Almost human blood, a deranged card catalogue, a murderous aunt, a suspicious visiting professor, and one horrendous mess—Severus wasn't certain how he'd keep any of it from the Board of Governors.
Lucius will have me sacked when he learns of this, he thought, walking with March back to the library's entrance.
So far, however, March hadn't sent a report to Headquarters. Instead, he'd left Beakman to investigate the scene in the Restricted Section, sent Boynton to wait with Irma and Filch, and ordered Potter and Weasley to locate Masters before suggesting that Severus observe his interrogation of Andrews.
The man wasn't pleased to see them. "How dare you leave me here like this? Get me down!"
March conjured two chairs in front of the wall to which Andrews was Stuck—Potter had done an excellent job of it; all Andrews could move were his eyes—and sat. Severus did the same.
"Professor Gideon Andrews, thirty-nine, of the Salem Institute, is that correct?" March asked, removing a notepad from his robes and beginning to write.
"Now see here, I'm a citizen of the United Magical States of America! You have no right to detain me like this!"
March smiled, an expression, Severus thought, of deceptive pleasantness. "And you're visiting Hogwarts with two student assistants, er, Edward Masters and Asenath Whateley?"
"You know that," Andrews practically growled, attempting to pull his head from the wall but failing. "Where is Asenath? What have you done to her?"
"Masters is twenty-seven?" March persisted, his smile remaining fixed.
Andrews merely scowled.
"Ah, perhaps I'm wrong. Twenty-six, is it? My notes are a bit sloppy. Let me see," March said, conjuring a table in front of himself and Severus and placing his pad, over which he set his pen to hover, upon it. He then removed a small case from his robes and re-sized it. "Ah, here we are," he continued, pulling from it a sheaf of papers. "No, I wasn't wrong. Masters is twenty-seven."
"Of course he is!" Andrews shouted. "Who the hell cares? What have you people done to Asenath? I heard the screaming!"
March turned to Severus. "Snape, you're in the Potions line, isn't that right?"
Severus, who'd been through an Auror interrogation or two and thought he knew what March was up to, nodded.
"So you'd know something about physiological processes, I'd imagine?"
"An understanding of the body is necessary to the formulation of most potions," Severus agreed.
"Don't you dare threaten me!"
Severus glanced at Andrews; he looked a bit pale.
"Right," said March. "So you'd agree that undue stress is bad for the body?"
"Indeed," Severus said.
"Well, there you go, Professor Andrews. You heard it here from an expert."
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
"Don't take on. It's bad for you." While Andrews spluttered, March continued, "So, we've established that Masters is twenty-seven, but I don't seem to," March said, leafing through his papers, "have anything that gives Whateley's proper age."
"Asenath's twenty-five, you idiot."
"Check her damn passport. Twenty-five, I said!"
"Well, you see, Andrews, it's like this," March told him, finally seizing, it seemed, upon the document for which he'd been looking, "you're right about Whateley's passport, of course, but when I contacted my counterpart in Salem and asked him to Portkey Whateley's birth certificate to me, there was a slight discrepancy."
Severus furrowed his brow in response to the sudden slackness of Andrews, whose face had drained utterly of colour. Interesting. Glancing at March, he saw that his expression of polite interest hadn't changed, but that his attention was now firmly fixed upon Andrews.
March continued. "If this copy of her certificate is accurate, then Whateley is, or perhaps I should better say, was, only fifteen-years-old."
"I don't know what you—wait, 'was'? 'Was'? What have you done to Asenath? Asenath!" Andrews screamed, clearly attempting to struggle again. "ASENATH!"
March shook his head. "Yes, I know. It's got to be most disappointing for you, but there it is: Whateley's not going to be of much use to you anymore."
"Asenath, the gate! You know it! You know the key and the guardian, Asenath! Yog-Sothoth is the gate! You must, Asenath, you must—the gate, the gate! The GATE! Yog-Sothoth is the gate! ASENATH, HAVE YOU FAILED US? ASENA—"
"Stupefy!" March cast, before turning to Severus. He re-sheathed his wand. "Well, that's a sodding cultist for you."
Hermione stood in the greenhouse, so angry at Severus that she hadn't moved for twenty minutes. He might have had good reason not to allow her to accompany him to the "disturbance," but he'd had no right to order her to wait for him in the kitchens while he sorted matters. Oh, he'd couched it as a suggestion, of course, but she knew better: he'd been trying to protect her nonexistent delicate sensibilities. She was a witch; she could stomach unpleasant scenes and look after herself just fine, thank you very much. She didn't need protection.
And there aren't going to be any dates if Severus thinks that I do! The hell with waiting! Shaking the stiffness out of her limbs, she decided to walk back to the lake.
As she drew near the shore, she saw a group of boys pointedly not squid-watching. Professor McGonagall, who was usually so good about keeping her students on task, was halfway around the lake, speaking to someone.
Oh, Eddie. Can't he leave anyone alone?
She supposed, however, that his presence by the lake meant that whatever had happened in the library was due to one of Hogwarts' other guests.
