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Stories begun in 2006 (post-HBP)

Author Notes:

From this chapter through to the end, the contents were in draft and/or outline form at the time of Deathly Hallows' publication in 2008.  An effort was made to keep from being influenced by DH; I haven't spotted any serious slips in that regard, but if you do happen to find evidence of said influence... well, it's accidental.  This is definitely post-Half Blood Prince fanfiction, and all that entails (Grindelwald's very different history alone should have demonstrated that).

SEVENTEEN
In Its Own Time

DAVEY SINCLAIR

August 17, 2004     The Brown Bottle, John O' Groats, Caithness, Scotland

Davey Sinclair had seen thirty-nine seasons of holidaymakers and a good part of three generations of local folk come and go from John O' Groats, first as the barman at the once-famous hotel and then as proprietor of the Brown Bottle. There wasn't much to the village proper: council housing, some cottages, a small market, a sports park for the football club and the lads in youth development, and the tourist shops at the pier. The hotel was “slated to reopen any day”, as it had been for years. The entire area was regularly shat upon by traveller's guidebooks and that suited Davey fine.

In season, there were a thousand or more visitors a day. They would take their photo at Journey's End and go on their way, some on to the Orkney ferries and some back toward Wick or on to Thurso. He never saw the people with the coach parties, as his pub wasn't large enough to receive groups. Davey saw the travellers who escaped the scrum at the pier in twos and threes and fours. These were ordinarily easy to please, generally polite, and always profitable. The nicer the patron, the more likely that Davey would give shrewd advice on places to stay and places to see.

Local patrons were the bulk of his business. He knew their like and dislikes, families, feuds, aches and pains. There were fewer each year; the youth were ever more prone to leave for better work and ever less likely to return. It was noteworthy when someone new settled in John O' Groats.

John Black had rented a cottage for a time in the summer of '98 but Davey hadn't met him then. Black purchased the note on another late in that same year. It was no more than a quarter mile west of the old hotel. The first time Davey drove by Black's place, Davey could have sworn that the cottage had appeared overnight and that the shore property had always been a grassy field, but that made no sense whatever and he had quickly put the thought aside.

Black came to the Brown Bottle for the first time just after an early winter squall. He helped Davey board up two storm-broken windows, and the Brown Bottle hadn't been his first stop of the day. He was quieter than most, quick to help someone down on his luck, and not afraid of hard work. Nearly every woman under forty or so had a flutter over him at first, but he was quick with the polite brush-off.

Dottie McLaren had known a bit about him from the start but didn't give up much, other than to let it be known that he'd lost his childhood sweetheart and just didn't have it in him to move on. Davey figured she was trying to help by that, but it only raised more flutters. Something about women made them want to fix broken men, Davey figured, not that he understood how women thought – he was down 2-nil in that particular match.

There was never a doubt that Black had money. He had laid out cash for the cottage and the land, or so Dottie told it. His work was 'research' – physics or some such thing that Davey didn't even pretend to understand. When he wasn't holed up in his cottage or travelling for his work, he and his books took up a table at the Brown Bottle. Now and again he tended to pensioners' properties. The fellow could fix anything and he never wanted paying for it. He was a middling card player but didn't mind losing. Now and again he came to Robbie Fairbourne's Friday card nights, where the hosting duties rotated between regulars. The one and only time Black had hosted Friday card night was not long after he had moved in, and it was burned into Davey's memory:

“Have yeh ever seen a place this clean?” Davey asked.

Robbie shook his head and said, “Not since I were a swabbie. Helluva job wit' the floorin' and trim, innit? Mebbe I should have Dots hire him, eh? Get me out o' keepin' up tha' mess of a house.”

“Damned if he don't love his books, though,” said Davey as he took in the overstuffed floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

“'Struth. Never known a person ta read so much,” Robbie agreed. He pointed at a framed photo and said, “That's the lass Dots was tellin' about, the one he lost.”

“Sad thing, innit? How old do yeh think Black is, anyway?” Davey asked.

Robbie stroked his beard for a minute and then said, “Dunno, never thought ta ask. Young, real young... even with tha' bit o' white in his hair, has ta be on the short side of twenty-five. Why yeh ask?”

Davey pointed to the mantle. “Then explain that, would yeh?”

Robbie crossed the sitting room and peered close at the two clear glass cases set there; “Bloody effin'...! Do yeh know wha' these are?” he said.

“One on the left looks a hell of a lot like a VC from here,” Davey said.

Robbie said, “Nae, it's a George Cross... get over here, yeh old goat...”

Davey said, “Budge over, then,” and put on his half-glasses. He looked to the brass plaque set before the Cross and read out, “For acts of the greatest heroism and the most conspicuous courage... blah, blah... old man Lowell and Queen Maggie awards to John James Black the George Cross, fifth of August, 1998... sure enough, you're right.”

Robbie stared at the case on the right. “What in the hell is that one?” he asked.

“Dunno, looks like a badge of office, don't it...?” Davey muttered. The badge, attached to a blue neck ribbon, was a silver Maltese cross with silver rays, and a central medallion topped with a crown and surrounded by a blue ring bearing the word VICTORIA.

Robbie whispered forcefully, “Screw me black an' blue! Read this!”

Davey squinted and said aloud, “For distinguished personal service to the Crown, Her Majesty Margaret the First, by the Grace of God... and so on... hereby inducts John James Black as Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, on this day, the 25th of September, in the year of our lord nineteen hundred and ninety eight... our Johnny lad's a knight?”

“What do yeh suppose he did ta earn this?” Robbie wondered aloud.

Black came in from the back just then. “All right, who's ready to take my money...?” he trailed off.

“Err... just admirin' the room,” Robbie said too quickly.

“Yeah, nice place, it's, ehh... very clean,” Davey said.

Black's expression slipped for just a moment. “I was... involved in the London War,” he said; “The beer's been set out – help yourselves. It's better than that stuff you serve the tourists, that's for sure.”

It was the Monday after that card night when Davey and Robbie – and later Bruce Ross, who was retired SAS, and Jimmy Swanson, who had been infantry and served in both the Falklands and the Gulf War – became John Black's unofficial honour guard. Dottie, who was Robbie's older sister and the village gossip in addition to a property agent, was something of a mother hen to the lad. Together, they'd be damned if John O' Groats wouldn't treat a man like John Black as one of its own. It was a worthy task; for the first time in many years, Davey felt like something more than a pint-filling glad hander.

