Chapter 49: Prior Information

A boy waits at a small clear­ing at the edge of the non-for­bid­den for­est, beside a dirt trail that runs back to the gates of Hog­warts in one di­rec­tion, and off into the dis­tance in an­other. There is a car­riage nearby, and the boy is stand­ing well away from it, look­ing at it, his eyes sel­dom wa­ver­ing from its di­rec­tion.

In the dis­tance, a figure is ap­proach­ing along the dirt path: A man wear­ing pro­fes­so­rial robes, trudg­ing slowly with his shoulders slumped low, his for­mal shoes kick­ing up small clouds of dust as he walks.

Half a minute later, the boy darts an­other quick glance be­fore re­turn­ing to his surveillance; and this glimpse shows that the man’s shoulders have straight­ened, his face un­slack­ened, and that his shoes are now walk­ing lightly across the dirt, leav­ing not a trace of dust in the air be­hind.

“Hello, Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell,” Harry said with­out let­ting his eyes move again from the di­rec­tion of their car­riage.

“Salu­ta­tions,” said the calm voice of Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell. “You seem to be keep­ing your dis­tance, Mr. Pot­ter. I don’t sup­pose you see some­thing odd about our con­veyance?”

“Odd?” Harry echoed. “Why no, I can’t say I see any­thing odd. There seem to be even num­bers of ev­ery­thing. Four seats, four wheels, two huge skele­tal winged horses...”

A skin-wrapped skull turned to look at him and flashed teeth, solid and white in that black cav­ernous mouth, as though to in­di­cate that it was just about as fond of him as he was of it. The other black leath­ery horse-skele­ton tossed its head like it was whick­er­ing, but there was no sound.

“They are Thes­trals, and they have always drawn the car­riage,” Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell said, sound­ing quite undis­turbed as he climbed into the front bench of the car­riage, sit­ting down as far to the right as pos­si­ble. “They are visi­ble only to those who have seen death and com­pre­hended it, a use­ful defense against most an­i­mal preda­tors. Hm. I sup­pose that the first time you went in front of the De­men­tor, your worst mem­ory proved to be the night of your en­counter with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?”

Harry nod­ded grimly. It was the right guess, even if for the wrong rea­sons. Those who have seen Death...

“Did you re­call any­thing of in­ter­est, thereby?”

“Yes,” Harry said, “I did,” only that and noth­ing more, for he was not ready as yet to make ac­cu­sa­tions.

The Defense Pro­fes­sor smiled one of his dry smiles, and beck­oned with an im­pa­tient finger.

Harry closed the dis­tance and climbed into the car­riage, winc­ing. The sense of doom had grown sig­nifi­cantly stronger af­ter the day of the De­men­tor, even though it had been slowly weak­en­ing be­fore then. The great­est dis­tance that the car­riage al­lowed him from Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell no longer seemed like nearly far enough.

Then the skele­tal horses trot­ted for­ward and the car­riage started in mo­tion, tak­ing them to­ward the outer bounds of Hog­warts. As it did, Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell slumped back down into zom­bie-mode, and the sense of doom re­treated, though it still hov­ered at the edge of Harry’s per­cep­tions, unig­nor­able...

The for­est scrol­led by as the car­riage rol­led along, the trees mov­ing past at a speed that seemed pos­i­tively glacial by com­par­i­son to broom­sticks or even cars. There was some­thing oddly re­lax­ing, Harry thought, about trav­el­ing that slowly. It had cer­tainly re­laxed the Defense Pro­fes­sor, who was slumped over with a small stream of drool com­ing out of his slack mouth and pud­dling on his robes.

Harry still hadn’t de­cided what he was al­lowed to eat for lunch.

His library re­search hadn’t turned up any sign of wiz­ards speak­ing to non­mag­i­cal plants. Or any other non­mag­i­cal an­i­mals be­sides snakes, al­though Spell and Speak by Paul Breed­love had re­counted the prob­a­bly-myth­i­cal tale of a sor­cer­ess called the Lady of Fly­ing Squir­rels.

What Harry wanted to do was ask Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell. The prob­lem was that Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell was too smart. Judg­ing by what Draco had said, the Heir of Slytherin busi­ness was a ma­jor bomb­shell, and Harry wasn’t sure he wanted any­one else to know. And the in­stant Harry asked about Parsel­tongue, Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell would fix him with those pale blue eyes and say, ‘I see, Mr. Pot­ter, so you taught Mr. Malfoy the Pa­tronus Charm and ac­ci­den­tally spoke to his snake.’

