– CHAPTER FIVE –
The wind howled ominously. It carried loose debris and battered it against the immense arch windows of the Astronomy Tower. I sat quite still with my legs draped out ahead of me, staring up at the velvety midnight sky. A dark cloud slowly moved, silver rays peeking around it. Finally, the naked full moon was illuminated.
I sighed. Tonight I should have had my first sound night's sleep in weeks. We had our last OWL exam this morning and were free to do as we pleased for a whole weekend. There were even rumours that Dumbledore got us all special permission to visit Hogsmeade.
Yes, I should have been celebrating. Ironically, it was the great man himself who stopped my plans in their tracks. After the exam, McGonagall approached me and said Dumbledore wanted to speak with me. I had a horrible feeling he knew about me. About Tom. So I tried to charm McGonagall into getting me out of the meeting. For the first time in a year, it failed to work. All I got for my efforts was confirmation that we were going to Hogsmeade.
I started at the echo of footsteps from the steep spiral staircase behind me. Instinctively closing off my racing mind, I made sure my wand was within reach. Cautiously, I allowed an exploratory strand of Legilimency to creep towards the door. I closed my eyes in concentration; it was still difficult to perform this without eye contact. It was Tracey.
Sure enough, I felt warm arms wrap around my neck like a scarf. "Hey, Harry," she whispered quietly.
"You're up late," I replied softly. I was still staring up at the moon, thinking about the meeting with Dumbledore.
"Hypocrite," she said as she nestled her head on my small, skinny shoulders. I always became self-conscious when she did that and she knew it.
We stayed in that position for a minute or so, each lost in our thoughts. "You alright?" she said finally.
"Yeah," I lied. I had no idea why I was lying to her. Actually, I did. I hated sharing my secrets more than anything else. Just as Tom did.
"Why do you do this?" she said quietly, almost to herself.
"This. You're like a sealed bottle, you never let anyone in. Why do you do it?"
I smiled despite myself. She was always smart. "I thought that's what you hated in a man?" I retorted slyly, subtly changing the direction of the conversation. "I thought you once said your nightmare would be to date an idiot Gryffindor who wore his heart on his sleeve, Miss. Davis?"
"It is, but you can't have too much of a good –"
She was cut off by the sound of footsteps, and it sounded like more than one person. I swore, dived on top of Tracey and pulled my invisibility cloak over us. We lay still and I pricked me ears, straining to hear the heated voices. It did not help that I was in a very suggestive position and could feel Tracey's hot breath on my face.
"How many times do I have to tell you? The Astronomy Tower is a hotspot. It doesn't matter how many steps you have to climb –" I recognised the voice as Hermione's. I could probably guess who was with her by the shrill tone of agitation she had adopted.
"It's a given that we'll find a couple in here, anyway. Why don't we just leave them in peace and go back to the common room?" As I had suspected, it was Ron.
"Because we are prefects," snapped Hermione.
"We just finished the OWLs, for Merlin's sake. We should be celebrating!"
"You say that as though you worked hard for it."
"Sorry if I'm not too keen in joining you and Harry in your library parties. The common room was a great place to revise and we didn't have that old bat breathing down our necks."
"I'll have you know Madame Pince gave us a really wide berth. She even let us talk quietly whenever we wanted to and Harry's allowed in the restricted section whenever he likes. If you call that breathing down our necks…"
"Oh, I forgot he gets special treatment," said Ron somewhat bitterly, causing Tracey to shake with silent laughter. If I was honest with myself, losing Ron's friendship had hit me hard at first. I was thankful to have friends like Hermione and Terry around me; I hardly ever regretted not patching up the relationship.
"Well, maybe if you worked as hard as him and got good grades, the teachers would like you too." I felt a rush of affection for Hermione. She was so loyal, so loving and reliable that I couldn't imagine what I would have done without her. It was through her and her library sessions, after all, that I got to know Terry.