Black didn't always make it easy. As time passed, he began to travel much more often. He became rougher around the edges, with ever-rumpled clothes and on occasion a mood to match his name. His eyes were harder and he was visibly aging, which seemed damn strange for a man so young.

Black took few visitors. There was a big man, easily as tall as Robbie, with a heavy beard and a broad chest that made him look like a Viking of old; he had a wife who appeared much younger, and recently an infant in tow. There were several red-headed folk that Davey figured were related. The red-headed girl was always joined at the hip with a young sandy-haired man. Bruce Ross had recognised him, to Davey's surprise. Bruce had allowed that the man was Danish and that he had worked with the man's father in the past; beyond that, he was forcibly silent on the matter.

None of the visitors had ever stopped at the Brown Bottle, so it was a surprise when two men asked after Black. Davey remembered having seen the red-headed man with the cane on more than one occasion. When he told them that Johnny hadn't been in for three days, the one who was new to Davey – a bald man in his fifties with very dark skin and very white teeth, turned out in a Savile Row suit and possessed of a senior officer's bearing – smiled and said they'd take a pint and wait for a while.

Black walked in at half six and gave a friendly wave. “And how are Scotland's finest today?” he asked.

Davey said, “Up to the eyes wit' footballers for the Premier openers, we were. Yeh haven't been around for a while.”

“I arranged a box for the Man U at Chelsea match – sort of a favour for an old friend,” Black said.

Davey was startled but managed to hold it in; he merely said, “Can't be an easy thing ta come by, an opener at Stamford Bridge.”

“I know a few people in the right places,” Black returned.

Bruce Ross perked up at the end of the bar; he said, “Still, that's a hell of a favour. This friend wasn't a Man U fan, I hope?”

Black gave a small laugh at that; “My friend's lifelong for West Ham but a few of his mates are Chelsea through and through. He made a little wager last year, you see...” he explained.

Bruce started, “Romance is an affair of the heart. Gambling, on the other hand, is an affair of the head. Never –”

“I know, I know: never wager on your favourite team. I didn't make it entirely easy for him, either. It's true I took care of the box, but he had to pick up the bill for concessions. Programmes, beer, food... more beer... team caps... still more beer... ten lads can run up quite a tab,” Black chuckled.

“It seems that getting out and about suits you, John. Haven't seen you in this fine a mood for quite some time, and it's a welcome sight. Does an old man's heart good, you know?” Bruce ventured.

Black sighed but a lopsided grin stayed on his face as he returned, “I think that's the nicest 'I told you so' I've ever heard – gets me right here, it does.”

“Why thank you, lad! It's a good thing for you to reconnect a bit, as well. Running from the past rarely ends well... not that I've ever said that to you, of course,” smirked Bruce.

Davey cut in, “Speakin' of reconnectin' and all... them two have been waitin' for yeh, near ta two hours now.”

Black turned and muttered loud enough for Davey to hear, “Well, screw me black and blue.”

“Didn't mind the waiting, mate, but another hour or two and we'd have been well and truly pissed,” the red-headed one said as he hoisted his glass.

Black said, “This isn't high on the list of places I'd expect to see either of you – especially you, Shack. It's been a long time.”

The older man gave a toothy smile and said, “It's good to get out and about.”

Black squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. “Davey, Bruce... I seem to be ripe with old friends of late,” he said; “This is –”

“Kingsley Shackleton's the name. I used to work with John,” the older man introduced himself.

“I worked for you,” John said.

“Oh... yeh did, did yeh?” Davey said uncertainly.

“That wouldn't have been, say, six years ago?” Bruce asked.

Shackleton's smile didn't waver as he said, “On a different note, I'm told that northern Scotland has had an exceptionally warm summer.”

Bruce raised his glass and said, “Message received, sir. I thank you most sincerely for your service.”

“Damn straight. Bruce here, he were a career man, and me, I served under 'Mad Mitch' in Aden long ago. We've at least a small sense of what yeh were about,” said Davey. Shackleton's expression tightened just enough to be seen and Black's shoulders rose.

The red-head said, “I'm Ron Wilson, by the way. Er... John and I go back, what, twelve years?”

“Thirteen at the end of the month,” Black said evenly.

Shackleton relaxed and said to Bruce, “Please don't mistake this as a lack of appreciation for your words. Those were dark days for all of Britain.”

“Indeed they were, and I'd not sleep well tonight if you were to pay for those beers,” said Bruce.

“That's the truth of it. Yer money's no good here, gents,” Davey chimed in.

“Well, that's the sort of thank you we like, isn't it?” Wilson said, which drew chuckles all around.

“Now, John... we are here for a reason,” Shackleton said.

“Figured it wasn't a social call,” Black sighed.

Shackleton said, “We're in search of something rather important.”

“I don't have it,” Black said.

Wilson said, “It's not that we think it's actually in your hands –”

Black cut him off, “Once I heard about it, I figured you'd be around eventually. I may not have it, but I've a few thoughts on the matter.”

Shackleton said mildly, “I find it curious that you 'heard' anything at all, living at such a remove.”

Black shook his head and said, “And now is when we take a tour of my cottage – too many interested ears around here.”

Davey put his hand to his chest and pouted, “You wound me, laddie!”

Bruce said, “Just because you're the most interesting person in a ten-mile radius doesn't make us eavesdroppers.”

Black frowned at that. “Someone in Wick's more interesting than me? Now I'm wounded,” he said.

“Begone with the lot of yeh,” Davey laughed.

Black chuckled and said, “I'll be back after I'm rid of these two.”

Davey nodded and then said to Shackleton and Wilson, “Yer welcome any time in this establishment. There'll be no more questions ta answer and no tab ta fret over, this I can promise.”

“That's very kind of you, Mr. Sinclair. Provided we keep it under twenty-five pounds per visit, we're pleased to accept – anything more, and we really would be obligated to make good on it,” Shackleton said.

“Honest government officials... what's the world comin' to, ehh?” Bruce laughed, as Davey made solid eye contact with Shackleton and ever so slightly shifted his head toward the hall that led to the loo.

“I need to stop at the facilities, and then we'll head for your cottage,” Shackleton said.

Black said with a smirk, “Getting pretty old when you can't hold it for that long, you know?”

“Sod off. I'll be back shortly,” Shackleton returned.

Davey slipped into the kitchen and came out the side door into the hall, which was hidden from John's view. “Glad yeh got the message,” he said to Shackleton.

“What can I do for you?” the government man asked blandly.

