December 20th, 2003, 2:10 am
Disclaimer and miscellaneous author's notes:
Almost nothing about this story is original. I owe nearly all of the characters to J. K. Rowling (although I have sometimes invented personalities when she has supplied only names), the inspiration for the plot to Edgar Allan Poe, and assorted minor debts to everybody from Jane Austen to Jimi Hendrix. I am writing this for fun and it would be a positive miracle if I made any money off of it.
This is a sequel to Counsel, Guardian, Intruder, Heir (http://www.cosforums.com/showthread.php?t=20593), although I will try to explain the background as I go along so new readers won't get confused. It's set in the autumn of 1996, opening about a month after the end of "Counsel, Guardian..." (No attempt has been made to coordinate the plot with the actual phases of the moon in 1996. The moon in this story is a fictional moon. It is full when I say it is.) I'm toying with the idea for a third, interlinked story that involves a different set of characters during the same time period; I don't know whether it'll get off the ground, but for the purposes of this story, all you need to know is that there's more going on in the Remedial History of Magic class than the adults are aware of.
This story is about the trouble the adult members of the Order of the Phoenix get into when Harry and his friends aren't around to keep an eye on them. They are much more unruly and uncooperative than the kids, so I've thought it best to employ a mode of narration that allows them to argue, offer multiple perspectives, and correct each other when necessary. It sounds very confusing when explained, but becomes much simpler once you've seen it in action, so I'll let the characters explain how it works as we go. Anybody who is confused by the prologue will probably be mostly unconfused by the end of the first chapter, and entirely unconfused by the fifth. Bear with me.
Also, several characters insisted on keeping secrets from each other. A spell called the Arcanum charm allows them to do this.
Text that used to be Arcanum charmed, but isn't any more, is green, like this
Text that is still Arcanum charmed is orange, like this.
I've done my best to stick to British spelling and usage to make things sound more authentic. UK readers should let me know if they spot any mistakes.
The book Hairy Snout, Human Heart is mentioned by JKR in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and the account of its nature and authorship given here is the product of my own imagination. It should not be confused with Loz's fic of the same title.
If you haven't read "Counsel, Guardian ...," there are two new characters you need to know about.
John Michael Evans ("Jack") is Lily's adopted brother. He is six years younger than Lily and eight or nine years younger than Petunia. He was adopted at the age of ten, and therefore does not know Petunia well -- and there are a lot of things he doesn't know about Lily, either. He is a lawyer who has done some pro bono work for the Order. He and his wife, Harriet, are Muggles, but their son, Mark, is a wizard who is about to begin his first year at Hogwarts. Jack's adopted parents are dead. We find out more about what happened to them here.
Regulus Black ("Reg") is Sirius' long-lost prodigal brother, and he's one of the good guys now. Apart from that, he's kind of hard to explain. I think I will let him introduce himself.
December 20th, 2003, 2:34 am
Feedback thread (http://www.cosforums.com/showthread.php?t=21928)
Prologue: Six Characters in Search of an Editor
You don’t know about me, without you have read a fanfic by the name of Counsel, Guardian, Intruder, Heir (http://www.cosforums.com/showthread.php?t=20593), but that ain’t no matter. That fic was made by Ms. Lady DeMimsy, and she told the truth, mainly. There was things which she stretched, but mainly she told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied, one time or another, without it was Albus Dumbledore, or Minnie McGonagall, or maybe Mr. Jack Evans, but he ain’t one of us and he gets some things wrong. Why, even ol’ Moony over there has been known to tell some –
Reg, what on earth is the matter with you? Why are you writing in that ridiculous dialect? We are NOT poling a raft down the mighty Mississippi! – R. J. L.
Take it easy, Moony! I’m just trying to liven up the story a little. – R. B.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a good-looking single wizard who has just come into possession of the family estate must be in want of a secret society to share it with –
That’s even worse! I’m not going to let you read any more of my books if you’re going to abuse them like that! – R. J. L.
I’m not abusing anything! I’m just looking for a good way to start our records. – R. B.
Who put you in charge of keeping our records anyway? Give me that book! – R. J. L.
You have your own book! [Text Arcanum charmed against Remus Lupin.] Ha ha! Now I’m invisible! - R. B.
I heard you do that! And they’re all my books! Give it back! – R. J. L.
Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here, this is the War Room! – N. T.
Huh? – R. J. L. and R. B.
Good one, Tonks! Nice to see that somebody in your world knows her classic movies. – J. M. E.
What’s a movie? – S. P. T.
Good to see this works for you, Jack. I’ll explain about movies later, Sybil. I think we ought to decide who’s in charge here before this turns into total chaos. We should appoint somebody to act as a General Editor to settle disputes and make the decisions about who should be recording which events. – N. T.
Excellent idea, Tonks! Why don’t you do it? – R. J. L.
Too much going on at work – and besides, as my old Head of House used to say, I lack certain necessary qualities ... such as the ability to behave myself. I don’t mind serving as Assistant Editor if we decide we want one, but I think we need somebody who – – N. T.
I’ll do it! I’m a proffesional editor! – L. L.
Well, that’s very kind of you, Larry, but the rest of us wouldn’t dream of taking you away from your important work at The Quibbler. – R. J. L.
In other words, you can’t spell and you tend to embroider the truth. We’re looking for somebody trustworthy and reliable, with time on their hands... – N. T.
Oh no, my dear, it’s so sweet of you to think of me, but although I’m only teaching part-time this year, I find the routine of work in the physical world so fatiguing. It clouds the Inner Eye. Of course, if all of you were quite sure you wanted me, I do have the slight advantage of being able to see the past, present, and future, while those who have not the Gift can perceive the world in only three dimensions – – S. P. T.
NO!!! – N. T., R. B., R. J. L., and J. M. E.
Excuse me, Sybil, all I mean is I think you might be a little too close to this whole situation emotionally. What we need is someone objective, with an outsider’s point of view. Like Jack, for instance. I think he’d be perfect – he takes notes on everything, and he’s got an organized, legal mind. – R. J. L.
But I’m a Muggle and there are all sorts of things I don’t understand about your world. I think you should do it. – J. M. E.
Me? – R. J. L.
Seconded. Remus was the one I had in mind all along. – N. T.
I agree! It would be a great simbolic gesture if we elected him – just the sort of thing that would lend support to the cause. – L. L.
What cause? – J. M. E.
(Larry, could you please not talk so much about the cause.) I’m very flattered, but I’ve never edited anything before, and – – R. J. L.
Oh, come on, Moony, don’t be so modest! You’d be brilliant! – R. B.
What do you think, Sybil? – L. L.
I think Mr. Lupin would make a fine editor, but alas, I fear he is not long for this world. The Inner Eye – – S. P. T.
Just as a matter of interest, Sybil, do you see anybody in this room who you think is long for this world? – N. T.
No, my dear, I regret to say that I sense we are all drawing close to the brink of a precipice from which we shall never return. – S. P. T.
Right, well, if we’re all about to buy it, it shouldn’t matter who’s editor. But I think those of us who don’t plan on dying in the near future are all agreed. – N. T.
Well – all right ... – R. J. L.
And there have to be some ground rules about Arcanum charms and things. How about we all agree not to use the charm unless there’s a good reason for it, and to put a note in the margins if you do use it, and add another note if you decide to lift the charm later? – N. T.
Is “it’s private” a good reason? – R. J. L.
You’re the boss. You decide. – N. T.
Then yes, I think it should be. However, we should probably have a rule against Arcanum charming anything against everyone else on the task force. Don’t commit it to paper if you’re not going to let anybody read it. But what about Jack? He isn’t going to be able to ... – R. J. L.
Good point. Jack, if you’ve got anything you don’t want one of us to read, you can ask any member of the Order you trust to put the Arcanum charm on for you. – N. T.
And we need to be able to tell who wrote what and when, so make sure you initial your marginal notes, and if you add anything at a later date than the original text, make a note of that so things don’t get too confusing. Now, I guess I’d better start by explaining about the Instant Message Books and how they work, and then Sybil can tell us about her conversation with Dumbledore, and somebody else can pick up the story with the meeting today... – R. J. L.
December 20th, 2003, 5:15 pm
The first chapter is sorta long and exposition-y, so I'm going to split it into two parts. Be patient, things will get much more exciting soon.
Chapter One: A Newspaper, a Letter, and a Package
I walked slowly away from Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station after seeing my ward and his young cousin off on the Hogwarts Express. I had rumpled Harry’s hair and told him to stay out of danger and said all the foolish things middle-aged people generally say when dealing with the young, and narrowly managed to rescue eleven-year-old Mark Evans from falling off the platform, and filled both of their pockets with chocolate which I hoped they would not need for medicinal purposes. Now Mark was in the responsible hands of Hermione Granger; Harry, I had to admit, was fully capable of taking care of himself, although I couldn’t help worrying about him; an eventful summer had come to an end. Harry, who had been living with me for the last two months, had brought a remarkable assortment of guests into my flat, including a real live Crumple-Horned Snorkack and the long-lost brother of an old friend. The place would seem empty now that it was just me and the cat.
Mark’s parents, Jack and Harriet, were waiting for me just outside the barrier. They are not wizards, so they had been unable to see their son off on the train. Jack was a cheerful, blond solicitor of about thirty who had spent most of the summer doing some work for the Order. I had met Harriet less often, but she seemed kindhearted and fascinated by our world; she reminded me of a younger version of my favourite grandmother, who had also been a Muggle. I liked them very much, but I wasn’t in the mood for company, and I would probably have declined their invitation for coffee if there hadn’t been a news item in The Daily Prophet I was trying not to think about.
Jack insisted on paying for my coffee, which was just as well, because the only Muggle money I could find in my briefcase was a couple of the round silvery coins with the lions on the back, and I didn’t think that would be nearly enough. By way of repayment, I tried to amuse the Evanses with all the anecdotes about my school days I could remember that didn’t involve my breaking hundreds of rules
[Editor's note: The end of this sentence, and a couple of short passages later in this chapter, are Arcanum charmed against Jack Evans. I’ll explain about the Arcanum charm in a minute.
Six weeks later: Charm lifted. R. J. L.]
... or almost eating innocent villagers.
“You seem distracted,” said Harriet. “What’s up?”
I didn’t want to tell her, but I could see no way around it. They had every right to know. “There’s been another prison break at Azkaban,” I said. “You know what that is?”
“Yes. That’s pretty bad news, isn’t it?”
I nodded. “It could be worse,” I said quickly, trying to think of how. I untied the tangle of twine that held my briefcase together and reached for the morning’s paper so they could read the details for themselves. Underneath the Daily Prophet was a small envelope embossed with the Hogwarts crest and a large, clumsily wrapped package. It took me a moment to remember that I’d shoved the morning’s post into the case and forgotten all about it. The package bore a return address in Diagon Alley that I recognised as Fred and George Weasley’s joke shop, which meant it probably wasn’t something I wanted to open in the middle of a Muggle coffee bar in a crowded railway station. I handed the paper to Harriet and opened the envelope instead.
Meeting at the usual place 2:00 this afternoon. Bring Jack Evans with you. If you have time and it’s not too painful, please tell him everything about what happened last June, especially about the thing they were trying to get their hands on.
“Jack. I’ve had a note from Professor Dumbledore. He wants you to come to one of our meetings today.” I tried to sound casual, but this was distinctly odd.
“And me?” asked Harriet eagerly.
“I’m afraid he didn’t mention you, and it’s likely to be classified business. Probably legal matters.” From what I had seen of the Evanses, they seemed very much in love, and they were both intrigued with our world. Whatever this was about, it was going to be hard on Harriet. “Listen, Jack, there are some things I have to tell you about before this meeting, but I can’t talk about them here. Have you got an hour or two?”
“Sure. I took the day off to say goodbye to Mark.” He’d probably also taken it off to spend some time with his wife, I realised, feeling a twinge of guilt and wondering what I was about to get him involved in.
“Let’s go somewhere quiet for lunch,” I said. “It’s a good idea to eat before our meetings – there tends to be a lot of wine consumed. And I know just the sort of place where we can speak freely, if you don’t mind going out to my neighbourhood.”
My little corner of London, Spirit’s End, is not exactly a bustling business district. Besides the tiny Indian restaurant where I took Jack, my street has a betting shop and an off license, both with heavy bars on the windows, and an establishment called Madame Monica’s Mystical Tarot Reading, which is shrouded in red velvet curtains so nobody can see inside. Harry, who has become friendly with some of the other teenaged boys in the neighbourhood, tells me this place is reputed to be a cover for a less respectable sort of business.
Moony, you can’t go repeating scurrilous rumours without proof! I think one of us should check the place out so we can include a detailed report about its nature. – R. B.
Reg, I don’t care what you do in your off hours, but let’s keep our official records family-friendly. – R. J. L.
Speaking as a journalist, I agree with Reg. We have a proffesional responsibility to get to the bottom of these acusations. I volunteer to do some instigative reporting! – L. L.
Speaking as an editor, I think we also have a responsibility to posterity. Your daughter did a fine bit of fighting at the Department of Mysteries this spring, and I’m sure she’d be inspired by reading about her father’s work for the Order. I was thinking she might enjoy receiving one of these books as a Christmas present. – R. J. L.
I wouldn’t want to be your enemy, Moony. – R. B.
No, you wouldn’t. – R. J. L.
As I was about to say before this round of interruptions, the restaurant was a quiet, dimly lit place where we could talk in private. A few weeks earlier, after noticing that the proprietor’s daughter bore a striking resemblance to the Patil twins, I had asked some discreet questions and made two interesting discoveries: the tandoor oven was connected to the Floo network, and they accepted Galleons. I anticipated a tussle with Jack over the bill – I had been to his very large and pleasant house in Surrey, and he had been to my cramped little flat full of secondhand furniture – but it was a battle I had a chance at winning. He knew I’d come into some money recently.
As we ate, I told him about the founding and purpose of the original Order of the Phoenix, explained how it had come to regroup more than a year earlier, and finally gave him a short account of the events that had led to the death of my closest remaining friend at the Department of Mysteries. Jack had heard part of the story, having spent much of the summer trying to keep Sirius’ legacy out of the wrong hands, but much of it was new to him. He knew nothing about the destroyed prophesy, which was, I assumed, what Dumbledore meant by “the thing they were trying to get their hands on.”
When I’d finished, Jack turned to me with a puzzled expression. “What does all this have to do with me?”
December 21st, 2003, 3:10 am
Wasn't going to post more until tomorrow evening, but I'm bored and I want to get to the part where I do my Sybil Trelawney voice, so what the heck. Feedback (http://www.cosforums.com/showthread.php?t=21928) is always nice. People who are wondering why the Weasley twins have been reading Shakespeare will have to read my other story to find out.
A Newspaper, a Letter, and a Package, Part Two
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” I confessed. I couldn’t think of any relationship between the lost prophesy and comparative wizard and Muggle inheritance law, Jack’s field of expertise. Nor did it seem to have any connection with his son Mark; at least, I hoped it didn’t.
Jack thought for a moment. “Tell me something. Does Professor Dumbledore always pay a personal visit to Muggle parents whose children are eligible for Hogwarts?”
“No, he does not. He would usually send an owl to parents who are already aware that our world exists – many of them are, it tends to run in families – or send one of the other professors. He visits in person if there are special circumstances.” I didn’t mention that I had been one of those children with special circumstances.
“You know he visited Harriet and me at the beginning of the summer.”
“Yes. You mentioned it the first time we met. I assumed it was because of your sister.” Jack was the adopted brother of Harry’s mother. His parents had died around the same time as James and Lily, under circumstances I did not understand. “He might have thought you’d need persuading that Mark would be safe at Hogwarts.”
“Do you think he was checking me out? That he had some sort of plan for me even then?”
“It wouldn’t surprise me at all, but I don’t know. I wish I could tell you more.”
“It’s more than enough, Remus. You’ve told me why and for what my sister died. Thank you.”
But I hadn’t told him everything. For the most part I left myself out of it. The trouble with the story of my life is that when people who don’t know me very well hear it, they usually respond in one of two ways: either they snatch up their children and hastily make their excuses on the off chance that I might decide to sprout fangs in broad daylight; or they start speaking in excessively soothing tones and hide the kitchen knives and anything else I might use to off myself. (I have no intention of doing either of these things.) As I have said, I liked Jack Evans. We were becoming friendly. I didn’t want to spoil it yet.
Jack looked at his watch. “We’d better go if we’re going to make this meeting.”
“You go ahead,” I said. “Don’t forget I can travel much faster than you can.”
It wasn’t until after Jack left that I remembered about the package and decided to open it. It looked like a trying day and I could use a good joke or two.
A large, heavy book slid into my lap, followed by six small notebooks. I recognised the big book at once – a lovely Victorian illustrated edition of Shakespeare that I last remembered reading at Grimmauld Place, months earlier. I had never seen the notebooks before. There was a note:
Sorry about borrowing your Shakespeare without asking. We’re sending you a free copy of our new invention to make up for it. Don’t worry, it’s not going to turn you into a canary or anything. It’s a sort of communication device. Jack Evans was telling us about e-mail and things, but this is better. They’re called Instant Message Books.
Here’s how it works: You keep one of the books for yourself and give the rest to your friends. Anything you write in one of the books will appear in the others as well. They’re permanent and unerasable, so choose your words carefully. If you write anything you don’t want a particular person to read, just say “Arcanum ad” and that person’s name, and whatever you’ve written will be invisible to that person only. If you change your mind, say “Patefacio,” and the charm will be removed. The Arcanum charm makes things vanish seamlessly – there won’t be any visible blank spaces, and if you miss a whole page, subsequent pages will renumber themselves. The person you’ve charmed it against won’t be able to tell.
Hope you can use them. We found loads of great ideas in Shakespeare.
Gred and Forge
Not too many jokes, then. I smiled at their absence. Despite the fact that my first act during my brief period of gainful employment had been to shoot chewing gum up a poltergeist’s nose, most of my former students persist in regarding me as a proper, respectable, scholarly sort of person. I wondered what Fred and George would say if they ever connected me with a certain piece of parchment that I happened to know had been in their possession for years.
You shot gum up Peeves’ nose?! How’d you do that? – N. T.
Little spell I invented. I’ll show you some time. – R. J. L.
I didn’t have any concrete plan for the Instant Message Books at this point. Frankly, coming up with five friends would have puzzled me. Well, there was always Harry. I thought I might send one to Hogwarts after the train arrived. I hadn’t the slightest idea what to do with the other four, but if I stayed much longer to think about it, I would be late for the meeting. I put them back in my briefcase, paid the bill, and stepped into the kitchen for a word with the proprietor. “Hello, Vikram. Mind if I step into your tandoor for a sec?”
December 21st, 2003, 2:10 pm
All right, last of the rapid-fire updates, just wanted to get the plot moving in hopes that I might receive some feedback (http://www.cosforums.com/showthread.php?t=21928), whether good, bad, or indifferent.
Chapter Two: The Plot
It is not often that I descend from my tower into the turmoil of the Physical World, and still less often do I leave the sanctity of Hogwarts, the only home I have known for many years. Nothing short of Professor Dumbledore’s personal request could have persuaded me to undertake a journey as far as London. I had, of course, foreseen grave disturbances in the coming months, but in my concern for others, I had paid little attention to my own immediate future. Thus it was that although I am a prophetess and the granddaughter of a prophetess, Professor Dumbledore’s explanation of my own involvement in these Ominous Events came as a shock.
He summoned me into his office this morning. Minerva McGonagall and Severus Snape were already there. They are my two least favourite colleagues, but I try to be tolerant because I have sensed that both are nearing the end of their life-threads, which are soon to be shorn by the Fates.
“Sybil,” he said gently, “I’m afraid I have some distressing news for you. You are aware that one of your prophesies was lost in a battle that took place at the Department of Mysteries last June?”
“Yes, naturally, my dear,” I replied. “I was aware of it years before it happened, but I did not care to say anything at the time for fear of upsetting people.” (I distinctly heard Minerva snort, which I thought very rude of her.)
“Well, there has been a prison break and many of the Death Eaters involved in that battle have escaped from Azkaban. You know, of course, that Lord Voldemort – ” I shuddered at the mention of the Dread Name – “was anxious to lay his hands on the prophesy; now that he has been thwarted in this desire, we have reason to think that he will be equally anxious to lay his hands on the prophetess. We have received intelligence that he may induce some of his followers to come after you.”
“Me?” I said. “But, really, I’m not a very good prophetess at all. Madame Umbridge said so herself.” (I must confess that I had not foreseen the day when I would be grateful to Dolores Umbridge. The Inner Eye works in mysterious ways.)
“We are aware of that,” said Snape coldly. “Quite frankly, I think the task of guarding you is a waste of our time and resources, but nevertheless it has to be done.”
“Are you going to be guarding me?” You must understand, my dears, that the presence of Severus Snape has a peculiarly chilling effect on the Inner Eye, and I feared I would be unable to carry out my duties as Divination professor under his auspices.
“Several people are going to be guarding you,” said Professor Dumbledore reassuringly. “Your fellow professors have their own duties to attend to, so I think it advisable to bring in some volunteers who are not members of the Hogwarts staff. The three of us are about to make a short trip to London in these last few hours before term begins, and we would like you to join us so you can meet your guardians.”
“All the way to London?” I said. “But I never got an Apparation license – and I don’t like the Floo network, it makes me dizzy.”
“I am afraid, Sybil, that you will have to be a little dizzy,” said Minerva, and I’m quite sure she added, “More so than usual, that is,” under her breath as I stepped into the fireplace. My hearing is very acute.
We landed in the basement kitchen of a house – oh my dears, I sensed the vibrations – that had seen Tragedy. It was a cursed house, a doomed house. I felt the urge to cry out, yet restrained myself because of the great number of people present. Most of them were strangers, that is, people whom I had not yet beheld in the Physical Plain, but I recognised two former colleagues who had each held the Defence Against the Dark Arts post for one year. That is an ill-fated position; indeed, I was surprised to see that Professors Lupin and Moody still existed in this mortal realm, for I have long felt Grave Misgivings about both of them. I saw one of my old students as well. She had bright scarlet hair this morning, and she seemed determined to challenge my powers by her very presence, for I had predicted her death many years ago. I do not like this sort of behaviour in a young lady; it savours of defiance.
A tall, dark, handsome man whom I did not know offered me a goblet of wine. I was sorry to hear that he was the owner of the house, which meant he was almost certainly doomed.
Then, my dears, I was struck dumb by the sight of a man whose singular appearance impressed itself on both the Outer and the Inner Eye. He was large and tall, with a ruby-red face and jet-black hair, and he wore a bright green checked suit that made everyone else in the room look pale and colourless beside him. He was a Presence, my dears. He bowed deeply, and with old-world courtesy he kissed my hand and pressed a business card into my palm. It began to recite a rhyme of exquisite beauty and sincerity.
December 22nd, 2003, 4:30 pm
Chapter Three: The Meeting
Larry Lovegood is my name, crusadin’ with the facts is my game. My paper publishes all the news, and the best exclusive interviews. I’m a champion of wherewolf rights, and a Snorkack catcher on summer nights. My paper’s name is The Quibbler, we nose up news just like a niffler.
My buiseness cards recite all that in three-part harmony. I handed one to Albus Dumbelldoor...
Hey! Don’t call the Headmaster that! – R. B.
... when I visited him last week to ask if my daughter could bring Arjeplog, her pet Crumple-Horned Snorkack, to Hogwarts this year. It was a blow to say goodbye to the Snorkack when I had almost succeded in convincing the sientific community that they exist, but Luna’s about all I have in the world, and I don’t like to refuze her anything. Professor Dumbelldoor seemed very interested in the exclusive interview with the Boy Who Lived that I’d published earlier that year. I was proud of that piece; I considered it my third most important bit of work, after exposing Cornelius Fudge’s appalling treatment of the Gringotts goblins and founding the Help Out Wherewolves League (H.O.W.L. Ha ha! Get it?)
Dumbelldoor and I talked for a long time, and he ended up by extending an invitation to a top-secret meeting at a tightly guarded house in Grimmauld Place. The meeting took place in what had once been a large, old-fashioned kitchen, but was now converted into something resembling a War Room, plastered in maps of Britian and of most of the magical settlements in the country. I looked around the room in amasement! I pride myself on knowing things long before anybody else in the wizarding world will believe them, but I hadn’t known about the Order of the Pheonix.
Hukt on Pheonix wurkt fur mee! – J. M. E.
Huh? – Everybody else.
Never mind, sometimes Muggle humour doesn’t translate very well. – J. M. E.
I had an ilustrious crowd of people to hand buiseness cards to that afternoon: I recognised several Aurors, one or two highly-placed officials at the Ministry of Magic, and a large number of Hogwarts professors who I recognised from Luna’s descriptions. Two of them caught my eye immediately. A professor in a spangled shawl and large glasses sat at Dumbelldoor’s side: she was a fine figure of a woman, and she positively glittered! I handed her my card and introduced myself.
“My name is Sybil,” she said. “I read your paper faithfully, and I have always thought its editor must be a man with deep knowledge about spiritual matters. I myself am gifted with the Sight.”
Her conversation was charming, her voice pleasingly misty. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her
[Arcanum Charmed this bit against Jack Evans as well. Sorry, Jack and Larry. Editor’s privilege.
Six weeks later: Charm lifted. Please forgive me, Jack. R. J. L.]
... until I noticed a man who had to be the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor my daughter had mentioned to me a few years earlier. He was a youngish man, with light brown hair flecked with grey, and he had a pinched, drawn look about his face that I knew well. I’d had many of them in my office over the years, although you didn’t often see that look nowadays.
“I’m very interested in your cause,” I explained after I introduced myself and handed him a buiseness card. “I even wrote a book about it once.”
“Wherewolf rights, of course. My book was called Hairy Snout, Human Heart.”
“Ah.” He had develloped a slight twitch to his mouth, a symtom I hadn’t noticed in any of the others. “I thought that was supposed to be a first-person account.”
“Well, it was supposed to be, but I couldn’t find a real wherewolf willing to come forward, so I figured I’d just write the thing myself and try my best to make it sound authentic. I like to think I made a good job of it. Don’t you think so?”
“I apreciate your efforts,” he said. “Very much. I’m sure many other people do too.”
“Would you be interested in doing an exclusive write-up for The Quibbler? We can’t pay, but I’d let you take credit for the book if you like.”
“I’ll think about it.”
I congratulated him on being so courajous and long-suffering. It is a terrible thing to be a wherewolf.
[Editor’s private note, Arcanum charmed against everyone except Tonks and Reg: Indeed it is. I have little personal experience with wherewolves, but I understand they spend most of their time wandering around the Forbidden Forest in circles, trying to find their way out. Fortunately they hardly ever bite anybody as they suffer from a chronic inability to locate their prey.
Werewolves are quite different. They don’t like being patronised. – R. J. L.]
Dumbelldoor called the meeting to order. “I am sure you have all heard the troubling news of the prison break this morning. There are dark times ahead, which we must all band together to survive. It gives me great pleasure, however, to remind all of you that the points of light in this darkness are constantly growing in number. Our society is about to expand once more.
“It is time,” he continued, “that we formally recognised three people who have made great contributions to the Order in recent months, and will, I hope, be willing to join our number on a more official basis. First, Larry Lovegood, editor of The Quibbler, the alternative paper that broke a story more conventional journalists were afraid to touch. Second, Jack Evans, a soliciter who has spent much of the summer working to help us retain this house as our headquarters. Finally, Regulus Black, the new owner of this house, who has generously continued to make this space available to us.”
Everyone clapped! Wasn’t it nice of him to mention me first?
He nodded to the glittering woman on his right. “I would also like to introduce a guest of ours, Professor Sybil Trelawney, Divination teacher at Hogwarts. As many of you know, Professor Trelawney has made two prophesies which have had considerable bearing on recent events, and we have been reliably informed that Lord Voldemort may attempt to capture her before she makes a third. Her safety is our highest priority at the moment.
“Although many of you are already working on urgent tasks for the Order, we will need several volunteers for a special task force to help keep Professor Trelawney safe and monitor the movements of those who may be attempting to kidnap her, with the hope of returning them to custody. First of all, it will be necessary to have a contact at Auror headquarters.”
A young, striking redhead at the far end of the table raised her hand.
“Thank you, Miss Tonks, I think you will be an excellent choice. We will also need several bodyguards for Professor Trelawney, people who have no pressing responsibilities elsewhere and are free to spend at least one week at a time at Hogwarts. The school term begins in a matter of hours, so one of you will have to be able to leave immediately.”
I volunteered eagerly! The Quibbler practically runs itself, and I was dying to see more of Sybil.
“Thank you, Larry. You too, Remus and Regulus. How about it, Mr. Evans – shall we make this a joint effort from all three of our new members?”
The young blond man in Muggle clothing looked startled. “But I can’t – I mean, I’m – ”
“I’m well aware that you’re not suited for guard duty. I have another task in mind for you.”
Evans still looked puzzled, but he nodded. “Whatever it is, I’d be delighted.”
“Then, if the three of you will follow me, you will be formally initiated into the Order.”
December 23rd, 2003, 2:43 pm
Another longish chapter, and a rather emotionally heavy one if I've written it right, so this will be another two-parter...
Chapter Four: By Candlelight
I had met Professor Dumbledore only once before, when he visited my wife and me to tell us Mark was eligible for Hogwarts – and, I now suspect, to determine whether I was eligible for something else. On that occasion, he struck me as a genial, chatty, and entirely harmless old man. It was not until the meeting that I grasped that I was in the presence of one of the most powerful wizards in history, and I became aware of this only gradually, not so much because of his own demeanour but because of the way everyone deferred to him.
At the end of the meeting, he took the three of us aside – Reg, Larry Lovegood, and me. He led us down a dark corridor that began in the back of the kitchen and handed us each a slim white candle. “Traditionally, new initiates carve their initials and the date in the base of the candle.”
Reg and Larry did this by tapping the candles with their wands. I looked at mine in some puzzlement, and finally took a ballpoint pen out of my pocket and used it as a makeshift chisel.
“What’s that?” asked Reg with interest.
“Muggle quill,” I explained. Reg was almost as interested in Muggle life as my old friend Arthur Weasley, but he had led a more sheltered life than Arthur and often required translations. The police, for instance, were always “Muggle Aurors,” to him, and once, after I left a newspaper at his house, he remarked that this Saddam Hussein sounded like a very Dark wizard who was probably using Unforgivable Curses on his own people.
“You mean you have a tool for writing and carving candles? Weird.” Reg looked impressed.