It wouldn’t mat­ter that it shouldn’t be enough ev­i­dence to lo­cate the true ex­pla­na­tion as a hy­poth­e­sis, let alone over­come its bur­den of prior im­prob­a­bil­ity. Some­how the Defense Pro­fes­sor would de­duce it any­way. There were times when Harry sus­pected that Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell had way more back­ground in­for­ma­tion than he was tel­ling, his pri­ors were sim­ply too good. Some­times he got his amaz­ing de­duc­tions right even when his rea­sons were wrong. The prob­lem was that Harry couldn’t see how Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell could’ve snuck in an ex­tra clue about half the stuff he guessed. Just once Harry would have liked to make some sort of in­cred­ible de­duc­tion from some­thing Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell said which would catch him com­pletely off guard.

“I shall have a bowl of green lentil soup, with soy sauce,” Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell said to the wait­ress. “And for Mr. Pot­ter, a plate of Tenor­man’s fam­ily chili.”

Harry hes­i­tated in sud­den dis­may. He’d re­solved to stick to veg­e­tar­ian dishes for the mo­ment, but he’d for­got­ten in his de­liber­a­tions that Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell did the ac­tual or­der­ing—and it would be awk­ward if he protested now -

The wait­ress bowed to them, and turned to go -

“Erm, ex­cuse me, any meat in that from snakes or fly­ing squir­rels?”

The wait­ress didn’t so much as blink an eye, only turned back to Harry, shook her head, bowed po­litely to him again, and re­sumed her walk to­ward the door.

(The other parts of Harry were snick­er­ing at him. Gryffin­dor was mak­ing sar­donic com­ments about how a lit­tle so­cial dis­com­fort was enough to get him to re­sort to Can­ni­bal­ism! (shouted by Hufflepuff), and Slytherin was re­mark­ing on how nice it was that Harry’s ethics were flex­ible when it came to im­por­tant goals like main­tain­ing his re­la­tion­ship with Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell.)

After the wait­ress had closed the door be­hind her, Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell waved a hand to slide home the lock­ing bar, spoke the usual four Charms to en­sure pri­vacy, and then said, “An in­ter­est­ing ques­tion, Mr. Pot­ter. I won­der why you asked it?”

Harry kept his face steady. “I was look­ing up some facts about the Pa­tronus Charm ear­lier,” he said. “Ac­cord­ing to The Pa­tronus Charm: Wizards Who Could and Couldn’t, it turns out that Go­dric couldn’t and Salazar could. I was sur­prised, so I looked up the refer­ence, in Four Lives of Power. And then I dis­cov­ered that Salazar Slytherin could sup­pos­edly talk to snakes.” (Tem­po­ral se­quence wasn’t the same as cau­sa­tion, it wasn’t Harry’s fault if Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell missed that.) “Fur­ther re­search turned up an old story about a mother god­dess type who could talk to fly­ing squir­rels. I was a bit wor­ried about the prospect of eat­ing some­thing that could talk.”

And Harry took a ca­sual sip of his wa­ter -

- just as Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell said, “Mr. Pot­ter, would I be cor­rect in guess­ing that you are also a Parsel­mouth?”

When Harry was done cough­ing, he set his glass of wa­ter back down on the table, fixed his gaze on Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell’s chin rather than look­ing him in the eyes, and said, “So you are able to perform Legili­mency through my Oc­clu­mency bar­ri­ers, then.”

Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell was grin­ning widely. “I shall take that as a com­pli­ment, Mr. Pot­ter, but no.”

“I’m not buy­ing this any­more,” Harry said. “There’s no way you came to that con­clu­sion based on that ev­i­dence.”

“Of course not,” Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell said equably. “I had planned to ask you that ques­tion to­day in any case, and sim­ply chose an op­por­tune mo­ment. I have sus­pected since De­cem­ber, in fact—”

De­cem­ber?” said Harry. “I found out yes­ter­day!

“Ah, so you did not re­al­ize the Sort­ing Hat’s mes­sage to you was in Parsel­tongue?”

The Defense Pro­fes­sor had timed it ex­actly right the sec­ond time, too, just as Harry was tak­ing a gulp of wa­ter to clear out his throat from the first cough­ing fit.

