being honest, but felt relieved to see that she had something to be happy about. Her captivity was never officially confirmed but the rumours had spread around Hogwarts like a wildfire. And there were signs too, of a less-than happy childhood. For someone like Brianna, it was easy to spot them a mile off.

"I should probably get going," Renée said, breaking the moment of understanding that the two girls shared. "Sorry. I wouldn't want to keep you. You're late for a lesson, right?"

"Oh shit," Brianna said, remembering that McGonagall was so going to kill her. "You're right. See you around."

"And you," said Renée, waving at her, clutching the paper that she held in her hands like it meant the world to her.

To Be Continued…

A/N: Apologies for the late chapter; life/work got in the way, and hopefully the next update won't take as long.

Back on track. I have the next few chapters already written so they'll be published fairly quickly (up to 34 or so) and then after that, we'll see how things go from there.