Disclaimer: I still do not own Harry Potter.
Author's Note: Hey everyone, and thank you so much for the reviews. I'm so glad you enjoyed the last chapter.
Yep, there is definitely going to be an inquiry. And no, it sure doesn't bode well for Dumbledore that Harry is bound and determined to tell Fudge and the Aurors what's going on.
I hope you enjoy this next installment.
Harry didn't know where this new strength was coming from, but he felt steady and purposeful as he followed Fudge, the Aurors, and Dumbledore to the Headmaster's office. He studied the facial expressions of the people around him, and noticed that everyone was angry. Dumbledore was the best at not showing it, but Harry could tell that he wasn't at all happy about the Boy Who Lived wanting to tell his side of the story. Tough, he thought, not giving an inch.
From the first moment he'd laid eyes on Dumbledore, something in him wanted to give the man his trust. His kind smile, twinkling eyes, and grandfatherly appearance were traits that many would automatically find trustworthy. But Harry had seen, from that first night, that there was something odd about the man. His comment about the third-floor corridor made alarm bells go off in his head. Why would the Headmaster of a school joke about a slow, painful death?
He'd seen how some of the students, mainly the Gryffindors, reacted to it. Some had thought it was funny, simply laughing it off, but there was a gleam in some of the other students' eyes which led Harry to believe they were taking it as a challenge. He'd felt his own curiosity pique at the statement, but his instincts had screamed at him that something just wasn't right about Dumbledore. He'd also taken his cue from the looks of the other students around him, the distrust and suspicion in their eyes. In the common room, there had been a lot that was said about the Headmaster, and most of it wasn't good. There were the Malfoys of the world, which seemed to despise him for no good reason, but then there were people like Tracey, who had once said to Harry that the old man gave her the chills.
And now, Dumbledore's oh-so-amazing security had been breached, and a troll had murdered a young girl. And Harry didn't care whether the old man felt endless remorse or not, or whether he'd lost a countless amount of sleep the night before. All he knew was that Dumbledore and the rest of the staff needed to be held accountable for it.
Once they reached the gargoyle that led to the Headmaster's office, Dumbledore muttered the words, "Pepper imps." Instantly, the gargoyle moved aside, revealing a spiral staircase. Harry and the group walked onto it, and it moved them up to a door. Dumbledore opened it, and Harry, taking a deep breath, walked inside, following Fudge and the Aurors.
"Take a seat, all of you," Dumbledore said, conjuring several chairs around the room. "Go ahead and ask your questions."
The more Harry stared at Dumbledore, the angrier he felt. This man was sitting in his chair behind his desk, cool as you please, when one of his students had died the day before. Harry knew all about wearing masks, about keeping your cool when a situation got out of control, but this ... this calm from Dumbledore only made Harry more livid.
And it was this that caused Harry to speak without even being asked anything. "I don't know how it happened, Minister," he said, looking at Fudge and keeping his own voice level. "But somehow, a troll got into the school two days ago, and it attacked Hermione. She died from her injuries yesterday."
Harry said all of this in a detached tone; his heart still hurt too much at the thought of Hermione. But if he was going to do this, he had to stay strong and steady. If he reacted emotionally, Fudge and the Aurors might not listen to him. But if he recounted the events of the last few days without any of his grief getting in the way, he may get more of a result.
"That is true, Cornelius," Dumbledore said. "We are looking into the matter deeply."
As much as Harry kept telling himself not to react emotionally, he couldn't help but snort at this statement. He stared at Dumbledore, his emerald eyes boring into the blue ones of the man before him. His face was full of remorse and sadness, and a part of Harry wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. But the mistrust was still there, embedded within him, the mistrust he had for all adults. No one on Privet Drive ever suspected things were not as they should be in his so-called home, after all; they listened to Petunia and Vernon, who told them that the Potter whelp was nothing more than a juvenile delinquent, and they'd taken him in out of the goodness of their hearts.
Fudge seemed to be ignoring Dumbledore, which Harry decided to use to his advantage. The Minister's attention was directly focused on him, and Harry knew that his fame was the cause of this. He despised it, but he would use it in this instance. Justice for Hermione was his top priority, and he didn't care what he'd have to do to achieve it. If the most powerful person in the wizarding government wanted to listen to everything he said, then Harry would deliver, and deliver well.
"We were just getting started with the Halloween feast when Professor Quirrell came running into the room, screaming about the troll," Harry said, his heart beating fast as he relayed the story. "Professor Dumbledore told the Prefects to take everyone back to their dorms. And you see, there's a problem with that," said Harry, and his eyes gazed at the Headmaster once again. "The Professor seemed to forget that the Slytherins reside in the dungeons, which is exactly where the troll was said to be."
"Harry, I meant no harm," Dumbledore said, and it seemed that Harry was the only one who noticed that there was something akin to anger in Dumbledore's eyes now. "There was so much happening at the time that it simply slipped my mind. All I wanted at that moment was for the students to be safe."
Harry heard one of the Aurors snort. "I am more inclined to hear the tale of this young man," he said, his voice radiating hostility. It seemed to Harry that this Auror had just as much regard for Dumbledore as he did, if not less.
"I am telling the truth, Auror Wilkinson," Dumbledore said in a placating tone. "I simply wanted the Prefects to guide their students out of the Great Hall and to safety."
"Well, in any case, the Slytherin Prefects were smart," Harry said, continuing the story. "They told us to stay in the Great Hall."
