Chapter 1: Part the First: The Stone Speaks
Part the First: The Stone Speaks
These walls stand silent. They have seen so much, from the beginning of an era to its chaotic end. They have seen the triumphs of dear friends, and friendships' dissolutions. They have seen wars and births and deaths, the tumbling of towers and the erecting of statues. All of it beautiful and strange in the way of people, human beings who grow and change and die. So malleable, humans. So impermanent.
Yet, for these walls, for me, everything is impermanent.
Every year, these walls open themselves to a new class, and generations have flowed through this place on their way to greatness, or infamy, or mediocrity. Many are the minds who have graced these halls, not all of whom became well known later, for with greatness sometimes comes humility. Sometimes. Not always. Living so long as we do—if one may call what we do living—we see how greatness so often and so easily leads to arrogance. More often than not, humility is preceded by arrogance, and the fall between the two is long. Bones are broken, so are prides. Sometimes the losses are more than can be borne on a single set of shoulders.
Oh, the stories these walls could tell, if they could speak what they've seen. They are only walls, however.
But I have a voice. I speak for them, sometimes.
There was once a man who spoke to snakes and built a secret chamber.
Once a woman and her mother parted lost in anger.
Once two friends from separate lives made oaths in stone rough hewn.
Once four friends built towers high, still standing though They are ruined.
There was once a boy who spoke to snakes and found the secret chamber.
To hide his deeds he chose to lie and to others slander.
Once four friends roamed the halls and loved to joke and prank.
Once grown they found their lives forfeit to cowardice and hate.
There was once a boy who spoke to snakes and set one upon his cousin.
A fright to some although his years had not yet reached a dozen.
Once with friends as bright as stars and loyal to his failings,
He set on paths and conquered death in deeds that need retelling.
Proud Gryffindor, wise Ravenclaw, fair Hufflepuff and Slytherin.
Of these four I tell the tales over and again.
These are tales of friendship, of courage, love and hate.
There are stories more to tell, dark, but now too late.
Listen now, listen fast, listen though it is done.
The deeds are past, the lives are shed, no one's pride has won.
But listen, children, hear my song and maybe you will learn
How past and present don't mix well, and how the future burns.
II. Girl on the Tower
Seen only by the wind and the sky and the standing stone:
She stands on the top of the Astronomy Tower, close to the edge, looking down on the place where a great man once lie broken. Broken, but not defeated. Her expression is far weightier than it should be for a girl of only fifteen years, suggesting that she understands what it means to be broken, but not how to be simultaneously undefeated.
The night is cold, but she has no cloak.
Down through the space and night below she stares, as though looking through time, through death, as though asking the man how did you do it, how did you win even after everything?
This tower is a place of death, of choices. Does she know? Does she know that before she was born, a boy only a year older than she is now stood on this very tower with a terrible choice imposed on him by others?
What is it she thinks as her hands grip the stone of the crenelle?
Breathing in, the girl on the tower gives a shiver before taking two steps back from the battlement. With an exhalation, she takes two more steps, then turns away from the edge and the night.
But it was close.
III. The Idea
It begins in innocence, and, as so much does, in the past.
Not everyone forgets, you see, not everyone learns to let live, to let bygones be, to watch the water flow under the bridge and no further. Even those who think they do only think so, unable to see the dam for the trickle that leaks through.
Overheard by the painting of Babbling Bathsheba in the teacher's lounge, here is how it begins, then:
"You have some time, Neville?"
"Sure, Harry, what's on your mind?"
Let me fill in some gaps, because later what is on his mind will become clear. I speculate: the father has listened to his children talk about their peers, who are the children of his peers, and wonders where they've adopted the ideas they have, wonders if he's said anything without knowing they overheard, to his wife, or to his friends. Harry Potter remembers the boy Draco Malfoy, and while he remembers the taunts and cruelty, he also remembers the stark play of shadow and light on Malfoy's features on the top of the Astronomy Tower, when asked to perform murder and unable to carry through. He remembers the boy who cried in the girl's bathroom for the sake of his family, and the boy who lied to everyone when he said he didn't recognize a swollen-faced Harry. If he has ever said anything negative about Draco Malfoy, it has been in a moment of frustration, and never meant to engender such hatred in his children.
But then, this is how these things begin. Lucius Malfoy had his own opinions, and was, shall we say, less careful of how much his son heard.