Harry hadn’t re­al­ized, not un­til just now. Of course it was ob­vi­ous the in­stant Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell said it. Right, Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall had even told him not to talk to snakes where any­one could see him, but he’d thought she’d meant not to be seen talk­ing to any stat­ues or ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures in Hog­warts that looked like snakes. Dou­ble illu­sion of trans­parency, he’d thought he un­der­stood her, she’d thought he un­der­stood her—but how the hell -

“So,” Harry said, “you performed Legili­mency on me dur­ing my first Defense class, to find out what hap­pened with the Sort­ing Hat—”

“Then I would not have found out in De­cem­ber.” Pro­fes­sor Quirell leaned back, smil­ing. “This is not a puz­zle you can solve on your own, Mr. Pot­ter, so I will re­veal the an­swer. Over the win­ter holi­day, I was alerted to the fact that the Head­mas­ter had filed a re­quest for a closed ju­di­cial panel to re­view the case of one Mr. Rubeus Ha­grid, whom you know as the Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hog­warts, and who was ac­cused of the mur­der of Abi­gail Myr­tle in 1943.”

“Oh, of course,” said Harry, “that makes it down­right ob­vi­ous that I’m a Parsel­mouth. Pro­fes­sor, what the sweet slith­er­ing snakes—”

“The other sus­pect for that mur­der was Slytherin’s Mon­ster, the leg­endary in­hab­itant of Slytherin’s Cham­ber of Se­crets. Which is why cer­tain sources alerted me to the fact, and why it caught my at­ten­tion suffi­ciently that I spent a good deal of bribe money to learn the de­tails of the case. Now in point of fact, Mr. Pot­ter, Mr. Ha­grid is in­no­cent. Ridicu­lously ob­vi­ously in­no­cent. He is the most blatantly in­no­cent by­stan­der to be con­victed by the mag­i­cal Bri­tish le­gal sys­tem since Grindelwald’s Con­fund­ing of Neville Cham­ber­lain was pinned on Amanda Knox. Head­mas­ter Dip­pet prompted a stu­dent pup­pet to ac­cuse Mr. Ha­grid be­cause Dip­pet needed a scape­goat to take the blame for the death of Miss Myr­tle, and our mar­velous jus­tice sys­tem agreed that this was plau­si­ble enough to war­rant Mr. Ha­grid’s ex­pul­sion and the snap­ping of his wand. Our cur­rent Head­mas­ter needs merely provide some new item of ev­i­dence sig­nifi­cant enough to re­con­vene the case; and with Dum­ble­dore ap­ply­ing pres­sure in­stead of Dip­pet, the re­sult is a fore­gone con­clu­sion. Lu­cius Malfoy has no par­tic­u­lar rea­son to fear Mr. Ha­grid’s vin­di­ca­tion; thus Lu­cius Malfoy will only re­sist to the ex­tent that he can do so costlessly in or­der to im­pose costs on Dum­ble­dore, and Dum­ble­dore is clearly will­ing to pros­e­cute the case re­gard­less.”

Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell took a sip of his wa­ter. “But I digress. The new ev­i­dence that the Head­mas­ter promises to provide is to ex­hibit a pre­vi­ously un­de­tected spell on the Sort­ing Hat, which, the Head­mas­ter as­serts, he has per­son­ally de­ter­mined to re­spond only to Slyther­ins who are also Parsel­mouths. The Head­mas­ter fur­ther ar­gues that this fa­vors the in­ter­pre­ta­tion that the Cham­ber of Se­crets was in­deed opened in 1943, ap­prox­i­mately the right time frame for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, a known Parsel­mouth, to have at­tended Hog­warts. It is a rather ques­tion­able logic, but a ju­di­cial panel may rule that it swings the case far enough to bring Mr. Ha­grid’s guilt into doubt, if they can man­age to keep a straight face as they say it. And now we come to the key ques­tion: how did the Head­mas­ter dis­cover this hid­den spell on the Sort­ing Hat?”

Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell was smil­ing thinly now. “Well now, let us sup­pose that there was a Parsel­mouth in this year’s crop of stu­dents, a po­ten­tial Heir of Slytherin. You must ad­mit, Mr. Pot­ter, that you stand out as a pos­si­bil­ity when­ever ex­traor­di­nary peo­ple are con­sid­ered. And if I then fur­ther ask my­self which new Slytherin would be most likely to have his men­tal pri­vacy in­vaded by the Head­mas­ter, speci­fi­cally hunt­ing the mem­o­ries of his Sort­ing, why, you stand out even more.” The smile van­ished. “So you see, Mr. Pot­ter, it was not I who in­vaded your mind, though I will not ask you to apol­o­gize. It is not your fault that you be­lieved Dum­ble­dore’s protes­ta­tions of re­spect­ing your men­tal pri­vacy.”

“My sincere apolo­gies,” Harry said, keep­ing his face ex­pres­sion­less. The rigid con­trol was a con­fes­sion in its own right, as was the sweat bead­ing his fore­head; but he didn’t think the Defense Pro­fes­sor would take any ev­i­dence from that. Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell would just think Harry was ner­vous at hav­ing been dis­cov­ered as the Heir of Slytherin. Rather than be­ing ner­vous that Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell might re­al­ize that Harry had de­liber­ately be­trayed Slytherin’s se­cret… which it­self was no longer seem­ing like such a smart move.

“So, Mr. Pot­ter. Any progress on find­ing the Cham­ber of Se­crets?”

No, thought Harry. But to main­tain plau­si­ble de­ni­a­bil­ity, you needed a gen­eral policy of some­times evad­ing ques­tions even when you had noth­ing to hide… “With re­spect, Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell, if I had made such progress, it is not quite ob­vi­ous to me that I should tell you about it.”

Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell sipped from his own wa­ter­glass again. “Well then, Mr. Pot­ter, I shall freely tell you what I know or sus­pect. First, I be­lieve the Cham­ber of Se­crets is real, as is Slytherin’s Mon­ster. Miss Myr­tle’s death was not dis­cov­ered un­til hours af­ter her demise, even though the wards should have alerted the Head­mas­ter in­stantly. There­fore her mur­der was performed ei­ther by Head­mas­ter Dip­pet, which is un­likely, or by some en­tity which Salazar Slytherin keyed into his wards at a higher level than the Head­mas­ter him­self. Se­cond, I sus­pect that con­trary to pop­u­lar leg­end, the pur­pose of Slytherin’s Mon­ster was not to rid Hog­warts of Mug­gle­borns. Un­less Slytherin’s Mon­ster were pow­er­ful enough to defeat the Head­mas­ter of Hog­warts and all the teach­ers, it could not triumph by force. Mul­ti­ple mur­ders in se­crecy would re­sult in the school’s clo­sure, as nearly hap­pened in 1943, or in the plac­ing of new wards. So why Slytherin’s Mon­ster, Mr. Pot­ter? What true pur­pose does it serve?”

“Ah...” Harry dropped his gaze to his wa­ter­glass and tried to think. “To kill any­one who got into the Cham­ber and didn’t be­long there—”

“A mon­ster pow­er­ful enough to defeat a team of wiz­ards that had bro­ken past the best wards Salazar could place on his Cham­ber? Un­likely.”

Harry was feel­ing a bit pres­sured now. “Well, it’s called the Cham­ber of Se­crets, so maybe the Mon­ster has a se­cret, or is a se­cret?” For that mat­ter, just what sort of se­crets were in the Cham­ber of Se­crets in the first place? Harry hadn’t done a lot of re­search on the sub­ject, in part be­cause he’d got­ten the im­pres­sion that no­body knew any­thing -

Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell was smil­ing. “Why not just write the se­cret down?”

“Ahhh...” said Harry. “Be­cause if the Mon­ster spoke Parsel­tongue, that would en­sure that only a true de­scen­dant of Slytherin could hear the se­cret?”

“Easy enough to key the wards on the Cham­ber to a phrase spo­ken in Parsel­tongue. Why go to the trou­ble of cre­at­ing Slytherin’s Mon­ster? It can­not have been easy to cre­ate a crea­ture with a lifes­pan of cen­turies. Come, Mr. Pot­ter, it should be ob­vi­ous; what are the se­crets that can be told from one liv­ing mind to an­other, but never writ­ten down?”

Harry saw it then, with a burst of adrenal­ine that started his heart rac­ing, his breath com­ing faster. “Oh.

Salazar Slytherin had been very cun­ning in­deed. Cun­ning enough to come up with a way to by­pass the In­ter­dict of Mer­lin.

