Part the Third: The Weakness of the Spirit
This is happening in the Headmistress' office. It happens right now:
"Two of your fellow students are dead, and two are severely injured. Do you want to tell me why?"
He only stares at the desk. There are lines etched on his face too deep for a child his age, drawn there by pain and misery. Thaddeus sees them, and there is a voice in his mind saying no more, not for him, not for any of them, but he is an Auror, and this tragedy is unspeakable. There are people counting on him to find out what happened, and why it happened. Not only his supervisors, but the parents.
"Tell me why."
The boy still will not answer. He has no voice to do so, small as he is and so divided from his friends.
Thaddeus sits down in a chair across from him, rubs his face, peers at one of the portraits, peers at me. All he wants is to solve this mystery, to learn what happened to propel this event into mayhem.
Once more overseen by ghosts, in the one of the classrooms, one month before the holiday:
"I want all of you to take a good, long look at the lists of spells you've just been handed." Professor Longbottom paces the strip of floor in the classroom in front of the desks. He passes his eyes over every single one of the fourteen students chosen for this exercise, including Elaine. "These lists are very important, because they tell you what spells are permitted, and what spells are banned, as well as what effects the permitted spells will have on your participation in the exercise."
The students, at least one from each of the four Houses and of each age group, take the moment he gives them to look through the lists, as instructed. There are seven students for each team, and while the team that does not yet know that they represent Death Eaters come from many Houses, the other team is comprised mainly of Slytherins, though the teams were never intended to be based on House. This cannot be helped. The teams have been made based on who the childrens' parents were, and House can be as much a matter of familial pride as it is a divide of personality and character.
Do not mistake me, when I say character, I do not mean what you mean. I cannot explain it to you; it is what I look for when I seek to know what House a student belongs in, and it goes deeper than any meaning you might attach to it. Yet… it is malleable, especially when introduced to time. To this day, I still carry concern over the separation of Hogwarts. No one ever listens to me, however, save for the one person I would never see take reign over this school.
"You'll notice," Longbottom continues on without us, "the spells are divided according to the following categories: Minor Injury, Severe Injury, Incapacitating, Killing, Banned and Miscellaneous. Banned is self-explanatory, I would think. These are spells that have been determined too dangerous to be permitted. Some of them are obvious, such as the three Unforgivables."
Many of the students not yet seventeen look relieved, grinning and laughing, and Kate Goyle elbows Theodora Nott in the ribs to drive home Theodora's lack of advantage. Watching it all, Longbottom only smiles.
"A few other points about what is and isn't allowable: you may take any physical action you like as long as it isn't intended to and doesn't lead to serious injury, permanent damage, or death. You can make your own strategies and plans, you may even take prisoners, so long as none of your actions lead to serious injury, permanent damage, or death.
"Now, turn to the next page, please."
The page in question is a detailed description of what the in-game effects of each category of spell will be. Elegant typeset shows the results of six years of loving craft by three people who want nothing more than to make something beautiful out of their hardship, to ensure their children will never know anything truly like it.
"If you are hit with any spell listed in the Minor Injury category, it is assumed your 'injury' is the type that can be ignored, and there will be no immediate penalty. Being hit with a spell in the Severe Injury category, however, will result in a penalty of fifteen minutes in which you are not allowed to participate in any actions relating to the game. This is both to simulate the way a severe injury would require some sort of attention, even in the field of battle, and allow the effects of the spell to wear off." A pause, as he watches them frowning over their lists, over the descriptions, and his explanations. "For an Incapacitating spell, the penalty will be one hour off the playing field, so please, try to avoid being hit by one of these if at all possible."
Martin Avery gives a high-pitched, almost panicky laugh at that, and several of his fellows join in, though none of them sound quite as hysterical.
"And as you might assume, to be hit with Stupefy, the only spell listed under Killing, will remove you from the game for the remainder of its run. The Miscellaneous category is for spells you are permitted to use, but cannot be used against each other. These will be allowable in order to create, maintain and protect your chosen headquarters, as well as protect your persons. They may also be used in any capacity to forward your strategies as long as the results will not cause harm to you, your teammates, or the opposite team."
