𝕸𝖔𝖓𝖔𝖈𝖍𝖗𝖔𝖒𝖊


Act III - Birth Of The Demon


Chapter 3: The Expedition Part 2


Harry took a momentary pause. Taking on powerful wizards was one thing. Taking on ones who had done their homework and who knew who you were and exactly what you have done was something else entirely. Rattled, a hundred questions flashed through his head right that moment, yet his mouth didn't move, his mind rushing into overdrive as he considered all potential outcomes of this one event. Nicholas Flamel was Albus Dumbledore's friend, and if he let the old man know about him holding the wards of the Chamber and what he represented, no doubt Harry would be in a heap of trouble. Given how he had called Harry as Warden, he was no doubt privy to at least some information about what lay within. The question was how much, and what the man intended to exact from him in return of keeping that statement.

"Are you done?" asked Flamel.

"Am I…. done with what?"

"Trying to figure a way out," said the man flippantly, as if talking about the weather. "I can almost see the poor hamster running on its wheel."

At his silence, the man continued.

"I'm over six hundred years old, boy. When you've lived as long as I have, you tend to spot things most people ignore or choose to forget."

"I doubt anyone could forget what is inside this place," said Harry, "and please do not call me Boy. I have… issues with that term."

"I see," said Flamel. "Regardless, did you think you were the first seeker that had discovered the mysteries of the Chamber of Secrets?"

"Hardly," said Harry with a touch of dryness in his tone. "Tom Riddle opened the Chamber back in '52. Though…" he paused, "I doubt he was a Warden."

A small smile formed on Flamel's face. "You are correct, Harry Potter, partially. There have been many that have come across Salazar's elusive Chamber, but have stayed unaware of the true secrets preserved within. Tom Riddle, unfortunately, wasn't one of them."

"Forgive my impertinence, Mr. Flamel—"

"Call me Nicholas."

Harry idly wondered if Albus Dumbledore ever gave others the same offer. "..Nicholas," he said slowly, "But how do you know about it?"

"Impertinent indeed," laughed the man. "But I'll allow it. I know of it because I too once stood in your place. I too took the jump into Down-Below, opened the doors to Ananta-Shesha's Chamber, and challenged him for authority over its dominion." He laughed some more. "Granted, I am no parselmouth like you, so it was a little difficult to get past Salazar's defences."

"That can't be," said Harry, crossing his arms. "The outer wards of the Chamber of Secrets respond only and only to Parseltongue."

"True," said Nicholas, "the wards of Salazar Slytherin's atrium, the home to his legendary basilisk, can only be operated through Parseltongue. I suppose that was Salazar's bias for those that shared his gift. For lesser people like us," he chuckled, "we had to find Ananta-Shesha's lair through the other routes, the entrance near the dungeons, in case you're wondering."

"You — you were a student here, once?" asked Harry.

"Of course," said Nicholas. "Beauxbatons Academy was originally a cluster of covens, catering to witches, sirens and veela, before they revamped it into a public institution sometime in the late sixteenth century. And the less said about Durmstrang the better." A dark shadow formed on his face, before it flickered away, revealing the somewhat affable personality again.

"I was a student here back in the mid fourteenth century. In fact, I was the first to find the Lair, or the Sunken Vault, if we're being precise. The first to take over those wards since Myrrdin himself."

Harry gawked. "Myrddin, as in Myrddin Emrys? Merlin—"

"Myrddin," Nicholas corrected. "He was once a student here, walking through these halls. Salazar's own student. He took over as a Master of Enchanting here. Did you know that originally, Hogwarts contained four Vaults, before Myrddin added one himself, raising the number to five?"

Harry shook his head. He hadn't known that particular titbit.

"I'm proud to be one of the last students he ever taught before he left this world."

"You mean… before he died?"

Nicholas gave him an inscrutable look. "No, that is not what I meant. But we digress. I found the Sunken Vault sometime in my sixth year at Hogwarts. I spent my remaining time trying to outsmart Salazar's wards, but failed. But I did not give up. I returned to Hogwarts, as a Master of Alchemy. It took me three more years before Ananta-Shesha considered me worthy, and allowed me access to those texts. I do not need to tell you that having all that knowledge at my fingertips helped me craft my most famous invention."

"The stone…"

The man's eyes sparkled. "There is a book in that lair. It constantly updates itself about the Wardens that have been there, starting from Salazar himself."

