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The Good War

Chapter Text

April 1993

Liz wasn't sure what woke her up.

She didn't wake up all the way at first, sort of that half-conscious sort of delirious kind of thing. Her room was still dark — she'd set the lights to come on automatically around seven or so, so it must still be early. For a long moment she just lay there, numb and confused, anxiety faintly niggling at the edge of her mind. Like she'd forgotten to, she didn't know, do her homework or something. It was irritating, and confusing, but not really distressing.

Then she heard a noise. It was barely audible, just a shuffling of... She wasn't sure exactly. A slip of one thing against another, a slight thump. And then more slipping, and a sort of crackling rustle... A book flipping open, that's what that was. One of the more expensive magical books, the pages tended to be kind of noisy, crackling a bit as they folded, it was actually a little annoying.

Still more asleep than awake, it took a moment for Liz to put together what the noises meant: someone was going through her books.

Liz jumped, pushing herself upright, her head spinning a little with the sudden movement, her eyes not quite focusing yet. With them open, she could see her room wasn't entirely dark — the lights were still out, but there were a couple little floating spellglows an orange-ish red, illuminating the area around her desk in a warm, gentle glow. There was a figure there, one of Liz's books splayed open in their hands.

Her hand reaching for her wand on instinct, Liz's eyes finally started to cooperate. The intruder looked like she was Hogwarts age, one of the upper years. Her clothing was plain and unremarkable, an ankle-length skirt and a sleeveless wrap-around tunic sort of thing, both in black — not unusual for mages, though most people would think that top inappropriate without something over it, a robe or a cloak or something. Oddly, she wasn't wearing shoes, her pale feet a sharp contrast against the dark carpet. Her hair was a shimmering black like Liz's, though far more well-behaved, most of it loosely tied out of her face, thick curls tumbling down her back.

Liz didn't recognise her, which meant she probably wasn't a Slytherin. Between the wards on the dorms and on Liz's room, it shouldn't even be possible for her to be here.

"Get out," she snarled, the words tingly on her tongue, the sound heavy with the weight of the compulsion on it. She probably should instead be asking the girl what the fuck she was doing here, and bring her to Snape to deal with, but honestly she just wanted her gone, that need was so pressing the practical things just didn't seem important.

The girl turned to look at Liz over her shoulder, pale blue eyes glimmering in the thin light. "Ah, I thought I felt you waking up."

She'd just...completely ignored the compulsion, like it wasn't even there. Gritting her teeth, doing her best to ignore the nervous nausea crawling up her throat, Liz stabbed out with her mind, to slam into the strange girl, go away, leave me alone. The attack didn't land, which would have been unnerving enough on its own, but the girl's defence was...weird, something she'd never seen before. Liz didn't meet the cold, solid iron of occlumency, instead the girl reached out to meet her, sort of...cushioning the hot knives Liz had made of herself in something soft and sticky, slowing the incoming blow down with a sort of disorienting lurch, like Liz had misstepped going down a stair, and once all her momentum had bled away her attack sort of, just, fizzled out. It didn't leave her nearly as dazed as bouncing off a well-shielded mind, losing her balance like, but it was extremely weird, she had no idea how the girl had done that.

Other than the obvious: she must be a legilimens too, to do that.

Liz didn't even think about it, body going flushed and head tingly with panic, her wand was up, incantations spat past her lips. A binding hex, a stunning charm, a cutting curse, a (weak) dark flaying curse...

None of them landed. The first the girl completely ignored, the faint white spellglow splashing over her without any effect, the second she batted away with her bare hand — just, a casual backhand slap at the reddish spellglow as it came within arm's reach, sending it crashing uselessly into the wall behind her — and by then she had her own wand out, a solid orangish shield blinking in and out of existence to catch the cutting curse, and she jabbed out at the flaying curse as it neared, stabbing it with her wand, the sickly yellow spellglow dissolving into a sprinkling of blue and orange sparks, and she pushed out with her other hand, fingers splayed and palm out—

Hit everywhere at once, as though with a solid gust of wind, Liz was pushed back, slamming against the headboard, the photos were knocked off the table, she heard one of the frames crack. The impact wasn't hard, it didn't hurt, but it didn't really need to be.

The girl had basically just cast a wide-angled bludgeoning hex, and she'd done it wandlesslyWhile casually destroying Liz's own curse with a stab of her wand, and how had she done that, was that even a thing?

There was nothing Liz could do. This girl had her outclassed in both mind magic and ordinary magic. And she was in her room, Liz couldn't get away.

She felt her throat narrow, bands clenching about her chest, rising panic quickly turning her thoughts to useless mush.

"Oops." The girl sauntered up the side of the bed — Liz cringed away, the movement jerky and awkward — a twirl of her fingers brought the fallen photographs floating back up into the air. The one with James and his quidditch team celebrating was fine, but the other one, Lily and Snape and Lovegood, had a few thick cracks through the glass, Lily glaring up at the strange girl, her arms crossed, Lovegood flipping her the bird.

The girl let out a little amused scoff, tapped the glass with her wand. The cracks disappeared, the glass smooth and unblemished, as though nothing had happened — the people inside immediately returned to their normal loop, Lily and Lovegood playing around while Snape looked on in exasperation.

"I do apologise for that," the girl said, replacing the repaired photo to its place on the table. "If I'd had anything of my parents, I imagine I wouldn't have appreciated seeing them carelessly damaged before my eyes. In my defence, aiming precisely with wandless charms such as that is quite difficult."

Liz barely even heard what the girl was saying. She just stared up at her, her wand clutched tight in shaking fingers, waiting — and desperately trying to keep breathing, coming in thick, strained gasps, but letting herself get light-headed wouldn't make this any better...

The girl ticked up a narrow eyebrow at her for a second, then rolled her eyes. "Oh, honestly..." A swirl of her wand, a rattle toward Liz's desk, and something zipped across the air toward the girl, coming to rest in her hand with a light slap. She quick turned it over under the light, then dropped it in Liz's lap, before turning around and wandering off back toward the other end of the room.

It took a second for Liz to convince herself to tear her eyes away from the intruder, and when she did she just blinked at the object in disbelief: a little glass bottle with a blueish fluid inside. One of her calming potions.

Once her brain kicked into gear again, Liz reached for it, twisting off the cap — which did take some work, her fingers stiff enough it was hard to let go of her wand, shaky enough she could barely grip the cap properly. But she got it after a moment, took a sip of the potion. Not a lot, she didn't want to go completely floaty, just enough to take the edge off a bit. Soothing coolness washing through her, her chest loosened, some of the static in her head fading away, her hands stopped shaking.

She glared up at the girl. She'd returned to Liz's desk, flipping through one of her books. One of the ones she'd borrowed from Snape, she noticed — the girl seemed faintly amused, one eyebrow ticked up and a smirk pulling at her face. Now that things had slowed down a bit, Liz no longer on the edge of freaking out completely, she finally got a good look at the intruder's face. She was surprisingly...well, pretty. With the long thin nose and high cheekbones a lot of the noble kids had, eyebrows long and gracefully arched...

Liz didn't pay that much attention, really, but she thought this girl was striking enough she should be faintly familiar, at least. With the thick, curly black hair and the especially pale skin, almost seeming to glow in her light charms, she actually kind of looked like Dorea (though the face was wrong enough it was very obvious), or one of the other purebloods close to the Blacks — that is, related to Liz somehow, however distantly. But she was different enough from them Liz didn't recognise her at all, which, she kind of thought she should.

Which meant this girl probably wasn't even a Hogwarts student. What the fuck was she doing in here?!

"Who are you?"

The girl's lips twitched. "Getting to the proprieties, are we?" Well, she was the one breaking into Liz's room in the middle of the night... "My name is Tamsyn. I've been meaning to speak with you, Elizabeth."

She blinked. The only person who ever called her that was Snape. And, honestly, she liked it that way — if Snape started calling her Liz, that'd probably just be fucking weird. "And you couldn't have done that at a more convenient time? Like, not sneaking in while I'm sleeping?"

"I'm afraid not. I was not in a state I thought it wise to approach you before tonight." An odd look crossed her face, a sort of uncertain crooked smile, wary but darkly amused. "And things are about to become...complicated, in the morning. I can't linger here long."

Okay... "And what do you want?"

"Nothing in particular," the girl said, lifting one shoulder in a graceful shrug. "I simply wanted to meet you before I left." She snapped the book closed, turned the cover toward Liz with a playful sort of smirk. "Curses with integrated subsuming elements? Someone's a naughty girl — that's a Category Four Dark Art, you know."

Yes, she did. The different legal categories Dark Arts fell into were sort of confusing, but Snape had warned her not to let her classmates see that book, because, yes, integrated subsumation charms were Category IV — meaning only certain qualified people were legally permitted to study them. Honestly, Liz wasn't even certain whether Snape was allowed to have that book, it was certainly illegal for him to let Liz borrow it.

Though, integrated subsumation was kind of neat. The scary thing it could do was progressive curses — harmful spells that absorbed energy from its surroundings to power itself, draining the victim's magic to spread automatically — but that hadn't been what Liz had been looking at, mostly. (If she were being honest, the biggest reason was that, even if she could successfully cast such a curse, she doubted she'd be able to stop it, and that was a stupid reason to spend the next twenty years in Azkaban.) She'd been looking at the shield charms — there were a few different types, but the thing they had in common was that they used some of the energy of any spell that hit them to strengthen themselves, which was just really cool.

She'd even successfully managed to cast a few of them! She hadn't tested them yet, but they were finicky enough — took relatively little power, but were very complicated, mechanically — that if she could cast them at all they'd probably work as designed. The difficulty was, see, how hexes and curses and the like worked was that they had an envelope that held them together as they crossed through the air, and these shields used a dissolving filter to crack the envelope and suck up and integrate the dispersed energy of the spell — but, different classes of hexes and curses used different kinds of envelopes, which required different dissolving filters to crack quickly enough to be usable as a shield, so there were, like, two dozen different versions she had to learn. And she'd actually have to know which spell was coming at her, and think quickly enough to pick the right shield, so, it'd take a lot of practice to get good enough with them for it to actually be useable.

But she definitely would, no doubt about that. Reading this book, she'd learned something completely wild that she'd never heard anywhere else. The "unblockable" curses, including the Unforgivables? They weren't unblockable. Their envelopes were structured in such a way they didn't interact with standard (and even most exotic) shield charms, so they just sailed straight through them like they weren't even there...but there were dissolving filters that could crack them. This book actually contained descriptions of subsuming shields that could block all three of the infamous Unforgivables. The Imperius would be caught by anything that interfered with mind magic — Liz had never been particularly concerned with that one for that reason, the mind magic shield she'd learned like a year and a half ago would take care of it, just not normal shield charms — and the Cruciatus was included in a list of curses caught by one of the more advanced subsuming shields. The Killing Curse (the green one, as the book always specified) was more difficult, since it would often stay in contact with the shield (a different one from the Cruciatus), sometimes pumping in enough energy to overwhelm the subsumation element, eventually slipping through, but even in the worst-case scenario it at least slowed it down long enough to give the caster an extra second to dodge.

Which, that was just neat. Liz honestly didn't give a shite how very illegal integrated subsumation was, she was definitely learning those shields.

Liz twitched, wrenched her thoughts out of their wandering to focus on the girl again. Damn calming potions, made it really hard to focus...

Her first impulse was to tell the girl — Tamsyn, whatever — to forget about the book, or that it was unimportant, don't think about it. But that wouldn't work, the intruder had, just, completely ignored the first compulsion she'd tried. Liz was still waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Tamsyn to try to use her own mind-control superpowers on Liz, but she hadn't yet, her mind very still and contained. Enough Liz wasn't getting a hint of feeling from her at all, which was slightly peculiar, but on the list of odd things going on right now it wasn't near the top. "What are you going to do about it?" she said, trying to sound more derisive than worried. (She wasn't worried, really, if Tamsyn did tell anyone Liz would just call an elf to return the books to Snape before letting anyone in her room.)

"Oh, nothing, I just find it curious." Tamsyn returned the book to its place on Liz's little bookshelf. Smiling, she placed her finger on one of the spines. "The fundamental principles of the Graphic Arts — not illegal, but far above your age level, we didn't start studying this until sixth year. This," she said, moving her finger to another, "seems to be focused mostly on the use of runes in low ritual, as well as runic casting — in Britain, those are Class Two or Class Three respectively. They could be rated higher, in fact, depending on what you're using them for. And here," pointing at another book, "we have an introduction into the practice of sympathetic ritual, which is Class Three, or Class Four if you use blood as a focus. Actually, Class Five, if you use the soul as a focus, but there would be no reason for you to do such a thing — you're a mind mage, you needn't bother with such crutches to accomplish that kind of subsumation."

Liz had grit her teeth together during the girl's ramble, she had to wrench her jaw open before she could speak. "What do you care? I haven't actually used any of it." The fact that she planned to, or at least some of it, was entirely beside the point. Also, yes, just having those books was illegal, but...

The girl smiled. "Oh, I don't care — not in the sense you imply. I simply find it curious. I wonder, if Dumbledore and his gormless toadies knew their precious little saviour were studying this kind of magic in her spare time... Well, I imagine their reaction would be interesting, don't you think?"

That sounded unnervingly like a threat...

"Come now, don't give me that look," Tamsyn said, rolling her eyes. "I'm not going to tell anyone. It is truly no business of anyone's what magic you choose to study, or even perform — unless and until you are using it on someone, then I suppose it is that person's business, isn't it? Azkaban is a fucking disgusting institution, and I would not see a young girl sent there simply due to her efforts to ensure her own safety against all the horrors we mages enact upon each other. That is not something I believe is deserving of punishment of any kind. It is simply rational."