"Sorry if I'm not in the same league as the great Harry Potter. Maybe you should get McGonagall to appeal against him not getting prefect. Actually, forget it, I'm sure she's tried already." I did not doubt that. While it did not really faze me, I was a little puzzled as to why Ron made prefect when he really was useless at it. Even Neville would have been a better choice.
"I really wish you wouldn't get jealous," said Hermione waspishly. "Maybe you'd still be friends if you weren't so –"
"Jealous?" said Ron, his voice an octave higher than usual. "Jealous of what? Hanging around with a bunch of Death Eaters and going out with an ugly Slytherin whose dad probably murdered kids in their sleep?" I felt Tracey stiffen beside me.
"How dare you, Ron!" snapped Hermione furiously. "How dare you! If you think Blaise, Terry and Daphne are Death Eaters you really are more stupid than you look, and that's saying something." I wished she would stop, I was finding it difficult to suppress the laughter. "This is so rich coming for someone whose friends are Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan. And Tracey? She's one of the smartest girls in the school, you blind bigot! And she's a half-blood!" I could almost feel Tracey's glare. "You know what, Harry's right. It's people like you, Ronald, who let these stupid prejudices stay strong a thousand years after they started."
"You can't –"
"You know what? I'm going to finish this patrol on my own. And tomorrow I'm going to ask for a different partner. I'm tired of defending you and then having to put up with a whole night of bickering. I honestly thought you'd get used to the idea of Harry not being part of your immature circle of friends, but I guess I overestimated you."
I felt very proud of her as her footsteps, loud at first, grew more distant. I had always been worried that she would object to the changes that I was now sure Tom Riddle's memories were subjecting me to. I honestly thought she would have chosen to associate with Ron rather than me but, in fairness, Ron had dug his own grave. He knew she wasn't keen on Dean and Seamus, but refused to open his eyes and co-operate. Ron's footsteps followed hers after a small delay.
It was not as if I had shunned the Gryffindors in my year. I was patient with them when my instincts told me they were worthless. Most of my free time was spent in the library so naturally I had more interaction with the members of other houses, particularly Terry. It was through Terry that I had met Tracey. Daphne and Blaise were not exactly good friends but we were on pleasant terms.
I tore myself from my musings and removed the cloak. Gingerly getting up, I resumed my sitting position. Tracey merely shuffled a little and rested her head in my lap. I ran my hands through her dark curls. Though I would never admit it, the feel of her sleek, warm hair on the touch always lulled me into a tranquil state of thought.
I thought back to the end of last year, when I had finally asked Tracey out on a date after almost two years of wavering. It was after Arithmancy and she was walking with her friend Blaise Zabini. I appreciated then how difficult it was to get some privacy but luckily, Blaise knew what I was intending to do and led her into an empty corridor for me, for which I was thankful. I swallowed my nerves and asked her before I bottled it.
We didn't exactly start off on a high. I remember with a pang the morning, about a week after being back at the Dursleys, that I got the letter. The letter telling me that Moody had died. He had a heart failure, Dumbledore had said, and the healers at St. Mungo's were unable to revive him. I tried not to think about it – he had been a friend of my grandfather's and a fantastic tutor. The funeral was quiet, formal and polite – everything Moody wasn't. I remembered with a smile how he yelled at me whenever I went wrong. His death had shaken me, there was no doubt about it.
I stared up at the high, curved ceiling and thought back on this year, which seemed to have raced by. I spent futile hours researching anything I could on horcruxes and, more fervently, the Knights of Walpurgis. A small part of me, though I found the thought repugnant, was crushed by Moody's death because the secret of the Knights seemed to have died with him. Tom's memories had run themselves into a trickle, but offered no insight into the Maximus-Riddle relationship. All I seemed to get was exploration of the Chamber and endless hours of training. I had to admit that the latter had helped me immensely; the build-up of my Occlumency and Legilimency skills especially.
"Something's on your mind," whispered Tracey. I stayed silent but frowned slightly.