"This.. is blowing my mind," said Harry, chuckling dryly as he ran his fingers through his hair. The idea that Merlin, the Prince of Enchanters, had been a Warden himself, followed by Nicholas Flamel, that he had stood in those shoes when he had faced the golem's challenge, made him feel humbled.

"It should," laughed Nicholas. "Becoming a Warden to any of the legendary Vaults of Hogwarts is a great achievement, Harry Potter. There are those that would consider it as equivalent to becoming a Chosen of the Founders themselves. We carry their legacy. We push the Wizard race forward. As have those that have come before you. As will you, I'm sure."

"Perseus Trismegistus, Ekrizdis, the fabled creator of Dementors and the original owner of the fortress of Azkaban, Bridget Wenlock, the creator of modern Arithmancy, and most recently, Tom Riddle, the self-styled Lord Voldemort. It's a closed fraternity of a selective kind of individuals. Some of us have chased Salazar's vision, while others have worked to build the world in our image. Good or worse, every single Warden of the past has made great changes to the world. I suppose, as a former member, I should welcome you into this elite group."

Harry was past listening, having stopped at that last name.

"Tom Riddle… was a Warden? But I thought —"

"Oh he was a Warden alright," said Nicholas. "Fortunately, or unfortunately, he was blinded with his obsession to prove himself as Salazar's heir, a common trait shared by upstart muggleborns, if you don't mind me saying so."

Harry arched an eyebrow.

"You have had your inheritance tests done recently, have you not?" asked Nicholas. "It is not unheard of for uppity muggleborns to try their luck at being some long lost great-great grandson of a really old name, believing it would entitle them half of the British Isles." His face held a sneer of contempt. "The more rational ones hope to be part of some inactive family that died in the male line."

"And… Riddle?"

The sneer reached epic proportions. "He was just a bastard that sought recognition for himself. Nothing else."

"Yet he was judged worthy to be a Warden," countered Harry. He wondered what kind of twilight world he had entered where he was actually defending Voldemort's worthiness. It made him feel dirty on the inside.

"Oh, you have it wrong, Harry Potter," said Nicholas. "Being the Warden does not have anything to do with being good or evil. Such binary concepts are beyond the golem's understanding. However, a vision, no matter how grand or catastrophic, is one of its many prerequisites. And Lord Voldemort, as he calls himself, never lacked vision, as dreary and dark as it was."

Nicholas looked like he was studying him. Maybe he was. "I have been looking forward to coming here and meeting you ever since I heard about your victory over Salazar's basilisk. It feels rather poetic that you have become the Warden, when your predecessor was the one that gave you that scar."

"The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter. I think we must expect great things from you, after all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did great things… Terrible, yes, but great."

Harry squirmed, remembering Ollivander's words from back then. First the Phoenix wand, then Parseltongue, then finding the Chamber of Secrets and now this… it was like he and Voldemort were fated to run in circles around each other. He had no doubt that Dumbledore knew what it was, and why, but the wily Headmaster was still holding answers away from him.

It left him feeling utterly bitter.

"Also, I believe it is rather moot at this point, but my felicitations on defeating Salazar's basilisk. A praiseworthy feat. And to do it with Godric Gryffindor's own blade? No doubt the golem found you worthy."

.Harry ducked his head. "Erm, thanks. But it was only thanks to Fawkes and the Hat."

"And modest too," Flamel looked amused. "I suppose it is better than your predecessor's arrogance. Killing a powerful beast at such a young age, not to mention your own victory over him. And you're a craftsman of an entirely new brand of thaumaturgy." A small smile spread on the man's face. "You give your abilities far less credit than you deserve, Harry Potter. Whatever you have achieved is already a noteworthy feat. That Ananta-Shesha accepted you worthy is proof in itself."

"Uh. Nicholas, there is something I wanted to ask you. About being a Warden."

"Oh?"

"I might be wrong," he began. "But from what I've seen, the Lair is perhaps one of the largest repositories of archaic knowledge. That, and it also acts like a prison, binding the darkest kinds of magic beneath its floors. Magic that can cause bad things to happen in this world. And I know that a person can only stay as Warden for the time being they are at Hogwarts in some official capacity, either a student or a teacher."

"It's a prerequisite to being a Warden, yes. It is why several Wardens ended up becoming professors, and eventually Headmasters. They return the mantle, only to return to Hogwarts as part of the teaching staff, and face Ananta-Shesha a second time, and win its allegiance. I myself taught at Hogwarts as a Potions master for fifty long years until I perfected my Philosopher's stone."

