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The Big Game-2: In the Chamber of Secrets. Part 5
Some aspects of duels in light of the BG
Some time ago Harry and the Boa Constrictor had a fairly pleasant chat. There’s no reason to believe you can un-learn Parseltongue - looks like this is a skill akin to bicycle riding - once it’s there, it’s there to stay. However since the Headmaster is changing the BG due to the new circumstances and planning for Harry's final battle with the Basilisk, Harry has to be adequately prepared… Severus, I heard you used to enjoy duelling during your time as a Death Eater?
So the Duelling Club is coming.
But let’s stick with the order of the events. Having re-grown all his thirty-three bones, Harry leaves the hospital wing and heads straight for That Very Bathroom. The Polyjuice Potion is brewing, a “portable, waterproof fire” (Hermione’s specialty) happily crackling from under the cauldron. Doesn’t it remind you of a blue fire frequently used in the PS? Yes, it’s a small detail, but Rowling has a lot of these. And that doesn’t go along with a common opinion that there are a lot of plot holes in her books. Quite the contrary! She’s extremely thorough.
The conclusion we draw here is that Dumbledore allows the teenagers to play around with the Polyjuice Potion - both as a part of their investigation and with the aim of teaching them to show initiative. That’s why Snape doesn’t make much fuss about the missing ingredients. And he could. His lesson was ruined, Draco acquired a melon-like nose (is it any worse than Hermione’s massive teeth in the later books? Children…), Hermione plundered Snape’s cupboard… And meanwhile Severus knows exactly who is to blame. Moreover, he looks directly at Harry - who tries to produce an innocent, puzzled expression. Both are engaged in the process in a way that (as we know from the OotP) makes it easier to read one’s thoughts…
Snape’s final phrase - “If I ever find out who threw this," Snape whispered, "I shall make sure that person is expelled” - is really quite helpless. Of course, he knows. And he’s threatening Harry with expulsion, just as he did after catching the boys fresh from their flying car journey (a very familiar move). However, really, Snape can hiss and spit (to a certain extent), find fault (to a certain extent) and even punish (to a very limited extent) but he will never be able to achieve Harry’s expulsion, whatever the boy does. What’s more: Snape knows exactly, who; after examining the cupboard and finding out what exactly is missing, he’ll know what and why; and nevertheless he has to sit tight, stay quiet and pretend to be stupid and naive. Because that’s what the BG needs. And Severus does what he has to - probably with great bitterness…
But the Headmaster will allow him to let off steam a bit later.
The Duelling Club was clearly an idea of someone who knew that Harry is a complete newb in duelling, and that he already nearly got himself into one during his first year. Therefore Harry, along with Ron and Hermione, will definitely sign up.
What’s weird is that Flitwick, the duelling champion, has nothing to do with the Club. But Lockhart does, and obviously Snape. Well, it looks like Snape is using Lockhart in the same way he was using Filch in the PS: a cover and a stand-in at the same time.
If we read the text carefully, it is obvious that Snape not just “knows a tiny little bit about duelling himself and has sportingly agreed to help me with a short demonstration before we begin” (that phrasing…). Very soon Snape takes over the teaching quite openly, not even pretending anymore that Lockhart is there to lead the Club or could possibly control the situation. And he takes great pleasure in blasting Gilderoy off his feet and smashing him into the wall.
So, about that blasting and smashing. Why does the Headmaster allow one of the teachers of a very high-end school to show himself off as such a disgrace? Even if it was Lockhart who had the Duelling Club idea, why allow it? And why does another teacher allow himself to treat the former teacher in that way, publicly, in front of the students? Every team tends to have a black sheep, but parading it in front of the school is unprofessional at the least.
There’s only one sensible answer: the BG requires it. Poor dumb Lockhart is there to serve as a demonstration throughout the year of where blind vanity leads. And for some more intricate manipulations too, of course.
Snape doesn’t really demonstrate anything in his battering of Lockhart (isn’t that what they agreed?..), but is clearly just trying to hit him as hard as possible. It’s hard not to think that it’s not just a payback for Snape (and you could be sure that by now Lockhart got on everyone’s nerves), but he is also trying to demonstrate to Harry how cool he, Snape, is. Could that be an attempt at achieving an understanding?
Alas, Harry sees and appreciates everything… but that doesn’t change his attitude to a hated professor even a little bit. Potter-junior is largely a first-impression kind of guy. And therefore is very prone to prejudice.
Meanwhile Lockhart gets up, looking maybe just a little offended; and with his famous, almost childlike spontaneity he still tries to turn the situation in his favour. Yea, you have to admit that Lockhart’s self-confidence is pretty unshakeable. But even he has to submit to Snape’s orders. And Snape very insistently puts Harry against Draco as a volunteer pair, while also making a passing but unkind remark about Neville.
Let’s note in brackets that Snape will eventually get what he deserves for his endless attacks on Neville, next year… It will be painful and the lesson will be learned, Snape will become more careful with what he says and does in the future. But we will cover this in the next episode.
The test is ready: Snape is whispering the necessary spell to Draco - “Serpensortia!”, and a large black snake appears in front of Harry.
“Don't move, Potter," said Snape lazily, clearly enjoying the sight of Harry standing motionless, eye to eye with the angry snake. "I'll get rid of it …”. It’s pretty obvious that Snape is observing the boy’s reaction. And the emotional interpretation of the moment is fully Harry’s, who is always convinced that the Potions professor is his eternal nemesis (not without a reason, we must admit).
But alas, Lockhart decides to interfere. Ah, morons can be useful sometimes, if you know how to handle them. But they do have an unpleasant habit of interfering at the wrong time and messing stuff up. The snake gets irritated with an unexpected flight and fall, rages and prepares to attack Justin Finch-Fletchley. Snape simply has no time to react, it is made quite clear that Harry acts instantly, instinctually (“Harry wasn't sure what made him do it. He wasn't even aware of deciding to do it. All he knew was that his legs were carrying him forward as though he was on casters and that he had shouted stupidly at the snake, "Leave him alone!"”)
The conclusion? Harry is not scared of snakes and is always ready for a chat. Other than being a Parselmouth, he also has an obvious power over serpents - “He knew the snake wouldn't attack anyone now, though how he knew it, he couldn't have explained”. Not too shabby for a boy who is not the Slytherin’s Heir…
The audience’s reaction is mixed: mostly people are scared, repelled and even angry/disgusted. Other than Snape, who “was looking at Harry in an unexpected way: It was a shrewd and calculating look, and Harry didn't like it”. Oh yes. The test showed an unexpected, but very curious result: Harry is somewhat of a master to snakes… It’s hard to tell for sure, but what if Harry, instead of panicking, ordered the Basilisk to “sit” when they were in the tunnel, who would the giant snake obey - him or Riddle-imprint? Well either way, when later on Dumbledore sends Harry down to the tunnels to confront the monster, the boy is not as defenceless as it might seem.
Here the Duelling Club meets its rapid end. The first meeting turned out to also be the last. And from the BG point of view it makes every kind of sense - why continue, when the aim has been achieved.
The consequences of the Duelling Club and more
The topic of Harry’s resemblance of Voldemort/Riddle/Slytherin’s Heir will keep getting brought up. Obviously, this idea didn't occur to Ron alone, and another period of ostracism is upon Harry. How convenient that he already has some experience with that. We also find out that Harry wasn’t actually planning to release the snake in the zoo - it just kind of happened (“I accidentally set a boa constrictor on my cousin Dudley at the zoo once - long story - but it was telling me it had never seen Brazil and I sort of set it free without meaning to”). Small detail, but it confirms that during the incident in the zoo the BG was already on and somebody could have removed the glass specifically for Harry and the snake to be able to hear each other better.
