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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)




* * * * * * * * * *


Were Death Eaters responsible, or taking advantage?

Compact Family scion held as “person of interest”

Controversy over Auror assignments

The Chosen One and Hogwarts students saved lives

What was supposed to be a blessing turned into a nightmare in Hogsmeade, shortly after the New Year broke. The Hogmanay bonfire was corrupted into a magical fire that somehow drew revellers willingly into the flames. Many residents were trapped in their homes when branches lit from the fire burst into the same magical flames. St. Mungo’s Hospital received thirty-seven casualties and sixty-two injured. Several of the most severely injured were received at the Hogwarts infirmary along with at least two casualties. This was the largest terror attack to occur in Britain since the so-called Battle of Diagon Alley in 1980, where ninety-four wizards and witches lost their lives and hundreds more were injured.

The fire in question is so rare and dangerous that its existence is classified by the Department of Mysteries. Anonymous sources referred to it as “The Fire of Prometheus” and “Devil’s Fire”. It proved unquenchable until the head of one of the Compact Families used an ancient ritual to invoke a whirlwind. Madam Melisende McIlvaine, Mistress of the House of McIlvaine and member of the Hogwarts Board of Governors, required the assistance of upper-form Hogwarts students to carry off the ritual. One observer said that the magic “was on par with Dumbledore’s best”. An expert amongst the revellers reported that it had been at least 300 years since similar magic was publicly performed.

In the immediate aftermath, two Wizengamot members from old-line families suggested that Madam McIlvaine should be held for trial under the terms of the 1407 Compact. Ministry officials quickly quashed the idea. Rufus Scrimgeour, Head Auror and DMLE commander on the scene, said that hundreds more might have died had Madam McIlvaine not taken action. Scrimgeour also dismissed suggestions that the students who provided assistance to Madam McIlvaine should be expelled and have their wands snapped. “It was all we could do to keep people from jumping into the fire, let alone trying to put it out,” Mr. Scrimgeour said. The Head Auror also gave quick credit to Harry Potter – the Chosen One – and several Hogwarts students who joined the small company of Aurors in protecting residents and revellers.

Mr. Potter deflected the praise and pointed to Adrian Pucey, Hogwarts Head Boy and an accomplisher conjurer in the making. Mr. Pucey, clearly tired and distraught, told reporters, “The Dementor’s Kiss is too good for whoever did this. They deserve to suffer.” Miss Cho Chang, Mr. Pucey’s steady companion and Hogwarts Head Girl, was amongst those who perished.

Mr. Ronald Weasley, Mr. Potter’s close friend and well known for heroics in his own right, saved at least two families from the flames. He also joined Mr. Potter in subduing several apparent Death Eaters. ‘Bloody Harry’ and his friends took down three of the terrorists permanently, an act for which this reporter and many others give thanks. It is unknown at this time whether the Death Eaters were responsible for starting the cursed fire, but their numbers at the scene give one pause. Mr. Weasley, who also lost his steady companion to the flames, directed attention to those most affected. “We (the Weasley family) lost everything last summer, so I know what it’s like. There are a lot of houses completely burned. Hogsmeade needs help,” Mr. Weasley said.

Professor Albus Dumbledore, who was heading abroad in his capacity as ICW Supreme Mugwump just as the disaster occurred, has temporarily opened Hogwarts to those without homes and has asked upper-form students to consider returning early in order to assist with salvage and reconstruction. “Britain has not seen a tragedy on this scale in nearly twenty years, and we must do all we are able to provide comfort and assistance,” Mr. Dumbledore said. In ominous fashion, he added that he feared this was the first attack of its kind rather than the last.

In the aftermath, questions have been raised about Minister Fudge’s order to place more than three-quarters of on-duty Aurors at Diagon Alley and only six Aurors at Hogsmeade. Not only was Hogsmeade woefully unprotected, but the Minister’s order left just four Aurors free to address other emergencies across England. The Office of the Minister offered no comment on the matter.

Thankfully, the Dark Forces Defence League was on high alert in support of the DMLE. Aurors responded to two other incidents last evening, one of which may have been a Death Eater attack. DFDL regulars responded to four minor incidents and also assisted healers from St. Mungo’s in two emergencies.

DFDL spokeswizard Mr. Gilderoy Lockhart told reporters that five DFDL regulars were on hand in Hogsmeade, but the DMLE’s Mr. Scrimgeour said that they failed to make themselves know to Aurors on site and that he did not know whether or how they lent assistance. Madam Amelia Bones, director of the DMLE, nonetheless thanked the DFDL for its efforts. “Coordination has been a bit ragged, but we’re glad for the League’s support at a time when the need for policing is high and Department staffing is at a historic low,” said Madam Bones.

The DMLE took Mr. Laurence Lochsley, scion of the House of Lochsley, into custody at the scene as a ‘person of interest’. Madam Bones said that Mr. Lochsley was not suspected at this time of committing any crimes. She indicated that Mr. Lochsley would remain in custody while receiving attention from healers. No further information was available at press time.

List of the deceased A2

The scene at Hogsmeade, as described by survivors A4

A disaster, in pictures A5-A8

DFDL to step up its efforts in support of the Ministry A9

Did diviners predict the massacre in advance? A9

Curse experts speculate on “The Fire of Prometheus” A10

What is the 1409 Compact, and why does it matter? A12

Goblin leaders ‘appalled’ by loss of life; prepared to offer unprecedented aid B14

For national coverage, see B1

For seven-day weather and other divinatory predictions, see B2

For full Quidditch coverage, see B3-B8

For coverage of your locale, see B9-12

Arithmancer’s Corner: Centaurs say Mars is exceptionally bright B13

– the Daily Prophet, January 1, 1997

* * * * * * * * * *

January 2, 1997

“You should try to sleep,” Hermione called out.

“Can’t… too much on my mind,” mumbled Harry, though he knew she wouldn’t hear him. He rose up from a chair on the veranda of his quarters and stretched. His shoulders pulled painfully and for some reason his feet were quite sore.

Hermione’s hand came down on his shoulder from behind. “Sharing a bed once was enough for you?” she whispered into his ear.

Harry’s mouth quirked into a half-grin and he said, “You do keep the bedcovers warm… quite pleasant, really. I wonder how long Dumbledore will let us get by with it?”

She squeezed his shoulder firmly and he gave a yelp. “You’re one giant knot, aren’t you?” she sighed.

Harry slowly rolled his neck. “I don’t know why; it’s not like it was physical work,” he said.

You were casting continuously for over nine hours. No one casts continuously for that long, not even Professor Dumbledore. I honestly thought you wouldn’t stop until you fell unconscious,” Hermione said.

“There’s just so much… so many people… I can’t stand it, Hermione! All these people suffering, and I’m the only one who can put a stop to it in the end, and I can’t – not yet, at least,” said Harry.

“Things can’t be set right in one day, or two, or a week. I doubt Hogsmeade will be totally rebuilt for months, or years perhaps. You can’t fix everything – no one can,” countered Hermione.

Harry rubbed at his forehead – it felt tight, almost burned, and his temples were throbbing. “Bugger… I think it’s getting worse,” he said.

Hermione started, “A headache? How long have you had a headache? I could have fetched a pain potion –”

Harry cut her off, “I don’t think… AUGGGHH!” His knees buckled and he collapsed. He tried to open his eyes, and was rewarded by a stabbing pain so intense that he nearly bit through his lower lip. He heard Hermione shouting, “Harry!” but she was miles away, or maybe underwater…

- - - - - - - - - -

He was absolutely furious – the sort of fury where the tendons of the neck stand out and the face reddens and the corners of the mouth dampen with spittle. Part of him wanted to take one of his most senior servants and expel the man’s entrails in full view of all of his assembled chosen. The rest of him, however, understood that the inner circle was already dangerously small; that this failure was atypical of the man as he once was; and that it was necessary to motivate as well as to punish.

It was curious to him that his fury was more controlled within this body and mind – just as clear, just as deep, but without the intemperance that had plagued him within the ritual-borne shell. He was no longer the Lord Voldemort of 1995, but more the Lord Voldemort of 1975: brilliant, persuasive, tactical in this thoughts and deeds, and able to put anger to good use.

He crossed his arms with visible displeasure and fixed a sharp gaze on each of his followers in turn, even though they couldn’t see his face within the darkness of his hooded cloak. None but Pettigrew and Bellatrix met his eyes; one was enraptured and the other insane, and there were days when it was hard to know which description was most apt.

The events of the New Year did not turn out as expected,” he said, almost casually; “This merits a thorough review. Rabastan!”

Yes, my Lord!” his minion said immediately, and knelt before him.

He said, “There was no confusion at Diagon Alley, no urgency, and most importantly, no diversion of any kind. Explain.”

Lestrange began,“There were two dozen Aurors in the crowd, and twice that many from the Defence League –”

Do not be concerned about the League. Leave them to me,” he said calmly.

Y-yes, my Lord. There were also goblin warriors stationed at most rooftops. We could not place any of our men in high positions. From low positions, the crowd blocked our sightlines –”

He cut Lestrange off, “Yes, yes, enough. Your assessment receives full marks. I am pleased that you returned with your men intact and able to fight another day. Still, you could have withdrawn most of your force and left two or three to set fires, break into storefronts. The goal was to sow confusion, Rabastan, and the goal was not achieved.”

I – I did not think of leaving behind a small number, my Lord,” Lestrange said, his head hung low.

He let the room sit silent for half a minute before he said, “You failed, Lestrange… but by avoiding a situation in which you could not win, you left the possibility of redeeming yourself in my service. Let it not be said that Lord Voldemort is without mercy. Rise, my faithful servant.”

M-my Lord is most merciful,” Lestrange said.

He nodded and said, “We must return to the days of my successes. Recall how much damage could be done, how much fear could be stirred up by small numbers of men? You and the others who served me in better days: you must be the ones to teach my newer servants what it means to be a true Death Eater. You must think, Rabastan! You have shaken off the shackles of Azkaban, and now you must shake off the shackles of a weak and idle mind. With each journey amongst the unworthy, each deed performed in my service, you must send a message: Lord… Voldemort… is… back.”

I am grateful for your teachings, my Lord – you are indeed returned,” said Lestrange.

He smiled within the shadows of his cloak, and declared, “To those of you who were under Rabastan’s command, fear not: there will be further opportunities to serve. You were unseen and well organised. You followed orders. In this, you performed well. Rabastan, take your men and celebrate this success. Tomorrow, you will step up their training and begin to rotate them amongst the household sorties under Rodolphus’s command.”

Lestrange stood tall and barked, “Yes, my Lord! May you reign for a thousand years!”

His hidden smile grew and he said, “Indeed.”

Lestrange turned to face his men, who made up the centre third of the gathered audience, and shouted, “Hail Lord Voldemort!” The men returned his shout, and left in an orderly manner.

He allowed another long silence before he said, “Do you see? Rabastan remembers the way things once were, and shall be again. Rodolphus, come forward.”

Yes, my Lord,” said the other Lestrange brother.

He said, “Rodolphus, since the outset of my household sorties, you have lost thirteen of mine by death or capture. Did any of those captured possess information of value?”

No, my Lord. Only the leaders of each sortie are given the full mission information, and they are instructed to lead from the rear position. They also hold the primary escape portkey,” Rodolphus reported.

How many households have been struck?” he asked.

Forty-seven,” Rodolphus said.

Casualties?” he asked.

As best as we are able to tell, my Lord, there have been eighty-eight killed, twenty with long-term injuries, forty-one with short-term injuries, and sixty-three who successfully fled,” said Rodolphus.

Of the forty-seven, how many properties were destroyed?” he asked.

Twenty-two were levelled, of which four were cursed according to your instructions. The other twenty-five were all damaged, some of them severely,” Rodolphus said.

How many of your men have gone out on more than one sortie – of those who are still with us, of course?” he asked.

