Revision: Yeah. That's right. Fixed random mistakes and added some mini-scenes, which brings the length to a fresh number of thirty-nine. Woot, go me. :grins:
Thanks so much for reviewing! Coming home to a stash of lovely words makes my long, tiresome day a little brighter. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to maintain a healthy appetite when random people call you every thirty seconds to complain about the filthy, disgusting dark sludge that was passing through their faucets and causing their septic tanks to rebel? Yeah... Today sucked.) But you, dear readers, make it all worth the effort. Kudos to you. :grins:
Harry Potter and the Forgotten Heirs Part 12
Wufei and Draco had only felt the caverns tremble. Quatre and Trowa, closer to the main cavern from whence the source of the disturbance came, both felt an instant sensation of vertigo, not only physically, but mentally. Duo, of course, bore the full brunt of what could only be described as a backlash of magic, being at the very epicenter of the disturbance.
Heero, on the other hand, experienced a rather unsettling medium. Having found numerous smaller openings that lead into larger passageways, some of which would be difficult to squeeze through for bodies stockier than his own, Heero had been on his way to check on Duo's progress when the disruption occurred.
Disruption. Disturbance. These were the only words to describe the physical repercussion of Duo's actions; it was as if Heero had been standing too close to a weak but devastatingly destructive bomb. The backlash slammed into him so hard that it actually knocked him off of his feet, leaving him with the vague feeling that he had been punched in the solar plexis by a man that could bench-press a Buick. For someone as strong and agile as Heero, that sensation alone was far too unsettling.
He'd been laying on his back, dazed and winded when Quatre and Trowa came running from the passageway they'd been exploring. Trowa merely looked perturbed, quickly deducing by the sight of Heero that they had only felt part of what Heero and Duo had. Quatre, however, looked far more concerned, his hand unconsciously clutching his shirt above his heart.
"Heero!" Quatre asked, worriedly. "What happened to Duo?"
No question could have snapped the dazed Japanese pilot out of his stupor any faster. A cold sense of dread filling the pit of his stomach, he was barely aware of when Trowa reached down to help him stand. Like an automaton, he firmly clasped his reserved companion's hand firmly into his and, with Trowa's strength, managed to pull himself to his feet with very little trouble. He ignored his body's physical protest at moving so soon, still suffering internally from whatever had occurred to put him in that state in the first place.
Before he could even explain, all three were perfectly capable of hearing Duo's peevish ranting emitting from the mouth of Slytherin's effigy. Heero visibly slumped in relief; though he could not make out exactly what the American was yelling about, his boyfriend was obviously well enough to work himself into a righteous tongue-lashing.
"Is Wufei or Draco in there with him?" Quatre asked, confused.
Heero frowned. "No, they haven't retu-"
"What did Maxwell do?" Wufei demanded, breaking from the darkness of the passage he and Draco had disappeared down only half an hour ago at a quick stride. Draco, a sullen expression on his face, was following the Chinese youth at a more reserved pace.
"Wufei," Quatre said, chiding, "I hardly think it's fair that we immediately assume Duo caused what we felt."
"Oh, you know Maxwell is at the heart of it," Wufei said pointedly, focusing his attention on what Trowa and Heero seemed to find interesting; he narrowed his coal black eyes when he heard Duo's voice emit from the mouth.
"The Heir is speaking via the Founder," Draco commented wryly. "How ironic."
Wufei swept closer to the mouth, calling through the opening waspishly, "Maxwell -what do we tell you? Don't touch anything!"
"Wufei," Quatre sighed, shaking his head before he attempted to make up for the Ravenclaw's directly accusatory approach. "Duo? Are you alright?"
Slightly muffled, the American was perfectly capable of transmitting his flippant amusement by quipping back, "Yep." And then, "I made a man." These words were said with such a bluntly honest but simplistic tone that it took a brief moment for the group of boys outside Duo's conclave to register what they meant. Still, the exact implication of what was behind Duo's cryptic, nonsensical response eluded them.
"What?" Draco finally said, blinking in confusion. "What is that supposed to mean?"
The other four pilots exchanged questioning glances, not entirely sure any of them understood what the American had meant. With a cheery call of, "Incoming!" the Gryffindor slid out of Slytherin's mouth, immediately landing on his feet with a large grin stretching across his face.
"I repeat: I made a man," Duo said, preening. "From this day henceforth he shall be known as Orie. It's a wonderful name that will, no doubt, inspire a lot of cookie jokes. Some of them may contain implied sexual innuendos about licking the cream from the center, but I expect I'll be the only one thinking of those." He gave each of them an individual look of mischief before he moved to the side, calling up the mouth with a loud, "Clear!"
Heero bristled wearily when a tall, solemn-faced older man appeared from the gaping mouth of Slytherin's effigy. Though he couldn't have been older than nineteen, the young man was as tall as Zechs Marquise, with skin as pale as Quatre's and hair and eyes an unusually vibrant ruby red. The Japanese boy couldn't fathom why this stranger put him on edge. This tall, lithe man's face and eyes radiated earnest sincerity and warmth, though his posture remained reserved and content. "Who are you?"
"This is Orie," Duo said nonchalantly, appearing unconcerned about the stranger. "Not his real name, though, since he's decided he's going to make me guess. Orie, by the way, is short for 'Oracle', which is who he is."
"How is that possible?" Trowa asked curiously, giving the man a frank once-over. "Draco said there hasn't been an Oracle for well over a millennium."
The Oracle tilted to his head to the side and said, very simply and quietly, "One of my lesser-known monikers is 'Time Lord.'"(1)
"Duo, you're bleeding," Quatre said after his eyes strayed to the boy's right hand, having noticed that Duo's hand had been dripping crimson into the water puddled at their feet.
"Oh," Duo said, lifting his hand and inspecting the deep, clean cut that split his skin. He winced a little, admitting, "I think it clipped a bone..."
The Oracle frowned, appearing deeply troubled over Duo's injury. The man reached out and cradled the injured hand in one of his own, his other hand settling over the small of the American's back before he lead the boy to kneel closer to the water. Heero couldn't prevent the possessive twitch at the corner of his eyelid when he saw the stranger place his hands on his boyfriend; the man's actions were quickly explained when he guided Duo's hand into the water.
"That water could be filthy," Wufei protested, concerned that stagnant water could lead to a massive infection. He halted further protest when Duo lifted his hand from the water. There was no sign that the serious cut had been there at all besides the thin lines of bright red that webbed across the skin of his palm.
"There are phoenix tears in the water," the Oracle said quietly, guiding Duo back to his feet before removing his hands from the boy. "Diluded, but effective against physical injuries."
"Nifty," Duo said, vaguely impressed as he studied the unmarred skin of his palm closely. "You're still not forgiven, by the way. But this goes a long way in making me like you more."
The Oracle, however, did not acknowledge Duo's comment. The ruby-haired man was not being cruel in as much as his eyes strayed to what was left of Slytherin's monster. Never sparing the group of seventh years even a cursory glance, he glided forward through the shallow water and walked the length of the monster, finally stopping at the large, fanged skull. His thoughtful expression never changing, he reached forward and drew his finger down the length of the slim crack in the center of the beast's skull.
"Dead basilisk," Duo said pointed, raising an eyebrow curiously. "Friend of yours?"
"Not remotely," the Oracle replied serenely, though his eyes still maintained somber reverence for the creature. "Azraiel is Lord Gryffindor's trophy. We all knew such a dangerous monster would be a hazard to the students, and Lady Ravenclaw and Lady Hufflepuff attempted to dissuade Lord Gryffindor from keeping the beast alive, but Lord Gryffindor wouldn't hear of it. Lord Slytherin decided to keep the beast confined in the Chamber for the students' safety."
That was certainly different from what any of them had been lead to believe. Duo exchanged a surprised, vaguely disbelieving glance with Draco when he said, "Funny. Everyone thinks the basilisk was Slytherin's pet."
The Oracle finally retracted from the basilisk's skull, pinning the six seventh years with sincerely honest ruby-red eyes. "Lord Slytherin pities the beast for her captivity; he, more than anyone, has a special affinity towards snakes. A basilisk, however, is far too dangerous to tame." With another lingering glance at the fallen monster, he added softly, "Even monsters do not deserve to be caged. He would have preferred her demise."
"You speak of the Founders in present tense," Trowa noted simply, pinning the Oracle with a mildly curious stare. "You knew them personally?"
The man nodded solemnly in response. "I've known them since I was only six summers old, when Lord Slytherin found me and took me in. Though Lady Ravenclaw and Lady Hufflepuff were twice my age, and Lord Gryffindor even older, I schooled with the Founders until I was eleven. That was the same year construction on this school began."
"No kidding," Draco said, mildly impressed. "So you're... what? A memory? An echo of who you used to be?"
"I am as real as I was before the ritual was initiated," the Oracle replied quietly. "Lord Maxwell did exactly what I had intended him to do. He's brought me to the future -now the present -so the fall of the Disinherited will be assured."