“Well, it’s not for carving candles exactly, but – Never mind. Would you like to keep it? I’ve got lots of others.”
Reg pocketed his new possession, looking very proud of it.
Dumbledore opened the door at the end of the corridor and we entered a small, dark chamber, heavy and sweet with the scent of melting wax. A long table nearly filled the room. A hundred or so candles stood upon it, more than half of them lit, others with the wick ends still glowing as though they’d just been blown out.
“Yours will light as soon as you take the membership oath,” he said, giving us each a piece of parchment with some words written on it.
I, John Michael Evans, an initiate of the Order of the Phoenix, swear to serve the Order faithfully, never to betray its secrets or name my fellow members, and to assist to the best of my capabilities in the struggle against Lord Voldemort.
It was a deceptively simple oath; not until I heard Larry stumbling over the last word did I understand that it contained a subtle test. I had a great deal left to learn.
The candle in my hand burst into flame as I finished speaking.
“Would you like to put yours here, Jack?” Dumbledore asked softly. He motioned toward a small cluster of candles at the far end of the table, only one of which still burned with a thin, bright flame. “Beside this one, I think. It is your sister’s.” He indicated one of the burnt-out candles.
I picked it up and saw that it did indeed bear the initials L. E. and a date some four years before her death. I had always remembered her as my big sister, but it was brought home to me now that she had been very, very young, closer to Mark’s age than mine, when she lit this candle.
The wick of Lily’s candle glowed a little brighter as I placed mine beside it.
“Yours too, Regulus,” He indicated another burnt-out candle from the same little group. “This is your brother’s.”
“You don't think he'd mind – I mean, we didn’t always get along...”
“I think,” said Dumbledore slowly, “that if he had known the man you would become, he would have been proud to have you by his side.”
“How do you know whose they are without looking at the initials?” I asked.
“Old men remember odd things. Besides, that group of candles has – certain identifying marks, if you know what to look for.”
On careful examination, I saw what he was talking about. The candle he had shown to Reg had a small scorch mark, as if it had been forcibly snuffed out and then relit at some later date. One of the other ones near it was the only one on the table that seemed to have been extinguished completely.
“Shouldn’t little Nymphadora be with the rest of the family?” Reg asked.
Dumbledore considered this for a moment. “Yes, she should. She joined with a boyfriend who didn’t last – that is, he’s still a member of the Order in good standing, but he didn’t last as a boyfriend. I don’t think she’ll mind if I move hers.” He picked up a candle from the other end of the table and placed it beside the one Reg had just lit.
I considered the candle that had been burning alone a moment ago, and was now surrounded by three of its fellows. Suddenly ours looked like intruders. “Er ... are you sure the person who lit that one won’t mind having company?”
December 24th, 2003, 2:16 pm
By Candlelight, Part Two
Dumbledore’s reply seemed absolutely cryptic. “Have you ever studied natural history, Jack?”
“Natural ... history? No. I know a fair bit about inheritance law and model-building, but that’s about it.”
“Neither have I. But Professor Hagrid, our Care of Magical Creatures teacher, informs me that wolves are pack animals. Not in the sense of carrying a pack, which would probably not be a good idea at all, but of being happiest when they can run with one.” I stared at him, bewildered. “Yes, I believe we are doing the right thing. If I am wrong – and I have sometimes been very gravely wrong about matters like this in the past – I take full responsibility upon myself.”
I could make neither head nor tail of this, and I wondered for a moment if he were going senile, but there was a spark behind his spectacles that suggested exceptional intelligence and alertness. Besides, Reg appeared to find this speech perfectly sensible. “I think you’re right,” he said, with unaccustomed soberness, as he left the room.
“Where should I put mine?” Larry asked, a little too loudly. I jumped involuntarily.
“Do you have any family members in the Order?” Dumbledore asked.
“Nope – it’s just me and little Luna,” he said. It wasn’t until then that I realised he was the father of the dreamy-looking girl I’d met at Harry’s birthday party. They didn’t look much alike.
“Then you may place it anywhere on the table.” He chose the most conspicuous spot, closest to the door.
As Larry followed Reg out of the room, Dumbledore motioned for me to stay. “Do you understand why we need your help?” he asked.
“I don’t understand anything at all,” I said. “Why am I here? What am I supposed to do?”
“Nothing, yet. Just keep your eyes open. But if anything goes wrong and the Death Eaters do kidnap Sybil Trelawney, we have reason to believe they may try to conceal her somewhere in the Muggle world. They cannot kill her – she is only valuable to them if she can make another prophesy – and I don’t think they will risk hiding her in any location known to us. That is where you come in. We need somebody who knows both cultures intimately, in a way that few of our people do. Even Muggle-born wizards have been immersed in our world since the age of eleven. I am beginning to think that is the great weakness in our system of education. You, on the other hand, grew up hearing your sister’s stories, and as an adult you’ve made an extensive study of our world – while still knowing your way around your own. If any Muggle can think like a wizard, you can. If Trelawney vanishes, we think you have a better chance of finding her than anybody else would.”
I shook my head in amazement. I was certain now that I didn’t know how to think like a wizard at all.
“Do you have any questions?” Dumbledore asked.
“I have three,” I said. “Am I the first Muggle to join the Order?”
“Yes. But you almost certainly won’t be the last. I believe we will need mutual openness and cooperation if any of us are to survive the times that lie ahead.”
“What about my wife? How much can I tell her?”
“That is up to you. But you must bear in mind that the more she knows of your activities, the more likely it is that this knowledge may put her in danger. And you must not say anything to anyone else, other friends or family members.”
“I have no other family members.” Petunia and her family didn’t count; I hardly knew them. That brought me to my last question. Strictly speaking, it had nothing to do with my mission, but it had haunted me for half my life and I wanted an answer. “Today I learned why Voldemort murdered my sister. But why did he kill my parents?”
“I cannot answer that, Jack.”
“Can’t, or won’t?” I demanded.
I walked out of the candlelit room feeling disoriented and troubled. As Dumbledore had said, I’d known about the magical world since I was a child, younger than Mark – but the last few hours had made me realise that in some ways I knew nothing of it. Suddenly I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to tell Harriet. I remembered the look on her face as we’d said goodbye to Mark that morning: confident, cheerful, ever so slightly envious of our own son. She’d told him to write every day. Not because she was anxious or afraid, except in the ordinary way that parents are always anxious about their child’s first time away from home, but because she couldn’t wait to hear the stories he would have to tell. And I had felt the same way, until right now.
It may sound strange that I hadn’t connected the wizard world – Lily’s world, and now Mark’s – with danger before, but you must understand that it was a way of life I took for granted from the ages of ten through sixteen, and that my involvement with it came to an abrupt end when my sister and parents were killed. I had never associated their deaths with magic, but rather with the moment when magic went out of my life.
December 25th, 2003, 11:08 pm
Chapter Five: Some Mundane Organizational Matters
My mum always said being an Auror wasn’t a suitable career for a girl. She wanted me to go in for Household Spells instead – I would have been hopeless. I couldn’t wait to see her face when I told her I was on a Special Task Force with three of the most eligible bachelors in London. Well, all right, so one of them was my cousin Reg and another was Larry Lovegood. I didn’t have to tell her about that part.
The third one has got a set of disadvantages all his own. – R. J. L.
The following text is Arcanum charmed against Larry Lovegood. – N. T.
Excuse me, would you mind charming it against Jack as well? – R. J. L.
Jack? You haven’t told him? – N. T.
Not yet. – R. J. L.
All right. But I think he’ll have to know sooner or later. – N. T.
Six weeks later: Charm against Jack Evans lifted at editor’s request. – N. T.]
At the moment, our General Editor’s chief disadvantage was that he’d drunk far too much wine and kept having fits of the giggles whenever anybody mentioned Hairy Snout, Human Heart. Reg and I looked at each other and silently agreed to do this as frequently as possible. He doesn’t get in that sort of mood often any more, but when he does we try to encourage it.
“Come on, Moony, think what it would do for your career. The public doesn’t want to read scholarly monographs in obscure Eastern European journals, they want to read Hairy Snout, Human Heart.” Reg grinned.
“S-stop saying it! You’re killing me!”
“Have you actually read Hairy Snout, Human Heart?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, snickering. (Dumb question, he’s read everything.) “It’s about the second silliest piece of tripe ever written on the subject, after that Lockhart man’s book. But at least Lovegood’s heart is in the right place, which is more than I can say for the other one.”
“What’s the matter with Lockhart’s book?” asked Reg. “Kreacher was just telling me about some of his exploits. I thought the part where he did the Homorphus charm was very impressive.”
“The problem with the Homorphus charm is that it turns a live werewolf into a dead human. Which I’m sure didn’t bother the good citizens of Wagga Wagga in the slightest, but from my perspective it leaves a little something to be desired.”
He was still smiling, but there was a definite edge of bitterness in his voice. Reg and I exchanged glances again, and fell silent.
Larry Lovegood reentered the kitchen with Sybil Trelawney, who was listening with great interest to the story of his recent expedition to Sweden. They were followed a moment later by an unusually subdued-looking Jack Evans. “Well, now that the whole task force is here, we should work out how we’re going to do this,” I said. “There are four of us guarding Sybil, so I think it would work best if we split the next month into one-week shifts – ”
“Excuse me,” said Jack, “but I’m not on guard duty. I can’t enter Hogwarts at all.”
“I know,” I said. “I was talking about myself. I can take the time off from work, you know.” I had almost two months of holiday saved up; I’d been thinking of going to Thailand or Australia, but this sounded like more fun.
“I don’t know that I like this,” said Larry in a tone I considered very patronising. “Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but to my mind this is a man’s job.”
“My cousin can take care of herself,” said Reg.
Remus nodded. “We’re all in this together.” But he was looking at Reg uneasily, and I suspected he wished one of us wasn’t. “One of us needs to leave in a few hours ... I think it may as well be me, since I’m terminally unemployed and have nothing else to do around here. But somebody will have to feed my cat.”
“I’ll look after her,” I said. My parents live in Spirit’s End, right around the corner from Remus. “I have to request time off from work two weeks in advance, so I can’t do anything until the third week. Who’s free the second?”
“I am,” said Reg.
“Then I’ll take the fourth week,” said Larry, looking disappointed. He and Trelawney seemed to be getting along very well. They had scarcely taken their eyes off of each other during the whole meeting.
“We need some way to stay in touch with each other,” said Jack. “And with Professor Trelawney, too, in case she gets separated from her guard. I don’t mean to sound like a total Muggle – but have you ever considered getting mobile phones?”
Remus blushed, and I burst out laughing. Neither of us was likely to forget his one attempt at using Jack’s phone. “They won’t work at Hogwarts,” he said. “There’s so much magic around the place that most Muggle inventions go haywire. But I have something even better. We can use it for keeping records as well.”
He explained how the Instant Message Books worked and handed each of us one. That’s when we tried them out and, after a few minutes of total anarchy which are already recorded here, appointed Remus as editor and laid down a few ground rules. The other professors escorted Sybil back to Hogwarts; Jack, still looking dazed, went home.
“Look after Reg, will you?” whispered Remus as he was leaving. “I don’t know what Dumbledore was thinking, letting him volunteer.”
“I’m sure he had his reasons,” I said. “I’ll do my best, but I don’t know if it’s humanly possible to look after Reg. Reg is sort of like a force of nature.”
“I know,” he said, sighing a little. “But do your best. I mean – this business of old school friends turning up, and then getting themselves killed – it’s not something a person can be expected to go through an infinite number of times, you know?”
“I understand.” I watched as he drew his cloak around his thin shoulders and quietly went out.
[The following text has been Arcanum charmed against all other task force members except Larry Lovegood.
Much later: Charm lifted – N. T.]
As soon as he’d gone, Larry motioned me aside into the hallway. “I’d like to have a word with you about your werewolf friend,” he said. “He isn’t looking well at all – much worse than any of the others I know.”
“He’s not ‘my werewolf friend,’ he’s Remus,” I snapped. “And I bet he’s under a lot more stress than any of the ‘others’ you know.”
“Look, I know about werewolves. I wrote the book on werewolves. And let me tell you ...” He whispered something in my ear.
“Out of the question,” I said when I understood what he was getting at. “Completely absurd. I’d trust him with my life. We all trust him with our lives.”
“All the same,” said Larry, “keep your eyes wide open. And see me at the Quibbler office if you want to know more.” He handed me another business card and walked away.
I was left alone in the kitchen with Reg, who had suddenly turned pale and slumped against the wall, his face beaded with sweat. He was clutching his left arm.
December 26th, 2003, 10:27 pm
My own (very, very silly) twist on the Stubby-is-Regulus theory...
Chapter Six: Gilderoy Kreacher and Stubby Black
I don’t have any children that I know about. (When I first returned to my human form, I thought for a while that young Hermione Granger was mine, but Moony informed me in no uncertain terms that she was not.) But if I ever become a father, I will pass along this piece of advice for future generations: It’s always a bad idea to get a tattoo when you’re drunk. But if you must, you should go to a proper tattoo parlour instead of entrusting the job to an amateur like Lord Voldemort – or Tommy-boy, as I prefer to call him. We’ve been on intimate terms in the past.
“Poor Reg,” said my cousin Nymphadora, handing me a cup of water. (I knew her when she was in nappies, so I can call her Nymphadora if I want. I’ve only known her as an adult for a month, but I like her a lot. She’s got brains and spirit.) “Does it hurt very much?”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” I said. “Not as bad as decapitation, and it doesn’t burn nearly as much as taking a bath in lye. On the whole I’d say it’s fair to middling.”
She looked even more concerned than before. “What are you going to do about it?”
“What do you mean, what am I going to do? We knew it was coming, and this is one summons even I’m not crazy enough to obey. Unless I can turn up at one of their meetings and take a bunch of them out before they know what’s hit them.” I’d been a real Death Eater for only a day or so, but that was more than enough for me. My cousin was looking critically at me, so I added quickly, “And I’m not about to do that. Not unless we all agree it’s the right time.”
“I mean, now that you’re back, you’re in a lot of danger. Voldemort doesn’t exactly take kindly to people leaving his service. I wish you hadn’t volunteered for this mission. You’re not safe anywhere but here.”
“Come on, Nymphadora, you’re getting worse than Moony. What am I supposed to do, not leave the house for the rest of my life? What good would I be to you then?”
She knew I was right, of course. She’s a Black on her mother’s side, and none of the Blacks take well to being shut up indoors and told to keep out of danger. My brother’s last few months must have been nearly unbearable. I wasn’t going to let the same thing happen to me.
“Well,” she said, “at the very least you ought to be in some sort of disguise.”
“Naturally I’ll be in disguise,” I said. The pain in my arm seemed to be fading, or else I was getting used to it. I felt like myself again, and I’d just looked at a framed newspaper clipping on the wall and had a brilliant idea. “Wait just a minute, I’m going upstairs to get some things.” I grabbed some hair gel and writing paper as a gift for the attic’s occupant.
The other members of the Order had spent more than a year clearing my family’s old junk out of the house, but I was willing to bet the place still had a few secrets. Up in the attic, I tapped on one of the floorboards, which slid aside to reveal that there was a space between floors large enough for a man to crawl inside. I brushed aside the cobwebs and felt my way to the corner where I remembered stashing a small collection of contraband items from my teenage years. Half a bottle of firewhiskey (now with a more powerful kick than ever), an ancient turntable with a dozen or so records, and a ukulele. My parents would have killed me if they knew I was listening to Muggle music, let alone playing it, but I’d always had dreams of being a professional singer. Now I had a shot at making them come true.
I strummed the ukulele experimentally and sang a few lines of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.”
“Hold it! Is you the Bandon Banshee?”
“Oh, hello, Kreacher. No, I’m Reg Black, your new master. I brought you a present,” I said, proffering the hair gel.
“Oh, thank you, new master! Gilderoy is almost out of hair gel, and Gilderoy has an interview with Witch Weekly in an hour! I is winning their Most Charming Smile award again!” Kreacher broke into a grotesque grin. “But why is Gilderoy wearing this filthy tea towel, sir?”
I’d better explain that my first act after claiming the family estate was to place a Memory Charm on our house-elf, a malevolent loose cannon with far too much compromising knowledge about the Order. Unfortunately, my evil cousin Trixie had taken my own wand sixteen years earlier, and I was still getting used to old Uncle Alph’s, which is the one I use now. The charm backfired in a pretty spectacular way, leaving Kreacher with somebody else’s stray memories. Arthur Weasley and Mad-Eye Moody spent two days debating whether this was really possible, until finally Moony stepped in and said that I had never confined my adventures to the realm of the possible before and he certainly didn’t expect me to start now. I think that is a good description of me.
Anyway, nobody minded about what happened to Kreacher. At least he seemed much happier now, and there was no longer any danger of his talking about anyone except Gilderoy Lockhart. I felt a little guilty, though, so I try to bring him something every time I come up to the attic.
“Brought you some stationery, too,” I said.
“Master is too kind. Practising joined-up writing is Gilderoy’s favourite, favourite thing, sir!”
Kreacher settled into a corner to work on his joined-up writing while I fine-tuned my new secret identity. All I needed now was something to wear. After trying on several dozen outfits from the wardrobe in the attic, I settled on a pair of rhinestone sunglasses, a single clip-on earring from a pair my cousin Andromeda had once owned (a miniature glow-in-the-dark Saturn with a levitating ring), and some sky blue dress robes with sequins.
You should have seen the look on Nymphadora’s face as I strolled into the kitchen tuning my ukulele. “Oh, Reg! Where on earth did you find that get-up?”
I grinned. “Who’s this Reg person? I’m Stubby Boardman, innocent singing sensation.”
December 27th, 2003, 9:59 pm
Well, now I've introduced the narrators ... most of them, anyway ... and we can get this guarding business in gear. (Apologies if this plot is taking a while to develop, by the way -- I couldn't resist having a little fun with the different voices and characters, especially the ways they handle guard duty...)
Feedback (http://www.cosforums.com/showthread.php?t=21928) is always welcome.
Author's note, 1/4/04: Made a minor edit to this chapter because I realized there's something specific about Theo's backstory that virtually guarantees Remus would remember him by name. It's not key to the plot of this story, it's just that I'm slightly obsessive about keeping my little world internally consistent. Edited text is in purple.
Chapter Seven: Guarding Sybil, Week One
Editor’s note: The marginal comments signed S. S. were made about five weeks after the main action of this chapter takes place. I respond to some of his accusations elsewhere. Here I have allowed them to stand without comment. – R. J. L.
I stuffed a set of spare robes into my briefcase, fed the cat, and Apparated into the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. “Hello, Rosmerta. I’d like two bottles of your best sherry, please.”
“Remus! How nice to see you again! Have you gone back to teaching at Hogwarts?”
I shook my head. “Sadly, no. I’m here on other business.” I put the sherry into my case, which was now bulging at the seams, and turned to go.
“Aren’t you going to stay for a drink?”
“Not tonight, Rosmerta, I’m in a hurry. But I’ll be back.”
* * *
I gave Sir Cadogan the password to the North Tower ("Uther Pendragon") and presented the two bottles to Sybil. Plying her with sherry turned out to be one of the best ideas I’d ever had. She was usually fast asleep by eight o’clock in the evening, and within three days she had begun to address me as “dear boy” (I am thirty-seven and look considerably older than my years). She even stopped foretelling my impending demise and kept me amused with a series of predictions that were much less likely to come true. The ones I can remember included my becoming librarian-in-chief at the British Archives of Magic, marrying a much younger woman, and providing Harry with a whole family of godchildren. Actually, many of her prophesies these days were taking a matrimonial turn, as I noticed while listening in on her classes, and she had become more popular with most of the female students than ever. I attributed this to the influence of Larry Lovegood.
Speaking of Harry, I’d seen him only briefly on the first night – just long enough for me to explain why I was there, and for him to tell me Mark had been Sorted into Gryffindor. I had very little time away from the North Tower; Minerva or Severus would relieve me now and again, but they were both busy with their teaching duties and clearly eager to spend as little time with Sybil as possible. Harry, in any case, was rarely alone, and if the other students saw me they would ask awkward questions. But I hoped to catch him after Remedial History of Magic on the fourth evening. I had to face my usual ordeal first, though. Promptly at nine, Severus Snape turned up in the North Tower with a goblet of potion.
“Would you like to join me for a drink? I’m sure you won’t want any of this, but there’s sherry.” I don’t know why I bother asking. He has never accepted.
I’ll tell you why you bothered. You condescended to me so you could pat yourself on the back and tell yourself you were a better man than I was. Don’t ever try to pretend there was any friendship or liking or remorse involved. – S. S.
“No, I don’t care to. And don’t even think about having any yourself. You know mixing alcohol with the potion makes it useless.”
“Of course I know that,” I said. (Almost anything that would improve the taste makes it useless. I sometimes suspect him of making this up.) “You don’t have to remind me.”
“I’m just making certain. You have been known to be irresponsible in the past.”
“Once,” I said, “under extraordinary circumstances. If two of your old friends turned up in your students’ company when one of them was supposed to be dead and the other one a convicted murderer, you’d forget about everything else too.”
“If that happened to me, I would alert the Aurors and the Ministry. Not try to play the hero myself.”
I forced myself not to make the obvious retort: most of his old friends deserved life in Azkaban; only one of mine did. I didn’t need an argument with him tonight. “Could you do me a favour, Severus, and spell me for an hour or so?”
“Going to visit your ward?” I nodded. “A foolish risk to take. I knew you’d indulge him too much. None of the other children get to see their families until Christmas, and that’s how it should be. Toughens them up. He doesn’t need special treatment.” (Sometimes I wonder if Severus lives in a parallel universe. I can’t conceive of any other reason why he would think Harry needed additional toughening up.)
“I don’t care how you think things should be. I’m going to see him.” I choked down the rest of the potion, grabbed the invisibility cloak I’d been issued, and left the tower before he could say anything more.
Remedial History of Magic ended at half past nine. I waited in an inconspicuous niche in the corridor and watched the other students file out: Vincent Crabbe, Gregory Goyle, two earnest-looking Hufflepuff girls whom I barely remembered, and then Professor Binns, who was followed by Theo Nott, walking with his head down as usual. His dark hair was falling in his face and he seemed even thinner than I remembered. Finally, the last two students appeared. I stepped out of the niche and pulled off my cloak. “Hi, Harry and Neville. How’s everything going?”
“All right,” said Harry quietly. There seemed to be a shadow on his face that I knew all too well.
Neville, on the other hand, seemed genuinely happy, though puzzled as to what I was doing at Hogwarts. I admired some obscure botanical specimens of his and told them all about guarding Sybil. They were both in stitches when I got to the part about Larry and her latest round of predictions. All the same, there was always a look about Harry that I didn’t like, and I was relieved when Neville left us alone together.
“Been practising the Occlumency thing I taught you?”
“Yeah. It’s going pretty well – although I don’t think Snape likes it very much when he gets to see himself from my perspective.”
“I’ll bet,” I said, smiling. With an attempt at casualness that fooled neither of us, I asked, “Scar hurting again?”
“It’s not so bad,” he said dully.
“Yes, it is.” The shadow I’d seen was the look of chronic pain and the physical and mental exhaustion that comes with it. I recognised it because I’d often seen it on my own face, from childhood upward, but the sight of it had never hurt me like this before.
Funny how there was always one face you didn’t recognise it on. – S. S.
That is the trouble with children – even other people’s children. You can’t bear for them to face things you can endure perfectly well for yourself. You want to tear the world apart and rebuild it so everything that’s gone wrong in the past will go right for them. Most of the time we don’t pull off the rebuilding part. Perhaps it’s just as well that I won’t have children of my own.
I gave him the only comfort I had to offer: the truth. “Listen, Harry. I know this has to be awful for you, but we’re almost certain you’re not the one he’s interested in this time, and there’s always going to be a member of the Order here if you need help or someone to talk to. And – ” I struggled to find the right words for something I had always taken for granted but had never talked about before. “The thing about pain is – it expands to fill as much of your mind as you allow it, and then it takes more. It is very easy to let it become the defining feature of your life. You will have to fight this temptation – every waking moment, maybe even in your sleep. Do not let yourself stop caring about other things. It will be very hard, but it is possible. All right?”
“Yeah. Thanks, Remus.” He’d never called me by my first name before. I remembered too much about being sixteen to comment on it, but it was hard to conceal the elation I felt.
“One more thing. When you’re doing lessons with Professor Snape, don’t forget what we talked about before you left. Be easy on the man.”
“Yes. All right.”
An admirable sentiment. Where was it twenty-one years ago? – S. S.
* * *
I’d spent more time with Harry than I had meant to, and Severus looked extremely displeased when I returned to the North Tower. He didn’t say anything until the following evening, when he dropped a bombshell. “You’ve been spotted,” he said. “One of my students saw you in the corridor and overheard part of your conversation with the Potter and Longbottom boys. Fortunately he doesn’t seem to have caught anything of great import – more in the nature of idle gossip, from what he told me. I hope you think a cheap laugh at Professor Trelawney’s expense is worth the risk. I am inclined to disagree.” (He loathes Sybil. Not much moral high ground there.)
“Which student?” I asked, trying to keep my voice level. “It wasn’t Draco Malfoy, was it?” Draco had met a few members of the Order at an ill-fated party I’d hosted over the summer; if he saw me here, he might be able to put together more of the pieces than I’d like.
“No. Fortunately for you, it was not.”
What I actually said was “Nott,” not “not.” Not that it matters. – S. S.
This spelling buiseness is really knotty! Ha ha! Get it? Knotty! – L. L.
Lovegood, you’re an idiot. Shut up. – S. S.
December 28th, 2003, 10:05 pm
Chapter Eight: Guarding Sybil, Week Two
Moony, your chapter titles are so boring! I think this one should be called “Sir Regulus of the House of Black, Dashing Undercover Agent and Singing Sensation.” – R. B.
“This is ridiculous,” said Professor McGonagall. “I thought we agreed that Sybil’s guards should remain as inconspicuous as possible.”
“Well, Minerva, there’s more than one way of being inconspicuous.” Dumbledore was on my side, so I was pretty sure I’d get my way in the end. “Remus is about as quiet and careful as they come, and Theo still spotted him. I don’t think it’s a bad idea for Regulus to have a plausible story explaining why he is at Hogwarts – and this one certainly fits his personality and his style.”
“Do I get any backup musicians?” I asked. “How about it, Minnie? I hear you play a mean saxophone.”
“You were misinformed,” she said sternly, but I could tell she wanted to smile.
“There’s Hagrid,” said Dumbledore with a twinkle in his eye. “He plays the drums.”
I picked up my ukulele and walked at a leisurely pace toward the North Tower. Getting past the portrait was always my favourite part.
“Stay, varlet! Knowest thou the password?”
“Yea, verily, ‘tis ‘Sir Dodenal le Sauvage.’ And hail, brave Sir Cadogan! Remember me, Sir Regulus of the house of Black? I come hither on a quest!”
“What manner of quest, varlet? Thou look’st more like a strolling minstrel than a noble knight.”
“‘Tis a musical quest!” I strummed a few notes on the ukulele. “If ye would be of assistance, I charge ye to find good Sir Hagrid and any other staff members of musical inclination, and tell them I’ll be holding auditions in the Divination classroom at half-past-three.”
“I go, I go! Be of good cheer, Sir Regulus, and I wish ye luck on your musical quest!”
I found Syb nodding off over a bottle of sherry and Moony curled up in an armchair in front of the fire. He looked a shade paler than usual, which was quite an accomplishment, but he laughed out loud when he saw my disguise. “I should’ve known you’d come up with something like that, Reg ... or do you prefer to be called Stubby?”
“I think I like being called Sir Regulus of the House of Black. All the best singing sensations get knighted nowadays.”
“Don’t push your luck,” he said, smiling. “Listen – you do understand this is very serious, don’t you? Don’t leave Sybil alone, even for a second, and don’t go running after any suspicious people on your own – tell Sir Cadogan to spread the alert. And take care of yourself, Reg. If you get into trouble this week, I might not be in any condition to rescue you.”
“I know. I do take some things seriously, believe it or not.” I gave him a light punch on the arm as he rose to go. “Take care of yourself too, Moony. Stay well.”
“That’s impossible, I’m afraid, but thanks for the thought.” He stepped into the fireplace and was gone.
Sir Cadogan returned with Hagrid, who, as it turned out, didn’t so much play the drums as bang on them at random, and Filius Flitwick, who was generally able to drown him out with his accordion. That meant we had to arrange everything as a polka, but all the same, I thought we sounded all right. I don’t think old Syb liked us practising all afternoon in her tower, but she didn’t have a choice in the matter. I wasn’t about to let Moony say I hadn’t been a responsible bodyguard.
Minnie was kind enough to take over guard duty for a few hours so Dumbledore could introduce me to the students at dinner. “We have a special guest this week, a world-famous singing star who has graciously agreed to come out of retirement in Barbados for a series of performances at Hogwarts this autumn. Will you please give it up for ... MISTER STUBBY BOARDMAN OF THE HOBGOBLINS!”
There was a smattering of applause. I was surprised not to get a more enthusiastic response...
Reg, you do know it’s been sixteen years since Stubby Boardman was a big star, right? – N. T.
... but I stepped forward and began to strum my ukulele. I’d chosen one of the Hobgoblins’ biggest hits:
SINCE my BAY-by left-a me
Ah, WHOA, whoa, WHOA, whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa
I’ve been HEXED, vexed, and CURsed as can be,
Oh NO, no, NO, no-no-no-no.
Most of the students sat there in stony silence, but a few had started clapping along to the music. Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom, and one thin, dark-haired boy at the Slytherin table seemed especially enthusiastic. Slightly encouraged, I launched into an old Muggle tune:
Purple Haze, all around
Don’t know if I’m comin’ up or down.
This didn’t seem to go over as well – none of the purebloods knew it, and the Muggle-borns thought it was their father’s music. I had to do something radical to save the situation. I looked desperately around the hall. At last my eyes fixed on Sev Snape, who had been eyeing me as if I were a particularly loathsome piece of fungus. I polkaed toward the High Table.
I feel funny, but I don’t know why,
‘SCUSE ME while I kiss this guy!
Uh, Reg? There’s something you ought to know... – J. M. E.
Don’t you dare tell him, Jack! This is priceless! – N. T.
Hagrid gave a resounding bang on the cymbals as I planted a loud, wet smack on Sevvie’s cheek. The hall exploded in laughter and cheering which continued through the rest of the set.
Stubby Boardman was a big star again.