Sometimes, it irritated me greatly when someone read my body language. But of course, this was no ordinary matter. The prophecy. I could not stop thinking about it. I understood why Dumbledore had left it until a few hours earlier before explaining it to me. I understood why he did not train me from the day I entered the school. I, more than anyone, knew the absurdity and futility of attempting to train an adolescent to even scratch Voldemort. What I did not understand was why Dumbledore was not telling me the full truth. I could feel it. It had nothing to do with Legilimency. I had not heard the full prophecy.
"Do you want to tell me?" asked Tracey hesitantly.
I sighed. "No," I said softly, "I can't."
"Alright," she replied. "I'm here when you're ready." I smiled. This is why I liked her. She was smart, she picked her battles.
I sat there thinking of what I should do. The objective was clear: I had to find the full contents of the prophecy. Only then could I move forward. But how? I thought of anything Riddle might have known, but it was useless. I could only access his information unconsciously, that much I knew. Even with Occlumency it was futile.
There was only one place in Hogwarts I could find out what I wanted. The library. It could not be that only Dumbledore knew the prophecy, surely the Ministry held records of some sort. I grimaced in frustration. Why did Dumbledore not trust me?
Decided on my plan of action for tomorrow, I said, "should we head back?" I got no response.
"Tracey?" I looked down and found she was sleeping soundly. The rays of the moon gave her pale skin an almost ghostly aura. She was even pettier when asleep, the glimmering light surrounded an air innocence around her sleeping form. I inclined my head and kissed her forehead.
Finding myself suddenly completely exhausted, I snuggled beside her and flung the invisibility cloak over us once more.
Someone was shaking me. I groaned. My back was killing me and I remembered that we had fallen asleep on the cold, hard floor of the Astronomy Tower. To add injury to more injury, my nose stung as my glasses had dug into it overnight.
"Morning," I mumbled as a bleary-eyed Tracey came into view. While it looked as though she had freshened up, the bags under her eyes gave the impression that she hardly slept all night. "What's wrong?"
"Oh nothing," she replied. Lie. "Let's go down to breakfast."
I gave her an appraising look before struggling to my feet. The bones in my back creaked like an old door. I tapped it with my wand and the pain was gone. Hand in hand, we made our way to the Great Hall.
"Harry," she said quietly as they got to the top of the stairs leading into the Entrance Hall, "who's Tom Riddle?" My heart froze. I almost wanted to hit myself - I did not put any silencing charms around me.
"Just a Muggle friend," I lied. Her eyebrows raised slightly, a sign that she did not believe me.
"I thought you said you had no Muggle friends," she said as we walked into the Great Hall.
"All except one," I said, rapidly thinking of a back-story for this fake Tom. The key to a good lie was to base it on truth. "Yeah, Tom's what kept me sane at Privet Drive, he's an orphan too – lives in a orp- care home."
"Are you coming to the Gryffindor table?" I asked, steering the subject away from murky waters.
"Are you coming to the Slytherin table?" she replied with a smirk.
"Point proven, meet me at the library after breakfast," I said, giving her a quick kiss.
I made my way to the Gryffindor Table, ignoring the disapproving glares from Dean and Lavender. My relationship with Tracey had been going on for a year and, although they no longer thought I was a Death Eater, they could not bring themselves to talk to me. Not that I missed the riveting conversations about the opposite sex and homework.
I could understand it, though. Tracey's father had been a Death Eater, that much I knew. He was certainly a highly ranked one at that. She was very closed about her family so I had to do a good deal of research. I found out that her mother was a Muggleborn who had had an affair with her father. I found out that her mother gained protection from Dumbledore when her father found out. Thanks to him, there was a joint custody agreement. I doubt any other student but Tracey and I knew this. The Slytherins assumed she lived with her father and she did little to quell these rumours.
I sat opposite Hermione, who had a book propped up beside her cereal. "Morning," I said as I poured myself some cereal of my own.
"Oh, morning." She looked up from her book and was wearing a small frown. "Where were you last night? Neville said you didn't come back to the dorm."
"Yeah, I fell asleep in the library," I said without hesitation.
"I was worried. I hadn't seen you since Dumbledore asked to see you. What did he want, anyway?" She put her book down, a sign that she was focussing all her attention on me.