...Well, yes. That was the argument she'd made, when Snape had asked why she had such interest in these particular subjects. (The exception was subsumation, which was just neat.) They'd had another of those uncomfortable...talking about...things meetings — the meetings every Slytherin had with Snape were all about him checking up on them every now and again, apparently, they were just especially uncomfortable for people like Liz — and why she put such effort into learning defensive magics and curses and the like had come up.

She meant, she realised she was (supposedly) just a kid, so she shouldn't be worried about these things, but she'd always had to take care of herself — now that she knew magic existed, this was just another thing she needed to do to do that properly. Which might seem paranoid to other people, but really, since she'd started at Hogwarts a year and a half ago she'd nearly been murdered multiple times. This year hadn't been nearly as bad, so far as being attacked with weird dark magic went, but still. Since she had an undead Dark Lord person after her, who obviously wouldn't limit himself to only what was nice and legal, obviously she had to learn dark magic too, if only to defend herself. And there were other people who used this stuff too, if there weren't there wouldn't be so many books on it, and Aurors and stuff...

Snape, being Snape, had just solemnly nodded, accepted that as a good reason and moved on.

"I'm so glad you approve," Liz drawled, in her best attempt at sarcasm. (People missed it when she was being sarcastic sometimes, apparently it wasn't as obvious as it should be.)

The girl just smiled. "You are not what I expected, Elizabeth."

"And what did you expect?"

Tilting her head a bit, smirking, "I'm uncertain. The Girl Who Lived, I suppose."

Liz scoffed. "Yes, well, sorry to disappoint, but that whole story is total shite."

"Oh, I'm not disappointed. If what I had been lead to believe turned out to be true, that would have been a disappointment. I find such stories, and the characters in them, are almost...aggressively uninteresting. I assure you, I greatly prefer Liz Potter, budding metaphage and battlemage, above Ellie Potter, prophesied saviour and Girl Who Lived."

Prophesied saviour? Liz didn't know anything about a prophecy...though she honestly wouldn't be surprised if there was one. After struggling for a second to decide how the hell she was supposed to respond to that nonsense, she said, "I'm not a metaphage." That was an important thing to bring up, she thought, given that it was extremely illegal. As she understood it, metaphagy was the process of a person subsuming outside energy (it didn't matter from what) and permanently integrating it into themselves — metaphages tended to have weird, unpredictable abilities, acquired from shite they'd absorbed over the years.

They also tended to be slightly mad. As Snape had explained last year, there were risks to subsumation, it was pretty easy to irreversibly break your mind if you bit off more than you could chew, so to speak.

The girl smirked. "Well, that's a lie. You have fully integrated it — some time ago, it feels like — but these things aren't hard to identify, if you know what to look for. I could be mistaken, but that feels like a human soul — somebody has been very naughty."

Liz grit her teeth. She meant that bit of the Dark Lord, last year, that had to be it. She hadn't realised people would be able to feel that. If they could, she figured Snape would have warned her, or something... "That isn't— That's complicated. I didn't kill someone and eat their soul, if that's what you're thinking."

"Mm, I didn't imagine you did. If nothing else, subsuming a human soul is really the sort of thing you need to work up to."

Despite herself, Liz had to bite back the urge to laugh. She couldn't help it, that was just funny — the flat, casual delivery only made it funnier.

"But, as precious and amusing as I find your fascination with the Dark Arts, this isn't why I'm here," Tamsyn said, loosely crossing her arms, propping her hip against the desk. "You are not as I expected though, honestly, I am not truly surprised. Dumbledore never learns the lesson he should, after all."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

The girl's smile faded a bit. It didn't go away entirely, but her pale eyes went cold, the curl to her lips looking more dark, wary, than truly pleasant. "There was a girl, once. Her mother died when she was very young, young enough she knew her not at all. She was abandoned to be left with strangers, raised at an orphanage with the rest of the forgotten and unwanted." Liz cringed, instinctively — she'd been told all kinds of horror stories about orphanages...though mostly by Vernon and Petunia, come to think of it, that could all be shite. "And she did not fit there, not from the beginning. She was different. And ordinary people, they fear and revile that which is different. And so they turned upon this girl. She was dirtied, and humiliated, and beaten, for years.

"Until she learned to fight back. Because this girl, she was different, she was special. She learned to put weight on her words, to make her voice impossible to ignore, impossible to disobey. And she made them stop. And she made them fear her, so her tormentors would never think to harm her again."

That sounded...uncomfortably familiar. Liz couldn't look away, the girl's pale, ice-blue eyes holding hers, tingles crawling down her neck.

"One day, a man came to the orphanage. This man was special, in much the same way the girl was. But he was no different than the others. What the girl had done to the other children, what she'd needed to do to survive, to fight back, no, he did not approve. He threatened her. Using one's power over people to get them to do what one wants is unacceptable, he said — while using his power over the girl to get her to do what he wanted.

"Because she wasn't supposed to defend herself, you see," Tamsyn continued, her voice low, harsh, scornful. "People like her, the forgotten and the unwanted, freaks like her, they're meant to just take what is given to them, be it good or be it bad. For the girl to strike back against those making her life a living hell — to make it so they could never hurt her again, no matter what it took — that was unjust. No, you're supposed to accept the place you're put in, and be happy about it.

"The girl, of course, made the noises of surrender he wanted to hear, but went on as she had before once his back was turned. And she swore, she would learn anything she had to, of this new world called magic, do as she had to, to never again feel as vulnerable, as helpless as she did in that moment."

Yeah, that was uncomfortably familiar too.

The girl was smiling a little again, slightly crooked. "We're meant to be fated enemies, like out of some stupid fairy tale for children, but I don't believe it. We're too damn alike to be foes dramatically locked in fatal opposition. No," she muttered, shaking her head a little. "I haven't a clue whether I'll be able to convince the other me of this, but so far as I am concerned, we're natural allies more than we are natural enemies. So I thought to make it clear, here and now."

Well, great, maybe that would mean anything to Liz if this girl hadn't just broken into her room in the middle of the night. Also, "Who the hell are you?" Other me? Seriously, what the hell...

"I told you, Elizabeth: my name is Tamsyn."

"That's not what I'm asking and you know it."

The girl smirked. "But it is the only answer I can give you, or the only one that would do you any good in the here and now. It is a more complicated question you ask than you realise. You will know all in time, I believe."

"But not now," Liz said, trying not to sound too...she didn't know, childish or something.

That expression looked irritatingly like a mocking smirk. "No, not now. In fact, for now, I believe we are out of time — if I stay in the castle much longer than this, things may become very complicated."

The girl flicked her fingers, her light charms blinking out, casting the room into impenetrable blackness. Liz still knew exactly where she was though, mind magic could be funny like that. Her fingers tightened around her wand instinctively, despite how completely pointless she knew it was, this girl could kick her arse easily.

The girl's smooth drawl came from somewhere out of the darkness, barely above a whisper. "So long for now, Elizabeth. I'll be in touch."

And then Tamsyn disappeared, silently without a trace, as though she'd been nothing but a bad dream.

Liz shivered, tried to shake off the last of her lingering unease. Then she spoke the key to turn the lights on, slid out of bed. She had to go through her things, at the very least, make sure the intruder hadn't left anything unpleasant behind. And maybe take a shower or something once she was done, she felt...weirdly gross. Weirdly, because it wasn't like the girl had even touched her...

Besides, Liz doubted she'd be getting back to sleep after that anyway.

A high tone rung through her room, like the walls were all a big drum (though the pitch was far too high for that), startling Liz badly enough she nearly tore a page out of her book. She looked around for a second, reaching out at random, looking for what the hell had caused that, but her room didn't look any different, and it didn't feel any different either. Or, she didn't think it did — all the little enchantments in a magical room didn't feel like other minds, exactly, more a bland electric tingle and far too diffuse, but nothing seemed out of order.

After a couple seconds, the ringing stopped, immediately followed by a voice coming from every direction at once, like every stone in the walls were a little speaker. "As of five minutes ago, Hogwarts is in emergency lockdown. All students will report to the common room immediately. You may delay long enough to make yourself presentable, but you do not want me to come looking for you." And that was it, the voice cut off there, everything going back to normal.

That was definitely Snape. Whatever spell he'd been using to project his voice — through the entirety of the Slytherin dorms, by the sound of it — had made him sound slightly strange, his voice deep and a little echoey. But that sharp, icey drawl was characteristic enough Liz could probably identify him no matter how distorted it was.

Apparently, something had happened. In the almost two full years Liz had been here, the castle had only been put into lockdown exactly once — Hallowe'en '91, and she'd mostly missed it, since she'd been in the kitchens at the time. (Apparently, McGonagall had panicked a little bit when her headcount came up short, before Snape popped up to reassure her Hermione was safe in the kitchens with them.) They hadn't even done it for the petrifications over the course of the year, Liz wasn't entirely sure what circumstances called for full lockdown. It had to be something big though.

The girl, Tamsyn, had said something was about to happen, that would make it complicated for her to get out of the castle again. That had been...about two hours ago now? It was nearly six, and it had been after four when Liz had finally checked the time. So. It was probably a good bet this was what Tamsyn had been talking about. It was also probably a good bet that Tamsyn was in some way responsible for whatever had happened.

Not that Liz could even begin to guess what it was. Her uninvited guest had not been very informative, creepy cryptic bitch...

(Liz realised her calling anyone else creepy was sort of rich, but come on.)

Anyway, Liz should probably get up to the common room — she'd put together by now that she was one of a handful of students Snape let get away with things sometimes, but that didn't mean she could flagrantly ignore something this big. She pulled a muggle-style dress out of her closet, yanked it over her head (hmm, it didn't seem to fit quite right anymore, that was weird), and plucked a book out of her bag, one of Ciardha Monroe's novels. (The ninth, he'd written two every year for like three decades, there were a lot of them.) She'd been told the last lockdown had lasted for about two hours — Liz had missed most of it, by the time they'd gotten back to Slytherin there'd only been a half hour left — so chances were she'd be locked up in the common room for a while with nothing to do. So, book.

The common room was lit up for daytime, the hearths flaring and all the little silvery lamps on full, which it shouldn't be for another half hour at least. The hallways had been lit up too, which they usually weren't at night, whatever Snape had done to talk to them he must have switched all the lights on too. (Prefect Gemma had mentioned Snape had some control over the dorms, though Liz had never actually seen him use it before.) He was standing just inside the door out into the rest of the castle — in his usual dark, dramatic robes, somehow looking even more grim than usual, his brow deeply arched and his lips twisted into a harsh slash — and, weirdly enough, he wasn't alone.

One was Sinistra, the Professor of Astronomy. She looked rather disheveled, her deep blue robes not quite sitting right, her hair scattered and her eyes a little red. Which did make sense, when she thought about it — Sinistra was practically nocturnal, she never turned up for breakfast, and most of the time not even lunch, this must be bedtime for her. It took a moment for Liz to recognise the other one was probably the Professor of Arithmancy, Vector. She wasn't far out of school age herself, just in her mid-twenties or something, she didn't really look any older than some of the upperclassmen. She seemed more anxious than tired, her paler-than-usual face strained and worried.

So, all the Slytherin professors, then. There were four Heads of House, yes, but all the rest of the professors were also associated with one of the houses, for one reason or another — most of them had actually been in those houses when they'd been Hogwarts students themselves. Lockhart and the Divination Professor had been in Ravenclaw, the Care of Magical Creatures Professor had been in Gryffindor, Smethwyck had been in Hufflepuff, Sinistra had been in Slytherin. Apparently, Vector actually hadn't attended Hogwarts at all, but she'd still ended up with the Slytherins for some reason; neither had Babbling, the Runes Professor, who was considered a Ravenclaw, and the Muggle Studies Professor, Hufflepuff.

She guessed that, whatever was going on, the professors had all been sent to their houses — all the others were probably in the other three houses, Dumbledore coordinating whatever was going on from wherever he was.

When Liz got up to the common room, she was close to the first person there, less than a dozen other students here and there, untidy hair and disheveled clothes, muttering to each other and yawning. Over the next few minutes, the rest of the house gradually trickled up, until the common room was packed, or at least it felt like it — there were maybe about seventy people in the whole house, but they were practically never in here at the same time. The first night when the first years came in and Snape gave a few beginning-of-the-year announcements to the whole house, that was pretty much it.

Snape's voice cut through the air, the thin chatter filling the room cutting out immediately — though leaving behind the simmering current of anxiety and confusion only Liz (and Snape) could feel, a tingling sort of anticipation building. "Group yourselves by year. Prefects, count your years and bring your totals to me; we will count the others. Go."

The room was chaos for a moment as people called out, raising their hands, gathering their classmates toward themselves, a scramble developing as people moved around in a confusing tangle. Liz lingered a moment longer, leaning against the wall she'd stuck herself to, folded her book closed again, waiting for the mess to clear a little bit. After a moment, she spotted her year, near a circle of sofas in front of the window out into the lake (a murky greenish-black at the moment), not far from the stairs down to the girls' rooms. Unsurprisingly, they were clumping around Millie, Greg, and Vince — they were the tallest people in their year, made sense. Liz drifted that way, weaving between a few chairs in front of one of the hearths, circling the fourth years.

"Liz! There you are!"

