Chapter 5: Jack-In-The_Box
~~~Chapter 5: Jack-In-The-Box~~~
The new semester began as semesters do- last minute scrambling and dashing through the halls, frantic searching for misplaced books and wands, the sorting out of incompatible magical sidekicks. If Connor had to halt one more commotion between Silas’ vampire bat and some first year’s idiotic cat that thought it might find an easy lunch, he’d hex the first year into next week.
But Connor didn’t feel as much frazzled panic as his classmates. Being back at school always made him calmer, as if the confusing future looming ahead was filtered through a soft haze that made it easier to bear. Here at Hogwarts, he could forget about the family business, the one that didn’t revolve around the Ministry and his new internship. The dark parts of the lower dungeons would remain dark, and Connor could pretend that Father wasn’t eyeing his potential day after day.
There was an element of excitement about a new year, though, and Connor very nearly bounced down the hallway to his first meeting with the new Dark Arts professor, if bouncing hadn’t been a gauche activity that Malfoys never, ever indulged in. The classroom was empty, except for some new cages of creatures and a faint atonal humming from the back room.
Connor knocked, but when no one answered, he came in and looked around. Some sort of aquatic beast draped over with weeds glared at him when he tapped on the aquarium, and Connor wrinkled his nose at the stench of rotting pond water. The next iron cage was full of squeaking, hissing creatures that the young Slytherin recognized as Gilmacuddies, a particularly whimsical type of woodland nixie.
“Ah, I see you’ve met some of my demonstrations.”
Leaning against the doorway to the office was perhaps one of the shabbier teachers Connor had ever seen. Last night at the feast, he’d not paid too much attention to the new teacher, still rattled by the encounter with the Dementors. In the light of day, however, the professor seemed so very tired, graying around the edges in a disconcerting manner. He had flyaway brownish hair, sad eyes, and an exhausted shamble as he crossed the room.
“They’re interesting. I didn’t think you could capture this many Gilmacuddies and hold them together. Don’t they fight each other?”
Lupin shook his head. “Not if you line the cages with catnip. Seems they love it as much as felines do, and sit there in a sort of stupor.” He held out his hand. “You must be Connor Malfoy, my new assistant?”
Connor took the proffered hand, but froze when skin touched skin. There was something that made all the hairs on his arms stand up, a sort of electric charge that made his lip curl. If he didn’t know better, he’d say that Lupin didn’t feel human. But that was surely ridiculous.
When the professor began to look concerned at Connor’s lack of response, he gave a wavering smile. “That’s me. Here to help with whatever you need. I’m grateful you offered this position to the students; what an invaluable way to learn the secrets of teaching the Dark Arts.”
When in doubt, flatter. If that doesn’t work, threaten. The Slytherin Creed worked well in most situations, and this was no exception. The older man blushed, and Connor let out a sigh of relief.
“Well, yes. Ahem.” Lupin shook himself and motioned for Connor to follow him. “Today, we’re going to get the demonstration for the first class of fourth years together. Do you know what a boggart is? Good. We’ve got one living in a sarcophagus in the east wing, third floor. We have to go capture it and stuff it in the trunk.”
With that, he levitated the trunk to follow after them as they set off down the hallway. As they walked, Lupin explained how to defeat a boggart, ‘ridikkulus’, and how to then subdue it into the trunk. Connor admitted it was a fantastic way to start off his study, and stepped lightly on his toes as he pestered Lupin with questions the entire way.
The Slytherin was fascinated. There was something almost indecently thrilling about ‘subduing’ a dark creature. It felt … right, which was something he couldn’t be more delighted about in light of his current, er, destabilization. That was how he was referring to it in his mind, a temporary disturbance that would surely even out with time. One day he would wake up without nightmares. There would be no strange feeling of déjà vu haunting his waking moments. He would not feel things that were not there. That was just how it was going to be.
There was no other option.
The distant sound of students catcalling each other between classes faded the further away from the used classrooms they got, and Connor wondered what this castle was like when it was full to the brim. There were so many unused places currently, but at some point it had to have been lived in. Why else would it have been built so large?
The doorways were dark, forbidding, and blocked by heavy wood doors. Perhaps this had been a sanctuary for all wizarding kind during a Muggle-induced pogrom of some sort? The thick walls and unplottability of the place made that likely, but Connor couldn’t remember anything like that from Hogwarts, A History. Perhaps he should dig it up and see.