Feeling all over the place, Harry runs along the corridor and bumps into Hagrid. The gamekeeper is heading to Dumbledore’s office to discuss another dead rooster (all the marks of the Basilisk, just like in Hermione’s book). He notices Harry isn’t quite ok and asks him what’s up (“ Yeh sure yeh're all righ'? Yeh look all hot an' bothered -”).
Harry just waves him off. Yes, Dumbledore is definitely in need of a new confidant, urgently.
And it is as Harry heads off to Gryffindor tower afterwards that he stumbles upon Petrified Justin and smoky, black, unconscious Nearly Headless Nick. The ghost took the hit, just as Dumbledore intended. The protective measures have proven effective.
Harry finds himself in the Headmaster’s office for the first (but by far not the last) time. And note that now he knows the password-creating principle: candy names. It will be useful in the future.
The boy is scared, but he acts just as he usually does when he’s left alone - he convinces himself that it’s ok to have a quick look around and starts satisfying his curiosity about the objects around him. Filch’s office and the letter on his desk, Dumbledore’s office and the Hat, and later Snape’s office and Pensieve… The boy has a pattern.
The Hat insists on Slytherin, Harry isn’t happy with that. He passionately disagrees and takes off the Hat (“"You're wrong," he said aloud to the still and silent hat”). It’s quite hard to get him to take in the truth. He will turn away from it for a long time, and only really face it when there’s just no way not to…
And then the Headmaster appears.
It is very clear what decision he’s made for now. BG-2 will continue, but it will be modified given the new circumstances. And that would be fine. But while Dumbledore is allowing Harry to conduct his own investigation and learn to show initiative, preparing him for the final battle, Malfoy keeps digging. And soon Draco will openly say: “He'll be sacked if it doesn't stop soon”.
Meanwhile the Headmaster clearly doesn’t share all aspects of the BG with his team. For example, it is possible that Snape wasn’t aware of the full extent of Potter’s linguistic abilities. And Hagrid doesn’t know everything either. Or he wouldn’t be storming into Dumbledore’s office, trying to protect Harry from the potential accusations and suspicions…
Meeting Fawkes leads to a short lecture about the phoenix abilities: “Fascinating creatures, phoenixes. They can carry immensely heavy loads, their tears have healing powers, and they make highly faithful pets”. We’ll get a chance to witness the first two powers soon enough, and what exactly does Dumbledore mean by “faithful pets”? He doesn’t usually spread facts like that without an ulterior motive.
Anyway, Harry was really only called into Dumbledore’s office for one single question - “"I must ask you, Harry, whether there is anything you'd like to tell me," he said gently. "Anything at all."” Meanwhile Dumbledore is watching Harry carefully. Is it just Snape who can read thoughts around here? Doubtful.
And Harry is very conveniently replaying all the recent events in his head (Malfoy’s shouting, the Polyjuice Potion, hearing voices/aka Basilisk’s grumbling…) and - doesn’t say anything. But Dumbledore doesn’t need facts, he already knows those. It is clear from the context that what he wants is trust.
Possibly at this point he is offering himself as Harry’s confidant. But there’s too much of a gap between them for now. You don’t pour your heart out to someone who’s so far above you.
Ah, the new confidant is really, really necessary. Soon. But that can be a task for later. For now let’s note an interesting detail that emerged in the final battle: Fawks only appeared after Harry demonstrated faithfulness and dedication to Dumbledore.
Just like that.
Some aspects of Christmas in light of the BG
What’s curious is why does Draco stay in Hogwarts over Christmas? Last year he was very loud and clear about having a place to go over the holidays. So what’s up now? Misunderstandings with the father? Wanting to be closer to his best frenemy? Just remember how he wouldn’t stop commenting on Harry’s sweater over Christmas dinner. When will Malfoy-junior learn that every snide remark towards Harry just shows more and more how much he really craves Harry’s attention/affection?
It’s also curious to see when/whether Harry will realise that Draco’s hate is just a form of adoration, as it frequently is for poor unenlightened souls.
Poor, poor rich boy Draco. Harry doesn’t love him, daddy punishes him (something along the lines of “I spent all this money on your Quidditch - now spend the holidays in Hogwarts and think about what disgraces a wizard’s name”). Either way Draco is one of a few students who don’t leave for home. Maybe Lucius is sure that his son is safe since you couldn’t find a more pureblood family than the Malfoys. And it’s also possible that he wants to have someone in Hogwarts who’d give him the latest news.
However, there are no news so far and everything is quiet. Ginny and the diary stay at school since their parents are off to visit Bill in Egypt (which they’ll do again this summer, which will open up amazing perspectives on the PoA analysis… But let’s not look that far ahead). Maybe the girl is already trying to resist Riddle’s powers. Either way, this time the Basilisk didn’t get a chance to say Merry Christmas to anyone.
So, Christmas is here. And it’s also time to act. Hermione put so much energy into their Polyjuice Potion plan, that it was carried out almost perfectly (apart from the cat hair mishap for Hermione herself). We’re absolutely sure that Dumbledore’s team thoroughly enjoyed watching the step by step plan fulfilment.
Still, the results are not quite what Harry and Co expected. The main bulk of the information the teenagers can’t appreciate anyway. But the readers should pay a lot of attention to the newspaper clipping Malfoy shows to Crabbe and Goyle, aka Ron and Harry. Since now it becomes obvious which consequences of the flying car story Dumbledore would have foreseen. Arthur is not just in trouble. Fifty galleons fine for the Weasley family is a very hard blow, but at the end of the day that’s not the end of the world. And he wasn’t fired, even despite Lucius’s best efforts.
But the Political Game is taking a very bad turn.
Here Fudge is obviously acting as a pulling rope between Malfoy and Dumbledore. Some time ago Malfoy’s house was raided - luckily for them, not a lot was found (it would be interesting to know whether Ron told his father about the secret chamber under Malfoys’ drawing-room floor… He was certainly planning to). That’s a big win for Dumbledore. However because of Arthur the Muggle Protection Act might get delayed as well as the various legal acts against ex-supporters of Voldemort - that’s Lucius’s victory…
Not a great picture overall. There’s a Basilisk browsing the school, there are even some student casualties now - imagine the rightful rage of Colin and Justin’s parents. The attack on ex-Death Eaters fell through due to Arthur’s mishap and Malfoy is getting closer and closer to his dream - get Dumbledore off the headmaster’s post. If during the summer Dumbledore was definitely in the winning position, the picture has changed drastically now.
Meanwhile the Headmaster consciously does not pause the BG, he basically tolerates the Basilisk for Harry’s educational benefit. He is taking a great risk, and he’s not only risking his position, but also the students’ lives. Let’s hope the BG is worth it. Actually, if we look at it from the other end, only by really understanding the gravity of the situation are we able to appreciate the importance of the BG…
Finally let’s talk about the consequences of the Polyjuice Potion affair that made Madam Pomfrey work overtime on Christmas.
The answer is pretty astonishing - there are none. But there are plenty of reasons for a scandal. Snape’s store-cupboard is robbed, Harry’s team was brewing the potion in That Very Bathroom for several weeks (really, not even Myrtle was curious enough to make a fuss?) and Madam Pince saw which book Hermione took out with Lockhart’s permission slip. Crabbe and Goyle started changing right in front of Malfoy, and then appeared shoe-less out of the hall closet without any recollection of the events of the past hour. Finally, Hermione was covered in black fur for several weeks with half the Hogwarts populations hanging around the hospital wing trying to find out what’s up… and - nothing. Teachers do nothing. Nobody knows anything. And even Malfoy keeps quiet, the admired Head of House did a good job with him it seems…
If that’s not a result of the BG and Dumbledore’s great degree of influence within the school, then please do tell us what else it might mean.