She blinked at Dorea for a moment, slightly taken aback by the shouting. Dorea felt...weirdly scared? When she spotted Liz, she even took a couple steps toward her, her arms starting to come up, before hitching in place, uncertainty flaring through her head like static — she'd probably been about to run up and hug Liz before second-guessing herself. Which, that was thoughtful, Liz guessed, but she didn't really mind the hugging so much, so long as it was coming from Dorea. (Hugging was just...kind of weird? She didn't really get it, was the thing, it didn't do anything for Liz like she could tell it did for Dorea.) "Er, yeah?"

"I just, I didn't see you. I was worried..." The tension was replaced with relief now, though embarrassment started crawling over it, she cringed just slightly, eyes darting toward Draco and Pansy. Probably just realising she'd had that little outburst right in front of their whole year.

"I was leaning on the wall over there, reading," Liz said, pointing with her book past the fourth years and the hearth to her spot. There was a pillar there that blocked off much of the room, it wasn't a surprise Dorea hadn't been able to find her. "I didn't know you were looking for me, sorry." She wasn't, really — it wasn't her fault if Dorea went freaking herself out over nothing, especially if Liz didn't even know it was happening — but she was aware that was the thing to say. People didn't even mean it when they said it, most of the time, it was just what was done.

(Honestly, the realisation that she was supposed to say these common niceties even when they were lies had made it much easier to remember to do them.)

Dorea huffed a little, but she dropped it.

There was a bit of muttering going on between the rest of her year — by the sound of it, speculating on what this emergency was, exactly. Liz didn't really care, so she just opened her book again, leaning against one of the chairs.

Snape came by before too long. She wasn't looking, but she knew it was him, partially because she recognised the texture of his thoughts, and also because he didn't count them the normal way, instead brushing over all of them with his mind. Not actually going into their heads, just skimming over the surface, like fingers lightly fluttering over the back of her neck, it was unsettling. Fortunately, it was over in a blink, and Snape was swishing away again.

And then, for a long while, nothing happened. Once their count was done, Snape and Sinistra swept out, leaving Vector behind to guard the door and watch over the kids. That wasn't the only exit from the dorms, of course, the maze led out into random places all over the castle, but everybody stayed in the common room anyway. They had been told to stay, and nobody wanted to test Snape's patience — they weren't worried he'd do anything bad, obviously (at least the Slytherins wouldn't be), but it was always better to stay on his good side. Or Vector's, for that matter — she was a Master of Arithmancy, she probably knew all kinds of unpleasant hexes. According to the older students she was actually one of the more intimidating professors in the castle...which was honestly hard for Liz to imagine, she seemed so silly and cheerful most of the time, but okay.

The tight clumps of year groups gradually broke apart, the students spreading out across the room again. Though the second years still stayed mostly together, just moving to the nearby sofas — the people mixing up again was mostly from people finding siblings and cousins, but literally nobody in their group had any of the like in the school at the moment, or at the least none they would prefer to talk to. (Daphne, Vince, and Blaise all had younger sisters, but they weren't school age yet; Pansy had an older brother, but she'd rather hang around Draco; Theo had a cousin in seventh year who thought he was too cool to hang around his baby cousin; Tracey and Millie both had older cousins, but they all hated each other.) They sort of instinctively divided themselves into the two cliques Liz had identified from the beginning — though there was somewhat less animosity between the two than there'd been at first, since Liz, friends with Dorea and also sort of Daphne, and Draco were required to get along because quidditch, she suspected he'd told his friends not to make a fuss — each sinking into their own conversations.

Dorea and Daphne (plus hangers-on) started babbling off about something to do with people in the magical government, or something, Liz didn't know and honestly didn't care enough to pay the attention required to figure it out. Draco, Pansy, and Theo (plus hangers-on) were speculating over what exactly had caused the lockdown — they were leaning toward either some unsupervised experiment a Ravenclaw was doing blowing up in their face (literally), causing damage to the castle and/or a number of students, or one of the low-simmering feuds between the various old families (some going back centuries) had gone bad again, someone slipping into the castle to curse/kill/kidnap a child of an enemy family. (Apparently, that used to happen with some regularity, the government was theoretically supposed to stop it now.)

Interestingly, nobody brought up that it might be related to all the petrifications and such this year. Maybe it just wasn't on their minds, the last one had been two months ago now — since Carmichael (fifth-year Gryffindor), there hadn't been any new victims or cryptic graffiti on the walls, and the whole thing had just sort of...faded out of awareness. It would still come up occasionally, sure — the victims were still holed up in Hospital, though supposedly Snape would have the supplies to revive them any day now — but people just didn't talk about it anymore. Which was sort of irritating, with how much shite people had given Liz for it in the first half of the year, but she wasn't really complaining. She guessed.

Anyway, that was sort of odd, because it seemed a good bet to her that the person behind the petrifications was responsible for whatever this was. It wasn't like they'd caught whoever it was — the petrifications might have slowed down, but that didn't mean it was over. Maybe they'd done something worse this time. Like petrified a professor, maybe, or actually killed someone.

Whatever it was, Liz couldn't say she cared that much. She didn't really feel like participating in either of the conversations, so instead she leaned against the glass separating the common room and the lake outside, opened up her book again.

Dorea interrupted her some time later, handing her a plate of eggs with cheese and sausage. Tipping up to peek over the nearest sofa, a table had been transported into the middle of the common room, covered with breakfast stuff. Apparently they weren't going to be let out for a while yet. It did look like a mess around the table at the moment, people packing in to get their stuff, so Liz took the offered plate with sincere thanks — she'd rather not try to shove her way through all that.

Well, she could probably make everyone get out of her way easy, but they'd definitely notice that. She was still trying to keep her mind-control superpowers secret, so.

What had to be hours later — Liz had moved around several times, sore from sitting in one spot too long, the water outside the window had become a much brighter shade of green, glowing just noticeably, throwing a faint tint over the entire room — they were still in here. Many of the Slytherins were getting pretty antsy by this point. Some elves had popped in to provide some distractions, several chess sets and packs of playing cards and the like, but Vector wasn't even letting them leave to get anything from their rooms. At least there were bathrooms attached to the common room. Those hadn't been there before — when Liz had gone, she'd recognised them as the ones attached to the dueling arena downstairs, complete with the showers in the back and everything, the castle must have migrated them up at some point.

Of course, when Liz had gone in there, there had been two people in the showers going at it. Liz couldn't hear them, they'd put up some privacy charms, but the toilets were close enough she could feel them from here — two fifth year girls, she was pretty sure, she couldn't quite remember their names. (People she never talked to, she tended to recognise the texture of their minds better than their names, or even their faces.) Liz had just rolled her eyes and gone about her business.

Honestly, people were so silly about sex. She'd think the entire house being out here should be a turn-off, they could be discovered at any time...

Over the course of their imprisonment, the tenor of the atmosphere slowly shifted — from confusion, curiosity, anxiety, into boredom, into irritation, into simmering frustration. Nobody had acted on it, yet. If they wanted to, what would they even do? But it was clear — to Liz, anyway, even while reading her book still aware of the emotion colouring the minds around her — that Slytherin's patience was gradually wearing thin.

It had to be late morning, quickly approaching lunch time, when something finally happened. A wave of surprise, concern shimmered through the crowd, the constant chatter swiftly quieting. Frowning to herself, Liz half-stood from her chair, peeking between the heads of taller students toward the entrance. Snape had returned, but he wasn't alone. Standing next to him was a woman, nearly as tall as Snape (probably around the same age too, but it could be hard to tell with mages), her face long and grim, auburn hair tied firmly back, dressed in what Liz recognised as dueling gear, trousers and tunic and boots in black trimmed with silver, a brilliant red cape thrown over it.

Liz had never seen one in real life before, but she still recognised the uniform from descriptions: this woman was an Auror.

"Miss Potter," Snape called, doing that thing where he made himself heard without actually raising his voice (a subtle amplifying charm?), "come with us, please." A wave of surprise ran through the common room, whispers and glances, but before Liz could even start worrying, Snape added, "You are not suspected of any wrongdoing — the Aurors have discovered a device which appears to encode enchantment keys in parseltongue, and wish to borrow you for a moment."

Oh. Okay, that wasn't so bad. Assuming Snape wasn't lying, anyway — though, Liz suspected he'd only said that to shut up the other Slytherins before rumours could start going around, he hadn't really needed to. There would have been no reason to do that if the Aurors were actually going to arrest her for something. Liz pushed herself the rest of the way to her feet, held out her book toward Dorea, sitting on an adjacent sofa. "Here, hold on to this for me."

She just blinked up at her for a second before reaching for it. "Er, sure." Dorea seemed slightly taken aback, nerves sparking in the air around her. "I can call Ted for you, if you like..."

It took a second for Liz to put together she was talking about her uncle, Dora's father, who was...some kind of law...person? Liz didn't really know how the legal system worked, magical or not. Someone who helped people with legal trouble, anyway. "No, I'll be fine. Don't worry about it."

Dorea was less than confident about that, shooting the Auror an anxious glance, but she surrendered with a nod.

While Liz picked her way through the maze of furniture and Slytherins, someone shouted a question, asking how much longer this was going to be. Snape conferred with Vector and the Auror quick before saying, "You may leave the common room if you wish, but the castle is still under lockdown. Do not leave the dormitory. Understood?"

There was a chorus of yes sirs, and the room quickly descended into chaos, dozens of people getting up and filtering out through the various passageways, maybe about a quarter of the Slytherins remaining where they were. Only a few were headed to their rooms, by the look of it, instead down to the dueling arena or the house library, finding something entertaining to do with their time so long as they were locked in here.

As soon as they stepped out into the hallway, Liz and Snape and the Auror, they came to a stop, Snape suddenly enough his robes swished about him a little bit. "Miss Potter, this is Dame Emmeline Vance." Aurors were spoken of like knights, Liz knew, sir for men and dame for women. "She happens to be a friend of mine from back in the War."

Liz blinked. "Which side?" That was important, she'd been under the impression he'd sort of been on both sides at one time or another. She wasn't entirely certain why Snape was telling her this, but still, just saying someone was a friend of his from the War didn't really mean much.

The Auror's lips twitched, just a little, the barest hint of amusement shimmering off of her — her occlumency was very good. "The winning side." Ah. Okay, then. "Before we get down to business, we'll be asking you a few questions. You're not in trouble, we don't think you did anything wrong. There are just rules we have to follow. Okay?"

Liz tried not to frown, not at what the Auror was saying but how she was saying it. She was getting the very clear feeling she was dumbing down her language a bit, doing that I'm talking to a stupid child thing so many adults did. Her voice hadn't gone higher and breathy the way a lot of people did, so it wasn't quite as obvious, but Liz was pretty sure. "Okay."

"Okay. And, since you are younger than thirteen, you can have an adult with you. Your guardian is Dumbledore, I think? We can call him and wait for him to come, if you like."

"Um..." Honestly, she'd prefer to avoid being in the same room as Dumbledore, if she could help it. There was only one adult in the castle — or really anywhere at all, when she thought about it — that she trusted even a little. "Can Snape stay instead?"

The Auror's eyebrows twitched this time, an odd shiver that felt like mostly-suppressed surprise. Snape's head was clearer, throwing off a smug sort of ha ha Dumbledore, she doesn't like you, neener neener sort of feeling (though obviously more cold and dignified and Snapeish than that made it sound). "That's alright, I think." Turning to Snape, "I've never taken a case at Hogwarts before — the Heads of House are judged to act in loco parentis for their charges, yes?"

"In general, yes. The issue is somewhat more complicated when the student's proximal guardian is on site, but in those cases Hogwarts' own code respects the preference of the student in question — I believe this dates back to the school's earliest days, when it wasn't unheard of for a student to be closely related to multiple persons employed by the school in one capacity or another, or were otherwise near to hand. There are cases on record where a Head of House, or other chosen representative, takes primacy even over another professor who happens to be the student's parent, should the student request it be so."

Vance nodded. "Right. These fancy noble school and their weird internal laws, can never keep these things straight. Okay then, Miss Potter — follow me and we'll get started." She turned and started down the hall.

Once her back was turned, Liz pulled out her calming potion, quickly took a sip. Her head went all floaty, enough she staggered for a moment, nearly lost her balance before everything settled, her head a little fuzzy but thoughts still clear enough to (more or less) think straight. Maybe that had been a little too much. She hadn't actually needed it, yet, but just in case. She'd rather not start having a bad moment surrounded by strangers who might try to "help" — in her experience (mostly with Dorea, Hermione, Daphne, Adrian a couple times, and on one memorable occasion Professor McGonagall), "helping" tended to involve people trying to touch her, which categorically did not help, not at all.

The Auror led them off, not up the stairs toward the Great Hall, surprisingly, but taking the lower-level corridors around. Liz did know this route, it was the quickest way to the kitchens and the Hufflepuff dorms from Slytherin. They were a little over halfway there when they came to a larger open space, the ceiling retreating another few feet, the walls far enough apart it was more a room than a hallway. There was a wide staircase here, made of the same twinkling white granite as the Grand Staircase — it was an extension of it, actually, tucked just behind the "bottom" in the Entrance Hall was another flight, which after switchbacking around once came to an end here. Across the (relatively) little room was a wide double door, made of ancient-looking wood, layered with enchantments so thick the air tingled walking by.

