A Discomforting Field Trip
"Have you gone completely mental!?" Ron stared at them disapprovingly outside the doors to the Great Hall.
"Well she was quite friendly about the whole thing, Ron," Derek told him.
"There's got to be some kind of ulterior motive she's using," his friend shook his head firmly, "She's up to something with you, so if I were you, I'd watch your back if she comes around again."
"Ron, don't you think you're being a hair...judgmental?" Harry told him wearily.
"Harry, you of all people should know by now you can't trust a Slytherin on anything," Ron remained adamant, "That whole sad sack business about feeling alone, she probably thought up in the five minutes it took her to get down to that pitch. I'd bet everything Malfoy put her up to it, try and weasel her way into..."
Harry found himself blocking the rest out. He felt he had enough reason to believe Emma's intentions were pure. They entered the Great Hall and took their usual seats at the Gryffindor table. Their time was just right, as it was that moment that Dumbledore stood up at the head table and gestured for all the students to quiet down. "We are about to take a trip that I hope sincerely you will find enlightening and entertaining," he proclaimed, "Now before we leave, I shall make several recommendations for your well-being. Even though you are free to visit any exhibit in the museum, and precautions have been taken for your safety (Harry noted Dumbledore was looking straight at him as he said this), I suggest you stick together and stay within earshot of your teachers at all times. And kindly do not touch the exhibits, for some of them may return the favor, if not more so. Now in a moment, your heads of house shall be coming around with handy items. They will take five of you at once to a specified location at different times. These will only go out and back once, so please only use them once, and take special care not to lose them. We will be spending three hours at the museum, so plan accordingly. And above all, enjoy yourselves."
The teachers around him rose and began spreading out to the tables. "Portkeys?" Harry guessed.
"It makes sense, really," Hermione rationalized, "That way they don't have to arrange transportation for all of us...although I suppose the Knight Bus could have handled us all."
"Potter, here you are," Professor McGonagall stepped up to him and handed him an old worn-out newspaper. Harry set it down in the middle of the table. "Five at a time. Neville," he tapped him on the shoulder, "Want to come with us?"
"Sure," Neville nodded eagerly. He grasped the paper with his index finger. "Have you, er, ever been to this place before?" Harry asked him.
"Twice," Neville told him, looking fairly thrilled, "I think you'll like it. Well, we might as well go."
The others took hold of the paper as well. In a flash Harry found the five of them being sucked along through a void, colors flashing in front of his face. This lasted about forty seconds before they all landed with a thump on the stone of an alley somewhere in the heart of London, he could tell by the sight of familiar skyscrapers in the distance. "You all right, Derek?" he asked, helping the Muggle up.
"That was actually quite fun, Harry," Derek for once looked pleased. Harry could guess he was now starting to adjust more to the wizarding world and enjoy it.
There came more pops from above them as a group of Ravenclaws came tumbling into the staging area. The five of them quickly bustled out onto what appeared to be Downing Street. Muggles jostled in each direction, apparently paying no attention to them. "Now which way?" Harry had to ask.
"To the right, I think; yes, that way," Neville pointed. Sure enough, Harry noted a pack of Hufflepuffs (fortunately even having switched to conventional Muggle clothing, they'd kept their distinctive yellow and black color scheme) heading up the block. "OK, you lead and we'll follow," he conceded to Neville and fell in behind him. He raised the newspaper to scan the headlines-and was amazed to see in moderately large print in the right column the words SEARCH CONTINUES FOR MISSING LITTLE WHINGLING BOY it read. Intrigued, he opened up the paper entirely and read the article:
Officials in Little Whingling are asking for help concerning the whereabouts of a boy who has not been seen since the late summer. The aunt and uncle of Harry James Potter, 4 Privet Drive, were taken into custody two days ago following an altercation at their residence, which led officials to learn that neighbours had reported not seeing their nephew for months. A staff member at Our Lady of the Useless Miracle Mental Hospital in Suffolk, where Mr. and Mrs. Dursley are presently incarcerated pending the results of mental health examinations, has informed this paper under the condition of anonymity that the Dursleys have been denying to their psychiatrists that their nephew even exists. "It's all very strange, really," he told us, "I don't know why they would say that unless they've got something major to hide."
Little Whingling Chief Constable I. L. Ketcham has stated that there is no sign of any foul play at the Dursleys' residence, but requests anyone who knows anything about Potter's whereabouts contact him or national police immediately. "If Mr. and Mrs. Dursley did in fact murder him-and we are examining every possibility in this investigation-they appear to have done a thorough job, for we've got no evidence to work with at the moment," he was quoted as saying this morning, "However, I must reiterate we have no concrete idea of what happened to Harry Potter at this point in time. Perhaps the boy simply ran away, and as such we are searching adjacent towns and asking if anyone there saw anyone fitting his description."
