January 29th 1993
"You need to keep moving Mr. Longbottom." Professor McGonagall called out as she watched the two children facing each other in a large empty classroom. At the woman's words, said child immediately dodged out of the way of an orange spell that almost collided with him.
"I'm working on it, Professor." Neville yelled before unleashing a series of three spells in the direction of his opponent, who also happened to be one of his best friends. Harry, for his part, conjured a small wall of water which the spells collided with. They caused the spots in the water that they hit to explode, though, not on a big enough scale to be any sort of threat.
Harry scrunched his brow at his friend as he swirled his wand in the direction of the floor conjuring the pieces of what was once a school desk into a quick shape that solidified into a large spider, a tarantula, to be specific. The spider immediately took off at a surprising speed towards Neville whose eyes widened as it approached him.
Neville's entire focus immediately changed to the spider as he cast a moderately powerful fire spell at it. The spider could not dodge. It stopped under the onslaught as it began to roast extremely quickly under the boy's gaze.
Unfortunately, because his focus was so squarely focused on the spider that had charged him, he had failed to notice that Harry had not bothered to sit back and watch the exchange. Instead, he had been continuing to transfigure creatures with the debris that littered the room.
Neville was forcefully made aware of this fact when his head was suddenly surrounded by a dense swarm of locusts. Due to the proximity to him, he started panicking, dropped his wand, and began to swat at the bugs around him. He didn't get to very long, though, as his world abruptly went black.
He didn't know how long it had been but he soon felt his eyes once more as he regained consciousness. It took him a moment to recognize the stern face of his Head of House looking down at him from her standing position next to him.
"Mr. Longbottom, are you alright?" She asked kindly. He blinked for a moment before sitting up and looking. Harry made eye contact with him from a few feet away.
"I take it you won again?" Neville asked with a resigned sigh. Harry simply nodded back at the boy.
"Indeed. Though, you have improved. I see you managed to convince Hermione to teach you, her creation." Harry commented, referencing the Disruption spell Neville had cast earlier in the fight that had managed to take down the illusions he had thrown up around the boy.
"Yeah. Though it didn't seem to do me much good in the end." Neville answered sullenly. Harry looked down at him in thought for a moment before reaching a hand down to help his friend. Neville took it easily and allowed Harry to pull him up to his feet.
"It did, you just didn't push your advantage. When my illusions went down, I froze from the shock. You took in the effect the spell had on me when you should have immediately pressed the advantage you had. Had you, there would have been a good chance the fight would have been over right there." Harry told him.
"I concur with Mr. Potter on this. In a real fight, you should never wait to see if the results of an attack work. You need to always plan and begin executing your next move. Though, that is something that most people have to learn from experience… I trust you will not make such a mistake again?" McGonagall quired somewhat rhetorically. Neville nodded feeling his cheeks heat up at his mistake, though he shook his head to get rid of his embarrassment and focus on the advice.
"No, I won't." Neville promised seriously.
Harry knew he meant it too. It was funny, according to Minerva, both Neville and he was actually rather advanced when it came to combat. He especially had an edge given that there was an extremely good chance most of his opponents would have no idea how to combat him initially, which gave him an extremely high advantage against most. Even purebloods, who tended to have more experience due to their early start using magic, would not likely be able to defeat him initially.
Neville, on the other hand, was much more skilled in a classical way. Whereas Harry tended to use magic like Illusions or Transfiguration to distract opponents before going in for a swift takedown, Neville was much better at overwhelming his opponents with magic. The boy was good at most kinds of magic like; Curses, Hexes, Jinxes, Charms, and even Transfiguration. What's more, he was quite good at switching out which type he was using at a moment's notice. Further, because of his quite sizeable magical reserves, he could probably outlast most opponents anywhere near his age, well, everyone except Harry who still had close to double the boy's reserves, not that you would ever guess that from the way they fought.