"I must say, you are full of surprises, Mr. Potter," one of the other Aurors said. "It's rather unexpected that you were placed in Slytherin House."
Harry sighed. Not this again, he thought with exasperation. But he realized that the Auror wasn't looking at him with suspicion - he was simply stating his surprise at Harry's house placement. It still rankled, however - it was becoming more and more obvious that everyone had expected their savior to go into Gryffindor with no fanfare. Harry could say with certainty now that he was happy to have proved everyone wrong. "Well, that's where the Hat wanted me," was the only reply he gave to the Auror's statement.
"Indeed," the Auror replied. "I apologize, Mr. Potter, for not introducing myself. I'm Auror Stebbins. I was a Ravenclaw myself, and was in the same year as your parents."
"Really?" Harry asked. "Did you know them?"
"Not very well, I'm sorry to say. But they were very popular people. Head Boy and Girl," said Stebbins. "They were made for each other."
"Could we please get back to the subject at hand?" Fudge interrupted, his tone brisk and businesslike. "You two can talk later, if you like. We need to get back to what has happened at this school."
Harry was annoyed by Fudge's sharp tone, but he did understand that the Minister must be rather busy. But he desperately wanted to know more about his parents; the Dursleys weren't here to tell him not to ask questions, after all. He promised himself that if there was time, he would ask Auror Stebbins more about his own school days. "I'm sorry, Minister," he said, because he wanted to remain in the man's good graces to avenge Hermione. "Anyway, we stayed in the Great Hall until Professors McGonagall, Flitwick, and Snape came back to tell us that the troll had been killed."
"I see," said Fudge. "I see. Then what happened?"
"We found out that Hermione had been hurt," Harry said, the pain in his heart only intensifying. "We went back to our dorm. We were informed that Hermione was to have no visitors, but I didn't think that was fair. Yesterday afternoon, my other friend and I went to visit her, and Professor McGonagall told us she had ..." Despite his best efforts, Harry couldn't finish the sentence.
Auror Stebbins looked at him sympathetically. "I'm sorry," he said, and he truly sounded like he was. He then turned his gaze upon Dumbledore, giving him a look that was so cold it could have frozen the sun. "What happened, Dumbledore?" he demanded. "How did the troll get into the school, and how was it that one of your students wasn't found in time?"
"As I have said, we are investigating this," Dumbledore said, his tone soft and placating. To Harry, it sounded like nails dragging down a chalkboard. "I am monitoring my staff closely. The only conclusion I can come to is that the troll had inside help. After all, trolls do not simply walk into schools of their own accord."
Auror Wilkinson snorted. "Even a stupid person could suss that out, Dumbledore," he said, his mouth in a sneer. "I must say, we're not very impressed with your investigating skills."
"I think it best that we interview the staff members that Potter mentioned," said the third Auror in the room who hadn't spoken yet. She was female, and was also eying Dumbledore with clear disdain. "This boy has given us some very useful information."
"And I have more," Harry said, his instincts howling for him to deliver this piece of information. He was sure that Dumbledore was certainly not expecting him to relay this.
"There's more?" asked Fudge, his face turning red again. "Please explain."
"There's something on the third-floor corridor," said Harry, his heart pounding so hard that he wondered whether anyone else in the room could hear it. His eyes were directly on Dumbledore as he spoke, looking for any kind of reaction. "At the beginning of the year, he made this announcement that it was out of bounds because we'd die a slow and painful death otherwise."
Auror Wilkinson stood up, and he towered over Dumbledore, who, to Harry's eyes, certainly looked shocked. "You said WHAT?" he bellowed, his voice ringing through the room. "You said that to a roomful of students?"
"What are you up to, old man?" the female Auror muttered in a barely audible whisper, but Harry heard her. "What are you doing?"
"I think," said Fudge, a vein in his neck pulsing, "that my Aurors and I are about to use our own investigation skills, and they're a damn sight better than yours, Headmaster. To the third-floor corridor, wands at the ready," he instructed the Aurors, who instantly were at attention. Harry was fascinated by the way their stance immediately changed to that of warrior mode.
Once again, Harry stared Dumbledore down, and he felt a thrill go through him when he realized the man was in a bind, and a very bad one at that. If he stopped Fudge and the Aurors, he'd be telling them plainly that there was indeed something to hide in the third-floor corridor. If he didn't stop them, they'd still find whatever they were going to discover. What was the lesser of two evils?
In the end, he did nothing, sitting at his desk and staring into space. But there was something calculating about his stance now - he was scheming, trying to find a way to get out of the hole that Harry Potter, of all people, had just dug for him. For the first time since he'd seen Hermione's lifeless body, Harry grinned, but he knew it wasn't a nice expression.
"Thank you, Mr. Potter," Auror Stebbins said. "I hope we can meet again sometime, and that I have more time to speak with you."
"Thank you, Auror Stebbins," Harry said politely. "May I please go back to my common room?"
"You may, Harry," Fudge said, speaking to him in a jovial tone. "Thank you very much for your help."
"No problem," Harry said, and he shook the Minister's hand. "Good luck."
And as he left Dumbledore's office, leaving the Headmaster in a state of shock and horror, he hoped that he had done something that would have made Hermione proud. He realized it was only the first step, but as he traversed the corridors on his way back to Slytherin House, he knew it was a start.
And that was all he could truly ask for.