Neighbors of the Dursleys say that the couple rarely said anything about Potter, whom social services have discovered was left in their care following his parents' death in a gas main explosion when he was one. "Seemed to me they were embarrassed of him for some reason," said one resident of Privet Drive who also requested to remain anonymous, "I wouldn't be surprised if they did do something terrible to him; nasty people, really they were."
In a story that may or may not be related, another young man in the village has been reported missing as well. Derek Alexander Whitesell, who coincidentally is the same age as Potter, has not been seen for two days. Whitesell has no fixed address and no immediate family, and...
"What's that you're reading, Harry?" Ron leaned over his shoulder. He burst into a chuckle as he read the article. "Well, looks like we opened a whole can of worms there," he remarked.
Harry, though, seemed more muted. "So that's what the Muggles think happened to them," he mused softly, "A gas main explosion. I suppose that would make..."
"Never mind that!" Hermione sounded rather surprised herself, "Look at this, all of you!" She walked briskly towards a fire hydrant that, before Harry's amazed eyes, morphed into a wooden news bin as she approached. She stuck a sickle into the slot, pulled out the copy of the Daily Prophet on top, and held it up for the others to read. Harry's eyes went wide as he took in the text underneath the headline ARREST MADE IN RUNE VAULT BREAK-IN:
The Department of Magical Law Enforcement has announced it has brought into custody a suspect in last night's terrible break-in at the Rune Depository in Liverpool, and that he has confessed to the crime. Amos Diggory of Ottery-St. Catchpole has admitted to storming into the depository, murdering four people on night watch duty, and stealing thirteen high security runes from one of the vaults.
"It's pretty much an airtight case at this point," head Auror Rufus Scrimgeour confidently told the Prophet, "We have witnesses placing Mr. Diggory at the scene, and his confession pretty much seals it. He still hasn't told us where he stashed the runes, but we'll probably get it out of him in a day or two."
Ministry officials would not go into detail about the stolen runes, but said they were confident little danger could come from them if used. They also stated that another break-in in the Department of Mysteries earlier in the week is in all likelihood not related to Mr. Diggory's crime. Again, they refused to say if anything was stolen but reassured the public that no danger is imminent.
"Wait a minute," Harry's eyebrows shot way up at the astonishing photo of a blank-faced Amos Diggory being escorted out of a low stone building flanked by Dementors, "This can't be right at all. Not Mr. Diggory. He wouldn't kill anyone."
"So you know him?" Derek inquired. Harry related to him exactly how he knew Mr. Diggory. "There has to be more to it than this," he finished, "Someone must have set him up. But at least it was just runes."
"Oh I wouldn't be too sure, Harry," Hermione seemed far more disturbed by this development, "I've done a lot of reading about runes, and some of them can do pretty nasty things if they've been imbibed with Dark Magic. If the Death Eaters are up to something like the Order suspects, this could be part of..."
"Well...?" came Snape's unpleasant voice from behind them. The Potions master had come up behind them while they were preoccupied and was glaring at the five of them, "Are you going to bother going to the museum, or should we just leave you here all day wasting your time and the teachers' time!?"
"Take it easy, we...!" Ron started to snap, but after a sharp elbow from Harry, who was well aware that Snape was probably trying to bate them, he took a deep breath and said more calmly, "I mean, Professor, we were just finishing up now, that's all."
Snape cast a wary glance at the Prophet's heading. "I'm sure you were," he muttered softly, "This way, then."
He jerked a finger up Downing Street. Several passing Slytherins snickered at them for being chewed out by their head of house. Harry did his best to ignore them. His mind was racing now. Clearly Mr. Diggory had been put under the Imperius Curse, he reasoned, and the Death Eaters had altered other memories as well to make him the Ministry's scapegoat. But what were the Death Eaters trying to accomplish through all this? And what if the Ministry break-in the article had mentioned was in fact related? Knowing some of the things that were inside the Department of Mysteries, whatever was on Voldemort's to-do list this Christmas wasn't too pretty.
"Here we are," Neville proclaimed out loud. Harry looked up to see the Ravenclaws that had come in behind him going through the door of a derelict old store with the faded words BARRY'S on the awning. To the average Muggle eye, it no doubt looked like nothing more than a small family store that had long since been out of business; indeed, they all passed by without a sustained glance at it. Something else-or rather someone else-also caught Harry's attention-their Order-assigned protector was sitting on a bench across from the store, and it was the last person Harry would have trusted with guarding Hogwarts students on a field trip. "Oh no, anyone but Mundungus!" he moaned softly.
"So he's not someone we can trust?" Derek's expression crinkled, apparently able to guess Fletcher's lot in life from a compulsory glance.