The Diary’s problems and the problems with the Diary
It’s a few weeks after Christmas, the new term has begun - so it’s roughly late January/early February. And now the Dark Lord, who was already hit in the face with snowballs last year, gets a second, even more unpleasant adventure: he gets thrown down the toilet. Well fine, not he personally, but his trace on the Diary pages. Still - quite a demotion of the demonic image of the world’s evil power.
Harry and Ron find out about the incident from Filch’s screams, who “had clearly been manning his usual lookout post: They were once again on the spot where Mrs. Norris had been attacked”.
We don’t (and likely never will) know all the details of Tom’s relationship with Ginny. But even Riddle has to admit that Ginny stopped trusting him and tried to get rid of the Diary (so it wasn’t only Dumbledore who managed to resist Riddle’s so-called irresistible charm). But why did Ginny throw the Diary into Myrtle's toilet, out of all the ones available? Because Tom brought her there and that’s where she got the strength to fight him off? Or because That Very Bathroom is rarely visited - so no one else would find the evil little book?
But either way, that’s not the point. What’s much more important is that Rowling is literally pointing out for everyone who hasn’t understood yet: Filch is manning THE SAME PLACE where Mrs Norris was Petrified, and after Myrtle’s bathroom is flooded because of the diary, THAT VERY PLACE gets THE SAME BIG PUDDLE. Everyone with me now?
It doesn’t look like Filch is part of the BG team - he seems to worry mostly about who’s going to clean the flood (we understand, cleanliness is great, but in this case it’s likely not the first thing one should worry about). We will avoid the temptation to see BG in the fact that Filch made Ron polish Riddle’s award shield fifty times during his detention. Ultimately, no one made Ron vomit slugs on that particular award. Of course, Harry does need to know who Voldemort is and who he was, and eventually he’d be made to stumble across Riddle’s name. But we doubt that was the time.
As for Myrtle, it’s harder to deduce what's up with her than with Filch. If ghosts are unable to mature and get wiser as time passes, then she wouldn’t be expected to be a successful BG team member. When she died all she was concerned about was her precious self and her issues. Maybe something did change eventually… but probably not. If Myrtle IS just playing a role, then wow, she’s way better at it than Hagrid or even the Headmaster. There she is, just sitting in the U-bend, thinking about death and - boom! A book flies through her. Well, either way she’s now aware that the diary belonged to T. M. Riddle since Harry announces the name out loud to Ron. Myrtle hears it, and potentially she could’ve told Dumbledore… assuming, of course, that she paid any attention to the conversation at all.
In any case, Ginny manages to get rid of Tom’s influence for a while, and so Riddle, being the parasitic being that he is, has to find a new host.
Despite lengthy warnings and even some degree of physical resistance from Ron, Harry picks up the book, examines it and pockets it (really, the book that just came out of the toilet?.. Yeah, guess Harry never did put hygiene first). Of course, he would’ve paid attention to the date on the diary. But we also can’t exclude the possibility that the powerful magical object of this level could influence the boy’s decision too, wanting to be picked up (“Take me!”).
But generally, the Diary-Riddle has some trouble getting Harry to submit to his will. It is unusual and we have to talk about it.
Everyone loves Harry or Valentines Day
On the 14th of February Ginny sees that Harry has the diary, and the circumstances of that sighting are pretty dramatic. Poor girl came to see what Harry’s reaction would be to her valentine (the usual Rowling-style red herring - “Hot all over at the thought of being given a valentine in front of a line of first years, which happened to include Ginny Weasley, Harry tried to escape”). Yeah, just happened to… Somehow Malfoy saw right through it.
Really, Ginny is in a terrible position. The childhood tragedy of the first love, everyone is laughing at her, including the object of her affections (“Trying valiantly to laugh along with everyone else, he [Harry] got up…”). Ginny obviously doesn’t yet understand that Harry himself is ready to die of embarrassment. Yes, that valentine was stupid and pitiful, but no one showed any kindness to the girl. And also an astonishing discovery - That Very Diary in Draco’s hands, and “Ginny was staring from the diary to Harry, looking terrified” (that’s our second hint, after the paragraph about Ginny’s distress about Petrified cats).
Malfoy reveals Ginny’s secret - and for that he deserves to suffer with the lack of being noticed (by the same person as Ginny, by the way. Maybe he also should’ve written a valentine, would've got him some attention). And naturally for Ginny life is over, no one understands her and everything is very bleak… So she remembers a nice boy Tom. And now she knows exactly where her diary is. After a while, when Tom decides he wants to return to Ginny, she will not have the mental reserve to resist him any more.
Yes, we believe Riddle himself wanted to return to Ginny. When he talks to Harry later, he will attribute Ginny’s stealing the Diary back to pretty down-to-earth reasons - she’d been allegedly worried she’d be found out. But then why did she wait so long long to get it back? If her motive was the fear of exposure, she’d rush to search Harry’s things asap. Gryffindor tower is home for both of them, and as we know girls can access boys’ dormitories. But Ginny, for some reason, takes her time.
It is quite likely that the reason is in the girl’s complete isolation, she has no one to share her unrequited love tragedy with. Definitely not her brothers… So eventually there comes a time when Ginny is ready to make up with Tom.
At the same time Riddle-Parasite isn’t quite ready to return to his ex-owner yet - he found a more exciting host object. He wants to work with Harry for now.
In the evening of the 14th of February Harry finds out how to communicate with the Diary. Finally! Riddle shows Harry the events from fifty years ago. Actually he plays the same game he does with Ginny: gain trust and subsequently - submission. Straight away there’s the bonus of sympathy for one another and mutual understanding - both half-blood orphans, both hate their summer holiday destinations away from Hogwarts. “We be of one blood, ye and I”, see? Let’s be friends…
The reason for getting Harry to dive into Riddle’s memories is chosen very carefully and, possibly, ahead of time. The terrible, curious and breathtaking events Tom describes are echoing the ones Harry is already deeply involved in. Could he possibly resist finding out more?
But here’s what’s curious: why, having charmed Ginny so easily, Riddle is having trouble with gaining Harry’s trust? Logically thinking, it should be the other way round. Realistically, by the time Harry obtains the Diary, it already sucked a lot of energy out of Ginny and should be able to break Harry quicker and easier.
Plus Harry seems to be quite attached to the Diary himself. “Harry couldn't explain, even to himself, why he didn't just throw Riddle's diary away. The fact was that even though he knew the diary was blank, he kept absentmindedly picking it up and turning the pages, as though it were a story he wanted to finish. And while Harry was sure he had never heard the name T. M. Riddle before, it still seemed to mean something to him, almost as though Riddle was a friend he'd had when he was very small, and had half forgotten”. One more (and pretty scary) hint to the fact that Harry and Voldemort undoubtedly have a certain kind of connection.
But the submission doesn’t happen. So does that mean that Riddle can’t or doesn’t want to make Harry submit to him?
Let’s make a suggestion for now that when he was one year old, Harry received certain qualities from Voldemort that allow him to resist his (Voldemort’s) very influence, but in his younger, Riddle version. Or maybe, having found out about his miserable future from Ginny, Riddle is a little apprehensive around Harry and doesn’t want to get too close? During the final battle he says: “I can see now... there is nothing special about you, after all”. Which basically tells us that before he was convinced that there is something special and dangerous about Harry.
Possibly both factors have some influence. There could have been a certain attempt to influence Harry, but his resistance would’ve made Riddle suspicious and more convinced that there’s something unusual about this boy.