“First off, I'm Davey Sinclair an' me an' Bruce Ross over there, we consider Johnny ta be one of us. We joke sometimes with the lad 'bout being a spy, but it's only that: jokin' with him. We don' know nothin' and we don' care ta try. Early on, we figured it were Official Secrets, and that's the end of it fer me and Bruce and the other two – that would be Robbie Fairbourne an' Jimmy Swanson, ta save yeh the trouble of checkin',” Davey started.

“I'm pleased to know that,” Shackleton said.

“Second... och, this is hard. All right, level with me. Yer not just Johnny's old C.O., but yeh care about what happens ta the lad – am I right so far?” Davey asked.

“That is absolutely and unquestionably true, sir – on my honour,” said Shackleton.

“He's becomin' a drinker, and I mean a drinker. When he first come here, I topped his glass like anyone else – that's my business, after all – but it were just a casual thing. These last months, I'd say he were surely drinkin' ta forget. Not the first time I've seen it, won't be the last. Difference is, Johnny gave his all fer his country when he weren't much more than a boy, and it's not right that he drink himself ta death,” Davey said.

“But you do say it wasn't like this from the start, is that correct?” Shackleton confirmed.

Davey explained, “Aye, since the first of this year or a bit after. Lately... 'struth, we aren't knowin' if the lad always remembers ta eat. Dottie – that's Robbie's sister – she and her hens have taken ta leavin' him baskets of food. Here's the thing, sir: I went along with her ta Johnny's place, and there's enough spirits ta land a whole squad in the brig.”

Shackleton frowned at that. “Was this recently?” he asked.

“Not more than a week past,” Davey said.

Shackleton said, “What are you asking me to do, sir?”

Davey wiped his brow with one hand. “I don' exactly know. It aren't just the drinkin' – he used ta be a bit of a snappy dresser, and he's been showin' up a temper now an' again, never done that a'fore... If there's folks the lad can talk to or somethin', even if yeh have ta take him and clean him up... we don't like Johnny doin' this ta himself. I'd cut him off, but he's only been here, his place and the Tesco in near ta six months, 'cepting fer this trip ta London the last few days. We don' want him ta sit in the dank and drink alone – that's a far greater danger than servin' him here, I'll tell yeh,” he said.

“I have some thoughts on how to approach the matter,” Shackleton said in a cautious way.

“A fair few of us here care about the lad. Anything yeh can do fer him, we'd be obliged,” said Davey.

Shackleton hesitated for a moment before he said, “I assure you that many people care for him where I come from, as well. A number of his friends from years past have been increasingly concerned, myself and Mr. Wilson included. It's a relief to know that you and yours have seen the same and have been looking after his welfare, Mr. Sinclair.”

“Dottie's had her eye out fer him since the first day he were here. Didn' take us long ta follow suit. We take care of them what be deservin' it, sir – that's our way,” Davey said.

“Nonetheless, thank you for what you've done and I do thank you for speaking with me about this. I'll ask Mr. Wilson his opinion this evening, and then we'll see about taking action,” said Shackleton.

After the three men left, Davey returned to his tasks and Bruce turned his eyes back to whatever was on the telly hung in the corner. It was a quarter-hour before Davey stopped abruptly.

“What's on your mind, then?” Bruce asked him.

Davey frowned and said, “Gettin' too damn old. It slipped past me: that Shackleton fellow, he knew my name a'fore I said it.”

“Would you move into new territory without advance reconnaissance? Sorry, but that doesn't surprise me in the least,” said Bruce.

“I suppose so. Guess we've seen enough strange business 'round Johnny that this one don't stand out, eh?” Davey allowed.

Bruce took a long pull at his beer before he said, “However... at the risk of adding to the long list of truly odd things that crop up when John's around... Go to the window and have a glance toward his place, and then have a look out front. Be sure to look up and down the street. What do you see?”

Davey did as Bruce asked, and then shrugged as he said, “Nothin' other than Johnny and his mates goin' inta the cottage, and yer car parked in front.”

“Precisely,” Bruce said.

Davey looked at him askance and asked, “What are yeh gettin' at?”

“Any tourists still hanging about must be at the pier. Everything else is shut for the evening. I've been here since half two and no one's come in besides John's friends. Even accounting for the rain, I don't believe I've seen a summer day this quiet in years,” Bruce pointed out.

Davey said, “Afraid yer right about that much – even ol' Wallace hasn't come around ta whinge, an' that's a rare day indeed.”

“There's not a car parked at John's. There's only mine on the High Street. If you look toward the pier there's nothing at the kerbs between here and the car park. So you tell me, how did those two arrive?” Bruce asked.

The only sound in the Brown Bottle came from the telly, because neither man had an answer to give.

 

RON WEASLEY

August 17, 2004     The Black Cloister, John O' Groats, Caithness, Scotland

Harry's kitchen and sitting room were well maintained and Muggle-safe. The rest of the Black Cloister, as Harry called the cottage, was lined with overflowing floor-to-ceiling shelves, and there were more books and scrolls in piles. The desk in Harry's study was littered with a mix of parchments and Muggle notebooks, and there was a similar scene in all three bedrooms. A quick glance at some of the papers left Ron with a headache; it was like looking in on a Mastery exam for arithmancy.

“This is a lot of alcohol, Harry,” Shacklebolt called from the kitchen.

“Always be prepared, right? You never know when you'll have unexpected or uninvited guests,” Harry snapped.

“Clearly you know why we're here,” Shacklebolt said.

Harry said, “It's good to see you as well, Minister.  Six... no, seven years is rather a long time.”

“Seven years...? You were down for V-Day three years ago – and it didn't have to be a long time, you know? There's always been a place for you; that has not and will not change,” returned Shacklebolt.

Harry motioned for both Ron and Shacklebolt to come into the sitting room. “Let's just get down to business, right? I don't have it. I don't steal books; I purchase them,” he said.

“Business it is, then. Obviously the Minister for Magic doesn't come calling over a simple book, so let's not mince words. The Codex Nefastus is one of the most horrible things ever written. The Unspeakables call it 'The Black Hole' because the book's so dark that light can't escape it. It's incredibly dangerous and should never have been in private hands in the first place,” Shacklebolt said.

Harry sighed and said, “You know how I feel about that, Shack, and the Unspeakables can bugger off. The Ministry hoards secret knowledge and decides who was and wasn't worthy to have access – that's the whole point of the Department of Mysteries, isn't it? You haven't been able to fix it because it's not repairable. The problem wasn't just Fudge and Umbridge and their sort, either. Any organization based on secrets was doomed to be corrupt from the start. Holier-than-thou bastards like Dumbledore didn't help –”

“Harry! He was a great man, despite everything,” Shacklebolt protested.