"There's an Unspeakables apprenticeship scheme the Ministry's funding," I said dismissively. "They wanted the top students of each year from Fifth upwards. Dumbledore said he thought I'd be interested." It took all my self control to stop me from laughing; I knew Hermione would be affronted at being passed over. "Don't worry, I'm sure he only thought of me since he doesn't want me to divert my attention towards the Dark Arts."
Then it hit me.
The Ministry. The Hall of the Prophecies. Riddle knew something about it. I racked my brain as I tried to get more details but the more information I tried to salvage, the blurrier it became. I cursed.
Hermione looked as if she was in mid-sentence and I realised that I had tuned her out while trying to find out about the Hall of Prophecies. "Sorry," I said, recomposing myself, "I need to go to the library."
With that, I left my half-eaten cereal and Hermione in my wake. A plan was slowly forming as I practically ran to the fourth floor. After taking the stone spiral staircase leading into the library two steps at a time, I made straight for the Ministry section, which smelt as though it had not been used in hundreds of years. The musty smell intensified as I took a book called 'Ministry of Magic: A History' from its shelf. I coughed as I was buffeted by a cloud of dust.
I took a seat at a nearby table and flicked straight to the index. The 'Department of Mysteries' section was near the end of the hefty tome. I skim read the three pages. There was a good deal about its founder and reasons for its inception but nothing on its location or even the different departments. I growled as I saw one particular paragraph:
'Mercutio Lestrange passed the Information Act in 1786, which included the interdiction of any information concerning the Department from leaving the confines of the Department. Only brief histories and career routes into the Department are permitted under the Act and even these must pass through the Head of the Department. In 1876, Minister Abbot passed legislation legalising the use of the Unforgivables on any who succeed in infiltrating the Department.'
"Shit," I mumbled.
"Trouble?" I looked up from the book and found Terry Boot lounging on a chair opposite the table. His straight brown hair fell awkwardly around his rather large head. He had the air of one far more serious and mature than he actually was.
"No, I'm just researching the Department of Mysteries." I considered telling him the truth but thought better of it. The plan was becoming clearer in my mind and I knew he would want to follow me. No, I was doing this alone.
"I'm going to take a wild guess and say you're not having much luck," he said lightly. "Is there any particular reason why you're researching it?" I fed him the same lies I had done to Hermione. He did a slightly better job hiding his disappointment.
I realised I did not have as much time as I would have liked. Hogsmeade was my only window of opportunity. There was no other way. It meant there was no time for meticulous planning.
"Hey, Terry," greeted Tracey. She took the seat beside me and was closely followed by Hermione. "What are we doing in the library? Let's go to Hogsmeade!"
"You never said a truer word," smirked Terry. Even Hermione agreed that we needed some sort of reward for our hard work during the OWLs.
"Alright," I said, feigning defeat. We stood up and left, but not before I returned the book to its place on the shelf.
"What did you want from the library?" asked Tracey. I sighed, thinking I would have to repeat the story a third time. Luckily, Terry stepped in and explained. I was relieved since it meant I had not technically lied to her.
As we stepped out onto the grounds, we were met by glorious sunshine. The thunderstorms that had mellowed the atmosphere of the student body during the exam period had all but vanished. Wispy streaks of clouds were dotted irregularly across the sky and even the Forbidden Forest seemed less foreboding somehow. A swarm of students were making their way to the gates, the air buzzing with conversation.
"So when are you going to this Department of Mysteries thing?" asked Tracey as they passed a sour looking Filch.
"As soon as I'm finished with Hogsmeade," I said airily.
"That soon?" said Hermione, her bushy eyebrows higher than usual.
"Yeah, Dumbledore said that he wanted it to be kept a secret from the students as it might cause some jealousy. He said some would think he was favouring me." Tracey snorted and both Hermione and Terry smiled. They knew perfectly well of the awkward relationship between the headmaster and I. It seemed they did not notice that I had not actually answered Hermione's question.
"Where should we go?" asked Terry as Dervish and Bangs loomed to our left.