It'll be such a relief when they leave, she thought, as Eddie walked away from McGonagall in the direction of the castle and she sat down to glower at the water.
It felt good; she needed a proper sulk, but she regretted her decision not to sulk somewhere more private when she noticed that one of the boys had broken away from the others and was approaching her.
He was holding a Chocolate Frog Card.
He's going to ask me to sign it, she thought, smiling tightly at him to cover her embarrassment.
"I don't mean to bother you," he said in accented English, pausing as if he weren't certain that he should continue.
"The thing is, Her—Miss Granger, my little sister has about fifty of your Chocolate Frog Cards. She doesn't even eat the candy anymore, and I was—"
Hermione reached for the card. "What's her name?"
"Er, well, could you just autograph it? I think that would work best for trading purposes—not that I think she would trade you, of course, but—"
"When she does grow out of keeping cards and decides to trade them, collectors will prefer having cards not dedicated to other people. Of course, I understand," Hermione said, handing him his card. "Here you are, er?"
"Oh, I'm Francis. Frank. Frank Morgan. And, thanks, thank you. That is, my sister thanks you."
"Of course, and she's welcome."
"Er, yeah," Frank said, practically running back to the waiting group of boys; this was followed by a great deal of whooping and shushing.
Fifty Galleons! Hermione thought, mortified by how much it cost to collect Chocolate Frog cards and relieved that Severus hadn't been around to see her autograph one.
She knew well enough what he thought about his own card, and she strongly suspected that he'd never signed one for anyone. The very idea of it made her laugh, and then she sighed.
I'm being unreasonable. Of course he couldn't let me come with him.
It occurred to her that if she did wait for Severus, he might tell her about it when he joined her. Undecided, she looked at the boys, who were passing around Frank's card and, from the sounds of things, teasing him about having asked her to sign it.
Damn, I shouldn't have done that. Now when the Seventh Years return to help with the smaller reconstruction charms, some of them might feel free to ask for my autograph, too.
She shook her head; what was done was done, and if she didn't want to do it again, she supposed that she should go wait for Severus.
As she began walking to the kitchens, however, she murmured, "If I could, I'd gather all the cards up and hide them."
At her words, she felt an odd commotion in her right sock, followed by something slippery oozing around it.
"Oh! Ew!" she exclaimed, shaking her ankle and reaching down to rub it.
Her fingers came up damp with something slippery, and she immediately Scourgified them, her ankle, and her bag, which she'd tucked into her sock, for good measure.
Damn it! Trust me to step in something vile when I want to be presentable!
Unreasonably, she found herself blaming the groupie.
"A cultist?" Severus asked March.
"I'm afraid so, and a sorry cultist this one makes, too. He should have made with the 'Cthulhu fhtagn', but I suppose it disturbed him a bit more than it should have, learning that Whateley was dead. That's what comes of shagging one's student, I suppose."
Severus rose from his chair so suddenly that he caused it to skid backward. "Just what the hell's happening here?"
"Aside from the ill-advised furniture modification, you mean?"
"March," Severus said, his tone a warning as he worried about his aunt's continued freedom.
They'd never got on well. Irma hadn't approved of her baby sister's marriage and had for the most part ignored Severus during his student days—that is, until he'd become a Death Eater. Severus didn't know how she'd discovered it, but during the latter half of his last term, she'd approached him and, under pain of exposure, demanded that he swear an Unbreakable Vow never to reveal their familial connection. The choice had been easy to make. Albus knew about their relationship, of course, but then he was the party responsible for erasing any record of "Irma Prince" from existence. That he hadn't removed more than one letter of her old surname in formulating her new identity only implied to Severus that the spell work involved had been powerful enough not to have warranted greater subterfuge. He knew that Irma regretted her decision now, of course, by the way in which she insisted upon his calling her "aunt," and as his only remaining family, he felt duty bound to protect her.
March shook his head. "Please sit down, Headmaster Snape, and I'll tell you what I know. A moment," he said, fishing through his case and producing yet another document, which he handed to Severus.
Severus took it and read:
Professor Armando Dippet
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Professor Curtis Whateley
Department of Comparative Anatomy
Salem Witches' Institute
United States of America
1 March 1913
My Dear Curtis,
Forgive my delay in responding to your last missive. So deeply troubled was I by your request that it has taken this long for me to formulate my reply, which I give now: Generally, it does one honour to feel bound by a sense of familial duty; in this specific instance, however, I take leave to tell you that your loyalty is misplaced, and your trust, disastrous—it would be better for you to cut from your family tree the entirety of that branch represented by your importuning relation than to continue your association with it. Yes, Curtis, I know that your request was made to satisfy not your own good researches but the perverse investigations of John.
Although study of the branch of "magic" to which you alluded has long been discouraged by your institution, your father's alma mater has been irredeemably lax in its own duties with regard to it. For this reason, perhaps, you have allowed John's convoluted logic to work upon you. You should know better! Your father's experiences at Miskatonic should have taught you better. Indeed and upon our friendship, I must believe that you cannot be interested in such evil as the tome in question represents—and no good will ever come of your serving as countenancer of John's fascination with regard to it.