"Is that right," Draco said flatly, crossing his arms and pinning the Oracle with a relentless glare. "So how badly would this have turned out if you hadn't interfered?"
The Oracle remained silent, though the man was stable enough in his own defense to meet Draco's accusing stare with one of somber honesty. The answer was clear; the eventual outcome if the Oracle had left things well enough alone would have been devastating.
"Does it really matter?" Quatre asked, glancing at Draco curiously. "His actions are in our favor. It's the luckiest break Harry could have ever received."
"That doesn't excuse mucking about with time," Draco said stoically, slanting Quatre a quick look of mild reproach. "Those with the Sight are only supposed to read the future for a reason; wizarding society has strict rules in regards to manipulating time. Anything above four hours is considered a Dark Act punishable by a life sentence in Azkaban."
The ruby-haired man tilted his head to the side in thoughtful contemplation. "I am unfamiliar with this term -Azkaban. In my time, one who abused his gift would have his magic stripped from him. It is a suitable punishment for crimes against nature."
"Hah!" Draco said triumphantly, pointed at the man with a smug smirk. "So you admit you broke the law!"
"I never denied it," Orie said serenely. "Nevertheless, there were no other viable options. Any result of my actions -or inactions -would have been too much of a burden to bare." Bowing his head in silent contemplation, the man added firmly, "Time is not a child's toy, Lord Malfoy -as such, I would not dare treat it as such." Then he turned and began purposefully striding to the passageway that Wufei and Draco had just returned from exploring. "Come, now. There is much to do."
"Draco got told," Duo sang with a wide, shit-eating grin on his face. The blond shot him a vicious glare before he jogged after the Oracle, fully intending to give the man a piece of his mind.
"It's Black," Draco said flatly, glaring at the man's back. The Oracle's step hardly faltered when he added snottily, "For someone with the words 'Oracle, comma, the' on his resume, you sure aren't living up to standards."
"A man who is shunned not out of revulsion, but the truest proof of love, does not deserve to be stripped of his roots," the Oracle said softly, not even looking at the blond boy following closely at his heels. The other five were directly behind Draco, exchanging raised eyebrows and vaguely impressed glances. "It is in that manner in which you will always be your father's son."
Draco wanted to hate him. As a general rule, Draco hated anyone who was even loosely associated with reading the fabric of time. Nothing a Seer had to say could be taken as good news. Most prophecies were, in fact, more trouble than they were worth, sometimes even propagating events to occur when they could have been avoided completely. As a point of fact, Harry's life would have been a lot less complicated for a greater amount of time if Voldemort hadn't caught wind of a prophecy that supposedly spelled his doom. In Draco's personal opinion, the future could have certainly done without the appearance of an Oracle -a manipulative one, at that.
The time traveler didn't have to be so damn nice about the inconvenience. The Oracle certainly knew what to say to derail Draco's sullen indignation.
"You said your other options were unforgivable," Heero said, his eyes narrowed at the Oracle's back. "What were they?"
Jeez, Hee-chan, Duo thought with a quick, warm smile directed toward his boyfriend. Subtle, you are not. The question was a valid one, of course. If they were going to go out on a limb and trust this stranger, they had to know what made him tick. What better way was there to decide a proper course of action than delving into exactly why Orie went to such extremes when there were easier options on the table?
"It was either do nothing and be content with the eventual fall of the wizarding world," Orie said in a quiet, solemn manner, leading the group down the mural-painted passageway with a sense of purpose, "or end it all at the source and kill an innocent child by the name of Isabella Slytherin." Pausing for a moment, he glanced over his shoulder somberly and said, in a rather heavy tone, "Neither lead to an outcome I could bare."
Duo shivered wearily, realizing how easily his very existence could have been prevented if the man before him had taken the easy road. No matter the low points of his short life, the possibility of never existing sent chills down his spine.
The world would have wept and fallen to pieces without him. Truly. And screw anyone who thought differently.
"Where are you leading us?" Wufei asked once the group was led into the passageway's spectacular nighttime mural, fireflies happily gliding between the painted trees. "There's nothing but Christian relics down here."
Duo perked up, his interest piqued. "Really?"
"As far as we got," Draco muttered sullenly. "I still think anything muggle-related down here was kept out of spite. I mean, what are the chances of Slytherin worshiping the muggles' God?"
The Oracle hummed in amusement, pausing before the crevice in the wall and glancing at Draco over his shoulder. "Lord Slytherin would never participate in such a vulgar practice as Christianity -these things are my possessions because, unlike my guardian, my early years were saturated with exposure to the children of the earth." With a small, cynical smile, he added softly, "He often excuses my faith by claiming I do not know better."
"Children of the -do you mean muggles?" Quatre asked curiously, his gaze pondering.
"I'm not familiar with that term," Orie admitted simply, not the least bit interested in what the unfamiliar word could possibly mean. Instead, he easily squeezed through the crevice.
"You still haven't explained why we're in here," Wufei prodded meaningfully after all of them were inside the cavern. With a sense of absolutely purpose, the Oracle had gone to the safely encased tomes of lost books of the Bible and was lifting the top of the display. He reached inside and carefully lifted one of the illuminated manuscripts from the display case.
"Lady Ravenclaw said to me mere days ago that, when in doubt, look to the creation for guidance."
"The creation?" Duo murmured. "Genesis?"
Orie smiled absently before carefully laying the book on the surface of the display case. "Lady Ravenclaw was no more an enthusiast of the muggles' faith than Lord Slytherin. However, she is a knowledgeable woman, and so she is well aware that the origin of wizards also lies within these scriptures."
A wispy memory of his days spent in a Catholic orphanage, Duo's eyes lit up when Orie's explanation became clear. "You mean the Book of Enoch."
The Oracle glanced at him, suitably impressed that one of them, at least, had understood his reference. "Correct. Would I be mistaken in assuming you have some interest in the faith of the children of the earth?"
There's that phrase again, Duo thought in bemusement. With a casual shrug, he explained nonchalantly, "Well, the priest and the nun who raised me had a healthy relationship with the religion. They had a lot of books about even the lost scriptures." With a pointed glance at the ornate book that the Oracle was gleaning through with his eyes, he added, "Nothing as fantastic as an ancient illuminated manuscript, though. That thing is in mint condition despite the fact they've been kept in this damp, cold atmosphere for over a millennium."
Orie smiled absently, his eyes still tracing over the handwritten words on the thick sheets of what appeared to be well-kept animal skin. "My father collected them before I was born when rumors of the Catholic Church's intentions to gather the forgotten scriptures and hide them away in their private library reached. They came to me not long after his passing."
"So, wait," Draco said slowly, frowning. "You're a muggleborn? And Salazar Slytherin raised you?"
The Oracle frowned, obviously at a loss for what the blond was implying. Quatre, basing his theory on what little he'd gathered by turning the conversation over in his head, said helpfully, "I believe what we mean by muggles is what you mean when you say children of the earth."
The more that phrase was spoken, the easier Duo found it to find the exact memory as to why it sounded so familiar.
"What does it mean?"
The priest paused in his work, glancing to the doorway of his office curiously. When his eyes sought those of the determined amethyst eyes and defiantly braided hair, the kindly father smiled thoughtfully at one of the most notorious orphan Maxwell Church had to offer the world. This boy was always the one searching, childless couples would come to adopt; likewise, the longest a single couple would ever keep him was for a week before, at their wits' end, they would return the boy to the church.
The priest thought, always with a fond chuckle, that it was God's way of saying that the boy was already home. Then again, perhaps that was little Duo's conviction. Either way, the priest didn't mind. It was no secret amongst the community that Father Maxwell considered the infamous Maxwell's Demon a son.
"A little more explicit with your questions, Duo," the man said kindly, waving the boy to enter his office. "What are you asking?"
The boy wielded the worn Bible tightly clasped with one hand, his eyes pointedly inquiring. "Daughters of the earth. It says that Enoch walked with God and wrote about the daughters of the earth, and then it just goes on to the next vague story. What does daughters of the earth mean?"
The priest laughed softly and stood from his desk, gliding to his wall of books and perusing the shelves. Finally, he found a slim volume and removed it from its place. "We are children of the earth, Duo. Enoch wrote of the time when angels, tempted by the beautiful hair of women, came down from Heaven and consorted with the daughters of the earth. They gave sons of the earth armor, weapons, taught us their sorcery and laid with the women."
"So why don't we still see angels?"
"Because with armor and weaponry came the desire to use it, with sorcery came black magic, and born from the fornication of angels and daughters of the earth were terrible, violent giants that feasted on the flesh of man. Those angels that consorted with the children of the earth were cast down, and God forbade the angels to interact with us so freely." With another soft chuckle, he added, "It's also why, in Jesus' days, women were expected to wear shawls over their hair; they didn't want to tempt the angels."
"So why doesn't it just say that?" Duo grumbled, tossing the Bible on the Father's desk before crossing his arms over his chest and giving the book an irritated scowl.