"Defeat doesn't feel good. If it helps, if young Mr. Potter wasn't so… perplexing to fight, I think you'd find you'd probably defeat him quite easily." McGonagall told Neville. Harry nodded in agreement at her words. Neville already had a varied spell repertoire but it didn't matter if Harry could just throw up a shield that the spell couldn't get through. Even worse, he preferred to create non-magical shields with Transfiguration. When magic hit a magic shield, the magic shield could shatter under the power of the spell, or in some cases, simply go through in the case of Unforgivable's. Physical shields made from Transfiguration, however, disrupted spells which caused them to either dissipate or explode depending on the spell.
It was an easy solution if one had the reserves to constantly use Transfiguration and could also cast shields in a timely manner. Harry cheated because he purposefully made physical shields that were thin. This tended to cause the spells to explode more often. Since he didn't wish to worry about debris from his shields injuring him, he often created water which was something close enough to a solid to stop a spell, and was also not dangerous if the water hit him from exploding under the power of a spell.
"True, but he IS this perplexing. So, I need to figure out to defeat him despite his advantages. I can't afford to think about 'what if's' that don't matter." Neville said back seriously. McGonagall's flat, stern face twitched as a small smile appeared on her face.
"… That is very mature and smart of you Mr. Longbottom. I wish you well in your endeavor. In the meantime, let us continue to look at the positives and negatives of today. The only other thing I would say to you Mr. Longbottom is to continue moving. A moving target is much harder to hit than a static one."
"Not when you can conjure a swarm of insects that can home in on your target." Neville muttered said with a roll of his eyes. Harry gave a small smirk at the boy's words. Harry was getting better at creating living creatures and also doing it quickly. That being said, he found he preferred to continue to make smaller creatures like insects and arachnids. Humans as a species seemed to have discomfort or outright fear of them which often caused them to act irrationally in their presence. The bigger they were, the more that irrationality grew.
Spiders especially caused great fear in people. Tarantulas were some of the largest mundane arachnids and they moved deceptively quickly for their shape and size. They were nightmare fuel for many as proven by Neville's panicked reaction when he had seen one. He had at least made sure to actually attack and get rid of it, though he had focused too much on it.
"Regardless. Speaking of, I wish to tell you the same thing, Mr. Potter. Right now, Mr. Longbottom cannot get past your shield. You should not assume this will always be the case. You need to get in the habit of not staying in one place. Do you understand?" McGonagall asked. He nodded reluctantly. He knew it was a problem in his fighting ability. He liked to stand in one space and alter what was around him to suit his needs. This was usually the opposite of how skilled duelists fought in that they moved around and used the environment to their advantage.
"Further, it would seem Mr. Longbottom has found a way to disrupt your illusions. You will likely have to learn how to be more fluid when changing to a different method of attack."
"I would like to point out, the reason Neville was able to dispel my illusions was that I wasn't expecting him to have said spell. Now that I know he has it, I will likely be able to counter the disruption by actively stabilizing the illusion at the same time. That being said, I see what you're saying." Harry conceded. Neville sighed.
"I suppose I shouldn't have expected that your illusions would be gone so quickly." Neville grumbled in faux annoyance to which Harry laughed as he patted his friend on the shoulder comfortingly.
"Sorry Nev, but I'm not an Expert Illusionist for nothing." Harry said using his made-up but not entirely inaccurate title. Harry estimated that even by Ciri's worlds standard, he was quite good with illusions, beyond the average practitioner. That being said, he wouldn't call himself a master until he figured out how to accomplish the Legendary ability to supplant reality itself with his illusion. It was something Ciri had mentioned once to him and it was still something, he strived for to this day. When he came back out of his thoughts, he saw Neville staring at him queerly. He blinked at his friend.
"You just called me Nev." Neville pointed out. Harry tilted his head in surprise at the words and thought back to what he had said previously.
"You did." Neville insisted.
"Ah… I didn't even realize. I'm sorry if it made you uncomfortable."
"No! Not at all. I liked it; I was just surprised was all. I've never heard you call anyone by a nickname before… Except for Ciri, I guess."