"The Three Broomsticks, like we always do?" said Tracey bitingly. Hermione laughed as Terry placed his wand at his temple and mimicked his death. I was too preoccupied to laugh.
"You alright, Harry?" asked Hermione, looking at me worriedly.
"Yeah," I said. "It seems like a waste to sit inside with about a hundred other sweating people on a day like this. Why don't we head out and look for a place to sit in the sun?"
I saw Terry send Tracey a questioning look from the corner of my eye. Terry and I loved going to the Three Broomsticks and trying to see how many free drinks we could get out of Rosmerta. I reprimanded myself; I should have brought the suggestion out of someone else. They agreed with my idea nonetheless – I knew they would.
We passed the crowd of students milling in and around Zonkos and then a second crowd around Honeydukes. I always wondered how the shops made money when the students weren't around. Finally, the Three Broomsticks came into sight. Instead of following the steady flow of students, we turned off into a less worn road to the right. I pointed out a spot some yards from the Shrieking Shack.
I took a seat on the remarkably cool grass. There was the distinct smell of freshly mowed lawn. Tracey placed her head on my chest and, jokingly, Terry did on the other one. I joined Tracey and Hermione in their laughter, but only weakly.
"Too skinny for me, thanks," said Terry in jest and draped himself nonchalantly over the grass. "Hey Hermione, my chest is free if you want it."
"No thanks," she said, giggling, "this pile of dung seems more enticing."
"You win some, you lose some," said Terry and the girls laughed heartily. "Just thought you'd like a chest as barrel-like as this." He thumped his chest.
"Depends on your definition of what a barrel is," I said distantly.
"Glass houses, my boy," said Terry in his best impersonation of Dumbledore. "Glass houses."
"He makes up for it in other areas," said Tracey suggestively as she stroked my chest. She knew it soothed me.
"Well if it isn't Potty, two blood-traitors and a Mudblood." I lazily cast my eyes away from Tracey and to the pale face of Draco Malfoy. He was, of course, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle. I don't remember ever hearing them speak, I realised. Malfoy, on the other hand, seemed to prop up as soon as he had licked his wounds from our previous encounters.
"Ah, Malfoy," said Tracey coldly, "how is your father handling the…situation?"
"I could ask the same of you," hissed Malfoy, slowly turning red.
"Hang on," said Terry, feigning surprise, "Malfoy's dad has a situation to handle?"
"What sort of situation would that be?" asked Hermione, seemingly innocently.
"Shut up, Mudblood," snarled Malfoy, dragging me away from my thoughts, "you have your own problems to think of."
"Oh, I heard about this," I said coolly, twirling my wand between my fingers. It was so tempting to curse him for what he said. "Didn't it involve a Muggle woman?"
"I heard it wasn't even a woman," sneered Tracey. Malfoy seemed to have had enough and threw a bone-breaking hex at Tracey. I hid my glee; I had wanted to test my new wordless shield for ages. Sure enough, the curved reddish shield materialised and deflected the curse back at Malfoy. I was extremely satisfied as the purple spell curved in the air and hit Malfoy's arm.
Malfoy screamed in pain and ran for medical attention, giving me a look which promised pain. I smiled in return. Crabbe and Goyle stood dumbfounded for a moment. My theory that they were unable to function without Malfoy seemed to be proven. After eyeing my drawn wand and also those of the others, they decided to take off after Malfoy.
Once they were safely out of sight, Terry was the first to break into laughter and Hermione reluctantly followed suit. "Was that the shield charm you were practising?" asked Hermione after recovering from her giggles.
"Yeah, I'd say it worked quite well, wouldn't you?"
"What level of spells does it deflect?" asked Terry. "I suppose it doesn't exactly break down quickly given its shape."
"Practically everything except the top level spells, but it depends on the caster. It's curved so all it does is deflect the energy rather than trying to counteract it."
"When are you going to teach us it?" asked Tracey.