"Because the founders of the Catholic Church couldn't find room for it," Father Maxwell explained gently before handing Duo the slim book that was plainly titled The Forbidden Books. "I'm impressed that you finally decided to read the Bible, Duo, and you're enthusiasm for learning is admirable."
Duo visibly kept himself from preening under the father's praise, instead giving the title of the book a skeptical glance. "If the Church couldn't find room for the cooler stories," the little boy griped, "then why is the word 'forbidden' in the title?"
"Most of the books left out of the Bible were either left out because of suspicious origins, questionable dates, or concepts that the founders weren't comfortable with," the Father explained with a wry grin. "You should read the Gospel of Mary and the Lives of Adam and Eve. It preaches a far greater respect for women."
Duo brought himself from his pondering when the Oracle finally spoke. "Ah," Orie said softly, nodding his head thoughtfully. "Then yes, I was born of the earth."
"What does the creation of wizards and giants in Bible scriptures have to do with why we're here?" Duo asked, leaning his hip against the display that contained the old tomes. "Why you're here, in fact. C'mon, Orie, we need answers before we agree to do anything, man."
Draco blinked, glancing at the illuminated manuscript in askance. "You mean the stories about the Celestials?"
"What?" Wufei said sharply, glancing between Duo and Draco in confusion. The chances of the two of them almost being on the same page (but not quite) in regards to the Oracle's frustratingly vague attention to detail were astronomically slim, especially when the Oracle and Duo were discussing Judaism and Christianity.
"It's an old creation myth that most of the purebloods know, at least in passing," Draco explained. "A battle between the Celestials, who were entirely of another plain of existence, broke down the separation between the realities. Celestials were attracted to introducing their ways and cultures on a race entirely different of their own, and they likewise enjoyed our culture. They taught us magic and gave us weapons, and the union between Celestial and humans bore giants. The giants were violent and chaotic, and the Celestials decided that it wasn't a good thing to impose themselves on mankind. The Celestials that refused to leave were left here to connect with this plain, thus the birth of Veela, as well."
Duo raised his eyebrow in amusement. "That's basically the gist of the Book of Enoch, except Veela aren't mentioned, the Celestials are angels, and God is the one who decided angels and children of the earth were non-mixy things."
Trowa raised his hand pointedly, grabbing the attention for a moment as he asked simply, "And this all has to do with what?"
"Ravenclaw's Library," Orie said, finally providing a straight-forward answer. "The Ritual of the Five was written by Lady Ravenclaw; it is in her private library where you will find the only copy."
The Gundam pilots, as one, exchanged questioning looks. Draco, having a better idea at what the Oracle was implying this time, said suspiciously, "This wouldn't have anything to do with that ritual in your prophecy, would it?"
Duo felt like cheering over his phenomenally sneaky idea paying off. The righteous moralist within him (or what was left of the persona) felt ashamed that one of the main reasons Duo drafted Draco first was to have an insider on what the Golden Trio would be up to this time around; he liked to think he would have included his pureblood friend regardless, but he would have been a lot more weary about it. The part of him that rather enjoyed holding all of the cards felt pretty good about the decision, even though he was slightly uneasy with the idea that Draco was the true winner in this game. "Wow, Harry cracked already? I'm impressed, dragon boy."
Trowa, in an unusual show of public amusement, snickered suddenly. Draco, cheeks pink, looked away with an uncomfortably noncommital hum of acknowledgment. Duo raised his eyebrows as he looked between the two, knowing that there had to be a juicy story in that maelstrom of reactions somewhere. "Okay. Is someone going to clue the rest of us in?"
Trowa, his one visible green eye fairly dancing with inner mirth, succinctly replied, "I think I'll let Draco explain it." Damn. Looked like Trowa was going to keep the inside joke between the two of them.
Relieved, Draco said breezily, "Harry asked me to help him find the Four Heirs of Hogwarts. He glossed over something about a ritual; I expect I'll be hearing more about it, however, after he breaks the unfortunate news to his nosy little friends that the number of their helpers jumped to four." The former Malfoy heir smirked triumphantly. "And the Slytherin finally penetrates the ranks."
Trowa choked painfully, turning his back on everyone as his shoulders shook violently in withheld laughter. Wincing painfully, his pale skin flushed red with embarrassment, Draco tiredly rubbed his palms over his face before he muttered bitterly, "By the spirits, Trowa, do you have to be such an obvious pervert?"
"Trowa, if you don't stop laughing," Duo warned teasingly, "you are morally obligated to share the joy."
"No, he's not!" Draco emphatically yelled, scowling fiercely at Duo.
Without missing a beat, Duo said impishly, "So keep laughing because you have no idea how badly I want to laugh with you."
"Trowa, swear to me you'll never tell Duo," Draco insisted vehemently. "I don't care if you tell anyone else, as long as it's not him or my mother. And just as long as you get whoever you tell to swear never to tell them! I want your oath as a wizard, Trowa Barton!"
"That really stings, dragon boy," Duo said, fawning hurt. Fluttering his eyelashes prettily, he said innocently, "I mean, don't you love me anymore?"
"I like you well enough," Draco said stonily, glaring at the American accusingly. "It won't stop you from teasing me horribly at every opportunity. Mother is bad enough on her own; I don't need two of her in my life."
"Going back to the point," Heero broke in suddenly, eyes focused primarily on the thoughtful man who had been silently but keenly observing the interaction between the three friends, "what, exactly, is the Ritual of the Five?"
"It is a complex ritual that incorporates the specific magical signatures of the Four Heirs of Hogwarts and a specific catalyst; that catalyst could be anyone with great magical prowess, but the inclusion of the Four Heirs is explicitly woven into the spell."
"What's the purpose of that specific procedure?" Quatre asked curiously, tilting his head to the side thoughtfully. "Why does it have to be the Four Heirs of Hogwarts instead of just anyone?"
"The Founders," the Oracle said quietly, "went to great lengths to tie their very essence to Hogwarts and her land. The land this school was founded upon is crossed with magical ley lines that rival the number of lines crossing at Stonehenge. At the very heart of her is where all of these lines intersect; it is what powers the wards, increases magical potential, and harnesses Hogwarts' most effective defense against those that would do her and her charges harm."
"So the ritual is a trigger," Heero said compendiously. "The Heirs plus one are the wielders. The true weapon is the heart of Hogwarts. The question now is, what does this ritual do with that power?"
"It doesn't kill anyone," Orie said softly. "Lord Slytherin and Lady Ravenclaw were very stern on that point. Lord Gryffindor and Lady Hufflepuff were of the opposite persuasion; in their defense, they believed death was the better alternative." The Oracle smiled briefly. "Lady Ravenclaw believes that those who would involve harmless children in their petty quarrels deserves such a fate."
Duo grinned wickedly. "Lady Ravenclaw sounds like my kind of woman." A punishment worse than death? Part of him pitied the enemies of Hogwarts; the other mentally rubbed his hands together in maniacal glee over the deliciously just outcome bound to come. All they had to do was find a library.
His enthusiasm deflated when he realized that, as far as top secret hidden treasure trove of ancient knowledge went, he didn't have the slightest idea as to where he would be looking for the damn thing. I want my just punishment. Now!
"Just to make sure we're all on the same page," Wufei said meaningfully, crossing his arms, "we're now searching for Ravenclaw's Library to find a ritual that is mentioned in a prophecy that's about Harry with our only clue hidden in some wizarding creation myth that happens to be mentioned in disregarded Bible scriptures, even though there hasn't been any mention of such a library in Hogwarts, A History. Is that right?"
"Ah," Orie said, shaking his head. "Tales of the Slytherin's Chamber were passed on with the explicit purpose of generating an interesting infamy; if the Chamber of Secrets truly were secret, no rumors of it would have existed, and you would have had a much more difficult time finding the entrance. Ravenclaw's Library is just as real as these chambers.
"One more thing," the Oracle added, glancing back at Duo. "Lady Ravenclaw entrusted me with a riddle meant to help you find her library. It was after quoting her riddle to me that she told me to look to the creation for answers."
The boys were silent. Finally, Wufei turned to his friends and asked, quite solemnly, "Do we really want to take on this responsibility when it is delivered to us through very suspicious means?" With a purposeful glance toward Orie. To the man's credit, he didn't at all take offense to the Chinese youth's cautious approach.
"Think of the consequences if we don't even try to validate it," Trowa responded thoughtfully, tapping his cheek absently as his eyes studied the ground in thought. "It's not something we can casually brush to the side."
Heero, eyes narrowed, admitted stoically, "I don't like pursuing something when we don't even have enough proof of its existence. Nothing is stopping the Oracle from up and leaving without a moment's notice."
"It's not like he can leave if we close the entrance behind us," Duo offered casually, tantalizing daydreams of scenarios that undisputably belonged in the "fates worse than death" category. He couldn't ignore common sense, however, wrinkling his nose as he admitted, "But this isn't exactly the kind of place I'd want to keep the guy. I mean, he's suspicious as hell -but he's not all that bad or anything."