Harry nodded at that. "I guess… I guess I'm wondering why a Warden is needed in the first place. Why not just seal it away? Why leave it for students to find? Why this test when someone like Tom Riddle can be judged worthy?"

Nicholas tilted his head, studying him. "Having a repository of powerful knowledge troubles you?"

"It does," admitted Harry. "I'm the… the vessel for the Peverell Family Magic." He would have said Death's Avatar but changed his mind at the last minute. Nicholas Flamel was a former Warden and Albus Dumbledore's friend and one of the most illustrious wizards to exist, but that didn't automatically mean Harry could trust him.

"I know what it feels like to have access to something utterly dangerous. You saw what happened earlier. If not for Joshua, I could have hurt Daphne. Worse, I could have killed her. And all that because of a knee-jerk reaction. No one should possess this kind of power. No one should be able to do what I can do. It… unbalances the equilibrium. I'm still learning to harness it, control it to the best of my ability, but there are moments when it leaks out."

"You are scared of it," Nicholas noted.

"Should I not be?" Harry demanded, annoyance escaping into his tone. "What I have breaks the rules. And the same is true for the Lair. Trust me, the only reason I'm even spending time in the Lair is to better understand what it is about, and if I can help… I mean, for a personal project."

"A project?"

Harry looked the man in the eyes. He was wary about talking about Daphne's malediction, but then, it was likely that Joshua had already talked to a great many people. Plus, this was Nicholas Flamel, someone with centuries of magical knowledge. The man had likely forgotten more magic than most people knew.

"My fiance Daphne Greengrass, suffers from a blood curse. If we can't stop it, she'll probably die in the next two years."

Something flickered in Nicholas's eyes. "I… see. And you wish to use the Lair's knowledge to find an answer?"

Harry shook his head. "If it would have been… and I can't believe I'm saying this, an ordinary malediction, then I could have solved it. I read the books in the Lair. I know how to undo it. But this curse… it stems from the Black Family Magic. Unless I can uproot the Black Family Magic out of existence, she will die."

"And will you?" asked Nicholas, eyes narrowed. "Uproot a Family Magic out of existence?"

"I… don't want to," said Harry, looking away. "Which is why I'm working with the professors to try to use Death as a way to protect Daphne from the curse. If Death is the antithesis of Magic then…"

"A barrier of Death, stopping Magic from taking a life," murmured Nicholas. "Quite poetic, and ironic, if I might say so."

"Tell me about it," Harry muttered, and looked back at Nicholas. "The way I look at it, the Chamber is sitting on one big prison of Bad. Azkaban for Magic. And what I have is a key that can unleash all of it outside into the world. If word goes out, then Voldemort and his Death Eaters will start frothing in the mouth. And if the Ministry finds out, then they'll try to manipulate me into granting them access. And the best part? I don't actually have a real, usable superweapon, just a big box of trouble that can destroy the world if I let out."

Nicholas chuckled.

"What?" Harry asked, offended.

"Nothing," the man snorted again. "In all my six hundred years, I have never heard of the Miraculum Operarius described in such fashion. You truly are one of a kind, Harry Potter."

Harry crossed his arms. "I feel like you're making fun of me."

"I am not," said the alchemist. "As someone that has lived a long, fulfilling life, both as an alchemist and a Warden, allow me to impart some advice to my successor. The Lair exists for a purpose. The power that dwells within… it is there for a reason. Good and Evil are two sides of the same coin, and what is Good now, may become Evil in a later time. And what is Evil now, can become the Good in different circumstances. The Lair exists to contain this terrible power during times when they are not needed. It is not the golem's purpose to keep it hidden from everyone — only from the incompetents."

"I — I don't understand," said Harry. "You are Nicholas Flamel, the inventor of the Philosopher's Stone. Tom Riddle is a murderous psychopath that only knows to take lives. How is it justified that both of you are Wardens?"

Nicholas smiled. "Power always corrupts, Harry Potter. Even the best of us can be led astray, the best of our intentions turned into a nightmare that leaves nothing but devastation in its wake. The world respects me, calls me the Immortal Alchemist for being the inventor of the Philosopher's Stone. My Elixir of Life has healed thousands of witches and wizards in the world, and is regarded as one of the most potent healing draughts to ever exist. But if the world ever came to know how the Stone was made, they would lock me in Erkstag and throw away the key."