James leans over and murmurs to Lily, "Muffliato is on the banned list. That's stupid, it's not harmful."
Lily just shrugs and shushes her brother as Longbottom keeps going. She misses the glare James gives her in return.
"Unless there are any questions, I will now separate you into teams, one of which will go to a different room with your team advisor to learn more about the specifics of the game as it applies to your team."
There are no questions. To clarify, there are certainly questioning faces, but no one asks, for fear of being told all will be answered. Questions can always be asked later.
Longbottom nods, and begins to call out names. Before long, the nature of division between the students becomes distinct.
"Team one: James Potter, Lily Potter, Elaine Longbottom, Audra Lidden, Rose Weasley, Franklin Jordan, and Caleb Corner. Please exit the classroom and meet your team advisor in the hallway.
"Team two: Scorpius Malfoy, Theodora Nott, Katherine Goyle, Celestia Carrow, Sebastien Lestrange, Payton Parkinson and Martin Avery. Please remain seated. I am your team advisor."
As Team Two, comprised completely of children or grandchildren of the original Death Eaters, watches their opponents, all children of the Order of the Phoenix, walk away, there are varying levels of awareness on their faces. Awareness, and some few of them—most notably Katherine Goyle, who never really thought she'd be here—show the downturned lips and narrowed eyes of those who feel they've been betrayed.
Longbottom sees this, and once the door is closed behind the other team, he sits on the desk at the front of their classroom and faces the children of the people he once fought against. Kids he knows are not stupid. "Come on, now, you must have known it would be like this from the moment you walked in the door and saw which students were chosen. We judged this group of fourteen to be those most likely to have been influenced by their parents' modes of thought, and yes, that does include the Potters. Thus, we thought you fourteen to be the ones who would benefit the most from this learning experience."
Longbottom remembers being the ages of these children, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. Those were the ages when Voldemort was most dangerous, when Longbottom experienced most of his emotional growth, fought Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries, lead the DA without Harry, and at the age of seventeen, he beheaded a snake. He is honest and forthright with these children the way adults were almost never so with him.
"The main purpose of this exercise is to explore and hopefully banish the prejudices that drove this war, on both sides." At the surprised squeak of Martin, Longbottom smiles. "Yes, the Order of the Phoenix sometimes had their own preconceived ideas about who they would find on the other side. But for many, this didn't become as much of a problem until after the war, when it came time for those people who had been Death Eaters, or connected to Death Eaters, to live with the rest of society. The rest of society was not yet prepared to accept them."
Scorpius Malfoy sits back in his chair, looking far away and thoughtful. The Malfoy name isn't nearly what it used to be, and Scorpius has never known a time when he might get by or get in on the basis of that name alone. All he knows of those days is what his father says when he's been denied, and rants about the old days when no one would have turned a Malfoy down for anything. Then again, Scorpius has also never known the days when the Malfoy name came with wealth, for much of that wealth was confiscated by the Ministry.
My attention turns from him to Katherine, dear Kate, who is here entirely because her father wishes someone to salvage the reputation of their family name. It cannot be him, he is far too tainted, so he passes that duty on to his reluctant daughter. Her firmly planted scowl shows exactly what her opinion of her father is at this moment.
But Longbottom is not finished with surprises.
"So, to further help you begin to understand the sorts of prejudices and mindsets the Order of the Phoenix held, you are the team who represent the Order."
III. St. Mungo's
Witnessed by the portrait of Mungo Bonham:
"We don't know when he will wake up," says the Healer. "In all honesty, we don't know if he will wake up."
The boy in the bed looks asleep. There are no marks on him to show what it is that put him here, which is perhaps why his mother shows no evidence of tears.
The Healer continues, voice shaky, "We don't even know what spell was used on him."
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
IV. On the Grounds
This is overseen by me, actually, because Teddy Lupin decided to wear me today, simply because no one told him he couldn't:
Here is the layout of the playing field:
The teams have run of Hogwarts from the Astronomy Tower westward. As the Astronomy Tower is in a westerly part of the castle anyway, this leaves very little of the castle itself for their use, and as the program's area has been magically cordoned off from the rest of the school, there is no cheating.