Quatre's eyes widen suddenly. Snapping out of his musing, he stared at the Oracle in disbelief. The man, seemingly knowing exactly what had just occurred to the blond Hufflepuff's mind, met the wondering teal eyes with a sincerely open expression of silent affirmation. "You knew we were going to react like this," the Winner heir said, slightly awed. "You planned for it to happen."
Trowa, catching on, said in surprise. "That's right. The strange home we found..."
"There's probably even more secrets down here to occupy your time," Quatre surmised, his lips breaking into a grudgingly impressed smile. "There must be a phenomenal difference between an Oracle and a Seer."
"That's kind of creepy, Orie," Duo said, making a sour face of discomfort. He absolutely despised being second-guessed. It left him feeling a little uncertain about having as good a hand in the game as he had originally believed.
"And begs to question whether he arranged for a way to avoid the need of a Parselmouth or not," Heero muttered.
"Just a thought," Draco finally broke in with a lazy drawl, casually leaning against the back wall. His posture fairly reeked of boredom and snark. "You could make him swear a Wizard's Oath that he won't leave the grounds. A wizard's word is sacred -he won't be able to negate on the promise without risking death."
"Not a bad idea, dragon boy," Duo said approvingly, finally turning to the quiet man with a smirk. "What about it, Orie? Swear on your honor as a wizard that you won't leave the grounds, and we'll set out looking for that little library you're hankering after. It's an even trade, I think."
"It is more than fair," Orie murmured serenely, nodding his head in accordance. "So be it. I swear to remain on Hogwarts' land for however long you intend to hold me to my oath." With a fond smile, he murmured, "I see no reason to leave it, as Hogwarts has always been a second home to me and mine."
"Alright, case closed," Duo said triumphantly, grinning from ear to ear. "Ravenclaw's riddle. Gimmee."
Orie smiled softly at the American's renewed enthusiasm. "She said to me, 'My knowledge reflects between war and peace. With my knowledge, you will know what is to be done.'"
Duo waited. And waited. Finally, when he realized there would be nothing else forthcoming, he wrinkled his nose and huffed. "Man, this is probably going to be a little harder than I thought..." The short, vague riddle left him at a loss as to how to find Ravenclaw's Library; he couldn't even think of a place to begin looking.
"It will not be easy," Orie agreed quietly, nodding his head solemnly. "Just remember -look to the creation for guidance." With that, he gently padded the illuminated manuscript's cover.
Duo sighed. Guess this means we better get to looking.
And the beginning of a brand new adventure had officially begun.
The greatest thing about their late night excursion into the Chamber of Secrets was that it had been executed on a Saturday night, giving the six of them all of Sunday to prepare and recuperate for their first official day of classes. Most of the student populace seemed to be in good spirits considering that it was a Monday morning. ("The only thing worse than a Monday," Draco could be heard complaining loudly, "is a Tuesday. And tomorrow is going to be hell.") In a precedented move, most of the seventh year late-bloomers, plus Draco, had slowly but surely migrated to the Gryffindor table that morning, despite the grumpy blond's better wishes.
Seeing no harm in it, none of the teachers were willing to force standard protocol and encourage the non-Gryffindors to dine at their respective House tables. As long as Draco Black wasn't causing a scene with Ronald Weasley or any other hot-tempered Gryffindor, the staff would overlook the hiccup in the social norm of the student body. Likewise, the other students were used to the unusual comradery between members of their respective Houses, and merely had representatives bring their otherwise seated members their personal timetables.
Due to their seventh year status, the group of unlikely friends had a great deal of classes together, given one or two courses. Trowa and Quatre, for example, had opted to take Care of Magical Creatures, and Wufei and Hermione were taking Ancient Runes. Duo had chosen to bow out of Herbology gracefully, quite sure he didn't want to tempt Professor Sprout into a hysterical frenzy despite having enjoyed it to begin with. Instead, he voted to pursue Arithmancy with Heero, Hermione, and Draco. Ron and Harry wouldn't be taking History of Magic, and Ron was the only one who wouldn't be pursuing (read: tolerate) Potions any longer.
In the middle of trading schedules, Professor Peacecraft glided between the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables on his way to the staff table, pausing only long enough to hand Heero a sheet of parchment before continuing on his way. Heero glanced at the parchment for a moment before, forgoing his quill and inkpot in favor of the practical use of a pen, calmly wrote on his own schedule. Once he was finished, he took out his wand and cast a spell, immediately touching his wand to the schedules belonging to Duo, Trowa, Quatre, and finally Wufei.
Wufei made a sound of discontentment when Heero's words appeared on his schedule, apparently in disapproval of the results. With a casual shrug of indifference, Heero calmly handed the Chinese youth the parchment that Professor Peacecraft had handed him.
Duo, noticing the source of the upset spelled out on his own schedule, snickered at Wufei's situation.
"What is it?" Ron asked, his words guttered around a mouthful of eggs. Draco made a sour face at the redhead while the Weasley was otherwise distracted, disgusted by the blatant display of poor table etiquette.
Hermione, quite a bit more vocal, chided sternly, "Ron, don't talk with food in your mouth. It's rude."
It was Ron's turn to make a sour face at Hermione. "You're always telling me that."
"You're always doing it," Hermione shot back, giving her boyfriend an unmitigable glance over the top of her textbook.
"Am not," Ron said defensively, refusing to back down.
"Are too," Draco mumbled snidely, moodily tracing his spoon through his porridge.
"You stay out of this!"
"So, anyway," Harry said loudly, kicking both Ron and Draco under the table in quick succession, causing the warring boys to start and, in Draco's case, yelp in surprise and outrage. "What's up with you five and Professor Peacecraft?"
"You kicked me! You unbelievable bastard!"
Taking a page from Harry's book and ignoring Draco's indignation, Wufei sighed in defeat, handing the parchment back to Heero as he replied heavily, "Nothing that can be helped."
"Why do I still hang out with you people?" Draco muttered sullenly, slumping further in his position and scowling at the table. He seemed to realize his flawed posture and immediately straightened his back and pulled out his shoulders. The Slytherin Prince didn't bloody slump like a plebeian.
"Oh, what rapture," Duo cried exuberantly, eyes twinkling merrily. "Our first class of the day is Defense Against the Dark Arts, followed immediately by a no-doubt fascinating lecture in Muggle Defense."
"Don't rub it in, Maxwell," Wufei said sharply, pushing his plate away from him moodily.
Duo didn't acknowledge the Chinese Ravenclaw's words. "Then it's lunch, rounded off with a bittersweet taste of Double Potions. A fantastic schedule for a fantastic Monday, if I do say so myself."
"Yes!" Ron whooped, pumping a fist in the air triumphantly. "Following lunch, a free period followed by Divination. Though Divination might be dead boring without you, mate," Ron said regretfully, looking at Harry.
Seamus snickered when he overhead the conversation. "Who do you think will become the next victim of Trelawney's prophecies of death and doom now that Harry's escaped her clutches?"
As one, the seventh year Gryffindor boys turned to look piteously at Neville.
"Thanks for making me feel better," Neville said mournfully, his appetite having long left him when he began secretly assuming the same outcome.
"We'll defend you, Nev," Dean promised, clapping the boy on the back.
"Yeah," Ron said confidently. "We won't let that old fraud get to you."
"Do what Heero did when he had to endure Divination," Duo said gleefully. "Just don't react. It's the reaction she's looking for, and she gets huffy when she doesn't get so much as a blink in her direction."
"Me?" Neville said doubtfully, glancing at the quiet Japanese Slytherin who was almost mechanically eating his breakfast without visibly acknowledging his own boyfriend's almost comical suggestions. "Like Heero?"
"Hey, why not?" Duo said, laughing. "I mean, you remind me of him a lot, you know? And Hee-chan thinks you can do it, don't you, Hee-chan?"
The Slytherin shrugged his shoulders, clearly not bothered that his boyfriend just compared him to someone most others would consider inept. (On that matter, Draco was openly staring incredulously at the American for suggesting there were any similarities between Heero Yuy and Neville bloody Longbottom.) "If you think you can do it, you can."
"See?" Duo crowed, clapping the blushing Gryffindor on the back. "Just try it. I swear, you'll never stop ignoring her. She hates that with a passion!"
They soon left for their first class of the day in relatively good cheer; even Draco's attitude was remarkably less offensive than normal, though the majority of the Gryffindors were glad to be rid of him when he sat with his Slytherin friends, Harry taking the seat next to him to separate the green-eyed boy's Gryffindor friends from his boyfriend.
"Welcome to Defense Against the Dark Arts," Sirius Black said boisterously when the students had finally settled into their seats. The Defense classroom was actually rather large; the teacher's desk, upon which sat Professor Milliardo Peacecraft, was pushed against one wall; the chalkboard had also been removed in the same manner, leaving the expansive room open. A strange blue mat covered the floor, starting from just in front of the first row of desks and stretching all the way to the back wall. "I'm Professor Sirius Black, Hogwarts alumni, former Auror, and ex-convict. Those are just some of the numerous infamous titles I can proudly tack onto my resume."
