Part the Second: The Strength of the Flesh
Overseen by each of the House ghosts:
Two months before the Christmas holiday, students crowd the front of the Great Hall, many of them separated in groups by House, but others mingled and talking, mostly trying to investigate what others knew about why they had been gathered together. Fifth year students and up only, and any younger students who try to enter are rebuffed gently by a shield spell. No one knows what's going on, there hasn't been any sort of announcement, so speculation is rife amongst those both inside the Great Hall and outside.
There, the Ravenclaws, their blue and bronze matching ties betraying their identities. Among them sits Rose Weasley, and I do so well remember her Sorting. Had quite a time with her, I did, so much like her mother before her, both intelligent and brave, as well as loyal and ambitious, only a few of the traits from each of the Houses. She would have done well no matter where I placed her. In the end, I decided to go the opposite of her mother and see what might happen. It cannot be said, though, that Rose Weasley is without courage.
With her, another Ravenclaw, a boy I had no trouble at all Sorting. Sebastien Lestrange most definitely belongs in Ravenclaw; a mind such as his is rare, and to have two such students in the same House? Well. Perhaps this influenced my Sorting of the Weasley girl a bit as well.
There—there is Scorpius Malfoy, also Ravenclaw, one of those choosing to sit with others than his own House, and he is deep in conversation with Albus Potter, a most unusual boy who almost dared me to Sort him to Slytherin. So I did. He is quite happy there, I assure you, though sometimes he must deal with the consequences of being a Potter in Slytherin, perhaps the only place in the magical world where he would not be popular on the basis of his name alone. Still, it's been good for him.
With Hugo Weasley, there is James Potter and Lily Potter as well as Franklin Jordan, all Gryffindors, and Elaine Longbottom, lone Hufflepuff in their group, and only there because her father is good friends with their fathers and sometimes mothers. James Potter is not known to be welcoming of children from other Houses, and he has the rest of his group well in hand. Perhaps this is why Weasley's Ravenclaw sister isn't with them, despite the relationship their parents hold.
There, others, scattered around the room in groups and singles: Caleb Corner, Hufflepuff, and Audra Lidden, Celestia Carrow, Theodora Nott, Katherine Goyle, Martin Avery and Payton Parkinson, all Slytherin, all upholding proud family traditions without quite knowing why.
There are others, of course, many more, but these are the important names. Remember them.
Just as the speculation reaches ridiculous proportions, the door behind the staff table opens and Professor Longbottom emerges. Right behind him, all grins and grass-green hair, is Assistant Professor Ted Lupin, known to some few of the students merely as Teddy. He waves at James and his group, then to Rose and Sebastien. With them comes Minerva McGonagall, by now retired from her position as Headmistress, but the current Headmistress has decided she wants nothing to do with the project.
Behind her, comes Harry Potter.
Even now, the sight of him causes instant recognition and a flurry of whispers to go up amongst the students. Harry Potter, they say, some with reverence, some with learned loathing. Some remark on his scar, still visible through the dark curtain of his fringe. Some see only his green eyes, and not a few of them have fluttering hearts, you can see it in their throats and their gazes.
All he offers them in return is a smile and a brief wave. To his own children, he gives a short nod of recognition, but he is not here as their father.
"I guess it's a little obvious to say you all must be wondering why you're here," Longbottom begins. "So I'll just get down to it. For the past six years, Professor McGonagall, Auror Potter and I have been working on a project that's somewhere between a social exercise and a war game."
The whispers and murmurs go silent, mostly in confusion. This, too, you can see clearly on their innocent faces. War game? What purpose in a war game, wonder these children who have never seen war in their lifetimes.
Longbottom's smile is small, but it's there. He knows he has their attention. "As I'm sure you can guess, the fact that we're here now means we're prepared to go forward with the exercise, and you are our possible participants."
He motions to Lupin, who taps the stack of papers on the table next to him, sending them flying out across the Hall, a packet to each child, as Longbottom continues.