The western side of the grounds were chosen because there isn't much to them; to the east of the castle are the Forbidden Forest, Hagrid's home, the Whomping Willow, the greenhouses, and in general far too much the students might upset in their running about and spell-casting.
To the west, there is only the Quidditch pitch and the wall. The western edge of the lake is included in the territory allowed, though it is highly suggested that the students stay away from it and not tempt the interference of the Giant Squid. It is not, however, forbidden for them to do so, and no doubt at least one foolish child will, simply to see what will happen. It is, after all, the prerogative of children to do precisely that which they are told not to do, and adults would do well to remember this.
No one has, of course.
Inside the boundary, the weather is pleasant, not overly hot, but not freezing. This is because there is enough of the castle inside the boundaries for one team to claim their headquarters there, but not both. Who will have a ready-made shelter and who will need to conjure or otherwise build one will depend on the teams' swiftness, creativity, and ruthlessness.
The Quidditch pitch is the designated area for time-outs. A student hit with any spell that requires them to sit out any length of time will do it in this area. While there, hostilities cease; should two members from opposite teams be in the pitch at the same time, they are forbidden from casting any spells.
McGonagall and Sprout wanted the barrier to act as a barrier to spells as well, literally preventing the use of the banned spells. Thus, Longbottom and Lupin spent much of the past month practicing their linked spellcasting, as well as this particular boundary spell. Twenty-three is an extremely high number of spells for one man and an Assistant Professor to configure the barrier to recognize and block every one, but they manage it, as well as seeding the barrier with a nasty little surprise for anyone who attempts to break the rules; nothing permanently harmful or life-endangering, but something painful enough to remind the student of the grave error they almost made.
The students are also not allowed to exit Hogwarts grounds, or destroy Hogwarts property, another reason the west side was chosen. The magical boundary separating the playing field from the rest of the school will allow only two people to pass in and out of the area: Neville Longbottom and Teddy Lupin. Until the end of the two week period, or until one of the two take it down, the boundary will remain. Until that time, none of the students who remain for holiday—and that is quite a few, who thought they would have front-row seats to this historic event—will have any contact at all with the students inside the barrier, and vice versa.
In essence, the teams will be trapped.
"Assistant Professor Lupin!" It's Headmistress Sprout, marching her way across the grounds with a determined set to her mouth. "You will return the Sorting Hat to me immediately! Whatever made you think you could simply walk out of my office with it?"
"Aw, Headmistress, it doesn't do any harm to let it breathe every once in a while."
"It's a hat, Lupin, it doesn't breathe!"
Ah well, such freedom cannot last forever.
From this point onward, you may assume observation by all parts of Hogwarts, from the stone to the sky to the ground beneath, unless stated otherwise:
They begin at dawn.
Each side has been given instructions from their advisors, everything from a reminder about banned spells, to instructions on their first mission, which is simple enough: find and protect a place for the team to become headquarters. Everyone knows this is their only shot at taking the Astronomy Tower—the only portion of the building officially within the playing field—for their own, and all eyes are on it just before their signal to begin happens. The barrier goes up.
Chaos is the best way to describe what happens next. Bodies shoot away from the border onto the field, there are battle cries yelled and the firing off of several spells. Within moments, Martin is hit with a banishing charm that luckily sends him swooping right to the Quidditch pitch.
Rose casts a couple of spells learned from her mother than send a flock of small red birds zooming after Sebastien, who curses her even as he tries not to laugh. These birds don't peck, merely make it extremely difficult for him to see, or to go two steps without tripping over something. But Rose is his dear friend, and she hit him legitimately. But birds, really?
Kate flings a binding spell at James, "Incarcerous!" only to have it returned by a particularly nasty Conjunctivitis curse, earning her fifteen minutes in the pitch beside a pouting Martin, who will still be there when she leaves. She's led there by Lupin, who is there with Longbottom to oversee this first skirmish and make certain none of the players become overly enthusiastic. So far, things look to be going well, even with two players from one team already relegated to time-outs. This is the way things happen, in real life, in real war.
Not that Lupin has ever seen real war.
