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Chapter Six—The Properties of Wards
Tom sat back with a thoughtful frown after Narcissa had departed via the Floo. He hadn't realized that the purebloods thought they had wards capable of alerting them when a half-blood or Muggleborn entered a restaurant.
Of course, they didn't really sense blood status. Which meant the wards were detecting something else, and alerting when they found it.
Tom would have to investigate what that was, in case he wound up in a situation where the wards started to detect him. If Malfoy or someone else prominent in the pureblood government found out about his tightly-furled magic now, things would go from delicately-balanced to disastrous.
He had just begun to write down a few notes about how best to get information on the wards in the restaurant Narcissa had spoken of when someone began knocking furiously on his office door. Tom slid the note under an acceptance letter from a Muggleborn student who already had family here and called, "Come in."
"Forgive me for intruding…"
Tom had never seen Janet Clarkson, the Herbology professor, so pale, for all that she had some Nordic heritage and looked that way naturally. She took a step into his office and then halted, shivering. Tom stood up. "It's all right. What's happened, Janet?"
She looked him helplessly in the eye for a second, then opened her hand. Tom took a step nearer, and then stopped. In her palm rested the crushed remains of a small scarlet bead.
"I've kept it on my desk since that little girl accepted her letter," Janet whispered. "It broke five minutes ago."
Tom closed his eyes and nodded. The beads were tied to the life-force of any Muggleborn or half-blood student who didn't currently live at the school, although for most of them, that only mattered during the summers. It would break only if they had died. And it would break in this manner only if the child had been harvested.
"I had a meeting this evening with Lucienne," he said. "Will you find her and tell her that something else came up?"
"Of course." Janet hesitated a long moment, but in the end, she decided that she didn't want to know what he was going to do. Wise of her, given that Tom wouldn't have told her anyway. She nodded to him and then turned and walked out of the office, a few red flakes falling from the hand that held the bead that had been a life.
Tom stood there, remembering the life that it had been, a girl named Cassandra Riptoe, who had laughed with delight when Tom went to show her magic on her eleventh birthday last year. Who had liked flowers. Who had asked if she could bring a kitten with her, and had been thrilled when Tom told her about Kneazles.
He let the memories settle into his bones, and condense into chill power in his stomach. Then he slipped a few prepared crystals into his pockets from his desk, bent down, and picked up one of the red flakes from the floor.
It was enough. With the memories and the portion of the bead that had been linked to Riptoe's life-force guiding him, he turned and Apparated to the place where the Sacred Hunt had taken place.
It had ended in a wood. It always did. If there wasn't a wood nearby where the Hunt had begun, the magic would make trees grow.
Tom knelt down and let his fingers furrow gently across the ground, stroking the dirt, gathering up enough information that he felt it coded on his nails before he lifted his hand to his face.
The spells he had cast on himself long ago—wonderful things could be done with Parseltongue—translated the smells of the dirt into other smells as his tongue flickered out. Smells of magic, of skin, of blood. Tom bowed his head and let his memories sort through the smells until he remembered where he had encountered them.
And, more to the point, which faces had been associated with them.
Names swam into his mind, wavering like grass in wind, and then strengthening, solidifying. Helios Rosier. Jeremy Burke. Alecto Carrow. Lilian Goyle.
Tom opened his eyes, and grimaced a little. Alecto Carrow was too highly-placed for him to touch; even an "accidental" death would cause people to ask questions about why the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and the cousin of the Headmistress of Hogwarts had died so suddenly. But Tom laid another mark against her name in the ledger of his mind.
The others, however…
All of them were relatively low-status purebloods, children or spouses of families who hadn't earned as much power as the Malfoys and the Carrows.
Tom smiled and stood, stretching a little. The smell of their magic was perhaps even a better link than the memories of Riptoe and the link to her that had formed through the bead. Tom turned his head and sniffed once, and he knew where his prey was. Rosier in London, probably Diagon Alley. Burke in the North. Goyle in Lincolnshire.