There are seventeen sortie groups, my Lord, so all the men have been on multiple missions. Group Alpha has conducted six missions and has lost only one man, that being on the first sortie,” said Rodolphus.

Outstanding, Rodolphus. The leader of this Group Alpha… what would you say of his potential?” he asked.

He is skilled, my Lord – skilled and quite clever… and ambitious,” Rodolphus returned.

I will meet this Group leader tomorrow – see to it,” he ordered.

Yes, my Lord.”

He said, “This Group Alpha leader of yours and all of his men are to receive bonuses, Rodolphus. You are paying per sortie?”

Yes, my Lord.”

Double their compensation, retroactive to… the second sortie. Lord Voldemort will not reward the initial failure,” he said.

You are most generous, my Lord.”

He said, “Yes. Yes, I am. You are dismissed, with the appreciation of your Lord. Lord Voldemort extends his appreciation to all those under your command.”

Hail Lord Voldemort!” Rodolphus’s men said in unison without prompting.

His hidden smile returned. “Excellent! Rodolphus, I will grant you a boon. Think carefully on this; we will discuss it next week. Continue with your work.”

Yes, my Lord!” Rodolphus said, with a hint of relief in his voice that only his lord could hear; he and his men promptly left the chamber.

Antonin, come forward,” he snapped.

Yes, my Lord,” Dolohov responded.

Hogsmeade was a disaster,” he said flatly.

Yes, my Lord,” Dolohov returned; there was the slightest tremor in the man’s voice. It was delicious.

Do you still insist that it is wise for us to recruit beyond our own land and other English-speaking countries?” he asked.

M-my Lord, it served us well in days past… English, it is not my mother tongue…” Dolohov managed.

He said in a low voice, “Good… very good. I’m glad to know that your years in Azkaban did not rob you of your spine. You are correct that our recruitment should span far and wide. Lord Voldemort seeks to build a worldwide movement. I would not have any concerns in this area, Antonin… had you bothered to order the casting of proper TRANSLATION CHARMS!”

The squad leaders, my Lord, they were charged with –”

ENOUGH! The failure is yours – accept it!” he hissed.

Yes, my Lord,” Dolohov said, even as he fell to his knees.

He extended his arm and swept the room with his hand. “Is this your entire company?” he asked.

Yes, my Lord.”

How many did you lose?”

Eleven, my Lord.”

He steepled his hands and sat quietly for several moments, and then rose abruptly to his feet. “Eleven. You lost eleven men. The Daily Prophet reported three dead. Eight were captured?” he asked.

F-five were captured, my Lord. Three men, they died in the flames. Potter, he killed the other three,” reported Dolohov.

How many squad leaders participated in the mission?” he asked.

Five, my Lord. Four returned,” Dolohov said.

Who was the best of the five?” he asked.

The one who died, my Lord,” said Dolohov.

And the worst…?”

Schmidt, my Lord. He did not follow orders. I will punish him for this.”

He walked slowly, deliberately past Dolohov. “That is neither your place, nor your decision to make. Who is Schmidt? Stand, now!” he commanded.

A tall, blond-haired man with aristocratic features rose from his knees and stood at attention. “I am Karl Schmidt, my Lord,” the man said in English coloured by a crisp accent.

Does Antonin speak the truth, Schmidt? Did you disobey his orders?” he snapped.

I did, my Lord. I offer no excuses and accept the consequences of my actions,” said Schmidt.

He paused for a moment and then said, “How… unexpected. What orders were disobeyed?”

Schmidt said evenly, “There are two orders in question, my Lord. The first was with regard to the casting of six spells, one each upon the men under my command. Commander Dolohov said that no magic was to be used within the village until he ordered it so. When the fire became uncontrolled, I cast a confundus charm upon the men to prevent them from responding to the flames. The second was with regard to the Granger woman, my Lord.”

Continue,” he said sharply.

The commander ordered that the Granger woman be apprehended and brought to him. I believed that this was in violation of your own order, my Lord. You ordered that the woman was to be left not only unharmed but untouched. The manner in which the commander issued his order led me to believe that the woman was to be taken for purpose of retribution,” said Schmidt; “Nonetheless, I violated the orders of my direct commander and accept the consequences of my actions.”

He was taken aback by this man, and decided to continue. “You speak as though you come from a military background. Where did you complete your magical education?” he asked.

Durmstrang, my Lord. I studied under Herr Volkov and completed in 1983,” said Schmidt.

Ahh, so you left before Karkarov assumed the headship,” he said.

Herr Volkov was a scholar and a gentlemen; I believe he will be unmatched in my lifetime. As for Karkarov… I have little regard for traitors, my Lord,” Schmidt said.

He said, “Well spoken, Schmidt… and your bearing? Surely you did not gain this from German or Russian Aurors?”

Schmidt explained, “I am what the English consider a full-blood, my Lord. The line of my mother extends fourteen generations. My father is the son of… forgive my English… a ‘squib’? My grandfather was the fourth son of Herr Klaus Schmidt –”

He cut the man off, “Klaus Schmidt was the cultural minister under Lord Grindelwald, was he not?”

That is correct, my Lord,” said Schmidt.


Yes, my Lord. Herr Schmidt was instructed by Lord Grindelwald to enlist my grandfather in the German army. Lord Grindelwald was interested in Muggle military tactics and determined this to be a suitable place for a squib. Because of the outcome of the war, my grandfather was the only survivor of the line. He required my father to also serve in the army following his time at Durmstrang – the Austrian army, my Lord – and the same was required of me. I quit my commission in 1993 to work as a journeyman at Gregorovitch, and was not pleased by the current state of wizardry. I was recruited in October by Commander Dolohov,” Schmidt finished.

He turned to Dolohov and snarled, “Antonin, you recruited a man who understands how to organise soldiers and whose family has a history of allegiance to Lord Grindelwald himself, and did not inform me of this?”

He did not prove himself to my satisfaction, my Lord,” Dolohov said.

Why did you seek to apprehend Miss Granger?” he demanded.

Dolohov began, “It was my intention to bring her to you, my Lord, so that she would learn the proper place –”

Was there any ambiguity in my orders? Were you somehow confused?” he asked.

No, my Lord, I…”

Rise, Antonin,” he said; “Rise, and look into my eyes.”

Dolohov said, “My Lord, I…” before he screamed and shook violently.

He tore his eyes away and hissed, “So… she is the one who escaped you in the Department of Mysteries?”

Y-yes, my Lord…”

You couldn’t tolerate the idea of having been bested by a school girl, an unqualified witch.”

N-no, my Lord… I…”

He crossed his arms and paced for more than a minute, before he said, “Herr Schmidt, join me.”

Yes, my Lord,” Schmidt said.

Look me in the eyes. It will not be so… abrupt as what Herr Dolohov experienced,” he said.

After several moments, he withdrew and said, “You speak without guile. You are loyal to your chain of command, and will disregard a command only in the event of a conflicting order from a higher authority or when the mission is in jeopardy. You have served my cause faithfully for three months without benefit of a mark of service. I am pleased.”

Thank you, my Lord,” said Schmidt.

Herr Schmidt, remain here if you would. Antonin, remain standing. As for the rest of you, come off your knees and be seated,” he said. With one wave of his wand, three-dozen comfortable chairs appeared.

When the assembled were seated, he began to pace again and said, “It is rare that I have the opportunity to teach. At one time, I had hoped to join the faculty at Hogwarts. When a new order has been established and we are at peace under my leadership, perhaps I shall lecture there on occasion. In fact… it may be for the best that I directly instruct those who are new to our brethren. I shall meditate on this.

For today, I begin by asking which of you has more than passing experience amongst the Muggles. Raise your hands, if you please… there is no incorrect answer, so do not fear to raise them. Ahh… it is as I expected. Of thirty-five, only four have meaningful experience with the Muggles. You there… yes, with the thick shock of hair. What is your name?”

I am called Warden, mein Lord – Franz Warden,” the man said in a rough voice.

Describe your experience with the Muggles,” he ordered.

We are farmers for eight generations, mein Lord. We trade with the Muggles when needed. They are rude and cruel and one tried to force himself on my sister. The Muggles, they are no good,” the man replied.

Would you say that the Muggles are dangerous, then?” he asked.

Ja, mein Lord. They hunt animals with their loud, smoking weapons, and they drive the automobiles that frighten the chickens, and they cheat and steal, and the one with my sister carried a knife,” the man said.

And what did you do to him?” he asked.

I cast the Cruciatus curse on the swine, mein Lord,” said Warden.

Very good, Warden. You may sit,” he said, and then he reached into his robes; “Herr Schmidt, identify this device.”

It is a pistol.  From here, I would say that it is a Walther P88 semiautomatic. By your leave, my Lord?” Schmidt said as he reached forward.

I grant you my leave,” he said.

Schmidt held the pistol up, pointed it away from all those assembled and sighted down the barrel, checked the magazine and the firing action, and then said, “It is fully functional, my Lord. Shall I leave the safety disengaged?”

I assume this ‘safety’ would prevent the weapon from firing?”

Yes, my Lord.”

Leave it, please.”

Yes, my Lord.”

He took back the pistol and held it loosely. “This is a firearm – a pistol, as Herr Schmidt called it. The pistol releases small projectiles called bullets at a speed of several hundred miles per hour. It is a rather destructive weapon at close range. The Muggles have millions of such weapons, and far, far worse. This is a trifling sample of why the Muggles are dangerous to us. There are very real and compelling reasons for the separation between the Muggles and us. We must soon establish more than today’s thin separation, as their capabilities for self-destruction are several orders of magnitude greater than in Grindelwald’s time and are continuing to grow.

Now, then… bullets move more rapidly than spell fire. A shield can block them, but a Muggle with some expertise will in most cases hit a wizard with the bullet before a shield can be raised. Let me demonstrate –”

With no warning, he pointed the pistol at Dolohov’s leg and pulled the trigger rapidly. Three bullets pierced Dolohov’s calf before the man reacted.

As the senior Death Eater screamed and rolled on the floor, Schmidt said calmly, “The P88 is a good pistol: reliability combined with superb accuracy.”

He said, “Noted. Get up, Antonin.”

I… I can’t, muh… my Luh… Lord…” Dolohov gasped.

Pity,” he said flatly.

May I give aid to my field commander, my Lord?” Schmidt asked.

He said, “Your loyalty does you credit, Herr Schmidt. I deny your request,” and then made a show of skilfully inspecting the pistol and re-setting the safety. Schmidt surely received the message directed toward him: never assume that the Dark Lord’s knowledge has any bounds.

He was also certain that all those assembled recognised the insult to Dolohov. He had punished his Death Eater not only in full view of the recruits but also with a Muggle weapon. The point to all assembled was simply: Dolohov’s crime was so vile that he wasn’t worthy of magical punishment. A quick glance around the room confirmed his certainty.

Dolohov reached a shaky hand toward his wand and asked, “Muh… may I h-heal muh… my…”

He shook his head and said, “Casting a healing charm would be a rather bad idea, Antonin. I’ll explain in a moment.” With a flick of his wrist, a tourniquet formed just below Dolohov’s knee. He continued, “Now then, my servants, let us discuss the concept of pride. Those who pollute their minds with religious ideas refer to pride as a sin. In a sense, I grant that they are correct. Herr Warden, what is the problem with pride?”

W-we try to, ehh, satisfy it, my Lord?” Warden offered hesitantly.

You’re on the right track, Warden – partial marks for that,” he said; “Can any of you build upon that thought? Yes – you in the third row. Your name?”

My name ist Gruber, mein Lord,” the man said; “When a leader’s pride is more important than the mission, the soldiers are put in danger.”

Full marks, Gruber,” he said.

If I may, mein Lord, this was learned from Herr Schmidt. We ist alive today because of him,” Gruber said.

He nodded slightly and said, “And Herr Schmidt succeeded because…? It was because he put the mission first. Some of my elder servants are still suffering weakened faculties from their time in Azkaban. I promise that you will not share a similar fate. Soon, Lord Voldemort will be able to recover his servants from Azkaban at will.