Harry blinked. Nicholas had alluded something about the Stone earlier, about the principles of Equivalent Exchange. But he decided not to pry. Chances were he would get an answer in the Lair itself.

"You're saying it can happen to me too?"

"I'm not a prophet, Harry Potter. But this I will tell you. It is a curious thing, that perhaps the ones who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those, like you, have mantles of power thrust upon them, and they take it because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well. Perhaps, your own reticence about taking that power is what makes you so different from Tom Riddle, and why Ananta-Shesha chose you to be its next Warden. Perhaps it truly is fate, that Tom Riddle never ended up getting the chance to unleash the horrors of the Chamber, while you have the authority to do it at a whim."

"Shouldn't I just hand over the power back to the golem then? That way I wouldn't have this power in my hands. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Nicholas made a strange, throaty noise. "Tell me, Harry Potter, if absolute power corrupts absolutely, does absolute powerlessness make you pure?"

For once, Harry did not know what to say to that.

"Come," said Nicholas. "It is time we rejoin the others."

Neither of them said a word during their way back.


"That… was interesting," said Daphne.

"Yeah, interesting is one way of putting it," said Harry, his mind going over the enlightening discussion he had had with the famous Alchemist. He had always known that becoming the Warden was a tough job. But he had never known that the lair had had such a grand history. Merlin….

He paused, and suddenly realised who he was invoking.

Harry laughed.

"What are you laughing about?" asked Daphne, confused.

"Nothing, just remembered something funny," Harry said, chuckling. "That's all."

Daphne didn't look like she was sold on his reply, but she didn't pester him any further.

They were sitting in the Great Hall, with a privacy ward cast around them. After what had been several hours of painstaking effort by the harvesting team, the humongous basilisk carcass had been cut out, harvested, the ingredients collected and stored in safe, transportable containers. Harry had sequestered away a small volume of basilisk venom, blood and a pair of fangs for himself, as well as a sizable portion of the hide. The meat, as Scamander had put it, was useless compared to everything else, so he had saved that one for Hecate. It had taken a liberal application of cutting hexes, the darker variety, as well as enchanted goblin daggers to cut through the majestic beast's flesh. They had stored the meat in large cartons with preservation charms to keep it from rotting.

A small amount had, as planned, gone to Hogwarts potion reserves. The look on Snape's face, when Harry had handed the precious ingredients to him, was not something he'd likely forget anytime soon. And no, he didn't expect the man to be any more civil with him than he had been all his life. If anything, he'd probably call him a dunderhead more than ever.

With that done, Dumbledore had called it a day and invited the entire team to lunch in the Great Hall. Daphne had gone ahead to talk to Joshua about how things were likely to progress from there, while Harry had sought some solitude, casting a quick imperturbation charm around himself.

"So… what happens now?"

"Depends," said Daphne. "They're saying that the curse-breaking squad will be staying at Hogwarts for an entire week or so. I was talking to that Caroline woman, and she said that finding the source of a curse was like finding a stick in a haystack. She claims that finding the source of the curse would be incredibly difficult, because unlike the Egyptian tombs, Hogwarts was directly empowered by ley lines and not magically charged wardstones and enchantments. It's like… the more magical a place is, the easier it is for the curse to hide itself. And that's if the curse isn't sentient."

"Sentient?"

Daphne shrugged. "She said something about esoteric curses developing a sentience of their own, the longer they exist. They don't turn alive or anything, just develop a sort of mind."

Harry frowned. "It's a curse on the DADA position."

"And it's affected a wide variety of people, in a variety of ways. Affecting their future, their destiny. Causality manipulation is a very esoteric branch of magic, and the curse has had over forty years to grow."

"You're saying it's expanded, to other things?"

Daphne shook her head. "Second-hand information here. Caroline thinks that it's possible that the curse might have taken root in other things, or just sprawled out to infect a lot many things, not a lot, just a little. So yeah, it'll take some time for them to identify the corruption and uproot it. She thinks they'll tackle one floor a day, and see how that goes."

"One floor a day," said Harry, arching an eyebrow. "She realises this is Hogwarts right? Who knows how many secret passages there are."

Daphne gave him a coy look. "Far more than she thinks, I imagine. Guess Caroline doesn't have the same perspective I have."

"Oh?" whispered Harry. "And what perspective is that?"

Daphne pressed herself against him, and smiled coquettishly. "The perspective you get from having a boyfriend that knows them all."