Liz had asked Adrian about it once, out of curiosity, but apparently nobody was certain where those doors led. The most common theory was that the wardstones were down there somewhere, but nobody had seen them for literally centuries, or at least nobody but the tiny handful of people trusted with maintaining them. By Hogwarts tradition, the people on staff who worked with the wards were kept secret, to make it more difficult for them to be subverted by outsiders — it was assumed that Babbling and Flitwick were probably involved, but that was just an assumption — and they certainly weren't just left open for students to go poking around. It was known that the wardstones were in one of the caves hollowed out of the cliffs the castle sat on, and that the Grand Staircase was probably right on top of them, so it made sense they'd be through here and further down somewhere. Nobody actually knew for certain, though.

Liz would scoff at the mages and their silly insistence on keeping secrets, but keeping the location of your wardstones secret was actually perfectly reasonable, so.

They passed the mystery door and into another hallway, before long coming to a door (a normal, less dramatic-looking one) with a couple people standing in front of it. One was McGonagall, looking rather less...McGonagall than usual. She was in more casual house-robes, like what a lot of the Slytherins wore around the dorms — still long, yes, looked very warm, but softer and more comfortable than her usual stiff professional person clothes. Her hair wasn't in its fiercely-contained bun at the moment, instead yanked back into a pony-tail, a few wisps escaping around her temples. Also, Liz wasn't certain she'd ever seen McGonagall without a hat on her head before, it was a little weird.

Also, like this McGonagall looked younger, for some reason. Usually she looked...well, not as old as Dumbledore, obviously, but getting up there, but like this she seemed barely middle-aged. Still older than Snape (and the Auror), yes, but she didn't look old enough to be Snape's mother anymore.

Maybe that was why she made herself up the way she did, come to think of it — she'd been teaching Tranfiguration here in Liz's parents' time, she must have been really young then.

Lowly chatting with her was another person in the Auror uniform, this one a tall, broad-shouldered man, dark-skinned and completely bald. He also had a big gold ring through one ear, which was weird, Liz was under the impression mages didn't really do piercings. (Well, not normal average mages, anyway — it was really common with Mistwalkers, Daphne had complained about the nobility thinking it was weird before.) He noticed them approaching first, shot them a quick glance before giving them a slow, solemn nod, returning to his conversation with McGonagall.

Their Auror only slowed to exchange nods with them for a second, stepping by to pull open the door. Liz noticed an odd shiver in Vance's mind as she pulled on the handle — pain, maybe? She must be injured. She didn't look injured, and her uniform was spotless... Probably an old injury, some dark curse that had prevented it from being healed all the way. Liz imagined a lot of Aurors had lingering curse damage, tracking and bringing down dangerous mages was supposedly a large part of their job. Vance didn't show any reaction to the flare of pain externally, barely even hitched pulling the door open and nodding them inside.

Snape was giving Vance a look as they passed, seeming the barest shade concerned. Which was odd, because this was Snape.

The room Liz stepped into looked a lot like it might have been a professor's office, but had gone out of use at some point long ago — desk, a few chairs, bookshelves here and there, so forth. Someone had taken a few heavy-duty cleaning charms to the place, all the dust that must have been here before gone, but the tapestries on the walls, Hufflepuff colours, looking rather drab and faded, the ancient furniture scuffed and sad-looking.

Flitwick was here, standing on a chair so he could point at the parchments scattered across the table, rattling off about something. The other person — sitting in the professor's chair behind the desk, leaning forward over arms folded on the edge of the desk, peering at the pages through wire-framed spectacles and attentively listening to the tiny Charms Professor — was another person in an Auror uniform. Though, not quite the same as the others, this bloke had purple accents instead of silver, that presumably meant something. He had long full hair (the magical men usually had long hair too) that was sort of an interesting colour, sort of like a dirty blond, but with that bright fiery orange instead of yellow, it was neat. He had a long narrow face, bushy brows furrowed low in thought, an odd sort of yellow-orange tinge to his eyes. Sometimes mages had unnatural things like that going on, which was strange, but it was bloody magic, Liz didn't think about it too hard. Besides, it was sort of neat.

Snape sweeping in behind her, Liz paused, frowning at the man — he seemed...faintly familiar...

Finally, the man realised he had company, glanced up at them. Leaning back in his chair and peering over the rim of his spectacles, he said in a sort of warm grumble, "Ah, and here is Miss Potter." He had an obvious accent, sort of drawling and very Scottish-sounding. "If you'll excuse me a moment, Filius. I trust we can expect your assistance when we breach the corridor?"

"Oh, of course!" Flitwick chirped, hopping down off his chair. "I'll be waiting outside with Minerva and Kingsley for you to finish here." The professor looked up — literally, Liz was taller than him, it was weird — to give Liz an oddly grim, sharp smile. It was probably just supposed to be grim, all of Flitwick's expressions came out kind of sharp since he had pointed goblin teeth, couldn't help it. "Thank you, Miss Potter, for giving us a hand — or a tongue, as it were."

Liz felt her lips twitch, just a little. "It's no problem, sir. If my useless ability to talk to snakes is actually good for something, well, why not."

Flitwick chuckled a bit. "Yes, why not. See you in a moment, Miss Potter." He sent a nod over Liz's shoulder to Snape, and then walked out the door, pulling it closed behind him.

"Did you need something, Professor?" the Auror said, drawing Liz's attention back to him.

There was a slight shiver of amusement from Snape, no idea why. "Miss Potter requested I stand in as chaperone for the day — I'm sure you are aware young children are permitted to have a trusted adult on hand while interacting with law enforcement."

Or maybe Snape had been preemptively amused — an odd look crossed the Auror's face, but it came and went so quickly, Liz had no chance at all of interpreting it. And mind magic wasn't giving her any hints either, the Auror's mind was shut up even tighter than Vance's, smooth and cool and tingly, giving away absolutely nothing. Perhaps the best Liz had seen yet, even (though she didn't really meet that many magical adults these days).

Snape went on, a second shiver of suppressed laughter kept off his face and his voice. "Miss Potter, this is Britain's First Auror, Rufus Scrimgeour."

"Oh!" Both men gave her curious looks. "Sorry, I was just thinking you looked vaguely familiar. Emily Scrimgeour was Head Girl last year."

"Ah, yes, Emily is my niece. I didn't realise there was that much of a resemblance." Well, there wasn't really, Liz had barely noticed...

"And how is Aemilia these days?" Snape asked. "She has written me a few times since her graduation, but the topics we discuss in our correspondence are somewhat limited."

Scrimgeour scowled, just a bit — apparently he wasn't too happy to learn that. "I'm told her apprenticeship is proceeding apace, but her personal affairs...could be going smoother. She is being rather blatant with that Cormac girl. Lady Slughorn has complained about her behaviour no small number of times, it is growing quite tedious."

At Liz's confusion, Snape explained, "Aemilia has been betrothed to Gawain Slughorn for a few years now. Both parties did consent to the arrangement, but neither of them have been particularly pleased with it from the beginning."

Right, weird pureblood politics. She'd learned it wasn't unusual for the people from the fancy noble families to get engaged at fifteen or so, almost all of their marriages were arranged by the parents (and/or the lords of their houses) — though, that made it sound a little worse than it was, since both the boy and the girl had the right to refuse for any reason. But it still wasn't all that uncommon for a married couple to not like each other much, it was a business arrangement to these people more than anything.

Liz wasn't surprised Emily wasn't playing nice, really. It hadn't at all been a secret that Emily and Deirdre, one of the other seventh-year Slytherin girls, had been dating for the entirety of Liz's first year — it was so obvious even Hermione had noticed — and it was possible Emily only liked girls, Liz was aware from her eavesdropping that was a thing that could happen. That Cormac girl was probably Deirdre, Liz wasn't at all surprised that they'd stayed together after graduation.

But, she could also imagine the Slughorns might not be very happy with that, so, yeah.

By the increasing irritation on Scrimgeour's face, maybe the scowl earlier had been less about Snape writing his niece, and more about Emily making trouble. "Yes, well," he said, sighing. "Honestly, I'd rather the impudent little twit make up her mind one way or the other and get it over with, drawing this whole thing out is just pointlessly irritating.

"In any case, we're not here to discuss my brilliant but rebellious niece. Have a seat, Miss Potter," he said, nodding to one of the chairs. While Liz sat, Snape moving to loom silently off to the side — which was just a very Professor Snape thing to do, Liz thought — Scrimgeour pulled a clean sheet of parchment out of the pile, scribbled at the top a moment before pulling out his wand, casting some kind of charm on the quill. Glancing up over the rim of his spectacles at Liz, "Just to be very clear, Miss Potter, you are not suspected of any wrong-doing, but there are procedures that must be followed. All official informants — which is what the final record of this investigation will describe you as, in case that wasn't made clear — must be given a brief interview. That is what we are doing now. This quill will transcribe our words as we say them, verbatim. Before we start, any questions for me? Concerns?"

Liz shook her head. "No, I'm okay."

With a nod, Scrimgeour leaned back — he let go of the quill, but it remained standing on its own, started swishing across the page as he started speaking. "Mark tone red. This is First Auror Rufus Scrimgeour, conducting an informal interview with an on-site informant, Elizabeth Potter. Mark tone green." Scrimgeour gestured with an open hand, as though inviting her to say something.

Not that she had any bloody clue what she was supposed to be saying. "Er...yes?"

Apparently that was fine, because Scrimgeour just nodded. "Miss Potter is underage, and is accompanied by Severus Snape in lieu of a legal guardian. Mark tone black."

"Present." Oh, maybe that was what she'd been expected to say...

"For the record, you are Elizabeth Hazel Potter, only child of James Charlus, son of Charlus Bartimaeus, and Lily Irene Evans."

Well, Liz had no idea what her parents' middle names were, and she hadn't known her grandfather's name at all, but she could only assume that was correct. "Er, yes."

"Responses in the form of complete sentences are preferred, Miss Potter — they're less ambiguous and easier to translate if needed. The like of I am or that is correct would suit." Liz half-expected Scrimgeour to repeat the question, or prompt her to give an acceptable answer, but he moved on instead. "Your birthdate for the record, if you would."

Okay... "The Thirty-First of July, Nineteen Eighty."

"Which would make you twelve years of age at the present moment, correct?"


Scrimgeour nodded. "It is commonly believed you are a parselmouth."

"I am, yes."

"When did you first discover you are a parselmouth?"

She blinked — that was kind of a complicated question, actually. "Er, the beginning of first year, I guess? September, Ninety-One." At least, that was when she'd learned parselmouths were a thing. "But, I've talked to snakes before that, I just...forgot. Kind of."

One of the Auror's bushy eyebrows ticked up, a smile twitching at his lips. "You forgot?"

"Yeah, I mean, I didn't realise talking to snakes was a thing people did. I just thought I was imagining it or something. And it's not like it was interesting enough for me to, like, want to find snakes to talk to when I was little kid — snakes are really boring, you know, they mostly just talk about finding something to eat and how nice and warm the sun is. It wasn't until people overheard me doing it here that I learned it was a special magical talent or whatever." Which she still thought was silly, honestly, snakes were not that interesting.

(Oh, that had been...kind of babbly. She was blaming the calming potion.)

Snape was feeling one of those characteristically Snape-ish feelings, an exasperated sort of amusement; there was some kind of expression on Scrimgeour's face, staring at her over the rim of his spectacles, but Liz couldn't read it. "It is our understanding that amateur parselmouths often require an external trigger of some kind, ideally the presence of a living serpent. Is this your experience with it?"

"Um, no, I don't think so? I mean, I've never had trouble speaking it whenever I want." It'd been kind of awkward getting it to work at first, she'd had to, sort of...think snakey thoughts...though she wasn't sure how to explain what that meant, exactly. (She assumed it was a weird mind magic thing, those were always impossible to explain.) Once she'd gotten a feel for it, she could just choose to whenever she wanted, it wasn't difficult.

Scrimgeour nodded. "What do you know of the person or persons behind the petrification attacks here at Hogwarts over this academic year?"

So this lockdown was about that. Someone must have been killed, if the Aurors were here and everyone was being super serious about it. "I don't know who it is, if that's what you're asking."

"I was simply asking after your impression of these incidents. What patterns you might have noticed, what suspicions you might have."

"Oh. Well, whoever is doing it must be one of the older kids, maybe a NEWT student, or maybe a professor — they'd have to be to pull off a petrification serious enough it still hasn't been reversed, months later. And they don't like Dumbledore, that's all I got."

One of Scrimgeour's bushy eyebrows twitched. "How did you come to the conclusion the attacker dislikes Dumbledore?"

...Should she not have said that? She didn't realise until after it was already out of her mouth that claiming such a thing to the Aurors might make it sound like she actually knew something about the attacks, like the person doing them was talking to her or something. Oops. (She was blaming the calming potion again.) "Er, it was actually one of my friends who explained it to me, um.

"So, you've got Creevey, Brown, Diggory, and Carmichael. Creevey is a muggleborn, who Dumbledore claims to care about and be looking out for." Liz sort of doubted that, honestly, but that was beside the point. "Brown and Diggory are Ars Brittania families, they support Dumbledore in the Wizengamot, and the Carmichaels are Light, so them too. Attacking any student in the school would make Dumbledore look bad, especially when he can't stop the attacks from continuing or offer up a culprit, but targeting Dumbledore's allies, making Dumbledore fail to protect them in particular, just makes it worse. I think it's pretty obvious this is intended to hurt Dumbledore. Whoever was killed was probably from a Light family too."

A flash of...surprise, but almost angry surprise, burst out from Snape's direction. She glanced that way reflexively, almost missing Scrimgeour's eyebrows dip into a frown. "I didn't say anyone had died, Miss Potter."