In the strongest possible terms, then, I entreat you most fervently to wish John the joy of his grandson, and encourage him to spend his declining years in the proper rearing of young Wilbur. One may hope that the boy will grow into a manhood untainted by the curse of your decayed relations, and such a hope is, as I believe you must agree upon further, sober reflection, one better nurtured in a sane breast than that which tempts such as John to contemplate Dark work.
As you love me, do not dare ask again for so odious a loan. If you do, I shall be forced to accept that your own mind has been overturned by that which has long afflicted John's and end our correspondence and friendship. As I love you, I must make your superiors aware of your interest in the book, no matter that such interest is yours by proxy alone. Do not worsen the matter by making the same request of other scholars. Leave off trying to claim an unabridged edition. Quit your association with John. He is most unworthy of your attention, and engaging much with him must needs inflame your worse judgment to vile action.
Remember your father's fate!
In stern friendship, I remain, your devoted
"Where did you find this?"
March squared his shoulders and sat back in his chair. "Before I answer that, would you mind giving me your impression of that letter?"
"It's rather personal for formal stationary," said Severus, frowning, "but I expect that Dippet wanted to make his point clearly. What book?"
"The book that Dippet's referring to is the Necronomicon."
Severus frowned. "Never heard of it."
"It's more properly known as Kitab al-Azif."
"Which you have heard of?" March asked, his eyes boring into Severus' intently.
"Yes, but only by title. Irma had it on the list of books that she believed we shouldn't share with the Americans."
"Is that so? I'd like to speak to Madam Pince about that."
"Why? It isn't unusual for a librarian to have knowledge of the books in her care, and Hogwarts houses many volumes of arcane lore."
"That may be, but most scholars would have it that there are only five extant copies of the Necronomicon. Having done some checking—and by 'checking', I mean that I've seen each edition with my own eyes—I know that they're each where they should be: in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the British Museum, the University of Buenos Aires, Miskatonic University in Arkham, and Harvard's Widener Library in Cambridge."
"Clearly, there are other copies."
"Yes, but with great good reason, most of them have been destroyed, and no one with whom I've spoken about the Necronomicon has ever mentioned a copy being here. After reading Dippet's letter to Whateley—"
"Which you came by, how?"
"My Salem counterpart found it in the home that Whateley shared with Morgan."
"You appear to be remarkably well-connected for a trainer, March." March merely smiled pleasantly at him, so waving the letter, Severus continued, "I take it that the precocious Miss Whateley was a relation of this Curtis Whateley?"
"Something like that, but I expect you're aware that it isn't Whateley's 'precocity' that's of interest to me."
Remembering the gruesome scene in the Restricted Section—and that the Dark Lord had also twisted his physical form in unnatural ways—Severus nodded. It made sense that the Ministry would wish to keep tabs on anyone interested in such magic.
"In any case," continued March, gesturing for the letter, which Severus surrendered, "I felt it best to investigate your visitors. Given what I've learnt of their extra-scholarly associations, it would be deeply troubling for me to find that your edition of the Necronomicon is a complete copy of the original."
"I would appreciate it if you'd tell me exactly why that is."
"Let's just say that I'm in a position to know that no other copy of the text is complete."
Unimpressed by this explanation, Severus cocked an eyebrow at March. "So what you're telling me is that you're in the censorship line?"
"Snape, I'm telling you what I can. I will say that each known copy is missing a certain page, a page upon which are inscribed incantations of such Dark power—"
"That to invoke them would rend time and space itself, flooding the world with an evil so malevolent that to look upon it would mean madness, despair, and death?" Severus interrupted, growing impatient with March's evasive dramaticism.
March's expression smoothed into emotionlessness. "Are you certain that you've never read the text?"
"Do you truly work for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, or are you on loan to it from some other, obscure department?"
March grinned again and casually flicked a wrist, which caused his scattered papers to return to his case, and his case, to Shrink. He pocketed his notepad and pen. "You're quick, Snape. I knew you'd have to be. Yes, I'm an Auror, but no, I didn't begin my career as one."
"And you're not going to tell me what Mysteries had you doing early on, are you?"
"Ah, now you're just fishing for information, not that I blame you for it." March held up a hand as Severus made to speak. "No fishing, Snape. I'll tell you what I can, and you're going to be satisfied with that."
"Yes, because you don't want this mess to become common knowledge, either." March rose and Vanished the table he'd conjured; he did the same to the chairs as Severus stood. "Now, where the hell are my trainees with this Masters fellow?"
"I'm a bad Auror," Ron said, pulling his head out of the toilet.
"Don't be so hard on yourself. It was disgusting," Harry told him, from the other side of the door.
"No, I'm—oh, bloody he—"
Ron retched again, trying to banish the scent of the room and the image of that awful tentacle from his memory; he was unsuccessful.
I'm going to be drummed out of training, at this rate. "Bad," he said, once the spasm had passed, "such a bad Auror."
It was quiet for a moment, and then Harry spoke. "Ron?"
"You know, you're really not a bad Auror."
Ron grimaced into the bowl, turning away his head as he flushed. "All evidence to the contrary."