Hardly, Harry wanted to say. Yes, he had the Marauder's Map, but the talk with Nicholas left him feeling like he knew nothing of Hogwarts. Studying about curses in the Lair had taught him that curses required a source to constantly empower them, or else they faded away. The source could be a wardstone, or a ley line, or even the victim themselves. But if the curse was put on something immaterial like a professor's position, and it affected the fate of the victim in such an insidious way, then the origins of the curse, and its source of power must be equally insidious. And if the Headmaster, despite holding the wards to the castle, hadn't been able to detect something this dangerous then….

He froze.

Then the only inference was that the source was amidst wards that were not tied to the main castle wards.

Like the Chamber itself. Or the other four Hidden Vaults.

Damnit. Why didn't he think of that before?

"Harry?"

Damn. She must have sensed him stiffening. Girl was a little too perceptive for her own good.

"I… I don't think they'll be able to find it."

Daphne narrowed her eyes. "Why do you say that?"

"I just do."

"That's not an answer and you know it." She cupped his face. "What are you hiding?"

He frowned. This wasn't a discussion to be had in private. He whipped his wand out, and recast the privacy ward around themselves, and then cast Muffliato for good measure.

"Paranoid much?" asked Daphne.

"Comes with the territory."

She rolled her eyes. "Now spill."

"What do you know about the fabled Hidden Vaults of Hogwarts?"

"You mean the Cursed vaults?" She scrunched her face. "I thought those were a myth."

"Like the Chamber of Secrets?"

Daphne curled her lip. "You realise Hogwarts probably has hundreds of such myths floating around. You can't possibly think that they're all true, do you?"

"These are," Harry said, adamantly. "Now tell me, what do you know about them?"

"Not much. They're mentioned in Hogwarts: A History. There are supposed to be five of them, but Bagshot says that there's no definite evidence that they exist."

"Just because you haven't found something doesn't mean it doesn't exist."

"That's circular logic and you know it."

Harry scowled but said nothing.

"Okay, fine," said Daphne, raising her hands in surrender. "Bagshot says that the Vaults were crafted by the Founders, though some sources say that some paranoid Headmaster made them. Apparently inside them are contained some of the deadliest magics known to wizardkind, and anyone that has tried to venture within has met a horrible death."

He still said nothing.

"Binns never covered these portions in class," said Daphne. "The only reason I even bothered to look for it after the entire Chamber of Secrets fiasco happened back in our second year. There are fables about how the vaults house priceless treasures like gold, and powerful magical artefacts belonging to the founders, but there was this theory that they could equally be reservoirs of extreme dark magic that was trapped beneath those vaults and hidden away from the student populace, hence the name. And then there are conspiracies about how they contain ancient prophecies lost to the wizarding world, knowledge that would lead to an imminent apocalyp—" she paused midway, her mouth open as it hit her. "You can't possibly be serious…."

"Nope. I'm Harry. Sirius is my godfather."

Daphne glared at him.

Harry grinned and began counting off fingers. "Crafted by the Founders. Hidden somewhere in the castle. Stores priceless treasures. Contains some of the deadliest magics known to wizardkind. Anyone that has tried to venture in has met a horrible death." Harry finished counting and looked at a gaping Daphne. "Ring any bells?"

"... Bugger me!"

Harry arched an eyebrow. "Not going to turn you down or anything, but that's bold, Daphne. Even Fleur hasn't asked me that yet."

Daphne blinked. Then blinked again. It took her a moment to get past the surprise, and another to actually register what she had said. Her face lit up like a tomato.

Harry snorted.

"You — I — you know what I mean!" She vainly tried, only for Harry to laugh harder. "Oh! Stop it! You're the worst!"

"You aren't joking, right?" she asked finally. "The Chamber of Secrets is actually —"

"One of the five Vaults, yes. The Sunken Vault, to be precise."

"Then the others…"

"Are also real, and somewhere in the castle. All five of them."

"Do you know what they are?"

"I know that four of them were crafted by the Founders, as a way of leaving their private legacies to generations of future aspirants. The fifth was crafted by Myrddin Emyrs himself, and is supposed to be the greatest piece of enchanting marvel the world had ever seen."

"How do you all know that?"

Harry arched an eyebrow.