Returning to the lesson… Herr Schmidt, a question: if I ordered you to kill your father, would you do so?”

Schmidt said, “My father is an honourable man from a family that has long supported the advancement of wizardry and the greater good that Lord Grindelwald proclaimed. I would ask my Lord’s favour to seek another way to prove my worth. However, if my Lord ordered such an action to further the greater good, then I would carry out that order.”

He said, “I am not ordering you to kill your father, Herr Schmidt. Firstly, Lord Voldemort begins with encouragement before resorting to punishment. Secondly, it would not make for a very productive mission, would it? My servants, I award full marks for this answer to my question.”

Dolohov groaned in pain, so he returned his attention to the fallen Death Eater and said, “Now, Antonin, I will explain to you why it was best to refrain from casting a healing charm on your rather grievously abused lower leg. The bullets contained within this pistol were soaked in Manticore venom.” He paused for the chorus of gasps from his audience and then went on, “Even now, the venom is spreading. I believe you will find Healer Penfold at the far end of the main corridor. If you make it to her tender mercies in the next ten minutes, she will most likely be able to salvage your leg. In fifteen minutes, I expect that it will have to be removed below the knee. In twenty minutes, you will likely lose the entire leg. In twenty-five minutes… well, let’s not fret about that. Go on with you, Antonin. Make your way to the healer.”

Buh… but my L-lord… I cannot walk…” Dolohov mumbled.

You have two arms that function. You have one leg that will support you. You have a wand. I am confident that you can manage this on your own,” he said nonchalantly.

It took Dolohov nearly four minutes to splint his leg, conjure a staff, and clamber to his feet. It was another two minutes before the Death Eater reached the doors that connected the audience chamber with the main corridor. The silence – punctuated only by Dolohov’s groans and moans – was excruciating for his other servants, and he knew it. As soon as Dolohov left the chamber, the large doors closed of their own accord.

He strode slowly back to his chair atop its dais, lowered himself into it, and sat silent for nearly two minutes before he said, “The bullets were not coated with Manticore venom. You see, the most powerful engine of fear lies within your own minds. Even now, Mr. Dolohov’s fear of amputation or death is causing him as much pain as any curse. The greatest warriors have always understood how to use their enemy’s own fear as a weapon.

Mr. Dolohov was punished today because of his pride. A young woman bested him in battle. I ordered that this young woman is to remain unharmed and untouched – and I remind you all that this order remains in effect. He set out to defy my order so that he could satisfy his pride. A subordinate who remained true to the mission thwarted him. Since his return from Azkaban, Mr. Dolohov’s greatest victories for me thus far result from his greatest failures… such a delicious irony, wouldn’t you agree?

All of you will be reassigned to other tasks based upon the reviews and deliberations of my senior Death Eaters. This lecture is concluded and you are to leave my chambers at once. Pettigrew, take the men so that they may tend to their wounds and their appetites. Bellatrix, go and see that Antonin makes it to the infirmary. Herr Schmidt, attend me.”

- - - - - - - - - -

The first thing Harry saw when he recovered his sense was the inside of a conjured bucket. This immediately invoked what Oliver Wood had once called the First Rule of Spewing: the sight and smell of spew begets more spew.

“Dumbledore,” he choked out.

Hermione babbled, “Harry… oh, thank God! I didn’t know what else to do, I was afraid you’d choke, so… I’m so sorry, I should have sent a message to Madam Pomfrey or –”

He lifted his head slowly while holding his breath. As soon as he was clear of the bucket, he managed to say, “Get to Dumbledore… have to get to Dumbledore.”

“Was it him?” Hermione asked.

He nodded weakly and said, “Never like this… he didn’t force me out… not sure he even knew I was there. I saw it all.”

There was a catch in her voice as she asked, “What did you see? ”

A meeting… he wasn’t happy about Hogsmeade… he shot Dolohov,” Harry said.

She looked at him like he’d gone ‘round the twist. “Shot him? With a gun?”

He said, “He was making a point. He’s different now.”

She said, “A gun… I don’t understand. It’s such a Muggle thing, you know?”

“That was the point,” he said.

Hermione began, “You said he’s different. I know you’ve mentioned his voice before, the way his hands are different –”

Not that sort of ‘different’,” Harry said; “I actually think he’s more dangerous now.”

There was nothing she could say to that.

* * * * * * * * * *

January 4, 1997

Harry shuddered away the sensation of being squeezed through a tube, even as the Headmaster released his arm and moved away to offer condolences. He walked in the opposite direction until he came upon a rise that overlooked the entire area.

The Brown family and friends were gathered around a stone circle – like pictures he’d seen of Stonehenge, Harry thought – in a greening meadow surrounded by undulating winter-struck pastureland for as far as the eye could see. Clearly there was some sort of weather ward placed in addition to Notice-Me-Nots and such. Dumbledore had the advantage of knowing and being known by everyone in attendance, and the Headmaster was always comfortable with that, at least to Harry’s eye. For his part, there was still some of the silent wallflower in Harry. He was comfortable in anonymous crowds, but not amongst people who knew or thought they knew him. It didn’t help that he was woefully unprepared for what was about to happen.

A large hand came down on his shoulder and he returned to attention; “Sorry…?” he said.

The hand belonged to Reverend Pomfrey – Madam Pomfrey’s brother and one of the Headmaster’s old-old crowd. “Feeling a bit out of your depth, lad?” the Reverend asked.

Professor Dumbledore taught me all the parts of a Sending – all the incantations, the rune sets, the casting – but… well, I’m not sure what I think of it, honestly,” said Harry.

The Reverend smiled and said, “I like an honest answer, especially when it comes to matters of faith.” He directed Harry’s attention toward a clutch of very old black-clad wizards gathered just outside the circle, and went on, “Those are the old guard of the Brown family. I imagine the patriarch would be the grandfather or great-grandfather of your classmate – may God grant her eternal rest. To them, a Sending might be seen as a necessary step in getting your friend’s soul to the next life, the Great Beyond, or what have you. It is literally a sending of the soul, so they believe. For others, even of that age, the Sending is the pureblood equivalent of a funeral pyre. The younger the wizard, the more likely that they view this as being merely tradition, a family ritual of sorts.”

What do you think?” Harry asked.

“Please understand that as a called rector and a believing Christian, I take a somewhat different view of the soul than most of my fellows here,” the Reverend explained. “Do I think that the Sending is the means by which a wizard’s soul is sent back into the care of God? The answer is no, naturally. Beyond that… well, I’m a bit twisted around on the matter. Perhaps a Sending sends a wizard’s magic to join the soul? We are different than Muggles in some manner that transcends the physical body, and I can’t honestly say what happens to our magic when we die. Part of that comes down to whether we ourselves are magic or are simply using the magic around us as a tool, you know? Is it our magic at all? That’s an entirely different question to struggle over, of course. The point, Harry, is that I can’t say what it is exactly that a Sending sends. I know what I have seen in the act of a Sending, but as with almost anything, there’s more afoot than we can capture with mere mortal eyes. Perhaps, Harry, what we make of a Sending is matter of one’s own beliefs and faith? At the least, it is a funerary rite. It doesn’t involve communing with spirits or demons or a pagan god, so - in my eyes at least - it doesn’t conflict with that which I believe. At the most…? Who knows? I’m not privy to God’s plan for the universe, only the basic elements that have been shared with us. What do you think?”

“Er… an honest answer?” said Harry.

The Reverend chuckled and said, “I lost you, didn’t I? Ahh, well… these aren’t simple matters, and I do tend to over-think on all matters temporal and spiritual. I didn’t even enquire on what your beliefs might be, as I should have.”

Harry shrugged. “My relations talked a good game, wrote their cheques to the church, went there sometimes – or at least they left the house for it; I suppose I can’t really say whether they went or not. It was all a show for them, I think. It was like keeping up the garden: something they did for the neighbours more than anything. Things went all right for them anyway, even if they didn’t really mean any of it. They took me to services one Christmas. I sang better than my cousin, so they didn’t feed me for two days,” he said.

The Reverend closed his eyes and let out a sigh. “Good heavens… hardly exemplars of Christian behaviour, were they? Now, this naturally raises the question of why bad things happen to those who are good, and good things to those who are bad. You’ve probably given that some thought on account of your circumstances. Well, I’m not here to ply you with religious tracts, and you’re not here to listen to an old man’s ramblings… well, not this old man, at least. I’ll say this much to you: if you’re ever plagued with questions such as these, my door is always open to you. I’m but a few miles from Hogwarts; Albus knows the way. As for today…? Albus isn’t asking much of you, as I understand it. Follow along as best you can; I’ll nudge you if it appears that you’re in need of a good nudge; and allow yourself to be sad, to grieve over this. I have no idea how close you were to the young lady, but I do know she was in your house and your year. There’s inevitably some loss on your part – even if it hasn’t yet struck you. I understand she was your best friend’s girl. He’ll need your support, then, and he’ll need it even more two weeks from now than he needs it today.”

Harry was puzzled. “I’d think he needs it today,” he said.

Trust me on this,” the Reverend assured him. “Today, everyone present is awash with the loss. Two weeks from now, people at a distance will have moved on. Even some of those closer to Miss Brown will have moved forward. Perhaps your friend will be one of those, or perhaps not. It’s more difficult to grieve later, because people who are already over-and-done-with-it believe that everyone else should do the same. People sometimes begin to question whether a mourner is of healthy mind.”

Harry thought on that for a long while. It was Dumbledore who brought him back to the present. “Come,” the Headmaster said, and Harry complied.

Dumbledore was resplendent in his ornate robes. They weren’t gaudy as was often his custom, but instead were almost regal. Harry’s robes bore the same trim but were otherwise a plain off-white colour. They were stiff and rather uncomfortable, in truth. The Headmaster had explained earlier that in this setting he was not Headmaster or Mugwump or Warlock, but Grand Sorcerer; as such, Harry was an Adept rather than Apprentice, and was to be clothed accordingly. The Reverend wore a robe similar to Harry’s, but also a silken stole that made him look more like a vicar than a wizard. Madam Marchbanks ambled along behind the Reverend. Last in their group was Tiberius Ogden, who was relaxed and seemed somehow comfortable with this place and circumstance.

A series of complex runic patterns were engraved into the earth within the stone circle. They began at a round raised platform situated in the centre, and extended outward in concentric circles that were joined by a spiralling line. The nearest runic circle to the platform was interrupted by four smaller circles at the compass points, each just large enough for one person to stand inside. The mourners began to assemble on the large runic circles. The surviving family members were led to that innermost circle: Lavender’s aunt, along with her husband and small children; two uncles who looked to be in late middle age; a ten-year-old girl who had turned out to be Lavender’s young sister; three elderly witches and a stooped wizard; and a very tall and very old wizard who was probably the patriarch that the Reverend had mentioned.

Harry followed the Headmaster toward the platform and then took his place inside the small circle that indicated West. Ogden, Marchbanks and the Reverend took up the other three. The remaining mourners followed; they assembled on the ever-larger runic circles but left clear the space around the spiralling line where it crossed each circle. Harry turned and realised that this was to allow room for the bier.

The bier was open, like a wheel-less cart with handles on its sides. Atop it was a human form fully draped by rune-adorned cloth. It was hard for Harry to accept the fact that bubbly, giggly, friendly Lavender Brown was reduced to that. Six people bore the weight: Ron, Neville, Parvati Patil, Mandy Brocklehurst, Ernie Macmillan, and – to his surprise – Hermione.

Harry had at first expected that the bier would simply be levitated into place rather than carried. He realised that there was something primal in watching the six wend along the spiralling line, coming into close contact with most of the mourners. There was something raw about their brief struggle to lift the bier atop the stone platform. There was something in the act that bound all those assembled more tightly than a mere charm or oath. When they were finished, his former year-mates joined the innermost circle along with Lavender’s family. Dumbledore stood behind the bier and folded his hands together – a simple movement that somehow conveyed a dignity Harry wondered if he could ever master.