...Oops. That probably sounded bad, didn't it? Maybe she had taken too big a sip. "Er, didn't they? I mean, I just assumed there must have been another attack, and that you're asking me about the petrifications kind of confirms it. The Aurors didn't show up for any of the other attacks, so I thought this one must be worse, and there's not a whole lot of room to escalate from petrification so bad nobody can reverse it for months." Really, the authorities should have been here checking this all out ages ago, Hermione and the other muggleborns were all astounded nobody had done anything. "The only thing I can think of that would call for Aurors and the emergency lockdown is a murder. Am I wrong?"

It was very subtle, it was hard to tell, but Liz thought Scrimgeour's expression might have shifted from suspicion to amusement, the corner of his lips twitching just a little. "Well reasoned, Miss Potter. You are not entirely wrong — we do suspect there has been a murder, though as we have not yet found the body nor the scene of the crime we cannot be certain. That is, in fact, what we would like your help with."

Did they think the crime scene was in one of those secret passages sealed with parseltongue passwords? There were dozens of the things all over the place, though Liz had kind of assumed they would let the professors through no matter what — Dumbledore, at least, it was his castle. "Okay."

"I must warn you, Miss Potter," the Auror said, his rumbly voice going low and...wary(?), "depending on how far it is on the other side of the door we'd like you to open, it is possible you will see the crime scene, however briefly."

...She had absolutely no idea how to read his tone. Or why this was something he felt he had to warn her about. "It's not going to be dangerous, is it?"

"It shouldn't be — we don't expect to find the perpetrator at the scene. But when the moment comes, there is no shame in feeling...unsettled, by the display."

Oh, was he worried he'd see a dead body and flip the fuck out or something? Like how some of her classmate got squeamish handling newts and salamanders and stuff in Potions? "No, don't worry, I won't make a fuss."

Apparently that wasn't as safe of a response as she'd thought it was, judging by how Snape's head was clanging with shock and exasperation and frustration, she could practically feel him pinching the bridge of his nose at her. But whatever it was she'd said wrong, Scrimgeour didn't react, just ticked an eyebrow up at her again and moved on. "Earlier, when you were describing possible motivations behind the attacks, you left out one victim. The wilderfolk woman — Norris, I believe her name was."

"Oh, um—" She nearly said Dorea's name, backtracking at the last instant. "—my friend thinks that one doesn't mean anything. You know, Norris was at the wrong place at the wrong time, that she caught whoever it was doing something suspicious, so they petrified her so she couldn't tell Filch."

Scrimgeour nodded. "What do you know of the Chamber of Secrets?"

"...That it's fictional?"

The Auror's lips twitched again. "You're certain of that."

"Well, isn't it? I mean, that's what I've heard, anyway, I don't actually know that much about it — history is really boring."

This time, Scrimgeour was amused enough he actually chuckled, his shaggy hair shifting a little as he shook his head. Leaning forward to pluck the quill off the page, he said, "All right, I think that should do." He scribbled on the page for a couple seconds, then turned the page around to face her, offering the quill. "If you would sign this, please. Say something before writing — it doesn't matter what, anything will do."

Liz took the quill, frowning at the page. It was a confusing mess, their conversation an unbroken block of text in red and green. The sentences weren't even broken up, just a stream of words without even any punctuation, save an occasional dash here and there. That seemed unnecessarily confusing. Toward the bottom of the page were a trio of lines, in little chicken-scratch under them marked interviewersubject, and witness — the interviewer one already had a signature in red above it that was just recognisable as Scrimgeour's name. Liz said, "Okay," the nib twitching against her fingers a little, before scrawling her name in green across the line marked subject. She turned the parchment toward Snape, handed over the quill, and he did the same, his name joining theirs in the same spiky hand she recognised from the marking on her Potions essays.

Scrimgeour gave the page a quick look, and then it was squirrelled away somewhere in the mess on the desk, and they were being led out of the little room again. (Liz noticed Scimgeour walked with a limp, leaning on a plain walking stick of rough iron — curse damage, she assumed, like Vance before.) McGonagall, Flitwick, and the two Aurors were still outside, though now they were joined by a few more Aurors, along with Dumbledore. As usual, he was dressed in his ridiculous clashing robes, this time in red and blue, the only sign of stress his long silvery hair looking somewhat more frazzled than usual.

Liz had been wondering when he would show up. There were police walking all over his school looking for what they suspected might be the scene of a murder, she would have expected to see the Headmaster earlier.

It looked like Dumbledore had been talking to the Aurors about something, but as soon as Scrimgeour stepped into the hall he turned to him. "You are not bringing Miss Potter down there."

Honestly, Liz was more amused by Dumbledore sticking his nose in than anything. Like he was an adult with actual authority over her she was obligated to listen to or something. She did cast her mind magic shield, though — she didn't bother drawing her wand, just focused very hard on what she wanted to happen, and hissed the incantation under her breath. Her entire body flared with hot tingles for a second — casting charms wandlessly was inefficient, she needed to throw much more power into it than she would with her wand — and the shield flickered into existence more reluctantly than usual, but it firmed up after a second. It cut off the faint wisps of feeling she was getting from all around her, so it was probably working just fine. She had to keep thinking about it to keep it up, but it took much less concentration to maintain it than cast it in the first place, not much worse than just remembering to hold onto something she was carrying. Nowhere near as bad as the juggling act she'd pulled off holding two of these on other people and getting into a mind magic fight with the Dark Lord possessing Quirrell a year back, she could probably hold this indefinitely.

A few of the adults around shot her a quick glance, probably felt something, but nobody really reacted beyond that.

Leaning against his walking stick, almost seeming to recline in mid-air, Scrimgeour raised a single bushy eyebrow at Dumbledore. "If you recall, Mister Dumbledore, you already consented to permit us to recruit assistance from among the students."

"At the time, you did not inform me who exactly you planned to recruit."

"Do you know of another parselmouth in the castle?"

Dumbledore was thrown off by the flat, almost mocking question, just for a second. "I assumed you perhaps knew something I didn't. It is not as though we make a point of testing every single student for such abilities, and parseltongue in particular is one many are likely to keep to themselves. I know for a fact there are other parselmouths in the country. It's quite common in the Greenwood, for example."

"We are not at the Greenwood. Lady Greengrass's eldest child is currently a student here but, even were she herself a parselmouth, it was my understanding she and Miss Potter are in the same year — I suspect you would find recruiting young Miss Greengrass equally objectionable, so I'm not certain why the existence of parselmouths in the Greenwood is at all relevant."

It could be her imagination (facial expressions were hard) but Dumbledore seemed slightly exasperated. "My thought was not to approach Miss Greengrass in particular, but that there might be parselmouths among the older students I am unaware of."

"There might well be, but as I and everyone I have asked are also unaware of any, Miss Potter was the only conveniently available option. Even should we call for a volunteer to assist us from outside of the castle — and we would be unlikely to find any, as publicly vilified as parselmouths are these days — the process of negotiating the terms of their assistance, just getting them here, could take hours. I was under the impression you wished to find your missing student as quickly as possible, out of hope she may yet live."

"By the same logic, I wish to avoid putting additional young children in potentially dangerous or traumatising situations."

Liz couldn't quite hold in a scoff. The adults all turned to look at her, their faces a mixture of...well, she wasn't sure what, exactly, but she felt the need to explain herself anyway. "God forbid I be put in a dangerous or traumatising situation. You realise the Defence Professor you hired nearly killed me last year? twice?" Granted, the first time didn't really count, she was pretty sure his mental attack had accidentally woken up the other piece of the Dark Lord she'd been carrying around somehow, but he'd still been mentally attacking her whenever he could get away with it — that Liz understood the logic of not doing anything about it, and that she might have done the same in his position, was beside the point. (Well, no, if she were Dumbledore, and firing Quirrell really weren't an option, she might have simply killed him, whatever.) And there was that thing with the troll, if Liz hadn't been able to just knock it right out with mind-control superpowers that could have gotten really bad. And some of the pranking and the like from some of the other kids in the first couple months...

Honestly, in some ways, she was actually less safe at Hogwarts than she'd been before. She did prefer this, just because it was more interesting here, there was neat magic to learn, she didn't have to see the Dursleys at all ever... But it was still silly to claim he acted to keep her away from dangerous or traumatising situations, was the point.

Expressions that were definitely surprise, and something rather worse than surprise (fear? no...), flickered across all the Auror's faces, every single one turned to give Dumbledore a variety of calculating glares, almost in unison. It was actually sort of funny — by the tiny little smirk curving Snape's lips, he thought so too. Something peculiar was showing on Dumbledore's face too, though Liz was completely hopeless to interpret it.

"In any case," Scrimgeour said, pulling himself back on topic with a shake of his head, "the situation has been explained to Miss Potter, and she has agreed to assist anyway. I don't see where the problem is here."

"Miss Potter is a child — she does not have the capacity to consent to such a thing on her own." Dumbledore wasn't looking at her, focused on Scrimgeour, so he probably completely missed her surly glare.

"No, but she's the only living member of her family, over the age of seven, and has no proximal guardian — she may not consent independently, but she may choose an advocate to legitimise any such decision she might make. Professor Snape has kindly agreed to act in that capacity on her behalf."

Dumbledore glanced at Snape, fury flickering over his face for just a second before vanishing again. "Miss Potter does have a proximal guardian."

A crooked smile pulling at her lips, Scrimgeour drawled, "Maybe you should touch up on your legal terminology, Chief Warlock. You may be her guarantor, but you are not her proximal guardian — you don't share a residence."

"She spends ten months out of the year here at Hogwarts."

"Oh, does she spend those months living with you in your apartments here, then? If so, I do apologise. I hadn't realised you two were so close."

Dumbledore's mouth opened, then closed a moment later without responding.

"This is a waste of time." Surprisingly, the interruption came from McGonagall — Liz had gotten the impression the stern Head of Gryffindor was one of Dumbledore's people, she'd never heard her say a single bad word about him before. "I don't like it any more than you, Albus, but standing around bickering isn't doing young Miss Weasley any favours. If Miss Potter is the only option we have on hand, well, we'll just have to live with that."

Wait. Miss Weasley? There were multiple Mister Weasleys, but Liz was pretty sure there was only one Miss Weasley. Not that Liz knew a damn thing about her — Dorea thought she was creepy, though she couldn't put her finger on why, and that was about it.

Dumbledore seemed even less happy with one of his people turning on him. "Miss Potter is not the only option, we—"

"She's already been down there for twelve hours, Albus. Do you want to be the one to explain to Arthur and Molly that we could have gotten to her earlier, but chose to delay a few hours more?"

A grimace crossed Dumbledore's face. "Fine. If I cannot convince any of you to change your minds, I suppose that's that. But I will not participate in this kind of reckless endangerment and exploitation of a child."

"This kind?" said one of the Aurors — Vance, Liz confirmed with a glance. There was an odd tone on her voice, something Liz couldn't quite read. An angry kind of surprise, maybe? "No, I guess hiring murderers and paedophiles on staff is more your speed, isn't it?"

Dumbledore shot Vance a betrayed sort of look, even more intense than the one he'd given McGonagall a moment ago. (Did they know each other somehow?) With a last glare at Scrimgeour and Snape, a lingering, inscrutable, twinkly-eyed stare at Liz, and the meddlesome old man spun on his heel and swished away down the hall.

After a brief discussion between the adults, they started off again, heading deeper into the dungeons. Or catacombs, as a couple of the purebloods in her year insisted — apparently, people used to be buried in the caves under the castle, expanded into artificial tunnels as they filled up, but they'd fallen out of use centuries ago. Though, after only descending a few levels, judged by the general stale dankness of the air, they were led around an unexpected turn deeper into the cliffside.

Most of the underground levels were relatively small, a band hugging the cliffs over the lake going down, eventually reaching the Slytherin dorms at the very bottom, well under the surface of the lake. (Though the stairs everyone took down were much shorter than they should be, space-bending effects skipping several levels in the space of a single flight.) Below the Potions department, most of that space was taken up by the old catacombs, which had become disconnected from any frequently-travelled hallways, Liz had never seen any of it.

The other subterranean levels were focused in a rather small area, under the Entrance Hall, the Great Hall, the Grand Staircase, and Helga's Gallery, which together sort of formed a big rectangle. (The last was said to be where Hufflepuff's whole clan had lived, though the rooms branching off of it had been converted into now-unused lecture halls and rooms for important guests in the centuries since — supposedly only the stonework in the Gallery itself remained from that time, weird and complicated but very pretty.) The Hufflepuff dorms were under the Gallery (probably connected to it originally), the kitchens under the Great Hall, and the elf warrens under the Entrance Hall and Grand Staircase, in a big sprawling network of passages which also included things like the laundry and food storage and the like. Elf spaces were closed to students, with the exception of the kitchens, so Liz didn't know where any of that was exactly, but that was where people believed they were, at least.

All that was only a couple levels deep. Below that was a single passage supposedly leading down to the wardstones, but otherwise nothing, dirt and bedrock.

So, Liz was rather surprised when, in a distant disused corner of the Potions department, down three or four levels, the Aurors took a turn that shouldn't exist, leading at an angle toward the Great Hall. But...there wasn't anything over here. Was there?

A brief walk down a featureless hallway brought them to a gallery Liz had never seen before. Their hallway came out onto a mezzanine, the wall to their right a granite darker than most of the castle, though faded and pocked with age, a railing along the ledge to their left made of pale stone and silver twisting together in asymmetrical, sinuous patterns, the silver tarnished in places, a few gaps in the railing, where the materials had crumbled or...