But actually, Tom made a big mistake. He started well, but the demonstration of the short film from the past was a miss. Hagrid can not kill his course mates in cold blood using the monster, however many witnesses might claim otherwise. He just can’t. It goes against Hagrid’s very nature. Harry doesn’t even want to insult the gamekeeper by asking the question, or he’d run to his hut as quickly as he did at the end of the PS.
It is clear that Voldemort is a rotten human being even in his Riddle phase. First he lets out the Basilisk, which results in Myrtle’s death, then frames Hagrid for him to take the hit. And you could even empathise with Riddle somewhat - first a 16-year old teenager wants power, then he doesn’t want to spend his holidays in an orphanage… (“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.” - Dostoevsky).
But Harry doesn’t understand details like that yet. But he has good values and a clear head - he can sense perfectly well Riddle’s repulsive and cold blooded calculatedness. Either you want to catch a person who is responsible for letting the monster out and not expect a reward - the deed itself is noble and gratifying; or you expose someone for a trophy, and then then it’s nauseating to even be around you.
For a while Riddle waits for Harry to return, they’ve started so well. But eventually he loses patience - and in March Ginny steals the Diary from Harry.
Does Dumbledore know?...
The conflict of powers
Once the Diary is gone, the Basilisk’s attacks resume. The Basilisk is starved of attention, Harry hears him grumble again, and Hermione and Penelope, Percy’s girlfriend, get to meet him. Maybe it is due to the shock of Hermione’s Petrification that Harry fails to connect the dots and realise that the Diary has something to do with the current events.
Now the situation is really very serious.
Either way, at this point the Basilisk’s presence in the castle is absolutely indisputable and Dumbledore’s team knows it. Because McGonagall makes an announcement, urges anyone who might know anything to come forward, and along with the new security rules she adds a somewhat strange detail: “You will be escorted to each lesson by a teacher. No student is to use the bathroom unaccompanied by a teacher”. But wait a minute, why bathroom in particular? The students go to many places, why bathroom, out of all, why not, say, library, near where Penelope and Hermione were just found?
There’s only one answer - the Headmaster knows about the Basilisk. The children need to be protected. And not just that: the teachers who accompany the students to the bathrooms will have to prevent the CoS being opened by the student possessed by Voldemort.
Apart from that teachers, prefects and ghosts patrol the corridors in pairs.
Dumbledore himself is on the verge of being suspended - which happens soon enough. Because whatever might be going on in Hogwarts, the Political Game is on and it is not about to stop. Lucius, having found out about the new victims, is likely ecstatic. He runs to his old friend Cornelius and uses the situation to his advantage.
Hagrid clearly knows that he’s about to be arrested, since he greets Harry and Ron with a crossbow and can hardly explain why. Does he understand that he’s about to go to Azkaban not just for his old sins, but also because Dumbledore is sacrificing him like a pawn in the interests of the BG? Though the Headmaster likely takes into account other factors as well: the Game is dangerous, but it has to be played to the end, because this, among the rest, will lead to Hagrid’s name being fully cleared. Now Harry has an added responsibility to restore the gamekeeper’s good name. We should mention that Harry will get a lot of pleasure doing so and it will soon become a good habit for the future.
As for Fudge, he knows perfectly well that you have to maintain a good relationship with Dumbledore, and generally he doesn’t seem to really believe that Hagrid is to blame. Though what Fudge does or does not believe is completely irrelevant. His little speech illustrates his character perfectly well - regardless of how things really are, he has to send Hagrid to Azkaban because “Ministry's got to do something”. And if someone else gets caught (as in another scapegoat found) then Hagrid will be “let out with a full apology ”. Fudge doesn’t care about the children’s lives or about finding the true culprit, really he cares for nothing but his own career. A very common and realistic portrait of a real-life politician. A simple children’s book, you say?...
Lucius already feels like a winner: not only did he get Fudge to arrest Hagrid, he also got the governors to sign the Order of Suspension against Dumbledore (which Fudge doesn’t seem to be very happy about). Dumbledore doesn’t seem to resist much. But…
“"However," said Dumbledore, speaking very slowly and clearly so that none of them could miss a word, "you will find that I will only truly have left this school when none here are loyal to me... Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it."
For a second, Harry was almost sure Dumbledore's eyes flickered toward the corner where he and Ron were hidden”.
That’s Big Game in its purest form. Just like Hagrid’s remark a bit later.
Dumbledore knows that Harry and Ron are here. He seems to be able to see them under the invisibility cloak, because Hagrid’s comment about spiders and Fang comes later. Or it wasn’t a coincidence that Snape sneezed just as Ron hit his toe and swore earlier, when the kids were making their way through the castle corridors?
Either way, Dumbledore knows - and he makes Harry a promise which the boy can rely on.
Following Dumbledore (if the Headmaster does it, it must be ok…), Hagrid also addresses the empty corner. But wait a minute - how does Hagrid know about Harry and Ron’s investigation? Is it only a suggestion about where the boys can go to confirm Hagrid’s innocence? But then why does he think that it’s important for them - they didn’t get a chance to tell him anything yet? Technically Hagrid doesn’t know that they have a reason to suspect him. Is this another hint towards solving the mystery of That Very Bathroom, the Basilisk, the events from fifty years ago and generally the Chamber of Secrets?
It certainly seems so.
And it also seems that the BG professionals will not be swayed by anything, not the burning cloak, not the suspension from the post and not even being sent to Azkaban. They’ll stay firmly on the BG path. What a team.
Next part here https://www.reddit.com/HarryPotterBooks/comments/gxfu4b/the_big_game2_in_the_chamber_of_secrets_part_6/
The Cryopod to Hell 014: A Weapon to Surpass Metal Gear
What is the Cryopod to Hell?
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I tap the white orb as I hold it in my hand, using it to light up the landscape around me. The darkness of night tempts me to use the stars to navigate, especially since I can't see them in the Labyrinth, but I'm tired and just want to catch some sleep.
My feet scuff across the rugged, uneven ground. Pebbles go flying as my mouth forces itself open, making me yawn violently. Fuck. Today has been rough. Not only did I nearly get eaten by a bunch of Sirens, but I also had all that fun stuff involving Bahamut, and I had to deal with a bunch of crap involving Amelia. My laziness is not something I can grow out of easily.
Bahamut's palace eventually rises before me. The building isn't as large as I expected, but it still looks to be about three stories tall and somewhat reminds me of architecture from my lifetime. It's square and mostly undecorated, sans two gargoyles, and while it does have some shiny gold and silver ornamental designs, calling it a 'palace' doesn't seem appropriate. It's more of a creepy office building. Of course, compared to the tiny huts on this side of the canyon, it's practically a mansion.
Humans and monsters mill around outside, chatting with each other about this and that. Despite the miniature sun in my hand, not many people pay me any heed. Most passersby glance at me, wince at Hoarhiim's brilliance, and look away. I pause to take in the scene of peacefulness between humans and monsters alike. The orcs don't attack the humans, nor do the goblins, the harpies, or any of the others.
It's nice. Seeing the different sides look at each other without a hint of anger or fear gives me a glimpse into something I never experienced back home, which is a total lack of prejudice on either's part. After all, they appear to all just be happy they're no longer under Bahamut's mind control. How could they care about petty matters like bigotry, or hatred based on looks?
However, I have to wonder how long the peace will last. By week's end, will everyone here begin squabbling? Will the difference between man and monster grow too much for them to overcome?
My shoulders slump at the thought. I'd hate to see this tranquillity disturbed by the will of human nature.
Continuing forth, I start to walk up the ten steps into the palace, when someone appears at my side. A white-haired woman who... ah, it's the one from before. Phoebe, I think.
I pause my ascension and turn to look at her. When I do, she hesitates and bows her head shyly.