"You feeling better?"
"Some, but could we wait a bit? I don't want to start—"
"Yeah, no worries. Waiting's fine," Harry said, "and really, you're not."
"A bad Auror?" Ron asked, wishing that his throat didn't feel so raw.
"Right, because you can't be a bad Auror."
Ron warmed to Harry's compliment. "Thanks, Ha—"
"And neither can I," Harry continued, "because neither one of us is an Auror, yet."
Harry snickered, then, and Ron scowled. "Get stuffed, you prat."
"I wouldn't say things like that if I were you. It might cause those rumours to start up again."
"You arse!" Ron exclaimed, upsetting both his throat and stomach.
He just managed to get his head over the toilet in time.
He blamed Harry.
"It's all their fault!" shouted Eddie, in his fury at Asenath and Gideon for having attempted to get to the book on their own.
Upon his return to the castle, he hadn't been able to find them and assumed that they'd gone to the library to attempt to break into the Restricted Section. Seeing Gideon Stuck to the wall, not to mention what he'd overheard of Snape's conversation with that Auror, had been enough to prove his suspicions correct.
"Why? Why didn't you listen to me?" he shouted, sending a spell flying towards a table.
It cracked and fell into two pieces.
Yes, time was growing short, but that hadn't meant they'd needed to be so damned stupid, not when he'd had a perfectly workable plan.
"You never listen! You should have listened!"
He sent another table flying into the far wall, laughing with satisfaction as it shattered.
But no, they didn't listen, and now Asenath's dead, and Gideon, captured, he thought, storming up and down the hall, blasting apart more tables as he went. Now, the authorities are involved, and getting home is going to be difficult! "Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuckity, FUCK!"
Panting in exhaustion as his rage spent itself, he bent over and placed his hands on his knees.
The Society has already begun the preparatory rituals. The beast is being fed. The energy, raised. All is almost in readiness. "I have to get home! I cannot fail!"
He had to get home, even if he returned without the book. There were other copies; he'd find them.
"I have to find them!"
Hermione had been waiting in the kitchens for over an hour, poring over Arcane Lore of Britannia and finding it, as Severus had implied, no fun at all.
Sighing, she placed it back into her bag and fished out The Book of Doors. Having become an adept bookbinder under Pince's tutelage, Hermione recognised that Doors was handmade; she was intrigued by this fact because the volume didn't appear to be particularly old, at least, it wasn't anywhere near as old as some of the books that she and Pince had been restoring. She opened it.
And you're still blank, she thought, of the pages.
They were made of flawless vellum, and from the texture and quality of the skin—upon which Hermione could detect that no smoothing or bleaching charms had been employed—she knew that the vellum was uterine. The very idea made her feel vaguely nauseated, but it also implied that the book's maker had been wealthy, or more likely, that he or she had created the book for a wealthy client. As she flipped through its identically blank pages, however, Hermione could find no other clues as to its intended purpose.
"Well, this is annoying."
Stretching, she laid her wand down on the table and rose from it to pace the room.
A house-elf materialised in front of her with an ear-clearing pop! before she'd taken more than a few steps.
"Is you having any hats, Hermione Granger?"
"Hats? Scarves? Mittens? Is you having any of these?" the young female elf asked, her ears quivering. "We is thinking," she continued, as two other elves appeared next to her, "that if we is giving him a hat, he'll leave."
One of the other elves, a male one, shook his head as if in disgust. "'We' are thinking no such thing!"
Confused, Hermione asked, "Whom do you want to leave? Is someone bothering you?"
The third, and to all appearances, eldest elf, a female one, answered, "Edward Masters is being strange and ranting in the Great Hall. Ranting, Hermione Granger, and throwing things!"
Oh, dear, Hermione thought, bending down so that she could look the first elf in the eye. "What's he throwing?"
The male elf coughed. "We can repair those, but the wizard is ill. He needs help."
"You'd do well to leave that boy alone."
Hermione looked around for the speaker.
"Here, Miss Granger, on the wall."
"Headmaster Dippet," Hermione said, seeing him standing amid the tables inside a painting of the Great Hall, "do you know what's wrong with Eddie? I know that you've been following him."
Dippet exhaled forcefully in apparent annoyance. "It's the lack of privacy here that I've always so detested! One can't even—"
"Pardon me, Headmaster, but there really isn't time to waste. I need to know what's going on if I'm to help."
"Oh, you think you can help, do you?" asked Dippet. "Well, yes, of course you do. That's the problem! You need to steer clear of Mr Masters. He's not unwell, he's unhinged, and I doubt that even a young woman of your accomplishments could set him to rights. The boy is the most dangerous of them all. He's a seducer, a most vile seducer!"
"Hermione Granger," one of the elves said.
Making an abrupt gesture with her hand for silence, Hermione pressed Dippet. "Eddie's been seducing people?"
"Both of them—his mentor and that idiot's doxy! And why? Why, you ask?"
Hermione hadn't, but she'd been going to, so she let Dippet continue to rant.