The Headmaster began by saying, “We gather here to celebrate and honour the life of Miss Lavender Brown… to share in her magic and to rejoin it with those who have gone before her. It is a sad day indeed when a family loses its youngest so long before her time. Miss Brown’s parents are unable to be with us today as they are recuperating at St. Mungo’s Hospital. It is difficult for most to imagine the depth of their loss, and I urge all of you to seek them out in the days and weeks to come, in order to convey your sympathies and to aid them in whatever fashion you are able. I have performed this ritual twenty-nine times for students of Hogwarts. It has been thirteen years since I have done this, and each time I hope that it is the last. It is a sad day when Hogwarts loses one of her own, one filled with promise for the future and now gone from us.

Some gathered here tried most valiantly to save Miss Brown, and they may feel as though they have failed – that they did not try hard enough, did not do everything that could have been done. To those, I say that this is not your fault, and your efforts were not a failure. What you accomplished that evening was far beyond anything that could have been asked of you. Your actions show us all that humanity and compassion still live in our darkening world.

Because Mr. Brown and Madam Brown are unable to join us, the family has asked that remembrances and testimonies be held until a gathering of celebration at a later time. It may be several weeks until such a gathering can be organised. As Headmaster of Hogwarts, I will allow leave to any student who wishes to attend.

Madam Brown’s parents – Miss Brown’s grandparents – worship at St. Columba under the auspices of the Church of England. As such, I have asked my esteemed colleague and the vicar for St. Columba, the Reverend Doctor Oscar Pomfrey, to offer a blessing. Reverend?”

We offer blessing for the life of Lavender Isadora Brown,” the Reverend began; “She was one of God’s children, and we ask intercession for her immortal soul…”

Harry felt a coldness in the pit of his stomach. This was Lavender Brown’s immortal soul he was talking about! Lavender – the girl who could be counted on to say something silly in the midst of tension, who doused bangers in some sort of absurdly hot sauce that her mother owled once a month, who painted her toenails red and gold before Quidditch matches, who had turned out to be surprisingly good for Ron. It was Lavender Brown… the girl who was dead because madmen thought nothing of attacking innocents.

“…oui vivis et regans in asecula saeculorum. Amen,” the Reverend finished. He drew his hand through the air in the form of a cross and added, “Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine.”

Several people present muttered something; some of the mutterings were in Latin, but he heard Hermione whisper, “And let perpetual light shine upon her.”

May you rest in peace, dear girl,” the Reverend concluded.

Thank you, Reverend Doctor Pomfrey,” said Dumbledore. He nodded to the Brown family and then turned his attention to the rest of those who were gathered. His hands rested on the edge of the bier. It looked almost as if he were standing before the ornate podium at the head of Hogwarts’ Great Hall, ready to share a few inscrutable words after the Welcoming Feast.

Dumbledore began, “Many assembled here have never before participated in a Sending. The Ritual of Sending dates back to the times before Hogwarts, to the days when there was no division between wanded magic and what we now call the ‘old magicks’. In fact, this is one of only two rituals of old magic still publicly performed.

I would ask those who have knowledge of this ritual to assist those who do not. I will first invoke the ritual. I will then call out each circle, one at a time, from outermost to innermost. When your circle is called, I ask that you place your left hand on the right shoulder of the person to your left; and your right hand on the right shoulder of the person in front of you. When all in your circle have done so, I will say an incantation and you will all repeat it after me. You may feel a moment of weakness, especially those of you who are still blessed by youth. This is actually a bit of wandless magic you will be performing today, and so you may feel a moment of weakness at the end of the incantation; this is particularly true for those of you who have not yet reached adulthood. Leave your hands in place, however.

As the circles will grow smaller, you will reach a point when two or more of you are reaching forward to the same wizard or witch. That is normal, and do not be bothered by it. You may feel a small shock or observe blue flickers in the inner circles; this is perfectly normal and nothing to be going on about. Those in the innermost circle have already received instruction for their part in the ritual.” Harry relaxed and let his mind focus on the call and response of the ritual until Dumbledore abruptly jerked him to attention.

Dumbledore continued, “I will be assisted today by my adept, Mr. Harry Potter. Mr. Potter was a housemate of Miss Brown for five years. He is also a most extraordinary young wizard, and will add an unexpected element to the final incantation of the Sending, I am sure. Madam Pomfrey will take your place, Harry… come forward, would you?”

Harry’s feet felt as though they were stuck in place. He managed a stiff nod and trudged forward, nearly managing to stumble on the edge of the platform. Once he was beside Dumbledore, he placed his hands on the edge of the bier to match the Headmaster’s posture.

Dumbledore said very quietly, “There’s a good lad. Now, you will speak the olden incantation and I will follow with the English translation.”

I’ve never done this! What if I bollix the incantations?” Harry whispered forcefully.

Dumbledore responded, “Nonsense, Harry. If you can drive off a hundred Dementors with a single charm, and can successfully place both Unplottable and Fidelius charms on your first attempts, then you can certainly do this. Old magicks – all magic, really – is less about the words and more about intent. The intent here is quite clear. This was your friend, Harry. You can do this for her. And, if all else fails, read it from the notes.” He then slipped a small card into Harry’s hand with the incantations on it, phonetically spelled out. Harry couldn’t help but give a small grin at that. Dumbledore nodded one at a time to the Reverend, Madam Marchbanks, Madam Pomfrey, and Mr. Ogden. He then raised his hands, and nodded to Harry. Harry held the card in his cupped right hand. Just as the first time he had read the ritual, he thought that the incantations were oddly goblin-like.

Tama on meidan sisar… ole hyva ja vie hanet jaamaan taivaaseen… anna hanen loytaa rauhan kunnes me liittya hanen myohemmin… anna lohduta niita jotka ovat jaaneet taakse… parantaa haavat luotu kuoleman meidan sisar… karkoitus pimeydessa meilta kaikilta… jata taakse oleellisinta sisar niin etta han edelleen asuu muistomme,” he incanted.

Dumbledore followed, “This is our sister before us. Please take her to stay in the next life. Let her find peace until we someday join her there. Give comfort to those who are left here. Heal the wounds created by her death. Banish the darkness from all of us. Leave behind the essence of our sister, so that she will live on in our memories.” The four members of the old-old crowd then repeated Harry’s incantation as one.

Harry raised his own hands – somehow it felt as though it was the right thing to do – and called out, “Ensimmainen ympyra!”

Dumbledore said, “The first circle – that would be the outermost circle…? Now, Harry is going to say the olden incantation here, and then you’re going to repeat after him. If it doesn’t want to come off your tongue, then the English equivalent is ‘send her on’ – that will do in a pinch. Harry, if you would…?”

Laheta hanen edelleen!” incanted Harry.

He heard mostly the incantation repeated back, with a smattering of English around the edges. He saw… something. It wasn’t exactly a flash of light, but the light within the circle seemed somehow changed.

Toinen ympyra!” he went on.

Dumbledore said, “The second circle… if you would…?”

Harry once again said, “Laheta hanen edelleen!” and awaited the response. This time it was more something heard than something seen… a humming, buzzing thing… in truth, as much felt as heard. He pressed on: first “Kolmas ympyra!” and then “Neljas ympyra!” Each time, there was a little more of something, still lingering just outside his senses. It was part feeling, part sound, part sight, and even part smell… like the scent of a lightning strike, he thought. Now they were close to the platform, and he at last saw the bluish flickering that the Headmaster had described.

“Ympyra perheja todistajia!” he called out.

Dumbledore said, “It is time for the circle of family and witnesses. Come forward and place your hands on the acolytes in as equal numbers as you can… five each to Madam Marchbanks and Mr. Ogden, and four each to Madam Pomfrey and Reverend Pomfrey, I should think.”

Harry looked up from the card and met Hermione’s eyes. There was a sense of wonder there, and something else that he could feel… recognition of some sort? Her hands were alive with bluebell flame and her hair flickered and shifted as if it were a living thing. She placed her hands on Reverend Pomfrey’s shoulders but her eyes never left Harry.

Ympyra pappisluettelo!” Harry called.

Dumbledore intoned, “The circle of acolytes.”

Lavender’s family and her friends who had borne the bier all returned, “Laheta hanen edelleen!”

Marchbanks, Ogden, and the two Pomfreys appeared to burst into blue flame, at first so intense that it made Harry blink back tears. The four moved slowly to the platform, their steps in unison. Harry found himself ever-so-slightly frightened but he mercilessly shoved the fear down and then forced it out.

This time he was not the one to deliver the incantation. Instead, as the four placed their hands on Harry’s shoulders, they called out, “Lahettajan!”

Dumbledore said, “The Sender,” and a column of blue flame and light erupted from the platform. Harry felt the hands leave his shoulder more quickly than he had expected. He looked down at his own hands, which nearly shone blue. For an instant he felt as though he could do anything… but he didn’t want to do anything. This power, this gathering of magic, whatever it was – the point was for him to send his friend to wherever she was going next.

Dumbledore had never described anything like this to him. He felt almost outside of himself, almost as though his body was acting of its own accord. He knew that he was supposed to place his hands on the bier and call out the final incantation. His arms reached down and he gathered up Lavender, still wrapped in the sheet. Her covered head came to rest against his shoulder. There was a feeling within him that was so powerful, he didn’t know what to do with it: cry, scream, laugh…

Instead, he said in a gentle voice that somehow carried over the light and the flames, “Lahettaa.”

The blue light spread from his hands and his arms and dappled across the white sheet, and grew more and more intense until Harry had to close his eyes. There was a rushing sound and he forced his eyes open again. There was no sheet to be seen, only a cloud of light in his arms and a sense of something familiar. The light shot free of his arms and skyward along with the column of light, and a wind blew outward from the platform and caused many of the mourners to take a step back.

Harry found himself panting in shock. The only remaining trace of the blue flames or light was on his hands, which were still alive with bluebell flickers. He heard Mr. Ogden say, “My word…” but didn’t respond.

His legs moved of their own accord toward the patriarch of the Browns. He clasped the old wizard’s hands and somehow remembered to incant, “Mita meidan sisar jatti jalkeensa annetaan teille.” He had no idea where the card had gone.

In the background, Dumbledore said, “What our sister left behind is given to you.”

The old wizard bowed his head and said, “Han on lahetettava parempi paikka”; it wasn’t something Dumbledore had taught him, or ever mentioned at all. Some of the blue flickers spread from Harry’s hands to the patriarch. The old man didn’t move, but tears ran down his face.

Harry moved on, first to each of the family members and then to his friends who had carried Lavender to the platform, and repeated the same incantation. Each reacted differently, but all the reactions were powerful and raw. The whole thing was beginning to erode Harry’s control over his passive legilimency; he was awash in emotions not his own, but he couldn’t yet stop and do one of Covelli’s exercises.

Hermione was the last. Her hands were sweating – oddly, they felt warmer than the flames. The flickering began to creep onto her hands before he managed to say a word. Her emotions were overwhelming, too potent for him to comprehend. He somehow bit out the incantation.

She looked into his eyes and said, “She is sent to a better place.”

W-what?” he managed.

She is sent to a better place: that’s what Lavender’s great-grandfather said to you,” she explained.

The flames faded away from both their hands, and Harry stumbled forward. Hermione kept him from falling, and Neville was there in a trice. Ernie Macmillan immediately conjured a chair and helped Neville lower Harry into it.

Neville said in a tentative way, “Harry, I’ve been to these before. This isn’t what happens. It… it’s not like this. I mean, the whole blue flickering and the disappearing bit, yeah, but not the… not the lights and the wind and, and the whoosh! And definitely not the afterward… I mean, only really close family are supposed to feel that sort of thing. After they’re finished… with the rest of us, it’s just a lot of handshaking, more or less…”

“Lavender and me… we were close, of course, family gatherings and all that, but… I didn’t realise…” Ernie murmured.