"What you're being handed now is a packet of information and forms concerning the project. Included is a basic description of its purpose and goals, an application for you to fill out if you're interested in participating, and a consent form that those of you under the age of seventeen must return with your application if you're to be considered."
Already, students who have received their packets look through them, and there are wide eyes and mouths all around the room.
There are words here these children have never seen before except in history books, and even then not often, as many of them are avoided, even in print, even now, for the superstitious sensibilities of people still living. To see those words now in the context of a war game frightens no few of them, and excites others. Order of the Phoenix. Death Eaters. Provocative words.
This name has never been printed. Never. Until now. Even the history books refer to him as "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" and "You-Know-Who." Many of these children have actually only heard the name spoken aloud once, when their parents stammered it out so that their children would actually know who You-Know-Who was. But here it is, clear in black-and-white.
Professor Longbottom waits until they all have their packets, and until the shock of it has quieted them all.
"So, any questions?"
After a long pause, four dozen hands shoot into the air.
II. Reading Materials
A Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts-sponsored Program
Summary written by Amortentia Ogleby, Secretary to the Head Auror
The Ministry of Magic Auror Department as well as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry have collaborated on a social exercise for the purpose of educating our current students on the mindsets and prejudices that informed the conflict of the previous generation. This is intended as an activity in living history in that it will be directly influenced by the first and second wars fought by Albus Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix against Tom Riddle (Lord Voldemort) and his Death Eaters over the matter of blood purity.
It is often difficult or impossible for children of a younger generation to understand the conflicts of the past. With this exercise, we intend to put our students in the footsteps of their predecessors to teach them about the complex mental and emotional situations their parents and grandparents experienced. Through learning, we hope to engender a future based on tolerance and understanding.
There will be only fourteen students chosen for the initial run of the exercise; our hope is to eventually expand the exercise to more places, people, and to hold at least one a year if the initial run goes well. The potential for learning and growth is not limited to students or to the current generation. Adults and future generations may benefit from this project for many years to come.
For the inaugural run, seven students will represent the Order of the Phoenix, and seven students will represent the Death Eaters. There will be one faculty leader for each team to offer guidance and supervision. The teams will participate in a two-week program over the Christmas holidays, which will take place on Hogwarts grounds within the boundaries of the school's protection. They will be under the watchful eyes of the two faculty leaders as well as former Hogwarts Headmistress Minerva McGonagall. During the two weeks, the teams will work under orders from their respective faculty leaders, while under instruction to behave in a manner consistent with the mindset and prejudices of their assigned team. Students will not choose their teams, but will be assigned to a team by the faculty leaders.
The Ministry of Magic and the staff of Hogwarts hold the safety of your children as our highest priority. No student below the age of fifteen will be allowed to participate, and any student below the age of seventeen must have the consent of their parent(s) or guardian(s). Magic will be extremely limited as an attempt to lessen the possibility of accidents. It must be understood by all involved that accidents may still occur no matter how many limitations we impose, though every precaution will be taken.
Any parent with concerns may contact Professor Neville Longbottom at Hogwarts, Auror Harry Potter at the Ministry, or Minerva McGonagall care of Hogwarts, to set up a meeting.
For students who do not require parental consent and who are interested, it is strongly recommended to have a meeting with Headmistress Sprout, Professor Longbottom, and former Headmistress McGonagall before submitting an application.
Attached with this information is the application for participation to be filled out by the student, and the consent form for parents to complete for students ages fifteen and sixteen.
Witnessed by the Fat Friar:
Sebastien Lestrange steps out of the Headmistress' office, the packet of papers held tight in his hands.
His mother will not be enthusiastic about his participation in something of this nature; however, as her son has already disgraced the family's long tradition of Slytherin students by daring to be firmly Ravenclaw, she has somewhat given up on him anyway. This might be the final straw, which is fine by him. He does not particularly care about her, either, and if he has anything to say about it, the name of Lestrange will come to mean more than what his grandparents, granduncle and grandaunt made of it. Especially his grandaunt.