"...Right. Stupid question," murmured Daphne. "And you think —"

"That the curse on the DADA position is actually sitting in one of the vaults? Yes. Or at least, there's a good chance. I mean, a malignant curse like that, surviving for years, without the Headmaster knowing anything about it. I bet your sweet arse that the curse will lead us to one of the Cursed Vaults."

"You don't get to bet my arse on anything, Potter. You'd have nothing to stare at if it was gone."

This time it was Harry's turn to blink.

Daphne grinned lasciviously. "I notice."

"Of course you do. I wonder if Joshua knows his daughter is a perverṭ."

"Hush." She said, and rested her head against his shoulder.

Both of them stayed like that for a while.

"Hey," Daphne asked, "do you think it might be the Chamber? I mean, the Dark Lord —"

Harry shook his head. "I don't think so. The wards should tell me if there was something infesting it, but I'm not even remotely skilled enough to notice the difference. And even if Tom Riddle did add something to the Chamber's wards, he finished schooling in 1945, but nobody recognized that there was a curse in the Defence position until 1969. So, it can't be him."

Daphne arched an eyebrow.

"I asked Griphook to get me a dossier about his life records from Gringotts," said Harry. "That's how I knew about his family background in detail. Tom Riddle was officially declared dead in 1957, and the very first sighting of Lord Voldemort, according to Sirius, was sometime around 1969. Yes, I know the timing matches, but he was already operating as Lord Voldemort, and I doubt Dumbledore would hire a budding Dark Lord as a professor at Hogwarts."

"But what if he did it way earlier? As a student?"

Harry shook his head. "A curse powered by the wards of the Chamber, but delayed for two decades for no apparent reason? Doesn't make very much sense to me." He paused. "But my gut tells me it's not. It's somewhere else. Somewhere… inside the castle. And if that's true, then that means that someone else also figured out the entrances to one of the other Vaults."

Daphne lifted her head and met his eyes. "Maybe you should talk about it to Dumbledore?"

Harry squinted at her. Neither Daphne nor her father were great fans of Albus Dumbledore, but then again, he wasn't either. Albus Dumbledore was a good man, but he was limited in his own way in his habit of ignoring the essential to indulge his pathological need to keep secrets and do everything his way. Even if he did tell Dumbledore, the man would choose to focus on where and how Harry got the information, instead of acting on it. For all he knew, Dumbledore would probably put the school elves to spy on him.

And that wasn't something he could risk.

"No," he said at last. "Not for this. Let the curse-breakers do what they can. They are specialists, so even if something worse comes out, they can deal with it. In the meantime, I'll search through the library and see if someone wrote something on the subject."

"Why not ask the snake golem about it?"

Harry shook his head. "Won't help."

"Why?"

"Because it's like a Lar," said Harry. "It doesn't care for whatever exists outside its domain any more than it cares for what you had for breakfast yesterday."

"You're unusually focussed on the Vaults," Daphne pointed out. "What happened, Harry? Did you find something out when we were inside… you know."

"Sort of," he said, standing up. "Are we done for the day, or is there something…"

Daphne palmed her lips and giggled. "Done for the day? My dear fiance, we still have the most important part left."

Harry raised his eyebrows. "Which is?"

Daphne smiled like a cherub. "Facing the reporters. They've got a whole lot standing in the grounds, waiting to talk to you."

Harry groaned.


It was madness.

Twenty reporters, representing different newspapers and magazines, both national and international, were standing in the grounds, with an equally large crowd of photographers standing next to them, taking loud and flashy snaps as the harvested basilisk was laid out together, and being enchanted to be portkeyed to various locations as per the agreement. The moment their eyes fell on Harry, the reporters came at him like hounds following the scent of blood, descending upon him like a tidal wave. Harry suppressed the urge to raise a protego to force them back, and instead met them with uncertain smiles plastered on his face.

"Mr. Potter, tell us about your experience at the Chamber of Secrets?"

"Mr. Potter, is it true that you killed Salazar Slytherin's basilisk with the fabled sword of Gryffindor?"

Mr. Potter, does that mean that you're Gryffindor's heir?"

"The basilisk's carcass belongs to you under the Beast Slaying Act. Why are you sharing it with Hogwarts?"

"Why are you donating such a large sum of money to Hogwarts when the Board of Governors are vilifying you with Clause 159?"

Harry didn't even know how, or where, to respond. He stared at the reporters, feeling incredibly confused. They just kept on asking questions, not even seemingly bothered that he didn't say anything. After a few more moments, he felt a comforting touch on his shoulder. He looked up to see Sirius standing next to him.