"For power! The dream of unlimited power, the foolish, evil boy! Better to beg to be eaten first, the way he's been going on. Perhaps he may be if their plan succeeds, but does anyone listen to me? No!"
"Forgive me, but what plan? And who've you applied to for assistance with regard to Eddie's?"
Dippet froze, glaring at her. "Come to think of it, no one. We're really not supposed to interfere, you know, not that anyone ever heeds me—but aren't I the one who contained it?" he shouted.
"Cheeky, no!" the male house-elf exclaimed.
Hermione turned to see the youngest elf rooting through her bag. "Yes, a hat! Cheeky will give it to him!"
The older elves gasped and pulled their ears.
"She is a bad, stupid house-elf! Laddy is sorry, so sorry, Hermione Granger!" Laddy exclaimed, while the older female elf recovered first and rushed Cheeky in an attempt to wrest the hat from her.
"Stop. Stop that!" Hermione insisted, going over to the table and waving her hands at the fighting elves. "You'll hurt yourselves!"
In response, they merely levitated above the table and continued to struggle with one another.
With Laddy still apologising, Hermione leapt upon the chair in which she'd been sitting and prepared to launch herself at the fighting elves.
"Not over that book!" Dippet shouted.
But Hermione was already in the air; she missed the elves and came slamming down into—and then through—The Book of Doors.
"Damnation! This means the turpentine for sure!" Armando Dippet exclaimed, fleeing his frame.
The kitchens went absolutely and momentarily silent as the astonished house-elves stared at the book through which Hermione Granger had fallen; the page that had swallowed her now showed an illustration of an open wooden door.
"Hermione Granger is in that book."
"Rally isn't blind."
"Yes, but, but I don't know that door!" wailed Laddy.
Still holding Cheeky, Rally floated down to the book, landing carefully on the edge of the troublesome page so as not to touch the door. "Rally is waiting right here for Hermione Granger to come back." She turned to Cheeky. "And Cheeky is—"
"By my ears! Laddy is—I am angry at that elfling!" Laddy shouted.
Rally flexed her now-empty hands and shook her head at Laddy's attempt to speak like a wizard. Laddy is spending too much time with Headmaster Snape, she thought. Laddy is being all addled now. But as there was no time to worry about the bad behaviour of the others, she ordered, "Laddy is going to go tell Headmaster Snape that he is being needed in the kitchens!"
Harry and Ron were just leaving the bathroom when they heard the shouting.
"That's coming from the Great Hall," said Ron.
"Right," Harry replied. "Let's go!"
"Let go! Give it back!" Frank shouted, tugging at his Chocolate Frog Card.
He'd just returned from the bath tent to see his card disappearing into the writhing covers, and it didn't take a genius to know what the thieving bastard in his bed had been doing with it.
"So help me, If I have to Scourgify this, I'll—"
Suddenly, there was a fearsomely strong pull by the thief, and then he was off the bed and on the floor by the other side of it, taking the blanket with him. Frank leapt upon his mattress and looked down, but he didn't see a person. What he did see was the slouching suggestion of blinking, rolling movement emerge from the covers and make its way towards the opening of his tent.
"Hey! Come back here with my Hermione!"
Rushing after the thing, he stopped short in front of his tent as he heard similar howls and saw several other slouching suggestions of blinking, rolling movement. Each "suggestion" held, well, contained, a card or cards, and all of them were moving pretty fast.
"Okay, that's just fucking weird."
"Never seen the like," another Gryffindor, Bell, said, standing in front of the tent next to Frank's. "It took my cards, too."
"Let's follow it, uh, them," Frank suggested, watching the suggestions converge into one large, card-containing fact. "I mean, it."
"Er, do you know what 'it' is?" asked Bell.
"No, but Hermione signed that card for me, and I'm not letting some, some enchanted ball of Jell-O steal it!"
"Okay, Action Hero, just how do you suggest we stop it?"
Bite me, you limey ponce, Frank thought, briefly considering Bell's question and the undeniable gelatinous horror in the distance. He shook his head. "Don't know yet."
As he went sprinting off, he barely registered Bell's call of "Stupid American!"
"Well, no, you ridiculous excuse for an Auror, I don't belong to any apocalyptic cults! Why in Merlin's name would you ask such a thing?"
Christopher smiled blandly at Madam Pince, who had to be, he thought, some relation of Snape's. "How did you come by the Necronomicon, then? And if you don't mind my asking, where is it?"
Pince laughed, a strained, ugly sound. "My poor catalogue's been wounded. Its cards, scattered. How should I know where it is? Shelved, I suppose—that is, unless the girl's taken it to read. She does that, you know, reads them."
"It is a library, my pet," said Filch, patting her hand.
"Shut up, Argus!"
Snape said, "March, Madam Pince is overset, perhaps—"
"'Overset'? Is that what I am, boy?" She rose, shrugging off Filch's attempt to stop her. "I'll tell you what I am, furious, that's what! How dare that little thief harm my cabinet? How dare she try to steal from me? Who is she? What does she want? Where did she go? Why are you questioning me like—"
Suddenly, Pince sagged; Filch caught her.
"Take her to her rooms," Snape told Filch, re-sheathing his wand. "We'll continue questioning her tomorrow."