Not too soon in the least, they reached their destination. The hallway was gloomy and looked as if Hagrid had decorated it for Halloween with dust dragons and liberal cobwebs. At the end of the corridor was a low dark sarcophagus. It appeared to be made of some sort of shiny, black material, but was far from smooth. Scalloped edges in rough-hewn rock flickered in the light of the torches Lupin had brought with them, and Connor touched it tentatively.
“Obsidian. Good for keeping in things that should stay there. This is the tomb of Lamentius Roakwood. He wasn’t exactly the … gentlest Headmaster the school has ever had.”
“I though that the staff were buried on the grounds, if they requested.” Connor winced as an especially sharp edge of the volcanic glass cut his palm.
“Ordinarily, yes. But the rest of the cemetery ghosts refused to allow his body entrance, and he had no other family. So the poor fellow was relegated here in obscurity.” Lupin set down the implements of boggart-capture and rolled up his sleeves.
“Let’s get started, shall we? You remember the spell to subdue the boggart, correct?”
“And you have not encountered one before?”
“No.” Connor shook his head and readied his wand. He knew he should feel more trepidation, but it was hard in the face of such exciting activities. After all, it was only fear, and fear could be overcome. Fear would be overcome.
Lupin gave him a sideways look, as if he could hear what Connor was thinking, but gently slid the lid back an inch or two. The sarcophagus rattled in response and the teacher smiled.
“Okay, you slide the lid the rest of the way back, here, and I’ll hopefully catch him when he darts out. If he gets around me, give him a quick ‘ridikkulus’ and between us, we shouldn’t have any problems.”
Gripping his wand tightly with one hand, Connor used the other to give the lid a good shove. Diaphanous around the edges, the boggart flowed up from the vessel like an avenging spirit. It swooped directly at Lupin who gave it a lazy ‘ridikkulus’ and it shrieked even as it wavered from glowy white orb to jack-o-lantern. Furious, it didn’t flee, but took a swipe at Lupin who ducked out of the way.
Connor took this opportunity to show the teacher just why he was the best student to have chosen for the job and hollered, “Hey, boggart, over here, you pansy-assed, poor excuse for a frightener!”
It whirled around, but much to Connor’s surprise, it couldn’t seem to decide which shape to take. First, it shimmered into his father’s form, sneering down at him. Connor didn’t even have to try hard to laugh at that, imagining him in his mother’s bathrobe and feathered slippers with his white hair up in curlers as he called out the spell, but the boggart didn’t stick with that.
Next, he rippled and flowed into the form of a tall, broad shouldered man, dark hair sticking up over his forehead. The eyes were yellow, alien, and his forehead was ridged. His mouth was open, teeth sharp, and to Connor’s great horror, it hissed, “Son, where have you been? I’ve been looking for you.”
Frozen in confusion- for he’d never seen the man before, he was sure of it- Connor watched the boggart stalked forward. He gripped his wand, holding it up in front of him like a stake, and began to tremble. Whatever this was, it looked sort of like a vampire, and it scared him.
This wasn’t his nightmare, this wasn’t his fear. He didn’t know this thing!
Then why was he shaking, every muscle tense? Half of him wanted to flee, and the other half wanted to attack, but not with magic. It wanted to rip and tear, to plunge his wand into yielding flesh, to scream his battle cry to the night air. Just as he was about to leap towards the man-thing, Lupin stepped in front of him.
Connor didn’t even hear the professor as the boggart was subdued and forced into the waiting chest. All he could hear was the pulsing of blood in his ears, the silenced cry of rage against the demons in the dark. There was fire in his veins and it made his skin crawl. Something was inside him, crying to get out, something that lived in the nightmares, something—
“Connor?” Lupin’s hand on his elbow snapped him out of his daze. The older man looked at him with great concern in his weathered face and Connor resisted the urge to break down and confess each and every weird thing that had happened over the past few weeks. But Slytherins did not open up and confess their fears to a stranger. They did not show weakness to anyone considered beneath them- and really, who wasn’t beneath a Malfoy?
So he took a shuddering breath and said, “I’m fine. Really.”