Tom crouched and then leaped into Apparition, letting the lure of Rosier's magic pull him into the hunt.
And, crooning in his ears like a restless bird, his own hatred.
Helios Rosier, a squat wizard with a blond beard and a loud, annoying laugh, was having dinner in a small restaurant called the Offered Hand off Diagon Alley. Tom leaned, invisible in his Disillusionment Charm, against the stone wall and watched him through the lit windows, and smelled the foreign scent of Riptoe's magic that hadn't settled yet into the force of Rosier's.
Tom pulled his own senses back when it seemed for a moment as if the restaurant's defensive spells would react, and waited.
Rosier left the Offered Hand near seven, with a companion who waved once before he departed. Rosier walked alone towards the Apparition point, humming under his breath. Tom wondered that he never felt the predator's gaze following him.
But, well. That was one of the minor reasons that purebloods were less worthy of Tom's time than half-bloods and Muggleborns. They became complacent so easily.
Rosier didn't even Apparate right away, although that might have been because harvested magic would need at least a week to sink fully into the harvesting wizard's power and not cause instabilities in spells. Instead, he reached into his pocket for something that pinged as a Portkey against Tom's senses, still humming.
Tom grabbed him.
Not with his hands, but with the curling tendrils of smoky magic that had been hanging about him since he got the message about Riptoe from Janet. The coils of cold strength lashed around Rosier's throat—more powerful than many could have summoned, but still not nearly the full extent of Tom's power—and the man gurgled as he groped frantically for the Portkey.
Tom let it activate, and pull him on the journey. It would be better, afterwards, if the Aurors knew that Rosier had traveled home.
They landed in a small room with pegs for cloaks all along the walls, and Rosier immediately rolled on the floor, still choking, this time reaching for his wand. Tom knelt down next to him and tightened the coils, just a little.
Rosier tried to scream as his windpipe cracked, but there was no sound.
"I know that you won't understand what it's for," Tom told him calmly, sunk into the coldness that had overcome him the minute he'd seen that crushed red bead. "But this is vengeance."
Rosier's hand flapped around near the sheath on his arm that held his wand. Tom glanced at it, and got more gasping noises from Rosier as the small bones in his hand began to pop, one by one, not so close together that each sharp, exquisite pain didn't show up by itself in Rosier's consciousness.
Then Tom did the same with the other hand. Then the bones of his legs. Then his ribs. Then his arms.
Each time the pain would have rendered Rosier unconscious, Tom stabbed a spike of his own magic into the man's brain and woke him up. By the end, Rosier was sobbing as best he could with his head turning back and forth, his eyes wide and unseeing. Tom thought of destroying them, too, but that would mean the illusion he had to weave afterwards would be that much more complicated. He left them alone.
"And now," Tom said, and rested his hand above Rosier's heart.
Rosier seemed to guess at the last moment what was going to happen to him. Perhaps part of his brain was working after all. He tried to croak something, tried to move his broken limbs to reach out and stop Tom.
Tom ripped Rosier's magic free. What the purebloods had to do with the Sacred Hunt ritual and in combination, he could do by himself. He regarded the hovering, silhouette-shaped magic with a curled lip. It roiled, and looked and smelled like a chicken stew going off.
Floating on top of it, though, was a soft pearly film that represented all that was left of Cassandra Riptoe's power.
Tom pulled a round crystal from his pocket and held it out. The magic zipped into it. Tom nodded. He never left any trace of harvested magic on victims he killed like this, in case someone suspected that someone had avenged the victims.
If he had a use for it, it was a use that the harvested victims agreed upon.
He stood and began to wave his illusions around Rosier. He would exist without his magic for a few more weeks, wide-eyed and grieving and suffering from the "magic-eating plague" that attacked certain people without reason. Then he would die.