Besides, he's seventeen, so she can't stop him.
"Seb!" he hears as he steps out of the Headmistress' office. The voice belongs to Rose, trotting up to him with a book satchel over one shoulder and her arms filled with books. "Seb, did you talk to the Headmistress? Are you going to do it?"
He smiles at her.
"Yeah, I think so. I mean, it was more Professor McGonagall and Professor Longbottom who talked. Headmistress Sprout seems like she doesn't want to be considered very involved."
"I think she hasn't been. She wasn't on Professor Longbottom's list of people who spent time putting it together."
He turns to head toward their common room, and Rose falls into step beside him. "Yeah, but she seemed rather unenthusiastic during the entire conversation. Your uncle didn't say much, either."
Rose shrugs, frowning slightly, which makes a little line appear between her eyebrows, the same one she wears when concentrating particularly hard on her schoolwork. "Well, it is quite dangerous, isn't it? Look at the consent form, I imagine half the parents won't want to sign anything that waives their right to complain if any of us are hurt."
"Us?" There's a slight twist in his stomach. He knows it's dangerous.
"Us," she replies, a bright grin on her face. "My mother will be furious, of course, but I'm seventeen."
But Rose gives him a glare to warn him away from an old and worn topic of conversation, and he quiets. Nothing and no one stops Rose Weasley from what she sets her mind to, not her parents and certainly not friends who are boys but definitely are not boyfriends. Unfortunately.
Also witnessed by the Fat Friar, who likes to keep tabs on those in his House:
"You don't have to do this just because I'm your dad," Longbottom says to his daughter, who sits across from him at his desk. Sometimes he feels as though his daughter takes the weight of the world on her young shoulders, a female Atlas without the benefit of immortality. He worries about her, while Hannah just smiles, kisses him on the forehead, and tells him not to be such a worrywart. Their daughter is combined of the best parts of them—"my looks and brains and your stubbornness," said with affection and humor—and Elaine will be just fine.
Elaine, for her part, wishes her dad would take it easy on himself every once in a while.
"That's not the only reason," she assures him, "it's not even the main one. Which you would know if you'd actually read my application."
"I will, with Uncle Harry, Professor Lupin and Professor McGonagall when we go through all the applications together. And I won't give you special consideration just because you're my daughter."
She looks horrified by the very idea. "Of course you won't!"
Longbottom smiles at his daughter. He's very glad she's in Hufflepuff, it suits her well. And, some part of him that does not operate on logic says, Hufflepuffs rarely gather as much trouble around them as Gryffindors seem to. He'd just as well see her not follow in his footsteps that closely.
Finally, she sighs, and he sees so much of her mother in her.
"Don't worry, Dad. I'll be just fine."
So much of her mother.
Overseen by the Bloody Baron, who was loathe to say anything, being the secretive sort:
Most people call her Little Celie, even though she's sixteen, mostly because she is, well, little. She's short, like her mother, and slight, quite unlike her mother. If she is unattractive by the normal standards due to—according to rumor—some unfortunate parentage, it isn't her fault, nor do most of her peers seem to hold it against her. Perhaps that is because she almost always wears a bright smile that does something to alleviate the otherwise flat grimness of her face.
"I don't know what to write!" It's Martin, over in the corner of the common room, wailing over his application.
Kate Goyle rolls her eyes over her Transfiguration homework. "You've got a week, haven't you? Stop whinging and get started on your Charms homework, or Professor Maddow might have a coronary this time."
Celestia already has her application filled out, and plans to give it to Professor Longbottom after Herbology in the morning. So she sticks out her tongue in Kate's direction, and rises to go over to Martin.
"Don't pay any attention to grumpy Goyle over there. She's only upset because Binns gave all the seventh years extra essays to write."
Martin gives her a grateful smile. It's enough for now to make her happy, that she made him happy, if even for a moment. He's cute when he smiles.