"Agreed," said Christopher, thinking, Yes, definitely a relative.
As Filch shuffled out of the office holding Pince, Snape said, "This book in which you're so interested, it's the focus of some sort of doomsday cult? One of which Andrews and his students are members?"
"Apocalyptic cults are something of a nightmare in my line of work," Christopher replied agreeably. To put Snape off asking anything more pointed, he continued, "But I suppose you're more interested in just how we're going to keep things quiet?"
"Yes," Snape replied, "Irma didn't intend to—"
He was interrupted by the pop! of a house-elf appearing in the room.
"Headmaster Snape," the elf said, stopping when he saw that his master wasn't alone.
"Don't mind me," Christopher said.
Ears quivering, the elf continued, "You're needed in the kitchens, Headmaster Snape, needed most urgently."
Christopher could see that Snape was about to refuse the elf, so he said, "We can continue this discussion later. I should consult with Beakman." And I need to contact Armitage.
"You're not running an investigation in my school without me."
"I haven't done anything without you, have I?" Christopher replied, noting how the elf's ears were practically vibrating. "There's really nothing more that either of us can do before Beakman completes his tests. After I talk to him, I'll secure Andrews as we agreed and won't involve anyone else from the department in my," he paused to correct himself, "our investigation. And when we meet for breakfast tomorrow, I'll bring you up to speed."
"What about Masters?"
"When he's found, I'll hold him for questioning until morning. Will that suit?"
Snape sighed. "Very well, but I'll want to be fully informed of any developments."
"Of course," Christopher agreed.
"Headmaster Snape," the elf said, "the kitchens."
"Laddy, stay with Auror March and see to it that his needs, and those of his staff, are met."
Christopher raised an eyebrow in amusement as Snape left him and looked at Laddy. And you're how Snape plans on ensuring that I do share everything.
No one ever mentioned this! Hermione thought, clutching the arms of the chair into which she'd fallen and gaping at her surroundings.
Shelves—there were two massive ones on either side of the corridor in which she was sitting, taller than she thought possible and stretching into the distance farther than she could see.
So many books! Hermione stood up and approached one of the shelves, reading off a list of titles. All written by or concerning former headmasters, and here are collections of papers!
Hermione was gobsmacked to be amid so much historical information.
"But this library is far too large to be the Headmasters' library that Severus was telling me about. I don't understand."
"Well, of course you don't. You're not a proper librarian, are you?"
"Headmaster Dippet?" Hermione asked, looking behind her at the seemingly endless shelves. "I don't see you."
"Follow my voice, girl. There's a break in the shelves back here."
Walking a bit, Hermione saw that some of the shelves were actually missing about ten feet behind her chair on the left side of the corridor; their absence formed a door of sorts, through which another, narrower shelf-lined corridor appeared. At the end of it, there was a desk; Dippet's portrait hung above it on the wall.
"Good, you can follow directions after all," he snapped.
"That's hardly fair. You might have been a bit earlier and more specific in your warning. I didn't know that the book was a Portkey."
Dippet retorted, "In point of fact, it's not a Portkey. It's The Book of Doors. One would imagine that its title was caution enough for anyone of sense!"
"Oh, stop being so insulting and tell me where I am and how to get back."
"I don't see why I should."
"Because if you don't help me, when I—"
Hermione looked up in time to see a dark shape go flying overhead from one shelf to another and then disappear.
"What was that?"
"That's just the Librarian," Dippet said. "Don't worry about him."
"Madam Pince is our librarian."
"Yes, Miss Granger, at Hogwarts, but this isn't Hogwarts, not entirely."
Hermione glanced nervously up at the top of the bookshelf over which the shape had gone and then looked back at Dippet, putting her hands on her hips. "You know, even without my wand, I might be able to conjure paint thinner. Would you like that?"
"Don't get testy with me. I'm not the one who went diving into a book!"
"But you're in here, too, which means that we have to be in Hogwarts."
"Only tenuously, which is why I am here. I'm sure Snape will blame me for your book-diving, and I don't want a 'cleansing' coat of turpentine!"
Hermione changed tactics. "Well, as you said, I was the one who dived into the book. You didn't tell me to. It wasn't your fault. I won't tell Severus."
"'Severus' is it? So it is true. Odd, I would have thought he'd prefer someone prettier, and with a pe—"
Dippet's portrait took on a reddish stain about his cheeks. "Forgive me. It's been a stressful few weeks. They're here, they're trying to do it again, and I can't stand to see them—especially that awful Masters boy who reminds me so much of Curtis!"
Trying to do what again? Hermione wondered, as she pulled the desk chair out and sat down. She looked at Dippet and decided to start with an easy question. "Who's Curtis?"
"Who was Curtis, you mean, and I don't feel inclined to share that information."
Hermione took a deep breath and smiled in what she hoped was an encouraging manner. "You're the one who wants to hide. We might as well pass the time while you do, and I'd truly like to know what's bothering you."
"Well," said Dippet, "if you mean it..."
Severus stared at the page upon which the house-elf was perched. "You're sure? She fell through that illustration?"