"Let me put it this way; let's just hope something major doesn't go wrong while we're here," Harry told him. He took hold of the doorknob and yanked it, but it wouldn't budge. "Um, Neville?" he stepped aside for his classmate again. Neville calmly tapped the knob with his wand, and the door creaked open. Not surprisingly, Harry saw the moment he was over the thresh-hold that "Barry's" was a whole lot bigger on the inside; at least six stories tall at first glance. Witches and wizards walked everywhere, often in large groups, towards various galleries and alcoves. A disembodied magical voice was at that moment announcing that a special live exhibit of the bones of a dragon that had belonged to some Hungarian warlock whose name he had no hope of pronouncing would be held on the third level in 20 minutes. "So this is the Cunninghamton museum?" he asked out loud, impressed, "Well, which way do we go from here?"
"It looks like something's going on over there," Derek pointed to the left. A large knot of witches and wizards were gathered around a large display case in the middle of one of the galleries, and flashbulbs appeared to be going off around the display. The five of them bustled over and tried to push through the fringes of the crowd. "Amazing," Harry whispered, noticing a fabulous gold and purple crown covered in every colored jewel imaginable sitting on a felt cushion inside the case.
"It was given to us on loan from Amaralda Dickinson for the next month," the apparent curator of the exhibit, right to the side of Harry, exclaimed without turning to face him (much as Harry would have preferred it; with cameras around, he didn't want to be the focus of attention yet again). "First time it's been seen by the public in close to a hundred years," the man went on proudly, "We should be excited we got something like this."
He exhaled deeply and walked away with the dispersing crowd, allowing the students to get closer to the display case. "It's the Scone Crown," Hermione proclaimed with her own sense of pride to be able to relate it, "I read about this in Stately Relics of the Northlands. It's no wonder they'd get all excited; this crown was supposedly forged by elves using some of the most precious gold in the world, and it's supposed to have special magical properties. It's been in the Dickinson family for close to twelve hundred years now. They'll probably promote it like crazy that they have it."
"Indeed we shall," Harry's heart plunged to hear Rita's voice on the other side of the case. The reporter appeared like a wraith before anyone could move and swooped down on Derek. "And speaking of stories, you never did give me your own, young man," she told him.
"I told you, he has no story to tell you!" Harry bellowed at her, "Now would you just...!?"
"Harry, maybe I better just tell her something," Derek tugged his shoulder, "If it'll make..."
"And what seems to be going on over here? Harry, is that the press?" Harry's heart sank even further, if such a thing could be possible, as Lockhart came galloping into the chamber, beaming from ear to ear. "My dear Rita, so good to see you again!" he gave her arm a vigorous pumping, "Interviewing Harry?"
"Absolutely not...!" Harry started to protest, but Lockhart clapped his hands before he could finish saying no and exclaimed, "Excellent! Now, where shall we begin at?"
Lockhart took him aside and whispered softly, "Trust me Harry, it's no problem at all for me to help you here, but next time, do tell me ahead of time if you want to do interviews; I can give you so much advance advice." Ignoring Harry's frustrated growl, He turned to Rita, flexed some muscles and confidently stated, "Fire away."
"Well, Gilderoy, it's come to my attention this young man here," Rita gestured slyly at Derek, "Is new to Hogwarts this year. What can you tell me about him?"
"Oh a fine student he is indeed," Lockhart gaily slapped his hand down on Derek's head as if it were a game show buzzer, "Harry suggested I take him under my wing, and so I have; for example, just the other day, I helped him master this fine spell that I once used to destroy the Great Brazzaville lethifold once and for all. Observe," he drew his wand, pointed it at the far end of the gallery, and proclaimed, "Ioredilg!"
A blast of blue light shot from the wand, but the spell-if it was indeed a legitimate one-abruptly ricocheted off a force field of some kind surrounding the Scone Crown's case and rebounded towards Neville. The impact sent him flipping backwards in perfect cartwheels, during which his Rememberall fell out of his pocket and rolled towards a staircase in the corner. Sighing, Harry took off after it. He rushed down the stairs and up the hallway at the bottom of them after the Rememberall, which seemed to get brighter as the surrounding light got dimmer. "Lumos," Harry breathed to shed more light in the darkened corridor. Finally he dove forward and grabbed a hold of the ball. Sighing in relief, he looked up...and felt a bit of a cold chill run down his spine. There was something not quite right about the room he was in at the moment, and the placard in front of him reading CAUTION: ENTER THIS ROOM AT YOUR OWN RISK. FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY did nothing to dispel his feeling.
All around him were artifacts that would have been right at home in Borgin and Burke's. Shrunken heads, a stuffed giant acromantula with its pincers outstretched towards him, and what looked like horribly cursed remains of witches and wizards were just a few of the terrible items inside the dimly-lit room. "What is this place?" he breathed softly.
There came the thumping of footsteps up the hall behind him. "Harry, did you happen to find...?" Derek started to say, but his voice trailed off as he too took in what Harry had seen. "What is this place?" he parroted him unintentionally.