"I see you have finished mourning, Your Grace."
Phoebe nods, but doesn't look at me. "Yes. You left the pyre with such an intense look on your face that none dared to bother you. We were moved by your respect for your adversary, even in the face of such blinding evil. It has been the talk of many while you secluded yourself."
I try not to laugh at her misunderstanding. That isn't what happened at all is what I want to say, but she's so earnest that I'd rather just let her think what she likes. "Thank you for that. Err, your name is Phoebe, right?"
She looks up at me and swipes a hair from her face. "Yes. I'm pleased you remembered the name of a lowly retainer such as I."
"I try my hardest."
With a smile, I turn away and avert my eyes. Something about Phoebe's appearance reminds me of the Amelia I saw in Hoarhiim's vision. While Phoebe has an air of humility surrounding her, her body is strong enough to heft heavy armor, but she also has the softness of a woman. She has the same hard edge to her that Amelia did, and it disconcerts me.
Phoebe reaches up and plays with a clump of her hair strands absentmindedly. "All here are your loyal servants, Your Grace. If ever you should require our services, we will do all in our power to fulfill your wishes."
A guilty feeling wells up in my chest. "No, that's not necessary. I freed you all from Bahamut's control. You're unfettered to do as you please. Both the humans and the monsters as well."
She coughs. "We know. Everyone has come to a unanimous decision, of our own volition, to pledge ourselves to you. We do it not out of fear, but respect. Your honor in the face of evil, moral uprightness in the face of malice, and forgiveness to those who might otherwise be your enemies has stirred the hearts of Bahamut's former slaves. We've begun freeing the slaves in the mines as well, and by week's end, there will be two hundred thousand willing and capable warriors ready to die in your name."
"D-die?!" I reflexively take a step back. "Phoebe, Phoebe, please, you don't need to go that far-"
"Ah, but they do."
A voice speaks from behind me, and I quickly spin to see Kar standing there, intently listening to our conversation. "Turtle, in the Labyrinth, power and strength rule. None dare object to following one who dictates using fear and violence, but their mindless terror pales in comparison to the zeal of those who follow a kind and compassionate ruler. Striking down a foe, in anyone's eyes, is morally just, especially when they have wronged you. However, sparing them takes a different sort of strength."
My heart beats irregularly. "But- but Kar! You killed Bahamut! How could I have spared her if you ended up taking her life?!"
Kar grunts. "Hurgh. I only did so at the request of her former captives. Everyone understands that you were perfectly capable of killing her yourself. Everyone knows it was you who solved the riddle. Despite this, you did not pursue your glory and personal empowerment, instead choosing to give it to one as unworthy as I."
I groan inwardly.
Great. People are quickly getting the wrong idea about me. I left to chase after Amelia, not because I cared about Bahamut. I thought she deserved to die, so why is everyone spinning the story like I forgave her sins and sent her riding into the sunset? She's dead, goddammit!
Phoebe takes a step toward me and clasps her hands against her chest. "Please, great Hero, do not forsake us. It would be our heartfelt honor to serve you. It matters not what your goals are, for we will ensure you may pursue them at any cost."
I don't know how to respond. I feel like I'm being bombarded on all sides here. Still, having an army might be okay, I guess. I'd prefer they didn't throw themselves off cliffs in anguish if I rebuff their offer.
"Haaah... fine, whatever." I sigh in defeat. "Look, Phoebe, I'm a little tired right now. I'm going to find my friend and talk with her for a bit, then go to bed. I don't have long-term plans for my future. This stuff is all a little heavy for me right now, and-"
Phoebe's face whitens. "Oh, oh goodness! I am eternally sorry, Your Grace! I didn't mean to irritate you with my presence!" She quickly bows. "I shall return to my quarters and chastise myself at once. Please forgive my rudeness, I meant no disrespect!"
Before she can dash away, I reach out and touch her shoulder. "Phoebe, you did nothing wrong. There's no need to apologize."
The confusion on her face turns comical, but I force myself not to laugh. She nods slowly. "I... I see. Well, in any case, I thank you for your kindness. You are a most generous king."
"King? What do you mean, 'king'?"
She points to the Crown on my head. "Is that not the crest of a monarch? And the holy artifact of light in your belt, surely that is your demon-slaying weapon of righteousness."
"Right, the Crown. Sometimes I forget I'm wearing it. I'm an ordinary guy. I'm not king material." I reach into my belt and procure Hoarhiim's orb. "And this isn't a weapon. This is my friend, Hoarhiim."
"Your friend?" Phoebe shields her eyes from the blinding light. "You are friends with a glowing rock?"
"It's a long story. Hoarhiim, say hello."
"Hoarhiim? Come on; you're not still giving me the silent treatment, are you?"
Still no reply.
Phoebe blushes. "Your friend is quite reserved."
"I swear he talks. I'm not making it up."
"Mmm. Haha." She laughs nervously, then looks around. "Well, Your Grace, I thank you for giving me a few minutes of your time. I must attend to helping house the freed slaves tonight. If you'll excuse me..."
Without another word, Phoebe pulls away and walks down the steps, eventually fading into the distance and leaving Kar and me behind.
"Hurgh. You certainly have a way with females."
"Oh, shut up. Can you point me toward Amelia?"
Kar smirks. "Two mates at the same time. White-hair and the Frilled One. I wonder which you will take in the end."
"Come on, stop teasing. Amelia's just a kid."
"Oh? You didn't say anything about White-Hair. Perhaps you fancy her?"
Kar slaps his knee. "Bahaha! Watching the Turtle turn crimson is a sight to behold!"
"I'm glad you're enjoying yourself."
Kar's human-like face contorts into a wickedly toothy grin. The scales on his face give him an eerie, monstrous look. He unnerves me when he grins.
"Turtle, you're a king now. Everyone looks up to you. The females will fight each other over you, soon enough. And that power of yours is something special. However, the test of a king lies not in what he does, but what he doesn't."
I cock my head slightly. "Are you warning me not to abuse my power?"
"Aye. Once you learn to use your magic, I believe you might become unstoppable."
A memory appears in my mind. I vocalize it. "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Kar snaps his fingers. "Yes! I am pleased you understand."
I take a moment to reach up and touch the Crown on my head. "It's hard for me to comprehend my situation, you know? I'm an ordinary guy. It was only a week ago that I was living off cheap food from a supermarket. Now I'm a legendary Hero, and many people think of me like a King. I don't know how to adjust."
"Hurgh. It will take time. None are born knowing how to lead. All kings learn on the fly. Luckily, you've got that Crown to help out."
"Yeah... I don't think it'll be useful. But, thanks for the thought."
Kar chuckles. "You're welcome. You don't need me to tell you where the Frilled One is. Use your power. I'll catch up with you later, Little Turtle."
The croco-sphinx turns on his heel and laughs to himself about something, then swaggers away.
I yawn. Exhaustion hits me like a wave.
Fuck it. I'll talk to Amelia tomorrow. Right now, all I want is to sleep.
Turning around, I head inside. The servants tell me where my room is, and I eventually land face-first on a pillow.
"Rise and shine!" A shrill voice erupts from the darkness, and a light from Heaven itself blasts my face.
I leap up, screaming in fright. "Aah! What?! Who?!"
My eyes sweep my room frantically, even as I shield them from the intense sunlight. I don't remember falling asleep last night. I think I was out as soon as my head hit the pillow.
My eyes lock onto Amelia's form. At that instant, she cheerfully pinches the covers from the end of the bed and yanks them off with a flourish. "Up'n at 'em!"
...Only to expose me in just my underwear. "Amelia! What the heck?!"
She frowns. "Jason, where are your clothes?"