Neither he nor Longbottom take part in the battle over the Astronomy Tower; this is the children's fight, not theirs. Besides, Lupin has to help Kate with the effects of James' Conjunctivitis curse, which is too painful and uncomfortable to allow her to return to play in fifteen minutes without help.
Observed, James continues to throw his curses, and his choice in them is revealing: Conjunctivitis, Furnunculus, Bat Bogey… the nastiest of the spells on the list, if not the most incapacitating.
Longbottom frowns a bit to see it, and the wild grin on the boy's face.
Franklin's teeth begin to sprout and grown past his bottom lip, and it's off to the pitch with him. Then it's Celestia, giggling the whole way as a truly magnificent pair of antlers grown from her head. She doesn't seem to mind them at all, which is more than he could say, if it were him. Following her is Scorpius, too Confunded to be angry, or even to find his way to the pitch, so Longbottom helps him.
In the end, it really is no contest. James has a wicked wand arm, so he and his Ravenclaw cousin turned almost immediately on the other team, casting spells to allow their group to come out in the lead, and as their fellow "Death Eaters" gained ground, he and Rose stayed to the back of the group to continue firing spells. At the very last, Payton catches her with Langlock, sending her to the pitch, but only seconds later, Elaine touches the doorknob of the door on the Astronomy Tower, winning the right to claim it for her team.
Kate lets out with a vicious curse of the non-magical variety, but the day is won, and the Order of the Phoenix will have to find shelter some other way.
In all, Longbottom thinks, an auspicious opening to the proceedings.
VI. Other Side of the Coin
Witnessed by the Grey Lady, who professed no interest at all in the proceedings:
Waiting for them outside the classroom is their team advisor: Assistant Professor Ted Lupin.
He's waiting with a big grin on his face, and directs them with a wave of his hand to a classroom across the hall. One by one they file inside, find their seats, and wait for the further explanations they were promised. James and Lily sit together, two of the three Potter kids together in what James assumes must be the moment before his greatest glory. The other children in this room do not matter, not to him.
"Well," says Lupin with a clap of his hands, "are you ready for battle, my Death Eaters?"
Lupin grins at James, though there are several other slack-jawed faces in the room. James was the only one who spoke. "That's right. Think of me as your Dark Lord, and you guys are my Death Eaters. As you move through the game, you'll be expected to behave like utter berks about the other team, with a splash of plain meanness. Got it?"
There are several side-eyed looks shared between the students.
Lupin sighs. "No one likes a joke. All right, class, what's the main attitude associated with Death Eaters?"
Rose, of course, is the first with her hand in the air, though Elaine's is not far behind her. None of the others seem willing to play the question and answer game.
"The belief that pureblood witches and wizards are superior to Muggleborn witches and wizards, and to Muggles themselves," answers Rose, and she is so much her mother's daughter. Though, I daresay there is more of her father in her than anyone realizes, more than simply his nose. Yet, her mother and father have some traits in common, so it would be difficult to tell where, for instance, the stubbornness originates. Perhaps it merely multiplied.
"Exactly right. So that's the main mindset from which all of you on this team are expected to operate."
A very long pause as all the students, none of whom have ever considered hating anyone based solely on their blood status, think on what they're being asked to do. Lupin sits quiet and allows them to, as this is the entire point, after all. Already, they're thinking in ways they never have before.
"So," offers Elaine Longbottom quietly, "we're supposed to think of our opponents as blood traitors."
Lupin smiles and nods. "That's right. You come from pureblood stock, of course, or at least you pretend you do, you ignore any evidence to the contrary, at any rate. Think of it; everyone with any sense knows what about heredity?"
Rose's hand is up, but so are James' and Lily's, who have heard their father say as much when he thought they weren't listening. Lupin picks Lily, who doesn't often offer to answer questions.
"Well, there's not a lot of purebloods to pick from," she says. Lily doesn't speak often, being a quiet girl, but when she does, it's usually without hesitation. "So the pureblood families are already inbred to a ridiculous degree—"
"Oi, speak for yourself, Potter," says Lupin with a grin. Everyone present is well aware of his mixed pedigree, featuring everything from Muggleborn to werewolf, from supposed pureblood to partly non-human. He isn't shy about his past or parentage, in fact talks about it often on the days when he teaches the Muggle Studies class, in preparation to take over when Professor Mealth retires.