Parvati’s hands were shuddering. She knelt before Harry’s chair, and began, “I don’t… I… I don’t know what to say… there are no words…” With that, she began to sob uncontrollably and pitched forward into Harry’s arms. Not knowing what else to do, he patted her on the back and stroked her hair until Padma made her way to the front. Some words were exchanged – Harry was still so stunned that he barely noticed – and then Parvati left, still sobbing, with her sister and a clearly shaken Mandy Brocklehurst.

Harry looked at his hands for a long time. When he looked up, he found himself facing the senior member of the Brown family. “Can I help you, sir?” he managed to say.

The man’s lips quirked and he gave the slightest of snorts. “I think you’ve done that already, Lord Potter. May I sit?” he asked.

Of course,” Harry said, and he gave a negligent wave of his hand; a slightly worn armchair appeared next to him.

Good gracious, young man… this has turned out to be a very unexpected day, indeed,” the man said.

Have to agree with you there,” Harry murmured, “and please call me Harry… not very comfortable with this ‘Lord’ business.”

My name is Bertram Blake, and I am the Head of the House of Blake. Lavender was my great-granddaughter,” he introduced himself.

I’m sorry for your loss, sir,” said Harry.

The old man bowed his head slightly and said, “Thank you, Harry. You know, one of the great weaknesses of the Ritual of Sending is that the Sender cannot himself partake of the ritual. You were the bearer of my great-granddaughter’s essence but not its recipient. Have you ever attended a Sending, or have you only conducted them?”

This was a first for me all the way around,” Harry said.

Mr. Blake’s eyebrows quickly ascended. “Do you mean to say that you’ve not only never attended but have never before conducted a Sending?”

Harry said, “Until the Headmaster called me to the front, I didn’t know I was going to do it today, either.”

Mr. Blake leant forward in his chair and said, “Perhaps I should explain to you why your friends were reacting so strongly?”

Harry managed a small smile and observed, “It’s pretty clear things didn’t turn out as expected.”

Mr. Blake nodded and explained, “It is customary for those very close to the one who has passed on – spouses, parents, children, the closest of friends – to feel a… modest sense of closeness upon clasping hands with the Sender. I recall being quite taken aback at my wife’s sending. It was as though she was near, almost as if there was a hand upon my shoulder. Now, I am rather fond of my two great-granddaughters; our family joins together for the solstices and such. I would like to think that I was close to Lavender, but the truth is that I have seen her no more than a dozen times since she left for Hogwarts. Mr. Potter… Harry… I know how she thought of me… I know how worried she was for her parents, how worried she still is for them… I know that she is worried about her sister attending Hogwarts next year. In eleven decades, I have had no experience by which to compare. It is… it is as though you were a messenger from the grave.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Harry offered.

Mr. Blake took a long, slow breath before he said, “You are still radiating magic, even now. I am somewhat sensitive to that sort of thing, but still… it’s remarkable. You have the magical presence of Mr. Ogden over there, of Madam Marchbanks, of something akin to Dumbledore – at sixteen! That is why Dumbledore and his company are running about right now, Obliviating nearly everyone who stood beyond the inner circle. They’ll be intercepting your other friends and returning them here, so that we can decide what to do about this.”

Obliviating? But –”

Mr. Blake cut him off, “But nothing, young man. No one else must know what happened here today – it’s too dangerous. I imagine you don’t care for this ‘Chosen One’ label; you don’t strike me as being that full of yourself. Still, after what I’ve seen here, it’s hard to maintain any doubts. You’ll be the one to face Him, and I’m inclined to think that you’ll win. He has enough advantages, and we’re not going to be the ones to give Him still another. No one must know.”

Ron looked to be completely devastated, and given the bit of a deathwish his friend carried, Harry was glad to see that Hermione was looking after him. Harry looked around the circle more intently and realised that Mr. Blake was right. This wasn’t the sort of experience a person would be able to keep quiet, and there was no telling what Voldemort would make of it were he to find out.

There has to be a way for everyone to hold on… you know, to what Lavender had to say… it wouldn’t be right to take that away. She gave that to all of you, right?” Harry said.

Mr. Blake gave a genuine smile. He said, “That’s a very honourable thing for you to offer. Wizards like Dumbledore or Tiberius Ogden can work some very selective magic. For that matter, I suspect you could manage it with a little training. Why don’t we discuss this with Dumbledore? Are you able to stand?”

Have to do it eventually,” Harry sighed.

Hermione dashed over to help him, with Ron in tow. Ron tried to say something but broke down before he could get it out. Harry knew that this whole experience had to be awfully hard on his friend, but he hadn’t counted on ending up in a fierce embrace with him.

This can’t be for nothing – it just can’t be,” Ron managed to bite out.

It won’t be, Ron. Look… we’ll talk about it later,” Harry said, even though it was likely that Ron, Hermione and probably everyone else save Dumbledore and he would soon remember a very different experience.

* * * * * * * * * *


Long-time Transport official killed near pub

Jonathon Runcorn, assistant director of the Department of Magical Transportation and former professional Quidditch player, was killed last evening in Wigtown. The body was found just steps from The Biting Fairy, a popular pub for sportsmen in the area. Mr. Runcorn is believed to have left the pub shortly prior to closing. Some witnesses reported that he left in the company of a woman, but others disputed that claim.

In addition to evidence of one or more curses, an unnamed source from within the DMLE told this reporter that Mr. Runcorn had been stabbed several times with a large blade. “Unlike Ludo Bagman's death, which may have been caused by a Muggle, a wizard was definitely involved here,” said the unnamed source.

Mr. Runcorn had overseen the Office for Apparation since 1988. He was part of the team that developed the Ministry's transportation tracking system in the 1970s, which was used to great effect by Aurors during the war against You-Know-Who and which remains a powerful tool for the DMLE to maintain order. A reserve chaser for the Wigtown Wanderers during their title runs in the 1960s, Mr. Runcorn was a lifelong resident of the area. He was a member of the Board of Overseers for St. Mungo's Hospital from 1982 through 1994 as well as the chief organizer for the Hospital's various development schemes throughout the 1980s, most notably the two expansions funded by the now-disgraced Mr. Lucius Malfoy. Mr. Runcorn’s ties to Mr. Malfoy in the 1970s came under investigation in 1982, but were ultimately judged to be legitimate.

Mr. Runcorn leaves behind a wife and three children, the youngest of whom is an upper-form student at Hogwarts. In lieu of flowers or other commemorations, the family requests that mourners contribute to the St. Mungo's Fund for Sporting Injuries.

 - the Daily Prophet, January 4, 1997

* * * * * * * * * *

January 16, 1997

Harry quietly took a seat at the back of the History of Magic classroom. Adrian Pucey stood at the lectern and surveyed the room. The school's prefects and Quidditch captains trickled in. Some tried to sit at the rear but Pucey glared at them until they joined their fellows in the front. The group sat in silence and the Head Boy continued to wait. Shortly, the six seventh-years who had been sixth-year prefects entered as a group.

Let's come to order. I know this was on short notice, so thank you for attending,” Pucey began.

Morag McDougal raised her hand and said, “This is about Cho, isn't it?”

Pucey closed his eyes for a moment before he said, “That's mostly it, yeah. Look... I'm as full of myself as the next bloke -”

“Got that in one,” said Rob Cadwallader – the seventh-year Hufflepuff on the duelling team. Pucey managed a small smile, and Harry recognised that Cadwallader had neatly lowered the tension in the room.

“Thanks for agreeing with me so quickly,” the Head Boy said; “Here's the thing: Cho... well, she's gone now and I... what I mean to say is that I'm not so thick as to think I can manage this on my own...”

Beatrice Kennewick, Pucey's year-mate in Slytherin, said matter-of-factly, “We need to decide what to do about a Head Girl, then.” Pucey said nothing but gave a sharp nod.

Alyce Tilton, the other seventh-year Hufflepuff, broke the long silence that followed. “Honestly, I was relieved not to be appointed,” she admitted; “It's enough just keeping up with class work and revising for the NEWTs. I've even quit Gobstones.”

Katie Bell, the third of the seventh-year girls, said, “I have a problem with the idea of replacing Cho. We weren't mates or anything like that, but she was named Head Girl for a reason. I won't take her place, and I don't think anyone should. It just seems... I don't know – disrespectful?”

I can't argue with that,” Kennewick said; “As much as I'd like to list that title on my propers, I don't want it because someone died. It's unseemly. Still, that leaves Pucey with twice the work.”

Can we divide it up?” Katie offered.

I'll take on a third of it, but not half,” Kennewick returned.

You're asking if I'll take on a third of the hours? And the same for patrols?” Tilton asked.

Scheduling patrols could be sticky,” Katie admitted.

Pucey started to pace across the front of the room. “Everyone will have to step up a bit. You don't realise how much of a commitment the Headship is until you're in the job a while,” he said.

I'll take some patrols,” Cadwallader offered.

I'll do the same,” said Kenneth Bennet, Cho's Ravenclaw counterpart. He added, “I appreciate everyone honouring Cho this way. It'll mean a lot to our House. I think... I think her family will be pleased.”

Several pairs of eyes bored into Cormac McClaggan, Katie's fellow seventh-year Gryffindor. “What?” he finally snapped.

We'll just appoint seventh-year prefects – easy enough, as we're already trained in,” Katie said.

That is the sensible way to go,” Kennewick agreed.

I put in my two years,” McClaggan protested.

Bloody hell, McClaggan – it's one patrol a week, and the girls are doing the real work. It's time for you to man up,” Cadwallader snapped at him.

Fine. One patrol a week, and that's all,” McClaggan fumed.

We should vote on this,” Pucey said.

Make a motion, then,” said Kennewick.

Pucey nodded and declared, “I move that last year's sixth-year prefects be named seventh-year prefects for the remainder of this year, and that the seventh-year girls will divide Cho's office hours. All those in favour, signify by saying 'Aye'.” He received a chorus of 'Aye's.

Bennet stood and added, “I move that we affirm Cho Chang as Head Girl for the whole of the '96 and '97 school terms.”

Pucey's jaw twitched, although Harry doubted most would have caught it. He cleared his throat and said, “All those in favour...?” There was another chorus of 'Aye's.

I have a good hand. Why don't I write it up as a proclamation that we can all sign? It's something we can give to Cho's family,” McDougal said.

Pucey nodded to her; Harry was painfully aware how much effort the Head Boy was expending to remain composed. “I'll report our decisions to the Headmaster,” Pucey announced.

Bell and Tilton and I will do it,” Kennewick countered; “That way the Headmaster will know we're committed to this. It also affirms the proclamation. We should have the Headmaster and Heads of House sign it as well – it would be a nice touch.”

Do it,” Pucey said immediately.

Ron, who was seated with the other Quidditch captains, stood up. “Did you say there was more, Pucey?” he asked.

Pucey shook himself as though he was trying to wake up from an unpleasant dream. He said, “Right... right... the Headmaster asked me for any suggestions I might have regarding student security, given everything that's happened. I've already given him my own recommendations. If you have any to offer, get them to me and I'll pass them along. That's it.” He headed back to the lectern and shuffled some papers as though the meeting was at an end.

McClaggan asked, “What did you recommend, then?” Pucey stopped moving. Harry saw that his shoulders rose and tightened, and he could feel a rise of anger.

My recommendations?” Pucey confirmed.

Yeah, I think we have a right to know what you told the Old Man,” McClaggan blustered.

The papers in Pucey's hands crumpled under his grasp. He snarled, “Sure, Cormac, I'll tell you exactly what I had to say -”

Kennewick stood immediately, her hands clasped behind her back. She said, “Pucey... Adrian... it's no secret how close you were to Chang. Everyone feels badly for you and I can scarcely imagine how angry you must be. So, I think everyone here would guess that your recommendations were... harsh. I recommend that we take a few weeks to let matters cool and think about what steps could be taken to improve security, as well as how we could put them into place. We should schedule another meeting in February, to assemble a proposal that comes from all of us.”