December 29th, 2003, 6:32 pm
Longish chapter with a natural cliffhanger two-thirds of the way through, so again, I'll be splitting this one into two parts. Feedback is cool. (http://www.cosforums.com/showthread.php?t=21928)
Chapter Nine: Full Moon Fever
[This entire chapter has been Arcanum charmed against Jack Evans.
Four weeks later: Charm lifted. For the record, I am a complete prat who does NOT deserve Jack’s friendship, but I’m glad he seems to think otherwise. – R. J. L.]
If any of my readers are curious to know what the aftereffects of the werewolf transformation feel like, they should wait until the next time they have the flu, go for a five-mile run, fall down a long flight of stairs, and drink three or four bottles of cheap wine. And then do it all over again the next night. And the next. About the only things that help a bit are drinking a lot of fluids and sleeping, and you can’t usually sleep very well because you’re feeling too miserable. I’m perfectly sane and safe as long as I’ve taken my potion, but it doesn’t do wonders for my temper. I prefer to stay away from people at these times.
Toward the middle of the second afternoon I’d finally dropped off, only to be woken by an enormous Great Horned Owl pecking at my hands. I rolled over and tried to ignore it. It started pecking at the back of my neck instead. Painfully, I opened my eyes and untied the note from its leg.
I know this is a bad time, but you must come to headquarters at once. You can have your old room back and we’ll see that you get your potion. Plan to stay for a long time. Send your cat and anything else you need by return owl. DO NOT GO OUT OF DOORS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. DO NOT STAY IN SPIRIT’S END LONGER THAN NECESSARY.
It took just about all the energy I could summon to load a protesting Felicity into her cat carrier, send her off with the owl, and Apparate at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. I nearly collided with Mundungus Fletcher, who looked almost as unsteady on his feet as I felt, though for a different reason. "'Sup, Loopy?"
“Mundungus, why am I here?”
He put both hands on my shoulders and gave me an owlish stare. “Tha’s a very interesting metasiv– metafishical question ... oh, screw it. If you ain’t sure of your porpoise ... purpose in life, mate, don’ ‘spect other people to give you the answers.” And he passed out more or less on top of me.
Jack Evans dragged Mundungus off of me. I tried to ask him what was going on, but for some reason what I actually said was, “Porpoises are cute. I saw some when I was on holiday in Greenland once.” What was happening to my brain?
Jack gave me a strange look. I didn’t blame him. “Are you all right? You don’t look well at all.”
“Nothing serious,” I said. “Migraine.” By trial and error, I had discovered this was a useful lie when dealing with Muggles: they seemed to accept it as an adequate explanation of why I needed to be shut up in a dark room and not disturbed. With Jack, however, there was a new complication.
He nodded sympathetically. “I get them when I’m under stress,” he said. “You’d better have one of my pills, you look very bad.”
Remembering Arthur Weasley’s experiment with Muggle medicine, I wasn’t sure this was a good idea, but Jack insisted. Finally I gave in. I was in a reckless mood: I figured it probably wouldn’t kill me, and even if it did, in a few hours’ time I’d be feeling so wretched anyhow that I wouldn’t mind.
Larry Lovegood entered the room. “Whoa, what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be – ”
I cut him off before he could say anything else in front of Jack. “That’s exactly what I’d like to know. Do you have any idea what this is all about?”
“Beats me. Some Indian-looking chappie came to the house and spent about half an hour talking to Dumbledore in private. I asked him if he wanted to give an exclusive interview for the Quibbler on The Inscrutability of Eastern Magic, but he just rushed out. Completely ignored me.”
“Where is Professor Dumbledore? I need to speak to him.”
“He’s upstairs in the library – but listen, you look terrible. You’d better lie down. You look just like all those poor people with your affliction used to before – ”
I stopped listening and stormed up the stairs. Whoever the mysterious Indian guy was, I thought he had the right idea about how to deal with Larry.
I found Dumbledore deep in conversation with Severus Snape, who had a goblet of the Wolfsbane potion in his hand. “What’s going on? What are you doing here in the middle of the day, Severus – don’t you have a class to teach? Has something happened at Hogwarts? Is Harry all right?” I realised I was shouting at them, and forced myself not to ask any more questions.
“I’ll explain everything in just a minute, Remus, but you’d better drink that first,” said Dumbledore in what I thought was an infuriatingly calm voice.
“It’s four hours to moonrise, for Christ’s sake! I don’t need potion, I need an explanation!”
“Drink. You look like you’re about to collapse. You might not be in any shape to take your dose later.”
“I am not about to collapse!” I snapped, trying to ignore the way the library had started to spin around before my eyes. This was clearly the library’s problem, not mine.
“And yes, Harry’s fine, this isn’t anything to do with him.” That was something, anyway. I managed to swallow most of the potion. “You, on the other hand, may be in considerable danger.”
“I, too, would like to know what this is about,” said Severus. “I cannot imagine what could be urgent enough to warrant calling me away in the middle of a lesson.”
“I’ve just had a visit from a man named Vikram Prajpati, who owns a restaurant in Remus’ neighbourhood. He thinks he saw a suspicious-looking rat dart behind his tandoor oven.”
I grabbed hold of a bookshelf in a desperate attempt to hold the room down and steady it.
“And?” Severus’ voice seemed to come from far off. “It is hardly surprising that someone saw a rat in some greasy curry house in the middle of the slums, but I fail to understand why this calls for a Potions Master. Surely this Mr. Prajpati can call in an ordinary exterminator to deal with it, or he can convert it to Rat Vindaloo if he prefers.”
“This was a different kind of rat. It had a silver paw.”
I lost my grip on the bookshelf as everything went dark.
December 30th, 2003, 11:24 pm
Hope all this Arcanum charm business isn't too hard to follow; unfortunately, it'll get worse before it gets better. (Who has what information when is going to be important, by the way; I'm not just doing this to be annoying.)
Full Moon Fever, Part Two
The morning light was streaming in through the window and Tonks was sitting at the foot of my bed. It took me a moment to recognise her because she had on what I like to call her “let’s not shock Remus when he’s ill” hair, which was a demure shade of brown. (Actually, I’m not at all shocked by electric blue or pink hair. I think I like it.)
“Morning, sleepyhead. Brought you some tea.” She spoke lightly, but I could tell from the way she was looking at me that she was concerned.
I sat up and sipped the tea, which eased the dryness in my mouth. “Have I lost a whole night?” I asked incredulously. That had never happened before. Transformation itself is painful on a grand and epic scale: not the sort of thing you sleep through.
“You were out cold. You had all of us worried to death for a while. Dumbledore said it was probably just stress and exhaustion and it was better not to revive you. What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Talking to Albus and Severus in the library ... and I think I heard Severus ask whether he should call in a Healer or a veterinarian, but I might have been dreaming.”
“He said that?” She looked indignant.
“He’s said a lot worse over the years. I almost look forward to hearing what he’ll come up with next.”
“But saying it over your inert body is a bit callous, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know that he said anything of the sort. As I said, I may have dreamt the whole thing.” (Privately, I was certain that I hadn’t. I wondered, not for the first time, why I always end up defending people I really don’t like.)
“Well ... never mind. How are you feeling?”
I took stock of myself for a moment. The back of my head felt bruised, and I wondered if Snape had taken his revenge for something Sirius did to him once, but apart from that – “Not too bad. Better than usual, actually. Maybe there’s something in those pills of Jack’s.”
She gave me a strange look. “What? Jack’s been giving you pills?”
“Yes – some sort of Muggle pain reliever. Yes, I know you shouldn’t mix remedies, but he practically forced me to take it, and I think it really does help a little.”
“It shouldn’t,” she said. I didn’t see why not. Plenty of Muggle inventions are perfectly good. “You’re absolutely sure you’re better? I mean, I’ve never known you to complain.”
“I’m fine,” I said, which was a slight exaggeration, but at least I thought I could stand up now without blacking out. “And I’ve never known you to fuss about my health – which is one of the things I like about you,” I added pointedly. One Molly Weasley in the house was enough. I reached for my shoes.
“No, don’t try to get up yet. Just stay quiet and drink lots, OK? Accio juice!” She spilled only a little of it on the sheets. “Is there anything else I can bring you? Can you face breakfast?”
I shook my head; I wasn’t feeling that much better, and besides, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see the results if she tried to Summon a plate of food.
“Listen, there’s somewhere I need to go, but Molly and Jack are here. Call them if you need anything.” She left the room – rather abruptly, I thought. A minute earlier, she’d looked like she was about to settle in for a nice long chat.
I drank the juice and tried not to think too hard about what Peter Pettigrew was doing in Spirit’s End.
December 31st, 2003, 3:54 pm
I'm not sure how I feel about my Tonks-voice. Being American, I can't hope to do Cockney slang, and also, JKR has shown us just enough to suggest that her character has a serious side but not enough for me to get a good grip on what that side is like. Oh well. Suggestions for improvement are welcome on the feedback thread (http://www.cosforums.com/showthread.php?t=21928)
Chapter Ten: A Visit to The Quibbler
[This chapter has been Arcanum charmed against everybody in the Order except Regulus Black – N. T.
Much later: Charm lifted.]
Why me, little cousin? Isn’t Moony supposed to be the editor? – R. B.
[After five minutes with no response.] All right, Nymphadora, be that way. – R. B.
My errand took me to a large, rundown commercial building that housed a number of seedy-looking businesses: Speedy Sal’s Secondhand Brooms, the Happy Hippogriff Dead Rat Emporium, the headquarters of the Kwikspell Correspondence Course ... and the Quibbler office, which consisted of a single room at the end of a short, dimly lit hallway at the back of this building, just past the toilets. One window looked out on a garbage-strewn alley behind the building. The place smelled of a mixture of ink, stale tobacco, and Larry Lovegood’s feet. When I came in, he was clipping his toenails with one hand and reading Unfogging the Future with the other. This was the closest thing to actual work that seemed to be going on; a couple of reporters were drinking coffee and chatting about holidays in Macedonia, and the cartoonist had an empty firewhiskey bottle on his desk and appeared to have passed out. The walls of the office were plastered with pieces of parchment covered in upside-down runes and photos of a spacey-looking teenaged girl standing next to an enormous white animal with a spiked tail and several humps on its back.
“My daughter Luna and her Crumple-Horned Snorkack,” Larry explained. “Hello, Miss Tonks, I thought you might be coming in today. Would you be interested in making a donation to H.O.W.L.?”
I gave him five Galleons, more to get him in a good mood than because I had any faith in his capabilities as an activist. “Larry, I need to talk to you in private.”
“Why don’t you all take lunch or something,” he said, waving his hand in the general direction of the office staff. Although it was only ten o’clock in the morning, they all perked up, including the inert cartoonist, and rushed out in a body to the pub across the alley.
“Excuse me, but would you mind not having your feet on the desk while we’re talking? It’s sort of disgusting.” I bit my tongue, remembering too late about the good mood part.
“Sorry,” he said, smiling affably. He didn’t appear to be offended.
At the end of our conversation, he unlocked one of his desk drawers and pulled out a five-year-old copy of the Andorran Journal of Dark Creatures. “You want proof, don’t you? You can read this if you don’t believe me, and you might also want to go here.” On the inside cover of the journal, he wrote down the address of an apothecary’s shop in Knockturn Alley.
Er, Nymphadora, did you just Arcanum charm your whole conversation against everybody? I thought we agreed we wouldn’t do that. – R. B.
No, I didn’t Arcanum charm anything – I left it out entirely. He made a suggestion that I don’t like to repeat without rock-solid proof, especially since it did come from Larry, so there’s a good chance he doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. But if he is right, it’s a matter of grave importance and I wanted to record the fact that we had the conversation. And if anything happens to me while I’m on guard duty, I want you to go to Larry and ask him about it. – N. T.
All right. But I wish you’d stop being so mysterious! – R. B.
Trust me, Reg, I can’t. – N. T.
As I turned to go, a strange man burst into the office, clutching a yellowing copy of The Quibbler. He was gaunt and dark-haired, with slightly stooped shoulders and a sour, thin-lipped mouth. He seemed very angry. “Where is Lovegood? I need to speak to him about this outrage!”
This sort of thing must have been a common occurrence at the Quibbler office, because Larry didn’t seem fazed at all. “Larry Lovegood is my name, crusadin’ with the facts is my game. My paper publishes all the news – ”
“News? Slander and libel is more like it. Linking my name with a convicted murderer – ” He seemed to notice me for the first time. “Who are YOU? Are you this Doris Purkiss woman?”
“Er, no. My name is Tonks.”
“Then this doesn’t have anything to do with you, so get out of here! I have some private business to discuss with Mr. Lovegood.”
I looked him in the eye. “I don’t know who you are, but I’m pretty sure this is Mr. Lovegood’s office, not yours. I’ll thank you not to order me around.”
“I’m very sorry, Miss Tonks,” said Larry, “but I think you’d better leave me alone with Mr. – er ...”
“Boardman. Stubby Boardman.”
January 1st, 2004, 5:24 pm
Happy New Year to all!
Chapter Eleven: Jack Gets a New Client
Jack! Jack! Are you there? I need council! – L. L.
Council? – J. M. E.
Legal advise! I need your help NOW! The Quibbler is being sued for libel!!! And the story’s over a year old, and with everything that’s happenned I guess it can’t possibly have been true, but I thought it was when I printed it, and I was only quoting Mrs. Purkiss and we all know Sirius Black WASN’T a mass murderer at all, so shouldn’t it be all right? – L. L.
OK, Larry, why don’t you take a deep breath and tell me the whole story from the beginning? – J. M. E.
All the way from the beginning? OK. – L. L.
Larry Lovegood is my name, crusadin’ with the facts is my –
You can skip that part, Larry. I know. – J. M. E.
All right, then I guess the beginning was about a year ago, when I met a woman named Doris Purkiss at a bargain sale I was holding in Little Norton to benifit H.O.W.L. – the Help Out Wherewolves League, that is, one of my favourite charities. She had an intresting story to tell about Sirius Black, or rather Stubby Boardman – I suppose they can’t be the same person any more – at least not if this is really Stubby Boardman, since he’s obviously alive. Wait, and he seemed to think Tonks was Mrs. Purkiss a minute ago – so he can’t really have met her – I guess she WAS lying. If the man in my office is Stubby Boardman, of course. That isn’t good, is it?
Larry, this makes NO sense. – J. M. E.
Excuse me for interrupting, Jack – are you still at Grimmauld Place? Where in the house are you? – N. T.
Downstairs hall, why? – J. M. E.
Great. Look directly behind you, and you’ll see a framed article from The Quibbler hanging on the wall. Read that first. It will make things much clearer. – N. T.
(Read the article, thanks, Tonks.) Larry, are you still there? If I understand this, you published an article about a year ago alleging that Stubby Boardman and Sirius Black were one and the same; Doris Purkiss was your principle source for this article; and a man claiming to be Stubby Boardman is in your office right now threatening to sue for libel because you accused him of being the same person as a mass murderer, is all this correct? – J. M. E.
Yes. – L. L.
And what have you said to him? – J. M. E.
He didn’t give me a chance to say anything! He comes barrelling into the office and grabs me by the shoulder and pins me against the wall, and so I reached for my wand and hit him with a Stinging Hex, which made him let go of me, and then I ran out of the office and locked him in. And then I got my Instant Message Book out of the lavetory so I could get in touch with you. I generally keep it in there because that’s where I do my best writing –
Wait, wait. Are you saying you GOT IN A FIGHT WITH THE MAN WHO’S SUING YOU AND LOCKED HIM UP? – J. M. E.
And you LEFT A COPY OF OUR RECORDS LYING AROUND IN THE LOO OUTSIDE THE QUIBBLER OFFICE?!? – N. T.
Wow, Larry, I’ve got to hand it to you. You’ve made stupidity into an art form. – R. B.
My dears, cease to abuse him, for all is well. The Inner Eye informs me that Larry has done no harm, and indeed he may have saved us all, for I perceive that Mr. Boardman is destined to bring us a Message in the Hour of our Deepest Need. – S. P. T.
Well, you’d better let him out of the office so he can deliver it, then! – N. T.
I do not mean that he bears such a Message at the present moment, only that this will come to pass in the fullness of time. – S. P. T.
Larry, you need to let Mr. Boardman out of your office at once. Don’t discuss the article, and even if he gets aggressive, don’t let him goad you into saying or doing anything. Tell him you’re not going to make any statements until your solicitor is present. OK? – J. M. E.
And don’t EVER let your book out of your sight again! I’ve seen the set-up at the Quibbler – the toilets are out in the hall and they’re shared with other offices! Anybody could have walked in! Bloody hell, Voldemort could have read our notes ten times over! – N. T.
Would everybody please calm down? The first thing I did when I got these books was Arcanum charm them against Lord Voldemort and all known Death Eaters. But I can’t promise there aren’t a few new recruits out there, or people we don’t know about, so Larry, please don’t leave your book in the men’s room any more. – R. J. L.
Hi, Moony! Good to see you’re back in the world of the living! – R. B.
Did you Arcanum charm them against Stubby Boardman too? – L. L.
No, Larry, I did not. Stubby Boardman is not a Death Eater. – R. J. L.
I just asked because maybe part of the reason he was so angry is that he found out Reg has been impersonading him in Scotland. – L. L.
Wait ‘til he finds out I did more for his career in one night than he has for the last sixteen years! – R. B.
Have you let him out of your office yet? – J. M. E.
Yes, I unlocked the office and said I wasn’t going to make any statements except in the presents of my soliciter, just like Jack told me to. Mr. Boardman seemed calmer, almost like he was a different person, so you see getting locked up didn’t do him any harm at all! Maybe it gave him some time to cool off. Anyhow, he gave me his card and said he was going to see his own soliciter and he’d be in touch. He went out quietly.
My whole staff was still at the pub, so I had the office to myself at last. I sat down to send another owl to Sybil. Writing to her is always a great comfort. She has such a deep spiritual understanding of people’s feelings.
January 2nd, 2004, 8:36 pm
Chapter Twelve: Guarding Sybil (Week Three)
When one is gifted with the Inner Eye, one soon becomes accustomed to peculiar sights. Nevertheless, it is Unsettling to behold oneself entering one’s own tower, as if one had become disconnected from one’s own body and was watching from Outside the Corporeal Realm. Such was the sight that met my eyes as I looked up from the last of the sherry that dear Mr. Lupin had procured for me. I had not fully appreciated Mr. Lupin until this last week. Despite his somewhat unprepossessing appearance, he was an infinitely more satisfactory bodyguard than Mr. Black. I am not fond of modern music.
I was, as I said, deeply Unsettled at this apparition. In short, I screamed.
“No worries, Sybil,” said a voice that was plainly not my own, but that of Miss Tonks. “It’s only me.” She winked, and assumed her natural form – if one can call pink hair natural.
“You startled me, my dear,” I said. “It is not that I did not foresee your coming, but the external shape you assumed was something of a shock. The Inner Eye perceives only essences.”
“Sorry,” she said in a tone I thought insufficiently repentant. “I should’ve warned you, but we all agreed this was the best way for me to keep a low profile. I promise I’ll only do it when I leave the tower if it bothers you.”
“See that you do,” I replied, speaking more sternly than I am accustomed. Nymphadora Tonks was always an exceptionally trying young lady, forever breaking teacups in Divination class, and the years since she had left Hogwarts had changed her very little.
I informed her that I hardly ever descend from my tower, but she insisted on taking most of her meals in the Great Hall and going for long walks in the evening. “No sense in my staying shut up in this tower while somebody’s trying to kidnap you,” she said. “If the Death Eaters are planning to make a move, I’d rather give them the opportunity and let them come after me instead of you.” It is not that I found her absence objectionable in itself, but she had an annoying habit of asking Severus Snape to cover for her. He has not the Inner Eye, and is decidedly unsympathetic to the delicate sensibilities of those who do.
I did not care to make either Miss Tonks or Professor Snape aware of the substance of my correspondence with Larry Lovegood, but his owls were the one thing that made the third week of my peril bearable. He wrote at least once a day, and although his spelling left something to be desired, the sincerity of his concern and tenderness was breathtaking. I had no wish to expose our letters or my poetry to the Prying Eyes of those who would not understand their hidden depths, so I spent many hours locked up in my Inner Sanctum, which I find a most congenial place for writing.
Her Inner Sanctum? – J. M. E.
That’s what she calls the loo. – N. T.
So she and Larry really are a match made in heaven! Who knew? – J. M. E.
One evening when Professor Snape took over guard duty, he appeared to be in a particularly foul mood.
“I sense that you are troubled in your mind, my dear,” I said. “Would it help if I crystal gazed for you? Many people find it soothing.”
“I do not require soothing.” He almost spat out the last word. “As it happens, I have a very good reason to be agitated. I don’t suppose your crystal ball can tell me who has been tampering with my Potions kit?”
“Your Potions kit?” I must confess that I had expected troubles of a deeper and more spiritual nature. Severus Snape had always impressed me as a profoundly Tormented Soul.
“Yes, Madame Trelawney, my Potions kit. Those of us who teach real subjects require the proper equipment.”
“Ah...” I gazed at the swirling mist in the crystal ball. “Yes ... yes ... I see the shadow of a sinister man entering the castle by stealth ... I perceive that a theft has indeed taken place.”
“You are wrong. Nothing at all has been taken.”
“Then how do you know someone has been tampering with the kit?”
“Because it looks as though some of the bottles have been replaced in an extremely clumsy manner. Several have their labels facing in the wrong direction, and one was put back in the wrong place altogether. You may find this difficult to understand, Madame Trelawney,” he said, casting a critical eye around the Divination classroom, “but I am a man of order and method. The slightest imprecision in my work can make the difference between life and death. It is my job and my nature to notice these things.”
At this point, my body double and bete noir entered the room and tripped over a footstool with a crash which absolutely shattered my concentration and made further crystal-gazing impossible. “Somebody just tried to kidnap me,” she announced cheerfully. “Didn’t have any trouble fighting him off, of course. I don’t think he expected to have an agile twenty-three-year-old Auror on his hands. Wish I’d got a good look at his face. All I could tell was that he was thin and dark-haired.”
“That describes at least half of the Death Eaters we know,” said Snape. “Your little charade has put you at considerable risk without furthering our knowledge in the slightest. You take after your cousins, Miss Tonks.”
She grinned. “I think I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“It is not. I seem to be the only one in the Order with any subtlety or patience ... the only one who knows how to work in secret ... and to bide my time ...” He went out.
She stared after him, and a strange, distant look came over her face. Sensing that she, too, had troubles of her own, I began at last to warm to her. “Have some tea, my dear. I shall read the tea leaves for you, if you wish, but the Inner Eye perceives a great part of your problem already.”
“Does it?” she said absently.
“It sees all, my dear.” (Besides, with girls of that age, the problems are always the same.) “I sense that a man has been preying on your mind. He is not to be trusted.”
“Which one?” she asked.
I smiled enigmatically. Experience has taught me not to give specific advice to the young about their love-troubles. Even when they are warned by one in possession of the Sight, they always pick the wrong one.
Pick me, pick me! I’m trustworthy and you already know the Black genes are good! What d’you say we run away to Vegas and get hitched? I bet Stubby Boardman would be a huge hit on the Strip! – R. B.
Don’t be silly, Reg, enough of us have married our cousins already. – N. T.
All right, I’m being serious now. Pick Moony. Especially if the other bloke is Snape. – R. B.
[Five minutes later.] Nymphadora? Are you still there? You’re not angry, are you? – R. B.
[Two minutes after that.] See, nobody ever likes it when I try to be serious. – R. B.
January 3rd, 2004, 5:54 pm
Chapter Thirteen: An Idyll and a Crisis
I was looking forward to my shift at Hogwarts for more reasons than one! Sybil and I had been exchanging several letters a day, and we were both looking forward to meeting once again in the Corporeal Realm, as she so beutifully put it. I hoped to see my daughter as well. And finally, I planned to do some recruting for the cause. Remus Lupin told me there was a sixth-year student named Hermione Granger who would probably be intrested in joining H.O.W.L.
[Private notes exchanged between Reg Black and Remus Lupin.]
Moony, I mean this in the nicest possible way, but are you nuts? It’s a good cause in theory, but the man’s an idiot! You said yourself that he didn’t know the first thing about what it’s like to be a werewolf! I don’t even want to know what would happen if he tried to spell “lycanthropy.” – R. B.
I know. I’m hoping Hermione will figure out for herself what it’s like to have someone take up a crusade on your behalf without asking your permission. – R. J. L.
Have I ever told you you’re a lot more devious than you look? – R. B.
Thank you. – R. J. L.
Luna introduced me to Miss Granger on the first evening. Not only was she very interested in my activisim on behalf of wherewolves, she told me all about a sosiety she founded called S.P.E.W., which does the same sort of work for house-elves. I could have listened to her for hours! It is terrible the way they are treated – no pay, no holidays, no proper clothing! She helped me get an exclusive interview with a house-elf named Dobby, who told me a heartrenching tale about his former life in a household of Dark wizards. I made a mental note to interview Regulus Black’s house-elf, Gilderoy, as well. He is a very famous author who has written more than a dozen books, so I think it is very suspicuous that he is still running around in an old tea-towel. Who is really getting the income from his work, I wonder?
Oh, no ... – R. B. and R. J. L.
Meanwhile, Sybil and I were getting along beautifully! She’s so spiritual, and I love the way she dresses! And she was interested in all the articles the Quibbler has published about famous seers, like Nostradaymus, Sydney Omarr, and Madame Cassandra Vlabatsky. She even said she might consider writing a weekly horoscope column for us.
Within days, the North Tower seemed just like home. Much more comfortable than home, actually, because Sybil is a great decorator! It occured to me that my house in London really needed a woman’s touch.
Luna joined us most evenings when she wasn’t over at Hagrid’s visiting Arjeplog. It was wonderful to see my daughter again, but I couldn’t help thinking how sad it was that she had to be motherless. One evening I asked her how she would feel about having a stepmother. She must have liked the idea, because she came over all dreamy and didn’t speak for a long time! “Well, Daddy,” she said at last, “I don’t think I’d mind anything that makes you really happy.” Wasn’t that sweet! “But I don’t think you should propose to her just yet. It’s better to take things slowly and buy her gifts and things.”
Luna thought a necklase made of butterbeer caps would make a lovely gift, but Sybil said she was more partial to sherry. I decided that a necklase made of sherry corks would be a nice compromize. Of course it would take Sybil a long time to drink all the sherry first, but I’m a patient man. It took me six years to uncover the truth about Cornelius Fudge controlling the national Quidditch team with the Imperius curse because he was betting against them in all the World Cup games.
The next evening, I asked Professor McGonagall to take over guard duty for a while. It was a rench tearing myself away from the North Tower, but I wanted to pick up some sherry at the Three Broomsticks so I could get started right away on Sybil’s necklase.
I asked Madame Rosmerta for a bottle of sherry to take away.
“That seems to be a popular order lately,” she commented. “Why don’t you stay for a while and have something for yourself, love?”
“Don’t mind if I do,” I said. “I’ll have a vodka and pumpkin juice.”
As I sat at the bar sipping my drink, a stunningly beautiful woman with red-gold hair approached me. “Aren’t you Mr. Lovegood, editor of The Quibbler?”
“Larry Lovegood is my name, crusadin’ with the facts is my game. That’s me.”
She sat down next to me and began to talk in a rapid undertone. “My name is Fidessa Fauntleroy, and I work at the Ministry of Magic. I’m not supposed to talk about this, but I think the world should know the full truth about what happened to Dolores Umbridge, who has been away on a leave of illness since last spring. I want you to write an exposay.”
January 5th, 2004, 1:08 am
As noted above, I made a small and non-plot-significant edit to chapter 7. It's coded in purple.
An Idyll and a Crisis, Part Two
I borrowed a pen from Madame Rosmerta and grabbed a handful of cocktail napkins to write on. Fidessa gave me the best scoop I’d had in years! It had everything – a cover-up at the Ministry, an unpopular public official getting her comeuppance, and a wonderful human rights angle. You see, during Dolores Umbridge’s time in office, she’d been the author of several unusually vicious pieces of anti-wherewolf legislation. Ironikly, after Madame Umbridge spent a night in the Forbidden Forest last spring, she had been discovered to have a wherewolf bite herself – in, shall we say, an intimate portion of her anatomy! Of course her former colleagues at the Ministry were working feverishly to conceal this. They had locked Madame Umbridge away in a top-secret private ward at St. Mungo’s, where she lay shackled to the bed and guarded by Aurors with silver bullets. I listened to Fidessa in fascination and filled half a dozen cocktail napkins with notes. This story was so hot it smoked! If it didn’t sell a thousand new subscriptions to the Quibbler and bring comfort to oppressed and persecuted wherewolves all over Britain, I would be very surprised.
It wasn’t until I heard Rosmerta calling for last orders that I realised it must be almost eleven o’clock, much later than I had intended to stay in the villiage. I hurried back to the North Tower.
“Halt! Know ye the password?” said Sir Cadogan.
“Er...” He changes them all the time, and I don’t know a whole lot about knights and things.
“‘Tis one of the famous ones this time.”
“Sir Lancelot? Sir Galahad? Er ... Sir Rhosis, Sir Cuselephant? Sir Gawain?”
“Pass, brave Sir Larry!”
I climbed the ladder only to find that Professor McGonagall had already gone. The tower seemed deserted. I assumed that Sybil was in the washroom, which is where she usually hides from Professor McGonagall. They don’t seem to like each other very much.
“Hello, darling, I’m back.” There was no answer. I tapped softly on the washroom door. “You can come out now!” Still no answer. I banged on the door and then rattled the knob.
The door was unlocked and the room was empty!
“Sybil!” I shouted, running through the tower. “Darling! My little Blibbering Humdinger! Where are you? SYBIL!” She was nowhere to be seen.
I remembered Dumbledore’s instructions and rushed down to the portrit at the base of the tower. “Sir Cadogan! Raise the alarm!”
“God save ye, noble sir! Have ye a quest for me?”
“YES!” I almost sobbed.
“Be of stout heart! Is it some maiden, some passing fair and gentle damsel in distress? Alas, I have a soft spot for the ladies! I swear upon my sword that Sir Cadogan shall neither rest, nor take food or drink, until she receives rescue and succour.”
I sank down on the landing, relieved to find someone who shared my own feelings so completely. “It is. She is a sweet and innocent lady, and I fear she has fallen into evil hands.”
“A dragon? A Questing Beast? A giant? Or perhaps some wicked, scurvy, treacherous wizard?”
“Wicked wizard,” I gasped. “Tell all the other portrits, will you?”
“Fear ye not, Sir Cadogan will save the day!” He clanked out of the frame, followed by his pony.