Lily rolls her eyes, though several of her teammates laugh and relax a bit. "Anyway, they're already inbred, so it's really quite impossible for them to be as pure as they claim, or else they'd all be drooling morons."
"Some of them are anyway," James mutters to Franklin Jordan with a snort of laughter. Franklin, who is Gryffindor but has never been part of James' inner circle, does not laugh. In fact, Franklin's face is closed and serious, reflecting none of the relaxation that's gone through the bodies and expressions of his fellows.
Later, he may regret turning down this brief offer of friendship.
"I know it's hard," says Lupin, who of any of them in the room has every right to be angry, to hate the Death Eaters, but speaks as though hatred is the furthest thing from his mind. "This goes against everything you've been taught, and rightly so. But right now the goal is to teach you what the other side thought, and why, so you learn understanding. You don't have to agree with their mindsets, but we hope you will learn to view the people who held them as just as human as you or me."
Silence as these children contemplate the children in the other room, the offspring of real Death Eaters, most of them Slytherin. It's a very difficult thing, they think, that they're being asked to do; changing perspectives is never easy, but Rose is the only one in the room who can form this as a coherent thought in her mind.
"But we're still being restricted on our magic," she offers, and already she's thinking toward what that means.
"Of course you are. Most of you are half-trained, after all, and some of you are known to have petty rivalries with members on the opposite team." At that, Lupin sends a sharp look in James' direction, because James' dislike of Slytherins in general is well known, as is his hatred of Scorpius Malfoy in particular. "We don't think any of you would seek to purposefully cause harm to any of your fellow students, but we're not going to give you the opportunity to accidentally cause more damage than you intended."
James Potter sits back in his chair, arm slung over the back, and shrugs. Like it's no big deal, nothing to worry about, of course he wouldn't want to accidentally cause serious harm.
"Let's talk about your goals during the game," says Lupin. Minds turn toward other subjects, but no one really forgets this conversation.
This happens in St. Mungo's. It is happening right now:
Thaddeus has never hated himself more. When he became an Auror, he never imagined anything like this, and he certainly never imagined having to sit at the bedside of a girl with a mutilated face while badgering her for information. The parents are outside, fierce expressions boring into him. They will not wait long.
"What happened?" He asks her the same question he's asked the others, but this time his voice is softer. "Just tell me what happened."
Her face, her eyes, her voice, they are all surprisingly calm given that no one will ever be able to look at her again without thinking of this. Everyone will know who she is, and when this happened to her once-pretty face.
"Why does it matter?" she asks him in return.
Why does it matter? How could she ask him such a thing? "The truth always matters."
"Not to the Daily Prophet, and they won't print the truth."
"I'm not asking for the Daily Prophet. I'm asking for the Aurors."
She shrugs. "There's no point. It's done, and there's no one to punish for it."
Oh, she thinks she knows, but Thaddeus knows more than she does. She's only a teenager, a traumatized one, and she believes the only ones responsible are the ones who held her down, who held the wand to her face, the ones directly responsible for the other two deaths. She's a smart girl, but she's still a girl.
Because he knows there is always someone to hold accountable.
VIII. How it Begins
Later, none of them will be able to articulate exactly how it began. It will not be that they don't remember this moment, but that they will not be able to comprehend this moment.
The door opens. Sebastien looks up, expecting Rose with their allotment of food. What he sees is James and Elaine, the last two people he ever thought would be in the same room with him. James has made his contempt for anyone related to past Death Eaters quite clear, and Elaine… Sebastien has always avoided Elaine Longbottom, and she's never pushed the issue.
"Potter?" Scorpius takes his responsibility as leader seriously, and stands when the two opposing team members enter. Sebastien wonders if Scorpius refers to James as "Potter" because of their opposing positions, or for any other reason.
James barely gives the other boy a glance, and doesn't respond to him at all. In fact, he doesn't do anything except stay in the doorway with his arms crossed, watching Elaine.