"Rally is sure, Headmaster Snape. Hermione Granger is being inside this book!"
Oh, hells, Severus thought, noticing Hermione's wand and bag laying next to it.
He knew that he should summon March, but if he were to do that, the Auror would probably spend too much time running tests on the book before allowing anyone to search for Hermione inside of it. Severus' own testing charms hadn't revealed anything more than a steady magical pulse of the sort that one would expect to emanate from a Portkey.
And who knows where it took Hermione? he thought, coming to a decision. "Rally, I'm going after her. If we don't return in an hour, you get help—but don't lose the page!"
Taking Hermione's wand and bag, he leapt.
"Edward Masters?" someone squeaked.
Fucking elf, he thought, straightening and training his wand on the creature. "What do you want?"
"I is having a hat for you. Here, be taking it!"
Eddie stared at the creature's outstretched hand. "You want me to have a hat? Why do you want—" Oh, oh for the love of— "You can't get rid of me like that, elf. I'm a human being, and I'm already free." He laughed, thinking of the freedoms to come if he could just find a way home, just survive to find another copy. "Now, if you happen to have a Portkey through which I could disappear, then that would be different."
"Is you needing to disappear?" the elf asked, her ears going rigid.
"Are you deaf? Didn't I just say so?" he spat, flicking his wand in the direction of another table and grinning as it exploded in a shower of splinters. "I know where they broke through. I must behold that place again!" Oh, fuck. To have come so close and yet be so far from the goal! How could I have allowed them to fail me? "How has it come to this?"
"I isn't knowing that!" the elf exclaimed, "but there is being a hollow book in the kitchens. You can be having it if you promise to go away!"
Eddie went still and narrowed his eyes. That sounds like some form of Portkey. "Show me. Take me to this 'hollow book'!"
The Great Hall had proved empty. Oh, something unpleasant had clearly occurred there as evidenced by the general destruction, but the shouting that Harry and Ron had heard, they'd decided, had actually been emanating from the grounds through the open doors of the castle. They were now standing on the steps and staring into the distance in amazement.
"Hagrid never said anything about there being great big rolling balls of eyes in Care of Magical Creatures."
Ron sounded gobsmacked, and Harry fervently hoped that he wasn't going to sick up again.
"What the hell is that, anyway?" Ron asked.
"I don't know."
"Harry, what the hell is—"
"I told you, I don't know! Hey, is that a student?"
"Oh, shite. I think it is," Ron said, pulling his broom from his robes and re-sizing it.
"What are you doing?"
Mounting his broom, Ron replied, "Going to stop that idiot from messing with, with whatever that thing is. Start the doors closing. I'll be right back."
Severus fell for what seemed an unreasonably long time before coming to an abrupt, rather soft landing in a chair that faced another, identical one. Without hesitating, he rose and took in his surroundings.
Books. Why did it have to be books?
In a library of this size, there was no telling where Hermione might have gone. Under any other circumstances, he knew that he'd happily lose himself in such a place. Pocketing Hermione's belongings but keeping his own wand in hand, he tried to decide in which direction to search. He would have called to Hermione, but there were odd noises in the distance, and he wasn't willing to draw the attention of something unknown to himself or to her.
Two chairs. I'll go in the direction the one opposite mine is fa—
"You're not serious!"
Severus moved quickly towards the sound of her voice.
"You needn't shout like that. Of course, I'm serious. Why don't you believe me?"
Because I think you're mad, that's why, Hermione thought, saying, "But that book's just a work of fic—"
"You've read it? When? Where did you find it? Curtis and I used to study it together until his interests changed, but as soon as they did, I put it in here. It should still be on the desk!"
Hermione frowned and rifled through the documents and books on the desk; she couldn't find any trace of Kitab al-Azif; there was, however, one decrepit, alarming-looking volume into which was set the impression of a grisly, open-mouthed face. She elected not to touch it. "It's not here."
"It has to be! Thieves! Thieves have come to the Headmasters' library!"
"Dippet, do stop raving!"
"I'll thank you to give me my title! Now, hold them up so that I can see them."
"No, the murderous bunnies. Of course the books, stupid girl!"
Hermione sat back and crossed her arms. "That's never been my title."
"Merlin's foreskin! Why should you be so cross with me? You're the one—"
"No one uses that expression," Hermione interrupted him sharply, beginning to hold up one book after another in order to shut him up.
"And this one? Ew!" Hermione exclaimed, dropping the book that had just licked her.
"And you call yourself a librarian?"
"I never did, and you were the one who said I wasn't a 'proper' one, anyway. That's the last of them, well, except for the one with the face, but I don't—"
"Yes, that one! Oh, thank goodness. I thought someone had stolen it. That," Dippet said, peering down at the book that Hermione now unwillingly held up, "is Kitab al-Azif. The original. The one, apparently, that Curtis translated because there were no copies of it here when I was in residence. Where's the copy that you've been reading? I want to see it!"
"Because I'd know Curtis' handwriting anywhere, and if he didn't translate your copy, it means cultists must have brought another one here. Cultists, Miss Granger, are not welcome at Hogwarts!"