"Probably tonight," I replied. We had all agreed to teach each other any ingenious spells we stumbled across. Of course, I had to bend the rule slightly to keep the spells I had picked up from Riddle secret.
"Listen," I said, deciding to take the first steps of my plan, "when I go off to the Department of Mysteries, I need you to help me take a few precautions." All three bristled as I said this.
"Against whom?" said Hermione suspiciously.
"Dumbledore and anyone else he might send," I replied. "Hermione, you cover the dorm rooms." She nodded. With the OWLs having finished yesterday, she would have enough ammunition to distract most professors. "Tracey, make sure Malfoy doesn't get any smart ideas. Come to think of it, add Snape to that list as long as you don't look him in the eyes. Terry, get word out to Fred and George Weasley what there's a bet that they can't pull off a major prank today at short notice." Both Hermione and Terry nodded in assent.
"How long for?" asked Terry.
"A few hours if you can," I said, "try not to disappoint me."
"Harry," said Hermione reproachfully, "where are you really going?" All eyes were suddenly on me and I sighed.
"I'm going to the Department of Mysteries," I said, not missing the look passed between Terry and Hermione, "without Dumbledore's permission."
"Are you out of your mind?" said Tracey. Her mouth was slightly ajar and she looked at me expectantly, as if I was suddenly going to tell her it was a joke.
"They're keeping something there that belongs to me," I said quietly.
"Harry," said Hermione, "I'm sure if you just asked Dumbledore he'd –"
"No," I said quickly, "no way."
"Haven't you thought about all the protection?" said Hermione. "And in broad daylight as well! This is preposterous and rash, they could kill you for Goodness' sake."
"I'd have more chance in broad daylight," I said firmly, "since they can't put major wards up against their own employees. Plus, nobody will expect it – I'd be hidden in plain sight."
Terry, who had been pensive throughout this, said, "you'll need some sort of back-up if you're going to storm into the Ministry."
"No," I said sharply, "I'm going to sneak in. Two people are more likely to get caught than one." I ran a hand through my hair in frustration. "Listen, if you really want to help me, make the distractions. I don't have much time left, so just help me out, okay?"
They all nodded, if somewhat reluctantly. "I'll need to go find Corner," said Terry, unenthusiastically getting up and stretching. "He's on good terms with Lee Jordan. You know what it's like, give it fifteen minutes and the Weasleys will be on it."
We sat quietly as Terry disappeared down the path and into the Three Broomsticks. Ideally, I had fifteen minutes before I could Disapparate. It would take at least five minutes to walk to an ideal apparition point. Give or take a few minutes, I had about half an hour before Dumbledore found out I was missing. Hopefully between them, Terry, Hermione and Tracey would buy me another half an hour. If Dumbledore took the bait.
I was frustrated at how shoddy the plan was, and I almost smiled thinking of what Riddle would make of it. I had no other choice, however. After Hogsmeade is over, I may as well tell Dumbledore where I'm going given the ridiculous speed at which he would know exactly where I was going and when I had left the school grounds. This was the only window of opportunity.
A caught a streak of blonde out of the corner of my eye. At first, I thought it may have been Malfoy. Upon closer inspection, I realised it was Daphne. She had short blonde hair, barely reaching her shoulders and crystal blue eyes. Being a childhood friend of Tracey's, I was forced to see a lot of her.
As usual, she completely ignored Hermione. "Potter, Tracey," she said with a nod.
"To what do we owe this pleasure?" I asked, bowing my head in mock politeness. I could not afford to let her get suspicious, which greeting her in any way less frivolous would.
"No time for crap, Potter," she said hurriedly. "Snape is after you after what you did to Malfoy. Just thought you'd like to know."
She turned on her heel and trotted towards the Three Broomsticks. I understood why she did this; she would become an outcast if her house members got wind of what she had just told me. "Tracey, Hermione, you know what to do." Tracey kissed me and they left together.
Snape had placed me in a dilemma. Either I left now with no eyewitnesses to counter any of Dumbledore's claims that I had sneaked off or I risked getting caught by Snape. It wasn't a choice.
I took a breath and Disapparated.