“Most people are unnerved the first time they see a boggart in the flesh, so to speak.” When Connor just continued looking at him, saying nothing, Lupin continued. “But this looks like something else. I’ve never seen a boggart try to change tactics that way before. Usually there’s no confusion in the victim’s mind over what scares him the most.”
Connor remained silent, choosing that moment to sink to his heels by the cold stone wall. He wanted something behind him, some support, something to prove he wasn’t going mad. He could feel the chill soaking through his robes, the rough scratch of stone catching on the fabric. He brought his hands up to cradle his face, smoothing back his hair slowly, hands pressed hard to his skull, as if to squash the bad thoughts away.
“What was that thing at the end? The creature that called you ‘son’?”
Connor looked up at his teacher with wide eyes. “I honestly have no idea.”
Lupin looked startled for a moment before weakly attempting a joke. “Honesty from a Slytherin, what is the world coming to?”
He helped the student from his crouched position and waved his wand at the trunk. Another curious glance Connor’s way, and the procession started back to the inhabited parts of the castle.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
“Ms. Morgan, a delight as always.” Director Silman’s decidedly upper crust, definitely expensive accent coiled over her like smoke. His thin form was clad in classic lawyer style, pin-striped grey, with a perfectly tied, pale cream Windsor knot at his throat. With slightly sloping shoulders and a barely disguised palsy of the hands, Lilah thought he resembled an aging, English scarecrow.
She smiled, accepting the proffered hand and subsequent kiss to her wrist with minimal distain. “It’s lovely to be back here, Maxwell. How go things on this side of the dimensional rift?”
“Sublime, of course. We have quite a few projects that are taking up our time, and old contacts that are awakening again.” He took her arm and led her through the lobby of the London branch of Wolfram and Hart, Dimension 31. The décor was depressingly similar to the original one from the Los Angeles division, pre-Lorne’s disco madness, and she tried not to roll her eyes. The scurrying minions and well-dressed movers-and-shakers all granted her a nod or more of recognition.
Good. They’d gotten the memo.
“How are Bethany and the children? Is Randolph still planning on following in your footsteps?”
Maxwell made a sort of low-pitched hum and nodded. “Yes, my brilliant boy made his first ritual sacrifice without help last weekend. A very impressive goat-and-goose combination, asking for the blessing of the younger gods. He did well- was awarded with top marks on all his exams. We’re so very proud of him.”
Lilah nodded, stepping aside to allow him to open the door to her new office. It had a fine view over the Thames, depressingly dark grey and roiling today, but the windows were wide and gleaming. A small sitting area was to one side, the desk occupying much of the far wall. A stack of papers was already waiting for her, as well as a freshly-brewed pot of coffee.
“As you can see, everything should be in order. We’ve gone ahead and made arrangements for the traditional visitor’s flat and driver. If you require your own car, please let us know, otherwise your driver is available on line six.”
Lilah ran her nails over the varnished wood of her desk and smiled. “Thank you, Maxwell.”
“A pleasure, Ms. Morgan. It’s not often we get a liaison of your … caliber here, and we want to be sure the Senior Partners have no complaints.”
“Of course not,” she purred, sliding down into the plush leather chair behind the desk with catlike grace. “We all know how much is riding on this little investment, don’t we?”
Director Silman looked decidedly uncomfortable, but cleared his throat. “Yes. Well. My wife and I would like to extend an invitation for you to dine with us this evening at our club. Would eight o’clock be amenable?”
Lilah titled her head to the side, looking up at him through her eyelashes. “Of course, Director, of course. I would be honored.” He looked relieved but before he could leave, she tapped her fingers on the pile of paperwork. “How is my little project coming, anyway?”
“Right on schedule. Your team’s initial work was spotless, and with events moving right along at our end, you should have no trouble at all. A few more months at most, until the end of the school year. You’ll have a chance to investigate the matter personally over the winter holidays, after all.”
Lilah nodded, pleased, and waved a hand to dismiss the gentleman. She frowned in thought and smoothed the scarf around her neck almost absently. Lilah poured herself a cup of coffee from the French press on the side table and stirred in a package of sugar- just because she was dead didn’t mean she couldn’t appreciate a cup of good coffee. Besides, a mere few months and she’d be able to touch the end goal, then a few more to seal the bargain. Things were definitely looking up.
Content, she took a sip of coffee, and licked her lips.