“Let's give it some time,” Katie said gently.

Pucey pounded his fist hard against the top of the lectern. “There were people at the First of Term Feast who were smiling when the Headmaster mentioned Hogsmeade – they were smiling! My family's home was burnt to ashes over the break. There's no room for neutrality anymore – we are at war,” he snarled.

“I understand that, Adrian, but going about this in anger could encourage the worst sort of behaviour, especially between the houses,” Tilton said.

Cadwallader turned in his seat and asked, “Do you have any thoughts on this, Potter?” It was clear that most of the prefects hadn't seen Harry, as they turned en masse to face him.

Harry took a few moments to think before he said, “I think Kennewick has the right idea. Pucey, I know how you feel about this. Ron's house was sacked over the summer. At least a dozen students lost parts of their families over the break, and…” He looked to Ron and finished, “Cho isn't the only one who died.”

Something needs to be done about it,” Pucey said firmly.

I agree,” Harry returned, “but if we're going hunting, let's do it with clear heads, right?”

Cadwallader stood and said, “Until the next meeting, I'd appreciate it if everyone would keep this quiet.” He faced Pucey and added, “The last thing we want is for you to be under siege in your own common room.”

Let them come,” Pucey said coldly.

Harry shook his head and said, “Rob's right on this. If we start talking about improving security, the first thought in everyone's heads will be that we're in immediate danger. If I hear any of this being spread around – and especially anything that suggests the Head Boy's feelings on the matter – then I'll figure out who's responsible and pay a visit. You won't enjoy it.”

Aye-aye, sir,” McClaggan said.

Katie smacked him hard on the chest and snapped, “Piss off, Cormac.”

“All those in favour of Cormac pissing off...?” Kennewick asked.

Pucey shook his head, but a smirk was blossoming on his face. He said, “Thank you all; we're adjourned.”

Harry walked down the far aisle toward the front of the classroom. “Ron, Pucey, McDougal, Zabini, Cadwallader: would you stay for a moment, please?” he called out.

As soon as the rest had filed out, Harry spelled shut the doors and windows, checked the room for Extendable Ears and other listening spells and tricks, and forced the paintings out of their frames.

Pucey sat against the edge of the professor's desk and crossed his arms. He said, “That's a lot of trouble for a simple discussion. I've never even seen half of what you just cast. What's this about, then?”

Harry took a seat atop one of the front row desks. “I asked all of you to stay behind because you're not only prefects but members of the Duelling Team. You're smart, you're capable, and you're leaders.”

I don't know if I'd go that far,” Zabini said quietly.

“Bollocks – people look to you, they follow your opinions. When they don't follow your opinions, they stay clear of you. You and Goyle and maybe Greengrass look to me like the neutrals in your year, and Goyle's only able to stay neutral because Pucey's standing behind him,” Harry returned.

Cadwallader said, “That sounds about right.”

You've kept your eyes open this year, Potter,” said Pucey; “Now get to the point.”

Harry said, “We've a third thing in common: each of us was on the side of the Aurors in Hogsmeade – and I saw you, Zabini, so don't bother denying it.”

Ron nodded. He said, “I saw you too, Zabini... it was a good thing you did.”

“Is the world to end shortly? Weasley speaks well of a Slytherin?” Zabini said in an exaggerated posh tone.

Ron's jaw clenched for a moment but then he slowly released his breath and shook his head. “There's not four sides in this, Zabini,” he said; “You were on the right side of things, and if you're on the right side of things, then your house doesn't matter for much... 'cept for Quidditch, of course. That's completely different.”

Zabini muttered, “If that doesn't confirm we're at war, I suppose nothing else will.”

Cadwallader rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “There might not be four sides in this, but I have the feeling there are more than two,” he said.

You're right; there are at least three,” McDougal agreed.

It's not as though you're recruiting for the Ministry, Potter, given how often they've shat on you,” Cadwallader continued.

“I'm no one's minion, Potter,” warned Zabini.

Harry gawked at him. “Minions? Voldemort has minions, or slaves, or whatever. I want allies who can think for themselves, thank you,” he said.

Ron gazed sharply at each of the others in turn. He said, “Between the Duelling Club and patrolling, you four can get closer to Harry than almost anyone else. For me, there’s one of your security issues, Pucey. Now, I'm with Harry; I figure everyone knows that. For the rest of you, you're either with him or against him, and you'll need to make up your minds right quick.”

“I wouldn't go that far just yet,” Harry objected.

“Nor would I,” Zabini said.

What's it mean to be 'with Harry'? It means being against You-Know-Who – that's given – but what else? No offense, but most of us don't leap off cliffs without at least a peek at the bottom,” said Cadwallader.

“And none of us jump off a bloody motorbike in mid-air,” Pucey added; “I'd say old Gryffindor himself thought you were off your nut that day, Weasley.”

Ron snorted at that. “Point,” he acknowledged.

Harry said, “I'd be happy for now just knowing that none of you are planning to run me through at the next Duelling Club.”

“Holding the wrong end of a sword seems to be catching of late,” noted Zabini; “Ludo Bagman, that Runcorn fellow, and I’ve heard there was another.”

Pucey said to Harry, “My father told you that our family would be on your side of things. He said it had the strength of an oath, and I've no interest in finding out what would happen to an oathbreaker. So even if I didn't already see things your way, you've nothing to fear from me.”

You're going against the Dark Lord, then?” Zabini asked him.

“I'm certainly not going for him,” Pucey shot back; “Who benefits from having him in charge? You? Me? Hogwarts? Britain? The only reason to support him is to keep from being killed, and what's the survival outlook for a Death Eater? You'd have to be mad to join him of your own free will.”

“A fair number among Slytherin House would disagree with you...” Zabini pointed out.

McDougal cut in, “...and they would be wrong. Malfoy's dad? On the run and being hunted. The husband and wife... Lestrange – what about them? On the run and being hunted. The ones who went after Granger? Half a dozen dead. The ones at Hogsmeade? Dead or in jail. So why would any thinking person join them?”

“The Dark Lord died and he's back again. Thinking people join him because they don't believe he can be defeated,” said Zabini.

Harry's voice cut through the room like the sharpest blade: “He came after me and I didn't die. No one is unbeatable.”

Zabini pursed his lips and then said, “That's what I've been waiting to hear you say.”

Pucey asked Cadwallader, “Where do you stand in all of this?”

“I'm barely a half-blood and I’m a Hufflepuff,” Cadwallader said; “If the world's ever in You-Know-Who's hands, I’m probably better off dead.”

McDougal turned to Harry and asked bluntly, “What are your goals in all of this?”

Harry looked at her like she'd just grown a second head. “To get rid of Voldemort, of course,” he said. Inwardly he was pleased that only Zabini gave a serious flinch at the infamous name.

She rolled her eyes and said, “That's not hard to figure, Potter. What are your goals for later? So You-Know-Who is gone – now what?”

Harry stammered, “Er... uh... goals, is it? Um... the thing of it is...”

Gryffindors...” Zabini sighed.

“Oi! Getting rid of Voldemort isn't a small goal,” Harry said defensively.

It's a fair question, Harry,” Ron admitted; “Think about what the Doctor's been telling us in History: Voldemort, Grindelwald, Tramposo, Racine, and on and on. Maybe the Headmaster and the Marquis and the rest never stopped to think about the afterward? How do you keep it from happening again, right?”

Unexpectedly clever of you, Weasley,” Pucey said.

Ron shrugged. “The rest of this planning business is up to someone else,” he said.

Except for Quidditch,” said Harry.

Pucey said, “That's something else entirely.”

The best plans do avoid upsetting Quidditch,” Zabini agreed.

Boys,” McDougal sighed.

* * * * * * * * * *

TIBERIUS OGDEN, 1828 – 1997

Dies in fall at home

Former Wizengamot Chief Warlock

Contributed to the defeat of two Dark Lords

DMLE does not suspect foul play

Mr. Tiberius Odgen died yesterday at his Cornwall home, in what Ministry officials described as a freak accident. According to Miss Michelle Wood, an Auror speaking on behalf of the DMLE: “Mr. Ogden appears to have lost his balance at the top of the stairs leading from the second floor to the first floor of his home. The stairs turn at a 90-degree angle for the final three steps, and thus the fall resulted in Mr. Ogden striking the back of his head against a wall and bending his neck to an extreme angle.” When pressed, Miss Wood indicated that Mr. Ogden had not consumed any spirits prior to the fall.

Head Auror Rufus Scrimgeour said at the scene that there is no suspicion of foul play. “It wasn't entirely out of character when compared to other slips and falls that I've seen. [Mr. Ogden] didn't make any clear attempt to prevent the fall, but he may have struck his head before reaching the bottom. It was late in the evening, the wall sconces weren't lit, and the gentleman was very old as well as being on the stout side. On the whole, it appears to be an unfortunate accident. Elder Ogden was a good man and firmly on the side of law and order. His friends and family have the Department's deepest sympathies,” Mr. Scrimgeour said.

When contacted for comment, Office of the Minister's spokeswizard Percy Weasley lauded Mr. Ogden's long service to the Ministry. Mr. Weasley went on to say: “[Mr. Ogden] went well above and beyond the call in providing me with assistance on several occasions. In the last few hours, hundreds of current and former Ministry employees have offered similar stories. Mr. Ogden will be greatly missed by those wizards whose lives he touched, and the British wizarding community is diminished by his loss.” Minister Fudge was on an official mission to Egypt and could not be reached for further comment.

Mr. Ogden, 168, served for nearly ninety years on the Wizengamot, to include three terms as Chief Warlock in the 1920s and 1930s. He resigned his seat upon the appointment by Minister Fudge of Madam Delores Umbridge to the position of High Inquisitor at Hogwarts School in 1995. Madam Umbridge left the school under a cloud of accusations last year, but Mr. Ogden did not seek reappointment.

In addition to his long service on the court, Mr. Ogden was a member of the Auror corps from 1853 to 1882; an examination author and reviewer at the Wizarding Examinations Authority for many years; a skilled duellist who won the Mixed World Championship in 1908; and a member of the Hogwarts School faculty from 1910 through 1924. He is known to have assisted Prof. Albus Dumbledore in efforts against the Dark Lords Grindelwald and Tramposo. Recently, he was serving as a consultant to Prof. Dumbledore, reputedly on matters relating to spell research.

Mr. Ogden's wife, Madam Elena Ogden nee Irkutsk, passed on in 1937. The Ogden's remaining two children and most of their numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren reside in America.

the Daily Prophet, February 9, 1997

* * * * * * * * * *

February 10, 1997

Harry knocked on the outer door to the Marquis' south tower suite at ten in the morning, precisely as asked; the Marquis had been quite specific, which was unusual enough for Harry to take notice. He continued to knock periodically for several minutes and was ready to summon a house-elf for assistance, when the lock clicked and the door slid open.

Mme. de Flandres ushered him in. She was dressed in a casual robe and Muggle clothing; her face was drawn and her eyes were tired. “The Marquis wishes for you to be seated in the chair immediately adjacent to his study,” she said mechanically.

Are you all right?” Harry asked.

She said, “It was a long night.”

Harry followed her into the sitting room and stopped beside the entrance to the Marquis' study. “Is there anything I should know about this chair?” he asked. “It's an excellent place for listening without being seen,” she said, and then promptly retired to her own chambers.

Shortly thereafter, Croaker let himself into the tower, strode past Harry without so much as a glance and gave a sharp knock on the study door. The door smoothly opened of its own accord.

Egad, Alex... you're well on your way to getting pissed, aren't you?” Croaker said.

Il y a une excellente raison pour laquelle je bois, mon ami,” the Marquis said with a slight slur.

It's hard to argue with that,” Croaker agreed; “What are you drinking – Ogden's?”

Feh! I would not allow that to touch my lips if it were the only liquid at the centre of the Sahara,” the Marquis spat.

Well, whatever it is, I'll gladly partake,” said Croaker.