"Shut up! Gimme some privacy!"
Amelia rolls her eyes. "Okay, fine, geez. I'll be downstairs in the dining room. Try not to take too long getting ready for the day."
As she walks out of the room, I rub my eyes in disbelief. She isn't wearing a black dress anymore. Instead, she has a sky-blue sundress on, and she's replaced her red hair bows with blue ones. As the door closes behind her, I catch a final glimpse of her shoes; white high-heels that click as she walks.
The slamming of the door makes me blink. Amelia doesn't look at all like the monster from Hoarhiim's vision. I feel like the black color gave her a darker appearance, but with the sundress, she seems cheerful and sunny now. Perhaps she's shaken off yesterday's events.
But what about me? Have I?
I hop out of bed and start to grab my dirty clothes, only to realize they're gone. Did a maid come in and take them while I slept? This king-sized bed was undoubtedly the most comfortable thing I've ever rested on in my life. I slept like a rock and didn't hear a sound.
Well, without clothes, what am I going to do? I pull open the closet and gawk at the assortment of dresses inside, which seems appropriate given this used to be Bahamut's royal chamber. I won't wear dresses, so those are out of the question.
Almost immediately, an idea pops into my head. I turn and aim my hand at the bed. "Shirt."
A quick whoomph of air rushes to the bed, and a second later, an ordinary green T-shirt materializes. Huh. Neat.
I try it again.
This time, by focusing my mind, a black T-shirt appears along with a picture of Megadeth album art on its front.
Wow. The intent of the word matters too. I used the same word but got a different result. Hmm.
Glancing at the dresser beside my bed, I pick up and stick Solomon's Crown on my head. A rush of information floods my mind for a few seconds before fading away.
Thanks to the Crown, my ability to picture specific details increases dramatically. This time, before speaking, I form a clear picture in my mind of what I want. "Shirt."
A long-sleeved shirt appears in midair and flops on the bed just like the two before it. Opening my eyes, I scrutinize the article of clothing. Every detail is accurate to the picture I had in my mind. The plain black shirt has golden threads sewing all of its parts together, and the threads string down from the shoulders onto the back, forming an intricate design of a fire-breathing dragon.
Next, I flip it around and stare at the front, which is purely black with no decorations. I form another picture in my mind. "Modify."
My breath catches as gold stitching magically appears on the front. Within one second, an image of Amelia's face from the vision Hoarhiim showed me stitches into the fabric.
I stare at it for a while, perhaps a minute. My fingers move on their own, tracing the outline of her adult face. She looks beautiful. Why did Joan attack her? Why did Amelia kill the goblins? Was Hoarhiim lying to me?
As I rub the stitching, I wonder to myself how soft her face must be. I have no romantic interest in her younger self, but the Amelia I saw in that vision was a woman. A fully figured, beautiful goddess. I want to see her like that, but in person.
If only I could change the way she looks.
Gah. What creepy thoughts am I thinking?! Amelia looks like a kid, now. Even if she is thousands of years old, it wouldn't feel right to age her up! People might get the wrong idea! God, my mind is doing some weird shit, this morning.
"Modify." I use my magic again, causing her face to vanish and be replaced with a depiction of a sword. I didn't envision any specific weapon, but after a moment I recognize it as the one Joan emerged from in Hoarhiim's vision.
Goddamn. I can't get Hoarhiim's memory out of my mind. Everything about it was all kinds of fucked-up. It had to be fake. It had to be. Amelia isn't a violent person.
Well, when I was at the foot of Solomon's Altar dying of a broken body, I did hear orcs screaming in pain... Amelia must have killed them. Those sounds after their screams cut off were unsettling.
Maybe she gave them a scare. I don't know. Perhaps they fled for their lives after recognizing the Black Witch. Yeah, that's probably it.
I change the picture of the sword once again, but this time I imagine a shield from a video game I used to enjoy playing. Between the dragon and shield, my new shirt looks like the sort of thing I'd grab off the bargain rack at a GAP clothing store. Oh well, nobody ever said I had a good sense of style.
I quickly Wordsmith myself some black jeans, some new socks and shoes, and only once I'm done do I realize how terrible I smell. I haven't showered since I left my Cryopod. Man-musk is one thing, but my stench is disgusting. Guess I'll have to take my clothes off and go shower- ah! Amelia's waiting for me. I've been goofing around with Wordsmithing instead of getting a move on!
Rather than hunting for a shower, I aim my mind at my body.
My body tenses up, and the feeling of a shower and drying off passes over me within seconds. I dab my armpits and shrug.
Faster than a shower, but I still like the feeling of warm water running down my body. It'll do for now.
After patting myself down to ensure I smell like an angel, I reach into my dresser drawer and pull out Hoarhiim's orb. Last night was the first time I was able to sleep without his light blinding me, but I feel terrible sticking him in a dark and lonely cage.
"Good morning, Hoarhiim!"
I pour some enthusiasm into my voice, but he doesn't respond.
"Still the silent treatment, huh? Alright, suit yourself."
I Wordsmith another belt, since my old one vanished along with my clothes, then stick Hoarhiim inside one of the pockets.
Before leaving the room, I spot the sword I made before I met Amelia. It doesn't seem necessary to keep it with me, given Wordsmithing is infinitely more potent than a blade, but who knows? Better to have a sword and not need it than to need one and not have it.
I strap it to my left side, shift Hoarhiim to my right, and turn to leave. However, I end up pausing in front of a full-body mirror on my way out. My skinny body and gangly form hardly appear heroic. How the hell can everyone look up to someone like me? I solved a riddle — big deal. I look like I could pick a fight with an eight-year-old girl and still lose.
Some Hero I am.
Once again, an idea forms. I turn to face the mirror. "Muscles. Abs. Grow."
My heart skips a beat as my body forms into something that would make any bodybuilder weep with envy. My body stretches upward ten inches, causing my spine to pop multiple times. My muscles bulge, and a six pack forms, giving me the look of a football jock. I stumble forward, almost crash into the mirror, and barely catch myself by grabbing the side of a wall. The floor looks a lot further away than it did a few seconds ago.
The Crown allows me to judge myself in an instant. I'm now exactly seven feet tall. My short blond hair and blue eyes mix perfectly with my chiseled body but clash with my face. I have what looks like a baby-face on a man's body. Gross.
Uh. What's a single word that'll make me good-looking? "Appearance."
I watch in silence as my face morphs. My jaw protrudes out, my eyes sink in and narrow, and every aspect of my face defines itself more clearly than before. After a few seconds, I look like a goddamn movie star.
My tongue slowly circles my lips as I gaze into the mirror, unable to grasp the face staring back at me.
What if I had looked like this when I was younger? How would my life have turned out?
Turning away, I finally open the door and step into the hallway.
"Ah! Good morning, Your Grace-" Phoebe is standing outside my door. She starts to greet me but freezes mid-sentence and stares at me in disbelief.
I play it cool, acting like I have no idea why she's gawking. "Do I have something on my face?"
She opens and closes her mouth several times before cocking her head. "Uh- um, no! Nothing at all! You just, ah, look very handsome this morning! D-did anything happen while you were sleeping?"
I pull the door closed behind me and wipe at my nose. "Nah. Nothing in particular. Hey, do you know where the dining room is?"
Phoebe nods dumbly. She doesn't say anything and instead continues to stare at me for several seconds blankly.
"Phoebe? Miss Berthold? Hello?"
My words wake her from her stupor. "Hm? What? Yes, of course! I will show you the way, Your Grace." She bows her head and blushes madly before quickly walking ahead of me and leading me down the hall.
Her shyness makes me grin. I've never had a woman act bashful around me before. It feels... good. Empowering. I could get used to this.