Feeling a little better now that such a brave knight was on my side, I hurried off to Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place to alert the rest of the Order.
January 5th, 2004, 5:53 pm
Chapter Fourteen: Minerva’s Statement
I, Minerva McGonagall, Transfiguration mistress at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, am writing this in Sybil Trelawney’s Instant Message Book, which she left behind in the North Tower at the time of her disappearance on the 28th of September. Larry Lovegood’s account of the night’s events, which I have just finished reading, contains several discrepancies with my own recollections. I feel it is my duty to make the other members of the Order of the Phoenix aware of these inconsistencies.
First of all, Mr. Lovegood seems to imply that I deserted my post before he returned. This is absolutely untrue. I never left the Divination classroom between eight o’clock, when he left for Hogsmeade, and eleven, when he returned. I spent the entire time sitting in an armchair marking Transfiguration essays. I had a clear view of the washroom in which Sybil had locked herself. It has no windows and no door other than the one directly in my line of sight, which never opened. Short of setting up an unauthorised Portkey, I see no way for Sybil to have left the washroom during the entire time I was there.
Forgive me for asking this, Minerva, but there’s usually a roaring fire in the Divination classroom and I know from experience how easy it is to fall asleep over a stack of essays. Are you positive you didn’t doze off at any time during the evening? – R. J. L.
You don’t need to apologise; that is a fair question. I don’t think I did, but I can’t absolutely swear to it. – M. McG.
In any case, Mr. Lovegood and I saw each other and spoke briefly after he returned. He asked me how the evening had gone; I said that it had been very quiet, and we wished each other good night. In light of this, I find his statement that I was absent completely inexplicable.
Mr. Lovegood’s version of his conversation with Sybil upon his return is also not strictly accurate. What I actually heard him say as I left the North Tower was, “Hello, darling, it’s safe to come out now – that old she-gorgon is gone!” I appreciate that he may have left off the “old she-gorgon” part out of politeness. (I have been called much worse in my time. I must, however, point out that the expression is redundant, as gorgons are by definition female.) What I find harder to explain is the fact that I believe I heard Sybil reply to him, although her voice is very low and there is a slight chance I may have been mistaken.
Finally, and most tellingly, Mr. Lovegood states that he discovered Sybil’s absence right away and raised the alarm almost immediately. After I left the North Tower, I stopped by my office to drop off the essays I had finished marking, went to the kitchens for a cup of cocoa and a late snack, and finally returned to my own bedroom, all of which could not have taken me less than twenty minutes. The portrait of Godric Gryffindor in my room did not give me the news of Sybil Trelawney’s abduction until ten minutes or so after that, which would have been around half past eleven. I have no idea how Mr. Lovegood accounts for the missing half hour.
I am not accusing Mr. Lovegood of anything; that is a matter for the other members of the Order to determine. I do believe I have described the events of this evening accurately and faithfully, to the best of my recollection.
Thank you, Minerva. I think you’d better keep Sybil’s book with you in case there’s anything you’d like to add. Has anybody got any questions about her statement? – R. J. L.
I have a few. Did you, at any point in the evening, speak to Professor Trelawney or have any indication that she was in fact in the washroom? – J. M. E.
Yes, I called out to her when I came in at eight, and she said she didn’t want to be disturbed. I heard nothing from her after that. – M. McG.
Secondly, this Sir Cadogan sounds very eccentric – is he reliable? – J. M. E.
When it comes to spreading alarms, yes. He’d wake the dead. – M. McG.
January 6th, 2004, 6:10 pm
Based on the comments on the feedback thread (http://www.cosforums.com/showthread.php?t=21928), a lot of you are ahead of the game ... but as you'll see, there are still a few possibilities nobody has mentioned.
Chapter Fifteen: The Suspects
[Editor’s note: At the author’s request, I have Arcanum charmed this chapter against Larry Lovegood and Minerva McGonagall – R. J. L.]
Oh, come on, Jack – you can’t possibly imagine old Minnie is lying! – R. B.
We have to take all the possibilities into account, Reg. – J. M. E.
Speaking as an Auror, I agree with his decision. Never assume. – N. T.
The phone rang just before midnight. Groaning slightly, I reached for the receiver. “Hello,” I said softly, trying not to wake Harriet. Almost simultaneously, an owl swooped in and dropped a note and a small packet on the windowsill. Telephones and owls. I had a feeling this was urgent.
“Jack? It’s Tonks. I’m calling from the pay phone outside headquarters. I need you to read the last two entries in your Instant Message Book, and then come here at once.” I read the two accounts of Sybil’s abduction, dressed hastily, and drove to Grimmauld Place.
The kitchen was nearly empty when I got there. Tonks, Reg, and Remus were sitting at one end of the table with a single guttering candle and an open bottle of wine in front of them. They looked tense, although my arrival seemed to relax them a little. “What took you so long?” Tonks asked. “Didn’t the Portkey work for you?”
“Reg, I told you it was a bad idea to put it in a sample packet of Pixie-B-Gon!” she said. “What would Jack want with Pixie-B-Gon? He probably threw it into the bin without opening it or reading the note!”
I realised they must be talking about the packet the owl had left. “Well, actually, I completely forgot to look at it – the news about Sybil came as a bit of a shock. Please fill me in on what else has happened. Where’s Larry?”
“Upstairs. Molly gave him a sleeping draught. He’s very upset,” said Tonks.
“Or pretending to be,” Reg growled. “The other members of the Order are keeping a close eye on the kidnapper.”
“We don’t know that,” said Remus wearily. I had a feeling they’d gone over this ground before. “We’d like to get your objective opinion before we say anything else. Give us your impression of Larry and Minerva’s entries.”
“Well, it seems clear that at least one of them is lying. The natural inference is that this person kidnapped her, but it’s possible that an outsider did so and one of them is trying to cover for his or her own negligence.” I got out my legal pad and divided a page into three columns, heading them LARRY LOVEGOOD, MINERVA MCGONAGALL, and PERSON OR PERSONS UNKNOWN. “Could Larry have been the man who tried to kidnap you last week?” I asked Tonks.
“Larry is more heavyset,” she said, “but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything in our world, and I’ll explain why in a minute. But before we say more, who do you think is more likely to be telling the truth, Larry or Minerva? I’m asking you as an outsider, leaving personalities out of it.”
“I don’t think you can ever leave personalities out of it,” I said, “but going strictly on the version of the facts each of them has given, I don’t see anything to choose between them.”
“I agree,” said Remus. “That’s what we’ve been trying to tell Reg. The trouble is that most people who grew up with Minerva McGonagall as a teacher – which means nearly all British wizards under fifty – are going to react exactly as Reg did.” He looked thoughtful for a moment and added, “We also have to consider the possibility that they are both telling the truth.”
“That’s impossible,” I said. “They directly contradict each other.”
“Not necessarily,” Tonks said. She told me about Polyjuice potion and other methods of disguising one’s appearance. “It’s just possible that the person Minerva spoke to was not Larry, but if he arrived at eleven and the real Larry got there around the same time, I don’t see how he would have had time to get Sybil out of the tower without being caught in the act. By the way, does anybody else think this Fauntleroy woman looks suspicious?”
Remus nodded. “She’s lying her head off, for starters. Umbridge’s night in the forest was the same night as the battle at the Ministry, which certainly did not take place at the full moon.”
“How on earth do you remember that?” I asked.
I caught a flicker of amusement in his eyes that I was at a loss to explain. “Just trust me. I do.”
“I don’t know very much about werewolves,” I said, “but I thought hardly anybody survived an encounter with one unless they were bitten on one of the extremities. Are they in the habit of biting people on, er, intimate parts, like she said?”
For some reason, everybody else at the table seemed to find this question hilarious. Perhaps it was the tension and the wine. They spent a few minutes tossing around some bits of innuendo that I didn’t understand.
“It was a serious question,” I said at last.
“And it deserves a serious answer,” said Reg. “C’mon, Moony, give us the benefit of your professional expertise ... as a Defence Against the Dark Arts scholar, I mean.” I saw nothing particularly odd about this request; Tonks tells me he is really quite brilliant, although his health won’t allow him to take a permanent teaching job. The others, however, started laughing again.
Remus had gone very red in the face. “Let’s just say I don’t think any werewolf would have bitten Dolores Umbridge in such a manner,” he said in a strangled voice.
“Anyway, Fidessa’s story was just too pat,” said Tonks. “It had werewolves, a government scandal, and a nice stroke of poetic justice. The only thing missing is a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. Larry would’ve eaten it up. It sounds like she deliberately invented it to get him out of the way.”
“Or Larry invented it to make it sound like somebody was trying to get him out of the way,” said Reg, who still seemed firmly convinced of Larry’s guilt.
“In either case,” she said, “I’m willing to bet my last Galleon that there’s no Fidessa Fauntleroy employed at the Ministry, although I’ll check up on it at work tomorrow. I’ll also check up on the description, although I don’t know that we’ll get much out of ‘red-gold hair, stunningly beautiful.’ To borrow your way of talking about our relatives, Reg, she could well be Evil Auntie Trixie with a Hair-Colouring Charm.”
“She could be anybody,” said Reg, “considering that the description comes from a man who thinks Sybil Trelawney is stunningly beautiful. Is that even possible? I wonder if this whole romance was a ploy to gain her trust.”
There was a moment of silence. “She’ll be all right,” Remus said, as though he were trying to convince himself. “She’s not worth anything to them unless she can make prophesies. They’ll take care of her – it just won’t be very pleasant for her.”
“Could she have left voluntarily?” I asked. “Either because Larry, or someone she thought was Larry, invited her out, or through this Portkey thing everybody keeps talking about? Could you explain what that is and how they work?”
Tonks gave me a short explanation. “I don’t think she would have Portkeyed herself out of the tower on purpose,” she said, “because Sybil almost never goes anywhere on purpose, but it’s possible that someone else set up an unauthorised Portkey. We’ll check all the items in the washroom thoroughly.”
“But you can’t absolutely rule out the possibility that she might have left on her own.” I added SYBIL TRELAWNEY to my list of suspects.
“The Portkey idea still points to Larry. He’s one of the few people who had access to her tower,” said Reg.
“Or to you or me or Remus, or a Hogwarts staff member or student,” said Tonks composedly. “I’d better check up on which of the Death Eaters’ children are taking Divination with Sybil this term.”
“They aren’t,” said Remus promptly. “They’re all Slytherins and Albus isn't stupid – he assigned all those classes to Firenze. Unless, of course, there are Death Eaters we don’t know about yet.”
“Would students have been able to get into the North Tower even if they weren’t taking a class with her?” I asked.
“Yes. Passwords get swapped around and overheard all the time at Hogwarts. It’s inevitable, with hundreds of kids running around. But nobody has actually seen anyone in the North Tower over the last few weeks who wasn’t supposed to be there – which brings us back to the impersonation thing. I think it’s very suggestive that Severus reported his Potions kit had been tampered with. That implies somebody may have been looking for the ingredients to Polyjuice potion.”
“Polyjuice potion, Moony?” said Reg. “That’s a little beyond student level, isn’t it? Makes it sound more and more like it was one of us.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” said Remus with a mysterious smile.
“How about a complete outsider? Could another adult have gained access to the school?” I asked.
“Much more difficult,” said Tonks. “I’d even say impossible, unless they had a student or staff member as an informant. So that narrows the field, but not by very much. We would need to know more to work out who is guilty or where they’ve taken her.” She gave Reg a sideways glance. “I’ve got an idea.”
January 7th, 2004, 10:47 pm
Chapter Sixteen: Impersonation
[This is still Arcanum charmed against Minerva and Larry. – N. T.]
I was positive Reg would back me up, because my idea was just his style. Remus and Jack would need more convincing. “I wonder whether it would be possible for us to bring the guilty person out of hiding with a bluff. I spent most of last week pretending to be Sybil. I can pretend a while longer. If they aren’t sure whether they’ve got the real Professor Trelawney, they’re bound to make another move, and we’ll learn more about them.”
“Brilliant,” breathed Reg. “I always had high hopes for you, little cousin, but you’ve exceeded them all.”
“And very dangerous,” said Remus, with one of his trademark small frowns.
“Danger is my middle name,” I said. (Actually it’s Diaphanta, but I try not to talk about that.)
“Look – it just might work, and it’s not my place to tell you no – but you will take care, won’t you?”
“Yes,” I said, “but not too much care. Remember, the whole point of this is to give them the opportunity to make another move.”
“Won’t you be missed at work?” Jack asked.
“Sybil only teaches twice a day, one class around noon, and one at five o’clock in the afternoon. With long lunch breaks and some fast travelling, I think I could pull it off.” I threw in a concession to the stay-out-of-danger crowd. “And I’ll stop taking late night walks. We want to lure them into the castle.”
“I like it,” said Jack. “It just might get us some of the answers we need.”
Slowly, and a bit reluctantly, Remus nodded.
[The remainder of this chapter has been Arcanum charmed against all Order members except Regulus Black. – N. T.
Much later: Charm lifted.]
I was relieved that they’d accepted my plan so readily. I have to admit that it was slightly disingenuous: I had my own reasons for wanting to spend more time at Hogwarts, and I doubted very much that there would be a second kidnap attempt. I’d just had a breathtaking, intuitive realisation that the private investigation I’d been pursuing might lead me to Sybil’s abductor as well. So many of the pieces fit.
In effect, I’d be working two jobs over the coming weeks, so I had an errand to run while I still had some free time in London. Knockturn Alley is not the sort of place where you want to appear to be an attractive young woman on her own. I assumed the shape of a crone and borrowed some of old Mrs. Black’s robes from for good measure.
The apothecary shop was dusty, with a little light streaming in around something that looked like a dried-out tortoise, which hung in front of the one filthy window. I thought it had been dead for centuries until it moved a claw. Other desiccated and stuffed creatures were pinned to the walls here and there, and the shelves were strewn with a strange array of boxes, pots, and bottles containing musty-looking seeds, finely ground powders, old and dusty cakes of dried herbs, and strange-looking liquids. As I waited for someone to appear, I found myself mesmerised by the contents of one bottle in particular, which contained bubbles of some thick blue gel suspended in a lighter, clear substance. The bubbles were constantly floating to the surface and sinking back down, melding together, and changing shape. Just staring at it was hypnotic. I wondered what it did if taken internally.
“What be your business, lass?” An ancient woman, very thin and dressed more like a beggar than a shopkeeper, was slowly dragging herself down the back stairs. It took me a moment to be taken aback by the “lass.” She’d seen through my disguise.
I approached the counter, nearly stumbling over a bin of greasy-looking fluff labelled “WOOL OF BAT.”
“First of all, I’d like to ask you something.” I took out the academic journal Larry had given me and the copy of Moste Potente Potions I’d found in the family library at Grimmauld Place. The book was too old to contain any information on the potion that interested me, but it included a helpful table of ingredients and their properties. I went through what I had read and deduced in general terms, without mentioning any names or specifics. She confirmed it all.
“Did you come to buy, or just ask questions?” she asked at last, in a tone that seemed less than friendly.
“I’ve come to buy,” I said. “I need some comfrey essence.”
“Is that all?” she said sharply.
“Yes. Will the effect be the same if it’s taken on its own?”
“Aye. But it be dangerous stuff, comfrey essence. Be you a licensed Potions Mistress?”
“I’m willing to pay double.” I am, in fact, a licensed Potions Mistress, but my Ministry identification card would reveal that I was also an Auror, and therefore not welcome in Knockturn Alley. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be in more trouble at work if they knew what I was doing here, or in more trouble here if she knew what my work was. I didn’t plan to find out.
“Double’s not enough, lass. Would you be willing to trade that book you’ve got there?”
“It isn’t mine,” I said. “It’s my cousin’s property, and he needs it back.”
She was examining the flyleaf of Moste Potente Potions. “This belonged to Phineas Nigellus,” she said in surprise. “Be you a daughter of the house of Black?”
“I am.” I guessed from her tone that this would be the right answer. I hoped she would not ask who my parents were or where my loyalties lay.
“I will sell. Triple the usual price, though. Thirty Galleons.”
I paid without attempting to bargain her down. “One more question. What would happen if you gave somebody twice the recommended dose?”
She drew a finger across her throat without speaking.
Look, little cousin – call me stodgy and dull and old-fashioned all you like, but I don’t like the sound of any of this. Are you going to tell me anything more? – R. B.
A little more. I might need your help in a week or two. I’ll explain soon ... – N. T.
January 9th, 2004, 12:58 am
Apologies in advance for the shortness of these next few posts; I've got some rewriting and rethinking to do, so the next couple of chapters will be two-parters.
Chapter Seventeen: Another North Tower Idyll
James and Sirius and Peter used to play a game at my expense. We had not been at school for two weeks when they discovered one of my weaknesses: a tendency toward uncontrollable giggling at inappropriate times. During boring classes, they would compete to see who could soonest reduce me to a state of abject helplessness. Peter was particularly good at it. He had a wicked gift for imitations.
History of Magic, a subject I might have enjoyed very much with another teacher, was usually my downfall. It was impossible to concentrate on the rivalry between Ulrike the Unctuous and Freawaru the Frumpy with Peter droning in my ear, in a perfect imitation of Professor Binns, “And then in fifteen ... ought ... seven, I decided to live a little dangerously and purchased some new underwear with a subtle argyle pattern ...”
“Quiet there in the back! What is the matter with you, Lorraine?” He seldom got any student’s name right, but “Lorraine” for “Lupin” was particularly inspired. This was usually when I had to be helped up off the floor.
Of course I ended up in detention more times than I could count, but on these occasions, detention with Minerva McGonagall usually meant a quiet corner with books and a biscuit. I’ve never understood why she wasn’t harder on me –
Remus, one doesn’t punish an eleven-year-old with a painful and socially stigmatising illness for laughing! – M. McG.
I’m surprised to hear you say that – I didn’t think you ever cut me any slack on that account. I’ve always respected you for it. – R. J. L.
Oh, I didn’t – not when you had done anything really wrong. But I think I speak for all of the staff members at the time when I say you surprised us by turning out to be such a happy child. The last thing we would ever have done was penalise you for that. – M. McG.
Perhaps she should have been stricter. I never did learn how to control myself during History of Magic, but that was nothing compared to the difficulty I faced while hiding in the back of the Divination classroom and listening to Tonks do her best impression of Sybil Trelawney.
“Let me see your palm, my dear,” she said in her mistiest voice to a small third-year boy who looked like he might be Colin Creevey’s younger brother. “Ah yes ... your life line is long, but it is twisted and knotted ... I fear it presages a life filled with trouble, danger, and misfortune ...”
“Brilliant,” said the boy. (Yes, definitely a Creevey.)
“You are destined to be attacked by a hippogriff, and a giant squid – ”
“That’s already happened,” he said in a rather let-down tone. “The hippogriff part’s going to be cool, though.”
“And I foresee that you will go on an expedition to the North Pole and lose an arm to an Abominable Snowman, and ... narrowly escape being stabbed by thirteen assassins on the Ides of March ... and the Minister of Magic will plot to have you baked in a pie ... and while you are running from him I sense that you will ... almost be buried in a shower of poisoned gold ... and a Beast with Eight Horns will chase you into a volcano ...” This went on until her imagination gave out, at which point she predicted he would die quietly in his bed at the age of two hundred and six. Only this last item seemed to disappoint him.
I stuffed a corner of my robes into my mouth and struggled not to make any noise as she started in on the next student, a mild-looking blonde girl called Paulina who was fated, it seemed, to be shipwrecked and set adrift on a raft, washed up in the land of the goblins and sold into servitude, rescued by pirates who would make her their queen, framed for a murder by the head pirate’s jealous wife, and thrown into a dungeon from which she would escape by enchanting the bedsheets and turning them into wings – only to be expelled from Hogwarts for doing underaged magic, as all this was destined to happen before she reached the age of seventeen.
“How do you come up with this stuff?” I asked when the class ended at last.
She flashed me a very un-Sybil-like grin. “The Inner Eye, my dear, sometimes has quite an imagination of its own.”
“Do mine,” I said, offering her my hand a little shyly.
She took it in both of hers but didn’t speak for a long moment. I felt my cheeks growing hot. “I’m sorry, Remus – I can’t. Not now.”
“What’s the matter? Life line looking short?” I said carelessly. “It’s all right if it is – I’ve never been too bothered by the whole dying thing.”
“No. Not that.”
“There’s something you haven’t been telling me, isn’t there? Whatever it is, if it concerns me, I’d rather know.”
She shook her head. “I can’t tell you. At least not yet.”
January 10th, 2004, 12:58 am
Another North Tower Idyll, Part Two
Harry and Neville burst into the classroom without knocking. “Oh ... er ... sorry, Remus.”
I blushed more deeply, realising that to all outward appearances, I’d been caught holding hands with Sybil Trelawney. “It’s all right, come in. You’d better go back to your usual appearance,” I added to Tonks, withdrawing my hand. “Neville, you haven’t met Miss Tonks, have you? She was just ... demonstrating palmistry.”
Harry gave me what I can only describe as a “Yeah, right,” look, but I took comfort in the fact that my behaviour, if not precisely what was expected of a legal guardian in front of his ward, was now at least comprehensible. We filled them in on the latest news, and then I remembered I was supposed to be somewhat responsible and parental. “I hope you’re not skiving off classes to visit me.” (I would have been delighted if they were.) “Don’t you have History of Magic tonight?”
They looked at each other and snickered. “Class cancelled. Professor Binns is ... indisposed.”
“How can a ghost be indisposed?” asked Tonks.
More snickering. Harry explained, “Well, a few days ago he happened to look down at his feet and noticed he could see the floor straight through them. He hadn’t realised he was dead before, so it gave him a nasty shock. Professor Dumbledore thought he should take some time off and recuperate.”
I wondered where ghosts went to recuperate. “And they’ve just cancelled your class until further notice?”
“Well, it’s not much of a class, is it?” said Neville. “It’s just us, and two Hufflepuff girls, and Crabbe and Goyle and Nott.”
“Vincent, Gregory, and Theo.” I corrected him gently. He looked confused. “I’ve never liked this business of calling students by their family names. It gives the impression they are no different from their fathers.”
“Sometimes they aren’t,” said Harry darkly.
“Do you really think so?” I asked. For the second time in a matter of months, I contemplated telling him what had happened when I tried to teach the third-year Slytherins how to tackle a boggart. I went in feeling a little overconfident because the lesson had gone so well with the other three groups. (Neville dressing Severus Snape in drag had been a particular highlight.) With the fourth class it had been a disaster. Nearly all of them saw the boggart take the form of their own mothers or fathers. Few had been able to summon up enough laughter to defy it.
Telling Harry and Neville this would have been a breach of confidence, however, and I thought it was better to change the subject. “How’s Defence Against the Dark Arts?” I asked. I spent the next half hour listening to a flood of complaints about my successor, who was not, I gathered, very satisfactory.
If it were not for the fact that I never speak ill of my colleagues, I would say that was the understatement of the year. – M. McG.
Although we were all concerned about Sybil, I have to admit it was very pleasant having the North Tower to ourselves. Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Mark all turned up after a while, and we made some popcorn and hot chocolate and sprawled around the fire talking about anything and everything. It was the sort of cozy scene I missed most from my own school days.
It was a school night, which meant they all had to be back in Gryffindor Tower by eleven. I noticed several bubble gum wrappers on the carpet where Neville had been lying and wondered idly why his pockets always seemed to be full of them, since I’d never seen him chewing any.
“Well, I guess I’d better be going back to London,” said Tonks. “You must be tired.”
“Not at all,” I said – meaning, of course, not more tired than usual. I was about to ask again what she’d been keeping back from me, but then she caught sight of the gum wrappers and gave me a mischievous smile.
“You never did teach me how to shoot gum up a poltergeist’s nose,” she said.
I couldn’t resist. We spent a hilarious and completely undignified hour practising the Waddiwasi spell with stray pieces of popcorn. By the time she mastered it and I stopped sneezing, I had completely forgotten what I’d meant to ask her. “I really do need to go home,” she said at last, yawning. “Work tomorrow and everything. ‘Night ... Lorraine.”
“Good night, Diaphanta.”
As I settled into my favourite armchair in front of the fire, it occurred to me that this might be a very enjoyable week indeed.
January 11th, 2004, 1:26 am
If anybody is curious about Chocolate-Frog-Card Bluff, I posted an explanation (http://www.cosforums.com/showthread.php?p=753275#post753275) on the feedback thread. If anybody is curious about anything else in this chapter, well, you'll just have to wait a while...
Chapter Eighteen: I Don’t Gamble
As far as the other Aurors were concerned, the Trelawney investigation was yielding only dead ends. I had checked the washroom for Portkeys on the first night (there were none). We had confirmed that there was no such person as Fidessa Fauntleroy employed at the Ministry of Magic, but Larry’s description of the woman who had detained him was much too vague to provide any leads – assuming Larry was telling the truth at all. Remus and I went to the Three Broomsticks to find out whether Madame Rosmerta could confirm his story and supply a more detailed description of Fidessa, only to discover that she had gone on holiday for a month and left a dreadlocked and unhelpful Australian in charge. He claimed to remember nothing about the clientele that night, and he may have been telling the truth, because his memory didn’t improve when I checked the expiration date on his Wizarding Holiday Visa.
“Are you going to turn him in?” Remus asked.
“No,” I said. “I haven’t used mine yet, and I could use a place to crash in Brisbane.”
“That’s a long way off, Brisbane is.”
I told myself this was a random and irrelevant remark. The last thing I needed was a new complication.
“If Fidessa is real,” he added thoughtfully after we returned to the North Tower, “the sticking point is how she knew so much about Larry and his interests. There isn’t any reason the Death Eaters should have been watching Larry, or even known he was a member of the Order.”
I did not offer any theories and neither did Severus Snape, who was also listening. Remus said his usual practice was to hand over the Wolfsbane potion, toss off a few snide comments, and leave, but this week he’d taken to hanging around asking repetitive and pointless questions about how we were handling the investigation at work. I was sorely tempted to throw something at him. Even Remus seemed to find his presence irritating, although his reserves of patience are far larger than mine.
Harry and Ron usually joined us for the first part of the evening but always made a hasty exit when Snape appeared. On the last night of the week, they had left the board set up for a game of wizard chess. “Anyone up for a game?” I asked, not so much because I wanted to play chess but because I was sick and tired of answering questions.
“Too tired,” said Remus. He had been looking more and more unwell over the last few days. “And I don’t think you’ll have much luck with Severus – he doesn’t socialise with the likes of us.”
“On the contrary,” said Snape smoothly, “I think I quite fancy a game of chess with Miss Tonks.” Our eyes met. Neither of us looked away.
“Well, this should be fun,” said Remus with what I suspected was a strained attempt at cheeriness. “I can’t make my mind up who I’d rather back, so if either of you cares to make things interesting – I haven’t got more than a few Sickles to my name, but I’ll throw in a copy of Decorating with Human Transfiguration, first edition.”
“I don’t gamble,” said Snape. “I would suggest that you bet against Miss Tonks, in any case. From what I remember of her, patience and strategy are not her strong points.”
“I think you’ll find I’ve changed since I was your pupil. And I don’t gamble either.”
Remus looked amused. “Since when? Didn’t you win all our pocket change when you played Chocolate-Frog-Card Bluff with Mark and me the other day?”
“I’ve reformed,” I said, “and this isn’t Chocolate-Frog-Card Bluff.”
Snape had underestimated my capacity for patience and strategy. It was a hard-fought game that went on for hours, but at last I offered a sacrifice he couldn’t resist taking. I promoted a pawn on the square he’d left unprotected and went in for the kill. My opponent rose without another word and swept the chessboard and all the pieces to the floor.
Wizard chess pieces don’t like it when you do that. I scooped up a handful of angry, protesting bishops and knights and tried to shush them, but they had already awakened Remus, who rubbed his eyes and began picking up chesspieces from the floor. “I’ll take care of it,” I said. “Go back to sleep.”
“Oh no, I’d rather help. I take it you won? Right little model of sportsmanship, isn’t he?” There was, I thought, a definite edge to his usually gentle voice.
After Reg began his watch, Snape did not return to the North Tower. He seemed to spend most of the evenings sulking in his office, and I began to wonder if he had been right about my chess-playing abilities after all. Perhaps I had won one game only to lose at another.
“What’s the matter, Nymphadora?” Reg asked. “You’re getting way too serious lately. Are you coming to my show tonight? It’ll cheer you up.”
“Only if you promise to do ‘Purple Haze’ again,” I said. “And no Warren Zevon. I caught the tail end of your practise, and I never want to hear Hagrid howl like that again.”
Stubby Boardman’s show went off without a hitch – the band’s ability to stay in tune was improving – but Reg’s unique rendition of “Purple Haze” fell a little flat in the absence of a key participant, although Professor Dumbledore was a good sport about being smooched in his place. And, to be honest, I wasn’t really in the mood for it.
[The rest of this chapter is Arcanum charmed against Remus Lupin.
Later: Charm lifted. -- N. T.]
After the show, I decided it was time to tell Reg what I needed to know. I hoped he would spot an opportunity in the daytime, when classes were in session. He seemed put out that I wouldn’t tell him why I wanted him to do it, but he came around; it was the sort of challenge he liked, and to all outward appearances it was harmless. I knew I’d be able to count on him.
January 12th, 2004, 3:03 am
I Don't Gamble, Part Two
The week was nearly gone before I heard from Reg, and the last few days were an awful time. I spent three nights pacing the floor, aware of the small vial I’d bought at the apothecary’s, unsure whether it held relief or doom – or even what I wanted the answer to be. One thing was certain. I couldn’t afford to gamble.
On the third morning, there was a soft flutter of wings as one of the Hogwarts owls flew in through the window. I had waited so long for certainty and now it frightened me. I untied the envelope from its leg. The letter inside was very short:
I checked twice. No change. Isn’t it time you told me what all this means?
My hands were shaking with rage as I folded the letter and tucked it into my Instant Message Book. I would have liked to throw it into the fire, but it was evidence.
It meant treachery. Oh, not the sort of treachery that was always in the back of our minds – betrayal to the Death Eaters. I would have found that easier to accept. I suppose the Death Eaters also think they are serving a worthwhile cause. This was personal, petty, and pointless ... unless, of course, it went hand in hand with disloyalty on a larger scale. Yes, it must. A man who was capable of this would be capable of anything.