The Marquis said, “When in Scotland, I say that a man should do as the Scottish have done for centuries. This is Macallan, my friend – a 1926, matured in Spanish oak for sixty years. The palate, it is dark and complicated... fitting for the times, yes?”

I say! Yes, I'll most gladly partake, indeed,” Croaker said; “Shall we wait for Albus?”

Absolutely not,” said the Marquis, and Croaker let forth a deep chuckle. The two men went quiet for several minutes – presumably to sip at their Scotch – before Dumbledore strode purposefully into the Marquis' suite.

He, too, walked directly past Harry without a glance or a slowed pace. “Drinking without me, gentlemen? I do hope you haven't been toasting already?” the Headmaster said.

“We were… ehh… sampling, Albus. A glass awaits you,” said the Marquis.

There was a pause followed by a satisfied sigh and an “Oh, my...” from Dumbledore.

Quite,” Croaker added.

The door to the study closed itself tightly and Harry wondered how he was supposed to bide his time – or for that matter, why the Marquis had asked him to come when he was presumably unwelcome.

Gentlemen, let us toast to the memory of our friend and colleague,” Dumbledore said. Harry nearly fell from his chair; it sounded as if the Headmaster was seated immediately to his left.

You're up first, Alex – you're not only the oldest but you've a better way with words,” said Croaker.

I'm an able speaker, thank you kindly!” Dumbledore cut in.

Alex has that lord-of-the-manor quality that you lack,” Croaker returned.

The Marquis said grandly, “Thank you, Monsieur Croaker; I have always held you in the highest esteem. You are a man amongst men, a true lion –”

“I am assuredly not a lion,” Croaker sniffed.

“Then you are, ehh, a snake in the grass?” the Marquis said teasingly.

Perhaps Albus should give the first toast, after all?” said Croaker.

There is not the slightest doubt in my mind, my old friend Algernon, that you need more of this magnificent Scotch,” the Marquis interjected

The floor is yours, Alex,” Croaker said quickly, and all three men laughed lightly.

The Marquis then said, “To Tiberius, who lived up to the glory of his name in the eyes of those privileged to know him... scholar, judge, husband, father, warrior, colleague and – above all – honoured friend. Je vous salue!”

Well said,” Dumbledore declared.

But of course,” returned the Marquis; Harry could almost hear his Gallic shrug.

In the midst of a series of toasts, Harry heard the strangest sound. It was almost impossible to describe: a beeping, sizzling, echoing, droning thing that made him work his jaw from side to side. If it had gone on for another half-second, he doubted that he could have stayed quiet.

“Bloody sodding hell,” Croaked ground out; “I hate it when you do that!”

“Good evening, Marcus,” said Dumbledore. “I take it that Marcus' arrival was anticipated, Alex?”

The Marquis said, “Oui, our friend Marcus was able to share the why, but found that he could not share the reason.”

Why can't you ever give us anything useful?” snapped Croaker.

Now, Algie, that's both unfair and inaccurate” Dumbledore countered; “You know well that Marcus has saved at least three lives that would not otherwise have been saved –”

“– And that shouldn't even be possible. What I wouldn't give to drag you and Potter back to the Department for a week, Detheridge,” Croaker groused.

Don't worry, Croaker, you won't,” Detheridge said.

You don't know that for certain, boy. Things have already changed,” Croaker fired back.

I know you won't do it, because you wouldn't survive the attempt, and I'm fairly certain you won't die at my hand,” Detheridge said with an almost-smug tone.

Croaker started, “You shouldn't even be allowed here. Albus should have –”

Enough,” Dumbledore said irritably; “I've made my decisions. If you can't abide by that, Algie, then you can find the front door without my aid!”

“Please, my friends – please! If you needed further proofs, you need only listen to the words coming forth from your mouths!” the Marquis said forcefully; he continued, “Marcus, I will ask if you have seen the information from the, ehh, law enforcement?”

“I've seen the completed report. Scrimgeour's off the mark,” said Detheridge.

Some more of your special information?” Croaker sniffed.

“No, just a dose of Yankee common sense. You might try some, Croaker – it'd do you some good,” Detheridge returned.

Dumbledore growled, “I said 'enough'! Now, Marcus, all of us are on edge. Continue your report without the provocations.”

Detheridge began, “The DMLE's going to sign off on it as an accident. The physical evidence tells another story, though. It's thirteen steps from the top of Ogden's stairs to the first landing, and then three more steps off to the right that lead to the hallway below. First of all, he was turned almost 180 degrees from the stairwell when he fell –”

Where's your proof of that?” Croaker interrupted.

Detheridge said, “The location of the head injury is your proof. For him to be facing forward and end up with that injury, he would have had to cartwheel. If he'd done that – which isn’t likely for a man Ogden's size – then he would have broken his neck by either compression from the top or rapid movement forward. Instead, his neck was broken by rotation. Look, Croaker, you don't have to like me, but I was a Marshall for thirty-two years, and half of that in a city a lot larger than London and with three times as many wizards as all of England. I've seen my share of both accidents and covered-up homicides.”

Croaker said with a sigh, “I'll concede to your experience. I take it you think this was the latter then: that someone killed Tiberius and tried to conceal the fact?”

“I think it's a possibility, the most likely one given the evidence,” said Detheridge. “All right, so Ogden somehow fell down thirteen stairs with only an impact injury at the back of his head, supposedly from the collision with the wall; and a broken neck, also supposedly from the collision. He was about five-feet-nine and, what, two-seventy? A man that size doesn't fall through the air to the bottom of an enclosed stairwell; he bounces. There should have been signs of impact elsewhere on him. I would have expected bruises on the upper back if he fell backward, or maybe on the elbows; they could even be broken by it. If he went forward and didn't make any defensive moves, then he should have struck his shoulders or face, or both. The steps were splintered in places, so he should have impacted against some of those. The splintered areas were intact and he had no cuts or scratches.”

The Marquis asked, “There was no magic used against him, yes?”

Were there any footprints? Hand or finger prints of any sort?” Dumbledore asked immediately after.

None of the above,” said Detheridge, “and it gets better. As far as I could tell, the impact in the wall at the bottom didn't match with Ogden's head injury. It was too deep and too narrow. But the most interesting thing that I saw at the scene –”

“At the scene? How did you manage that?” asked Croaker.

Detheridge said, “It’s all in the timing. Now then, I found a bit of sawdust on one of the steps. A quick Reparo, and it was obvious that someone had used sandpaper to remove a boot scuff.”

Sandpaper?” Croaker asked.

“It's a roughened paper that non-magicals use to rub away blemishes in wood or plaster. If a person needed to do that without leaving evidence of magic, sandpaper would be the obvious choice,” explained Detheridge. “There were also two different types of plaster flakes at the bottom of the stairs.”

“So, Marcus, you have the theory of the crime. Enlighten us, my friend,” the Marquis said.

All right... Ogden was at the top of the stairs when he was surprised from behind. The perp twisted his head hard enough to break his neck, then grabbed him – probably by the underarms – and threw him down the stairs. Ogden's head struck the wall, but not hard enough to throw off an investigator. So, the perp –”

Ehh, 'perp'? What is 'perp'?” asked the Marquis.

Sorry... perp means 'perpetrator',” Detheridge explained.

Ahh, yes. Do go on, my friend. I find myself both repelled and fascinated,” the Marquis said.

“Right, so the perp gave the wall a second blow – probably with a gloved fist or elbow, to keep from leaving plaster footprints. It was a deep blow, enough to break loose both the surface plaster and a small area of older plaster beneath. If Ogden's head had struck that hard, his skull would have fractured. After that, the perp did a bit of tidying up, probably with a non-magical kit that he carried with him, and then walked out the front or back door. Your DMLE doesn't check things like liver temperature but the report said rigor had set in, so this probably happened sometime between 10 PM and 2 AM,” said Detheridge.

“Tiberius left the castle a few minutes after eleven,” Dumbledore said.

He was dressed for bed, so that probably puts it between midnight and 2 AM, then,” Detheridge concluded.

So your murderer threw a man the size of Tiberius hard enough to sail down a full flight of stairs without touching the stairs themselves?” Croaker asked.

He probably bounced against the bottom stair or two. The DMLE didn't examine his lower back or buttocks for bruising, and the outer parts of the dent in the wall were too high for his head to strike there without his body bouncing upward a few inches,” said Detheridge.

There is another thing to consider, Algie,” Dumbledore said; “Mr. Detheridge's perpetrator could have cast magic upon his own person without later detection. This could easily be the source for the strength necessary to carry out the deed.”

Damnation, you're right,” Croaker sighed.

Marcus, my friend, I give due credit to your powers of, ehh, deduction. The next question of importance is, of course, the who of it,” the Marquis said.

Tiberius's enemies are all long dead,” said Croaker. “He was fairly quiet in the Wizengamot for the last few years, and certainly not at the heart of any controversy.”

“Albus, I know it is in your mind as we speak. We are having the same thoughts, yes? The Curse, she is upon us. We do not know who the thirteenth was, but we have all thought the same on the matter,” said the Marquis.

“The Curse? You're daft, Alex. We've had several of us together a number of times over the years, and nothing happened. There is no curse – it's superstition, no better than voodoo,” Croaker insisted.

“Voudou is quite real; I have personally observed its practice,” Dumbledore countered, “and if Alex is correct, then I think we three all know who is responsible for Tiberius's demise.”

“He's not been heard from in twenty-five years; you can't even say if he's still alive,” Croaker said.

“We know of his career – if such debasement can be considered a career. It is far more likely that he broke his wizarding ties than that he was killed or otherwise passed on. Young Mr. Karensky was a very dangerous and unpredictable man, and our ally only out of convenience and family obligation. If he is here and has designs on us, then we are in great danger,” Dumbledore said.

“He is the most likely actor for the Curse,” said the Marquis.

Croaker said carefully, “If you're right – and I still believe you're wrong about this – then it's too late to undo things, isn't it?”

For those of us who have spent considerable time at Hogwarts, yes, I should think so,” Dumbledore said.

The Marquis cleared his throat and then said, “The signs, they are there for the seeing, my friends. There are changes in us, and these changes are not only from the alchemical gift that we have all been sampling – ”

Alchemical gift?” asked Detheridge.

Croaker said, “That explains how you've become so active, Alex. How long?”

“When the word came in Le Monde Magique that your Voldemort, he had returned... that was the sign. This is the final crusade for me, and a worthy one it is,” the Marquis declared.

“How much effect has there been?” asked Croaker.

The mind, it is much sharper... the body, it is as though Grindelwald's time has returned, and still gaining the strength,” said the Marquis.

Croaker gasped, “Good God, Alex – how much have you been taking?”

There is enough of the draft to see me through the last days of the millenium, my old friend. This old body, he will not last long once the draft is no more,” the Marquis said; “And what of you, Algie? How much has it been?”

Er... I've been taking it in small amounts since 1973, enough to arrest any further changes. My best estimate is that I can stretch my supply to the middle of the next century. I'll come up with something else by then,” Croaker said.

“I can't imagine why you'd care to go on for so long,” Dumbledore sighed; “All great adventures do come to an end, Algie.”

“You and Alex choose to be comforted by stuff and nonsense. I see no reason to hasten the journey into oblivion,” Croaker snapped.

What of you, Albus? How have you chosen to use the gift?” the Marquis asked.

I have not yet turned to it,” said Dumbledore.

Pull another one, Albus. You're as magically fit as you were fifty years ago, and there's only one way to manage that,” Croaker scoffed.

You demand the magic to do your work. I ask it to aid me in mine. I told you long ago that your approach exacts a price,” returned Dumbledore.

“More stuff and nonsense – magic isn't some incarnate spirit that inhabits us or an energy field out there in the ether waiting to be tapped; we're apportioned it by dint of birth. Using magic is no different than using one's mental faculties,” Croaker retorted; it was obvious from the tone that this was a very old argument between the two men.