The majority of the class stared at Black in mute disbelief. How could anyone consider 'ex-convict' a label to be worn proudly?
"We have a lot to make up for this year, as it's your final one at Hogwarts," Black continued on, undeterred by his students' skepticism. "I hope you guys are prepared to really pick up the pace. I've had the privilege of reading over your OWL results in Defense Against the Dark Arts -a lot of you seem to be pretty weak in the basics, but you're well informed when it comes to material from third, fourth, and fifth year. Most of you have phenomenal dueling skills, in fact, so I hope you don't mind if we skip the boring first-class-of-the-year lecture and go right into a quick review."
"Ah," Duo piped up, raising his hand sheepishly. "Small problem. I can't duel."
Sirius did a double-take, staring at the boy in disbelief. "You can't duel?" Granted, the boy had only been in the wizarding world for over a year, but with the kind of company he kept, Sirius thought dueling would have been the first thing Duo would brush up on.
"Well, no, I can," Duo said indifferently, "in theory. Filly imagines I'd be quite good at it, in fact, and he says my control has gotten way better. Still, Minnie and Filly strictly forbid me from using magic on animate objects. I have a serious lack of control, and absolutely no magical stamina for it. I can't rely on magic as much as everyone else can."
The phenomenon was rare, but not entirely unheard of. It was especially typical for wizards and witches that were in an undesirable situation for most of their younger years; children who had to depend on their innate magical talents purely for survival under extreme duress. Sometimes, when pondering over his godson's lackluster childhood, Sirius would work himself into a state of mixed rage and remorse when he would think about how Harry had eventually mastered such an advanced spell as the Patronous Charm at such a young age.
The revelation that Duo's case would be so extreme spoke volumes, and Sirius found himself wondering just how miserable the American colonist's life could have been before he came to Hogwarts. Going by the accepted theory, wizards and witches that lived on the space colonies couldn't access their magic because of the disconnection from the Earth. What could it mean then, if Duo had somehow used a strong burst of magic without that connection to save his own life?
"All right, Duo's demoted to cheerleader status. Hate to say it, but I call it as I see it." Sirius smothered a grin and glanced mischievously at the American. To his disappoint (though his amusement remained), Duo grinned enthusiastically and gave the professor a thumb's up and an exaggerated wink.
Cheeky. "The rest of you take the mat and start partnering in groups of two. Any of you who don't find a partner, prepare to be paired by me." The implication of the man's maniacal grin was clear; the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, ex-convict Sirius Black, would do anything for the benefit of having fun -even at the expense of his own students. The Slytherins shifted uneasily, all vowing they would willingly pair up with a Hufflepuff, just as long as they didn't have to depend on a glaringly obvious prankster.
Sirius narrowed his eyes when a sudden thought struck him. "Is anyone else restricted from participating in duels?" Though he hadn't intended to single anyone out, his gaze unconsciously focused on Heero when he directed his inquiry.
"Nope," Duo chirped with a grin, leaning back in his chair and threading his fingers behind his head. "I'm just special like that."
"Dangerous, too," Draco muttered in passing, following the flow of the rest of the students as the meandered to the mat. He smirked over his shoulder when Duo loudly blew a raspberry at the passing Slytherin. "I heard his very first spell completely demolished the Charms classroom, and was also responsible for Flitwick's lack of eyebrows at the beginning of our sixth year."
"That's nothing," Ron scoffed. "Our first Charms lesson in sixth year really took the cake."
It hadn't taken the students long to realize that, despite Flitwick's blind optimism, the diminutive professor actually treated Duo's spell-casting with extreme caution; Flitwick often had the other students shift away from wherever Duo would point his wand. Oddly enough, Duo never seemed concerned about what the professor's precautions translated to the other students, and the justification of the Charms' teacher actions was soon proven when Duo first cast a remedial spell.
"Wingardium Leviosa," the American said confidently, every syllable perfectly spoken, and his wand movement precisely accurate to mere degrees. It wasn't a surprise that Duo had no problem learning new languages; in fact, little did anyone know, the colony brat had already been fluent in Latin, courtesy of his first home -the Maxwell Church.
It was not Duo's spellwork that brought weariness to Professor Flitwick, but the fierce lack of control behind it. The feather had not been able to withstand the sheer power behind the spell, and it literally shuddered violently before crumpling over the weight that was meant to lift it into the air. The attending class was struck speechless at the feather, withered and in pieces on the table.
"Oh, dear," Flitwick murmured thoughtfully. "Perhaps something a little heavier..." The diminutive teacher waddled forward and carefully placed a brick a good distance in front of Duo. Then the man scrambled back hurriedly, cheerfully saying, "Now try, Duo."
The Gryffindor shrugged. "Okay. Wingardium Leviosa." Again, flawless. Again, there was a rather atypical effect. The brick flew into the air so effortlessly and at such speed that it slammed into the high arch of the ceiling with such force that webs of cracks branched from where the brick made contact; the brick itself shattered into thick chunks that, instead of falling, actually stuck to the ceiling.
Staring forlornly at his ruined classroom ceiling, Flitwick murmured, "And open skies... Duo, I suggest you practice working on your control outdoors; and certainly not on people."
Adopting an apologetic posture, the Charms professor had kindly said, "I don't mean to make this a spectacle in front of your peers, Duo-"
"Are you kidding? I burned down your classroom trying to light a fire," Duo reminded the man primly, grinning wryly at himself. "I would have been disappointed in you if you hadn't taken as much precaution as possible."
That wasn't to say that Duo didn't do well in the class. After a time, the American quickly developed his magical focus. The effort, however, required fierce concentration that could only be maintained under controlled situations. Dueling was something that required split second decisions that allowed little opportunity to focus so heavily on controlling the power of a spell. A simple Tickling Charm ran the risk of crushing his opponent's ribs and rupturing his or her internal organs. That wasn't a risk they -Flitwick, McGonagall, and Duo -were willing to take until the need to consciously control his violent magic became second nature to the boy.
As it turned out, Sirius thought his first seventh year lesson for the year was a smashing success. Though the students' education was obviously varied and sporadic due to year after year of a different teacher with a different focus, their dueling skills were nearly flawless. Even Duo, despite his lack of participation, would call out helpful tidbits to anyone who seemed to have trouble gaining the upper hand, proving that the boy certainly had a mind for it. (Sirius suspected, hidden mirth boldly dancing in his eyes, that the American was taking his cheerleading status a little too literally.) Duo's primary focus seemed to be on encouraging Neville Longbottom, much to the humble Gryffindor's embarrassment. The American's cheers seemed to work exactly as intended, as Neville actually out-dueled his opponent. ("Duck, Nev! Now hit 'im where it hurts! Yeah! Way to go, man, you are a star!")
"And that sound marks the end of my class," Sirius said with a lazy grin of self-gratification, obviously patting himself on the back for a job well done. "You have ten minutes to mingle before Professor Milli McHunk takes the stage."
Duo choked loudly before bursting out with a fit of uncontrollable laughter, much to the discomfort of the Lightning Count. So enthralled with his amusement that Heero had to pointedly prod the laughing American (head buried in his arms on the table, shoulders shaking violently with each cackle) into gathering his belongings, Trowa and Quatre already waiting patiently at the door.
"Where are you going?" Ron asked in bafflement, turning to look over his shoulder, arm thrown casually over the back of his chair as he had turned to face Harry in order to better converse with the black-haired boy. "Muggle Defense starts in ten minutes."
Quatre smiled apologetically. "We won't be sticking around, I'm afraid. We're exempt."
"What?" Theodore Nott cried, looking indignantly to the otherwise quiet young Preventer, whose arms were casually crossed as he leaned his hip against the desk he and Sirius were apparently sharing. "Why do the rest of us have to take this class?"
Zechs didn't even bat an eyelash as he replied calmly, "I wouldn't be able to teach them anything they don't already know. They'll each be acting as my assistants for school credit, as this is otherwise a mandatory class. Chang Wufei will be staying today as my assistant."
Though the exchange was more than fair, Nott still appeared to be rather unsatisfied that he had to indulge the insane whim's of the doddering old Headmaster when others did not. Snickering as he shouldered his satchel, Duo cast a smirk at the Lightning Count before drawling, "Have fun, Milli McHunk."
Zechs narrowed his icy blue eyes dangerously at the guiltless American. "I'm perfectly willing to dish out detentions, even to you, Maxwell."
Duo shrugged casually. "It wouldn't help, but I'm happy to hear some teachers are still willing to endure my presence via punishment. Snape's already given it up as a lost cause."
Zechs smirked. "Professor Snape doesn't know that the most effective punishment for someone of your stature is to force you to sit still and silent for over an hour."
The Gryffindor narrowed his eyes contemplatively on the Preventer before conceding with a sly drawl of, "Touche, Birdman." Then he dashed out of the classroom before the Lightning Count could follow through with his implied threat of 'suitable' punishment. The muggle professor silently congratulated himself for winning the verbal spar, despite Duo's parting words. The American was, after all, the one to flee first.