We round a corner and start to head down a spiral staircase. "Say, Phoebe, why were you waiting outside my room?"
She flicks a glance back at me for barely a second before looking forward again. "I am your personal retainer, Your Grace, just as I was King Arthur's. If, however, you should wish it... I... I can assign another t-to take my place."
I shake my head, but she doesn't see. "No, that's not necessary. Carry on."
Several minutes pass. We arrive at our destination.
"Right through here," Phoebe says, as she stops in front of a set of double-doors. They're metallic, with a large glass window on the front allowing me to see inside. As I walk up to them, the doors slide open without making a sound, which makes me pause. I know the monsters are more technologically savvy than the demons, but even so, some of the stuff I've seen is borderline sci-fi.
The dining room is stunningly ornate. I start to ask Phoebe about it, only to find she's vanished into the wind. A glance at the hundred or so empty tables tells me this is a place only meant for 'important folk.' White tablecloths, wine glasses, lines of silverware, and plates with exotic designs dot every table. A beautiful chandelier hangs from the ceiling, and the sudden realization that my clothes are too casual fills me with dread. There's nobody here to judge my appearance, but I still feel like I don't belong.
A glance at the back corner reveals Amelia leaning on her elbow, muttering something inaudible to the black sphere sitting on the table before her. She and Blaarjiim must be discussing something, but it doesn't look super important.
After I take five steps and start crossing over to Amelia, her eyes flick up to me. "Oh, Jason!"
Her voice must have caught someone's attention, because, by the time my butt hits the chair seat, the kitchen doors fly open and a cavalcade of chefs marches out with a vast array of food on rolling carts. I note with amusement that Amelia picked the remotest corner of the dining area to sit at, and we ended up with a tiny table as a result. There isn't enough room for the avalanche of food headed our way.
"Greetings, mighty Hero!" The chefs smile enthusiastically, and I nod politely back. Some of them are human, but most of them look like bipedal geckos, and one individual stands out among the rest, given he's nearly as tall as Kar. He's a giant minotaur, with a bull-head and legs, but a human torso and arms. The beast lumbers over and bows his head.
"Great Hero, the one who freed us from bondage, I am Yamir, the former head chef under Bahamut, and your loyal servant."
His voice isn't deep, loud, boisterous, or anything else, but instead quite refined and polite. He wouldn't be out of place on a Sunday morning British cooking program.
"I have cooked you a feast of the ages, and as such, you are free to eat as much as you please. If you request seconds, thirds, or portions beyond those, I will deliver them quickly and perfectly."
"Uh, awesome. Thanks, Yamir."
I nod politely again, and the giant monster walks away, leaving the others to begin serving the food.
"Might you wish to sit at a larger table, your majesty? You've hardly enough room for the feast!"
I shake my head. "No, I'm fine. What do you have?"
Several minutes pass. Amelia stares at me intently while I pick out a filet mignon, a soup made of Heaven only knows what (It smells incredible), and some other things as well. I meet Amelia's gaze. "Did you eat already?"
She shakes her head and continues to stare at me. "No. I don't eat food."
"You don't? There's no need to be shy. We have plenty to go around."
Sighing, Amelia clarifies. "I can't. It's complicated."
"Oh. Sorry. I didn't know that."
My cheeks flush, and I send the chefs away after thanking them profusely.
A minute passes, and I shovel food into my face, wondering why the heck Amelia keeps staring at me. It's only when she speaks that I remember why.
"You look very different this morning. Wordsmithing can change your appearance?"
"Yup. Do you like the new me?"
She leans on her hand. "I suppose. Honestly, you were cuter before. Now you look like a man who's about to go on a rampage. Didn't you ever learn anything about subtlety? Your chance of survival is always higher if you look unintimidating. The more your enemy underestimates you, the better your chance of surprising them."
"Well, actually, Amelia," I pause, unsure how to say this. "I thought you'd like me more if I looked masculine. I've always felt like a wimp."
She averts her eyes to stare out the window beside us. The morning sun stretches out over the mountains, illuminating the canyons and mines in the distance. Miles away, the forests stretch seemingly forever, beckoning for our return to the Labyrinth.
"You know, Jason, appearance isn't everything. Besides, why does it matter if I like you more or less? We're friends, right? I'm not going to look down on you just because you don't have the perfect body."
My hand freezes, stopping before I can put a spoonful of soup in my mouth. Friend. That's right. She thinks of me as a friend. Of course. Why wouldn't she? I've never said anything to indicate otherwise.
I quickly stick the soup in my mouth and follow her gaze to stare outside.
There's more to what she said than one might initially think. Do I judge others based on their looks? Don't I somewhat look at her as weak because she has the appearance of a child? Did I always feel inadequate because of my looks, and using Wordsmithing to change myself was just a band-aid? Hell, I even considered changing Amelia's body to look more like she did in Hoarhiim's memory.
I'm obsessed with appearance. Is that just because of my culture? Maybe I should ask.
"Amelia, how much does appearance matter to you?"
She blinks, then slowly turns to me. "Hmm? I don't follow."
"Uhh. I'm asking if you think appearance means anything at all. Do you feel that you were more beautiful before you entered the statue, or-"
"I didn't enter the statue, Jason." She clenches her teeth. "Why would you even bring that up? I told you I hated thinking about it."
"Right. Uh. Sorry, again..."
She examines me for a moment before returning to the view outside. "Did Hoarhiim show you my past?"
I flinch. "How'd you guess?"
"I wondered if he might. Hoarhiim may be misguided, but he's a sweetheart."
Amelia's eyes drift back to the table and eventually fixate on my half-eaten filet; one that was recently fished out of the local river. There's nothing like fresh produce.
"You asked about appearance. I learned a long time ago that appearances could be deceiving. Sometimes those who look like scary monsters can be the kindest, sweetest, most gentle beings you will ever meet. Sometimes, those you trust the most hide their intentions behind smiles and fake laughter."
"Sounds like a story," I murmur.
"Not one I want to tell. It carries many memories." Amelia gently pokes one of my plates nearest her. "A life filled with regret."
Another bite of soup enters my mouth. I'm starting to get full already. Gently, I reach across the table and touch her hand. "I'm always here if you want to talk."
She doesn't pull away for several seconds. When she does, it's a hesitant motion. "I know. Thank you, Jason."
After finishing my meal, I leave the building with Amelia. The sunlight shines directly at us as we exit, blinding me for a second, but I don't cover my eyes. Soon, we'll be back in the Labyrinth, and I'll miss the sun's warmth.
I'm surprised that Phoebe hasn't appeared from the bushes yet, given her stalkerish tendencies, but she's nowhere nearby. Kar stands in the middle of the gravel road, pointing monsters here and there, telling them what to do and where to go.
He turns around and spots us. "Ah, Turtle and the Frilled One. Is it time, then?"
"Mhm. I'm taking Amelia, and we're going back to the Labyrinth."
"Excellent. I'm done here."
Kar falls into step on Amelia's right, sandwiching the little girl between us, but she doesn't say anything. "Turtle, what do you plan to do once you return to the Labyrinth?"
A few ideas roll around in my mind. Those legendary weapons might be worth tracking down, plus I'd like to learn more about humans and wherever the demons have hidden them.
I decide to play it vague. "Dunno. I was thinking of traveling with Amelia until we got into trouble."
Kar grunts. "Hurgh. A haphazard plan, but who am I to argue with the Hero?"
Time passes. Instead of walking through the forest and climbing over vines, I take the time to remove trees in a straight line back to the portal, using my Wordsmithing to delete them and create a walking path behind us instantly.
All the while, Amelia observes me casually, but I see the gears turning in her head. If I had to guess, I'd assume she's wondering about Wordsmithing and its practical applications, just as I've been doing.
