SLITHERING WITH SLYTHERIN
"Harry, let me formally introduce you to one of the most renown Headmasters Hogwarts has ever known. He was head of Slytherin House for seven years and Headmaster for an additional ten years. Under his watchful eye, many young minds were honed to an exacting standard. Harry, I give you Phineas Nigellus Black."
Harry felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. He wasn't chuffed about learning from a Slytherin. "After all," Harry thought, "Look at what learning from Snape has gotten us all."
Phineas Nigellus looked down his nose at Harry. Harry returned his gaze and realized where Sirius had gotten his nose. The ancestry was unmistakable.
"I understand if you are less than enthusiastic about the prospect of learning under my tutelage. I am not exceptionally excited myself. You see, I thought my days of teaching were long in the past." Phineas Nigellus spoke in the nasally tone of someone speaking down to an inferior or subordinate.
Harry steeled himself, remembering his vow to learn patience; he said, "It would be an honor to learn from you, Headmaster. I am discovering that knowledge comes from many unexpected sources. It is better to keep my eyes open and learn at every opportunity than to be left in the dark." Harry was surprised at his own words. As he examined what he had just said, Harry realized that he actually meant it.
Phineas Nigellus was looking at Harry as if appraising him anew. "Well, Potter, if those aren't just words, this may be worthwhile after all. Please sit down at the desk and take out a piece of parchment. Dumbledore has convinced me to give you a two hour overview of what is taught in Slytherin house. Dumbledore is astute in realizing that one of the best ways of determining how to defeat an enemy is to understand how he thinks and what motivates him. In Slytherin House, classes don't end with the school day. There are some, shall we say, specialized, courses of study that are pursued."
Harry had retrieved a quill and was looking at the same piece of parchment he had started, what was it, a scant few hours ago? Harry's own writing stared back at him with his words for the future...
- Get an education/improve my knowledge of magic.
- Practice/Improve my control of magic.
Harry moved slightly down the sheet of parchment and wrote a heading. SSSS. In his mind, Harry smiled at the onomatopoeic acronym that stood for "Sneaky, Snaky, Slytherin, Stuff. Having completed the heading, Harry looked up at Phineas Nigellus and said, "I'm ready Headmaster."
"The sorting hat tells us it seriously considered placing you in Slytherin. I doubt that you are capable, but we will make the suit of armor with the metal at hand," gibed Nigellus.
Harry was struck with the difference in the era's colloquialisms but he thought knew what Nigellus meant. "I'm not the material that Nigellus wants to spend his time teaching." Harry stiffened his resolve. "I'll show Nigellus what Gryffindors are made of."
"All right Potter, a two hour course in Slytherin doctrines of battle and confrontation. Tom Riddle learned these well. He didn't think that some of them should apply to him, as I will briefly explain. Please take notes," said Nigellus, once again looking down his nose at Harry.
Phineas Nigellus Black started his list in his high nasally voice...
- No other individual's life is as important as your own.
- Have a plan. Never confuse unplanned action with progress.
- Never show your enemy your strengths. Present a weak facade. Always appear to be less than you are.
- Never let your enemy dictate the time and place for confrontation.
- Always have a way out. It is better to retreat and regroup than to be destroyed.
- Mask your resources and reserves.
- Patience in delivering a blow drives it deeper.
- Encourage your enemy to talk. It gives you time to focus your strike.
- Have a method to distinguish your friends from your enemies.
- Watch your friends. Trust no one. The most damage comes from within.
- Use your resources but compartmentalize knowledge of the overall plan.
- A multitude of small resources, brought to bear simultaneously on one point, can overwhelm a larger, stronger force.
- Train your forces to do what they are told, when they are told, immediately and without question.
- Prepare all your forces for the ultimate confrontation mentally, physically and emotionally.
- Prepare yourself for losses.
- When you strike show no mercy.
- Use any means to accomplish your ends.
- Give no warning, make no threats, control your very thoughts.
- Striking quickly and decisively can win the battle before your enemy has time to build forces or momentum.
- Control information. Know what your enemy is doing and let him think he knows what you are doing.
- If you are faced with ultimate destruction, take as many of your enemies with you as you can.
Harry shuddered as he penned the list. He was more sure than ever that he didn't belong in Slytherin House. Some of these doctrines were not only contrary to what he believed, they were beyond what he could grasp. "Did people actually think this way?" Harry asked out loud. Then in answer to his own question he said, "Yes, Voldemort and his followers thought and fought with these rules in mind."
"Very good, Potter," sneered Nigellus, "There may be hope for you yet. You are a quicker study than I had given you credit for."
Nigellus' praise was lost on Harry. He didn't want to learn to think this way.
"Now Potter," said Nigellus, "I would think that you are having emotional reservations about some of these principles. I would present two thoughts; first, Dumbledore deemed them worth enough to coerce me into theaching you, and second, Tom Riddle also did not consider all the items on the list worthy of his attention. When you can pick out what Riddle scoffed at, you will have better ability to battle and defeat him." Phineas Nigellus fell silent.
Harry looked at the list. He turned it over in his mind. He tried to see it from Voldemort's point of view. Some items stood out, they weren't Voldemort's style. "Doctrines 3, 5, 15, 18 and 21 look like they would be difficult for Voldemort to accept," said Harry.
"You think so, Potter?" mocked Nigellus, "Prove it to me. Explain why you chose those items. You have one hour to convince me."
Harry spent the better part of the next hour explaining and defending his choices. Each time he came to a personal observation of Voldemort's methodology Nigellus pinned him down, questioning him unmercifully and forcing him to think about what he really understood of Voldemort. Harry recognized that Nigellus was trying to make him lose his temper. Realizing this, he stayed away from areas where he didn't know details. He presented his case with the conviction he had from losing family and friends to a murderer.
Nearing the end of their allotted time, Phineas Nigellus sat back in the chair in his portrait. Smiling wickedly, Nigellus said, "There may be enough in you to defeat Tom Riddle." The tone said that Nigellus wasn't ready to admit that Harry was up to the task.
Harry's patience slipped, "What makes you an expert on what it will take to defeat Voldemort?"
Phineas Nigellus smiled again, having reached his goal of making Harry angry. "You see, my arrogant young friend, I helped train Tom Riddle. As much as you think you have lost at Tom Riddle's hands, I too have lost family and friends to his evil. I may be Slytherin House to my centre, I may have honed a program that trained Tom Riddle, but it was for protecting my own family that Tom Riddle attempted to destroy what was left of me. In my opinion, I don't think Tom Riddle will wait very long before he comes after you now that Dumbledore is out, or rather in, the picture."
The words hung in the air. They burned into Harry's mind. This changed everything Harry had thought about Phineas Nigellus. Nigellus wasn't an advocate or supporter of Voldemort. "Maybe there is something to be learned here," thought Harry.
Dumbledore spoke for the first time in almost two hours, "Harry you have much to think about, but right now you have a one hour class with Professor Binns in his classroom. He will be waiting for you. Please be back in precisely one hour and fifteen minutes. And Harry, be careful."