“The more time that passes, the more I hate him. In the name of trying to redeem one Death Eater, Dumbledore virtually drove a decade of Slytherins to Voldemort and made a travesty of Hogwarts for three-fourths of the students. How many potion makers or herbologists had their careers ruined before they even started? If you think about it, Snape was directly responsible for the shortage of Aurors when the war started: the people he favoured in Potions class were mostly on the wrong side of the conflict, and a lot of good Auror candidates couldn't get a Potions NEWT thanks to him.

“In the name of trying to make sure that Draco Malfoy had a chance to 'return to the light', Dumbledore let Hogwarts be attacked from within by people who would have happily murdered students if given the chance! Bill Weasley ended up permanently scarred that night. Katie Bell almost died that year because Dumbledore refused to put a stop to Malfoy... and for what?  He left three teenagers to end a war, with no resources and a few scraps of information.  How many people were sacrificed upon the altar of that old man's ego in the end? Thousands? Tens of thousands? He was a bloody menace, and I wish I'd never met him,” Harry snapped.

Shacklebolt visibly sagged; he allowed, “I honestly don't know what to say to that.”

Harry went on, “Enough of this... can't even talk about him without getting stirred up. Look, as soon as I heard that the Codex went missing, I made some enquiries. Do either of you know Alexei Bulokov?”

Ron said, “The surly bloke who's been sitting on the trade commission for the Ukrainians?”

“That's him,” Shacklebolt confirmed.

Ron snorted, “If he's a trade minister, then I'm Merlin resurrected – he looks like a nasty piece of work.”

“He's that, all right. He's also a direct link into the magical artefacts trade, both the legal parts and the underbelly. Before you ask, I'll tell you that he's located a few interesting books for me over the years. Anyway, he said that there's been talk of an available copy of the Codex for the last two or three weeks amongst the shadier sorts in his line of work. When Bulokov says a person's 'shady', it's worth paying attention,” Harry told them.

“Do you think he'd talk to any of our people?” Shacklebolt asked.

Harry looked to Ron and said, “Give a shout to Anders and ask him to arrange something; that's how I met Bulokov in the first place.”

Shacklebolt perused one of Harry's shelves; he said, “Harry... you know, my grand-mere was from the West indies.  She was trained as a witch but raised to be a vodouisant – a practitioner of vodou. My family never drew the distinctions between types of magic that most Englishmen are raised with, so I've either seen or know of most of the books you have here. It's not simply a matter of hiding information, or controlling knowledge, or what have you... some of these books are hazardous to read, let alone put to use. Le Veritable Dragon Rouge... The Black Pullet... good lord, you're sitting on a copy of the Picatrix! Technically, I should have you brought up on charges simply for being in possession of the Munich Manual, but the truth is that these books are safer in your hands than anywhere save perhaps Hogwarts or the Ministry. Still... in the name of all that's holy, look at these shelves! Do you see why I came to you about the Codex?”

Harry said flatly, “You're looking well, Minister. Perhaps the office suits you after all?  Thank you for the visit. If I come across anything else, I'll be sure to send it along. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm three days behind with my work.”

Shacklebolt sighed, “Despite your best efforts, I'm aware of what you're attempting to do, Harry. If you do insist on continuing to pursue this, please understand that you don't have to do it alone. You certainly shouldn't invoke anything in these books unless there's someone to monitor you. To be blunt, it isn't even safe to study magics of these sorts when you're alone.”

Harry stood and headed toward his study; he said, “There isn't a wizard in Britain with enough training to monitor my work. You have no idea how much I've read, how much I've studied, the things I've learned, the mentors I've had, the knowledge I've sought out. There are times I can't believe it myself. It's been a very, very long road. I'm no genius, not like Hermione is; I've had to work hard for all of it. Finally, though, finally I can do this. I've got it this time, and the irony is that the key was in my hands almost from the beginning.”

Shacklebolt wiped his face in frustration before he said, “I know you won't care to hear this, but... look at yourself, for pity's sake: you're a wreck. This isn't the first time you've been 'on the verge', or so I understand. It's time for someone to step up and say this aloud... perhaps it's time that you allow yourself to grieve for her, and then let it go and move forward with your life?”

Harry stopped walking but didn't turn to face his visitors; with teeth clenched, he said, “Even if I agreed with you, will you tell me how I should do that? She's stuck in my forehead, for God's sake! She is literally with me all the time. Could you let that go? Of course you couldn't, so don't patronise me. I'm sure you can see yourself out.”

Shacklebolt left without another word but Ron followed him into the study and said, “Settle down, mate; Kingsley means well and you know it. I didn't put him up to saying that, either. I said I wouldn't bring it up any more and I meant it. It took a while to accept, but I understand why you can't quit on this. I get it, I really do,” Ron said.

Harry sat behind his desk and fixed his friend with a frosty look. He said evenly, “Ron, you were my first friend. You've been good to me these last few years even when I've told you to bugger off. You haven't just gained my friendship; you've earned my deepest respect. You're a good man. That's why I'm going to stay calm and promise you that you don't 'get it'. You can try and try, and you still won't 'get it'. You can't possibly understand what it's like to live with this. The only other person who 'gets it' can't exactly come out for a chat and a spot of tea, can she?” and then poked at his white lightning-bolt scar to emphasize the point.

Ron stood there in silence until something brushed against his leg; he said, “What the... Crookshanks?” The cat clawed at his trouser leg and hissed, and he confirmed, “That's Crooks, all right. I didn't realise he was with you.”

Harry said, “This is where he belongs.”

Ron scowled at the petulant cat and said, “He's always been a nasty beast, but look at him now: fat and old. What do you suppose, he's fourteen? Fifteen, maybe?”

“We're all getting fatter and older, mate. Besides, Kneazles live longer than cats. Even a half-Kneazle will see thirty with a bit of luck. He's got at least four lives left in him – don't you, Crooks?” Harry said. He pulled Crookshanks onto his lap, scratched behind the cat's ears for a few moments and added, “I'll get your mistress back for you, that's right.”

August 19, 2004     Dróttkvætt Hús, Lítla Dímun, Faeroe Islands

Ron appeared with a pop! in the interior courtyard of his home. Apparating to Lítla Dímun was interesting, even though the distance across the ocean from the village of Froðba was less than fifteen kilometres. There was an elevation change of more than 300 meters, and by building on the southern side of the island, he and Gudrun had exposed a portion of their home to near-constant and powerful winds from the south-west. He insisted on the courtyard after he had been literally blown off his feet upon his first apparation there.