"Please, my godson is new to being interviewed like this, and we're running out of time. I believe we can manage… say, five questions? Please limit them to matters related to this basilisk business. Thank you."

Every single reporter's hand went up in the air, reminding Harry a little of Hermione. He tried to remember how Krum looked while giving his interviews and decided to go ahead with a passable imitation of it, and looked at a brunette witch in the middle.

"Olivia Fleet, from Spellbound, Mr. Potter," said the brunette. "We've all heard about the Chamber of Secrets fiasco back in 1992. Why hasn't there been an investigation on it for all this time? Why now?"

Harry looked at Sirius, and Daphne, and then focussed back at the reporter's face. "Honestly, I had all but forgotten about it. There was the entire thing about my godfather's stunt from Azkaban—" Sirius laughed lightly, "and the Ministry sending dementors to Hogwarts. Last year, we had the Triwizard, so I guess I forgot about it."

"A follow-up question, if you'll allow it," said the reporter and Harry nodded. "It is the fabled Chamber of Secrets, and we all know the huge sum of gold the basilisk carcass is being sold for. Surely that isn't something to just forget?"

Harry shrugged. "My only thoughts about the basilisk when it was alive was to escape it, not kill it. I had help from Fawkes, that's Professor Dumbledore's phoenix, and the Sorting Hat, and somehow ended up killing it. Honestly, I'm surprised I even survived back then. Yes, it was the fabled Chamber of Secrets, but back then, it was a nightmare that I was happy to leave behind."

"Yet you are selling the nightmare and making a ton of gold on it."

Harry smiled. The insinuation in the woman's words could be pretty damning.

"It wasn't my idea. I talked to Daphne Greengrass, my fiance, and her father Joshua Greengrass. They helped me understand that I had the right to claim it, and enhance my fortune. But the basilisk belonged to Salazar Slytherin, and thus, Hogwarts. Daphne and Joshua made me understand that I could actually use the basilisk carcass to do some good for Hogwarts and the muggleborn students."

That seemed to pacify the woman and she backed down.

Harry exhaled, and was about to turn to the next reporter, when someone familiar and utterly irritating intervened.

"Harry, it's a pleasure to interview you again," said Rita Skeeter. Harry couldn't help but feel how eerily she reminded him of Umbridge, and from the way the other reporters were glaring at her, he had no doubt they didn't like her all that much. "Last year I interviewed you as the illegal fourth Champion in the prestigious Triwizard tournament. We've seen the sensational way the Triwizard ended, the ghastly news of the deaths of respected members of the Wizengamot. We saw you claim your Lordship, and most recently, you've been accused of being the fulcrum of the recent student mutiny against the Ministry."

Harry clenched his fists.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't hear a question there."

Rita smiled. "And now you're donating a large sum of gold to Hogwarts, identifying yourself as a pro-muggleborn supporter and beneficiary to Hogwarts. Perhaps you might want to shed light on your constant need for attention?"

Daphne grasped his hand, probably to stop him from lashing out.

Instead, Harry laughed. "That's quite a conspiracy theory. The basilisk sale was actually discussed with Professor Dumbledore during the summer, during my birthday party. And if I really wanted attention, I'd have probably done an interview sooner."

Several other reporters laughed at that.

"Please," said Sirius, his smile slightly strained. "Limit the questions to the current event."

"But of course," said Rita, giving him a wolfish smile. "Do you think donating all this gold will be enough to rescue your current reputation, Harry?"

"Miss Skeeter—" began Sirius, but Harry stopped him. He had been dealing with Skeeter's shit for quite some time now, and Merlin, someone needed this woman to take a step back.

He let out a brief chuckle. "Wouldn't that be a question for the Ministry, Miss Skeeter?"

Rita looked ready to counter, but someone else interrupted them.

"Hem! Hem!" said Dolores Umbridge, stepping in. "I am Lady Dolores Jane Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic, and High Inquisitor of Hogwarts. Kindly keep your questions limited to the current event. The Ministry of Magic will release its own press statement about today's events later."

"You mean through the Daily Prophet?" asked someone.

"The Daily Prophet is one of our most premier press agencies. But the Ministry of Magic does not play favourites…" she let out a girlish laugh. "Unlike some."