"As far as she is concerned, that's her name and any who insists otherwise shouldn't be surprised if they soon find a sword at their throat." Harry said back with a roll of his eyes. Harry was perhaps the only one that could get away with calling the girl by her real name, though, she still didn't like it even if it was him who was saying it.
"Fair enough. Still… I liked it, feel free to call me it more." Neville said with a warm smile that made Harry feel a little embarrassed.
"Err, yeah… I'll do that." He acquiesced. Saying the nickname had been natural, surprisingly, but being called out had made him hyperaware of it which felt… strange.
"Hmm… Well, I think that's all for today. I'm glad you were both able to come today despite your busy schedule. I understand you have been on another project recently Mr. Potter." Minerva said eyeing him suspiciously. Harry clammed up at the look and said nothing. It wasn't that his grandmother figure necessarily disapproved of his projects, but she DID disapprove of he went about them and the devotion he gave them. The word 'unhealthy' was often thrown around in conversations between them about it.
"Yeah, it was a surprise, especially since he's working with Daphne on it." Neville revealed with a smirk. Harry looked at his friend with betrayal which only caused his smirk to grow wider.
"Ms. Greengrass? Hmm, I'm surprised. I wasn't under the impression you were that close to that girl yet… You wouldn't happen to be hiding things from me would you Mr. Potter?" Minerva suddenly asked as her voice dropped to a chilly zero degree. The hairs on the back of his neck suddenly stood up and his body froze like a rabbit standing in the presence of a hungry wolf.
"Of course not. I would never knowingly hide anything from you." Harry stammered trying to appease his second guardian. Minerva looked him over carefully almost as if she were trying to see if there were any lies to be found in his words. He stood stiffly in front of her until he felt the tension surrounding him suddenly begin to disappear.
"Very well. We will assume it simply slipped your mind to inform me about a new development in your life." She said easily though there was a clear undertone that she expected that to not happen again. Harry breathed a sigh of relief before nodding again.
"Of course, of course. Well, I think it's time for us to leave. It's already approaching evening and I don't want to waste any more time." Harry said before walking backward slowly towards the door. Minerva watched him without saying anything as did Neville with a smile.
"Wuss." Neville called out before moving to follow his friend. Harry glared at the boy but continued to leave.
"I shall see you both next in class then. Be safe." Minerva called after them.
"We will Professor."
With that, they both left and headed back to their clubroom. They were currently on the fourth floor to use this classroom. There were still students in the hallways though so Harry stuck to near the walls so he could give them a wide berth. He idly noticed that many students eyed him as they passed by. They didn't say anything but it was still somewhat strange.
"It's a rare occurrence to see the Great Harry Potter outside of one of his classes. I heard a rumor about you recently you know?"
"Yes, something about how you secretly sneak out of the school to go fight dark wizards…"
"Why… would I purposefully go look to fight dark wizards?" Harry questioned. Neville shrugged back.
"Don't ask me. I'm just reporting what I heard… Man, I feel a little sore from all the workouts." Neville muttered. Harry nodded in agreement. They had been sparring for close to two hours, sometimes against each other and other times against their professor.
"Still… That was pretty funny how cowed you were by McGonagall. She looked like she was your mom."
"Grandmother more like, but I see your point." Harry corrected easily.
"Yeah, I guess you're right…" Neville's tone changed as he trailed off. It was almost like there was tension in it. Harry looked briefly at his friend in thought for a moment before deciding to push a little.
"How is your relationship with your Gran by the way?" He asked. Neville scowled for a moment before schooling his features and shrugging.
"…We fought at the beginning of the holidays, and we haven't spoken much since." Neville admitted. Harry rose an eyebrow at that.
"She found out about my wand. Said, I was throwing away my dad's legacy and such…" Neville admitted airily almost as if pretending the whole thing didn't bother him. Harry still frowned at his words though.
"And how did you respond?"