Also on his mind, Potter remembers a man named Severus Snape, who performed heroic acts even as he stubbornly clung to the hatred of a younger time. Snape was never a happy man. To think of any of his children, or those of his friends, growing into another man like him… it is not a pleasant thought.
Yes, I speculate, but you must remember, I knew Harry Potter as a boy. I have known many of the players in this game as children, I have been inside their heads and seen their fragile hopes and fears. Where I speculate, you may be fairly certain I do so from a place of knowledge. So be still, and be quiet, and I will continue.
"Listen, I have this idea."
Neville Longbottom, known now as Professor Longbottom, listens as Potter lays out everything. The kids need to know what it's really like, he says, and they need to know it isn't that easy to judge what's going on inside a person's head.
Listening, Longbottom frowns. He is a man who has come such a very long way from the eleven year old who sat on a stool in the Great Hall, seemingly timid, seemingly weak. What he has never quite realized is that the strength he found many years later was not the result of his friends, but waited inside him while his family talked and schemed, while his grandmother didn't know what to do with him and uncles plotted to drop him out of windows.
Now, he has a daughter who is the same age as Potter's youngest, eight years old, two years yet from Hogwarts. While he understands what Potter says, he also isn't certain he wants his Elaine participating in something with such violent potential. Especially because Potter has not yet been able to articulate exactly how such a thing will work.
"We'd have to get the Headmistress involved," he finally says slowly. He isn't ready yet to tell his friend yes without reservations, but he isn't ready to turn him down, either, because he sees the potential.
Nodding, eyes unfocused and thoughtful, Potter agrees. "Of course, especially if we want to do this on Hogwarts grounds. We'll have to, I think. The kids will need a lot of room to move around in, and Hogwarts is the safest place for anything like this."
"Yes, it is," is Longbottom's response, and a flickering memory burns and dies in the back of his mind, of times when Hogwarts was not safe, times he tries not to think about.
There is a growing part of him that has latched onto this idea of Potter's, dangerous though it may be. These are children they're talking about, still in training, and lacking fine control over their magic. Accidents happen. But if someone were to be involved who keeps these things in mind, who works from a place of thoughtfulness instead of pure inspiration, perhaps it could turn into something manageable. Every contingency must be thought through.
Over the next year, he and Potter debate and discuss, and fine-tune the thing until it is suitable for presentation to the Headmistress.
After that, there is no turning back.
Overheard by the Fat Lady, on the other side of her portrait:
A boy and a girl, their voices muffled, but breathless. It isn't hard to guess what they're up to; it is quite late, past midnight, so all the others must be in bed. The Fat Lady is supposed to report these things, for there is a certain amount of decorum that's expected to be upheld—as though these things do not happen at all, with children of a certain age—however, she's enjoyed a good romp in her day with a handsome gentleman in a painting on the second floor, and she sees nothing wrong with the students doing so. If she hears anything to insinuate one of them is not there by choice, she will raise the alarm, but otherwise she is content to be a silent conspirator.
"Wait," she hears, and listens harder. It's the girl. "Wait, I don't—"
Perhaps she should recognize the voices, but there are too many children, and new ones every year, for many more years than they can imagine. The Fat Lady can't tell who they are, only that the girl seems reluctant.
"What is it?" the boy asks again, and at least he sounds concerned.
The girl doesn't reply immediately, and in a moment there are breathless sounds again, and a low, wanting moan from the girl. Apparently, whatever she wanted to wait for was not all that important after all. Frustrating, to hear but not able to see. Most students make certain they're far away from any paintings, though, so she will take what she can get.
What she gets soon enough is flesh on flesh, and rising gasps muffled quickly, presumably by lips as they press together in a desperate kiss. The Fat Lady cannot see, but she can imagine, and it's all very romantic. She's just thinking she might decide to nip on down a couple of floors when one of the lovers within gives a cry, and the other follows suit until she can't tell which is which, only that their adventure is over for the night.
Panting, he asks, "Do you love me?"
A few heavy breaths and a pause.
Insistent, "Do you love me?"
"Yes, I love you. James, I love you."
So very romantic.
V. The Plan
Overheard and seen by several former Hogwarts Headmasters and Headmistresses, as well as myself:
The Headmistress sits at her desk, her glasses slid down most of the length of her nose, and she stares at Auror Potter.