Overseen by Helena Eldrige, one of the lesser known ghosts:
Though they began their applications together, Martin finishes his alone.
He is fifteen, but he is also extremely short, and so his peers tend to look on him as being much younger than they, and he tends to oblige them by acting like a frightened child most of the time. He doesn't know what it means to have the courage to stand up to his friends. Many of them—and he would not call Kate one of his friends, nor really anyone save Celie—do not understand why he wants to do this. Broderick Bodgins laughed at him when he said something out loud about wanting to participate.
He needs to be different.
Different from his grandfather, and from the rest of his family. It is a deep-seeded thing, rising from parts of himself he wonders are even connected to his family at all. Sometimes Martin wonders if he is even an Avery. Perhaps he was adopted when he was a baby. That would make sense. Never mind that he has his father's eyes and his mother's chin, he must have been adopted. Perhaps the Weasleys grew tired of their over-large brood, and decided to give away the one non-redheaded child in the bunch.
Why couldn't I have been a Weasley? is a question that would infuriate his parents, but he asks it anyway, in the quiet of his mind.
Shame may be inherited as easily as brown eyes.
Observed in the Great Hall by Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, who floated too close to the Slytherin table during lunch:
Audra has written what she considers to be a pretty reason for wanting to participate in the exercise, pretty and logical. And it's even true, to a degree.
Really, she just wants a chance to stand beside the most beautiful girl she's ever seen in her life. Not tell her anything, God no, but just… stand next to her. If they were to both be chosen, there would be a good chance they'd be on the same team, or Audra tells herself this. It would be lovely to be near her.
There's the personal and political reasons, too; she really does think it's important to be part of something like this, and she really is very aware of what the Death Eaters would have thought about her mother and father. Still think? There are rumors, and of course, not all the original Death Eaters are dead. What they would have thought of Audra herself is less clear from the books she's read; many of the Death Eaters were themselves half-bloods, including the most famous, Severus Snape, and even their Dark Lord himself. Which would seem to make no sense, considering one of the main tenets of their movement was the filthy nature of Muggles, Muggleborns, and the witches and wizards who loved them.
Why, then, should the "mongrel" offspring of such a union be accepted into the ranks of the people who hated what they represented? Audra's tried to ask this of her mother, who merely sighs and says, "Who knows?"
"Do you think it's really awful of me to… to think about things like, I don't know, romance, when there's such a big project going on?"
Her friend Amelia Dippet gives her an arched brow. "Romance? Who are you considering romancing, hmm?"
"No one!" Audra feels her face go red. She knew it was a bad idea to try to talk about anything serious with Amelia! Especially if romance was somehow part of it. Not only was Amelia the biggest gossip in Slytherin House, possibly the whole school, she also had an arsenal of restricted love potions that she alternately sold and slipped into the goblets of random students just for fun.
"Then why would such a thing be on your mind, Audra dearest?"
"Forget it," she grumbles, turning her head back down to her plate. Who needs Amelia's advice anyway? Who needs the advice of the world's biggest gossip?
They sit in silence for a while, before Amelia says, "I don't think it's awful."
Overseen once more by the past Headmasters and Headmistresses of Hogwarts, who do seem to overhear quite a bit:
"No, absolutely not."
"I said no, Hugo."
Hermione Granger-Weasley came straight to Hogwarts on receiving the packet of papers and consent form by owl post from her son. Their father, who most likely knew about this for some time, is nowhere to be found. Perhaps he thought it best to leave this up to his wife. Rose has no doubts her mother will most certainly be having words with him when he does show his face.
Done with her son, who now sits forlorn and slumped-shouldered in his chair, she turns to her daughter. "The same goes for you."
Rose shrugs. "I'm seventeen, Mum. You can't tell me not to participate. I've already turned in my application."
"You may be seventeen, but you still live in my house."
"Technically, I live at Hogwarts right now."
Her mother's eyes narrow. "Technically, when you leave Hogwarts, it will be my house you return to, young lady."