Pow­er­ful wiz­ardries couldn’t be trans­mit­ted through books or ghosts, but if you could cre­ate a long-lived enough sen­tient crea­ture with a good enough mem­ory -

“It seems very prob­a­ble to me,” said Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell, “that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named be­gan his climb to power with se­crets ob­tained from Slytherin’s Mon­ster. That Salazar’s lost knowl­edge is the source of You-Know-Who’s ex­traor­di­nar­ily pow­er­ful wiz­ardry. Hence my in­ter­est in the Cham­ber of Se­crets and the case of Mr. Ha­grid.”

“I see,” Harry said. And if he, Harry, could find Salazar’s Cham­ber of Se­crets… then all of the lost knowl­edge that Lord Volde­mort had ob­tained would be his as well.

Yes. That was just how the story should go.

Add in Harry’s su­pe­rior in­tel­li­gence and some origi­nal mag­i­cal re­search and some Mug­gle rocket launch­ers, and the re­sult­ing fight would be com­pletely one-sided, which was ex­actly how Harry wanted it.

Harry was grin­ning now, a very evil grin. New pri­or­ity: Find ev­ery­thing in Hog­warts that looks re­motely like a snake and try speak­ing to it. Start­ing with ev­ery­thing you’ve already tried, only this time be sure to use Parsel­tongue in­stead of English—get Draco to let you into the Slytherin dorms -

“Don’t be­come too ex­cited, Mr. Pot­ter,” said Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell. His own face had be­come ex­pres­sion­less, now. “You must con­tinue think­ing. What were the Dark Lord’s part­ing words to Slytherin’s Mon­ster?”

What?” Harry said. “How could ei­ther of us pos­si­bly know that?”

“Vi­su­al­ize the scene, Mr. Pot­ter. Let your imag­i­na­tion fill in the de­tails. Slytherin’s Mon­ster—prob­a­bly some great ser­pent, so that only a Parsel­mouth may speak to it—has finished im­part­ing all of the knowl­edge it pos­sesses to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. It con­veys to him Salazar’s fi­nal bene­dic­tion, and warns him that the Cham­ber of Se­crets must now re­main closed un­til the next de­scen­dant of Salazar should prove cun­ning enough to open it. And he who will be­come the Dark Lord nods, and says to it—”

“Avada Ke­davra,” said Harry, sud­denly feel­ing sick to his stom­ach.

“Rule Twelve,” Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell said quietly. “Never leave the source of your power ly­ing around where some­one else can find it.”

Harry’s gaze dropped to the table­cloth, which had dec­o­rated it­self in a mourn­ful pat­tern of black flow­ers and shad­ows. Some­how that seemed… too sad to be imag­ined, Slytherin’s great snake had only wanted to help Lord Volde­mort, and Lord Volde­mort had just… there was some­thing un­bear­ably sor­rowful about it, what sort of per­son would do that to a be­ing who’d offered them noth­ing but friend­ship… “Do you think the Dark Lord would have—”

“Yes,” Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell said flatly. “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named left quite a trail of bod­ies be­hind him, Mr. Pot­ter; I doubt he would have omit­ted that one. If there were any ar­ti­facts left there that could be moved, the Dark Lord would have taken those with him as well. There might still be some­thing worth see­ing in the Cham­ber of Se­crets, and to find it would prove your­self the true Heir of Slytherin. But do not raise your hopes too high. I sus­pect that all you will find is the re­mains of Slytherin’s Mon­ster rest­ing quietly in its grave.”

They sat in silence for a while.

“I could be wrong,” said Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell. “In the end it is only a guess. But I did wish to warn you, Mr. Pot­ter, so that you would not be too sorely dis­ap­pointed.”

Harry nod­ded shortly.

“One might even re­gret your in­fant self’s vic­tory,” said Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell. His smile twisted. “If only You-Know-Who had lived, you might have per­suaded him to teach you some of the knowl­edge that would have been your her­i­tage, from one Heir of Slytherin to an­other.” The smile twisted fur­ther, as though to mock the ob­vi­ous im­pos­si­bil­ity, even given the premise.

Note to self, thought Harry, with a slight chill and an edge of anger, make sure to ex­tract my her­i­tage out of the Dark Lord’s mind, one way or an­other.

There was an­other silence. Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell was look­ing at Harry as though wait­ing for him to ask some­thing.