"Oh, for Merlin's sake! It's in my bag," Hermione said, reaching down to her sock and then remembering. "Er, which is in the kitchens. I left it by The Book of Doors."
Harry stood just inside Hogwarts' entrance by the locking wheel, prepared to turn it upon Ron's return.
He shouldn't have flown off without me, but he's right, we've got to secure the school. That thing can't be allowed in here.
Not taking his eyes off of Ron, who was arguing with the student, a male one, Harry could see now, Harry sent a quick message via his Patronus to March. He and Ron were going to need all the help that they could get, and soon.
It was as good a moment as any to interrupt; Severus stepped forward. "Do you mean this bag?"
"Severus!" Hermione exclaimed, racing down the corridor towards him and grabbing her bag. "I'm so glad to see you!"
"I'm happy to—"
He stopped speaking as Hermione abruptly returned to Dippet's portrait and clambered up onto the desk, being careful, it seemed, not to step on anything it held. She rooted through her bag and came up with a leather-clad, be-stringed volume.
Her bag fell to the desk, making an appalling racket as it settled.
"Look," Hermione demanded, holding open the book. "Is this his handwriting?"
"Damnation! That little bastard. I knew he was lying. Curtis never enjoyed walking that much."
"So what you're saying is that, while a guest of yours, your, er, friend, sneaked around behind your back to translate Kitab al-Azif?"
"Yes, Miss Granger, that is precisely what I'm saying—and you needn't be so delicate. Curtis was my lover. I'm not ashamed of it."
"Of course you aren't," Severus said, reaching up to offer Hermione a hand down off the desk. He was surprised when she narrowed her eyes at him and batted away his hand. "What did I do?"
"Tried to protect me, that's what."
"Helping you off a desk is 'protection'?"
"Severus, do be quiet. This is important," Hermione said, jumping down and tucking the copy back into her bag, which she then slipped into her sock. "Headmaster Dippet was just telling me about the Society for Esoterica and Dominion."
"Not willingly, but the girl is relentless."
Severus almost smirked at Dippet's irritation but didn't dare. Instead, he said, "Oh?"
Dippet opened his mouth to speak again, but Hermione spoke over him. "It seems that Curtis Whateley, with whom the Headmaster was lovers, was part of a family involved with the Society and its works."
"Tell him that I didn't know that Curtis was involved in the evil!"
"Didn't know, got it," said Severus, looking at Hermione.
"Apparently, Curtis' father—"
"Died a most horrible death!" Dippet exclaimed.
"Died a most horrible death," Hermione repeated.
"Which was avoidable!"
"Oh, fine. It's my story, but you tell it if you think that you can do a better job."
"A faster one, at any rate," Hermione said, pressing on. "Curtis had the Headmaster convinced that he wanted no part in his family's unsavoury activities, and so they continued their friendship—until Curtis asked for the loan of Kitab al-Azif, which is—"
"As it happens," Severus said, "I'm familiar with that title, and the fact that you," he continued, looking at Dippet, "wrote to him telling him never to ask for the loan of it again."
"And what gives you the right to go reading my private correspondence?"
"Please go on, Hermione."
"Well, some time after his refusal of the loan, Curtis wrote to Headmaster Dippet saying that something awful had occurred, that he'd made a mistake and needed his help."
"Yes," said Dippet, "and I can continue from here unless you have any other impertinent objections?"
Hermione rolled her eyes at Severus and sat down at the desk.
"There are servants these cultists sometimes call upon. They have no business conjuring them from the depths in which they sleep, but sometimes, they—"
"Headmaster, please," Hermione urged.
"Oh, very well. After Curtis' second cousin John failed to see his half-breed grandchildren successfully open a portal to the Old Ones, to Yog-Sothoth—"
Severus wanted to interrupt, but at Hermione's shake of the head, he didn't speak.
"—Curtis elected to do what his father had done and attempt another portal-opening ritual. Of course, he went about it in entirely the wrong way, and from our researches, he should have known better, but he tried, he summoned his servant, and it grew! It grew too strong to be controlled, and Curtis despaired. He went into hiding while the accursed thing wreaked havoc upon the countryside and sent to me for assistance." Dippet paused, as if to collect himself, and then said to Hermione, "Show him the clipping."
Hermione passed Severus a brief Associated Press clipping making fun of the "latest tragical doings in Dunwich."
He frowned. "Well, whatever occurred, it doesn't appear as if people took it seriously."
"No," said Dippet, "but that's just the clipping that came out after the mess that John made. There were no reports out of Dunwich after Curtis' mistake. His damn creature ate the local journalist! I was there. I witnessed it!"
"Yes, Severus, it ate him. Unfortunately, it ate Curtis as well before the Headmaster could contain the creature—which he then brought back to Hogwarts."
Severus gaped at Dippet. "You did what?"
It took some moments for his voice to stop reverberating off the books, most of which, in various ways, made their displeasure at the disruption known.
After some page-fluttering, Dippet said quietly, "Ahem. Well. Yes, as it happens, that's not a giant squid in the Black Lake."