As they walked on, Liz drifted a little closer to the railing, looking into the gallery. It was...well, it was a mess. She could tell it had been like a couple other galleries in the castle — originally sort of common rooms, sitting areas people could socialise in, the doors leading into more private living spaces, most of which had since been converted into classrooms, the furniture and such all cleared away — but this one had clearly been out of use for some time...but not just because people had forgotten about it. The furniture was still there, or at least remains of it, bits of wood and cloth and feathers flung all over the place, dried and half-rotted, in some places visibly blackened from fire. All over the place, holes had been blasted into the stone of the gallery, floors and walls and even the vaulted ceiling above — which had illuminating enchantments worked into it, the damage done to it reducing the room to a wan half-light — the faded and cracked ceramic tiles that had probably been mosaics once upon a time scattered all over the floor, the faded remains of tapestries sliced apart and half-burnt. The mezzanine on the opposite side of the room had even partially collapsed, a pile of rubble entirely blocking two doorways and extending a third of the way across the wide floor. And, the craters blasted into things looked kind of...odd, the stone at their hearts twisted in unnatural shapes, as though they'd been half-melted and allowed to cool again.

There had been a battle here, Liz realised. A magical battle, between two groups of very dangerous mages — centuries ago, it looked like, and nobody had bothered to clean the place up since. "Where are we?"

"Do keep up, Miss Potter," said Snape. Liz jumped, glanced up to realise she'd started falling behind, slowing down too much looking around. Once she was moving again, Snape said, "I cannot claim to know for certain precisely where we are, but I suspect the Aurors have managed to rediscover the lost sanctum of Ignatius Gaunt."

Liz blinked. He meant the Dark Lord, who'd ruled from Hogwarts at some point during the Middle Ages? the same one the myth about Slytherin and Gryffindor getting into a fight about muggleborns originally came from? "I didn't realise his stuff was lost. I figured he just lived in the Headmaster's tower or something."

"The Headmaster's tower did not exist then — Hogwarts has changed much over the centuries, and Ignatius Gaunt lived a very long time ago. I believe the Headmaster's tower was added to the castle in...the Eighteenth Century?" he finished, turning to Flitwick.

The tiny Charms Professor — looking much less cheerful than usual, but still practically bouncing on the balls of his feet, just with anxiety instead — nodded. "It was finished in Seventeen Twenty-Six, I believe. Though it wasn't the Headmaster's residence then — it was originally intended as a library and study space to be shared between the staff, where they could discuss their own academic interests and store volumes unsuitable for the eyes of the students. It only became the Headmaster's residence in...oh, Dexter Fortescue's time, I think. The volumes kept there were moved to the Restricted Section, and today's staff lounge was outfitted to replace it."

Snape gave a slow nod to the overlong explanation. (If he was feeling irritated with Flitwick providing far more information than had been necessary, it didn't show.) "While Hogwarts's function as a school did continue under Gaunt — though attendance declined drastically, of course — he and his people are known to have lived under the castle, not within it. In the aftermath of his defeat, the victors enticed the ancient wards of Hogwarts to isolate these rooms. The entrances to them were not destroyed, but the internal geography of the castle was altered so as to make those entrances impossible to reach.

"Light your wand, Miss Potter, and watch your step."

At the middle of the mezzanine was a pair of thin spiral staircases leading down to the gallery floor. They'd probably been very pretty once, white granite lined with silver, but they'd clearly been hit in the battle and suffered through the years, now rather frail-looking, holes here and there and some of the stairs askew. Liz did as Snape suggested, holding her wand in her off hand so she could keep the other on the railing, shining the light down on the next step before taking each one. "How are we here then, if the castle sealed it away?"

"If the Aurors weren't searching for Miss Weasley, we wouldn't be. Their tracking spells led them to an innocuous corner on the lower levels — even if they couldn't see it, they knew there must be a passage hidden there. They levered the way open with a clever bit of cursebreaking. I'm not surprised you didn't notice the ward gate we passed through some time ago, it's quite subtle."

"That is the point, Severus." Focused on the stairs, Liz missed which Auror that was.

Snape gave a sort of acknowledging shrug, so presumably that made sense to someone who knew how what they'd done worked. "It was very difficult work — it took hours for them to manage it, even with the assistance of all the Professors with applicable skills and the Headmaster himself."

Oh. Neat.

Bouncing his way down the stairs nearby, Flitwick said, "We'll have to get some historians and the like in here to take a poke around. Who knows what Gwenffrewi's people left behind? This place has been left practically undisturbed in all that time, it's just fascinating."

Gwenffrewi of Aberdyfi, he meant, the witch who'd put together the alliance which finally managed to kill Gaunt — she'd been a Black, actually, Dorea had said she'd found the famous historical figure's memorial at one of the family mausoleums on the grounds around Ancient House. (Apparently there were several, the House of Black was very old and had once had hundreds of members at a time.)

Liz belatedly realised some of her distant ancestors had certainly participated in the battle that had so badly wrecked this place, nearly seven hundred years ago. She didn't really care, it was just an odd thought.

McGonagall, a couple steps ahead of Liz, huffed. "Perhaps try to contain your excitement, Filius. I don't want any of the students poking around this place unsupervised."

"Well, the ward gate would have to be altered to keep out anyone who doesn't have approval to be here, obviously — both to prevent interference in the work to be done here and any unfortunate accidents. And it is a tragedy the circumstances that led to this discovery, of course it is, Minerva, don't give me that look! But now that the discovery has been made, the opportunity shouldn't be squandered!"

There was another huff, but McGonagall didn't say anything more.

They were picking across the floor now, their group weaving between the craters blasted into the stone, heading toward one end of the hall. The door was taller than the rest, the arch over it peaked — there must have been fancy designs around the rim, but the silver had been half melted off, little pools of the metal solidified on the floor on both sides of the door (probably where a shield charm of some kind had redirected the drippings). One of the Aurors, she confirmed it was Vance with a quick glance her way, said, "What I want to know is how Weasley even found this place to begin with."

"We don't know she did, Emma," McGonagall snapped. "Most like whoever is responsible for those petrifications dragged her down here — unless you believe she's responsible for those too."

"Woah, Minnie, don't bite my head off. How our unidentified perpetrator found the place, then."

"A secret passage sealed with parseltongue, perhaps?" Filius suggested. "We know such passages exist in the main body of the castle, it's not impossible one or even several ultimately lead down here somewhere."

Another Auror, one Liz hadn't been introduced to, let out a groan. "Oh, please keep that idea to yourself. Amelia will want us to try to map them, and I'm pretty sure that's impossible."

Through the ruined door was a short hallway, leading to another hall, this one smaller and more square — and even more trashed by spell damage and filled with debris than the last. Halfway across the room, the toe of Liz's boot hit something, sending it skittering across the broken tile. After a moment searching, she managed to spot it: an arrowhead. It was obviously very old, the metal rusted and misshapen, but that's what it looked like. Apparently the fight here hadn't been just mages.

Or, maybe the person who'd shot that had been a mage. She knew it hadn't been unusual, once upon a time, for mages to carry swords and the like, it was possible some mages had used bows too — especially if they just couldn't afford a wand, that would make sense. You could probably enchant arrows to do all kinds of nasty things, and that didn't require a wand at all.

Through another door that looked like it had once been very fancy was another gallery, this one even bigger than the first one. The place was a total mess of course, the damage bad enough half of both mezzanines were gone, some of the walls were collapsed, revealing shadowy glimpses of the side rooms beyond, the floor in places completely hidden by scattered rubble. There had obviously been carvings and mosaics on the walls, and probably the floor, but most of them had been destroyed, she could only make out patches of them.

The clearest was above the exit on the opposite side — though this door had also taken damage, chunks of the wall taken out, the shape of the high arch almost completely gone. (Some of the chunks taken out of it were weirdly smooth, without the jagged edges most of the wreckage had — transfiguration, maybe?) A much larger than life-size human figure was carved into the plain dark stone, dressed in armor covered with a cloak, arms spread, palms open at either side. Some of the details had been worn off due to errant spells and neglect, but there were some twisting patterns in the figure's armour Liz suspected was writing of some kind, a trio of serpents curling around his feet and up his legs. That was probably supposed to be Ignatius Gaunt.

But surprisingly, it wasn't entirely old, it looked like someone had recently done spellwork on it. The carving was illuminated with a harsh white glow, an odd, sparkling fog spilling out from the mouth, one hand turned into gleaming gold, the other coloured black. Long rivulets of a red liquid were streaming from the black hand, running down the wall toward the floor — blood, it looked like.

Snape must have noticed Liz was staring at it. "It would appear our unidentified culprit holds no affection for the long-dead Dark Lord. An oft-quoted poem from Gaunt's time describes him as speaking only in glittering deception, offering wealth and power with his right hand while spreading death and chaos with his left."

...Kind of melodramatic, but okay.

Through the broken archway was a much smaller room. There was more rubble on the floor, mostly to the sides, but the path down the middle was cleared. The door on the other side had little pock marks here and there, a few lines from errant cutting curses, but was largely intact. A tall double door made of white stone, the frame had carved into it two thick green-black snakes, their backs patched with squares gleaming orange and gold, in places actually lifting away from the underlying stone a bit, weaving back and forth from the floor up to the middle of the arch, their noses nearly touching, pointing down at people approaching the door. There was a third snake with the same colouring, curved into a figure-eight and biting its own tail, painted onto the surface of the door itself. Well, it didn't look like paint, exactly, more like that was just what the colour of the stone was supposed to be, but it definitely wasn't natural.

"Okay, Miss Potter," Scrimgeour said, lurching to a stop, a couple metres away from the door and a few steps to the right. The Aurors continued past him to bunch up on either side of the door, Flitwick joining them to the left (at the front, so they could aim over his head) and McGonagall to the right. "We suspect the enchantments on the door are tuned to receive inputs from only a specific direction — to prevent anyone speaking parseltongue elsewhere nearby from opening the door by accident, I would assume.

"You can't see it very well anymore, but it appears there's a pattern in the floor tiles centring on this spot." He was pointing at the floor not far from his own feet, which, yeah, that one spot didn't look any different from any other to Liz, the floor was too broken, the ceramic fire-blackened. They probably knew what they were talking about though, so Liz stepped right up where he was pointing anyway. "Hold a second, Miss Potter. We believe Gaunt's throneroom is somewhere on the other side of this door, but we don't know what we'll find there. Defences from Gaunt's time were most likely dismantled, but the culprit himself might well still be there, or he could have left surprises for us. It is possible there will be more passages sealed with parseltongue we'll need assistance to get through. But we won't have had the opportunity to clear the area first, so it may well be more dangerous. If you'd prefer to stay behind and wait for us to secure the area, no one would think the lesser of you for it."

It took Liz a second to realise he was asking her to agree to help again. That was silly, but okay. "That's fine, Sir, I can keep going." Besides, with like a dozen trained battlemages itching to curse whoever might jump out at them, she was pretty sure this was the safest place for her to be in the entire castle right now.

(The thought occurred to her that being surrounded by a dozen trained battlemages was, in fact, a very unsafe place to be, she grit her teeth and squashed it as well as she could. If she wasn't still slightly numb from that calming potion earlier that would probably be a lot harder.)

McGonagall and a couple of the Aurors looked less than pleased with a little twelve-year-old girl agreeing to walk into a possibly dangerous situation with them, but Scrimgeour just nodded. "Thank you, Miss Potter. We'll be going inside first. If you would please keep well behind us, and—" Scrimgeour glanced away, in the direction Liz could feel Snape was standing, a faint frown creasing his forehead for a second. "—stick close to Professor Snape. Understood?"

"Yes, Sir. Should I open the door now?"

Scrimgeour nodded, waving her on with a sweeping gesture of his open hand. Though that hand wasn't open a second later, his wand appearing in it and fixing on the door like everyone else.

Okay, then. Liz looked up at the pair of snake heads over the door which, standing here, were more or less facing her — their line of sight was somewhat over her head, but that was probably just because she was so very short. A quick second of concentration to get her magic flowing right, and she hissed, «Open.»

There was a faint shiver of magic on the air, and the snake painted on the door moved. It let go of its tail, the head twisting over itself and around, the tangle uncoiling as it went. After making a whole circle, its head moved toward the bottom right of the door, and then—

Everybody jumped, wands whipping over to point at the head of the snake, as it somehow lifted out of the door, as though swimming out of a puddle, but it didn't move toward any of them, instead starting up the side of the arch. It wove itself around the snake already there, stone scales rubbing against each other with a high grinding noise, until it came to the top. It passed the centre of the arch, looped around the other snake framing the door once, just under its head, then came back around, laying its head on top of the other two, looking down at Liz. And then, in a blink, all hint of motion stopped, the snake that had appeared nothing but a design on a flat surface now a three-dimensional statute, as still and solid-looking as the others.

Liz couldn't decide if that was kind of cool or just vaguely creepy.

With a flick of Scrimgeour's wand, the now-undecorated doors creaked open, the passage beyond shadowy and silent. The Aurors paused a moment, as though waiting for someone to attack them, before slipping inside two by two. Liz waited until they were all through, a couple seconds more, and then started in after them, Snape bringing up the rear behind her, his mind still and cold and watchful.