“Well,” said Harry, “so long as we’re on the topic, can I ask how you think the whole Parsel­mouth busi­ness ac­tu­ally—”

There came a knock at the door, then. Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell raised a cau­tion­ary finger, then opened the door with a wave. The wait­ress en­tered, bal­anc­ing a huge plat­ter with their meals as though the whole as­sem­bly weighed noth­ing (which was in fact prob­a­bly the case). She gave Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell his bowl of green soup, and a glass of his usual Chi­anti; and set down be­fore Harry a plate of small meat strips smoth­ered in a heavy-look­ing sauce, plus a glass of his ac­cus­tomed trea­cle soda. Then she bowed, man­ag­ing to make it seem like sincere re­spect rather than per­func­tory ac­knowl­edg­ment, and de­parted.

When she was gone, Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell held up a finger for silence again, and drew his wand.

And then Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell be­gan perform­ing a cer­tain se­ries of in­can­ta­tions that Harry rec­og­nized, mak­ing him take a sharp breath. It was the se­ries and or­der­ing that Mr. Bester had used, the full set of twenty-seven spells that you would perform be­fore dis­cussing any­thing of truly great im­port.

If the dis­cus­sion of the Cham­ber of Se­crets hadn’t counted as im­por­tant -

When Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell was done—he’d performed thirty spells, three of which Harry hadn’t heard be­fore—the Defense Pro­fes­sor said, “Now we shall not be in­ter­rupted for a time. Can you keep a se­cret, Mr. Pot­ter?”

Harry nod­ded.

“A se­ri­ous se­cret, Mr. Pot­ter,” Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell said. His eyes were in­tent, his face grave. “One which could po­ten­tially send me to Azk­a­ban. Think about it be­fore you re­ply.”

For a mo­ment Harry didn’t even see why the ques­tion should be hard, given his grow­ing col­lec­tion of se­crets. Then -

If this se­cret could send Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell to Azk­a­ban, that means he’s done some­thing ille­gal...

Harry’s brain performed a few calcu­la­tions. What­ever the se­cret, Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell did not think his ille­gal act would re­flect badly on him in Harry’s eyes. There was no ad­van­tage to be gained from not hear­ing it. And if it did re­veal some­thing wrong with Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell, then it was very much to Harry’s ad­van­tage to know it, even if he had promised not to tell any­one.

“I never had very much re­spect for au­thor­ity,” Harry said. “Le­gal and gov­ern­men­tal au­thor­ity in­cluded. I will keep your se­cret.”

Harry didn’t bother ask­ing whether the rev­e­la­tion was worth the dan­ger it would pose to Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell. The Defense Pro­fes­sor wasn’t stupid.

“Then I must test whether you are truly a de­scen­dant of Salazar,” said Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell, and stood up from his chair. Harry, prompted more by re­flex and in­stinct than calcu­la­tion, shoved him­self up out of his own chair as well.

There was a blur, a shift, a sud­den mo­tion.

Harry aborted his pan­icked back­ward leap halfway through, leav­ing him wind­mil­ling his arms and try­ing not to fall over, a fran­tic flush of adrenal­ine run­ning through him.

At the other end of the room swayed a snake a me­ter high, bright green and in­tri­cately banded in white and blue. Harry didn’t know enough snakelore to rec­og­nize it, but he knew that ‘brightly col­ored’ meant ‘poi­sonous’.

The con­stant sense of doom had diminished, iron­i­cally enough, af­ter the Defense Pro­fes­sor of Hog­warts had turned into a ven­omous snake.

Harry swal­lowed hard and said, “Greet­ings—ah, hssss, no, ah, greet­ingss.

Sso,” hissed the snake. “You ss­peak, I hear. I ss­peak, you hear?

Yess, I hear,” hissed Harry. “You are an An­i­ma­guss?

Ob­vi­ous­sly,” hissed the snake. “Thirty-sseven ruless, num­ber thirty-four: Be­come An­i­ma­guss. All ssen­si­ble peo­ple do, if can. Thuss, very rare.” The snake’s eyes were flat sur­faces en­sconced within dark pits, sharp black pupils in dark gray fields. “This iss mosst sse­cure way to ss­peak. You ssee? No oth­erss un­der­s­stand uss.

Even if they are ss­nake An­i­magi?