Harry did his best to keep himself from chuckling. Joshua had told him how the meeting with Fudge had gone through. As expected, Fudge was rather quick to action if he could be shown that taking action would get him in a politically safer situation. The Minister had annulled Clause 159, and reverted the OWL syllabus to what it was. However, the catch was that Umbridge would be there to stay as the Defence Instructor, and continue her duties as High Inquisitor. Joshua had repeatedly warned him that both sides needed to come out of this mess, looking in good terms with each other.

Still, to watch Dolores Umbridge actually walk up and save him from Skeeter's attacks was absolutely surreal.

"Mr Potter," said a chestnut-haired witch. "Amanda Dunbar from Witch Weekly. It is no secret that you're Wizarding Britain's most eligible bachelor. With Miss Greengrass as your would-be for House Black, our readers are anxious to know if you have set your sights on someone for your Lady Potter."

Harry floundered at that doozy for a moment. "Erm, I'm not exactly very comfortable talking about my private life to the press. Next question."

"Gerald Tate, from The Flying Post. There have been rumours about you having an anti-Ministry stance. What do you have to comment about that?"

"Anti-Ministry stance?" Harry snickered. "I'm just a fifth-year student. If I really had the extra time, I'd use it to prepare for my Owls, not plan against the Ministry."

"There have been rumours about your involvement in the recent student mutiny at Hogwarts," pressed the man. "There have been sworn statements from your classmates."

Harry almost clenched his teeth. Joshua had warned him about this. If they wanted to play the long game, they'd need to come out smelling like flowers, and not against the Ministry, especially with them offering the white flag.

Compromise and live, as they said.

"It is true that me and Madam Umbridge did not see eye to eye with each other on certain points. With Clause 159, and Decree Number 22, I suppose the Ministry was seeing me in a bad light. It is possible that Madam Umbridge saw me using my Warlock status to not attend her class in a far negative way than was right. It is also possible that I might have overreacted to her demands. But, as we know, the Clause is now annulled, and I'm confident Madam Umbridge will have no more issues with me."

He gave the woman a predatory smile. "Isn't that right, Madam Umbridge?"

To his delight, the toad returned an equally fake smile. "Absolutely, Mister Potter."

"Madam Umbridge," said a familiar voice. "Xenophilius Lovegood, from the Quibbler. I've a few questions about this basilisk exchange deal. Might I get a statement from you as the Minister's Senior Undersecretary?"

Umbridge blinked. "Yes, well erm—"

"It is no secret that the harvesting team and the curse-breaking squad has been hired through Gringotts who will definitely get a share of the proceedings. What does Minister 'Goblin-Crusher' Fudge have to say about this?"

Harry blinked. Did he just—

Umbridge blinked with her large, toad-like eyes, looking utterly flabbergasted. "I can't say I've ever heard the Minister —"

"It is well-known that the Minister was unhappy with Gringotts's involvement in Harry Potter's trial during the summer. We know that he is trying to assimilate the Goblin-Relations office directly under his command. Is it really true that he intends to take over Gringotts in order to gain control over the goblin's gold?"

For Harry, it was like an out-of-body experience. He had seen some pretty impressive things over the past year. Witnessed Joshua take down Fudge's claims at the Ministry, watching Fleur shoot down Umbridge's attacks with equal prejudice in court, and many more. But nothing, nothing was remotely comparable to the way Xeno Lovegood was tearing down Fudge's reputation in front of the global audience and a horrified Dolores Umbridge.

"Take over Gringotts?" Umbridge sputtered. "What gave you that idea—"

"Rumours say you have been unhappy with Gringotts getting such a large share of this deal. Rumours also say that Minister Fudge intends to use this event as an excuse to decrease goblin-rights in the next Wizengamot session?"

"Of— of course not! All of this is preposterous! There are no such plans —"

"What of the hapless goblins that he has laid waste in his pursuit of their gold—"

"Laid waste—"

"Reliable witnesses state that Minister ' Goblin Crusher' Fudge has had them drowned, dropped off buildings, poisoned, baked into pies —"

Harry couldn't help it. His insides were aching as he muffled his hands over his mouth. Beside him, Daphne and the reporters were already laughing, while Sirius and Joshua were trying their best not to look amused. Even Dumbledore had a faint smile on his face.

"BAKED INTO PIES?" demanded Sharptooth from behind. Harry spun around, and looked at the look of righteous indignation on the goblin's face. "MINISTER FUDGE HAS BAKED US GOBLINS INTO PIES? GRINGOTTS WILL HEAR ABOUT THIS!"


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