Illusions made it look as though his misshapen hands, and limbs, were the result of tumors raised by the plague, and more spells bound his tongue so that he couldn't tell anyone of what happened this night. After thinking about it, Tom did heal the crack in his windpipe. It wouldn't do for this one symptom to differ from the ones that Tom had inflicted on other purebloods.
As he turned to depart, Rosier managed to croak, "You—you are a monster."
Tom smiled over his shoulder. "I learned from lots of people."
Previous experience with Rosier had told him that the man would have followed along with the harvesting process, but not chosen Miss Riptoe for himself. That meant that either Burke or Goyle had chosen the victim.
Tom was betting on Goyle. She had only married into the family, and she had had a half-blood grandmother, so she was a little less inbred than the rest.
Therefore, he went after Burke first, landing easily outside the wards of the house. He studied them, and smiled. They were blue and brilliant and linked to Burke's mind. They would warn him instantly when someone began to manipulate them or attack them.
That was all right. Tom wasn't here to do either.
He shut his eyes and breathed in and out for a long, still moment. Then he opened his eyes and reached out with the same touch that had ripped Rosier's magic away from him.
He blanketed the wards, hovering above the lines of them the way an outstretched hand might hover above skin. Then he jerked his head.
The wards vanished.
A piercing scream reached him. The destruction of wards linked to him that way would have done—unfortunate things to Burke's mind.
Tom crossed the black stone walls and then the house's dark grounds in the direction of that scream, walking in a leisurely fashion. A hippogriff that Burke must have imported to guard the place started towards him in a slow stalk, and then seemed to feel the magic out and crawling around him. It reversed direction.
Tom chuckled and climbed the steps to the tower where Burke was waiting.
He had stopped screaming by the time Tom reached him, but only because, obviously, his throat was already torn up. He clawed mindlessly at his face, a young man with long stringy black hair, his eyes staring wide and distant and horrified at the far wall.
Not the way Tom would have chosen to kill, given how quick it was, but it had dealt with the dangerous wards, and given how well-known Burke was for hiding behind the wards, it would make Tom's method of disposing of him plausible.
He ripped Burke's magic free as he had with Rosier's. The madman shuddered and then curled on the floor with a moan. Maybe it was a mercy, as annoying as the thought was to Tom.
Tom spent a few minutes arranging the tower, which was the center of Burke's manipulation lab, with the glyphs and ingredients necessary to make it seem as if Burke had lost control of a magical experiment. All the ingredients that would have been required to do it were already there. Then Tom fed a trickle of his own magic back into Burke so that he would be plausibly drained instead of impossibly drained, and pulled the delicate matrix of Riptoe's magic away from Burke's so that he could store it in a second crystal.
The man had ceased sobbing by then and lay on his side, face emotionless. He would die before more than a few hours had passed, Tom judged. The twin losses of magic and sanity would give him no will to move when the ingredients began to release their poisonous fumes into the air.
Tom paused outside Burke's house and closed his eyes for a few minutes. Even for him, depriving two wizards of magic and overcoming Burke's wards was a bit of a struggle.
But not enough to prevent him from following the scent of Lilian Goyle's magic.
"I want to make a bargain with you."
Goyle's voice was high with fear. Tom paused a few feet away from her house and waited in silence.
Goyle turned towards him. She was a woman so slender that "gaunt" would be the more appropriate word, with flyaway grey hair that she tried to compensate for by tucking it close to her head in a braid. She had dark eyes wide with fear even in the light of Tom's Lumos Charm.
"What bargain do you imagine you can make?"
"You're tracking the people who harvested that Mudblood child."
Tom nodded, seeing no reason to lie. Goyle's eyes were already so wide that starlight gleamed off them. "And you cannot bring her back to life, so I repeat, what bargain do you imagine you can make?"
"I can give up her magic, and not report you to Minister Malfoy."
Tom smiled. "You'll give up her magic anyway. And Minister Malfoy doesn't know a thing about what I'm doing here."