Not un­lesss heir of Ss­lytherin willss.” The snake gave a se­ries of short hisses which Harry’s brain trans­lated as sar­donic laugh­ter. “Ss­lytherin not sstupid. Ss­nake An­i­ma­guss not ssame as Pars­sel­mouth. Would be huge flaw in ss­cheme.

Well that definitely ar­gued that Parsel­tongue was per­sonal magic, not snakes be­ing sen­tient be­ings with a learn­able lan­guage -

I am not reg­isstered,” hissed the snake. The dark pits of its eyes stared at Harry. “An­i­ma­guss musst be reg­isstered. Penalty is two yearss im­pris­son­ment. Will you keep my sse­cret, boy?

Yess,” hissed Harry. “Would never break promisse.

The snake seemed to hold still, as though in shock, and then be­gan to sway again. “We come here next in sseven dayss. Bring cloak to passs un­sseen, bring hour­glasss to move through time—

You know?” hissed Harry in shock. “How—

Again the se­ries of short quick hisses that trans­lated as sar­donic laugh­ter. “You ar­rive in my firsst classs while sstill in other classs, sstrike down en­emy with pie, two bal­lss of mem­ory—

Never mind,” hissed Harry. “Ss­tupid ques­tion, for­got you were ss­mart.

Foolissh thing to for­get,” said the snake, but the hiss did not seem offended.

Hour­glasss is resstricted,” Harry said. “Can­not usse un­til ninth hour.

The snake twitched its head, a snak­ish nod. “Many resstric­tionss. Locked to your usse only, can­not be sstolen. Can­not transs­port other hu­manss. But ss­nake car­ried in pouch, I ssus­pect will go with. Think poss­si­ble to hold hour­glasss mo­tion­lesss within sshell, with­out dis­sturb­ing wardss, while you turn sshell around it. We will tesst in sseven dayss. Will not ss­peak of planss be­yond thiss. You ssay noth­ing, to no one. Give no ssign of ex­pec­tancy, none. Un­der­s­stand?

Harry nod­ded.

Anss­wer in sspeech.


Will do as I ssaid?

Yess. But,” Harry gave a wob­bling rasp that was how his mind had trans­lated a hes­i­tant ‘Ahhh’ into snak­ish, “I do not promisse to do what­ever thiss iss, you have not ssaid—

The snake performed a shiver that Harry’s mind trans­lated as a se­vere glare. “Of coursse not. Will diss­cusss sspeci­ficss at next meet­ing.

The blur and mo­tion re­versed it­self, and Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell was stand­ing there once more. For a mo­ment the Defense Pro­fes­sor him­self seemed to sway, as the snake had swayed, and his eyes seemed cold and flat; and then his shoulders straight­ened and he was hu­man once more.

And the aura of doom had re­turned.

Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell’s chair scooted back for him, and he sat down in it. “No sense in let­ting this go to waste,” Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell said as he picked up his spoon, “though at the mo­ment I would much pre­fer a live mouse. One can never quite dis­en­tan­gle the mind from the body it wears, you see...”

Harry slowly took his seat and be­gan eat­ing.

“So the line of Salazar did not die with You-Know-Who af­ter all,” said Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell af­ter a time. “It would seem that ru­mors have already be­gun to spread, among our fine stu­dent body, that you are Dark; I won­der what they would think, if they knew that.”

“Or if they knew that I had de­stroyed a De­men­tor,” Harry said, and shrugged. “I figure all the fuss will blow over over the next time I do some­thing in­ter­est­ing. Hermione is hav­ing trou­ble, though, and I was won­der­ing if you might have any sug­ges­tions for her.”

The Defense Pro­fes­sor ate sev­eral spoon­fuls of soup in silence, then; and when he spoke again, his voice was oddly flat. “You re­ally care about that girl.”

“Yes,” Harry said quietly.

“I sup­pose that is why she was able to bring you out of your De­men­ta­tion?”

“More or less,” Harry said. The state­ment was true in a way, just not ex­act; it was not that his De­mented self had cared, but that it had been con­fused.

“I did not have any friends like that when I was young.” Still the same emo­tion­less voice. “What would have be­come of you, I won­der, if you had been alone?”

Harry shiv­ered be­fore he could stop him­self.

“You must be feel­ing grate­ful to her.”

Harry just nod­ded. Not quite ex­act, but true.

“Then here is what I might have done at your age, if there had been any­one to do it for—”