Through the door was a brief hallway, coming to a staircase after less than ten metres, the walls and ceiling falling away as she descended. This place looked very much like a natural cave, the walls and ceiling rough and plain, natural-looking. Only the floor seemed to have been worked on, but even that not entirely, rising and falling here and there, just smoothed out a bit so nobody went tripping over it. Or, at least, some of it was smoothed out, because the battle had continued down here too, the lights from the Auror's wands throwing crazy shadows in all direction from both bits of rubble and natural curves to the stone. Liz assumed the defenders had been thinned out a bit by this point, or had retreated somewhere further inside, because the battle damage was rather less than in the previous rooms — there had still been a fight here, yes, the place just wasn't completely ruined.

They slowly made their way through the caves, the air thick with what Liz assumed to be detection charms, the lights from their wands constantly swinging back and forth in the darkness starting to give Liz a headache after a while. Each time they came to a side passage or a turn or whatever, they would pause a moment, one of the Aurors doing...something. Whatever it was, it didn't involve using his wand — must be some kind of old witchcraft, presumably the tracking spell they were using to find Weasley. The paths they didn't take, Flitwick would stay behind for a moment, after a bit of casting and scratching into the walls with a knife the side passages were covered with shimmering blue-green barriers, so thick they looked almost solid.

Isolation wards, Snape explained when she asked, they were sealing off the side passages so no one could sneak up behind them — it would take even the best cursebreakers at least a couple minutes to get through those, and Flitwick would feel it if someone tried. Good thinking.

Their careful walk through the caves probably took several minutes, finally coming to another door. At least, Liz assumed it was a door. It sort of looked like the stonework in Helga's Gallery — a whole bunch of twisting tubes of stone, tangled together into an asymmetrical, confusing (but pretty) mess. But while those were supposed to be the roots (branches?) of a great tree — obvious by how they twisted around and split up and joined together, little figures of birds or squirrels or deer or wolves or even dragons poking out of them here and there — these were snakes, dozens and dozens of them. Curving, sinuous shapes, twisting under and above and around each other so much it was impossible to follow one from tail to head, so dense Liz couldn't see the wall behind them.

The battle damage here was much worse, walls blown apart into a craggy mess, the ceiling even collapsed a bit down that way, rubble all over the place, patches turned weirdly smooth and smeared, stone melted and resolidified, bits of metal and ancient leather, shattered weapons and armour. Not far from the door was a scattered line of bones, all the flesh long ago rotted off. For a moment, Liz couldn't make sense of the pile of cracked and scattered fragments, before realising it was the skeleton of a snake — a huge snake, the thing probably could have snapped Liz up and swallowed her whole. Though, there were teeth in its jaws, like a whole set of them, which was weird, because snakes didn't really have teeth, but she didn't see any long bones that might be limbs, so.

Pointing at the skull (the top toward the front cracked and smashed in a little, probably from the killing blow), the tall, dark-skinned Auror said that was a basilisk, even in a mutter his low voice booming in the cave. Liz didn't know what a basilisk was, but by how everyone around her tensed, their minds sparking with anxiety, she was going to guess they weren't easy to deal with.

Also, this was the first place in the caves that had light other than the Auror's wands, but not any normal lighting — whoever had been in here recently had cast an illusion around the door, still lines of orange and red not-fire twisted into the shape of words.

Here within lies the final Fate of Hubris
The Throne made Tomb of a Deceiver King

Again, overdramatic, but okay. She guessed Snape wasn't wrong about their culprit not liking Ignatius Gaunt much.

Though, when she thought about it, it was possible it was an extension of anti-Voldemort stuff — given the obsession with snakes and Slytherin and muggles both Gaunt and the more recent Dark Lord had, they seemed pretty similar to Liz. The major difference, so far as she could tell, was that Gaunt had been much better at the Dark Lord thing. She meant, he'd actually managed to take over much of Scotland and parts of Ireland and a bunch of the smaller islands here and there, and even ruled them for decades, their Dark Lord that everyone was so afraid of they couldn't even speak his name hadn't been nearly as successful.

But that wasn't really important right now. The Aurors were casting more detection charms, Flitwick sealing off more side passages, the whole process taking up a couple more minutes before they were ready for Liz to open the door. Snape conjured something and tossed it to her, big safety glasses like scientists in Dudley's television programmes wore sometimes but with an odd orangish tint. Liz put them on before Snape could explain why. (She trusted him enough to assume there must be a good reason.) Again, the Aurors with Flitwick and McGonagall lined up on both sides, this time Snape standing halfway in front of her, to her left across from Scrimgeour on her right, his wand loosely held in one hand at his side — thanks to the dueling book Dorea had given her, Liz instantly recognised it as a defensive stance, prepared to throw up a shield charm if necessary.

When she told this door to «open», it sort of did the opposite of the other one. The stone serpents jerked into motion all at once, smooth and twisting, the animation charms so good it was almost hard to remember they weren't real snakes. (The tangled mess of them all twisted up in each other moving around made her feel slightly nauseous for some reason.) After a couple seconds, the heads of the snakes started diving into the stone around them, colouring the floor and walls and ceiling, the now two-dimensional figures with the same orange and gold squares on their backs, but their bodies turning an almost glowing white, glittering in places like silver set into the stone. They twisted themselves around the entrance, forming a wreath of twining serpents, the whole ring seeming to slowly rotate clockwise until the entrance cleared entirely, all the snakes vanished into the stone, the design abruptly locking into stillness.

Flitwick darted inside in a blink, half of the Aurors zipping in right on his heels — they moved so unnaturally fast their forms seemed to stretch a little behind them, probably doing that quick-step thing Liz definitely needed to learn one day. The rest of them slipped in at a more human speed, but still fast, Scrimgeour hardly seeming slowed down by his limp at all. Snape held back a little, briefly hesitating in the middle of the threshold.

From inside, Liz heard a sudden, high shout of, "Basilisk!" Snape moved instantly, one foot slipping back against the stone, his wand swishing up, a dense shield snapping into existence with a shimmer of magic, powerful enough and dark enough Liz could feel it from here as a cool, tingling breeze against her skin. The shield was made of interlocked polygonal panels, the surfaces solid black but glowing red where they joined, entirely sealing off the entrance into the chamber beyond, Liz couldn't see in at all.

"It's dead," someone said, the voice turned muffled and wavering by Snape's shield charm. "False alarm, all clear."

"Confirm all clear." That sounded like Scrimgeour, she thought.

"Beings clear."

"Creatures clear."

"Curses clear, tentative."

"My own scan for curses came up clean as well." That one was definitely Flitwick, his high, squeaky, energetic voice was very distinctive. "I think we're all good here, Rufus."

"Agreed. Aurors, proceed by trios, scan for curses and ambushers, hostage is list one, go."

Snape dropped his solid shield charm and started in after the others, rather more slowly than they had, but still with enough of his trademark sharp quickness that his robes dramatically billowed out behind him. (Their Head of House really was quite silly sometimes, though nobody was brave enough to say so to his face.) After a brief moment of indecision, Liz followed.

The chamber on the other side of the door made of snakes was perhaps the largest they'd found yet — larger even than that enormous gallery just before the caves, but perhaps the most plain of the finished rooms. The greyish stone of the hall was simple and undecorated, everything square and regular and colourless. It looked like the place was much longer than it was wide, in rows on both sides thick, triangular pillars reaching up toward the distant, shadowy ceiling, twining up each pillar a thick-bodied snake, their heads turned to look down on the people walking past from eight metres over their heads, sightless eyes gleaming like emeralds. Tucked just under the snakes' heads were lanterns, twisting silver clutching enchanted crystal giving off a thin, yellowish-green light — nowhere near enough light, the ceiling and the end of the room ahead of them vanishing into darkness, though whether they had been designed that way on purpose or if the spells had just weakened with time Liz couldn't guess.

Straight ahead, only a couple pillars away from the entrance, was, quite simply, the single largest living thing Liz had ever seen. So large it took Liz a moment, frozen a few steps into the hall, to process exactly what she was looking at. A serpent, she was looking at its back, what would be the top if it were lying flat on its belly, curving away from her in both directions, she couldn't make out the tip of the tail or the head from here. The scales were a deep, vibrant green, like leaves on a cloudy day, getting darker the closer to the centre they got, the spines lifting off the surface in the middle taking a darker, almost violet hue.

Oh, also? Lying on its side, the monstrous snake was taller than she was, blocking her view of most of the room beyond it. Making a guess on how long it should be, assuming the proportions were similar to normal snakes, it must... Just, that was...big, it was big.

This shouldn't be possible. Even dragons weren't this big, just, honestly, what the fuck...

(She was definitely looking up what the fuck a basilisk was later.)

Liz jerked herself out of her shock after a moment, started trailing after the adults — curving around the basilisk to the right, the direction she noticed Flitwick and Snape were both going. The enormous hall was, just, unnaturally still and empty, their footsteps and even their breathing creating echoes, the low murmur filling the hall only making the place seem all the more barren. In the alcoves beyond the pillars there was just more nothing, the shadows so thick they almost seemed solid. Liz had the paranoid thought that anything could be hiding in there and she wouldn't see it coming, but no, the Aurors must be casting presence-revealing spells, and those were based in soul magic, literally impossible to block. It was fine, they were fine.

From ahead, emanating from multiple minds at once, was a sudden storm of emotion. Tension, shock, and then a grim sort of...she wasn't certain what, exactly. She heard some muttering, cursing, through the echoes the only one she caught clearly from Vance, a thick groan of Mother Mercy. (Liz was aware that was a reference to a goddess some of the more traditional mages still worshipped, but she knew practically nothing about any of that, not even what the proper name was.) They'd clearly found something up there. Liz slipped further up, coming around the curve of the basilisk, angling more toward the pillars so she could catch a glimpse between the adults.

When she made it out, she came to a halt, frozen staring at the figure laid out on the ground. A girl, dressed in flannel trousers and a sleeveless blouse (the kind meant to be worn under robes), red hair fanning across the stone of the floor around her head, pale and still.

The girl was clearly dead.

Liz didn't have to get closer to see that, or even reach out to feel the presence (absence) of her mind — all the blood was a pretty damn good hint. It was hard to see much from here, Liz was looking in from the direction of her right shoulder at a shallow angle, but she could see the tail end of a wicked slice carved into her throat, any details hidden by a thick mass of blood, streaks running high over her chest, down the side of her neck, pooling on the floor under her. The blood was darkened, congealed, dried.

They'd come far too late — Weasley must have been dead for hours already.

After a couple seconds, Liz spotted on the ground next to her a knife — the one-sided blade narrow and sharp, gleaming in the thin light, a silver potions knife — smeared with dried blood, the girl's hand lying limp nearby. She must have cut her throat herself.

Either that, or someone had made her do it. Liz could probably do this to someone, if she wanted to.

After all, she could have made Vernon blow his own head off. Making someone do something against their interest, making them hurt themselves, that did take a lot more effort than just making them ignore her. It was more difficult, but it wasn't impossible.

And she wasn't the only one who could do it. There were other mind mages out there, though they were rather rare — if they were common, Liz suspected they teach occlumency to everyone as soon as possible. Some of the more paranoid noble families apparently did it as a matter of course, but it didn't seem like most of the Hogwarts students knew much at all. The only actual mind mages she'd met so far, she thought, were Snape and the Dark Lord himself.

The third was that girl, Tamsyn, just this morning.

Things are about to become...complicated, in the morning. I can't linger here long.

Liz frowned, staring thoughtfully at the dead girl lying on the floor. Aurors flitting around brought Weasley in and out of sight, but the colours were so sharp and deeply contrasting Liz could never miss it, her skin an unnaturally pure white, hair a brilliant orange, streams and pools of blood a rusty brownish-red.

She was having the uncomfortable suspicion that the creepy older girl who'd broken into her room in the dead of night was responsible for this.

Not that she had particularly air-tight reasons for thinking so. The intruder had clearly known quite a bit about the Dark Arts — she'd known not only that the magics described in the books Liz had borrowed from Snape were illegal, but exactly how illegal they were, which even Liz could hardly keep straight most of the time. (Snape usually only said something was illegal, to be careful who she let know about it, and very careful if something happened to be Category IV, he was never more specific than that.) And she was a mind mage, one more experienced than Liz — she had no idea how she'd caught Liz's attack like that, that had been bloody weird.

Slitting your own throat was...more drawn out and visceral than shooting yourself in the head. Liz definitely could have made Vernon shoot himself, but this... She could do it, she thought, but it would depend on the person, how good they were at resisting compulsions. It would definitely be much more difficult, though, was the point. It might have been a challenge for Liz, but that Tamsyn, she could certainly pull it off easier than Liz could.

So, she was capable, Liz thought. And she'd known something was about to happen, she'd explicitly said as much.

But...why? Why kill some random first-year? That was the thing Liz didn't get.

Not that Liz really thought her own inability to answer that question meant there wasn't an answer. Someone had done it, there must have been a reason. Ritual magic, perhaps — she hadn't looked into sacrificial exchange really at all, sympathetic ritual was easier and safer and much less illegal, but she knew there were all kinds of things you could do with it. She also assumed there must be a reason people didn't do it so much anymore (besides the being illegal part, she meant), so maybe a risky thing to do, but. Weasley was just some girl, Liz doubted anybody cared about her enough to murder her, it must have been a sacrificial ritual of some kind. That was the only thing she could think of that made any sense.

But, none of that was really important, when she thought about it. Distantly interesting, she guessed, but she had something more pressing she had to worry about, right now.

Should she tell someone about Tamsyn?