Despite the rugged climate, Ron liked the site and loved the house. It was in the spare style common to Nordic wizards' homes and its open areas were dominated by huge south-facing windows. A wind turbine provided electrical power for their “Muggle room”. They had a remarkable view of the island to the south – Suðuroy – and the roiling silver-blue North Atlantic. The bulk of the wizarding enclave was on the eastern side of Slættirnir, the mountain at the centre of Lítla Dímun, so they had neighbours but weren't pressed by them. The small island was perfect for wizarding occupation: uninhabited and nearly impossible to reach by water, owing to rough seas and the massive cliffs that formed the island's perimeter. A few hardy Muggles scaled the cliffs from time to time, but they were easily kept from the homes by aversion wards.

Gudrun met him at the door with a kiss. “How was Scotland?” she asked.

“Scottish,” he said wearily, and then took his luggage from his pocket in the unlikely event that the shrinking charm failed. On a trade visit in '02, Dennis Creevey's trunk had accidentally expanded in his trousers; the poor bloke ended up in hospital overnight and would doubtless be the butt of jokes for years to come.

“And Harry, he welcomed you into his home?” she asked him.

He went to the cold box for a Tuborg Green. “I wouldn't exactly say 'welcomed', but yeah, we saw him,” he said.

“He did not have that foul book, did he?” she asked.

He said, “Not that one, just a thousand others like it.”

“He did not, ehh, pick a fight with you?” she confirmed.

Ron chided her, “That was four years ago, Gudrun.  I let it go a long time ago and so has he, more or less.”

She asked, “How does he look?”

He took a pull on his Tuborg and said, “Like someone who's always in a foul mood and lives alone with a house full of books, enough liquor to open a pub, and a mangy old cat.”

She asked, “His drinking is as you saw before?”

He sighed, “It's probably as bad as in April, but at least he was making sense this time – he knew where he was, the month and year, that sort of thing. He actually went out for a few days. He bought a box to take to one of those foots-its games... dunno why he needed a box, maybe the benches are too low...? Steady on, do you suppose he meant a box like the prime seats at the World Cup? He must have been talking about doing a favour for Dean Thomas, then. Dean's mad for foots-its.”

“It's football, dear,” she said absently; “And Harry, he continues to, ehh, chase his tail?”

He told her, “He said that he's 'on the verge'. There was something different about him this time, something more... certain, maybe? Look, Harry has a lot of faults, but he's never been a liar and he's really not one to boast. Want to know the truth? For some reason, I was scared out of my socks when he said it this time. Do you think...? Could he could actually pull this off?”

“It has never been completely outside of the realm of possibility. It is, however, well outside of his formal education. The sort of magic that would be needed to restore the insubstantial self into a body, I shudder to think of it,” she said.

“He wouldn't go dark to do this. I don't think he has that in him, not even after the War and everything else,” Ron said firmly.

“On this I agree with you. Despite his behaviour, Harry is at heart a good man, a just man. Grœð would never have remained with him if that were not the case,” she returned.

Ron sat quietly for a while and considered Harry's situation. Gudrun was more tolerant of silence than anyone he'd ever known. After seventeen years in a boisterous household, he had been surprised to find that silence was not only useful but at times desirable. She had also taught him to think before he acted, though it had been a long time coming. His mum had loudly proclaimed more than once that Gudrun had worked a miracle.

At length, he said, “I thought for a while about asking you to visit him – I know, I know, there would be fireworks, at least at first – but someone needs to take a look over his shoulder. This isn't a paper for Charms class; this is serious business, dangerous business. None of the Hogwarts teachers besides Vector or Babbling could follow any of it, I figure, and they'd probably call Gawain Robards over his books. That's a headache Shack doesn't need, not with the Wizengamot acting up again.”

Now Gudrun took the opportunity for quiet. Ron sat back comfortably, sipped at his Tuborg, and watched the winds drive the sea. She tended to close her eyes and purse her lips when she thought and he often took the opportunity to just look at her. He was a fortunate man and said exactly that to anyone who would listen. Their relationship wasn't a roaring bonfire like Ginny and Anders Twing, who fought and made up too much for his taste. He and Gudrun were a bluebell flame: constant and enduring.

Their life together had every good thing he could imagine save for children. The old woman – the faúra-gaggja – had said back in '98 that it could be ten years or more before Gudrun was once again capable of bearing them, if ever at all. Neither of them were in a rush to become parents, and they could always adopt if it came to that. There was no pressure for grandchildren from his mum, thanks to Bill and Fleur. Gudrun's parents had never expected to have contact with her after she was selected for the grœðari, let alone to receive grandchildren. At her first meeting with them in twenty-three years, she had to inform them that her brother Einar had been killed, that she was leaving the Healing Order, and that she was engaged to marry a British war hero – that was how she had described Ron to them over his objections.

“Harry is not ready to see me about this ritual of his, but there is one that he will receive. I must journey to Iceland,” Gudrun said.

He said, “You're thinking of calling in the old lady, then?”

“Show the proper respect, please,” she sniffed.

He gave a small smile at that, and then agreed, “It makes sense, love. He won't turn her away and even if he tries to be rid of her, she's too stubborn to agree. We can make a quick visit to your parents while we're there, right? Your dad would like that,” he said. She nodded in agreement. He took her hand and they watched the clouds come in.

 

HARRY POTTER aka JOHN BLACK

September 13, 2004      The Black Cloister, John O' Groats, Caithness, Scotland

Harry tried to move his head; his mind struggled to function. The first thing that snapped into place was his location: at the table in the second bedroom. The books before his eyes were sideways, which meant that his head was lying on the table itself. A puddle of drool usually meant that he'd passed out, and the empty bottle of Brennivín confirmed it.

Drooling on his runic formulae did them no favours, but they could still be read. His shirt was stained and he couldn't go another day on cleaning and freshening charms alone. He stumbled down the hallway and checked the other bedrooms and the study as he passed to be sure that they were vacant. He made it into the loo without falling. By the end of his shower – during which he only fell asleep once – he at least felt clean, if not revived.

There was no food left in the cold box, merely things that had once been food. He remembered sending Dobby to pick up a scroll in Malaysia but couldn't remember how long ago. The only thing for it was a trip to the Tesco in Wick, but he needed a clearer head and steadier stomach. Fish and chips at the Brown Bottle and a Newcastle to go with it were the quicker and easier option. He was rooting around for a pair of trainers when someone knocked at the door. It wasn't knocking so much as pounding, perhaps with a cricket bat.