"Then I'll find my own place as soon as I leave here."
Hermione Granger-Weasley will not throw her daughter out of her home as part of a threat, they both know this. That's not what this exchange is about, it's never been part of any of their battles. What else do two so brilliant as this mother-daughter pair battle with? Wits. Wills. This is about whose will is strongest, and in the end, who is most stubborn.
Rose can tell she's won when her mother sighs with the same look in her eyes as when she's lost against their father, who is the king of a particular brand of stubbornness not always tempered with logic.
"Be careful," is what she has to settle for telling her daughter. "Especially around… well, around some of the other children who will be there. Promise me?"
Rose and her mother hug after the promise, and Hugo sees his opportunity.
"No. I still have control over you, Hugo."
Observed again in the Great Hall after breakfast by Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, who went on at great length about the meaning of it all:
Of the ten school books sitting on the table, all of them are his. Rose Weasley works hard, but she could get by without studying as much as she does, if she wanted. Franklin is intelligent, but sometimes has trouble concentrating. He has to struggle for every moment of study he achieves. Therefore, most of the time when he isn't in class, he can be found with a textbook in hand. He has the period directly after breakfast free, so here he is, rewriting his Charms notes from the messier ones he took in class, and adding notations from the textbook. He's already mastered these charms, but it never hurts to have extra notes; Rose taught him that.
Well, he's supposed to be rewriting the Charms notes, anyway. What he's really doing is staring out into space, flicking the end of his quill in a fit of distraction. In truth, anyone can see his mind couldn't be further away from his school work, and for once he isn't making the slightest effort to wrestle his mind to behave.
Is there doubt as to what's on his mind? None. What else is there for a young man above the age of fifteen to think about these days? Quidditch? Hah! Laughable.
Among the papers and scrolls scattered amongst his books, there is also a folded piece of paper that came from home, from his mother, who has responded to his desire to enter this game with complete enthusiasm. His mother thinks, and this is a quote, that it's "the most brilliant idea" and he should "definitely brush up on defensive spells."
Really, all Franklin wants to do is connect with his fellow students. Sometimes that's hard to do, when he spends so much of his time with his nose in his books, and is very serious besides. Even his own parents say he has no sense of humor.
Franklin fingers the corner of his mother's letter, and his eyes focus long enough to see the transparent form of one of the House ghosts. Sir Nicholas, with this ruffed collar holding his head on as best it can. The ghost sees him looking, smiles and waves. Franklin waves back, then turns his eyes back to his books.
Great, my only friend is a ghost.
And Rose, though he doesn't consider her a friend so much as a tutor. Which is embarrassing in and of itself. Though, if they're both accepted, and she's in the thick of it with him, they might be considered friends then, right?
That's then, Franklin reminds himself. Right now is Charms.
Observed in the library by several portraits, including that of Cassandra the Seer:
There are things Payton Parkinson does not know about himself.
Intellectually, he knows his parents are not what defines him. He is more than Pansy Parkinson's son, he is more than the Parkinson name. What he is and what he does know about himself could fill more inches of parchment than are currently available in the Slytherin dorms.
He excels at Transfiguration and Defense Against the Dark Arts, and is no slouch in Charms, either.
He is not so proficient in Potions, but gets by, and while Ancient Runes seemed like a good idea at the time, he's fairly certain he's going to have to drop it.
In second year, he had a crush on Audra Lidden.
In fourth year, he had a crush on Gregory Minder.
He isn't as interested in Quidditch as his fellow students, at least not the game itself. He's more interested in the mechanics of the brooms, the spells that keep them working and make them faster, better.
When he was six years old, he ate something he can't remember now, and spent a month in St. Mungo's, his mother crying over him.
He has dark brown hair, and other than his almond-shaped eyes, looks almost like a carbon copy of his mother. It's as though she reached in her womb and rearranged the things that would determine his features and made absolutely certain no one would be able to look at him and see the face of his father.
Payton loves his mother. He does.