For her part, Elaine Longbottom looks as though she's just swallowed something of an intriguing mixture of sour, bitter, and plain disgusting. Yet, oh and yet, there's a hard line to her normally soft jaw, and the eyes that are her father's, and kind and warm, look on Sebastien and are hard, cold. He doesn't know her well, but what little he does tells him to be afraid of whatever is going on in her mind. It isn't her, and it isn't pretty.
"Don't!" Her voice pipes high, with a breathy quality that makes him think she's on the edge of hysteria. "Don't say my name, don't talk to me like you know me, or we're friends or something."
"Okay," he whispers, frantically trying to find something else to say, but it's hard when he doesn't know what's going on.
She doesn't really give him a chance to say more. "My dad's parents. They were in St. Mungo's until they died. Did you know that? Did you even know they were there? Did anyone tell you?"
Sebastien shakes his head, because what else is he to do? "No. I'm sorry. But it wasn't me."
There is a long pause where Elaine simply looks at him, where James smirks, where the only sounds is the staccato breathing of many people in a small room. Then Elaine raises her wand.
All is pain, pain, pain, everything is razor blades and knife edges, sword points and claws. Sebastien catches a glimpse of his arms as he collapses, and they look spotless, but he feels like he should be pouring blood from a thousand wounds, out of his very pores, he should be bleeding from his eyes and his fingernails.
He feels like he's dying.
Overseen by Moaning Myrtle, who has been branching out into even more bathrooms of late:
He stares at himself in the mirror, imagines a long, furry snout, imagines ears, imagines any number of things, and they no sooner flash across the stage of his mind than they become reality. Being a Metamorphmagus is truly the coolest thing ever.
Briefly, his mind touches on the fact that he inherited this rare ability from a mother he can't remember, and his current symptoms from an equally-deceased father. Sometimes he looks at himself, washes away all artifice and just looks at himself, his true face, and he wonders which parts of it really came from his father, really came from his mother. The Lupin in his unvarnished features is easier to see, because really, how often did anyone see his mother's true face? How would he even know what to look for in looking for her?
Right now, though, he's looking at the head of a wolf.
Oh, he knows a real werewolf doesn't look much like a wolf at all. No, he's never changed physically at the full moon, but he's done equally as much research into the subject as he has Muggles, and he is aware of what a real transformed werewolf looks like.
This, however, is his favorite fantasy. It always has been, though it's only been recently that he's been able to form a reasonable likeness of the wolf and hold it; Metamorphmagi were not Animagi, and not intended to fully form into other creatures completely. Even as he watched, Teddy's concentration faltered, and the wolf's face melted back to his own. The real one.
Teddy never really showed anyone his real face. Why should he, when he didn't have to? Let that be something private. One day, if he found someone to share his life with, maybe then it would be a special secret between them.
Uncharacteristically aggravated that he couldn't hold the wolf-face longer, Teddy scowls at himself in the mirror. Another moment, and his gaze becomes sharp, piercing, and his features begin to shift again, skin paling, eyes going crimson, nose flattening. This one he has to recreate from descriptions, as there's never been a picture published, but he has a feeling he has it right. It's a terrifying enough visage to convince the kiddies, anyway. None of them will know the difference.
It's three days before the exercise begins, three days before the full moon, and Teddy feels like scaring some kiddies.
The Second Day
"What did you do?"
"Oh my God, Elaine, what did you do?"
Elaine blinks at her still extended hand, wand gripped in her fingers, and then beyond it, where Sebastien Lestrange lies shaking on the ground. She can't remember him making any noise, but he must have screamed, because the voices behind her belong to Rose and Audra. Behind her, at least until Rose pushes past her to kneel beside Sebastien.
"He looks like—" Rose stops without completing the sentence, because, Elaine supposes, it's unthinkable, thus there's nothing to be said.
Elaine lowers her wand. In front of her, Sebastien gasps for breath between sobs, and it should mean something to her, but it doesn't. Not yet.
"Well," says James, and this makes her turn around, "it looks like my spells worse just fine."
It is only the second day.
People, including magical people who don't think they fall into this category, tend to believe themselves capable of anything. Nothing is impossible, no goal unachievable, nothing beyond their reach. It only takes time and patience to uncover the means or the magic necessary.
I tell you now, sometimes people need to know some things should not be attained.