Along the way, a gigantic animal appears from the forest just before we get out. Its body is reptilian and reminds me a lot of dinosaurs from the Earth's history. It spots us and roars, evidently thinking we'll make for a good meal.
The creature, a four-legged juggernaut covered in bony armor, bares its flesh-rending teeth at us and charges, but with a single word, I send it flying back into a tree, making it bash its head in the process. "Push!"
Confused and panicked, the monster races away, making Amelia snicker. "Good one, Jason."
"I didn't want to hurt him if I didn't have to."
Minutes later, we emerge from the forest line and spot the portal in the distance. It takes only a short walking distance before we stop at it and stare.
"It's deactivated," Amelia says without a hint of emotion.
"Yup. Kar, you're the new Sphinx. Can you turn it back on?"
The former crocodile grunts. "Hurgh. I am not certain. Give me time."
Amelia and I cross our arms and wait while Kar walks over and pokes at the warpgate's controls. Amelia exhales out of boredom. "So, Jason, what have you found out about Wordsmithing?"
She's taking an unusual interest in my power lately. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing. "I made this shirt with Wordsmithing, including the gold embroidering and everything."
"A shirt, huh?" Amelia leans forward to examine the design of the shield in the front. Unimpressed, she leans back. A second later, she gasps. "Whoa! Is... is that a dragon?!"
"Mhm. Stitched it with Wordsmithing, just like I said."
I glance at her face and am surprised by the stars in her eyes. "I can't believe it! Wow! He looks great!"
"I'm glad you feel that way." I smile graciously at her but feel a little confused by her over-the-top enthusiasm.
As soon as it appears, her smile fades. "Can you bring people back from the dead?"
Her sudden change of topic catches me off-guard.
Seconds pass. I hem and haw to myself. "I... I don't know. It would be incredible if I could."
Urgency appears in her eyes. "You should try it. You need to learn your limits."
"I know, I know. I'll need a dead body, first, and I'm not about to kill anyone or bring back Bahamut."
Amelia's shoulders slump. "Oh. Okay."
Resurrection. Amelia brings up a good point. Bringing people back from the dead sounds impossible, but maybe it's more doable than I think. Do I have power over life and death? Can a single word from me reshape the cosmos?
Well, I don't have a dead body hanging around, but maybe something else would work.
I take a few moments to ping the Crown and pull up several options. My eyes widen as one possibility comes into focus.
Reaching down, I pull out my sword. "Boulder." A gigantic rock pops into view and crashes to the earth. Amelia flinches, not expecting me to Wordsmith all of a sudden.
"What- what are you doing?"
Instead of answering, I swing my crappy sword at the rock. It bangs loudly and bounces off, as I expected.
I swing again, and still, it bounces off.
This time, the sword cuts into the edge of the rock and jams a few inches inside of it.
I yank the sword out and try again. "Sharpen!"
When I swing for the fourth time, my blade passes through the boulder, carving a razor-thin slice through it. The instant it flies out the other side, the blade snaps, and a chunk of the sword flies out and embeds in the ground ten feet away.
It's sharper, but still just a weak sword.
Now for improvements. "Reform. Sharpen. Sharpen. Sharpen. Reinforce. Reinforce."
I shake the sword around and smile when the blade doesn't wobble at all. This time, when I slice the rock, the sword passes through with no resistance, and the boulder flops over and smashes into the ground.
Now THIS is a weapon I can use against monsters and demons.
Another idea appears in my mind. Stupid, but worth a shot.
I aim my mind at the sword and wait.
A minute passes.
"What are you doing, Jason?" Amelia slides up next to me and gazes at the sword.
"I'm trying to make this sword sentient. I wondered if I could make it talk or something."
She smirks. "That's silly. It's a sword. You have to have a soul to be sentient. Everyone knows that."
"The hell I do!" A shrill voice screams out from the sword, making me drop it and hop back out of fright. "Ain't no dame shit-talkin' me, no sirree! Not on my watch!"
Amelia's eyes widen like dinner plates. "Jason. The sword spoke."
"Damn tootin' I did! I got a lot to say to a pretty lass like you! Name's Dellfingler, and what's yours, sweetcheeks?"
His odd accent is rough and irritating to listen to, but Amelia doesn't seem to mind. She reaches down and picks the sword up. "I'm Amelia! How are you speaking? Do you have a mouth?"
"Course not! I'm a sword, little lady! Swords ain't got no mouths, honey-bear! I'm usin' voice projection! Can't see anything around me either, but I kin' feel the vibrations in the air!"
Amelia looks at me like a puppy. Her lip quivers. "Oh, Jason, he's wonderful! I'm not one for weapons, but can I have him, please?"
"Hell yeah, honey! That's what I'm talkin' about! You 'n me are gonna ride off into the sunset together and get all hitched up! Yeehaw!"
The sword's enthusiasm is quickly getting on my nerves. I nod. "Yeah, that's fine. I can make another one. Here, take the scabbard, too." I pull the sheath off and hand it to her, and as I do, her hand touches mine. Amelia steps back quickly, and her cheeks flush red. "Th-thank you, Jason. Nobody's ever given me a present before."
My heart beats like conga drums. "Glad I could be your, err, first. Haha."
I suddenly realize what I just said had a lot of innuendo, and I curse my filthy mouth. Luckily she doesn't pick up on it. Thank god.
Kar grunts. "Hurgh. Stupid machine. Worthless!" He pounds his fist on its display. "It's broken! Busted! We're stuck here forever!"
"You don't have a key to access it?" Amelia walks over to him after she finishes latching Dellfingler to her belt. "I thought you obtained something like that when you killed Bahamut."
Kar shakes his head. "Nay. It's not a simple matter of opening the portal with a password. We also have to do a bunch of math and crap to open the portal inside the Labyrinth Core. I ain't smart enough for this crap. The other humans and monsters on this planet rely on the team at the Labyrinth Core to open and close the portals."
Dellfingler pipes up. "Hey, I know! Why not try'n break it! Just punch it til' it works! That never fails!"
I walk over and gently nudge Kar out of the way. "Let's call that 'Option B,' okay, Dellfingler? I'll try messing around. If it's just a matter of math, maybe the Crown can help."
When I tap the console, an array of numbers and letters appears, along with hundreds of rapidly changing variables, equations, and other such things. The Crown activates, improving my mental faculties until I can understand what everything on the console does. There are variables like planet orbital speed, distance to one of seven hundred locations throughout the galaxy, atmospheric fluctuations, and more things that continue on and on.
Five minutes later, Amelia reaches over and touches my arm. "Jason? Are you okay? You've been just standing and staring this whole time..."
I nod absentmindedly. "I'm calculating. Won't be long now."
She pulls back, and I see her shrug at Kar from the corner of my eye.
Finally, my mind has all the variables in play.
I tap the connection numbers in a row. "Four deltas, sixteen alphas, four-two point two-three sequence breaks, then a parameter of eight and fifteen for the lightspeed calculations... engage." My finger reaches over and mechanically taps the initiate button.
Eruptions of electricity arc from the gate's pylons to form a circular hole in space.
Amelia and Kar exhale simultaneously. The Sphinx grins. "Unbelievable. You truly are a Hero, Jason."
I shoot a glance at Amelia, then back to Kar. "I'd prefer if you stopped calling me that, but thanks."
Before we start walking up the steps to the portal, I realize that without a weapon, if we meet armed resistance inside, I might be a sitting duck. Several weapon ideas pop into my head, including some excellent plasma blaster concepts, but a single word takes my breath away due to the sheer possibilities.
This is Phoebe.
This is Jason's bigger, buffer form.