"Well… I kind of exploded on her. Told her that I wasn't my dad and I never was going to be. Told her the best I could do was be me and if she had such a problem with that then she could say the word and I wouldn't take up any more of her hospitality. After that, I said some other stuff too but I was so angry at the time I don't even really remember what it was." Neville continued slowly. This time, he couldn't seem to manage to keep the emotion out of his voice. Harry blinked as he went over that. In truth, he wasn't really sure how he was supposed to respond to that. Was he supposed to try and comfort his friend?
"Yeah… By the way, if I do ever leave, I'm coming straight to your place. Just to let you know in advance." Neville said trying to bring back some lightheartedness to their conversation. Harry decided to allow it and smiled.
"Guess that's fine. Not like I don't have the room or anything. Though… I guess it's not like I can talk, the only blood relatives I have left hate me, and the feelings are mutual but if they hadn't hated me if they had cared… I would have done anything to make sure not to ruin that. Sometimes you don't know what you have until you don't have it and… Guess I just don't want you to do anything you will regret." Harry tried to explain though he wasn't sure if he was doing a good job.
"Yeah… You're right. My Gran… she's a lot of work. And I am angry at her, not just for that but for some other stuff when I look back. That being said, I do care about her and I know she does for me… I think I just need to cool off. Hopefully by Summer."
"… Right." Harry said not sure what else to say. With that, they continued to walk in silence after that. As they continued, the halls began to thin out as people went to their classes or whatever other location they had to arrive at. As they turned the corner and reached the stairs of the castle, Harry paused.
Standing right at the top of the stairs was a girl, definitely one that was older than them. He took in her appearance for a moment as something in his mind told him something was wrong.
"Harry?" Neville asked.
"She's not moving…" Harry noticed as his entire body went tense and immediately summoned his wand from its holster.
"What are you doing?"
"Get your wand out now! Start looking around, don't let anything sneak up close to you." Harry hissed. Neville to his benefit didn't even bother questioning Harry, he immediately did as he was told and began to sweep the area with his gaze seriously.
"What's going on here Harry." Neville pushed looking a lot more concerned. Harry didn't immediately respond as he went over to the girl. She was a Ravenclaw like him. He was pretty sure her name was Penelope if he remembered correctly. He hadn't had many interactions with her except when he had first joined the house. She had been a prefect if he remembered correctly.
Right now, though, she stood frozen in a position that might have been considered casual if not for how rigid she was. She stood and had a small hand mirror held up like she was checking something on her face. He eyed her face and noticed though that her expression looked like she had been caught in the middle of changing. What was worrying was that he would describe the look as one of growing horror.
"Harry…" Neville pressed again still looking around nervously.
"She's been petrified…"
"Petrified? What's that mean?"
"She's been frozen by dark magic and can no longer move." Harry explained as he continued to look her over for clues.
"Like the freezing charm… Petrificus Totalus right?"
"Yes, except much more powerful and tainted. This one cannot be undone with a spell and in truth, is not MEANT to be undone… The Headmaster needs to be alerted. Fawkes!" Harry called out with hope. He did not want to leave or have Neville leave him by himself to go fetch the Headmaster while there may be something dangerous lurking around. That being said, he also didn't want to leave this girl here alone. He had never tried to call for his guardians familiar and wasn't even sure if it was possible. He knew the phoenix was intelligent, though, and seemed to like him well enough. As if to answer his thoughts, a ball of flames exploded above his shoulder that seemed to morph into a bird before disappearing and leaving the familiar red bird that now landed on his shoulder.
"Fawkes…" He said in relief and happiness at seeing the bird who rubbed its' head against his own in greeting, "Thank you for coming. We have an emergency. A student has been petrified. I need you to bring Dumbledore here right now!" He tried to explain to the bird. Fawkes looked at him and then at the girl before bursting into flame and disappearing. Despite the proximity, he idly noticed he didn't feel any heat from the flames that the bird disappeared into.