“Enough! I'm coming!” he growled. He flung open the front door to face a very old woman wielding a gnarled staff. She was familiar but his mind was too fogged to put a name to her.

He reached for his absent wand and demanded, “Who er you?”; he then winced at his own volume.

“Your wand is on the mantle, Mr. Potter. We have spent many hours talking of many things,” she said.

He squinted at her and stammered, “Iceland... the gah-gah lady for the healers... umm... aw, shite!... erm... hullo, Siggy...”

She said, “I am Sigurrós Gísladóttir, once the faúra-gaggja of the Healing Order of Halla, as you well know. Only when you have come to your senses will I allow you to refer to me as 'Siggy'. You have been drinking strong spirits, far too many and far too often.”

He blustered, “What of it? It's your fault, you and your cursed white light. What do you want with me now?”

“I am saddened that you have become so angry with me and with my people. I am saddened to see what has become of you, but your circumstances are not a matter of grœð or græð. Only you can change this. It is a difficult and dangerous path that you took upon yourself, and so I have come to give aid. Everything must change now, Harry. You cannot reach the end of the path alone and certainly not on unsteady feet,” she said.

“My feet are fine,” he grumbled.

She went on, “I am told that you have had a breakthrough of some sort. If this is true, then it may soon be time to grant your boon.”

“My boon...?” he managed.

“Will you allow me entry?” she asked him.

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” he said.

She walked slowly into the entry. “You have accumulated many more books,” she said.

“Mistress of the obvious,” he muttered.

She shook her staff back and forth twice and then tapped it three times against the floor. All of the drapes and blinds in the cottage opened in unison. A visible vortex drew in the dust throughout the house, even as loose parchments remained still. Piles of books flew through the air and filled half-emptied shelves. He peered into the kitchen, which was in the midst of cleaning and reorganising itself.

“What do you think you're doing?” he snapped.

She said, “This place, it is uninhabitable. It is likely a den for magical illnesses, though I suspect that you have moved beyond the reach of any of these. Now I will ask you to sit in whatever seat that you find most comfortable.”

He flopped angrily onto his sofa, even as he groused, “Why should I?”

“This is because you will be in great discomfort and then unconscious shortly thereafter,” she said.

She was telling the truth. He was gripped by a terrible pain that started in his belly and then ripped through his head. He thought he was going to spew so he leant to one side and then promptly passed out.

September 21, 2004     The Black Cloister, John O' Groats, Caithness, Scotland

A voice cut into the blackness.  “Oh, you are most definitely waking this time,” it said.

He tried to clear his throat.  It sounded like a ramshackle car struggling to start.  “Wha' happen?” he asked.

A second voice told him, “You have been either unconscious or incoherent for a long while due to acute alcohol poisoning.  You are moderately dehydrated and have had nothing more to eat than a few servings of broth since the 13th  of this month.”

“Haven't eaten...?” he managed.

“Thusly we introduced intravenous fluids,” said the same voice; “I would like you to attempt the opening of your eyes, please.”

His eyes fluttered of their own accord.  He tried to force them, but it was almost painful.  “Bright,” he said.  He heard the sound of curtains being drawn closed.

He tried a second time and it was a bit easier, though it was still like opening his eyes to a flood of intense white.  “Still bright,” he said.

“It will seem bright at first, Mr. Potter; there is no avoiding this,” the first voice insisted.

He groaned and opened his eyes at the same time as he lifted his head.  “What day...?” he asked.

The first voice belonged to Madam Gísladóttir.  “It is now the 21st of September,” she told him.

“Eight days...?” Harry said.

“You were in such poor condition that I wondered if was your intention to die,” said the owner of the second voice.  It was Gudrun.  Harry's shoulders rose and his jaw clenched despite himself.

He looked to his side table, now clear of everything save two potion vials.  “No books.  Dobby won't move my books,” Harry said through his teeth.

“Much cleaning was required,” Gísladóttir said; “You should also know that there is a cheque in the kitchen for your spirits.  The gentlemen from the nearby tavern purchased the unopened bottles.  The remainder was poured into the sink.”

“You took everything?” Harry ground out.

Gísladóttir said, “That is correct.  Mr. Sinclair will no longer serve these things to you.  All of the nearby sellers of spirits have agreed to the same.  Your body will not welcome further intoxication, Harry.”

Harry snapped, “My name is John Black.”

Gísladóttir shook her head at him; as she ambled away, she said, “Black, Potter, as you prefer – the truth is that you have forgotten who you are.” 

Gudrun remained in place, silent.  After a quarter-hour passed, Harry said, “Think you can outlast me, do you?”

Gudrun shrugged and said, “I have nothing to say that you do not already know.”

“Oh, come on – you don't have an opinion you're dying to share?” Harry sneered.

“You seem to be recovering rapidly,” she said.

He coldly returned, “Listening to you always reminds me of Dumbledore, Gudrun.  Holding back, being so clever with your words, giving half-truths, playing with other people's lives for the greater good...”

Her voice sharpened as she told him, “Very well, Harry Potter, or John Black, or whatever name you choose – you shall have my opinion.  I pity you.  I pity you, because you are too consumed by your own sorrow to see that your life has become a shambles; too proud to seek help when needed; too angry to maintain friendships; too bitter to recognise that many people were as damaged as yourself by the War; too blind to see that many people's childhoods were as ugly as your own, if not more so... and your monochromatic wardrobe, it only contributes to the air of depression.”

He said, “Huh.  You really don't like my clothes?”

“I also wonder what Hermione should think were she returned to a lover who has become a cynical drunk?” said Gudrun.

“You've no right to say that.  Get out,” he snarled.  He tried to leap out of the bed but instead fell on his face.

“Let me help you from the floor,” she said.

“Bugger off!” he bellowed.  Gudrun stepped away from him, even as Madam Gísladóttir waddled back into the room. 

“She shall leave if you wish it, as will I, but you are in no condition to care for yourself.  Look at what you have done to your arm,” the old woman said.  He had managed to pull the IV line loose and blood dripped from the inside of his elbow.  It was a brilliant red and his head swayed. 

He mumbled, “Fine, you can stay, but I don't have to listen.”

“You are hopeless, Harry Potter.  I grow tired of seeing my husband hurt by you.  Hurt yourself if you wish, but you will leave him out of it.  If you do not, then I will ensure that you regret it,” Gudrun grunted.