It was Sunday, so there would be no classes to teach, nothing to distract me, only a long day in the house at Grimmauld Place. Remus, who was wearing the tattiest dressing gown I’d ever seen, had dragged himself out to the living room sofa and immediately fallen asleep again. That meant I had to look at him every time I passed through the room. The sight of him made me feel like I’d been stabbed in the heart.
His face was almost grey and he was tossing feverishly. Every now and then he muttered something. It was hard to tell what he was saying, but I thought I caught the name “Peter” once. That was enough to force me to make a decision. I had thought I might wait until he woke and put an end to it all properly, with a public confrontation, but that was the most insidious thing about this betrayal. The consequences worsened with every passing minute, and every hour, and every month. They had the weight of years behind them already.
What I was about to do terrified me. I also believed that it was the decent, merciful thing to do, and I had to do it as quickly as possible.
Shaking hands wouldn’t do. This called for care and precision. I used one of the advanced Occlumency tactics they’d taught us in Auror training, clearing my mind of the present and concentrating on a calming memory from my childhood. Reg and Sirius, before their rift, before everything, taking me to the beach and showing me how to enchant sand castles...
Feeling steadier, I went to the kitchen and filled two of the crystal goblets with chilled pumpkin juice. I opened the vial and added precisely twelve drops to one of them. I placed them on a tray and carried them out to the living room, deliberately kicking the edge of the sofa to wake him. He looked up at me through slightly unfocused eyes.
I forced myself to look carefree and cheerful. “Starting to feel human again? I brought you some juice.”
He took a sip from the goblet I handed him. “It tastes funny,” he said. “You haven’t taken it into your head to poison me, have you?” He gave me a weak smile, although I could tell from his face that he was in pain. How very like him, I thought. It was a good thing I hadn’t woken him earlier; I would not have been able to go through with it.
“Tastes fine to me,” I said, drinking from the other one. He would, I knew, be too thirsty to mind any strange flavours much.
He fell asleep once more before he’d finished the juice. I hoped he’d had enough. I sat by his side for a long time, long enough to see that he was lying very still.
I left the room and gathered up the evidence I had collected. For the first time that day, I allowed myself to feel a grim sense of satisfaction.
January 12th, 2004, 11:34 pm
Oh, okay, that was mean. Hopefully this will make things a little better...
Chapter Nineteen: Confrontation
Reg – come here as soon as you can. Bring Snape with you. I don’t care what you tell him, but don’t mention my name, and don’t look him in the eye when you lie to him. – N. T.
This was easier said than done. I don’t know why Sev dislikes me so much ... apart from the fact that I kissed him in public, of course, but you’d think we’d be close enough for that sort of thing. We have a lot of mutual friends from way back.
“Hiya, Sev. You’re wanted at headquarters.”
“Again?" he said, not looking up from the stack of parchment on his desk. "Aren’t there enough unemployed people in the Order as it is? Why do they keep calling me away from my teaching duties?”
“You know as little about teaching as you do about everything else. For your information, there are always essays to mark and classes to prepare for.” He added, with exaggerated mock politeness, “Would you have the kindness to inform me who wants me and what it’s about?”
I thought of something Jack said once about lying. The bigger and bolder the lie, the less likely people were to think you’d have the nerve to make it up. I also happened to know that one of Sev’s great weaknesses was an irrational jealousy for everyone who had ever held the Defence Against the Dark Arts position. “Kingsley Shacklebolt thinks he’s caught Syb’s kidnappers. He’s got permission from the Ministry to use Veritaserum to interrogate them and figure out where they’ve taken her, so he needs you to brew some as soon as possible.” After a dramatic pause for effect, I added, “The suspects are Dolores Umbridge and Gilderoy Lockhart.”
Sev had been looking deeply sceptical, but he stopped short at these last words. “Gilderoy ... Lockhart?”
“Yes,” I said with a straight face. “He escaped from St. Mungo’s a month ago. Apparently when Kreacher got his memories, he got Kreacher’s, so he has the brain of a malicious house-elf with a pureblood mania and entirely too much inside information about the Order. Except he isn’t a house-elf, so he doesn’t have to obey orders from anyone.”
I could see the wheels going around in Sev’s brain. I’d caught him, all right. Absolutely nothing would give him more pleasure than interrogating Lockhart and Umbridge – except blaming me for the whole fiasco. “I should have known your little blunder would have disastrous consequences,” he muttered, sweeping a few bottles into his Potions kit and following me. “And everybody else thought it was funny.”
At Grimmauld Place, we were met by Jack, who seemed to have just arrived and looked as bewildered as I was, and by Nymphadora, who looked more furious than I’d ever seen her.
“Read this,” she said to Jack and me, handing us each something that looked like an academic journal. “It will make everything much clearer. As for you ...” She took a small glass vial which was almost filled with a clear liquid out from under her robes. “Do you know what this is, Severus?” Her fist was clenched so tightly on the vial that her knuckles were dead white.
“How would I know what it is?” said Snape. His voice was cool, but I thought he turned a little paler than usual. “Many potion ingredients look alike.”
“It is comfrey essence. And I’m not surprised that you don’t know it when you see it, because you haven’t been bloody well using it, have you?”
“Comfrey essence is a dangerous substance,” he said.
“Not in the recommended doses. Read!” she added to Jack and me. “It’s all there.” Jack fixed his eyes on the journal obediently. Either he had miraculous powers of concentration, or more likely, he was afraid to disobey my cousin in her current mood. I didn’t blame him.
“Not using it does no harm whatsoever. It is much safer to leave it out.”
“No harm.” Her voice was as dangerous as it was quiet. “No harm. Only the slow torture of a man who has done absolutely nothing to you. Did you ever stop to look at your handiwork, or were you too much of a coward? You will look at him now. Come with me.”
“My handiwork? I have done nothing to him. He has always been a very ill man, and always will be. I have never understood why a certain type of female always insists on picking the weakest cub in the litter, but as you seem to fall into that category, I suggest that you live with the consequences of your choice rather than blaming me for them.”
I guessed from my cousin’s face that this had hit close to home, and from the way Sev was looking at her, I suspected he might have a touch of the green-eyed monster himself, but I was pretty sure Nymphadora would murder me if I mentioned either of these things. If you know me at all, you know I don’t keep my mouth shut very often – but this seemed like the sort of situation where silence would be prudent.
Jack was a braver man than I was. “I think I am beginning to understand what this is all about – and if she’s right, it’s an ugly thing you’ve done, Snape. D-mned ugly.”
Suddenly Snape snatched up Jack’s Instant Message Book and began writing furiously.
You’ve already appointed yourselves my judges and executioners, haven’t you? Give me a chance to defend myself before you close in and start throwing stones. Let me speak. – S. S.
“Give that back!” shouted Jack, grabbing the book and shoving Snape against the wall.
He didn’t have a chance, of course. With a quick flick of his wand Snape had retrieved the book and sent Jack flying halfway across the room.
I reached for my own wand. “I don’t have the foggiest idea what’s going on here because Miss Nymphadora Diaphanta here won’t tell me, but I do know duelling with an unarmed Muggle isn’t fair play. Not even close.” I gagged him, and given half a second longer I would have taken the book as well.
“Let him speak,” said a quiet voice from the far end of the hall.
I wondered how long he had been standing there. I felt like I was eleven again and he’d caught me doing something particularly idiotic, like trying to hex the Bloody Baron. “Hello, Moony. We’ve been fighting. I’m not sure what about, but I think it’s got something to do with you.”
“So I gathered,” he said grimly, undoing Snape’s gag. “Let the man explain himself.”
I suspected right away that this was not good news for Snape. I knew him when he was a prefect, you see. If he caught you doing anything wrong, the first thing he asked you to do was explain why you’d done it. By the time I was halfway through the explanation, I was usually brick red and stammering in confusion. Snape may have remembered this as well. Nymphadora did not. “Remus, do you have any idea what this man has done to you?”
“If he’s done anything to me, I think I have every right to know his reasons why.”
“He’s got Jack’s book,” I said. “He took it without permission. You can’t just let him start writing in it.”
“Give Jack his book back, Severus. You won’t need it. Take mine.”
January 13th, 2004, 11:52 pm
Apologies in advance for throwing in a quiet chapter that doesn't answer too many questions at this point, but it's kind of a necessary one...
Chapter Twenty: Confidence
Snape had taken the book and disappeared upstairs, while Tonks and Reg remained in the hall. I could hear their voices growing angrier with each passing minute as she explained matters to him. It was an explanation that I did not need. I’d read enough. I went into the living room and sat down next to Remus on the sofa. He was still in his shabby dressing gown, but he was sitting up and looked well enough to talk. I placed The Andorran Journal of Dark Creatures on the coffee table, open to the page Tonks had indicated. “Lycanthropy?” I said.
A faint tinge of colour came into his face, and he didn’t meet my eyes. “Yes, well. It’s one of those things that are rather hard to explain, particularly to Muggles. Either they don’t know what it means, or they do, and then they stop inviting you for coffee and letting you hang around their children. I wonder which category you fall into?” He was still staring at the floor.
“Neither,” I said promptly. “And if you want any proof of that, I’ve known for almost two weeks already.”
He looked up, surprised. “How did you work it out?”
“Well, what really tipped me off were some of the things you and Tonks and Reg said the night Sybil disappeared, but I knew from the beginning that you were Arcanum charming something against me. It was a clever editing job, but there were a few loose ends – dropped punctuation here and there, and the fact that Lovegood mentioned two of his daughter’s old professors catching his eye, but described only one of them. And then there should have been some account of why you had to leave your old flat, but there wasn’t. Not that easy to edit out a big chunk of your life, is it?”
“No. I shouldn’t have tried. I’m sorry, Jack.”
“It’s all right,” I said. “I understand why you did it – although it would have led to fewer complications if you hadn’t. I can’t imagine my migraine pills were much help, for instance.”
He gave me a genuine smile. “Actually, they were.”
“You’d better take the rest of them, then,” I said, handing him the bottle. “I can get the prescription refilled easily. You might have a little trouble explaining your problem at the chemist’s.”
He didn’t say anything for a moment, and when he did, it was with what I had come to recognise as his false-casual voice. “Jack, how well did you know Prongs – your brother-in-law?”
“James? Not very well at all. I met him a few times when he and Lily first started dating, and once at a dinner they had for our family just before they got married. She wouldn’t let us come to the wedding – for our safety, she said. A lot of good it did our mum and dad in the end,” I added bitterly. “Why do you ask?”
“You remind me of him.”
“I have a feeling that’s one of the best compliments you know how to give.”
It was time to confide in him. “I’m only alive today because I was away on a camping trip with the Boy Scouts. When I came home, my entire adopted family – was gone. I wasn’t about to go back to the orphanage, so I struck out on my own – staying at all my friends’ houses until I wore out my welcome, and sometimes at the local youth hostel, moving on whenever anybody asked too many questions. It made me hard to track down. Perhaps that saved my life as well.”
“It probably did. The first days after Voldemort’s fall were chaotic, and he had plenty of followers left willing to carry on his work.”
“Why did they do it? I knew nothing, and I’m sure my parents knew little more. Lily would hardly even let us see her for the last year, and her letters were short – all she would talk about was the baby. Why did they come after us?”
“I don’t know the answer to that, Jack. I have wondered for seventeen years why they came after an eighty-year-old Muggle widow in Manchester. She didn’t know anything about our work either. All I can tell you is that they have always acted as though human life were of no value. Particularly nonmagical life.”
I remembered that he had mentioned a Muggle grandmother he was close to – one who reminded him of my wife. I shivered. It was time to tell Harriet everything about my work for the Order, I thought. No sense trying to shield her if it came down to the same thing in the end.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“It’s all right. It was,” he said vaguely, “a very long time ago ... I don’t have too many secrets from you now, do I? May as well lift all those Arcanum charms.” He picked my Instant Message Book up from the table and flipped through it. “Patefacio ... patefacio ... patefacio ...”
New writing was appearing on the pages, but it was only Reg’s. Remus shook his head in amazement. “I swear, sometimes I don’t know whether Reg is a genius or a madman. Dolores Umbridge and Gilderoy Lockhart?”
“Master’s friend called?” said a small voice from around the corner. We both jumped. “Gilderoy is very busy answering all his fan mail in joined-up writing, but Gilderoy is at your service, sir. Also, Gilderoy would like master’s friend to pass on the word that Gilderoy would like harmony between all magical and non-magical people, and also more hair gel.” The house-elf was bald, but the large quantity of white hair growing out of his ears had been styled and slicked to perfection.
We looked at each other and laughed rather shakily. “I think you’ve had enough hair gel, Kreacher,” said my friend. “As for the other part – we’re working on it. Give us time.”
As Reg finished his part of the story, I remembered the other writer, the one upstairs, who had written nothing yet, and grew sober. “He must be reading all of it,” I said.
January 14th, 2004, 10:59 pm
Congratulations to Proserpine for correctly divining the properties of comfrey essence (although her hope that more than the old schoolboy grudge is at stake must go unfulfilled; I couldn't resist writing my own take on it).
Chapter Twenty-One: Severus Snape Explains Justice
Our people are not usually very religious, but my mother was a Catholic. She taught me that there are sins of commission and sins of omission, and they weigh equally heavy in the scales of justice. We mortals punish only the sins of commission, but on the day of judgment the things we fail to do will condemn us as surely the things we have done.
Fifteen years as a Potions Master have taught me about balance and measure. One must measure evenly, carefully, patiently. The margin between life and death is the error of a single drop. Justice, too, must be exacted evenly and carefully and patiently.
The last thing Lupin said before he handed me this book was that I did not have to obey their rules, that I could Arcanum charm certain things against the entire task force if I wished to keep them private – but he insisted on knowing exactly what I had done to him and why. I have read it all and the answers are already there, but I will try to explain what he is evidently still too blind to see for himself. Miss Tonks came the closest when she said he had done nothing to me. That is exactly right. He did nothing. His friends made my life hell for years and he neither joined them nor lifted a finger to intervene. He kept silent and looked away.
I, too, was a silent child, though not by choice. My father had bound me with a curse called Soloresponsus, which is used in old wizarding families to render underaged persons unable to speak until spoken to. It left me unable to approach those who might have been friends and often unable to reply to my tormentors. (For it is possible to cause a great deal of pain without speaking to the victim directly. The hex muttered behind a turned back, the snowball that conceals something harder, the rumours about one’s home life whispered in the corridors...)
He did nothing to lift it. I do not recall him saying a word to me, except when partnered with me in class, until one particular afternoon in the winter of our sixth year. It was the day after his friend Black decided to play an amusing joke on me that would have resulted in my death if his other friends had not been too cowardly to allow it. (I do not delude myself into thinking they felt any stirrings of conscience on my account. They were saving their own skins.) He approached me the next afternoon with what he called an apology. He looked much as he did today, white-faced and shaking. It was a well crafted little speech, but it left out a single ingredient: warmth. He did it from a sense of obligation, not from any sincerity of feeling.
[This passage is Arcanum charmed against virtually everyone on earth except Albus Dumbledore.] To this day, I am sure he believes I thought he was in on the prank. The truth is that I always knew he was innocent -- in strictly legal terms. He didn’t speak to Black for a month. This does not matter from my perspective. I watched the whole pack of them closely during that month. They were suffering, but not on my account. The prospect of my death meant nothing to them in comparison with the rift in their little clique.
Consider, before you judge me, that I am also innocent in strictly legal terms.
Something Minerva McGonagall has written in these pages is also relevant. He was a happy child when I first knew him, and against all sense or reason he appears to be a happy man. That was motivation enough. The world had taken any prospect of employment or health or social acceptance from a bright, promising child; it has since taken his friends and even members of his family. And yet it refused to give me justice. It did not turn him into what I have become.
When I first heard that he was to be my colleague, I thought I might forgive him. You will remember that Pettigrew had then been presumed dead for twelve years, and Sirius Black had been in Azkaban for most of that time. There was a day or two last spring – just after Black’s death – when I felt the same way. On both occasions I was wrong. I will not forget the first time I saw him in the staff room. He was talking to Hagrid with the same easy smile I remembered from boyhood. As long as he could still smile like that, the balance of pain was unequal.
But I had been handed an opportunity. The beauty of it was that I, too, did nothing to him. It was a simple sin of omission.
In the same month that Remus Lupin arrived at Hogwarts, the Ministry of Magic finally approved comfrey essence for use as one of the standard ingredients in the Wolfsbane potion. It is a powerful pain reliever but has no other effect. It is also an inert substance. One can leave out this single ingredient without changing the other virtues of the potion. I have done him no real harm, seriously imperiled neither his health nor others’ safety.
She will say that I have done him harm, that pain eats away at the heart and spirit. So it does. She asked if I had ever looked at my handiwork. I have, and I was glad to see the results – glad that the years weighed heavier on him than they do on other men of our age. So they do with me. I have dealt my measure of justice with an even and steady hand.
It is over now. I suspected my attempt to balance the scales was nearing its end a few weeks ago, when I first noticed that my bottle of comfrey essence had been misplaced in a hasty and clumsy way as if she had been measuring the contents in secret. The fact that Evans’ pills seemed to help must have tipped her off; no Muggle invention should have been stronger than Wolfsbane brewed according to the standard recipe. She was in my N.E.W.T.-level class and she is fully capable of brewing the potion herself, and I knew from her face that he will never drink another drop I have brewed for him. I suppose she also means to marry him and spend the rest of her life nursing an invalid and producing bubble-gum-pink children who howl at the moon. I cannot account for her tastes, but I have considerable respect for her intelligence.
My work is incomplete, but I do not regret what I have done. Long years for long years; pain for pain; inaction for inaction; silence for silence; a sin of omission for a sin of omission. Measure for measure. That is justice as I understand it, and as I have executed it.
January 16th, 2004, 1:42 am
Chapter Twenty-Two: A Strictly Personal Matter
“You aren’t going to go and forgive him or anything, are you?”
It was Reg who spoke, but Tonks and Jack were both looking at me as if they were afraid I might say yes. I felt a sudden rush of longing for Sirius, who was probably the only person in the world who would not have needed to ask the question. And even he never knew how much Snape’s revenge – I refuse to call it justice – had cost me. I am not in the habit of complaining.
I must have put a lot of venom into one word, because they all edged away uneasily. I don’t get angry easily, but people tell me I am very frightening when I do. Strange, when I’ve spent most of my life making a conscious and sustained effort not to scare anyone.
“Right then,” said Tonks in a businesslike manner, “should we have him arrested right away, or wait until he leads us to Sybil?”
I blinked. I had been feeling dazed and stupid ever since their shouting woke me up; apparently I had missed something important. “You think Severus Snape abducted Sybil?”
“Well, isn’t it obvious?” she said. “Expert potion brewer, Hogwarts insider, somebody who asked far too many questions about the investigation, and a d-mned sneaky little snake in the grass. It all fits.” Reg, who seemed to have completely forgotten his suspicion of Larry, charged up the stairs to confront Snape.
It sounded all right. I wanted to believe it. I didn’t. I was still trying to wrap my head around the reason why I didn’t buy this theory when Jack spoke up. “Wait,” he said. “Wasn’t Snape with Sybil when the other man tried to kidnap you?”
“Well, naturally he had an accomplice – one of the other Death Eaters.” She made it sound like it was self-evident that Snape was a Death Eater.
Right, I thought wearily, time to go back to being the calm, patient, reasonable one. It had been nice having a few minutes off. “Er, do you have any evidence that there’s a connection between comfrey essence and kidnapping? Because I’m bound to say this sounds to me like a strictly personal matter, and I’m not even sure it should go beyond the five of us.”
She looked at me, astonished. Before she or Jack could say anything, the other two reappeared at the top of the stairs. Snape’s voice was raised: “... cracking jokes about tattoo parlours – and going around in bloody muscle robes. Why shouldn’t I hate you, when you make a mockery of the worst thing that has ever happened to me in my life?” In spite of everything, I realised these last few words carried a note of conviction that could not be faked.
Reg looked hurt, and suddenly very young – hardly different from the boy I remembered, which wasn’t so surprising since he had missed out on sixteen years of living. As Snape had said, he was wearing a jaunty set of short-sleeved robes, clothing designed to flaunt the Dark Mark rather than hide it. (He does throw on a longer cloak when he goes out in public.)
I sighed heavily. “It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to him, too, Severus. He just has a different way of handling it.”
“I understand. He prefers to handle it the moronic way. About what I would have expected.”
“No,” I said. “You’ve just finished writing a great deal about the Wolfsbane potion. Let me tell you about one of its discoverers. I think you have a few things in common with him. He never saw his life’s work completed either.”
He knew who I meant, of course. He flinched.
“And like you, he fought in three wars, two public and one private. The first was the French Resistance against Grindlewald; the third, which claimed his life, was the first war against Voldemort. The second was entirely a family affair. The battleground was the Dai Llewellen Ward in St. Mungo’s; the weapons were Chocolate Frog cards, pillow fights, and dozens of ridiculously silly werewolf jokes. I remember him rattling them off one after another, and my mother forcing herself to laugh. I am telling you this because my parents are two of the bravest people I have ever known, and because I believe Regulus has the same brand of courage.” I struggled with temptation for a moment and gave in. “You don’t. You’re a coward, Severus.”
Even as I spoke, I knew this was unfair. He had, after all, taken personal risks I could scarcely imagine; even Reg could have only an inkling of them. I expected him to challenge me on this point, but all he said was, “At least your father seems to have liked you.”
He turned away, looking as if the sight of the four of us caused him physical pain.
“Wow, Moony,” said Reg when he had gone. “You’ve got a way with words, did you know that?”
I shook my head. “I’m not proud of it. I think I hit him below the belt more than once.”
“So did he,” said Jack. “That last line was calculated to push your buttons. Don’t think he didn’t know it.”
I wasn’t so sure, but I didn’t feel up to having another argument. My legs felt like wet sponges, and I wondered how this could possibly seem like such a long day when I’d been asleep for most of it. I sat down heavily on the staircase, and was immediately surrounded by all three of them fussing over me and offering everything from aspirin (Jack) to firewhiskey (Reg). I would have done absolutely anything for them at that moment, and at the same time I wished there were a polite way to send them all off to Tibet, just for an hour or so.
I tried to say something eloquent that would convey, in equal parts, that I felt nothing but affection and gratitude for all of them, that I desperately needed to be left alone for a while, and that I would prefer it if nobody spiked my drinks in the future. What I actually said was more like “Bleaurgh.” So much for my way with words. Somehow the message must have got across anyway, because they eventually packed me off to bed with my Instant Message Book and a cup of hot chocolate which I hope does not contain any unusual ingredients.
* * *
I have just finished reading Severus’ entry again, as well as his comments on one of my own, much earlier, entries. He seems to believe his revenge is justified for three reasons. I think I have responded to one of them already in my attempt to defend Reg. Bitterness is not the only possible reaction to pain. I will go so far as to say that it is often the easy and tempting choice, the one that has to be struggled against.
His second, and I think most serious, accusation is that I stood by and did nothing while my friends bullied him. This is true. I am still ashamed of the way I acted then. I would like to say, though, that during my one brief year as a teacher I did what I could to make up for these mistakes. I disciplined any students I saw ganging up on others and I never, as far as I can remember, bullied or intentionally humiliated a student myself. From what I have heard of his own behaviour in the classroom, he has done his best to perpetuate the cycle rather than end it.
The last thing he has accused me of is hypocrisy: making strained attempts to be civil when I do not like him. He’s right. I don’t.
That said, I have more doubts about my own loyalty than his. If anything, he seems to have far more rigid and unwavering principles than the rest of us. And I still see no reason why the story should go beyond those of us who were here this afternoon. I can’t impose silence on the rest of you, but I hope you will respect my wishes.
Did you forget that you four aren’t the only ones with Instant Message Books? – M. McG.
Oh. Right. – R. J. L.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to say anything to the other members of the Order – but I did describe the situation to a specialist in magical ethics ... – M. McG.
You told my MUM?!? – R. J. L.
Well, yes, but I didn’t mention any names or the precise medical condition involved. – M. McG.
Oh, she’ll know. – R. J. L.
Her opinion was that we should keep him on our side at all costs. She said his sense of justice sounded like the equivalent of a finely honed blade. Cruel for flesh wounds, but merciful if we ever need an executioner. – M. McG.
I see. And did she say anything else, like how’s-my-son or I-hope-he-feels-better? – R. J. L.
She said the young lady sounded interesting, and she hoped she’d get to meet her. – M. McG.
Minerva, WHAT did you tell her? – R. J. L.
Oh, only the bare essentials ... – M. McG.
How did you know she was talking about your mother? – J. M. E.
For one thing, they’re old friends, and for another, there aren’t very many magical ethicists running around. – R. J. L.
Why not? It sounds like an interesting field. – J. M. E.
Because as far as careers that pay well and make you popular with the rest of the community go, it’s right up there with being a werewolf. – R. J. L.
Oh. Was it weird being raised by one? – J. M. E.
Apart from the fact that you end up seeing the world in shades of grey on grey, and therefore spend your adult life bumping into walls and missing things that are right in front of you ... perfectly normal. – R. J. L.
January 16th, 2004, 10:34 pm
Chapter Twenty-Three: A Visit to Hagrid’s
Tues. 1 p.m. Going to Hagrid’s with Larry’s daughter. Will stay in contact. If you don’t hear from me in an hour, consider second kidnap attempt successful and send in the cavalry. – N. T.
Really, Miss Tonks, I hoped you might have learned some common sense since you left school. What are you thinking, letting a suspected kidnapper’s daughter lure you out of the castle? – M. McG.
WHAT?!? Don’t do that! Stay where you are! – R. J. L.
Forty-five minutes later: Scaredy-cats. Now I’ll tell you all about it.
I’m really getting into the whole teaching thing. It’s great fun, and occasionally you can do some good. On my first day posing as Sybil, I met a fifth-year Ravenclaw I recognised as Larry’s daughter from the photographs around his office: a vague-looking girl with dirty blonde hair who kept sticking her wand behind one ear. Her classmates don’t seem to treat her very well; they keep hiding her things and mocking her behind her back. I got a big kick out of working veiled threats into my Trelawney impression. “The thing you dread most shall come to pass if what has been hidden is not brought to light,” I intoned, looking one of Luna’s roommates in the eye. She squirmed uncomfortably. “The intolerant shall suffer, and the rightful owner shall be vindicated.”
Luna wasn’t as scatty as she appeared. She picked up at once on what I was doing, and she seemed grateful for it. (She knew I wasn’t Sybil; Larry probably told her so, but I had an odd feeling she’d be able to see through my disguise in any case.) She must have decided I was a sympathetic type, because after class today, she hung around the North Tower until the others had gone.
“Would you like to come to Hagrid’s with me? We could visit Arjeplog, my Crumple-Horned Snorkack.”
“All right,” I said, hastily scribbling a note in my Instant Message Book.
“Do you have any asparagus with you?” she asked, as if she expected most people to carry asparagus on the off chance they might be invited to meet a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. “That’s his favourite food.”
“Er, no. We could stop by the kitchens ...”
“That’s all right, I’ve got some.” Luna removed a large bunch of asparagus spears from under her robes and handed me half.
Arjeplog munched the asparagus and licked my fingers gently. He seemed friendly enough, although some parts of him were very spiky. I tried not to get too close to his tail. Hagrid stepped out of his hut and welcomed us warmly. “Good day ter yeh, Luna. And Sybil – I don’ remember seein’ yeh aroun’ here before, but drop by any time.”
“Oh, I’ve been here before. And I’m not Sybil. Let me change into a more comfortable shape.”
“Tonks! Haven’ seen you in ages – how’re yeh gettin’ on as an Auror? Cup o’ tea?”
I accepted the tea and something Hagrid said was a scone, but which looked more like a chunk of granite. I tried to feed it to Arjeplog when Hagrid wasn’t looking, but he seemed more interested in the many ropes of beads I was wearing around my neck.
“No! Bad Arjie! Yeh don’ eat things other people are still wearin’!”
Still wearing? Did that mean things people had taken off were fair game? I disentangled myself and removed a slightly mangled string of beads for the Snorkack’s dessert.
“Now Luna here, she’s got summat she wants to say ter yeh. Bin talkin’ with her about it, and we both thought yeh were the mos’ likely person ter listen.”
“It’s about my dad,” said Luna. “Many people don’t believe the things he says. They seem to think he’s a bit odd, really. But he’s telling the truth about what happened that night.”
“Most of us don’t really think he did it,” I said. “We simply don’t know.”
“He really cares about Professor Trelawney, you know, and he feels awful about her being kidnapped. He didn’t want to say anything to you because he believes it was his fault for not being more careful, but he felt the same way after my mum died, and I don’t think it’s really logical, it’s just that people always seem to blame themselves after bad things happen. I hope you trust him.”
“I do trust him,” I said, and suddenly I was almost sure that I did. “He turned out to be right about ... something very important.”
“He usually is,” said Luna. “Like Arjeplog, for instance. Everybody said there was no such thing as the Crumple-Horned Snorkack.”
“I never said that,” said Hagrid, setting his mug of tea on a tree stump and patting Arjeplog on the shoulder. “Bin wantin’ one fer ages.” The Snorkack crunched the mug to bits.
“Well, most people, anyway. And Dad does get some things wrong, like Stubby Boardman being Sirius Black, but he’s right a lot of the time too.” Out of the blue, she added, “You’re sort of a friend of Professor Lupin’s, aren’t you?”
“I hope so,” I said. Some of the things Snape had said made things very awkward between us. I hoped he didn’t think my great ambition in life was popping out bubble-gum-pink kids who howl at the moon.
Heaven help you if it is – because I can’t. Lycanthropy isn’t hereditary, and I refuse to go around biting your children just so they can make the front page of The Quibbler. – R. J. L.
“Well, my friend Neville said to give you a message for him. He says you should tell him to come to Hogsmeade on the weekend after next. There’s someone he needs to talk to.”
“Did Neville say who this person was?”
Luna shook her head. “He was kind of mysterious about it, really. I think he was afraid to say because you might not trust this person.”
“I’ll tell him,” I said. “And I think we’ll all be coming to Hogsmeade.” Madame Rosmerta would be back that weekend, and I hoped she would confirm Larry’s story once and for all.
January 17th, 2004, 11:10 pm
And our resident Auror finally tumbles to what snuggle the muggle, Proserpine, and miri figured out on the feedback thread (http://www.cosforums.com/showthread.php?t=21928) ages ago. Oh well, she's had a lot of things on her mind.
Chapter Twenty-Four: Larry Finally Gets Some Respect
So you don’t all hate me, then? – L. L.
No, Larry, we don’t hate you. Tonks tells me you’re responsible for passing along some information that may make my life a lot easier. I wanted to say thank you. And I’m sorry I haven’t been friendlier. – R. J. L.