"Didn't know you could call someone else's phoenix…"
"Neither did I. I simply hoped it would work." Harry said back continuing to look around. It took only another moment before a much larger flame appeared between Neville and Harry from which their Headmaster emerged looking serious with the phoenix they had been just speaking of on his shoulder.
"Harry, Neville. Fawkes informed me of an emergency…"
"This girl has been petrified." Harry said wasting no time jumping right into the situation. Albus's eyes immediately went to the girl's frozen form before whipping out his wand and immediately began casting diagnostics.
"It is the same exact kind of magic that froze Mrs. Norris." Harry mentioned. Albus nodded at that as he finished the diagnostics. The man eyed the girl and sighed.
"It would seem we have our first true victim." He said solemnly. Harry nodded in agreement looking at the girl sadly.
"Wait, do you both already know what is going on?" Neville asked looking confused.
"Only to a certain extent but yes. It would appear the Chamber of Secrets has been opened and with it, a creature has been unleashed that has begun to prey upon students." Dumbledore informed.
"She's a Muggleborn." Harry idly noticed and pointed it out. Albus looked at Harry and then the girl looking disturbed. No doubt he remembered the initial warning that had been written on the wall. It may be a coincidence still but it would not be unbelievable to think the Heir might be targeting non-purebloods.
"We should take her to the infirmary right away." Albus finally said.
"Have you found a way to reverse the process yet?" Harry asked.
"Indeed. There is a potion that one can make to reverse it though it'll be some time before we shall have the necessary ingredients to make it." Albus confirmed.
"You can't simply buy it now?" Harry asked. Albus sighed.
"Unfortunately, not. The potion is not cheap and it is normally quite rare. Buying one or even several is not in our school's current budget. Luckily, we have a fully stocked garden and a master potioneer who does know how to make it."
Harry didn't say anything further on that as Albus waved his wand and caused the girl to float gently into the air. He had never really considered the financial state of Hogwarts but he supposed it wasn't outlandish to think it didn't have large amounts of extra cash lying around, especially since he knew it had a scholarship program for students who couldn't normally afford to go to the school.
"Is someone going to explain this to me at any point?" Neville finally chimed in again clearly trying his best not to show his frustrations. Harry looked at Albus as the man continued to walk. The headmaster gave him a look before nodding at him, permitting him to answer the unasked question. Harry sighed before looking at Neville.
"It's complicated so I'm going to shorten the explanation to save time. Basically someone, most likely a student has opened the Chamber of Secrets and released Slytherin's monster. This is not its first victim but its last one before this was almost fifty years ago. It's petrified Mrs. Norris and the culprit left a message a couple of months ago." Harry explained. Neville frowned at that though surprisingly didn't immediately say anything back, or rather, he looked like he wasn't sure what he should be saying.
"… So, the monster just goes around petrifying people and that's it? What's the point?" Neville asked.
"… It is likely capable of killing. In the past, it did so." Albus added. Neville switched his focus over to the headmaster.
"Then why has it not been doing so recently? What's changed?" Neville asked.
"That… is a good question. Albus?"
"I am unsure myself. It may be a different creature, of course, but…"
"But you don't think so?" Harry asked.
"No. I do not."
"So, that brings us back to why it hasn't killed anyone this time." Neville noticed.
"Right… Did you ever see the body of the person who was killed last time, Professor?" Harry asked making sure not to call the man by his name in the halls of the school.
"I did, yes."
"Were there any distinguishing marks to identify how she died?"
"Hmm… Now that you bring it up, there were not. We could not find a single mark to figure out how she died."
"No magical signature?"
"There was one but it could not be identified beyond the fact that it was not human. Creatures are a lot harder to identify than humans are so it wasn't surprising."
"That means it can kill without physically attacking. Does that narrow it down?"
"Possibly. A Basilisk is a snake that can kill with a simple look though I have not heard of one being able to also petrify."
"Possibly a mixed species or a mutation then?"
"We cannot rule it out."