Madam Gísladóttir said in the coldest tone Harry had ever heard pass her lips, “Though you are free from the Oath of Obligation, you are never free of the Oath of Healing.  Harry is a patient – he is a fellow creature in pain.  Your conduct is shameful.  You forget yourself.  Reflect upon that as you will, but be gone from this bedside now.”  Gudrun paled instantly; she bolted from the room. 

“Now I will attend to your arm,” Madam Gísladóttir told him.

Harry's lip curled into a sneer.  “Don't bother, I've already healed it myself.  That was between Gudrun and me.  It wasn't your business,” he said.

Madam Gísladóttir seemed to deflate.  Harry expected he would hear an apology.  Instead her eyes looked through him as though he wasn't there, and he knew that she had a tale to tell.  He settled himself as she began to explain, “The elders of our Order have thirteen personal charges at any moment in time: five novices, four adepts, three apprentices, and one fully trained healer seeking mastery.  As faura-gaggja, other responsibilities come into play.  My four predecessors gave up all of their charges and took no more.  Healer Stefánsdóttir... Gudrun... came to us in my third year of service.  My colleagues saw a slip of a girl with a mop of hair, large eyes and a cherub's cheeks.  I saw a headstrong child with startling intelligence, raw power, and little sense of or respect for limits. 

“This is a combination that by its nature sits on the razor's edge of justice and injustice.  I had need of a pupil if I was remain vital and relevant.  She had need of both firm guidance and unfettered opportunity for learning.  She was my last: my last novice, last adept, last apprentice, and last master candidate.  Gudrun was the greatest joy in my nineteen decades of service.  She also caused me to commune more in the last two decades than in the seventeen that came before.  I knew almost from the start that she was not suited for a life within the confines of the Inn, but nowhere else could she learn that which she needed to know. 

“At the age of twelve, she could diagnose illness without the use of runes or tonics or herbs.  Even amongst elders of the Order who are ten times that age, this ability is rare.  It would be as if you had worked the Supreme Mugwump's magic as a young student, and had done so without a wand.  It was simply impossible to release her into the ordinary world without proper training.  Her hands literally glowed when in the presence of græð

“As an adept – she must have been aged thirteen or fourteen then – she was present to assist with the treatment of a brain tumour.    With no runes or rituals or advance warning, she translocated the tumour from inside the patient's head onto a surgical tray.  Apparently she overheard that it needed to be removed as soon as possible, so she simply willed it to come out.  The patient nearly died because the rest of us were too surprised to act.  Not a single cell of healthy tissue was removed.

“So that she could continue, Gudrun gave up part of who and what she is.  We helped her to deaden her own abilities.  If she had not, then she could not have become a healer.  For that matter, she could not have become an ordinary daughter of magic, or a woman of science, or even a wild crafter in the hinterlands.  Someday she would have injured someone without conscious thought, and it would have destroyed her.  It did not occur to me at the time that her own sense of loss could be just as destructive.

“This is why I decided that she was most suited amongst our young healers to provide service outside of the Inn when it was required.  She needed something more than the Healing Order could provide.  For three years, she worked closely with medical practitioners in the wider world and learned how to live as an independent woman.  I saw her assignment to assist your resistance as another way for her to find her place.  I did not anticipate young Mr. Weasley.  Gudrun's relationship with him changed her connection with groed in ways that we had never before seen and to this day do not fully understand.

“Today... despite what was done, for good or ill... she has greater control over her healing work than any other healer I have ever known.  She is also more intuitive in her practice now and more impulsive in her thoughts and actions.  In some ways, it is a relief that she has come to rely on such a large measure of non-magical technique.  I am strict with her in a healing setting because this is a place where to this day she must maintain total discipline.  This is for her own safety and for the safety of all those around her.  So you see, this is very much my business.  I will remain responsible for her conduct as a healer and physician until my dying day.  I will not, I can not allow you to interfere.”

Harry wiggled his fingers and a chair appeared behind her; it was rickety, short-legged, and far uglier than anything he would ever keep in his home.  He glared at the old healer and said, “Sit.”

She looked at him blankly for a moment, but then broke into a low chuckle.  “Without wand, without words and with the slightest of movements... perhaps you and Gudrun are not so different?  Still, your conjuring could stand improvement,” she said.

It took him a moment to realise what she meant, before he returned, “No, that's exactly the chair I asked for.”

She looked at the chair, shrugged and uncomfortably sat.  “You address me in my native language.  I was not aware that you had studied the Old Tongue,” she said.

He said curtly, “I spoke to you in every language at once; you heard the one you wanted to hear.  Now, I allowed you entry to my house eight days ago but I haven't re-affirmed it.  If you intend to stay here, then I have questions and I expect answers.”

“And how is it, then, that Gudrun entered your home?” she asked.

He said, “Gudrun's a Weasley.  Like her or not, she doesn't need my permission.  Here's the thing... I'm no healer – Dobby's picked up more of it that I have – but I do know that an alcohol purge doesn't take eight days.  Someone's lying, but which one of you?”

“No one is lying.  The Higher Runes were ineffective, as were all of the relevant tinctures and tonics.  I have not regularly practised medicine, and thus sought the assistance of Healer Stefánsdóttir.  In addition to her own abilities, she has also taken up some of the practices of the English – potions and spells and such things.  The English methods were somewhat effective, but the key factors of recovery were the body's capacity to heal itself, the passage of time, and the administration of fluids,” she explained.

“Careful, Siggy, your prejudice is showing,” Harry said with a smirk.

She quirked an eyebrow and returned, “I have not yet permitted your silly nickname.”

“I never asked for permission in the first place,” he countered.

She snorted, “You are still... ehh... how do the children say in these times...?  Ahh, yes: geðveikur.”

“Think I'm mad, do you?  Hmph!  Probably right about that,” he said.

She said seriously, “If you are mad, it is of your own doing.  One should not meddle with the flow of time.”

He was caught flat-footed; “Erm... how did you know?”

She said, “I will set aside the obvious evidence and tell you instead that I sensed the strong presence of græð in this place at the moment I entered.  This would be expected in some measure given your selection of books, but this presence, it is too much.  I used Runes of Sight to examine more closely.  Tendrils of græð surround you now, and these were not present five years ago.  They have not penetrated the grœð that protects you and I doubt that they are able.  Few things could cause these tendrils and none of these are so simple as a spell, even the most evil of spells – all of these conditions emerge over repeated exposure, over a period of years.  From there...?  Simple deduction, my young friend.”

“I'd forgotten how perceptive you are,” he mumbled.