Justin turned to Neville beside him, eyes wide with disbelief. "Is he like that with all of the teachers?" The Hufflepuff often heard rumors of Duo's infamous cavalier attitude with the two professors no one else dared to cross -namely, Minerva McGonagall and Severus Snape. Professor Sprout seemed to have a paranoid grudge against the Gryffindor, and Madam Pince flinched every time he stepped foot in the library. Justin had even heard of a secret (meaning the Hogwarts Grapevine was aware of every juicy detail) wager between Sinistra and Hooch as to which of the four aforementioned staff members would require an extended vacation courtesy of St. Mungo's first. Once the school betting pool caught wind, everyone was placing gold on who they thought would be the unlucky one.
Currently, Professor Sprout was in the lead. Snape was a close second.
"Pretty much," Neville replied honestly, a year of the unusual behavior fueling just how unconcerned he was. The only reason Duo's casual dismissal of authority was so focused on those that were irritated by it the most was because such brash behavior in the presence of the likes of McGonagall and Snape was nigh unheard of. Duo behaved no differently with any of his professors. Flitwick, in fact, always seemed amused by Duo's enthusiasm for details spun into terms that he, raised so long among muggles, could better understand. Neville vaguely recalled Flitwick giggling over Duo's scientific explanation for Apparition, A. K. A. "The Wormhole Theory."
"Wormhole?" Black had said snidely, present only because the Gryffindors were unlucky enough to have their sixth year Charms class with the Slytherins. "Are you calling us worms?"
"No, you science-fiction deprived soul," Duo said sincerely, grinning at the testy Slytherin teasingly. "Remind me to get you a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. That'll blow your freaking mind, let me tell you." Effortlessly turning his attention back to his still giggling professor, he said enthusiastic, "Wormholes are created by bending time and space. You can fold time and reality, create a portal, and literally appear from one place to another in the span of a second." Laughing in delight, Duo fell back in his chair with a cry of, "Man! I feel like a super hero! This is so cool!"
Even the Slytherins had been snickering at Duo's exuberance, and the Gryffindor boys were howling with laughter, Harry's a little more reserved than the rest. The girls were tittering cutely behind their hands, and Hermione had been calmly turning the page of her Standard Book of Spells, 6th Edition.
The bell sounded in warning of the next lesson beginning, and the students moved back to their respective seats and settled in for another lesson. When the final bell sounded, Sirius parted from Zechs and let the man take the floor, settling on the desk against the wall as the muggle had done during his lecture, silent and watchful.
"The Headmaster introduced me as Professor Milliardo Peacecraft," Zechs began in an even, confident voice, looking over the students casually. "Personally, I don't consider myself a professor, nor do I always respond to Milliardo Peacecraft. I'm an agent in the Preventer Organization -I've been led to believe that's the muggle equivalent to an Unspeakable -and I would prefer it if you called me Agent Marquise, or even Marquise, if that suits you.
"My true profession is in the military -I enlisted when I was fourteen years old, and I was part of the OZ Elite before my nineteenth birthday. After the war ended almost two years ago, I became an active Preventer and the head of security for Vice Foreign Minister Relena Dorlian." He stopped, glancing over the students again. "Are there any questions before I move on?"
Pansy raised her hand in a surprisingly bold show of confidence. "What war?"
I know people who would pay for this sort of blissful ignorance. "There was a recent war between the governments of Earth and the colonies. By the end of it, the war had become extremely complicated, and narrowly avoided global catastrophe; the Earth Sphere Alliance and the colonies had no choice but to sit down and negotiated a peaceful solution. Those negotiations are still proceeding to this day." He paused again. "Anything else?"
Several students shook their heads; most didn't even bother to respond.
"Muggle Defense is a cooperative effort between Headmaster Dumbledore and the Vice Foreign Minister to promote a better understanding of exactly how far muggles have advanced in regards to defense, spanning from the ancient martial arts to modernize variations of defense," Marquise explained. "This course covers the terrible what-if. What if you lose your wand? Do you just stand there and give up? Or what if someone takes you by surprise when your wand is not available to you? Will you just allow yourself to be overtaken?" Marquise paused, head tilted to the side. "Or do you fight back? Run away? I know I would never give in without putting up a good struggle. And that is exactly what this course is going to teach you -defense."
Theodore Nott snorted in derision.
Agent Marquise, instead of ignoring Nott's audible outburst, focused his attention entirely on his student. "Is there something you would like to say to the contrary, Mr. Nott?"
The Slytherin lifted his chin proudly, undaunted by being called out by a professor. "Wizards are naturally superior to muggles by the simple fact that there is nothing you can do to counter magic. This class is nothing but a tremendous waste of our time."
The mix of Hogwarts' seventh years were strangely silent, every gaze going between the oddly defiant Theodore Nott to the muggle professor that, by the looks of him, seemed unconcerned with the Slytherin's unspoken challenge to his authority as a teacher.
"I see," Agent Marquise said evenly. "Are you willing to actively prove your theory, Mr. Nott?"
"It's a fact," the boy said boldly, refusing to back down from the challenge.
"I'll take that to mean that you'll be volunteering to propagate your theory," Agent Marquise said, blatantly refusing to refer to Nott's words as factual. "Front and center, Mr. Nott, and bring your wand."
The seventh year Slytherin stood confidently from his desk, wand in hand as he came to the edge of the blue mat covering the floor. He frowned when Marquise waved him forward, but walked across the surface of the firm mat to stand a fair distance away from the muggle Preventer.
"Wufei," Marquise called, and the Chinese youth came to the man's side unquestioningly. "Your task is to disarm and detain Mr. Nott without the use of a wand. Mr. Nott," he added, waving his hand toward the boy, "will be using his wand to dissuade you from doing so. Keep in mind that this is a demonstration, and both of you will be suitably punished should you attempt to seriously harm each other. Disarm and detain -that should be the only goal for either of you."
The class broken into excited whispers that died away as quickly as was born when the Preventer turned his icy gaze toward the rest of them. Then the man stood back, glancing at the fair amount of distance between the two students who turned to face each other. Back stiff, Wufei bowed at the waist at his opponent before taking a defensive stance.
"This is a legitimate duel, Mr. Nott," Sirius piped lazily, having been silent the entire time. Judging by the manic gleam in the man's dark eyes, he was fairly interested in just how this was going to turn out. "Return the favor."
With a grudging sneer, Nott quickly bowed and readied himself into the standard dueling position.
"Begin," Marquise barked; with a burst of unbelievable speed, Wufei rushed forward and, before Nott had the opportunity to even finish his wand movement, had the other boy's wrist firmly grasped in a firm grip. The spell on the Slytherins' lips bled into a cry of surprise when Wufei's thumb administered pressure to his wrist. His fingers immediately jerked, dropping the useless wand on the mat. Faster than Nott could register, the Chinese youth kicked the back of the Slytherin's knees and twisted the boy's arm behind his back, firmly putting the boy to his knees and forcing the Slytherin's cheek against the back with a firm hand to keep him there.
"You were taken off guard, Mr. Nott," Marquise said somberly when Wufei released the boy and moved away. Humiliated, the Slytherin grabbed his wand from the floor and shot an acidic glare at the stoic Ravenclaw. "Try again."
With a sniff of frustration, Nott took up his dueling stance again. Not the least bit intimidated by the dark glare that had permanently taken residence on the Slytherin's face, Wufei casually relaxed into his defensive crouch.
The next time, Nott managed to execute half of his spell before Wufei reached him. The Slytherin faltered when, unexpectedly, the Chinese youth dropped to the floor and swept Nott's feet out from him with a wide sweep of his leg. The students gasped in winced when Nott's back slammed into the firm mat. Wufei kicked the wand from the winded seventh years reach, prodded the dazed Slytherin to turn over before firmly planting his knee in the small of Nott's back, twisting the boy's arms behind his back.
"That was better," Marquise praised sincerely when Wufei dislodged himself from Nott. The Slytherin was slower to come to his feet this time, obviously winded and left feeling uncertain about the possibility of actually besting Wufei. The Slytherin glanced at the muggle Preventer, frowning in befuddlement over being praised for losing. "You reacted much faster than the first time. You faltered when Wufei used a different approach, but such things are to be expected when you're learning something foreign." The muggle man raised a finger, adding, "I want you to try one more time."
Nott's frown deepened, but he didn't protest. Instead, he inhaled deeply and took up his stance again.
The third time, Nott actually managed to complete his Binding Hex before Wufei came into striking distance; the elation was short lived, however, when Wufei merely swept to the side, dodging the spell as he took advantage of the blind opening, grabbing Nott's extended arm and twisting it behind the boy's back, once again prodding the boy to his knees. It was the support of his second arm that kept his face from meeting the mat for a second time.