"It must be the Dark Arts collection room," Hermione seemed a bit uneasy herself. Her gaze wandered over several sharp bloody knives and several other Dark objects that seemed right out of Knockturn Alley, "From what I've read, they use it only to remind others of the evils that wizards have inflicted in the past. Like this," she gestured with disgust at a rusted golden medallion with a Medusa head on it, "This was used by Herpo the Foul to curse Muggles; he claimed over thirty lives with it."
"Morgan le Fay's," Ron eyed a cracked ruby ring, "This was what she used to seal up Merlin forever. Can we go now, Harry? I really don't like it down here."
But Harry wasn't paying attention anymore. He walked with very slow steps over to a small exhibit in the corner, barely illuminated by the torch light. Lying on a worn out pillow was a blackened wand, eleven inches long and made of mahogany. Next to it lay a small card inscribed, THE WAND OF JAMES POTTER, RECOVERED FROM HIS RESIDENCE AT GODRIC'S HALLOW FOLLOWING HIS DEATH AT THE HANDS OF HE-WHO-MUST-NOT-BE-NAMED. Harry's hand gripped the railing hard. All those years he'd be hoping to find something of his parents, but not this way. His mind raced back to that fateful night so long ago, and how horrible it must have been for his father, standing there in the living room facing down Voldemort and knowing there was probably no chance of him coming out in one piece. And that this scorched piece of wood was all that was left...
"Harry, are you all...oh my," Hermione had apparently noticed the inscription as well, "Oh Harry, Harry, I'm sorry, I didn't know it was in here either."
"I think it fits in quite well here, actually, Granger," came an unwelcome, familiar drawling voice from behind them. Harry's blood pressure went way up. "How dare you even say that, Malfoy!?" he couldn't control himself as he spun around, "Do you even care what this wand symbolizes!?"
"Justice, Potter," Malfoy was utterly nonplussed. He strolled casually around the room as if he owned it. "I don't know why they insist on keeping all these down here where no one can see them," he said in his usual lazy drawl, smiling at several shrunken heads, "Some of the wizards represented here were much better than the Ministry cares to make them out to be. Like Strasselheim the Unjust," he stopped by the horribly mangled skeleton of a wizard whose head had been inflated beyond normal proportions and disfigured, "They never appreciated his efforts to clear out those who weren't purebloods in the Alps in the 1400s. But they never realized they couldn't destroy his vision. That there'll always be someone willing to do the job for him," he advanced towards Derek, "Always someone ready to throw out those that don't belong."
"I'm not afraid of you," Derek told him defiantly.
"You heard him, Malfoy, you're wasting your time trying to get at him," Ron strode forward, his hands on his hips, "So just get out of here before..."
"Before what, Weasley? Before you try something against the rules, like, say, THIS!?" Malfoy abruptly fired a blast from his wand that sent Derek flying backwards towards the wall-only he bounced like a ball when hitting it and continued bouncing against the floor, his body inflating into a round shape. Roaring with laughter, Malfoy rushed over and started dribbling him. Enraged, Harry leaped forward and aimed his wand at his nemesis. "Turn him back to normal RIGHT NOW, Malfoy!" he demanded.
"You know what Potter, you're no fun at all," Malfoy lazily lifted a now very circular Derek up and bounced him hard off Harry's face, knocking his glasses to the floor, "Maybe I can teach you to have some fun with..."
"Leave him alone, Draco," came a familiar stern voice from the doorway. Harry was amazed to be hearing it, even knowing what he believed he knew. He scrambled for his glasses to confirm it. Sure enough, there was Emma, her hands on her hips, flashing Malfoy a murderous look. Malfoy, in contrast, was stunned beyond belief. "What did you say to me?" he managed to say once he'd gotten over the shock of being told to stop by another Slytherin.
"I said leave him alone," Emma repeated, marching forward, "And turn him back to normal like Harry told you to."
Malfoy sputtered indignantly. "Just who do you think you are telling me to be nice to Potter's pets!?" he demanded, his arrogant nature rapidly returning.
"I said do it, now," she raised her wand, "Or I'll tell Professor Snape everything."
"And you really think he'd care!?" Malfoy snapped back, "I don't know what's the matter with you, but let me be clear: what I'm doing here is none of your business, so why don't you just get lost before YOU end up being sorry!?"
"No," she said firmly, coming to a stop two inches in front of him, "You have ten seconds, Draco, or..."
Just then there came a zapping sound from the hall outside that made everyone turn. Two apparent museum guards slowly entered the room. "Thank you, gentlemen," Ron waved to them, "Malfoy here's been causing a...hello there?"
Harry had recognized it too: their expressions were perfectly blank-a sure sign of the Imperious Curse. "DOWN!" he screamed, diving on top of the still round Derek as a pair of green flashes arced right towards him...