"Beyond not ruling it out, we should treat it as if it's the worst case and assume it is a snake with both the ability to petrify and murder with possibly nothing more than a gaze. One that we can also not find or track. Professor, I know you may not want to but I think you should seriously consider shutting down the school." Harry pointed out.
"I have considered it myself already yet I think it would ultimately be pointless which is the only reason I have not done it."
"How do you mean?" Neville chimed in curiously.
"According to your own account Harry, the culprit is most likely a student of this very school. Should we close the school, the person responsible will be sent away and the attacks will stop. Of course, that will only last until the school reopens and they once more arrive and continue where they left off." Albus explained. Harry closed his eyes for a moment as he considered that.
"Could it not give you time to search the castle and find the hiding spot for the creature?"
"We have conducted several searches over the years, as have previous staff for centuries. None have found the Chamber."
"Right… Damn, we're kind of stuck here. If that's the case we need to figure something else out. Perhaps laying out some traps around the school. Maybe we can put some subtle wards around certain areas in the school at night to alert you to someone entering where they shouldn't."
"The castle is huge… It would take quite some time and the strain on the castle's wardstones…"
"We can get some wardstones from Ron. I'll pay for them myself. Then you can tie the wards into the school. That'll make them harder to detect right?"
"Hmm, it's not a bad plan. Alright, I shall have I and Professor McGonagall go through with it as soon as the new wardstones are provided." Albus acquiesced. Harry nodded; it was a start at least.
Later That Night
"Your school seems to get less and less safe the more you speak of it." Ciri commented as she sat next to him on his desk as he continued to scribble away.
He looked over at her for a moment. She didn't usually come over to his workspace for company, she mostly just stayed on the couch and watched from a distance. That being said… She had been acting a little differently recently. He wasn't sure how exactly to describe it. Maybe… hovering? Like she was always in orbit around him recently or something. She didn't seem to notice herself, or if she did, she wasn't bothering to comment or explain it. Of course, at this point, if he wanted to, he could simply feel her emotions, with how in tune he was with her these days, the emotions didn't even need to be powerful. He could do it whenever he wanted. He didn't do it often though; it felt a little invasive in his opinion.
"Well, I can't exactly say you're wrong. We're working on it though. We have a plan at least and we're hoping we can find something soon. In the meantime, I still have to figure this out." He said gesturing to his papers.
"You should take a break." She suggested.
"I can't right now, unfortunately, I'm at a somewhat important part." Harry explained to her. He wasn't lying either. The ritual was actually progressing well so far. There had been a few hiccups but they hadn't been anything he hadn't been ready for. There were always some things that when you wrote it down and looked at it, didn't always make sense. You had to refine and such as with anything. Of course, there was also the research part that he needed to get started on soon. He needed to begin to experiment with certain animal parts. He had a couple in mind already. Even past that, he had a feeling he was going to have to use several items and even possibly make a potion as part of the ritual. Urgh.
"You're always at an important part…" Ciri pouted. He paused to look at her for a moment.
"Am I neglecting you?" He asked somewhat sarcastically.
"Yes! I'm a princess you know, you're supposed to pamper me." Ciri insisted. Harry shook his head at the ridiculous words.
"Funny how it's only now you use such status. I remember you hating to be a princess when you were one."
"Because there was nothing fun or useful about it at the time."
"But now that you can use it as an excuse to order me to pamper you…"
"Now you're getting it."
Harry rolled his eyes at that as he looked at the girl and turned serious for a moment. Perhaps she was just bored, she pretty much was just traveling all day at this point with little in the way of breaks. Maybe she was just going a little stir-crazy.
"Alright, if you allow me to continue today, I will make sure tomorrow we will have time to do whatever you want. Deal?" He asked. She pondered it for a moment, clearly not completely satisfied with the arrangement.
"Thank you, Princess." He smirked. He received an immediate fist in his arm for his words.
"I can say it, you can't." She growled.
"You literally just told me you wanted me to pamper you like a princess."