Wufei released him and moved away, leaving the Slytherin on his knees. Seemingly satisfied with the results, Agent Marquise knelt to the defeated and humiliated pureblood's side. "Let me adequately define a fact by a muggle's standpoint, Mr. Nott," he said, soft enough to consider the conversation private, but loud enough for the rest of the astounded students to hear. "A fact is hard, concrete evidence, indisputably accepted as an absolute truth. A theory, on the other hand, is a hypothetically proposed idea that needs solid facts to support it. Your unsupported truth, in this case, will not merit a grain of salt until you can best Chang Wufei without resorting to so-called 'muggle' defense tactics.
"However," Marquise added, finally allowing a small, approving smile spread across his lips, "you got back up and tried again. You improved. A sad few of your classmates couldn't have done any better in your situation."
The muggle Preventer stood to his full height before offering the Slytherin a helping hand. Resolutely ignoring the offer, the boy stubbornly climbed to his feet under his own power, refusing to so much as glance at the Preventer. Clearly not bothered by his student's refusal to acknowledge that any sort of lesson had been learned, Agent Marquise let his outstretched hand fall to his side before he addressed the rest of the class.
"Some of you may agree with Mr. Nott's theory -that muggles, like me, are inferior to you in every way imaginable." With a short moment of silence, the Preventer swept his eyes from one raptly fascinated face to another, mentally picking out the ones who would most likely be giving him trouble after this insult to their pride. "This way of thinking is dangerous and could get you and every one you love killed. Wufei had a total of three opportunities to deliver a fatal blow to Mr. Nott, all by using his advanced training in what we muggles call martial arts.
"Nonetheless, Mr. Nott showed a marked improvement in his technique, and even managed to complete a spell on his third attempt," Marquise added, seemingly quite impressed and enthused with the Slytherin's success despite the loss. "It's expected that none of you will advance as far as Wufei, since he's spent quite a bit of his young life training in various styles of the martial arts. Still, Mr. Nott demonstrated the exact purpose of this class -to improve and learn. Twenty points to Slytherin House."
He pretended to ignore Nott's bewildered stare as the Slytherin House murmured approvingly. Draco thought it was a rather brilliant move on Marquise's part; the muggle managed to teach his pupil a lesson and still find room to praise his achievements. It was almost guaranteed that the Slytherins would begin to think a little better of the muggle for saving their housemate face in front of a collective group of the four Houses of Hogwarts. Not even that Weasel and Finnigan were mocking Nott for his humiliation.
He turned back to Nott, murmuring, "You may return to your seat, Mr. Nott." Still a little weary of the unexpected praise, the seventh year silently went to his seat without meeting anyone's eyes, lost in his own thoughts.
Once the class had settled down, he began, "Martial arts is physical combat that can be initiated either hand-to-hand, as Chang Wufei demonstrated, or one can utilize weapons to suit their needs. The focus of this class will be basic self-defense; while my assistants and I will be showing you examples of more dangerous variations of the martial arts, I'm not willing to give lethal weapons to misguided children who refuse to acknowledge that every action has a consequence.
"Along with improving your physical health, increasing your stamina, and bettering the odds of you walking away from a battle relatively unhurt and intact, I'll be taking the opportunity to show you examples of what muggles can and will do if they come under attack."
"Sir!" Hermione exclaimed, startling the students by her unusual outburst. "Agent Marquise, is that really a good idea? I mean..." She glanced uneasily at several of the purebloods in her class, especially the Slytherins.
"I don't want to scare anyone," the Preventer said evenly, meeting the eyes of his students somberly. "And a lot of you will be troubled about that particular part of the class. Your entire culture has been focused on thinking that muggles are harmless, inferior people that can be easily put down without much effort." With a small sigh, he closed his eyes for a moment before returning to his lecture. "As an elite soldier, I cannot allow any of you to head into a conflict with muggles without informing you of the likely consequences."
He went to the teacher's desk resting against the wall across the room, picking up a stack of thick, hard-cover green textbooks. "Some of you may have been under the mistaken impression that there wouldn't be any reading in this class. Sorry to disappoint you," he said with a wry smile, "but that's not the case."
Several students -most notably Ronald Weasley and Seamus Finnigan -moaned in disappointment. Stifling his amusement, Agent Marquise continued, "I've taken the liberty of purchasing your textbook for you, as you would not have been able to buy the required reading from a wizarding bookstore. Tonight, for homework, you'll all read the introduction chapter. We'll review over the contents of the chapter for the first twenty minutes of class on Wednesday before we begin the first day of your workout."
Pansy peered between the cover of her copy of the textbook (sporting a simple, one word title -War by Walter McGee) with uneasy curiosity. "The pictures don't move."
"Consider that a blessing," Agent Marquise murmured darkly, thinking of the annoyingly haughty portrait of a woman in his private suite. "I can't get the portraits to shut up. Frankly, I don't know how you tolerate it."
Class was dismissed not long after Professor Marquise assigned their homework, and the students eagerly and ravenously escaped to the Great Hall in a swarm of excitedly chattering students taking their first break from the first classes of the year.
"Hey, guys," Duo greeted cheerfully when his fellow Gryffindor seventh years took their seats at the table. "How was Milli McHunk in his first class? I have money riding on whether he managed to teach Theodore a lesson." He didn't, really, but only because the other three wouldn't accept the bet.
"Wufei put him down," Harry said, grinning at the memory as he served himself a healthy serving of potatoes. "Three times. It was fantastic, but Agent Marquise gave him twenty points for actually managing to fire off a spell the third time around."
"What was he talking about with that scary consequences stuff, anyway?" Ron mumbled around a thick bite of a soft, warm roll that had already found its way into his mouth as he dished himself a large portion of roast.
"I don't agree with it," Hermione said vehemently, frowning at the front of her textbook in concern. "I know he's just trying to help the purebloods understand why creating conflict with muggles would be a terrible idea, but fear-mongering isn't the answer!"
Duo's face cleared of confusion and, with an air of understanding, he said, "Oh. That. Can I see your book, Hermione?" He cracked the cover open when Hermione handed it to him, scanning the table of contents before confidently flipping to a page. After searching for a moment, he stood up and leaned over the table, holding the book open right in front of Ron's face.
Ron blinked, staring nonplused at the pile of rubble and ruin that the large picture portrayed. "What's that?"
"That," Duo said, still holding the book open for Ron to look at, "was once a flourishing city in Japan called Hiroshima. Japan dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, even though the United States was neutral as far as the war was concerned. In return, the United States dropped first atomic bomb. Ground zero was obliterated, and anything beyond that was taken out by the shockwave."
Ron, freckles clashing horribly with his pallid skin, gulped and looked at the picture again. No way... "That used to be... a city?"
Duo snapped the book shut and handed it back to Hermione with an apologetic smile. "I probably just spoiled Zechs' ace in the hole. Basically, if the wizards bite muggles, Zechs is going to try to make sure you're well aware that muggles are well within their rights to try and bite back harder."
Ron stared at Duo before glancing over to the Slytherin table. "Oh, hell, they're not going to take this well." Then, with an accusing tone in his voice, he sniped, "Jeez, Harry, Mione -why didn't you ever tell me?"
Harry blinked, his fork hesitating in its journey to his mouth as he considered Ron's inquiry. "I never really thought about it. The war was something my relatives complained about, and I never really tried to be interested in what they had to say."
Hermione, who clearly had thought about it, said guiltily, "I didn't want to scare you." Then, with a grimace, she admitted, "And I didn't want to mention it because you would have trivialized it. You wouldn't have done it intentionally, but you would have done it, nonetheless."
"Well, yeah, maybe," Ron muttered grudgingly, planting his elbows on the table with a frown. "Why wouldn't the Ministry tell us about these things? I mean, they've got to know, right?"
"Some of them probably do," Duo said, shrugging. "The muggleborns, anyway. The Ministry doesn't go out of its way to tell you how dangerous muggles are because they don't want you to feel threatened or scared. They probably think that as long as the wizarding world believes the muggles are harmless, there won't be any disastrous results. Unfortunately, it's had an opposite but similar effect; the purists think muggles are weak and stupid and resent having to hide from them. I mean, let's face it, man. You purebloods don't really respect muggles at all."
"That's not true," Ron said hotly, glaring at Duo.
"Oh, yeah, you think they're all right," Duo said, giving the boy an apologetic smile. "I'm not saying you think muggles are stupid and weak, Ron -you just don't respect them. If at any time you've ever come across a muggle and thought to yourself 'silly muggle' just because they reacted differently to something that any other wizard wouldn't bat an eyelash at, you are unintentionally belittling muggles. It's not even your fault, really, since it's the kind of behavior you've learned from wizarding society."
"Which doesn't mean you have an excuse to not improve that sort of behavior," Hermione added, looking at Duo thankfully for defusing the redhead's temper. "Duo probably just ignores it because he likes you. I think it's irritating."
Duo snickered, grinning impishly at Hermione. "Guess the pros of Birdman's class far outweigh the cons, eh, Hermione?"
The bushy-haired girl didn't acknowledge Duo's teasing rejoinder, instead taking the opportunity to finally turn her attention to her food. She couldn't stop a reluctant smile from flittering across her lips when she heard Duo crow with triumphant laughter, overjoyed at winning a point over Hermione Granger.