Don’t mention it. By the way, you said something a long time ago that I’ve been meaning to ask you about. – L. L.
What is it? If it’s about Hairy Snout, Human Heart – I have thought it over, and I really wouldn’t feel right about taking credit for somebody else’s hard work. – R. J. L.
No, it isn’t about that at all. Are you absolutely sure Stubby Boardman isn’t a Death Eater? – L. L.
What? When did I say that? – R. J. L.
You said so when we were talking about why I shouldn’t leave the Instant Message Books lying around, remember? But I think it’s pretty strange that one day he comes storming into the office acting like he’s going to haul me into court that very minute, and then I never hear another word from him or his soliciter. – L. L.
You’re dead right. I’m willing to bet Stubby Boardman is a Death Eater. – N. T.
What makes you so sure? – R. J. L.
Because Larry was clipping his toenails when I went to visit him in the Quibbler office, and the clippings were still on the desk when Boardman came in. I can’t believe I didn’t see it before – except my head was so full of Snape. And for what it’s worth, Jephthah Nott is dark-haired, thin, and stooped just like the man who claimed to be Stubby Boardman. – N. T.
You went to visit Larry? I’ve missed a lot, haven’t I? But if Boardman is Nott, how did he know Larry was working with us? I know I Arcanum charmed these books against the Notts. – R. J. L.
Both of them? – N. T.
Yes. – R. J. L.
Larry, have you had contact with any other people you suspect might be Death Eaters? – N. T.
Sure! Lots! Dolores Umbridge, for starters, now that we know she isn’t at St. Mungo’s. And Cornelius Fudge, Stan Shunpike, Griselda Marchbanks, Newt Scamander, Aidan Lynch, Celestina Warbeck the Singing Sorceress, Florean Fortescue ... – L. L.
In other words ... round up the usual suspects. Thanks, we’ll get right on it. – N. T.
I was glad at least one Auror seemed to be on top of things.
My second week at Hogwarts was a dificult time, although Miss Tonks was as kind as could be and I was sure she knew I hadn’t kidnapped Sybil. But it was awfully hard seeing her take the shape of the one person I most wanted to see and knowing she ... wasn’t. I sent dozens of the school owls off with letters to Sybil. Owls usually know how to find people even when humans can’t. But one after another, they came back with the letters undellivered.
Jack asked me to dig out Boardman’s buiseness card and try to contact him, but that owl came back too. He’d obviously given a fake address, and it turned out the name was fake too, because the Aurors found out that the real Stubby Boardman was still in Barbados and had been a houseguest of the Carribbean Minister of Magic on the day Sybil disapeared. We were no closer to finding her than before.
I couldn’t even bring myself to write the house-elf article I promised Hermione Granger. Little Luna did her best to comfort me, but she was usually busy with her classes or with the Defence Against the Dark Arts club that the Boy Who Lived had founded. (Their real Defence Against the Dark Arts professor isn’t very good, she said. I wonder if somebody in the Ministry is seeing to it that only unqualiffied people apply for that position – somebody who really doesn’t want the students to learn how to defend themselves? I must do a little instigative reporting when I get back to London.) Anyway, I apreciated Luna’s company but I also thought she should spend time with her friends and take care of her Snorkack. I told her I would be all right on my own. I spent hours sitting at the base of the North Tower, talking to the one person who really simpathised with me.
“What made you decide to become a knight?” I asked.
“When I was young,” he said, “and Arthur son of Uther Pendragon became the first king of all Britain, he brought us together and charged us not to be as the knights of the old days who cared only for power and plunder, but ever to flee treason, and to give mercy unto him that asketh mercy, and to do ladies, damsels, and gentlewomen succour, and to take no battles in a wrongful quarrel. This oath did I take with a joyous heart, for I have ever believed the proper duty of a knight is to fight for justice, and to give aid and comfort to those who have no champion on their side, and to bring down the wicked who are in high places.”
“Those are some of the same reasons I became a journalist,” I said. “The magical world is still too full of predjudice and corruption, and I wanted to fight on the side of truth and help the underdogs.”
“But alas,” Sir Cadogan continued, “in later years, there came divisions in the kingdom, and many knights did treason against their will, and it seemed at times that all quarrels were wrongful on all sides. And,” he admitted, falling off his pony with a crash, “some of the oppressed peasants and gentle damsels I was most desirous of helping regarded me as but a poor champion, and would not let me go on quests on their behalf.”
“I feel exactly the same way,” I said. “There are still divisions in the kingdom, and it’s hard to tell who is really on the side of truth and justice. And sometimes,” I said, thinking of H.O.W.L. with a sigh, “I do my best to help people, but they don’t always seem very happy about it.”
He picked himself up, rubbed the grass stains off his armour, and nodded gravely. “‘Tis always the same. I think at times that I shall forswear doing battle for the sake of other people. ‘Tis simpler to go on a quest for a beast, or a grail, or almost anything that doth not speak.”
“Well, if it comes down to that – after all this is over, I’m hoping to go on an expedition to catch a Cross-Eyed or Herbaceous Aberflooie. I wish you weren’t a portrait so you could come. I could use another good man.”
“I would if I could, and godspeed on thy quest for the Cross-Eyed or Herbaceous Aberflooie. And ‘tis a shame thou livest so long after my time, Sir Larry. I would have been proud to know thee.”
January 18th, 2004, 7:31 pm
The quotation Jack remembers is from John Donne's Devotions, Meditation 17.
Chapter Twenty-Four: Culture Shock
I reviewed our notes and wondered, for the hundredth time, why on earth Professor Dumbledore had put so much faith in my ability to think like a wizard. I had no idea where Sybil Trelawney was hidden or who had kidnapped her. It was hard to make my new acquaintances understand my perplexity because many of them seemed to regard the Muggle world as a quaint, provincial village where anybody could be found in two days or less. I was getting used to questions like Arthur Weasley’s “Do you know my wife’s second cousin Dave? I think he’s an accountant, or maybe an architect ... anyway, it was something that began with an A.”
I explained that if you took all the Muggles in Britain named Dave who were in professions that began with A and stood them on each other’s shoulders, they’d reach to the moon.
“Really?” he said with interest. “Then why does anybody bother with rocket ships?”
After a few minutes of trying unsuccessfully to analyse the logic behind this statement, I gave up and returned to the problem at hand. Unlike Tonks, I was not prepared to eliminate Larry as a suspect. Her theory that Stubby Boardman had made Polyjuice Potion out of Larry’s toenail clippings was interesting but far-fetched, I thought. If the times we’d been given were correct, Larry and Sybil’s kidnapper must have arrived in the North Tower almost simultaneously. Surely the most straightforward explanation was that they were one and the same. But I was beginning to accept that things were seldom straightforward in the world I’d been plunged into.
I let my wife read my Instant Message Book. She couldn’t make head or tail of the case either, but it all interested her very much, especially my upcoming trip to Hogsmeade.
“I’d like to come along for the ride,” she said.
“You know this is essentially just a business trip,” I warned her. “And we won’t be able to see Mark, because first-years aren’t allowed to visit the village.”
“I know. I still want to come.”
I couldn’t blame her. Six months earlier I would have jumped at the chance to visit Hogsmeade regardless of the circumstances. Now I was so accustomed to worrying about Sybil, and Tonks, and the rest of my new acquaintances, that I’d forgotten how much fun their world promised to be. At least I was reasonably sure Mark was safe and having the time of his life. His letters were full of glowing reports about his new friend Aurelius and most of his classes. History of Magic seemed to be a particular favourite.
History of Magic?!? – R. B., R. J. L., and N. T.
Your young friends haven’t told you about the substitute teacher yet, have they? Let’s just say he has surpassed all of our expectations. – M. McG.
A few days before we left for Hogsmeade, Tonks and Reg invited me along on a brief trip back to Remus’ flat. I didn’t altogether understand why, but everyone seemed to agree that it was still too dangerous for him to return home, so he had asked us to bring him something to read. He had finished all the interesting parts of Shakespeare and was now stuck with King John and Timon of Athens. “Anything except books on Dark magic,” he said. “There are already too many of those in the library at Grimmauld Place.”
I arrived late because of a delay in the Underground station. The police said a man had tried to commit suicide by throwing himself onto the rails, the third such case in a month. I looked at the faces of the frustrated commuters, their plans for the evening thrown off by a stranger’s despair, and for some reason the culture shock I’d been feeling over the last few months intensified. I dimly remembered some words from an English class in school...
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less ... Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind ...
It was odd to think that my new friends, who had Apparated to this neighbourhood in the blink of an eye, were not involved in the little accidents of humanity that affect Muggles so casually, and in turn, the men and women in the station were untouched by the war that concerned nearly everybody in the wizarding world. Except me. I supposed that made me an isthmus or something? I’ve never been good at geography or metaphors.
I expected Tonks and Reg would be almost ready to leave by the time I finally joined them, but they were in the middle of an argument. The trouble was that there were entirely too many books to choose from. The Flying Book of Owls and Steal this Book if You Dare were flat out, as they seemed resentful of their owner’s prolonged absence and kept attacking us, but we spent half an hour picking through the more docile volumes.
“Hmm,” said Tonks. “I don’t think Sixteenth-Century Developments in Arithmancy is exactly what he had in mind, although with him you never know.”
“And not Muggle and Wizard Inheritance Law: A Comparative History,” said Reg. “That looks deathly dull.”
“Ahem,” I said. “Take a look at the author’s name.”
“Oh. Sorry, Jack.”
“That’s all right,” I said. “It was pretty dull to write, too. Don’t your people write any fiction?”
“Apart from Hairy Snout, Human Heart and the complete works of Gilderoy Lockhart, you mean? Not very much, it isn’t our strong suit,” said Tonks.
“Here’s The Adventures of Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle,” said Reg, holding up what looked like an animated comic book. “That’s fiction, isn’t it?”
“I think he’ll like this better,” I said, tucking the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe under my arm. “The rest of you might enjoy it too.”
Just before we left, Reg picked up a bottle that had been sitting on the kitchen counter. “Is this the last of my brother’s single-malt Scotch?”
“Looks like it,” said Tonks, looking around the kitchen. “I don’t think you should open it without asking, though.”
“I wasn’t going to,” said Reg. “I have big plans for it.”
January 19th, 2004, 8:13 pm
This chapter contains no plot developments whatsoever, and is probably the only piece of Harry Potter fanfiction to be even vaguely inspired by a travel article about Kuwait (http://www.worldhum.com/story.cfm?SID=143).
Chapter Twenty-Five: Wizard Eye for the Muggle Guy
I told Moony about my plans for the Scotch when we got back to Grimmauld Place. He got very quiet for a moment, and I wasn’t sure how he felt about the idea, but at last he looked up and smiled. “Yes. I think he would have approved.”
“Of course he would. And,” I added hopefully, although I didn’t expect him to be keen on this part at all, “I’m pretty sure he’d want Harry to be there too.”
“Speaking as Harry’s legal guardian,” he said, “I’d say that sneaking out at night and underaged drinking are ... absolutely permitted under the circumstances.”
Good old Moony. It’s this flexible attitude toward rules that made him the best prefect in the history of Hogwarts.
* * *
Jack and Harriet arrived at my house on Friday evening, since we were planning to leave for Hogsmeade at dawn the next morning. “You’ll have to borrow some of our robes, of course,” said Nymphadora. “Nobody wears Muggle clothes in Hogsmeade. Well, the kids might, but not adults. You’d stick out too much.”
She had brought a spare set which she offered to Harriet, but Jack posed more of a problem. I like to think I’ve got decent fashion sense for a bloke, but he couldn’t possibly borrow mine because they were about six inches too long for him.
“I’m about his height,” said Moony. “He can have some of mine.”
Nymphadora and I exchanged a significant look. There were two very obvious problems with this idea, but it was hard to mention them without insulting either Moony or Jack.
Fortunately they spoke up first. It’s good to have friends who don’t mind insulting themselves, it saves you the trouble of doing it for them. “I don’t think Remus’ robes will fit me. I’m, well, a bit overweight and he isn’t,” said Jack.
“And if we try to alter mine, they’ll probably fall apart. Yes, I know they’re worn out. I won’t be offended if you mention it. Reg, wasn’t your uncle closer to Jack’s build? Maybe some of his things are still lying around.”
I shuddered. “Moony, I love ya, but you’ve got no sense of style. He can’t walk around Hogsmeade in Uncle Alph’s robes, he’ll look like a refugee from the Golden Age of Disco.”
“Oh?” he said. “And what do you look like in your Stubby Boardman outfit?”
“I’m a singing sensation, so I can get away with it. We want Jack to look like an ordinary guy.”
“Molly Weasley might be my size,” said Jack innocently.
The rest of us cracked up, except Harriet. “I don’t think so, Jack,” I said. “Not unless you want to star in Hogsmeade’s first drag show.” Actually, that might not be a bad idea. I filed it away for future reference in case Stubby Boardman’s usual routine wore thin.
“Oh. I didn’t realise wizard robes came in a male and a female version. From my perspective...” Jack didn’t finish the sentence.
Moony smiled. “... It looks like we’re all in drag. Right?”
“Well ... yes.”
“Trust me – we can tell the difference even if you can’t. But if we hemmed them up a little, Arthur’s robes might do for Jack.”
Now it was Jack and Harriet’s turn to exchange Significant Looks. “Arthur’s fashion sense...”
“ – Is fine as long as he sticks to the kind of clothing he knows about,” said Nymphadora. “Hey, Arthur, come up here for a minute!” Arthur appeared in the doorway. “Would you mind changing clothes with Jack for the weekend?”
“Sure!” he said happily. “I’ve always wanted one of those three-piecer suits. Only the colours aren’t very bright, are they? Maybe my new tie would perk it up.” When they returned a few minutes later, Arthur was wearing Jack’s suit and a really cool tie with lime green, orange, and pink swirls. I want one like that. “How do I look?”
“Great,” said Jack. “Very ... psychedelic. And I don’t think your robes look bad on me at all.”
“Well, they go really well with your tartan boxers,” said Nymphadora, smirking. “You’re supposed to tuck and tie them in the back so you don’t get arrested for indecent exposure.”
After that, he looked all right – until he tried to walk in them. Harriet looked stylish in my cousin’s robes as long as she sat still, but she had the same problem.
“You look fine,” said Moony encouragingly.
Nymphadora caught my eye and we both started snickering. “No, they don’t. They keep bouncing when they walk. You want to billow.”
“How do you billow?” asked Harriet.
I hadn’t the slightest idea. It just came naturally. “I’m not sure. Maybe only wizards can do it.”
“No, it’s just a way of moving,” said Nymphadora. “The idea is to sort of glide, not ... trample.”
After half an hour of practice, Harriet could do a passable glide, but Jack was hopeless. “I look like a cross between a Crumple-Horned Snorkack and a pile driver, don’t I?”
Moony looked as if he were trying desperately to think of something tactful to say, and then gave up. “Yes, Jack, I’m afraid you do.”
We were going to take the Evanses’ car, since they can’t Apparate. Jack explained that “car” was short for “Muggle flying carpet,” and that the engine was powered by a colony of hamsters whose exercise wheel was connected to a generator.
That’s very intresting! I bet most people don’t know that. I wonder if Jack would like to do a regular column for The Quibbler explaining how Muggle artifacks work. – L. L.
Glad to, Larry. – J. M. E.
Remind me to take out a subscription to The Quibbler when we get home. – R. J. L.
Yeah, I think I should get my dad one as a Christmas present. – N. T.
January 20th, 2004, 10:21 pm
Chapter Twenty-Six: At the Three Broomsticks
The drive to Hogsmeade was uneventful after we got Reg to stop hanging his head and arms out of the windows. In a fit of insanity I let him be in charge of the cassette player instead, which meant we had to listen to him belting out Led Zeppelin songs the whole time, and usually getting the lyrics very wrong.
If there’s a bus stop in your hedgerow,
Don’t be a lawman,
It’s just a sprinkling for the fake queen.
There are tubas you can go buy, but in the long run,
There’s still time to change the rope, John.
By the time we reached Nottingham I seriously regretted having given away my migraine pills, but Tonks and Harriet found Reg’s performance hilarious and refused to let me switch to classical music. I hoped Remus would take my side, but he was gazing out the window with a strange, distant look on his face and didn’t even seem to hear me when I spoke to him. Either something was weighing heavily on his mind, or he had an enviable talent for tuning out lunatics.
We arrived in Hogsmeade around midafternoon. Harriet and I settled into our room at the Three Broomsticks. The inn had looked tiny from the outside, but the narrow back stairway led to a seemingly endless maze of twisted corridors, blind alleys, and dark corners. It was almost impossible to navigate the place without stumbling: the oak floors were ancient and uneven, with the occasional unexpected stairstep in the middle of a hall or at the threshold of a room. The only light came from a few candles set into recesses of the walls at irregular intervals. This didn’t pose any problem for guests with wands, of course, but I wished I had thought to bring a torch.
The room itself was surprisingly bright and cozy, with a blazing fire, a bed spread with a beautiful handmade quilt, and a copy of The Book of Merlyn in the nightstand. Harriet drew the curtains and we looked out on a view that must have changed little since the Middle Ages: a cluster of thatched cottages with smoke rising from the chimneys, ducks and swans paddling under a small stone footbridge, low grey walls covered with vines. “Romantic, isn’t it?” she said.
“Very,” I said, sliding an arm around her waist and kissing her.
It took us a long time to find our way back to the bar, where Remus was ordering drinks. “Five pints of your Halloween ale, Rosmerta. And three butterbeers.” Harry had written to say he would meet us at the Three Broomsticks with Neville and his mysterious guest.
I took a sip. It was the real thing, earthy and complex. It had a sweet, nutty flavour with a touch of bitterness behind it, and it left a warm glow in the mouth. “Any magic in the brewing process?” I asked.
“Oh no,” he said. “Real ale is one thing magic can’t improve. But the Three Broomsticks has been brewing their own and using the same recipe since 1458.”
Tonks joined us at the bar and produced a photo of Larry. “Rosmerta, we’d like you to take a look at this picture. Has this man been in here recently?”
“He sure has, love. It would have been about a month ago. I remember him because he was talking to another stranger – good-looking woman with wavy auburn hair – not young, mind you, I’d put her at my age or a little older. She was about your height, love, and she had grey eyes and a small mole over one eyebrow. I can describe her so closely because when you’ve worked in a pub for as long as I have, you get a feel for customers you need to keep your eye on – and this woman was trouble. I didn’t think she was quite sane, to tell you the truth. There was something about her eyes that fairly gave me the chills.”
“He says he spoke to her until just before closing time, is that correct?”
Rosmerta looked thoughtful. “As far as I can remember, that’s right. He seemed very interested in what she was saying – he even took notes on it the whole time.”
“When would you say he left, then? Eleven?”
“Oh no, later than that,” she said. “We’re not all that fussed about the licensing laws in Hogsmeade – what are the Muggles going to do about it? Closing time is whenever I feel like going to bed, but seldom before half past eleven.”
I whistled softly. The real Larry Lovegood would still have been in the pub when somebody who looked just like him took over guard duty from Minerva. But who was this lookalike and where had he gone after that?
We carried the drinks back to the table, where Harry had already joined my wife and Reg.
“Where are Ron and Hermione?” I asked.
“Ron and Hermione are ... spending a lot of private time together these days.” Harry looked awkward. It isn’t easy being a third wheel, I thought.
Two more teenagers joined us a few minutes later: Harry’s friend Neville Longbottom, and a thin, dark-haired, gawky-looking boy who kept his eyes firmly planted on the floor.
“This is Theo,” said Neville. “He’s in my History of Magic class, and he’s got something he wants to tell you.”
January 21st, 2004, 10:24 pm
Well, this ought to throw a crimp into some of the theories on the feedback thread (http://www.cosforums.com/showthread.php?t=21928). Heh heh.
By the way, if anybody feels cheated out of a key scene, it's because I'm working on a Theo-centered story, and I think the interview scene would be more powerful if written from his perspective. (Also, I haven't worked out the finer points of what gets said.)
At the Three Broomsticks, Part Two
Theo looked at us warily. “I didn’t know it would be so many people,” he muttered. “Neville just said Professor Lupin was coming.” His eyes lit up as he spotted Reg. “Mr. Boardman? Could I have your autograph?”
Reg didn’t even blink – he wrote “STUBBY BOARDMAN” on a cocktail napkin in a large, looping handwriting that was as different as possible from his usual untidy scrawl.
“Wow,” breathed Theo. He favoured Reg with a look of pure adoration and began drinking his butterbeer in silence.
“You’d better tell them,” said Neville in a whisper that was a shade too loud. Theo blushed.
“Would you rather talk in private?” suggested Remus. “We could go to my room upstairs.”
Theo nodded. “Neville and Mr. Boardman can come too,” he said.
The rest of us sipped our drinks and made conversation rather awkwardly while they were gone. It was good to hear Harry confirm that Mark was settling in well, although we already knew this from his letters. Harriet asked about the substitute History of Magic teacher.
“Oh yeah – Professor de Mimsy-Porpington,” said Harry, smirking a little. “Of course everybody still calls him Nearly Headless Nick behind his back. He cancelled all the lessons on goblin rebellions the first day. We’re doing the Wars of the Roses now, and then we move on to the early witch trials, and next term is the history of Hogwarts from 1500 to the present. He’s brilliant. You can tell he lived this stuff instead of reading about it in books.”
“And that’s the class where you met Theo? What do you make of him?” I asked.
Harry looked guarded. “Well, Neville seems to like him a lot. He wanted me to tell him about the D.A. – the defence club I started.”
“It sounds like you’re not sure that’s a good idea.”
Harry nodded. “I mean, it’s not just that he’s a Slytherin, his father’s a Death Eater. And, well, if the Death Eaters wanted a student to spy on us, I think they would use someone like Theo, because he hasn’t been openly mean to us and he’s the sort of person who doesn’t attract notice. I didn’t really know he existed until this term.”
After half an hour, Remus returned alone. “Theo seems to have taken to Reg,” he said, looking slightly amused. “I thought it would be better to let them bond for a while.”
He took a swallow of Halloween ale and explained, “Theo admitted he has been passing information about recent goings-on at Hogwarts to his parents – not as their agent, but as their dupe. They didn’t take their son into their confidence, but for years they’ve been picking up casual gossip from him about daily life at Hogwarts, the way the staff feel about each other, and anything unusual that happens. At the beginning of this term, he told them about the relationship between Larry and Sybil, which he overheard me discussing with Harry and Neville during the first week of term, and Sir Cadogan’s habit of using characters from the legend of King Arthur as passwords. He changes them about twice a day and Larry always had trouble remembering them, so Sir Cadogan probably wouldn’t be at all suspicious if Sybil’s kidnapper rattled off half the knights of the Round Table before hitting on the right one.
“Theo also told his parents that Stubby Boardman had come out of retirement in Barbados for a special performance at Hogwarts. He seems to be quite a fan.” Remus smiled in a way that suggested this was an extreme understatement. “I don’t think they connected that piece of information with Sybil and her guards. It seems more likely that they got interested in Larry first, guessed he might be the weak point in our security system, and thought the Stubby Boardman story would provide a plausible pretext for gaining access to his office.”
“Who are Theo’s parents?” I asked.
“Their names are Jephthah and Medea Nott.”
I remembered the names. They had joined the Death Eaters at the same time Reg did.
Tonks looked up with interest. “We already know that Jephthah might be the man who posed as Stubby Boardman – and Medea exactly matches the physical description of Fidessa Fauntleroy that Rosmerta gave us. If it’s her, Rosmerta’s ability to judge character is dead on. Medea Nott went to trial early in 1981 and claimed to be acting under the Imperius curse. She got off, but at the time of her release she appeared to be suffering from Azkaban flu.”
“Azkaban flu?” asked Harry.
“That’s a flippant way of saying she was deranged. Not that it’s really anything to joke about, but you have to joke in our business or we’d be in danger of going mad ourselves.”
Remus’ face tightened. I suspected he didn’t find the joke funny.
“Anyway,” Tonks continued, “she seemed to disappear from the ranks of active Death Eaters after that. The Aurors who were working on her case at the time conjectured that she had become too unstable for Voldemort to use her, but he allowed her to go home and go about her business because he wanted to keep her husband on his side. We haven’t seen any evidence that he took her back into his confidence until now.”
Harriet smiled at me. “What makes you think he did? Maybe her husband trusted her and thought she’d enjoy being along for the ride. It’s been known to happen – and Death Eaters are human too, aren’t they?”
January 22nd, 2004, 11:43 pm
Just a short update, more of a warning to stock up on Kleenex than anything else.
Chapter Twenty-Seven: In Memoriam
“Eleven o’clock,” I told Harry. “We’ll understand if you’re a little late. The most important thing is to be careful.”
I was a little relieved that Ron and Hermione hadn’t shown. I didn’t fancy explaining our plan to Molly if she heard about it, let alone the Grangers, whom I’d met only twice. But with Harry I felt no responsibility to anyone else except the dead, and I believed they would have approved. Well, two of them certainly would, and between them I hoped they’d be able to talk Lily into giving her blessing.
I asked Jack and Harriet to join us, but they declined. “We didn’t know him,” they said. (This was a proper and tactful sentiment, but I suspected they were also experiencing the Hogsmeade Effect, which can be as powerful for long-married couples as for third-year students on their first date, and could think of more exciting ways to spend the evening.)
I approached Rosmerta, meaning to ask if we could borrow four of her glasses, and then I remembered a scene from my own first Hogsmeade weekend: James and Sirius clowning around in the Three Broomsticks and getting so noisy I was afraid we were going to be kicked out, and the pretty girl behind the bar, only a few years older than we were, laughing indulgently. I told her what we were about to do and invited her to join us.
Her eyes widened. “But didn’t he...”
“No,” I said. “He did not.”
“I never thought so,” she said immediately. “He was the last person I would have expected to do anything of the sort, and Rubeus Hagrid will tell you I’ve been saying so for years.”
When I become Minister of Magic I shall fill the ranks of the Wizengamot with bartenders.
We had chosen a stretch of sand at the edge of the lake, hidden from the village by a clump of pine trees and underbrush. Rosmerta joined us after she finished closing the Three Broomsticks, and Harry followed a few minutes later under his invisibility cloak.
Tonks kindled a fire and Reg opened the bottle of Scotch. It was, I thought, time for a quiet word with Harry. I thanked Merlin that my father was a Frenchman. He’d given me the same talk when I was slightly younger than Harry. The English, for the most part, don’t know how to drink, and they certainly don’t know how to talk to their children about the subject.
“I’m not going to ask how experienced a drinker you are,” I whispered to him, “because I really don’t want to know, but I’m going to give you some guardianly advice which you should heed even if you think you are very experienced, because this stuff is liquid gold. Sip it slowly. Single malt Scotch is an acquired taste, so you don’t have to finish it if you don’t want to. And if you do happen to have acquired the taste, stop while you can still appreciate its complexities. That means three drinks or fewer. After you get back to the castle, have some water and do not under any circumstances think of moving on to the bottle of firewhiskey Dean Thomas has stashed under his bed." (This was a pure guess, but one look at his face told me it had been a shrewd one.) "You’ll thank me in the morning.”
Rosmerta winked at me. “I wish all my customers had guardians who were half as sensible.”
I laughed. “You’d be out of business if they did.”
Reg poured us each a shot of Scotch and threw one into the fire, which blazed more brightly.
The ceremony was really Reg’s idea, but in a completely uncharacteristic moment of modesty he had insisted that he was no public speaker and asked me to say a few words. I am not much of a speaker either, but neither Tonks nor Harry was willing to take the role off my hands, so I did the best I could.
I took a nip of Scotch, cleared my throat, and said, “Friends, we are gathered here tonight to remember Sirius Black...”
January 25th, 2004, 12:14 am
:: Looks around and blinks :: Wow, cool new look.
In Memoriam, Part Two
“So many lies have been spread about him that I must begin by setting the record straight about the kind of person he was. He was a true friend and a loving godfather. He was the sort of man who would gladly give his life to protect those he loved. And he was an innocent man who was condemned to pay with his freedom and sanity for another person’s crime and a government bureaucrat’s career.”
I had to tread lightly here, at least in front of Harry. The Aurors call it Azkaban flu, but it’s more like cancer – slow, degenerative, fatal. I had hoped at first that he was entirely free of it. He wasn’t. God knows I grieve for him, but I cannot help feeling a touch of relief that none of us had to watch him slip farther and farther into it. I could, at least, spare Harry this knowledge for a while.
“He died by treachery, but the great tragedy of his life is that so many years had already been stolen from him through treachery. Those of us who cared for him are left mourning the boy who was and the man who might have been, as well as the man who was killed at the Department of Mysteries last spring.
“I don’t know what becomes of us after we die, but I believe he has not left us altogether as long as some of us remain alive to remember him. And much of him lives on in the three of you, his closest kin –”
“Am I related to the Blacks?” Harry asked in surprise.
“There are more kinds of kinship than blood,” I said. “Looking at all of you, I believe I see something of what should have been – the humour and energy and optimism that should have stayed with him into adult life...”
I had thought out a few words more, but I was getting too choked up to deliver them. I poured a last shot of Scotch onto the flames. “Good night, Padfoot.”
“I remember the time he switched my bottle of Worcestershire sauce with a Cauliflower-Ears potion,” said Rosmerta, who was already well past the three-drink limit I’d imposed on Harry. “Well, Argus Filch was the only person who ever ordered Bloody Marys, so I didn’t notice for two weeks. I’ll never forget the sight of Argus hopping up and down on one leg digging bits of vegetables out of his ears.” She laughed until the tears were streaming down her face.
Good thing I’d invited her; she was better than I was at giving him the sort of wake he would have wanted. Tonks and Reg chuckled appreciatively and began swapping stories in the same vein. I kept an eye on Harry, but he was smiling and he even managed a tale or two of his own. Rosmerta left us after an hour or so, weaving only slightly and humming “God Rest Ye Merry Hippogriffs” as she walked back to the village. We all became much quieter after she had gone.
“All right?” I asked Harry, putting a cautious hand on his shoulder. One never knows how teenaged boys are going to take this sort of thing, especially in front of other people, but he didn’t shrug it off.
“Yeah. I’m glad we did this. You might want to have a word with Reg, though, he looks kind of ... distressed.” (Good, he’d started to be concerned about others. That is a sign of healing.)
Reg, as usual, got straight to the point. “You said once that he never talked about me. Is that true? I mean, no offence, but you do lie your head off sometimes, especially when you don’t want to hurt people.”