But he feels like he's missing half of himself, a vital half. Now his mother sits on the other side of the table from him, ignoring Madame Pince's glares as they talk in her library. "I just want you to be absolutely certain this is something you want to do," Pansy says to her son. "With the kids I'm sure will be involved, it could get nasty. Those Potter kids, their father—"
She stops, covering her face with her hands for a moment.
"It was a long time ago, Mum." He wants to reassure her, and he wants to make her understand. "The Potters really don't pay much attention to me when they have Scorpius Malfoy to harass." Which is true enough, if one doesn't take into account that Scorpius and Albus Potter are the best bit of gossip in the school, and have been for a year now. James, though, James never misses an opportunity to make his dislike for Malfoy known. Potter might turn his attention to Payton if he ever thought about it, but Payton doubts it will happen during the exercise, not as long as Scorpius is in play.
His mother only sighs and lowers her hands. For a long time, she doesn't speak at all, just stares at him, her eyes old and tired. Payton doesn't like it when she looks that way, because he's sixteen and doesn't understand the source of it.
Finally, she says, "For you, it was a long time ago. For me, it feels like yesterday."
Overheard by the Laughing Lad's portrait in Professor Sciminisa's office:
Professor Sciminisa, current Head of Slytherin House, was only too happy to give his office over to this private conversation, thus Draco and Scorpius Malfoy sit opposite each other, while Astoria stands, hands behind her back, frowning as she tells her son exactly what she thinks about the affair.
"It's absolutely ridiculous, is what it is, and by no means should you take part." Greengrass, like Malfoy, is an old wizarding family name, who take their heritage just as seriously. It was neither for name nor money Astoria married Draco, however. Nor is she the sort of woman to allow her blood status to stand in the way of her personal aspirations. Despite the hysterics it gave her mother, Astoria is, after many years of study and training, a very talented and respected Healer.
Yet, despite this rebellion on her part, she stands in direct opposition of her son's desires.
"It isn't ridiculous, Mother." Scorpius speaks lowly, with a modulated tone. "It is a learning experience unlike any other." He does not look at his father, for Draco is not the one attempting to stand in his way. Not that Astoria could, as much as she will try. Still, this is Scorpius' battle.
She turns her nose up with a sniff of derision. "It is nothing more than an excuse for those people to press their backward beliefs on a generation of malleable children."
"Is that what you think of me?" Scorpius peers at his startled mother, letting the lids of his eyes fall to shade them from her regard.
"What was that?"
"I said, is that what you think of me, Mother, that I am nothing more than a malleable child, waiting for someone to come knead my mind to their will? That I have no will or opinions of my own to consider?" Not once has he raised his voice to her, for that is something even his father would never stand for. It is less about having respect for the woman who birthed him, and more that shouting is not dignified, and Scorpius' father has very particular ideas of what is dignified. "You have a very poor opinion of me indeed."
Even in the embrace of family, there are games to be played. His father understands this, and behind the curve of his fingers, smiles.
"That's not at all what I meant."
"Odd, that's what it sounded like. Let me assure you right now that my opinions are my own and no one else's." Not even yours. She doesn't have to know that his opinions haven't aligned with hers for a very long time now. She is no more ready to know that—as evidenced by this entire conversation—than she is to know the name of his significant other.
Scorpius' lips twitch to think of what Albus would have to say about her.
Astoria has clenched her hands together, and she may be a narrow woman, but she is not a stupid one. She's seen the twitch, and suspects the amusement might be at her expense. "You're determined to follow through with this, are you?"
"And you?" She looks at her husband, face already closed. It is always like this, the two of them against her. It's only one of the many reasons she and Draco no longer share a home, let alone a bed. "Do you agree with this madness?"
Draco has not looked at her once since they arrived, and he doesn't change that now. He merely shifts in the chair, lowering his hands before him to thread his fingers together. The expression on his face is calm, without a line or a crease to show anxiety. Perhaps he is vaguely thoughtful, but they all know what he will say.