You really are the absolute limit, Duo.
The seventh year Double Potions class was perhaps the most eventful, most frustrating introduction class that any teacher could possibly experience; it was just bad luck that it would happen to Severus, and the inclusion of forced interaction with Duo Maxwell didn't better his odds. (Well, that, and a lot of careful scheming on the American's part.)
Black eyes burning with cold fury, the Potions Master looked so very close to actually laying hands on his otherwise unconcerned student. In fact, Maxwell appeared vaguely pleased with his accomplishments, despite the fact he was now the owner of a ruined cauldron and solely responsible for the table on which the melted metal sealed itself to. "Maxwell," he grounded out through gritted teeth, "what the hell were you thinking?"
The few Hufflepuffs gasped, whispering amongst themselves. The Slytherins appeared suitably impressed that the Gryffindor had yet to burst into flames. The Ravenclaws (and Hermione) were irritated that progress had been thwarted, and the rest of the Gryffindors were all visibly choking on their amusement. The Gryffindors that failed to disguise their persistent snickering were soon silenced by a quick, evil glare from the Potions Master.
Maxwell shrugged nonchalantly, completely oblivious to the black soot that caked his face. "Not a whole lot, actually. I wanted to see what would happen if I tossed in a couple of volatile, non-mixy ingredients. Now I know -it makes big booms." With an askance look to his ruined cauldron, he airily added, "It apparently also melts cauldrons."
Spirits save me from stupid Americans, Severus thought spitefully, his evil eye increasing tenfold. "The thought of asking me never once passed through your pea brain?"
"Of course it did," the Gryffindor said insouciantly, waving a soot-covered hand around the vicinity of his ear in a casual gesture of dismissal. "You would have droned on and on about reactions and combinations and precautions, using big words and a tone that would imply that I'm an idiot for wanting to know. This way, I get my answer in a more simplified form -ergo, it makes big booms. See? Short, sweet, and to the point. Moving on."
"Oh, God," Severus heard Finch-Fletchly mutter in amazement. "The rumors are true."
Rumors? Oh, hell, Maxwell's praises were being sung throughout the Hogwarts Grapevine. Severus' carefully cultivated reputation, patiently harvested through years of derision, favoritism and growing ill temper for anyone who wasn't of his house, was quickly swirling down the drain. And it was all bloody Maxwell's fault.
"It's the first day of class," Severus snarled, becoming more and more incensed by the second. "What possessed you to bring your personal potions ingredients and your equipment when you knew I would be reviewing?" Then, not even giving the American a chance to answer, he raised his hand to stave off the boy's no doubt witty response, saying in disgust, "No, forget it. I don't even want to know. Fifty points from Gryffindor and two weeks of detention."
Granger groaned in frustration.
Maxwell, unperturbed (in fact, oddly pleased with himself), said boldly, "I'll get them back."
Vile little upstart.
The rest of the class went off without a hitch, and Maxwell was the model student for the remainder of the evening. He was attentive, back straight and head held high in keen interest, obediently taking down thorough notes. He also actively sought to participate in class, going as far as to raising his hand and asking surprisingly insightful, intelligent questions in such a way that it encouraged the rest of the class to sit up and take notice.
It wasn't as if Maxwell was a terrible student. In fact, Severus was under the impression that Maxwell was the only Gryffindor aside from Granger who understood anything that Severus sought to force into the empty skulls of his otherwise talent-less students' skulls (excepting Draco Black, Blaise Zabini, a handful of Ravenclaws, Hannah Abbot, and the rest of the members of Maxwell's unit). However, he trusted his instinct, and Severus' instinct suspected that Maxwell had gotten exactly what he had wanted out of the Potions Master.
For the last ten minutes of class, the derisive professor cast occasional glances of suspicion in the American's direction, only to be met with smiling eyes and a secretive smirk. What was the little deviant up to?
"You guys go on ahead," Severus heard Maxwell instruct his little posse casually. The man could see the boy hitch the strap of his book satchel higher on the graceful arch of his shoulder. "I gotta talk to Sexy about my detention. I'll see you guys at dinner."
Potter sent a pointed glance in Severus' direction before saying dryly, "We won't hold our breaths."
At least the little idiot had some common sense. Maxwell, however, proved that he was lacking in that area when he laughed off Potter's words. "Aw, c'mon, Harry. Sevy's a pussycat if you stroke him the right way." Grinning wickedly, he waggled his eyebrows suggestively at Potter.
Potter looked vaguely disgusted at the implication. "Ew. And with that unappetizing imagery, we're leaving now."
When the last student finally fled the confines of the Potions classroom, the American shouldered his bag and casually sauntered up to Severus' desk, grinning unrepentantly at the Potions Master's dark expression. Raising one eyebrow pointedly, he drawled, "Two weeks? I'm almost touched. I must be growing on you, Sevy."
"Like a malignant tumor," Severus said haughtily, snapping the thick textbook on lying open on his desk shut with one hand before he crossed his arms over his chest. "What the devil are you up to, Maxwell?"
"See, that's why you're my favorite," Maxwell said boastfully. "You always know there's a secret agenda. A method to my madness, if you will. Of course, you meddling in my affairs is exactly what I don't need, so I'll be completely up-front with you, Sev." With a truly apologetic smile, Maxwell admitted, "I have no intention of actually serving detention with you. I know; you must be heartbroken as most people are when I have to cancel dates, but I'm a well-kept man."
Cheeky brat. "Actually, I intend to have you serve detention with Filch," Severus said flatly.
Maxwell winced. "Yelch. You weren't kidding about that malignant tumor thing, were you?"
The more he had to tolerate Maxwell's presence, the more Severus desperately wanted to give in and throttle the smart-mouthed little git. "Give me a good reason as to why I shouldn't sign your two weeks' detention over to Filch and be done with it, Maxwell." Tell me what you're up to, you little snotnosed brat.
"Okay," Maxwell said agreeably, casually stepping closer so as to speak very softly. Severus, unaccustomed to anyone standing so close to him, was immediately put on edge. He knew very well that Maxwell was a dangerous opponent, as even Dumbledore admitted that he preferred Quatre's strategically crippling approach to the cold fury of one Duo Maxwell. Even without that knowledge, Severus was starkly aware by Nott Sr.'s bold admittance that the boy was no stranger to killing, just as ruthless as Heero Yuy had been when he killed Avery and mangled Nott's knee to the point that the man would be haunted by a troublesome limp for the rest of his life.
"I'm going to be looking for a library," Maxwell said softly, a smug grin on his face as he added, "A secret library that reputably belonged to Rowena Ravenclaw herself."
Severus narrowed his eyes suspiciously. Secret rooms were notorious at Hogwarts, and Slytherin's Chamber of Secrets had been the most sought after legend passed down by word of mouth. There had never been mention of the possibility of the other Founders having such private hidden enclaves, and the Potions Master found it hard to believe that any should exist. Why would Slytherin's Chamber gain such widespread attraction, and not something as grandiose as a private library? "There's no such thing."
"My source came a very long way to convince me otherwise," Maxwell said with a secretive grin. "I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. In any case, if I'm going to be free to look for the library, I'm going to need an excuse to leave the tower in the evening."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "Thus the reason you decided to foolishly mix volatile potions' ingredients in my class?"
"Basically," Maxwell admitted with a sheepish shrug. "I mean... Well, c'mon, Sevy. You really started getting used to my typical behavior at the end of last year. If I actually wanted detention, I was going to have to step it up a notch."
He hated that the boy was right; for any other minor offense that he couldn't tolerate in his cowed students, Maxwell would have gotten off with a slap on the wrist purely because Severus just didn't want to deal with the headache of dealing with the boy more than he absolutely had to. "Get out of my sight, Maxwell."
The boy raised an eyebrow, grinning. "Does that mean there will be no detention with Filch?"
Severus narrowed his eyes threateningly at the Gryffindor. "Don't make me regret inactively helping you. The detentions, by the way, will still remain on your permanent record."
"I guess that's fair," Maxwell said casually, shouldering his backpack with a bright smile. "Thanks, Sexy! I'll make it up to you one day. Promise!"
"I'd rather you just go away," Severus said flatly. "Now."
Laughing gaily over his shoulder (and delivering a saucy wave), the American nearly skipped out of the room in his jubilation. He didn't leave soon enough, however, as he lingered long enough to drawl, "Pleasure doing business with you, Sev."
The Potions Master was immediately left alone to stew over his misfortune. Spirits save me from nosy Gryffindors...
(1) No, I did NOT coin this phrase from Doctor Who... It just sounded cooler than 'Time Mage.' :pouts and mutters something about watching too much science fiction shows:
I have these really fun, unique characterizations of the Four Founders toiling around in my brain. I'm kind of excited about it, actually. :gleefully rubs her hands together: This is going to be oh so very amusing. Mwahah...
Thirty-nine pages! Yeah! That more than makes up for the long wait!
... Right?... :looks uncertain: Er... Author craves feedback. (And she already knows it's not proofread. :sweatdrops:)
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