Unlike his brother, Reg had always looked younger than his years. He seemed about eleven now, and without the slightest indication of malice he’d put his finger on one of my worst faults. I struggled to find the right words.
“It’s all right, Moony,” he added quietly. “I know he hated me until the day he died.”
I’d forgotten that he had an uncanny ability to see through polite lies.
“Yes. He did speak about you sometimes. The last time I remember was in March. He said, ‘If my idiot brother hadn’t been thick enough to join the Death Eaters and get himself killed, we would have shown them something ...” I broke off, realising for the first time that this speech suggested an entirely different emotion than hatred. How had I missed it for so long?
I turned away and looked into the shadows. Sixteen years, and they’d missed each other by two months. Two short months. It didn’t bear thinking about.
On the other side of the flames, Tonks was saying something to Harry about chaos and randomness and the fog of war. I wondered how she had learned so much, at her age, and then realised she wasn’t so young at all. She was a year older than I had been – when... That wasn’t worth thinking about either. I tried to forget how close it was to Halloween.
I don’t know how it happened, but suddenly she was standing at my side. “Let’s leave them for a while,” she said. “Harry and Reg have to make their peace with him in a way we don’t.”
We walked along the edge of the lake, under the bare trees and piercingly bright stars of autumn.
We had been stepping around each other in an awkward and embarrassed way for the last two weeks, and it was time it ended. I had another speech thought out, one that I hoped would take the sting out of some of Snape’s words and at the same time reassure her that of course I didn’t think she was attracted to me at all, that he liked to fling out taunts at random and he’d been doing it to me for years and I’d long since learned not to take anything he said very seriously. I was debating whether I should also say some complimentary things about Charlie Weasley, who was home on leave recovering from a dragon attack, or whether this would sound like I was taking it all too seriously.
I had spent most of the long drive from London working out what I should say, but I never got the chance. When we first walked away from the fire, I couldn’t speak because I didn’t want her to know I was crying – and then after that it didn’t matter because we were both crying, and she was kissing me harder than I’d ever been kissed in my life.
Charlie ... Weasley? Honestly, Remus, you can be so clueless! – N. T.
Well, how was I to know? He seems like a nice young man, and I thought dragons would be right up your alley – obviously you don’t object to dangerous creatures in principle ... – R. J. L.
I don’t. Come here ... – N. T.
January 26th, 2004, 12:28 am
Chapter Twenty-Eight: A Package Deal
We finally learned why the kidnappers hadn’t made a second move. Rosmerta asked her Aussie employee a few well-chosen questions and found out that an attractive auburn-haired woman had dropped in and engaged him in a long conversation about the customers a few days after I spoke to him. Among other things, he happened to mention that a brisk trade in takeaway sherry had suddenly dried up.
“It’s always the little details, isn’t it?” said Remus, shaking his head. “Brilliant impersonation job, but nobody thought to keep you supplied with sherry. Oh well, I think we might keep quiet about that information for a few days. Having the North Tower to ourselves has its compensations...”
Not long after that, Mark Evans and his friend Aurelius burst into the Divination classroom to welcome us back and show off Aurelius’ new toad, which promptly hopped out of his hand and disappeared, forcing the boys to dismantle the room. A rather out-of-breath Hermione turned up, took in the situation at a glance, and seized a boy in each hand with an expression that did not bode well for Mark and Aurelius. The other sixth-year prefect, Ron, followed a moment later, obviously less than thrilled at the prospect of having to be a disciplinarian.
“Don’t worry about it, they’re perfectly welcome,” said Remus, disentangling himself from me. He added in a whisper, “Sorry, but I’m afraid I’m a package deal. If you want me, you have to take the kids as well.”
“That’s fine,” I said, settling in for an evening of toad-hunting and Exploding Snap. “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
A couple of hours later Remus decided enough was enough, and did something that scandalised our young friends so much that I was afraid Ron might not recover.
“What’s he looking so shocked for?” I asked as they beat a hasty retreat. “He was snogging Hermione the whole time.”
“Silly – we’re ancient,” he said. “Or at least I am, and you’re getting close. Anybody over twenty-five is practically decrepit and is absolutely not allowed to have a love life.”
Over the next few days it became clear that Theo Nott was part of the deal, too, although I wasn’t sure what to make of him. I had gone to school with his sister Lavinia, and I remembered her as loud, outgoing, and rebellious. I had been shocked to hear that she had committed suicide a year or two after we left Hogwarts. Theo was almost her polar opposite – too withdrawn to look anyone in the eye or speak above a whisper – and he seemed particularly wary of me. Perhaps I reminded him of Lavinia too much.
Remus had slightly better luck; he spent several evenings talking with Theo in a quiet corner of the North Tower. All the same, he said he couldn’t get much information out of him that might help us locate Jephthah, Medea, or Sybill. “The poor kid is shell-shocked, and naturally he doesn’t want to say anything too compromising about his parents – and I don’t want to ask him any questions that make it obvious what we’re looking for, because his mother has been using Legilimency on him against his will. We’ll have to tread lightly.”
“How far do you think we can trust him?” I asked.
“That’s another problem. I honestly don’t know.”
“You’re a fair Legilimens yourself.” (He looked uncomfortable. He doesn’t like being reminded of that.) “Didn’t you –”
“Yes. I had to. But it is Legilimency, not divination. And, well, it’s hardly fair to expect loyalty from him when we may be about to send his parents to Azkaban.”
I’m ashamed to say that I hadn’t thought of this side of things before. For a split second, I felt relieved that I wasn’t the one the boy was beginning to look at with a fragile sense of confidence, and then I looked at Remus’ face and wished it could have been anyone but him.
“And we’re meant to be the good guys,” I said. “It’s a dirty business, all around.”
“You’re just now noticing?” He laughed mirthlessly. “This isn’t the worst of it. If we are going to be lovers, you’d better see me at my most deceitful. One of these days I’ll take you to Sunday lunch with an old woman in Birmingham. Her name is Martha Pettigrew and she thinks of me as a sort of foster son.”
I didn’t know to respond. Was he confiding in me or warning me off? I laid a hand on his arm, but he looked as if he weren’t sure he wanted to be touched. Casually, he said, “If you’re planning to try your skills as a potion brewer, it’s about that time.”
I understood this to mean that he wanted to be left alone for a bit and took off for the dungeons. Fortunately Snape wasn’t around to watch me burn the bottoms out of three cauldrons before I mastered the art of brewing Wolfsbane.
“Does comfrey essence improve the flavour?” I asked.
“Unfortunately, no,” he said, shuddering a little as he drained the goblet. “But it might help if you kissed me again.”
I did, not minding the slightly bitter taste that still lingered about his mouth. And again and again.
He put his hands on my shoulders and pushed me away for a moment. “Only – you’re not expecting miracles, are you? I mean, it’s a pain reliever and not much else. I’m never going to be really well and to be honest – I’m not sure you’ve made the best bargain.”
“I think I have,” I said, looking him over. “I require brains, humour, and decency. Anything else is extra – only I wish you were a little less secretive.”
“You should talk.” He smiled, and I was sure he was beginning to feel comfortable with me now. “Do I ever get to read the parts of our records you Arcanum charmed against me?”
“Of course,” I said. I lifted the charm and left him to it. I was still figuring out the finer points of this package deal I’d signed on for, but I was sure part of it was that you didn’t come between a man and his reading material.
Suddenly Remus dropped the book on the floor. “Larry works in the same building as the Happy Hippogriff Dead Rat Emporium?” he asked.
“Because I used to be a regular customer, back when Sirius had Buckbeak. And the man who owns the place exactly fits your description of Stubby Boardman – or Jephthah Nott.”
January 26th, 2004, 8:09 pm
And four-fifths of the way through the story, I realize that I have been misspelling Sybill's name the whole time. How embarrassing.
Chapter Twenty-Nine: At the Happy Hippogriff
Jack and Harriet Evans invited Larry and me to their house in Surrey for dinner one evening. We were discussing the case over coffee – by which I mean, naturally, discussing Moony and Nymphadora, so it was a bit embarrassing when they turned up in the living room without warning. They both looked dishevelled and they were clutching Instant Message Books.
“Aren’t you supposed to be at Hogwarts trying to be kidnapped?” I asked.
“Forget about the bluff, it’s not working. But I think we’ve got it,” my cousin announced. “We’re pretty sure we know where to find Jephthah Nott, alias Stubby Boardman. We think he also goes by the name of Melvin Crankenthorpe, owner of the Happy Hippogriff Dead Rat Emporium.”
Of course I had to help verify this, since I was the only one who had actually met Jephthah Nott. They wanted Larry to confirm that he was also the man who came into his office pretending to be Boardman, but he said dead rats gave him the creeps. (I didn’t think this was much of an excuse. Death Eaters give me the creeps, and you didn’t see me trying to back out.) But anyway, Nymphadora said she could identify him as well, so the three of us, plus Jack, ended up going to the Happy Hippogriff Dead Rat Emporium the next day.
The shop was a dreary-looking place, strictly no-frills. The sacks of dead rats piled along the back wall were sorted by colour, from albino to coal black with a range of browns and greys in between. Spotted and particoloured ones cost five Knuts extra.
“Haven’t seen you in ages, Melvin,” said Moony pleasantly. “I don’t think you’ve met my girlfriend, have you?”
“Oh yes he has,” said Nymphadora, looking him over. “Hello, Mr. Boardman. It’s not every day you see a singing sensation flogging dead rats. Come down in the world, haven’t you?”
The man behind the counter glared at her. “Yes, my stage name used to be Stubby Boardman, but a very traumatic incident involving a root vegetable left me unable to continue performing. There is nothing dishonourable about the way I earn a living now, and I don’t see how my career path is anybody’s business except my own.”
“Well, Stubby?” asked my cousin. I took off my hood and sunglasses and came forward.
I hadn’t seen him in sixteen years and he seemed to have aged thirty, but the man was definitely Jephy Nott. I looked him over. He was a thin, stooped bloke with an expression like he’d been sucking on a lemon and not a trace of charisma or stage presence. And this guy claimed to be a singing sensation? If I’d been the real Stubby Boardman, I would have taken it as a personal insult. As things were, I knew I did a much better impression of him.
“No, I’m Stubby Boardman,” I said, showing him my ukulele.
Jephy blanched, but he tried to brazen it out. “That’s ridiculous,” he said without much conviction. “You’re obviously another one of these celebrity impersonators who keep dragging my reputation through the mud.”
“Oh yeah? Well, let’s hear you sing your greatest hit, ‘Since My Baby Left-a Me.’” I handed him the ukulele.
Jephy looked at it like he couldn’t tell which end was up, but at last he settled on a position and began to strum it. “Since ... MAH ... bay-BAY left-A me ... something something something something somethinnggg...”
“Nice try, Stubby,” I said, “but I’m afraid you’re Nott.”
We disarmed him and bound his arms and legs. Moony and I kept our wands aimed at him as my cousin showed him her Ministry identification card. “You’re under arrest for the kidnapping of Sybill Trelawney, Mr. Nott. Tell us what you’ve done with her.”
Jephthah struggled, swore at her, and shook his head.
“Don’t want to talk, do you?” she said crisply. “I have a feeling we’ll be able to loosen your tongue before long, but you’ll get a much shorter prison sentence if you cooperate now. Where did you take her after you left the North Tower?”
“I didn’t take her anywhere!” said Jephy. “I’ve never been inside the North Tower.”
I heard a soft scuffling noise from the back of the shop as Jack stepped forward. “You may as well tell us, Mr. Nott,” he said. “We know exactly how it was done. Larry Lovegood and Miss Tonks, here, can both testify that you gained access to Mr. Lovegood’s office posing as Stubby Boardman in order to steal the ingredients for Polyjuice potion – and I believe she can also identify you as the man who tried to kidnap her when she was disguised as Sybill.”
Nymphadora nodded. “Right build, right colouring, same way of moving. It’s him, all right. Now, where is Sybill?”
“I don’t know!” insisted the man on the floor.
All in a flash, I was sure. “He doesn’t know,” I said. “You have the wrong man.”
“This isn’t the time for jokes, Reg,” said Moony. “You just identified him yourself.”
“I said he was Jephthah Nott. And he is. But he didn’t kidnap Sybill. It’s all wrong.”
They all looked at me as if I were mad. I didn’t have time to explain, because footsteps in the hallway told us a customer was coming. Nymphadora gagged Jephy while Moony took hold of one of his arms and Jack grabbed the other. They dragged him behind the counter and out of sight.
One of the Weasley twins walked into the shop. “Oi, Tonks and Reg!” His eyes widened as Moony reappeared from behind the counter. “Er, hello, Professor. I didn’t know you got a job selling dead rats.” He looked slightly embarrassed, and I wondered if Larry was about to get another crusader in his campaign for werewolf rights.
“Hello, Fred,” said Moony, cool as anything. “It is Fred, isn’t it? I don’t sell dead rats – I give them away.”
Jephthah Nott made protesting noises from behind his gag.
“How many do you think Buckbeak can eat in a week?” Moony continued relentlessly, as Nymphadora and I loaded Fred’s shopping basket with rats of all colours. “Are you sure he wouldn’t like more? Can you use any extras – for joke shop products, perhaps?”
“Oh yeah, that’d be brilliant. George and I are experimenting with Occasional Vanishing Charms. I bet we could do a lot with a rat that’s sometimes there and sometimes isn’t.”
“Excellent. You wouldn’t care to take the shop off our hands, too, while you’re at it? The previous owner seems a little unfit for work at the moment.”
Jephy squirmed and squeaked, but the bonds around his wrists only tightened.
In less than fifteen minutes, Fred was installed behind the counter and had already started putting up signs offering specials on rats enchanted to fly around the room, disappear, or explode. We were just debating how to get Jephy back to headquarters when an owl swooped in the door with a note addressed to Jack.
The handwriting was Mad-Eye Moody’s, firm and straight. It read “DON’T GO HOME.”
January 27th, 2004, 6:35 pm
Chapter Thirty: Medea
“What does he mean, ‘DON’T GO HOME’?” I exclaimed. “My wife is at home.” I grabbed my car keys and lunged for the door. Remus held me back – he was stronger than he looked, but I was heavier – next thing I knew, I’d knocked him down. The rat Fred had been levitating fell to the floor with a plop. I looked around and saw that Fred, Tonks and Reg all had their wands pointed straight at me. I froze.
“Will you – listen to reason – Jack,” Remus gasped, “or do we have to – bind you up – like Mr. Nott there?”
“I’ll listen,” I said. He picked himself up off the floor and rubbed his jaw where I hit him, and I felt contrite. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t mention it. Trust me, you would not find it easy to do me any permanent damage, and you don’t have a chance against four of us.” He looked me in the eye and I realised his threat had been serious. “You’re not going anywhere except Grimmauld Place. I don’t know what’s going on and I’m in no position to make any promises, but I’m certain Alastor will do everything possible to keep your wife safe. I can also virtually guarantee that there is no way you’d be able to help.”
He was right, of course. I shouldn’t have come in the first place; I couldn't do a thing except stand back and be protected, placing an additional burden on the others. I swore under my breath. I hate being this powerless.
A second owl flew into the shop. This one was clutching a longer letter and a packet labelled Pixie-B-Gon, which looked like the same one that had been sitting on my bedroom windowsill for weeks.
I hope Alastor’s note didn’t scare you too much, he can be a little paranoid sometimes. Your wife is fine. She’s here at headquarters. Please use this Portkey to join her. We’ve just arrested Medea Nott outside your house and we’re checking the neighbourhood for other Death Eaters. Everything’s under control. You have nothing to worry about.
– Kingsley Shacklebolt
This wasn’t precisely as reassuring as Kingsley seemed to think it would be, but it helped a little.
Tonks opened the packet and turned it upside down. A small blue pellet fell out on the counter. “You’ll have to help us transport Nott as well,” she explained. “Take one of his hands, and make sure you both touch the Portkey at exactly the same time. Got it?”
I nodded, breathing a little easier. At least I was useful for something in their world.
“We’ll see you at Grimmauld Place.”
Travelling by Portkey was a new and dizzying experience for me. I had the wind knocked out of me as I landed underneath of Jephthah Nott in the front hall. Harriet helped me up, grinning. “Did you have fun getting here? I think it’s the best way to travel ever.” (She also likes roller coasters. I don’t.)
I looked around the hall. The others had already Apparated from the shop. An auburn-haired woman was lying on the floor, bound and gagged just like Jephthah. Unlike Jephthah, she was still struggling actively against her bonds, and there was a wild, mad light in her eyes. Kingsley Shacklebolt was standing over her with his wand firmly pointed in her direction. He looked solemn.
“What happened?” I asked.
Kingsley explained, “Harriet spotted Medea destroying the model of Hogwarts in your garden and guessed who she was from Madame Rosmerta’s description. She remembered about the packet of Pixie-B-Gon, Portkeyed herself over here, and told the other members of the Order. Your wife has enormous presence of mind and, if I may say so, extraordinarily good luck. She was very fortunate that Medea didn’t see her first – and that you told her everything about your work for the Order. That probably saved her life.”
“Medea would have killed her?” I blurted out before I could stop myself.
“I hate to be so blunt about it, but – yes.” said Kingsley. “I’m not going to undo her gag until we’re ready to interrogate her, but if you could have heard her when we arrested her – well. She was only coherent part of the time, but she was definitely in a homicidal frame of mind.”
Mad-Eye Moody had arrived while he was speaking. “That’s putting it mildly, Kingsley,” he said. “The woman’s a raving psycho. The good news is that there don’t seem to be any more Death Eaters involved. She seems to have tailed Larry and Reg to the Evanses’ house a few nights ago and decided on her own to attack them.”
“But why would she want to do that?”
Kingsley looked at us with an odd, troubled expression before he answered. “The particular form her mania takes is a homicidal obsession with Muggles who know about the wizarding world and find it ... too attractive. By the way – good thing you built that model. She couldn’t resist wrecking it before going after the people in the house, and that gave your wife time to get away.”
I stared at him, feeling dazed. So many little pieces of luck; so many things that might have gone wrong.
Severus Snape Apparated into the room with his potions kit. “Get the Veritaserum ready,” ordered Moody.
I glanced over at Remus and saw that he had gone very white. “All right?” I asked.
He nodded, with visible effort.
I crossed the room to where he was standing. “No one’s going to think any less of you if you take some time out,” I said quietly. “It’s been a long day, and the full moon is less than a week away.”
“No. It isn’t that. I’m fine. Really.”
January 28th, 2004, 8:37 pm
Chapter Thirty-One: Interrogations
Veritaserum. My stomach lurched, and I bit down on my lower lip, hard. You fool, said a small, mocking voice in the back of my head, what did you think they were going to use? Chocolate syrup?
“Sure you’re all right?” whispered Tonks. I felt her hand tighten on my arm.
“Yes. It’s just – I really don’t like Veritaserum. There’s no reason why I would have to be present when you question them, is there?”
“No, of course not.” She didn’t ask any questions, but she kept a firm grip on my arm, and Jack was looking at me with concern. Embarrassed, I muttered that I would explain later.
They questioned me for forty-eight solid hours after Lily and James died. No sleep, no food, the occasional glass of water when I became too hoarse to speak. I suppose it wasn’t really the Veritaserum that made those two days into the stuff of my nightmares, it was everything else – the bullying, the way they told me about Sirius and Peter in the most brutal way imaginable, the absolute refusal to believe I didn’t have something to do with it. We wouldn’t do that to our prisoners – I hoped – and yet I couldn’t face watching it.
Besides, Veritaserum makes every guilty secret and dark thought you’ve ever had come spilling out, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know everything about our prisoners. I’d begun to have another, horrible suspicion about the content of one of those confessions.
Across the hall, Severus Snape was saying something to Alastor about the correct dosage of Veritaserum for a man of Jephthah Nott’s size and weight. Like everyone else in the room, he seemed perfectly calm and collected, but it occurred to me that he was probably the only other person present who had experienced its effects in the immediate, personal way that I had. He wouldn’t mind witnessing the Notts’ interrogation; he would regard it as a job that had to be done, and done correctly. And I had called him a coward?
I thought back to what he had written about balance and measure, and accepted that there would always be a certain uneasy balance between our personalities.
Severus, our resident crew of Aurors, and the prisoners disappeared into a couple of the upstairs bedrooms for several hours. I tried to distract myself by reading Edgar Allan Poe, while Jack brought Harriet up to speed about the morning’s events with many interruptions from Reg. We found a packet of crisps in the kitchen and called it lunch, ignoring Kreacher’s offer to hunt down a yeti and fry it up for us. (He is currently working on a manuscript entitled Gilderoy Lockhart’s Guide to Exotic Cookery, although he hasn't yet found a publisher for Gilderoy Lockhart's Guide to Extreme House Cleaning.)
At long last, Tonks came down the stairs. She sat down next to me on the sofa and buried her forehead in her hands. She looked like she’d had a long day. I put an arm around her shoulders and asked what was the matter.
“Veritaserum doesn’t work on people who are barking mad, that’s what’s the matter. Medea has confessed to at least twenty murders already, and some of the people she named as her victims are still alive. We can’t get her to keep her mind on this crime long enough to learn anything useful from her. Alastor’s still trying, but I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere.”
Kingsley’s words about Medea’s obsession with Muggles who were too much in love with our world had triggered something in the back of my mind. I glanced at Jack. If I was not mistaken, the same question was troubling him as well. “Of the victims who aren’t alive,” I said cautiously, “is there a chance she really did kill any of them?”
“Yes.” She paused. “Do you want to know more?”
“No,” I said, feeling once again that I was an unspeakable coward. But, I told myself, even if the woman upstairs was my grandmother’s murderer, what difference did it make? What was I supposed to do with that information now?
“Do you, Jack?”
“Yes.” He was very pale, but he looked at her steadily. “Please.”
“I cannot say for certain whether she killed your adopted parents. We may never know that. But I will tell you that she believes she did.”
While he was still taking this in, Kingsley and Severus came out of the other room where they had been interrogating Jephthah Nott. “Think,” Kingsley was saying heatedly. “You must have made some mistake with the Veritaserum. Did you forget any of the ingredients?”
“I don’t make mistakes,” said Severus coolly. (I repressed a sudden, juvenile urge to hex him. It didn’t help that I knew he was right.)
“Then he must have some way of resisting the potion.”
“You and your colleagues may brew a version of Veritaserum people can resist. I do not. The man is telling the truth.”
January 29th, 2004, 10:48 pm
Congrats to seeker and SnorkackCatcher for anticipating this latest plot twist on the feedback thread (http://www.cosforums.com/showthread.php?t=21928&page=7&pp=30). Hope it doesn't come across as too anticlimactic now.
Interrogations, Part Two
“I don’t buy it,” Kingsley insisted. “How can he not know some of these things?”
“Easily,” said Severus. “They are Death Eaters. They don’t eat together, they don’t sit around drinking wine for hours after their meetings, and they don’t gossip. They are professionals.”
“Feeling nostalgic, are we?” muttered Tonks under her breath.
Harriet and I looked at each other. “Tea,” we said simultaneously.
Once he had a mug of tea in hand, Kingsley explained in a calmer tone, “We made good progress at first – he confessed at once to being a Death Eater named Jephthah Nott who operates the Happy Hippogriff under a false name. He maintains that his wife is no longer officially a Death Eater, but she has been helping him for a long time by pumping their son Theodore for information about Hogwarts, and Jephthah confided in her about his own work.” He took a swallow of tea. “He adores his wife, by the way. Kept begging us not to hurt her. I wouldn’t put it past him to try to shield her if he’s able to resist the potion, but on the other hand, this part of his story is consistent with what we’ve learned from other sources.”
Harriet’s words came back to me: Death Eaters are human, too, aren’t they? Life would be so much simpler if they weren’t.
Kingsley continued, “Nott also admitted to passing himself off as Boardman in order to gain access to Larry’s office and steal the toenail clippings. Finally, he confessed that he persuaded his wife to impersonate Fidessa and detain the real Larry at the Three Broomsticks.”
“What’s the problem, then?” asked Tonks. “It sounds like he’s given us more than enough evidence to bring charges.”
“He balked when we came to the actual night of the crime. He insists that he didn’t kidnap Sybill – his contact did. And conveniently, he claims not to have the slightest idea who this contact is or where he – or she – took her.”
“Then how did they communicate?” asked Jack.
“He presumes that his contact has a key to the shop, but he claims he doesn’t even know that for certain. The contact came in at night and exchanged notes with Nott, and Nott says he left Larry’s toenail clippings on the counter for the contact to collect, and agreed to get Larry out of the way on the night in question.” Kingsley shook his head. “That’s the part I think is completely unbelievable. He must have some idea about this person’s identity if they worked so closely together. How would he not recognise the handwriting, or the personality?”
“And I consider it absolutely believable,” said Severus smoothly. “You have studied how these people operate from the outside, but I have lived it. They work in an atmosphere of complete secrecy and distrust.”
“I said you had the wrong man, Moony.” Reg looked at me accusingly. “You wouldn’t listen.”
I would never have expected Reg to agree with Severus about anything, but of course he was a former Death Eater too; I keep forgetting because he has such an unlikely personality for it. If they both found Nott’s story plausible, I thought they might have a point. “All right,” I said. “I’m listening now. What makes you think he’s the wrong man?”
“Because he’s not a performer,” said Reg promptly. “He was about the most unconvincing singing sensation I’ve ever seen. Nobody but Larry would have bought his Stubby Boardman act for a second, and we don’t even know Stubby Boardman. You think he could pass himself off as Larry long enough to get Sybill to leave the tower?”
I groaned. Leave it to Reg to come up with something like that. Severus, I was pleased to see, looked equally disgusted.
“You might be right,” said Tonks. “I thought there was something all wrong about him when he came into Larry’s office, and we were only in the same room for about a minute.”
I looked to Jack for support. I hadn’t realised until that moment how much I had come to count on Jack to be a voice of reason. To my surprise, he said, “I think Reg’s on to something. First of all, kidnapping Sybill sounds like a mission for two, and if Medea wasn’t officially involved, it stands to reason that Voldemort would have put somebody else on the job. And secondly, Larry’s a pretty colourful character, and he was Sybill’s boyfriend. It would have taken some acting ability to pull it off.” He paused for a moment. “May I ask a rather stupid question?”
“Go ahead,” I said.
“This Peter Pettigrew everyone keeps talking about – he isn’t the same person as your school friend Peter? The one with the wicked gift for imitations?”
January 30th, 2004, 9:36 pm
Sorry for the shortness of this post, but I thought I'd give everybody one last opportunity to guess before I reveal Sybill's whereabouts...
Chapter Thirty-Two: Closing the Net
“Unfortunately, yes,” said Remus grimly. He outlined Pettigrew’s career in a few words and added, with a slightly twisted smile, “And, of course, he wouldn’t have needed a key to get in and out of the Happy Hippogriff Dead Rat Emporium – he probably played dead and stowed away with the delivery man. He has a talent for that sort of thing.”
Tonks nodded. “Yes, I think you’ve just identified Larry’s contact. But that doesn’t help if we don’t know where to find him.”
“I can see one obvious lead,” I said. “Didn’t anybody think to follow up on what he was doing in Spirit’s End or whether he’s been back?” I asked.
Obviously I was Not Thinking Like A Wizard, as usual. They all looked at me as though I’d grown a second head – assuming second heads aren’t normal in their world.
“I think we can take it for granted that he was after me,” said Remus, who was clearly trying not to make me feel like my question was idiotic, but didn’t quite pull it off.
“But – unless there’s more to the story than you’ve told me, that’s sort of a backwards assumption, isn’t it? I mean, I can see how you would have an excellent motive for going after Pettigrew – forgive me, not that I’m saying you would – but he hasn’t got any particular reason to have it in for you. How do you know he wasn’t spying on someone or something else?”
“What else is there to spy on in the neighbourhood?” asked Tonks.
“I don’t know,” I admitted, “but there are other wizards in the area, aren’t there? You said yourself that your parents live there, and the restaurant owner obviously has connections...”
“I wish my parents would move!” she said suddenly. “I offered them half my inheritance, so I know they can afford it – but my dad’s a right stubborn old ... Well, anyway, he says he was born in Spirit’s End and he’ll die there. And don’t even get me started on my mum...”
“She’s a Black, little cousin,” said Reg gently. “Running scared isn’t her style. As for the rest of us – I think we should go for a curry.”
* * *
Vikram Prajpati’s restaurant was more crowded than it had been on my previous visit. We spent a couple of hours waiting for the other diners to clear out so we could speak to the owner. We were all exhausted, tense, and starving, so that was probably just as well. The others analysed the case all through the meal (except Reg, who was too busy ogling the proprietor’s daughter). I didn’t feel like talking much. After waiting so many years for an answer about what had happened to my family, I don’t know why receiving a non-answer left me so shaken and confused, but it did. Harriet kept saying comforting things in whispers, but of course the only person who knew exactly what I was going through was Remus, who quietly telegraphed sympathy from across the table. Sensible man. Why hadn’t I known when to stop asking questions?
The couple at the table behind us left the restaurant at last. Vikram approached our table. “Would you like some rice pudding or mango ice cream?”
I shook my head, and so did most of the others. I’d already eaten so much I was about to burst.
“No, but we’d like another round of Kingfishers and some information,” said Tonks. “Do you have a minute to chat?”
“Yes, of course,” said the restauranteur, sounding courteous but bewildered. His eyes rested on Larry, who had closed the Quibbler office early and joined us. “Where is your girl friend tonight – the one with all the beads?”
“That’s what we came to find out,” said Larry. “But how do you know who I am?”
“Weren’t you in here with her about a month ago? You came by Floo powder just at closing time. We were not serving dinner any more, but I sold you some lamb pasanda to take away.”
Larry looked utterly baffled.
“He had a little accident with a Memory Charm just after you saw him,” said Reg quickly. “We’ve been trying to figure out how it happened, actually, and we were hoping you might be able to help. Do you know where he and his girlfriend went after that?”
“I am sorry, no,” said Vikram. “My daughter and I were busy cleaning the kitchen. I suppose they went out in the street somewhere.”
January 31st, 2004, 2:36 pm
Well, sure enough someone tumbled to Peter and Sybill's hideout, so I'm going to go ahead and post the rest of the chapter now. MAJOR props to SnorkackCatcher, who should consider a career as an Auror if the Snorkcack catching doesn't work out.
But I liked the alternate theory (Sybill being holed up at Remus' flat) very much as well.