"I think Scorpius is seventeen, and old enough to make his own decisions."
Scorpius smiles at his father, whose motivations he rarely knows or understands, but he is grateful for the way they more often than not place his father firmly on his side.
"Fine," Astoria spits, angry, but unsurprised. "Then on both your heads be it when this whole thing blows up in your faces!" With that, she's gone, never knowing how prophetic her words will become.
Forgive me, but this was reported by the small painted picture of a kitten in the 7th year Slytherin girl's dorm:
Her father's words run through her mind again.
Sweetling, why do you want to do something like this?
Because it's an incredible opportunity, something no one else has done before, and she could be one of the first, which will open doors in the future.
You're pretty enough to become a witch model, you don't need to do something so… boring and educational.
Yes, of course she is. Theodora, who will not suffer to be called anything but her full given name, has all the markers of beauty. She is lithe and lean, and for this moment in her life this comes with no effort on her part, her complexion is clear, also a blessing of heredity. Her hair she shares with her mother, long and straight and shining auburn. Full lips, naturally dark lashes ring a pair of startling blue eyes, straight nose, and features as close to perfectly symmetrical as is possible in nature.
All of it combines to make Theodora Nott what her father calls "a rare beauty," and her mother calls "a trouble magnet."
Yes, well, the latter she knows well enough. She can't go anywhere without being ogled in some manner or other, from the purely innocent looks of disbelief, to the less innocent looks of men who immediately after look for her father. One of the persistent habits of old magic families, to look for and talk to the father. Several men have already inquired about her, but Theodora made her opinion on the matter quite clear. A few rooms of broken furniture and shattered knick-knacks later, her doting father vowed never to treat with a man about her hand without her knowledge or consent in the future. He hadn't liked it, but nor could he deny his daughter anything she obviously wanted so badly.
She hasn't yet informed him that her long-term goals have nothing to do with modeling or marriage, and everything to do with politics and the Ministry. Theodora has a younger brother, Theodore Nott II, who is the hopes and dreams of their father, but Theo has no interest in politics, about as much interest as his sister has in marriage.
One day, their father is going to be sorely disappointed in one or both of them.
Until then, Theodora smiles at herself in the mirror, uses her wand to change the color of pigment on her lips, and plans.
Overseen by the painting of Four Frightened Lasses in the Slytherin common room:
The letter reads:
Your mum told me about the game thing that's happening at Hogwarts. Something about the old wars and living history? Sounds like crap, but listen, your mum and I both want you to apply. It'll look good for a Goyle to be there, playing nice with all the other kids. It might be crap, but we can't show we think that, right? If you don't get in, fine, you don't have to do anything.
But apply. Make it good. People have looked sideways at the Goyle family for too long. It's up to you to make them stop. Or at least get a good start at it.
We're counting on you, Katie.
Katherine Goyle, who hates the nickname her parents call her and always goes by Kate or Katherine, scowls at the letter in her hand. Immediately after she crumples it and throws it in the bin, she reaches for her untouched application and begins to fill it out.
Name: Lily Potter
Mother's Name: Ginevra (Weasley) Potter
Father's Name: Harry Potter
Were either of your parents directly involved in the conflict this exercise is based on? (Yes or No will suffice) Yes
Were any of your grandparents directly involved in the conflict this exercise is based on? (Yes or No will suffice) Yes
For what reason do you want to participate? I don't want James to be the only Potter in this exercise. There should be more than just one of us involved. And I like to think of myself as the voice of reason.
Observed by the Room of Requirement, which tried to warn the rest of us, but wasn't understood in time:
His mother still has scars.
Caleb Corner has never known his mother without the terrible scars across her face, spelling the word "SNEAK" in bold letters over her cheeks and nose. When he was little, before he knew how to read and before he knew what a sneak was, he simply thought this was his mother's face. It is as much a part of her as her blue eyes, and less easily concealable. Once he walked in on her crying at her vanity table, and tried to comfort her. It took him a very long time to understand the reason for her tears; she'd tried again to cover the old marks over with cosmetics, only to have them reappear as terrible as ever.