Goyle backed up a long step and then visibly forced herself to halt. She stared at him. "But you can't kill people and get away with it!"
"We wouldn't be here if you believed that argument."
Tom had already seen the bright blue light of a trap ward flickering behind Goyle, which told him why she wanted to delay the confrontation. If she could hold him here long enough, then the ward would spread out and engulf everyone who didn't have explicit permission from the owner of the land to be in the area. The nature of the ward meant that magical power was no defense against it. They would be held like fish in an impregnable net until the property owner came to dissolve the ward and retrieve them.
On the other hand, trap wards took time to form. And Goyle hadn't launched this one soon enough.
"Malfoy will figure it out!"
Tom sighed, shook his head, and struck.
This time, he didn't try to rip out all of Goyle's magic. Partially removing it from her body was sufficient; it hovered above her, a fluttering, moaning mass of sickly silver, and Tom took out a third crystal and gathered Riptoe's stolen magic from her. Then he shoved the magic back into Goyle's body, and she collapsed on the ground, weeping.
Tom watched her, and felt nothing. He glanced at the blue light. Still another ten minutes before the trap ward would form completely.
"I'll—I'll tell Malfoy," Goyle said, and struggled to lift her head.
"If you could do that, I'm sure you would," Tom said without much interest, and pulled out the fourth crystal he had brought along at the beginning of the evening. He felt a tug of resentment that he had to sacrifice it for this; originally, he had intended it to contain another situation. But he was the one who had acted immediately to hunt down Riptoe's murderers instead of waiting until a few days hence, when he could still have pulled her magic away from them.
He set the crystal on the ground and crushed it with his foot. The white, buzzing glow inside it spread out and enveloped Goyle. She gave a single gasp and slumped over.
Tom watched the grey wisp of her expelled soul that trailed away into the night, then faced the being left before him. She had Goyle's looks and her voice and would be able to summon a shred of her personality, and that was all that was needed for the fortnight that she would exist.
"You understand that you need to lock down the house and refuse all visitors?" Tom asked. It was best to lay out what he wanted in simple instructions that the doppelganger was capable of repeating.
Huge, alien eyes fixed on him for a moment, then shimmered into the human darkness of Goyle's. Tom nodded. "You will answer Floo calls, but refuse all requests for a personal meeting. Act as mysterious as you like. Do not communicate with anyone who tries to come into the house. Apparate if necessary. Locate yourself in a locked room two weeks from now."
The doppelganger stood up and walked into the house. Tom watched it go and then sighed and Vanished the pieces of broken crystal on the ground before he reached into his pocket and touched his own Portkey. Everything he'd done this night had exhausted him so badly that he didn't want to try Apparating back to Fortius.
As the world swirled around him, Tom glanced back once at the Goyle house. He knew he would hear the news in a few weeks that Lilian Goyle had mysteriously vanished, with nothing left behind of her. The doppelganger would fade and crumble into mist within those two weeks, but anyone seeing it happen would know something was wrong, hence Tom's instructions to it to locate itself in a locked room where no one would see the dissipation.
But for now, he had the three crystals infused with the strength of Riptoe's stolen magic, and he had to give her the choice he gave every person murdered in these farcical hunts by purebloods.
As he strode towards the boundary wall of Fortius, a soft movement stirred the grass behind him. Tom kept walking, knowing that Belasha had come only to keep him company.
"What happened to the child whose magic you bear?"
"She was killed." Tom paused near House Gryphon's clawed feet and stared upwards for a moment. Light shone through the windows. He could hear students' voices if he listened for them long enough. He did, to remind himself who still lived and why he was doing this. "I took the magic from her murderers and killed them."
Belasha moved her tail in approval, approval Tom was fairly sure he wouldn't have obtained from most of his teaching staff. Of course, to a basilisk, enemies powerful enough to take on instead of flee from were better off dead. Food, if they could be. "And you did not bring their bodies back for me?"