Closing the Net, Part Two
I looked out the window. It was a quiet evening in Spirit’s End: a handful of drunks staggered out of the off license with bottles in brown paper bags; a pane of glass smashed somewhere down the block; and across the street, a depressed-looking customer drifted out of Madame Monica’s Mystical Tarot Reading.
A depressed-looking customer drifted out of Madame Monica’s Mystical Tarot Reading!
A few little things came together in my head ... a sudden rash of attempted suicides in the Spirit’s End tube station ... and a detective story I had read once ... “Remus, this is going to sound completely mad – but have you got your copy of Poe?”
“I think so.” He fished his tattered briefcase out from under the table and unknotted the string. “Toothbrush, invisibility cloak, chocolate, reading material. Yes. Why?”
“There’s a story in there. It’s about a blackmailer who steals a letter he has to keep intact and within his own reach at all times, but hidden from the people who are searching for it. Just like Sybill Trelawney’s kidnappers have to keep her close at hand, because they never know when she’ll make another prophesy.” I wondered if this analogy was too far-fetched, but he was listening with interest. “So in this story by Poe, the thief hid the letter in plain sight – in a place so obvious everyone looked right past it.”
He stared at me for a moment, and then his eyes drifted to the gritty street outside. “I read the story you’re talking about this afternoon. The thing that tipped the detective off and made him look twice was an envelope that was a little too dirty and worn out and insignificant-looking, as if somebody were trying to emphasize its unimportance...”
I nodded. “Like this neighbourhood. And in particular, like a certain fortune-telling business with a shady reputation.”
I saw the light begin to dawn on some of the others’ faces, although Larry still appeared confused. “Right, then,” Tonks said briskly. “The first thing we need to do is scout the place out and confirm whether you’re right, and then – if it’s at all possible – we’d better get Sybill out safely before we try to make any arrests or do battle with her guard, because I don’t trust her not to lose her head.”
“That’s a pretty tall order, little cousin,” Reg commented.
“I think we can pull it off,” said Remus. A strange light came into his eyes and intensified as he flipped through the pages of Poe. I realised I was looking at a master plotter at work. “We can certainly manage a facsimile,” he muttered. “The trouble would be getting her in and out of the place without attracting notice...”
“We could use a diversion, like they did in the story,” I said. I started reading over his shoulder to check the details. “How are you at madness?” I asked Reg.
“Madness is what I do best,” he said confidently.
“Now, we just need a scout to investigate the place and report back to us,” said Remus. “Preferably someone who can pass as an ordinary Muggle customer, since they won’t expect trouble from that quarter.”
“I’ll do it!” Larry offered. “I do undercover reporting all the time for the Quibbler. But I think it would be better if I posed as one of those Muggle law enforcement chappies checking to see whether they had the proper permits. Who knows, I might even end up with enough material for an expose of illegal fortune telling businesses. Do you think I should call myself ‘Officer Larry’ or ‘Please-man Larry’?” He transfigured his fork into something resembling a sheriff’s badge from an old Western and pinned it squarely over his stomach.
The rest of us eyed him dubiously. “No,” said Tonks. “We’ll need you to look after Sybill as soon as we spring her, but for this part, we have to use someone we’re sure they can’t identify by sight. Jack would do, except Pettigrew might have been in the dead rat shop this morning and got a good look at him.”
After a moment of silence, I realised they were all looking at my wife. “Oh, no,” I said.
“Oh, yes,” said Harriet cheerfully, as if she were planning a day at the park instead of a raid on the Death Eaters. “Sorry, hon, I’ll be careful, but it’s the only way.”
February 8th, 2004, 2:09 pm
Continuing from where we left off, before various Unfortunate Interruptions...
Chapter Thirty-Three: Harriet Investigates
Jack lent me his Instant Message Book in case I needed an emergency means of communication, although we planned to use Muggle methods to signal each other.
I kept my eyes wide open as I crossed the street and knocked on the door of Madame Monica’s, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. A misty voice called, “Come in, my dear,” and I entered a room filled with a dim red light and the scent of incense. A middle-aged woman draped in scarves and bangles sat behind a table spread with Tarot cards. A short, plump, balding man with some sort of prosthetic arm perched on a stool in the corner of the room, chewing anxiously on the end of a quill. He was surrounded by great heaps of parchment and looked more like an overworked clerk than a villain.
“Good evening,” I said to the woman.
“Good evening, my dear, how pleasant to see you in the physical world at last. The Inner Eye perceives you are troubled about Things Hidden – is it not so? – but the cards will bring all to light,” she said. “I shall read them for you...”
“Five quid,” interrupted the man.
She turned on him and said in less misty tones, “My dear Peter, true Seers do not concern themselves with mere Pecuniary Matters. My Gift is at the disposal of all who seek help, regardless of whether they may be encumbered with Filthy Lucre, or in the Depths of Penury.”
“I know, I know,” he said wearily, “but You-Know-Who will have my head if you keep giving readings for free. It’ll look – well, he’ll be out of business if the place doesn’t turn a profit.”
It sounded like they’d had this argument before, and the woman usually won. It also sounded like You-Know-Who had left Peter in charge of the fort. Perfect. I settled the dispute by handing Peter a five-pound note.
The woman dealt out three cards face down, shut her eyes for a moment, and turned the first one over. The man in the corner took a swig of sherry from the open bottle on the table and began to scribble furiously as she spoke.
“The first card, my dear, is the King of Swords, a very powerful card indeed. I sense a man of volatile temperament in your life ... yes, and violence that may turn deadly. You must beware of him, and yet I fear you shall not be able to escape him, for he is in complete command. Yes, I regret to say that you will most likely become his victim ... unless, of course, the second or third card reveals a secret that shall destroy you first.
“The second card is the Seven of Cups. I sense temptation, my dear, and I am sorry to say you will succumb to it. I warn you not to do the thing you are thinking of doing ... and yet I fear it is too late, for you have already made a fatal decision. If you are to have any hope of saving yourself, you must avoid the element of water at all costs ... and earth, air, and fire, just to be on the safe side.”
She turned over the third card. “The Page of Cups, reversed, a card that represents Dark Essences, sad reflection, and the terrible consequences of emotional excess. Alas, my dear, you will be seduced into doing evil ... distracted from your true purpose ... and you will have a most unpleasant encounter with a man in tights who carries a fish in a cup – ”
My mobile phone rang. “Excuse me just a minute,” I said. “Hello?”
“My dear,” said the woman reprovingly, “one does not disturb the Resonances of the Future with the Concerns of the Moment.”
“Shall we go ahead?” asked Jack.
“How many of them can you see? I’ll count slowly. One ...”
“Really? Well, that makes things easier. Tonks says we can’t rule out invisibility cloaks or Disillusionment charms, though, so they’ll have to be careful. How many exits? One ... Two ...”
“Front and back?”
“What colour are her robes? Black ... white ... red ... orange ... yellow ... green ... blue – ”
In the background I heard a female voice saying “Tell her to be more specific!” and Jack replying, “What do you mean, more specific?” Tonks picked up the phone, sounding slightly exasperated. “Periwinkle ... turquoise ... indigo ... robin’s egg ... peacock ... cobalt ... teal ...”
“Yes, that last one, I think.”
“Anything unusual we should know about?”
Jack picked up the phone again. “See you in a minute, dear. And take care. Love you.”
I turned the telephone off and settled in for the rest of the reading, which took a very ominous turn indeed and left me in no doubt that True Seers do not take kindly to interruptions.
February 9th, 2004, 5:55 pm
Chapter Thirty-Four: Springing Sybill
After Harriet’s telephone call, I stopped by my parents’ flat, which is just around the corner. [Arcanum charmed against Arthur Weasley.] My dad and a couple of his mates were sitting in the middle of a large pile of lager cans, watching a Chudley Cannons match on the Muggle television he bought at a secondhand shop and charmed to pick up Quidditch.
“Wotcher, guys. Is Mum around? Oh, hi, Mum. Can’t stay but a minute – I just ran up to see if you had any teal robes I could borrow.”
“Teal robes? Well, I don’t know. Really, Nymphadora, I don’t know why you can’t spend some of your salary on clothes for yourself instead of borrowing mine all the time ...”
“Dark turquoise will do if you don’t have teal. I’ll be wearing them in dim light.”
“Dim light?” she said hopefully, starting to rummage through the wardrobe. “Nymphadora, does this mean you have a boyfriend?”
Oh no. Cue up the Spanish Inquisition. “Yes, Mum, I guess I sort of have a boyfriend.”
“What’s his name? How tall is he? Is he related to anyone we know? Where does he live?” I managed to ignore most of these questions as she sorted through an ever-growing pile of robes and came up with some nice plain teal ones. Bless Mum and her infinitely capacious wardrobe. I changed clothes hastily, tucking my Sneakoscope under the robes, as she continued, “Now, I do think you should change into some normal hair if you’re going to wear those – perhaps something about shoulder-length, with golden-brown highlights. And I should really lend you some jewellery ... my Saturn earrings would be perfect, but one of them went missing ages ago. Is this a formal occasion?”
“No, it’s very spur-of-the-moment. In fact, I’ve got to run right now. Thanks loads!”
“Wait, Nymphadora, you haven’t even said what his occupation is!”
“Werewolf!” I called over my shoulder as I headed out the door.
As I bolted down the stairs, I heard her voice echoing from above. “Nymphadora, will you stop being so snarky...”
I transformed myself into a bony and relatively nondescript middle-aged woman. It was possible that Pettigrew might notice his customer bore a strange resemblance to the prophetess herself, but not likely. I was counting on the fact that Sybill just isn’t Sybill without her accessories.
“Ready?” asked Remus. He seemed a bit edgy.
“Whenever you are.” I shot him a quick look. “And don’t look so serious. This is going to be fun.”
He vanished under the invisibility cloak, but I could feel his hand on my elbow as we walked into Madame Monica’s.
“Good evening,” I said in my primmest voice. “I’ve never consulted a fortuneteller before, but I’m so dreadfully worried that my husband has been unfaithful and I was hoping you might be able to help me.”
“Of course, dear,” she said, laying out the cards. “Although I regret to say that I can already tell from your aura that I may have some rather bad news for you. Never put your faith in men, my dear...”
Out in the street, Reg began banging on something and shouting, “THE GOLDEN ELEPHANTS ARE FLED UNTO THE HILLS ON THE SEVENTH DAY! COME OUT, COME OUT, YE SINNERS, AND REPENT! PEACE ON EARTH, GOOD WILL TO HIPPOGRIFFS! OH, WOE, WOE, WRATH AND WRACK AND RUIN APPROACH, AND YET MORE WOE! IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT, AND I FEEL FINE!”
Peter rushed to one of the windows and lifted the curtain to see what was going on. Swiftly, I moved to Sybill’s side of the table.
“Shh, don’t make a sound,” I whispered. “I’m here to take your place so you can escape. Larry’s waiting for you behind the building.”
She looked at me suspiciously. “How do I know it’s really Larry?”
So the woman wasn’t a complete fool after all. I restrained myself from telling her to use the Inner Eye. “He sent a message. He said to tell you he misses his little Blibbering Humdinger. Now, give me all your scarves and beads – quickly – and your glasses – and go!” I heard a police siren outside, and hoped Reg wasn’t about to be arrested.
“But I can’t see!” she protested.
I pointed her in the direction of the door and gave her a shove from behind when she hesitated. She stumbled forward.
Peter turned around before she made it out the door, but I had already settled into Sybill’s chair and was adjusting her glasses. He noticed nothing amiss except a bolting customer. “Stop! You can’t leave without paying!”
“My dear,” I murmured, “you must not pursue her as it would only delay her journey to her destined end, which will be far more unpleasant than anything you could devise. And it is bad luck to leave a reading unfinished, so with your permission I shall read the remaining cards for you.”
“Must you?” asked Peter with a small sigh and a large swallow of sherry. “This is the fourth time today, and it seems like my luck gets worse with every reading.”
“Well, dear,” I said in my most spiritual voice, “each new reading bears within it the potential for change.” I contemplated the Knight of Wands for a moment and began inventing feverishly. “Alas, my dear, I foresee a troublesome journey ahead of you ... You will go to Egypt and fall victim to the Curse of the Pharaoh’s tomb ... which will cause you to be thrown from a very fat horse ... Beware of animals that are an unusual colour, and also of men in armour who carry big sticks ...” I was afraid this sounded too prosaic, but Peter gulped.
I turned over a second card. “The Nine of Pentacles, an omen of very great danger indeed ... If I were you, dear, I would avoid large birds and unusually small trees, and above all, you must beware of a woman who wears a pancake on her head ...” Larry and Sybill must be well away by now, and the Sneakoscope hadn’t gone off, which meant we had only Peter to deal with. I glanced over to the corner where I knew Remus was standing and gave him the signal. “But alas, I am sorry to say that even if you take warning from what I have said, great trials and tribulations approach on swift wings, and a hidden enemy lurks very near indeed ...” Or perhaps a not-so-hidden enemy. Remus dropped the invisibility cloak as I raised the level of doom, defeat, and despair a notch.
If I had blinked just then, I would have missed the swift, sideways glance that passed between the two men. It was the same look I share with my dad when my mum is being particularly impossible – one part sympathy and one part amusement, with the kind of mutual understanding that doesn’t require any words lying underneath it all.
It vanished in less than a second as they became predator and prey.
February 11th, 2004, 12:16 am
Well, I am proud to say that for once, I've managed a small plot twist that wasn't altogether anticipated by my loyal crew of feedbackers (http://www.cosforums.com/showthread.php?p=786231#post786231). Apologies to those who feel cheated out of a final Remus-Peter confrontation, but perhaps I'll write it one of these days...
Chapter Thirty-Five: The Rat Who Ran
As I shouted “Expelliarmus!” Peter threw open the curtains of the window behind him, and a limp figure in a shiny red miniskirt and fishnet stockings fell directly on top of him.
Sweet, holy ... We’d been so busy figuring out how to get Sybill out safely that nobody thought to ask what had become of Madame Monica.
He shoved her in front of him and gripped her throat with his magical arm, not taking his eyes off of me. “Don’t move an inch, Remus, or I’ll kill her!”
I froze. Behind me, Tonks must have made a move that Peter wasn’t expecting, and several things happened all at once. “Syb – ” he squeaked, relaxing his grip for an instant; Tonks hollered, “Accio hostage!” and Madame Monica went hurtling through the air; I ducked a flying spike-heeled shoe and lunged for Peter; and next thing I knew I was flat on the floor staring at an impossibly tiny crack in the floorboards where the thin end of a tail had just vanished. He’d been no more than an inch from my fingertips.
“I didn’t know half those words were in your vocabulary,” Tonks remarked casually, offering me a hand as I picked myself up from the floor.
I hadn’t either. “Pardon me,” I said.
“No problem. I’m impressed, actually. You didn’t have to swear at yourself so much, though. I should have taken him out first.”
“Bit hard to do that without hitting Madame Monica with whatever spell you used. No. He was mine and I lost him. Stupid, stupid, stupid.”
Well, there would be time to beat myself up later. We had only a few minutes to get out of there. Tonks examined Madame Monica and said she appeared to have been hit with a powerful Stunning spell, but she was otherwise unharmed. Meanwhile, I gave the place a quick search for evidence against Sybill’s kidnappers and anything else that might be useful. The stack of parchment surrounding the stool in the corner looked like Exhibit A. Every page was covered with a handwriting I knew almost as well as my own, although it was shakier and more cramped than I remembered, and occasionally it wavered as if he had been drinking heavily. I flipped through the papers.
“Oh, my dear, it is almost kinder not to say ... but the cards reveal that a deadly enemy lies in your bosom like a serpent, and alas, I foresee many troubled years ahead of you. Do you trust your husband, my dear? I wouldn’t be too sure if I were you. Beware of all men, for they are treacherous creatures at the best of times, and for you, I am sorry to say, they shall prove fatal...”
“The Six of Pentacles – reversed. I regret to say that is an ill-omened card, very ill-omened, where investments are concerned. My poor dear, I wish you had come to me a year ago when there might have been some hope. I urge you to sell all your stock at once, but I fear that ruin is already unavoidable...”
“Oh, my heart – the Ten of Swords! I do not mean to alarm you, but have you made a will, my dear? I advise you to settle your affairs whilst your body still lingers in this mortal realm...”
I forced myself to smile. “Imagine having to listen to Sybill for a solid month. If it were anyone but Wormtail, I’d feel sorry for him.” (Wormtail? Where the hell had that come from? Pettigrew. Pettigrew. Pettigrew.)
“You do feel sorry for him,” she said gently.
“No. Yes. No. Ask me in ten years – if I’m still alive.”
She glanced up from the unconscious woman, but said nothing for a moment. I wondered how much she had seen, and whether she suspected me of having let him escape on purpose.
“I felt sorry for him too,” she said at last. “I mean, you don’t expect Judas bloody Iscariot to jump six feet in the air when some batty middle-aged woman offers to tell his fortune.”
“Don’t think that way. I mean it. It’s a dangerous trap to fall into.” I added untruthfully, “I never think about those days myself. It’s all quite dead now.”
She was looking at me with a strange, faraway smile. “I’m not so sure about that. Did you hear what Reg said while you and Jack were working out your plan in the restaurant?”
“Do I want to know?”
“Yes, I think you do. He said, ‘That’s the Moony I remember. I was beginning to worry we’d never see him again.’”
“Did he?” I felt slightly warmer and fuzzier about my misspent childhood. “I have to admit, I did have fun plotting that out. Well, let’s go. We can’t take her with us if we Apparate, so it’ll have to be Floo powder, I guess.”
I tucked Peter’s wand and all the parchment into my briefcase, and we each took one of Madame Monica’s arms and carried her across the street to the restaurant.
February 11th, 2004, 11:07 pm
Hey, you didn't really think I was going to let Reg get away without being arrested, did you? What kind of fun would that be?
Chapter Thirty-Six: Regulus Black and the Muggle Aurors
She was a petite, dark-haired woman with a crisp voice and an air of authority. She would have been very attractive if she had been saying anything other than, “You’re under arrest for disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace.”
Oh, all right, she was very attractive. I dig birds in uniform. Yow.
But being arrested was bad news. I considered my options. I could easily Disapparate, of course, but then I’d have to come back and memory charm the two Muggle Aurors, and I remembered too well what happened last time I tried to use Uncle Alph’s wand for the Obliviate spell. A Muggle Auror running around with somebody else’s lost memories would be a disaster waiting to happen – especially if she happened to get Kreacher’s. I’m not well versed on the finer points of law enforcement in the Muggle world, but I’m pretty sure her superiors would have some awkward questions if she came into Auror headquarters mumbling, “And a worthless blood traitor and shame upon the house of Black the prisoner is,” under her breath. On the whole, I decided it would be safest to go quietly and wait for one of the others to bail me out.
The other Muggle Auror was an older man who seemed more laid-back. “Take it easy, we’re just going to let you sober up for a spell, and then you can go your way.” (As a side note, I had only two bottles of Kingfisher lager with dinner, and I don’t know why everybody leaps to the conclusion that you’re drunk just because you happen to be banging on a lamppost with a cricket bat and hollering about the end of the world. What are people supposed to do when it is the end of the world, hmm?)
That reminds me, I need to give Vikram his cricket bat back. And I wouldn’t mind seeing more of his daughter.
Reg, would you please stick to the point? Your private opinions about every woman in London have NOTHING to do with our records. – R. J. L.
Remind me again, WHO thought every detail of his conquest was worth recording here? – R. B.
Your cousin did all the conquering. And I didn’t put in every detail. Not even close. – R. J. L.
Well, anyway, I figured I’d use my Instant Message Book to signal the other members of the Order after we got to headquarters, but the Aurors took it away, along with my wand. (They didn’t seem to believe me when I said I was a conductor and it was my baton; they kept examining it and running strange-looking machines over it.) They did say I could use the telephone, which is a sort of Muggle communication device, but when I made a serious attempt, the older Auror advised me to sleep it off and try again in the morning. Well, how was I to know you weren’t supposed to wear the part with all the little holes in it on top of your head?
They threw me in a cell with two other disorderly and disturbing people. One of them was huddled in the corner of the cell puking, and the other one spent most of the night tearing yesterday’s newspaper into tiny pieces and growling, although he occasionally became lucid enough to demand money to ride the train. (I don’t think he noticed there weren’t any trains in gaol.) After a while I tried growling right back and we became reasonably friendly, but I can’t say he was one of the most intellectually stimulating conversationalists I’ve met. All in all, I was relieved when the older Muggle Auror came back in the early hours of the morning and said my brother-in-law had come to collect me.
“Brother-in-law, Moony?” I smirked. “I didn’t realise you and Sirius were that close. Is there anything my little cousin ought to know about you?”
He crumpled up one of the pieces of newspaper that littered the cell and threw it at me. “Well, I wasn’t sure they’d release you into my custody if I wasn’t a member of the family, and Jack’s had a rough day, so I didn’t want to wake him up and ask him.”
Judging by his face, Jack wasn’t the only one who’d had a rough day. I would just as soon have been locked up for a few more hours and let him get some sleep. “Couldn’t Nymphadora – ”
“She could,” he said, yawning, “but I felt responsible, seeing as how it was my plan that landed you in gaol in the first place. I’m sorry, Reg. You must have had a bad night of it.”
“Don’t mention it,” I said. “I could be mistaken, but I’m under the impression that I may have caused you a small amount of trouble on one or two occasions when you were a prefect.”
“You might say that, yes,” he replied gravely.
“I think these things all even out in the end. Especially between friends.”
The younger Muggle Auror seemed much less stern than she’d been on the previous evening; she even offered us coffee. I signed a receipt and she handed me my wand and Instant Message Book. “My partner and I enjoyed reading your manuscript, Mr. Black. It’s very entertaining.”
Moony and I looked uneasily at each other. I remembered how much he dislikes performing memory charms. “You realise, of course, that it’s a work of fiction,” I said.
We finished our coffee and walked out into the grey light of early dawn.
February 12th, 2004, 11:04 pm
Sigh ... next to the last chapter already! I shall miss writing this...
Chapter Thirty-Seven: Sybill’s Story
Upon returning me to the safety of the North Tower, Professor Dumbledore restored this Instant Message Book to me, its rightful owner. I was greatly perturbed to discover that Minerva McGonagall had been writing in it, and I foresee that I shall have words with her in the near future about the tragic destiny that invariably awaits those who appropriate the possessions of others without permission.
Mr. Lupin said my experiences must have been very upsetting and he would understand if I didn’t feel like writing about them just yet, but all in all, I cannot complain. I will not say that I enjoyed being kidnapped, but it was not as miserable an experience as those who are constrained by the Mundane Concerns of the Corporeal World seem to imagine. Naturally, it was a great shock to be invited on a romantic outing to an elegant restaurant in London by dear Larry, as I thought, and to find myself in a nondescript slum with Peter Pettigrew. But after a few initial moments of consternation, I came to accept my destiny with resignation and a certain grace, as befits a true Seer. For I am certain that it was destiny; the Inner Eye would not otherwise have been so easily blinded to my companion’s true identity. I believe that the Fates led me to London so that I might use my gift to aid those in truly dire circumstances, including dear Peter himself, who was really quite kind to me.
He must possess enough of the Sight to perceive that I was fond of sherry, because he brought me a bottle one evening in the first week of my captivity and presented me with a fresh one whenever it was running low. I shared with him, of course, for I sensed at once that he was a Soul in Torment, and sherry is very consoling when one is overwhelmed with the sorrow that a thorough contemplation of the Past, Present, and Future inevitably brings. I am grieved to say, however, that poor Peter seems past consolation in some ways. The Inner Eye, helped along a little by his own admission, informed me that he is well over his head in treacherous waters from which I fear he shall escape only by drowning.
While I disapprove of exploiting the Gift for profit, I must confess that running a tarot-reading shop in a Muggle neighbourhood is a less arduous career than attempting to initiate the thankless sons and daughters of our own kind into the sacred mysteries of Divination. My pupils at Hogwarts frequently exhibit a most trying lack of faith in the Sight and seldom remember to rinse out the teacups at the end of class. The vast majority of my clients at Madame Monica’s could have given them lessons in how to behave in the presence of a true prophetess. They were, almost to a man and woman, silent, reverent, and deferential. I understand that three or four of those with particularly tragic destinies even attempted to take the fulfilment of my prophesies into their own hands at the nearest Underground station, rather than waiting patiently for their impending doom to catch up with them. This shows a level of selfless devotion to the will of the Fates that is rare in this degenerate age. Mrs. Evans was an unfortunate exception to this general rule. I am grateful to her for the small role she played in my rescue, but she needs to do something about that fellytone.
I am grateful to Mr. Lupin and Miss Tonks as well, but I feel obliged to warn them that they possess a touching but sadly misplaced sense of kindness. They insisted upon knowing the names and addresses of the attempted suicides so they could offer chocolate and reassurance, when it would be far more honest to advise these unfortunate souls to put their affairs in order and prepare themselves for the voyage to the Next World. Moreover, I must remind both of them that I have been forecasting their own demises for years, and it is high time they stopped procrastinating and got on with it.
I also wish to record my profound thankfulness, esteem, and friendship for dear Sir Cadogan, who raised the initial alarm and has since been a rock of strength for my beloved Larry in these difficult times. As for Larry himself, words cannot express the extent of my affection and regard for him. Let it suffice to say that I foresee that when I next leave my tower the circumstances shall be far happier than on this last occasion, and they will involve an expedition in pursuit of a Cross-Eyed or Herbaceous Aberflooie.
Hey, what about me? Doesn’t dear Mr. Black deserve a mention or two, after my brilliant diversion and my run-in with the law? And what about Jack? – R. B.
Seeing as how her mentions usually take the form of delicately phrased invitations to expire, I don’t mind going without, myself. – J. M. E.
I think it’s rich how that traitorous little *$#% is “dear Peter” but she doesn’t seem to be on a first-name basis with the rest of us, INCLUDING A CERTAIN PERSON WHO WAS HER COLLEAGUE FOR A YEAR. Bloody ingrate. – N. T.
Hey! Lay off my finance! – L. L.
Huh? How do the Quibbler’s finances come into this? – R. B.
I don’t think they do, actually. It sounds like Larry and Sybill have some news for us... – R. J. L.
February 13th, 2004, 9:38 pm
Whew! The saga endeth ... sort of. (I hope this last post will wrap up most of the loose ends; I realize that it ends in an odd place, but just trust me, if I followed these characters all the way to Hogwarts, they would shortly become embroiled in a new set of complications that are best dealt with in another story altogether :evil: )
Epilogue: One Week Later
Kingsley and I signed the final report on the Trelawney kidnapping and dropped it on our superior’s desk. It was a dry, businesslike document that managed not to make any of us sound too incompetent and conveniently left out the fact that the case had actually been solved by a Muggle. Personally, I preferred the untold story that filled the pages of our Instant Message Books.
Madame Monica spent several days in St. Mungo’s recovering from her month under a Stunning spell, but she didn’t seem to have suffered any permanent damage. Unfortunately, she remembered almost nothing of what happened after Pettigrew overpowered her, but we had more than enough evidence against him and the Notts in any case. Before we modified her memory and released her, she insisted on kissing each and every one of the people who participated in her rescue. (I’ve still got the lipstick stains on my forehead to prove it.) I could be wrong, but I think Remus was the one who really interested her. Tough. I got there first, and he says he doesn’t care for spike heels.
Peter Pettigrew remains at large. Jephthah Nott is about to be tried before the Wizengamot as an accessory to kidnapping and active Death Eater, and he will almost certainly be back in Azkaban in a matter of weeks. Medea Nott is in a heavily guarded private room at St. Mungo’s. Ironically, she seems to be more dangerous and more devoted to Voldemort than her husband, but she will probably never be mentally competent enough to stand trial. We’ve reopened the files on some of the crimes she confessed to, but fifteen-year-old murders of Muggles are a fairly low priority at the Ministry these days, so we may never learn the truth about the fate of Lily and Jack’s parents.
Jack seems to be taking things well. He says he’s come to terms with the fact that he doesn’t have to know everything about the past, as long as his family is safe in the present. We’re seeing that they are.
We’ll also be looking after Theo.
His name doesn’t appear in the official report, and it won’t be mentioned at his father’s trial. Our story is that Jephthah’s botched first attempt to kidnap Sybill put us onto the Notts’ trail. But we’re concerned about his safety all the same, and it’s fair to say that from now on, Theo will be the second most carefully watched student at Hogwarts.
Someone also needed to break the news to him about his parents – the sort of job that always gets delegated to junior Aurors and, especially, to women. “I don’t know what they’re thinking,” I grumbled to Kingsley as I prepared to leave work early. “Lord knows gentleness and tact aren’t my strong points. I feel sorry for the kid.”
“I think you’ll have help,” he said with a wink. “You’ve got a couple of visitors waiting outside, and they said they meant to come with you.”
I didn’t have much time to wonder who they were, because one of them didn’t have the patience to wait outside for very long.
“Wotcher, Stubby. Nice robes.” (Harriet taught him how to tie-dye while she was staying at Grimmauld Place. He took to it with enthusiasm.)
“Thanks! Want me to do yours?”
“Maybe later.” I wasn’t in a tie-dyed mood just now.
He drew me aside into an empty cubicle and said quietly, “He’s going to be all right, little cousin. Not right away, but the thing about growing up with parents who are no good is – you know, even if you can never talk about it. And it’s almost a relief when someone else acknowledges it.”
We walked out into the corridor where my other visitor was sitting on a bench. I certainly wouldn’t have expected to see him here. Or rather, I would, but not today.
“You ought to be home resting up,” I said, trying my best to sound Molly-ish and motherly, which is almost impossible to do when you’re being kissed very thoroughly indeed in the hallowed halls of the Ministry of Magic. (Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a shocked-looking Percy Weasley hurrying past.)
“I have been. I’m all right now that I’ve had a decent day’s sleep. Comfrey essence works, you know.”
I watched him closely as he got to his feet. He was a bit pale, but he moved without the painful stiffness I’d never been able to bear watching. I felt an unexpected surge of tenderness for Larry Lovegood.
Speaking of whom...
“We’ll have to get Moony some new dress robes,” Reg announced. “Guess who Larry asked to be best man?”
“He didn’t!” I said. “Well, congratulations.” I hoped to goodness Sybill wouldn’t expect me to be a bridesmaid. I try to be a nice person, but there are limits.
“Well ... actually ...” Remus said awkwardly, while Reg leaned against the wall laughing.
“What is it? C’mon, out with it.”
“He didn’t exactly ask me. He asked Sir Cadogan. I just get to hold the portrait.”