Makeup won't cover them. Neither will glamours; even the best of them fall apart in less than an hour. There is no cure for his mother's face, nor is there any way to reverse the damage. His mother will carry those scars until the day he buries her.
Caleb aims a curse at a practice dummy.
When he was old enough to understand other children made fun of his mother because of them, when he looked around and saw no other mother had faces quite like hers, and after he got in a fight with a neighbor child who dared call her Miss Spotty, Caleb asked his mother, "Why do you have a word on your face and no one else does?"
She told him: "When I was a girl at school, I did something bad. This was my punishment."
The easiest possible explanation. Maybe even the one she believed. Later, older, he tried asking her again, and she only told him the same thing, and after he asked her a third time when he was eleven and about to go to Hogwarts himself, he finally asked his father. Michael Corner told his son the truth—or at least, the truth as he believed it.
Michael told his son all about Dumbledore's Army, how they formed a resistance of students right under the nose of the horrible Dolores Umbridge.
He also told his son about the awful girl Hermione Granger who put a curse on the sign-up form.
"Your mum, she was a victim. She says she did wrong because Granger has her believing it with that stupid curse. But your mum did what she had to, for her family. She didn't deserve this."
After that, he called Granger a few choice words Caleb's mother would never allow him to say.
Another practice dummy goes up in flames and smoke. Each one of them is labeled across the chest in big, block letters: GRANGER.
He hates her. She's a grown woman with two children, and once he imagined her laughing at his mother every chance she had, talking to that freckly husband of hers, saying things like "Oh, remember that girl, that awful girl, who ratted on us to Umbridge? You know her face still looks like that!"
Now he's seventeen, and he knows better. He knows it's worse than that. The bitch who did this to his mother probably never even thinks about her at all. She's probably never spared even three seconds of her time to consider what she did.
"I hate you," he growls at one of the dummies, and its head goes flying off into the wall. "I hate you," to another, and it disintegrates. "I HATE YOU!" he screams, for every time his mother has cried when she thinks he isn't watching, for every time she told him she did something bad when he knows very well she didn't, and for every time he overheard his father comforting her and telling her everything will be all right, they just had to find the right spells, the right potions.
Every word of it is true. He hates the woman who used to be Hermione Granger, hates her and anything and everything that's come from her. He hears her daughter has applied for the program. Good. He hopes they're on opposite teams, so he has a chance to fight her.
"You know I can't play favorites."
"I know, Dad." James sighs. This has to be the third time his father's warned him that just because James is his son won't mean he's automatically accepted to the program. It's a lie, and they both know it. There has to be at least one Potter kid on the teams during this first, trial run, because few people in the wizarding world so completely represent the struggle with Voldemort as Harry Potter. For none of his kids to participate? Inconceivable. Lily might make it, too, but James knows Albus has declined to apply, and out of him or his sister, he's the oldest and most experienced.
He would hate to be without his sister, though. Still, he knows at least one of them will make it, no matter what their father says.
"Your mother's proud of you, of course, you and Lily."
Though if asked, they will insist they're also proud of Albus, the conscientious objector. Someone must also take that stand, mustn't they?
You just don't want everyone knowing what a weakling you are. Spoken to his little brother only the previous day. Albus had no reply.
"If I make it, I won't let you down, Dad. You or Mum."
"I know," says Harry Potter with a wide grin. "I know you won't, James."
James isn't allowed to disappoint his father in any way, of course. Because James always senses the shadow of another James behind him, standing over him, looking over his shoulder. To let down his father would be to tarnish the name he was given from that other James, and that can never be allowed.
Though sometimes James wishes he could. Just to see if the world will end.
Many people believe children can do no wrong, that they are innocent until they learn to be otherwise, and that no child is capable of sociopathic behavior.
I tell you now, wizards fall prey to this fallacy as much as anyone else.