Tom smiled for a moment and rested his hand on her neck, feeling the scales sliding like armor beneath his fingers. There were few beings he cared for, given how weak many of them were, and what would happen if he allowed them inside his defenses. But Belasha was safe, in all senses. "I required their bodies to be found. Or, in one case, I got rid of it."
Tom laughed and finally felt able to move on from Gryphon House. His steps sure, he strode across the last steps to the boundary wall, and laid the crystals glowing with Riptoe's magic in front of him. Belasha curled her neck above his head to watch.
As had happened when he did this before, the magic came out when he spoke her name. "Cassandra Riptoe."
The swirls of brilliant white light filled the darkness for a moment, and then coalesced into a shape that was only a girl's, Tom knew, because that was what felt familiar. She examined her glowing arms for a long moment, then stared at him.
"Where is my soul?"
"I don't know," Tom told her gently. "It's the magic I capture, not the soul, because that is what the people who killed you took. I think your soul has probably passed on to whatever awaits after life."
The girl considered that, turning her head to look at the wall for a moment. Then she turned back to him. "What do you want?"
The dead had none of the delicacies of the living. Tom was fine with that. "I wanted to ask if you would give part of your magic to protect the school. Some of the others who were killed and harvested did that."
This time, the shade of the girl's magic drifted over to the boundary wall. She touched it with one "hand" and then sighed like a satisfied vampire. "I can feel how many there are."
Tom nodded. "I would make them fewer if I could, but I can only prevent so many harvests, and then only by bringing the students to the school most of the time."
"And these others agreed to help you because they are defending the people who might become victims like them."
"I was ten years old."
Her magic flared like a falling star, and something broke away from her, turning to face her. It looked rather like a shade of the same girl as she might have become a few years hence, perhaps thirteen, tall, with long hair falling down her back in a braid. She was made all of smoky grey, except for a few pale twinkles here and there in her skin.
"I will leave you this part," said the pale Cassandra. "And the rest of me will go."
She faded even as she spoke, and the smoky grey figure stepped forwards to stare into Tom's face. Tom gave it—her—a shallow bow. She was similar to the shades who had stayed before, although darker than some of them. Cassandra had left more magic than most.
Then again, not all of them were outraged about their deaths. Some were only upset, others fearful, or outraged at him for killing their killers. Tom found himself quietly thankful that Cassandra had some sense.
And all the more furious that he would never learn what that sense could have done in the context of Fortius Academy.
"I can sense the others in the wall," said the shade, and reached out to run the ghosts of fingers down the stones. She only brushed them with a corner of her power, but Tom felt the others in the wall stir and reach out to her, yearning. "But I don't know how to join with them."
"Let me cast the spell," Tom said, and waited for her to nod before he raised his wand.
The phoenix feather in the core of the yew wand sang softly to him as it supported his weakened magic, a long, descending trill of utter sorrow, and the shade threw back her head and joined in. Tom could feel his own magic rising to that tune, and Belasha swaying behind him. It had never been this strong before. Cassandra had left even more magic than he'd thought, and would be a mighty addition to the school's defenses.
The air seemed to shiver, and different wind currents collided. Then a flash of darkness consumed Tom's vision, and the phoenix song abruptly ended. Tom threw up a hand before his eyes.
"She has joined with the wall," Belasha told him.
Tom lowered his hand and strained to see. Yes, a new grey current, the shade of darkened quartz, ran above the boundary spells protecting the wall. Hands reached out to grasp and hold it, and he heard the voices of other murdered children raised in shivering cries of welcome.
Cassandra was as at home as she would ever be.
Tom tucked his yew wand back into its sheath and stood silently for a second. Then he glanced at Belasha.
"What do you think happens after you die?"
Tom nodded. Basilisks were practical about such things, or so he assumed, since he had only met one other than Belasha. And death was not an experience that he intended to have for many decades, in any case.
But as he walked away from the wall, he wondered if it would be so bad, should he have the chance, to dedicate his magic to the protection of others like him.