"Potter!" She twitched at the (anxious?) call of her name, glanced away from the dead girl. One of the Aurors, Vance, was making toward her, an expression on her face Liz couldn't hope to read. But she didn't really need to, Vance's occlumency had broken with the shock of finding the little Weasley, projecting all over the place, frustration and pain and... Liz wasn't certain what that was, actually. Something unpleasantly tingly and mushy, sort of like the concern for Liz Dorea let slip sometimes — Dorea was perfectly aware Liz neither wanted nor really understood her more...soppy moments, so tried to avoid feeling like that in Liz's presence as much as possible. Those things were always just...uncomfortable.

Feelings people had that were targeted at her always felt more immediate, and Liz knew what to do with anger or hatred or fear or whatever, she was accustomed to those, but the softer things, she had only seen those being aimed at other people (Dudley, mostly), and when they were pointed at her, tingling and clinging... (Like Dorea's eyes crawling on her skin like ants, but inside, it was impossible to escape, and just uncomfortable.) She knew these things weren't bad, of course, she accepted that they were friends and that friends gave a damn about each other, and that was just what that felt like. But it always made her feel...unnervingly observed, exposed, she never knew what to do when Dorea (or Hermione or Daphne) was feeling at her like that.

But there was no reason for Vance to be doing it — they didn't know each other at all, they'd just met today! That just made it extra unnerving, Liz couldn't help cringing away from the Auror's gaze a little. Even through the lingering effects of the calming potion earlier, uncomfortable tingles started running along the back of her neck, she had to take a little extra effort to keep breathing normal.

Thankfully, before Vance could take more than a dozen steps toward her Snape was there, his hand coming down on Vance's shoulder. He leaned in, muttered something to the Auror. There was an odd lurch in Vance's head, Liz wasn't looking close enough to pick out what it was (having retreated instinctively from the unwanted feelings trying to cling at her), before she abruptly stopped projecting, her very solid occlumency (mostly) back in place. And then Vance was turning around, moving to rejoin the other Aurors, Snape approaching her instead.

Once he was within a few steps, his head tilted, indicating the way they'd come. "You have done your part, Miss Potter. Let us leave the Aurors to their work." He vanished the glasses still on her face with a flick of his fingers, then turned on his heel, his robes dramatically swishing about him, and started back toward the entrance without waiting for a response.

She followed immediately — she'd rather not be left in here with a bunch of magic police without Snape around.

Snape was also broadcasting rather more clearly than usual, but he wasn't feeling anything nearly so uncomfortable and confusing as Vance. He was angry, that same cold, deadly rage Snape got on those rare occasions when he'd been pushed past merely irritated. Though, it wasn't quite the same as when Liz had brought Tracey to him. Less sharp, more...unfocused.

Which made sense, when Liz thought about it. Fucking with his students was clearly the thing that could easily make Snape downright homicidal, but Weasley was a Gryffindor — all the Hogwarts students were his business, but the Slytherins were under his protection far more directly. He was still angry, but it was a less personal anger.

(If she were being perfectly honest, Liz still found how much some of the professors obviously cared about what happened to the kids here rather baffling, but she didn't need to understand it to know it was a thing.)

Trailing along behind Snape, she took a last glance toward Weasley over her shoulder. She hadn't been able to see it before, too many Aurors in the way, but there were words written on the floor, in an arc over Weasley's head, in what looked to be her own blood. (Probably done by whoever had killed her after her death — the only obvious wound Liz could see was the one across her neck, and that would have killed her too quickly to write this.) Liz was at an awkward angle, looking at it from a distance and upside down and backward, it took her a moment to figure out what it said.


...Okay, then.

Dorea argued the petrifications weren't really about who was being petrified, that the real target of the thing was Dumbledore — was this the same thing here? All the Weasleys at the school were Gryffindors, their family were known to be very close political allies of Dumbledore's. Supposedly, their father held some kind of post in the Ministry — something to do with trade with the non-magical world, Liz wasn't certain exactly — and was thought by most people she'd heard talk (or think) about it to be pretty much in Dumbledore's pocket. Both of their parents were even suspected members of Dumbledore's vigilante group that everybody knew had existed in the last war, though the existence of which had never officially been confirmed (politics). Of course, Liz's parents had also been in it, and Dorea's father she'd never met, and also both of Neville's parents, apparently, and Snape had been their spy in the Death Eaters — or the Death Eaters' spy among Dumbledore's people, depending on who you asked — so that wasn't really unique, but.

If whoever had killed Weasley (maybe Tamsyn) had been doing some kind of ritual sacrifice thing, perhaps at least part of the reason they'd chosen Weasley in the first place was as a shot at Dumbledore. Which would suggest the same person (maybe Tamsyn) was also responsible for the petrifications.

So...should she tell someone about Tamsyn?

She didn't really think she had to. For one thing, she was certain Tamsyn was already long gone. She'd probably covered her tracks well enough nobody would be able to find her anyway. Assuming Tamsyn wasn't a huge idiot — which, she'd clearly known a fair bit about the Dark Arts, so that seemed a fair bet — she had to know enough concealment and anti-tracking magics that they'd never be able to find her. Unless she'd left, like, hair or blood or something behind, but given she did know a fair bit about the Dark Arts, she'd know she shouldn't, so.

...Unless she'd left hair behind in Liz's room — she might not have bothered cleaning up after herself there. But, Liz didn't want Aurors tromping around in her room any more than she'd wanted a scarily-powerful mind mage breaking in. So...

And besides, if she did tell someone about Tamsyn, she'd probably be interviewed by Scrimgeour again, this time about what had happened this morning. And she didn't want to do that. Not only because she just didn't want to talk about it at all, the things Tamsyn had babbled at her about didn't reflect very well on Liz. She kind of had the feeling that, if she did tell the Aurors about it, she'd kind of be incriminating herself. And that just seemed like a stupid thing to do.

Besides, as threatening as it had felt at the time, Tamsyn hadn't hurt her, or even tried to (even after demonstrating she could have, easily). In fact, she'd said the entire reason she'd broken into Liz's room in the first place had been to explain that she... Well, to paraphrase what Tamsyn had said, that she considered her more a natural ally than an enemy. Liz still wasn't certain what to think about that — it had sounded like Tamsyn believed there to be an obvious reason they should be considered enemies, but Liz had no bloody clue who Tamsyn was, so — but she didn't have to understand why Tamsyn had said it to be almost certain she hadn't been lying when she had.

(She rarely understood why people did things, but her own lack of understanding didn't stop people from doing as they did.)

She was pretty sure, by any reasonable standard, that telling the Aurors about her suspicions would make her and Tamsyn enemies.

Liz did not want to be her enemy. She didn't really want to be her anything, really, but she certainly didn't want to give her a good reason to come back and do something worse to Liz than being intimidating and confusing at her.

She knew it was probably the correct thing, the thing she was supposed to do. But the more she thought about it, the more and more certain she felt that she didn't want to.

Hermione and Dorea would be very irritated with her, she knew. And Snape too, actually — mysterious girls breaking into her room in the middle of the night after maybe murdering someone was probably included in problems she can't handle on her own she'd promised him she'd come to him about last summer.

Which just meant she couldn't tell them about it either.


Liz twitched, looked up at Snape, looming over her to her right. She'd been following him without thinking, they were out in the caves again — she couldn't say how far through them they were, she hadn't been paying enough attention. "What?"

He wasn't looking directly at her, had that odd, delicate sense about him, as he often did in those very uncomfortable talks they had in his office every few months. (Careful, as though brewing a volatile potion that might explode if he handled it too roughly.) "Are you all right?"

She tried not to frown — he hadn't picked any of that up, had he? She hadn't felt him prying, but she didn't need to look very far in to get a lot from people sometimes. It wasn't like she could feel herself from the outside, she really had no idea how much she was projecting for any other mind mage to listen in on... "I'm fine?"

"Miss Potter. It is quite understandable if you found this whole endeavour...upsetting."

"What's upsetting about it?" She guessed this place was kind of creepy, she wouldn't want to stay down here, but it really wasn't that bad. And the basilisk was scary-looking, she guessed, but it was dead...

There was a shiver of surprise from Snape, followed by a sort of wry amusement. "The scene we discovered in there, with Miss Weasley, was quite gruesome."

"Oh." She guessed so, but... Well, Weasley was dead, she failed to see why a dead person should be upsetting — it wasn't like she was any kind of threat. "Is that the kind of thing that normal people find upsetting?"

That was definitely amusement. "Generally speaking, yes."

She...wouldn't have guessed that. Like, if someone had died messily, she understood people wouldn't want to touch them — the same idea as some people really being grossed out by handling certain potion ingredients, right? (She'd kind of thought that's what Scrimgeour had meant, warning her about it earlier.) And, obviously, she understood how being under threat of being killed yourself would be upsetting, to put it mildly. Maybe if it were someone you cared about, that would make sense. But just seeing a dead person, a complete stranger, that just that would bother people...

She didn't get it. She didn't get it at all.

But anyway, she was supposed to be talking to Snape — hopefully distracting him enough he wouldn't pursue what had actually been bothering her. "No, the gruesome scene didn't really bother me, but I'm not surprised I don't react to these things like normal people. This is probably another Liz is broken thing."

There was another one of those uncomfortable shivers from Snape — she'd noticed he did that whenever she said something that made her sound like a crazy person. "Broken? Why do you say that?"

She shrugged, trying not to let her relief at successfully distracting him show. "It's the word Hermione uses. Not out loud, of course, she's too nice to say that, she just thinks it." Hermione had no idea how much of what she was thinking Liz picked up, even when she wasn't trying — her head was very busy, and she broadcast very loudly, it was honestly difficult to not overhear things most of the time these days.

"You don't seem particularly upset by that."

"I'm not. It's what she thinks when I don't get a normal person thing, that my family broke me, that it's sad but there's nothing I can do about it, blah blah. It's a little irritating, but now she just thinks oh, Liz is being broken again and moves on, instead of making a big deal about me not getting a normal person thing. It's much simpler."

"There is a difference, Miss Potter, between what we must make of ourselves to survive and being broken."

"Oh, I know that, but when normal people say..."

Luckily, Liz managed to keep up the conversation about handling her friends' confusing, uncomfortable, clingy feelings all the way through the caves, and then through the broken galleries beyond. Which, this might have been extremely unpleasant in ordinary circumstances, but Liz had sort of gotten used to talking to Snape about things she'd rather not talk about in those annoying one-on-one meetings with their Head of House, and also her calming potion from before hadn't quite worn off yet. And it was much better than Liz trying to dance around admitting what had really been bothering her a moment ago — Dorea thought she was a terrible liar, and she couldn't even read minds.

Besides, Snape's advice had actually been quite helpful. Her initial impulse, back in first year, had been to just try to change the subject whenever she said something off, or if a conversation was making her uncomfortable. But Snape had suggested that she tell people, or at least her friends, when she didn't get something or something was bothering her. In retrospect, that was fucking obvious? She meant, how was she supposed to figure these things out if other people didn't know she didn't understand them, and how could they be expected to avoid things that made her uncomfortable if they didn't know? If Liz had been left to her own devices, she probably would have gotten frustrated with them prodding at her all the time, and started avoiding them entirely.

And now that she had friends, for literally the first time in her entire life, she was glad that she hadn't pushed them away from the beginning. She might not have thought so at the time, but... Well, if nothing else, having them around was more interesting than just reading alone all the time. As irritating and confusing as her friends could be sometimes, they were...

These days, the thought of going back to spending all her time reading alone uncomfortably reminded her of Privet Drive. She didn't want to go back there, physically or metaphorically.

Finally, they were back in that unassuming corner in the lower levels of the Potions department. Snape lingered on the threshold, waving her on — with the warning that she was to go directly back to the common room, and to not leave Slytherin until the lockdown was lifted. He wasn't escorting her all the way, going back down to help the others with whatever they were doing down there instead. Okay, then.

She'd only gone a few steps when he called her name again. He was giving her one of those flat, expressionless stares of his, the light from the sparse lanterns making him look even thinner and paler than usual. There was an odd tension in his head, one of those feelings she couldn't quite read. "I would hope you don't truly believe I am so easily deceived as that, Miss Potter."

...Oh. He must have allowed himself to be distracted then, playing along. Damn. "Not really, no." She hadn't been trying to deceive him so much as distract him, so it shouldn't feel like a lie to him, she didn't think.

He scowled, just a little — more exhausted than irritated. "I am allowing you to get away with it this time, but only because I suspect whatever it is you are preoccupied with is truly none of my concern. Instead of attempting to fool me, next time you may simply say as much."

Okay, that was a load of shite, Snape went sticking his nose in her business all the time. His claim that she was a Slytherin, so her business was his concern, really didn't change that. But she didn't think there was anything she could say here other than, "Yes, sir, I'll try to remember."

He gave her a single, dubiously raised eyebrow, but waved her off. "Go."

Liz fled before Snape could change his mind again. Besides, she still had some thinking to do — preferably somewhere a nosey mind mage couldn't interrogate her about it.

Well, no, she didn't really have any more thinking to do, she'd already decided she wasn't going to tell the Aurors about Tamsyn. But she also wasn't going to tell Dorea, or Snape, or anyone else. So, what she really had to do was hide in her room until it wasn't on her mind anymore, so Dorea couldn't ask her what was bothering her too. Because apparently Liz was a terrible liar, avoidance was really her best strategy. The bloody cheater wasn't even a mind mage...

...and she still had Liz's book, so she'd have to get through at least a brief exchange without raising suspicion anyway. More than a brief exchange, probably, she'd want to know how the whole thing with the Aurors had gone. Damn it.

(This having friends thing really could be quite tedious sometimes.)