It isn't that his plan hasn't been well thought out, because by now it has been; the plan, or the "social exercise," as he calls it, is loosely based on an Auror trust-building exercise wherein groups of Aurors and trainees are split into groups representing Aurors, Dark wizards, and civilians, and then are given a battle scenario. There are almost no rules in the Auror exercise, but Potter has conceded the necessity of adding several to this particular form of the exercise. They are, after all, dealing with half-trained children, who tend to become rowdy and excited and forget themselves.
Minerva McGonagall is a singular woman. She has chosen a singular life, much like her predecessor, though for very different reasons. There are many hearts in the wake of her; she looks back on them with unfailing pragmatism and never regrets a one.
For the most part, she approaches the rest of her life with the same mindset.
"Forgive me if I have some reservations about the practicality of such an exercise, Mr. Potter," she finally says to him. The fingers of her hands are as long and strong as ever, threaded through each other and rested on the desk. Albus' desk. She never did replace it. "And you, Longbottom. There are a great many considerations, the logistics of such a thing will be difficult."
"I understand, Headmistress." Longbottom sits beside Potter, his hands in his lap. He's helped Potter with the initial plans, and he believes they have the beginnings of a viable project. His concern is and will always be the safety of the children involved. "We're already working on ways to keep it under control. We want to limit the number of members for each team, and section off an area of Hogwarts for the exercise."
"Hmm. How many students on each team?"
"We think seven should be a good number. Large enough to really make the kids work at teamwork, but small enough to be manageable." Potter is the one who answers, his voice strong, confident. They have been planning for more than a year now, and this is his pet project, no matter how involved Longbottom has become; it's Longbottom's job merely to keep the project controllable, and safe. Potter isn't always as concerned with control as he is with results, but then he's never been one to control himself much. It isn't that he doesn't care. He does care, that's why he's doing this, but his care is currently narrowed in focus, and has no room for any other considerations.
On the other side of the desk, the Headmistress presses her lips together in a tight line. "Longbottom," she finally says, "you will be the staff in charge of this project on school grounds." When Potter tries to interrupt, she plows right through him. "Potter will be allowed to help you on an advisory basis due to his experience, but as this is suggested as an exercise for the students, this is now officially a Hogwarts project." Her eyes spear Potter through the lenses of her glasses, eyes capable of reminding anyone of why she was and remains such a formidable teacher.
Potter hesitates, but nods.
"Good. All portions of the plans will have to go through me for approval, and only when I've approved a final plan will this go forward." A hesitation. Then, "you are both dismissed."
Potter and Longbottom leave the Headmistress' office, and McGonagall looks up at the portrait hanging closest to her desk. "I suppose they have a point," she tells the man who peers down at her, all oils and dark pigments. "Forgetting is how these things happen over and over."
"I hope you know what you're doing, Minerva."
She smirks. There is a rueful bent to it. "I remember once saying the same to you, Severus."
This is happening in the Headmistress' office. It happens right now:
"Tell me why you did it."
"I don't know."
"You don't know?" The Auror is large, angry, and makes his reputation through intimidation. He is also old enough to have been in service the last time a battle took place on these grounds. His name is Thaddeus, and of the fifty or so people killed at that battle, his nephew was one. To the girl in front of him, he must seem terrifying. "You tortured a boy, used an Unforgivable Curse on him, and you're telling me you don't know why?"
She wraps her arms around herself and cries.
"I don't know."
He bends down over her from behind, his shadow weighing her down, pinning hers to the desk. "Tell me why you did it."
Her voice is a whisper.
"I don't know."
They will tell you portraits are a distillation of their subject's personality, that in the end they are not particularly sophisticated.
I tell you now, wizards do not always know their own power.
Chapter 2: Part the Second: The Strength of the Flesh
Meet the players.
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.
Chapter 3: Part the Third: The Weakness of the Spirit
Here it begins in truth.
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.
Chapter 4: Part the Fourth: The Silence of the Heart
Here it ends.
Part the Fourth: The Silence of the Heart
The moon, the moon, it shines down on him and does not change him on the outside, but he can feel the push and pull of the tides of his blood, calling him to run and bay and growl and hunt. But he is bipedal, not a quadraped, and he does not have fangs, and to go hunting in this body would be a massive breach of protocol. Not to mention all the rules of polite society.
Oh but he wants to, he wants to so badly, and the moon isn't even truly full anymore.