She sighed and went on, “I assume that this was arranged by the English... by the fools who trapped the grœð?  They treat the fabric of the universe with such little regard, so it follows that they would do such a thing.  Did they explain the consequences of this meddling?”

“There haven't been any paradoxes,” he said.

She gave him the sort of piercing look reserved for a particularly stubborn child; “And how would you know if a paradox had occurred?” she asked him.

“Erm... because the world's still here, and not reduced to a cloud of sub-atomic particles?” he ventured.

“I see.  So instead of an apocalyptic paradox, you have merely caused a continuous series of paradoxes that were individually too insignificant to draw notice but that collectively may have altered the course of the universe beyond recognition?” she countered.

He said, “Bugger,” and she laughed at him.  He felt a flicker of the camaraderie he had once shared with the old healer – something less than grandparent and grandchild, but more than mentor and pupil.  It bothered him that it had to return before he recognised how much he'd missed it.

After a long silence, to which he was now well accustomed after having spent years alone, she asked, “Do you know of the thing called 'jet lag'?”

He said, “I've heard of it, sure... never flew far enough for it to hit me.  I don't know if you can get it from a portkey, but it's never hit me with one of those, either.”

“I have used an aeroplane on rare occasions.  The most memorable was a trip to Japan.  This was three decades ago, prior to the resumption of magical travel there,” she said.

He perked up at that.  “I've read some of the research on that.  It's hard to imagine that a couple of atomic bombs prevented portkeys and apparation for thirty years.  You know, at one point, I thought that Clarke's research on magical wavefronts might lead me to... um... sorry, I can get carried away...”

“The effect did not stop with your portkeys or apparation.  Our runic travel simply came to a stop within two hundred miles of the bombing sites.  The flight charms on artefacts such as carpets or brooms would fail without warning.  Returning to the point... there was a time difference of three hours between my home and Germany, from which the aeroplane departed, and another eight hours between Germany and Japan.  My sense of time was badly upset and no combination of runes or tinctures provided relief.  After several unpleasant hours, a colleague from China applied an acupuncture treatment that returned me to a normal state,” she explained.

He said impatiently, “All right, I get it: jet lag turned around your days and nights.  Where are you going with this?”

“You have not upset your days and nights.  You have done this to your months and years,” she told him.

He went silent for quite a while to let that sink in; his thinking was still fuzzy, as though he'd been shaken awake from a sound sleep.  At length he admitted, “I hadn't thought of it that way.   Hermione used a time turner for a whole year, though, and she was fine.”

“And why in heaven's name was a child allowed to tamper with the fabric of time and space?” she asked.

He said, “Erm... the thing of it is... she took extra tuition that year, so some of her classes overlapped... don't say it, Siggy, I know that it was stupid for them to allow it, mad even.  In our defence, we were thirteen years old and our Head of House arranged it.”

She gave a sigh and a baleful look, but merely said, “The young lady was unaffected by this, or so you claim.  This I doubt.  She was tired and irritable and unusually impulsive, at times to the point of behaving as two different people...?”

He hedged, “Erm... well...”

She snorted at that and went on, “As I thought.  Let us say that your young lady was repeating time for two of your courses of study and the associated practical or written work?  It follows that her days were of anywhere from 28 to 30 hours in length.  The human body is not made for such a thing.  Surely your abuse of this turning of time was far worse?  Tell me, Harry, what is today's date – day, month and year, please?”

“It's 21st September, 2004,” he said quickly; after a pause, he added, “You gave me 21st September earlier, and I was at the Premier League opener not long ago.”

“And before this 'opener'?  Would you have said it to be 2004?” she pressed.

He couldn't meet her eyes; “It's 2010... or 2011... erm... I thought it was one of those,” he said.

“You are fortunate to be alive,” she told him honestly.

He said, “Sometimes I wonder about that.”

“If you were to die, your beloved would die with you,” she pointed out.

“I didn't let myself think about that,” he admitted.

“You will rest.  You are still weak from what I have done to you, and you are still damaged by your twisting of the fabric of reality.  Be thankful that neither is a permanent thing,” she said.

He closed his eyes, but sighed and said, “No one believes that I can bring her back.  I've solved it, you know?  I understand it now.”

She said, “I am not surprised.  You are a determined young man, dangerously so.”

“The truth of it all... it almost broke me, Siggy.  I started drinking to forget, then I started questioning myself, and then I dug deeper into the books.  I knew I was doing too much with the time-turner, but I couldn't stop it.  I haven't said it... but I'm glad you're here,” he told her.

“Together we will walk the last steps of your path – your quest – now that you have glimpsed the truth of magic,” she promised.

He said, “I think it's more frightening than you know.  It turned upside down everything that I thought I knew, that I thought I'd learned.  I feel like I've wasted ten years...”

“I may know more than you believe, but I did not see so quickly as you nor was I quite so isolated as you,” she said.

He concluded, “It was Gudrun, wasn't it?  She made you think differently.”

“Her nature challenged my way of thinking, but theories came after years and conclusions after decades.  This was not a simple journey.  Only in these last months have I happened upon the enormity of it all.  So I must ask, could you have understood without walking the path?” she asked him.

“No,” he said.

“Will you share your understanding with me?  I am curious to compare it with my own,” she said.

He began, “You're still using structure, still looking at everything through the system you learned.  That will give you glimpses – flashes of how things actually work – but it keeps you from seeing it all at once.  You'll question everything you've ever learned, everything you've based your life on.  That's an awful lot to unlearn.  I... well, I'd feel horrible if you ended up regretting...”

She cut him off, “Only the young and the foolish believe that they know all there is to know.  I have questioned my beliefs each day for all of twenty decades.  In that time, I have healed thousands of people and my charges have healed thousands more.  I would not change the essential nature of my life even if I lived it a second time.  Do not worry about my regrets, for Gudrun is the only one of those.  I fear that I have done too much and that she is broken.  I fear that I have done too little and that she is dangerous.  I know that I will not live long enough to see if either is true.”

“We have a lot to talk about, then,” he said.

“Have you committed your theories to writing?” she asked.

He gave a small, tired smile and said, “There are ten years' worth of journals you could read, but I guess that's just evidence now.  I did sum it all up in... I suppose you'd call it a paper on the nature of Magic, I suppose.  Took me six pages to cover it.”

Her expression was both knowing and a little mischievous – something like Dumbledore but without that accursed twinkle.  She said, “Six pages, you say?  I am fascinated but this shall wait.  I will be here when you awaken.  Others will be coming here soon, of this there is no doubt.  You will hide no longer.  That time is past.”

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