“Nonetheless, I have left the gift sequestered. I will not resort to using it until absolutely necessary,” said Dumbledore.

“Albus is the same age now as I attained shortly after the beginning of this century. His condition today, it is what I remember of those days for myself. I also think that the dismissing of the notion that magic is all around us, it is, ehhh, cavalier. Albus is in the right on this,” the Marquis said.

Humbug,” Croaker grumbled. Harry had to jam his fist into his mouth to keep from laughing aloud.

“Alex, please remind me why I wanted Algie here in the first place?” Dumbledore said sharply.

The Marquis gave an answer to the rhetorical question: “Ehh... the contrary views, they are something that you like to hear in the one ear even as you hear the supporting views in the other ear. Is it not so?”

So Croaker's basically on the payroll to be a pain in the ass,” Detheridge concluded.

Croaker growled, “How very droll. I suppose your role is to be the magical freak in residence?”

“Well, fuck you and the horse you rode in on,” Detheridge said matter-of-factly.

Harry heard the sound of a chair roughly pushed back, and then Dumbledore snarled, “ENOUGH! I won't have that in my organisation. Dissension is a luxury we can ill afford! If the two of you can not be civil of your own accord, then consider this an order.”

“Yet another sign of the curse is revealed, my friends,” said the Marquis; “If I closed these old and tired eyes, I would insist that it was 1942 and we were sipping a fine cabernet on my veranda. You are no longer the, ehh, jovial headmaster, Albus. You, my old friend Algie, have also recovered the sharp edge. Lucia, she now aids the young Mlle. Granger with explorations of the arcane rather than impeding her...”

“Griselda hasn't changed - she's been the same battleaxe for as long as I've know her,” said Croaker; “What of Flitwick?”

Dumbledore said, “He has once again immersed himself in the art of the duel. I have not seen such intensity from him in a very long time.”

“So, I must ask you, Algie...?” the Marquis ventured.

I don't want to believe in the Curse. It violates every understanding of magic we've developed,” Croaker fumed.

“I will remind you that the ritual we used against Grindelwald was an ancient one. The Curse merely violates our understanding of magic as it has been practiced in modern times,” said Dumbledore.

“Magic is magic,” Croaker protested.

Excepting when it is not, my friend,” said the Marquis.

There was a long pause before Croaker said, “Speaking of archaic rituals... I suppose the old goat asked for a Sending?”

Algie, you should at least be respectful of a man's wishes,” Dumbledore sighed.

It serves the same purpose as cremation. As long as his remains can't be plundered, I wouldn't care if Tiberius asked to be sunk to the bottom of the sea with a millstone 'round his neck. Just don't ask me to participate in the farce,” Croaker said.

Far be it from me to suggest that anything exists beyond the tiny particles that make up the world around us,” Dumbledore returned.

Protons, electrons, neutrons – you're right in one, Albus. Actually, the Muggles think they've happened on something even smaller... fascinating work, actually,” said Croaker.

“A first generation witch I knew back in Boston tried to explain this business to me: quantum mechanics and chaos theory and all of it,” Detheridge said; “She told me that the study of physics has reached the point where it's hard to tell the difference between science and belief. Imagine that.”

“Humbug,” Croaker said once again.

“I will notify all of you regarding Tiberius's arrangements. He opted for the traditional six-day interval, so I recommend that you clear your schedules. I will suspend the later class meetings to allow staff and upper-form students to pay their respects,” Dumbledore said.

Can we get to the other reason for this little gathering?” Detheridge asked.

But of course,” the Marquis said; “Albus, do I gather correctly that you agree with the conclusions of Mlle. Granger's work?”

Her work is sound,” Dumbledore said.

Her work rests on an untestable assumption,” Croaker countered.

Untestable by you, perhaps, but not by me,” Dumbledore told him.

Croaker was clearly affronted. “There is no work of magic you can evaluate where I can not do the same,” he said.

“You lack the sensibilities to evaluate the old magicks -” said Dumbledore.

“- and there is no consistent means to test your so-called ‘old magicks’, hence the problem with Granger's paper. If I was applying a grade, I'd be hard pressed to justify an Acceptable,” Croaker said.

“An ‘Acceptable’, you say? I have reviewed this work for myself. Algie, my old friend, there is no kind way that I can tell you this: your words just now, they were rubbish,” the Marquis declared.

Dumbledore told Croaker, “Her theory is ground-breaking and you are well aware of this. I find myself increasingly reconsidering Harry's opinions regarding your views on blood status.”

“If I didn't know that my opinion of that ridiculous paper was correct, I would be very offended just now. Knowing that I am indeed correct, however, takes the sting out of it,” Croaker sniffed.

“Hmm… seems to me that when it takes more work to explain the exceptions to a rule than to explain the rule, then you might need to take another look at the rule,” Detheridge said.

“You're nothing more than a constable with a spot of deductive ability and a dab hand with a wand. Confine yourself to matters where your opinion has value,” Croaker fired back.

Detheridge laughed and then said, “Croaker, you remind me of this cadet I knew back in the day: smart as hell – the guy'd forgotten more books than I’ve ever read – and he was absolutely sure of himself. I set up a live fire training exercise, and he spent five minutes explaining to me how the enemy couldn't have put up an anti-apparation ward because of the terrain and the relative position of the buildings and fifty other things that I didn’t listen to and can’t recall. He was so damn sure that I said, 'Fine, you run the engagement for your platoon.' Smart guy, but inflexible and predictable... they had their asses handed to them, of course. So, this cadet, he orders a full retreat and proceeds to apparate. At least the rest of them had the good sense not to follow him. I think it took a day and a half to completely un-splinch the idiot. All the books in the world didn't tell him the obvious thing: the enemy had the superior position and therefore had no reason to engage unless they were in complete control of the situation. Of course there was a ward in place! Not a lick of common sense... washed him out of the program the next day. You really remind me of that guy.”

The Marquis applauded vigorously and said, “Oh, this is so much fun! It is like watching tennis, yes?” There was a pregnant pause before both Dumbledore and Croaker started laughing.

You know, I wouldn’t be so prickly if someone would just pour me a damn drink,” Detheridge said.

But where are my manners? For you, my young friend, we will break out the second bottle,” the Marquis said amiably.

Croaker snapped, “Second bottle? You never said anything about a second bottle. Holding out on us, are you?”

For you, my old friend Algernon, nothing but the second best,” said the Marquis.

You’re a knave, old man,” Croaker shot back.

Yeow! A knave with the best Scotch I’ve ever tasted, that’s for sure,” Detheridge coughed.

There was another long pause – Harry assumed that the four men were quietly enjoying their drinks – before Dumbledore said, “I have asked Miss Granger to confirm two of her findings. This is why Dr. Covelli is assisting her –”

Still won’t let you call her ‘Lucia’, will she? You really did bugger things,” Croaker cut in.

Dumbledore went on, “Yes… well… that is between the Doctor and myself. In any event, the two are following my suggestions regarding a proof. Once I have received confirmation, I intend to share the findings with Harry unless there are relevant objections.”

Therefore, logic suggests that I am irrelevant,” said Croaker.

In this one instance, Algie, yes. Your views on the matter are irrelevant,” Dumbledore said flatly.

That calls for more Scotch,” Detheridge said.

“You are rather, ehh… harsh, Albus,” the Marquis chided.

Dumbledore said, “The times call for decisive actions.”

Croaker asked, “What do you expect to gain, Albus? Is your theory going to get the boy up to speed faster? Will it improve his casting? Will it sharpen him in duels? Will it make him more studious? Honestly, I think you’re likely to cripple him with it… and if I’m honest with myself, I must admit that is part of the reason I have been so discouraging with Granger. I don’t see how this is going to help him.”

The young Potter, he must begin the quest. Understanding the beginning, it will help him understand the ending,” said the Marquis.

Croaker sighed. “You truly think that the prophecy is alchemical?” he asked.

“ ‘One must die at the hand of the other’, she says. You and Albus know well from your time with Nicholas that death means many things. Ponder on this, Algie,” the Marquis returned.

Well, I don’t like it. It leaves an uncertain outcome, for one. We could go through all of this, gentlemen – the situation could become as unpleasant as our worst fears – and it could all end badly because your boy missteps, Albus. Your habit of hiding things from him could make things better or it could make things far worse,” Croaker fumed.

Yet you wish to hide from him the true nature of his survival,” Dumbledore countered.

“Touche! The tennis match has returned! This is so enjoyable… to tennis! Je vous salue!” the Marquis bellowed.

“I think you’re actually pissed, Alex! The last time I remember seeing you pissed was at that brothel in Venice,” Croaker laughed.

It was not a brothel… there was nothing ill about its repute, I will have you know… and Madame Ribisi, she was, ehh, a spectacle to behold!” the Marquis declared.

Following the two of you around Europe was like minding two schoolboys,” Dumbledore sighed.

It’s not our fault you weren’t interested in putting your fame to good use,” Croaker protested.

“The both of you were too old to be gadding about like that, for pity’s sake. I was too old for it, and you’re both old crones in comparison. In any case, my interests of that sort began and ended with Martha, and you’re well aware of that,” said Dumbledore.

“She wouldn’t have expected you to wear widow’s weeds for one hundred and ten years, Albus,” Croaker said gently.

It wasn’t her choice to make, nor was it yours… old libertines, the both of you! Good heavens, Alex, that woman was one-third your age!” Dumbledore scolded.

Lighten up, Brian –” Croaker started.

The Marquis laughed, “Brian, he says! And now who is the one who is pissed, or… ehh… what is it about shite and wind?”

“Shite and wind? It’s ‘sheets’, Alex: three sheets to the wind! You kill me, you really do,” Detheridge howled.

“A toast!” Croaker said sharply.

I do like the toast, you know… was an acquired taste… it does require the, ehh, marmalade,” the Marquis mumbled.

“Not that, you old goat – a toast! To Brian, whose bloody sense of honour allowed me the pleasure of more beds than I can count just now. To Brian!” Croaker cackled.

“Aren’t we full of ourselves, Algie? I should think the fingers of your two hands would more than suffice to count your adventures. The rest, my friend, is the product of your fevered imagination and this delightful Scotch, of which I shall now have some more,” Dumbledore said.

“Well… to hell with you, then! You were too busy with your books to keep track, anyway… and we didn’t need a bloody nanny. Remember that I was the one that got Alex out of his chateau, and all it took was a good bit of rough,” Croaker slurred.

“There was nothing rough about Madam Ribisi… although the Madam’s husband, he was a bit rough… but not for long,” the Marquis managed.

“Only because you dove out the window. It’s a good thing the nanny was there to cast a cushioning charm,” laughed Dumbledore.

Detheridge said, “This is going downhill fast. Obviously I need to drink more.”

Cheers, Marcus,” Dumbledore said, and glasses clinked together.

Just then, Mlle. de Flandres bumped Harry’s arm. “The Marquis, he provided a message for me to pass along when I received his sign. The conversation must be… taking a turn?”

Harry took the parchment she handed to him and unfolded it. He nearly dropped it when the Marquis’ voice projected from it:

Monsieur Potter, as the Scotch in the bottle decreases and the Scotch in our bellies increases, I fear that the talk may become uncomfortably ribald for your young ears. Surely you have heard whatever it was that Monsieur Detheridge wished you to hear, for if you have not, I am certain that we shall shortly be too, ehh, shite to the wind to say anything of consequence. Find Monsieur Detheridge and confirm this with him. If he is unable to speak of it with you, as may be the case, then you will come to me and I will do the telling as best I can. Au revoir, my young friend!

“Taking a turn… you could say that,” Harry said under his breath.

As he walked back to his chambers and thought on what Detheridge had wanted him to hear… and how Detheridge had gotten into the room at all… and what Hermione might have discovered, and how Covelli was a part of it… and what sort of quest he was supposed to begin… and some images of Croaker in younger days that he desperately wanted to eject from his brain... he ultimately decided that it was nice to know that the Headmaster and the Marquis and even Croaker were still human.

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