Ah well, he'll have to settle for being Dark Lord to the confused, milling children running about the grounds. He can see them, or the one team unlucky enough to be relegated outside, wandering about. He frowns at them, because this is the team to represent the Order, they are supposed to work together, but they look as though they haven't talked at all about what to do with their predicament. They should be talking, planning, finding a good place and conjuring materials for tents. Not to mention food from the kitchen, which the house elves lovingly created for exactly that purpose.
Instead, Kate Goyle faces away from her team, arms crossed and scowling. Sebastien and Scorpius are huddled together talking, but they aren't paying attention to the rest of the team. Celestia, "Little Celie," as he's heard, is dancing as though there isn't a camp to make. Martin sits on the ground a little away from the others, watching Celestia, looking lost. Theodora, unwilling to join Celestia in her dancing, but looking on the huddled boys with just as much contempt, and then Payton, standing just a little away from Theodora, peering at the Tower as though contemplating what it would take to wrest it away from their enemies. Idiots.
Teddy breathes in deep, pushes away the wolf as best he can, and turns away from the window, from the kids, from the pull of the rising moon. They're only children, and this is just the moon. If he can get through it, everything will be fine.
Besides, it's time for him to go announce the next mission.
Forgive me for interrupting the narrative, but perhaps I should explain how these children came to their second day.
It's simple, really. Later, Longbottom will be certain it was his fault. Perhaps there is blame to be laid at his feet, but no more than at those of Potter, or Lupin, and the majority of their crimes are rooted in naivete. There was no malice here. As I said, I have seen inside the minds of all the players involved, and I know where the real blame may be placed. Not that it makes any difference now.
The first day, then, after the Astronomy Tower fell under the control of our pseudo-Death Eaters:
"Hah, we're going to win!"
Rose gives her cousin a roll of her eyes. "The point isn't to win, James. The point is to learn something."
James, in return, offers her a scowl. "The point is always to win. That's what the war was about, right? Winning. Winning because if you didn't win, losing would be worse than death."
The others look at him, not bothering to hide their shock that he actually managed to express such a concept. Rose opens her mouth, ready to say something along those lines—and assure him that it isn't that she thought him stupid, merely a bit dense—but the door opens and in swoops Teddy Lupin in long black robes that Harry and his contemporaries would find all too familiar.
"Well done, my Death Eaters, but the day is not over yet!"
Groans all around. The children are tired from their little battle, and had thought to fortify their base, or at least begin the process. Lupin only grins at them.
"Don't groan at me, if I were really the Dark Lord, I'd have to hex the lot of you."
"I don't think Lord Voldemort settled for petty hexes," says Rose, and she manages to say the name without stuttering, having benefitted from a childhood in a home where names were not given the power of fear over her or her family. "I think he would probably have used the Cruciatus."
"Don't give him ideas," Audra mutters, frowning at a scrape she suffered to her knee, so she misses the rolled eyes thrown her way by Caleb. She is the only Slytherin on this team, here by the grace of her mother being a member of Dumbledore's Army, no matter how briefly.
"Like he'd really do that."
"Couldn't even if I wanted to." Lupin throws his arms out, black cloth billowing around them. "Nifty little barrier, isn't it? Professor Longbottom and I did it ourselves. No Unforgiveables allowed, or any of the banned spells. Anyone who tries them gets an unpleasant little shock as punishment for attempting to break the rules." A raised eyebrow and pointed look for each of them. "Not, of course, that any of you fine students would stoop so low."
James smiles, all innocence and enthusiasm. "'Course not."
"Good." Lupin claps his hands together. "Because your next mission relies on all of you respecting the rules, being crafty and quick."
"Stop being a berk, O Dark Lord." James leans on a wall and gives Lupin an annoyed glance, which is returned in kind. They have grown up together, and Lupin is practically James' brother. But it's obvious that right now Lupin feels as though James shouldn't be thinking of him that way.
"Fine. There's a new mission, and it involves getting to a certain object before the other team does, taking it, and keeping it." He grins then, a big expression, wolfish. "The best part is that as of this point onward, you're allowed to claim prisoners from the members of the other team you hit with spells. Once you have your prisoners, then you'll not only have to keep the object safe, but make sure your prisoners don't escape, or aren't rescued."
There's silence for a moment, all of them watching Lupin with his predatory grin, some of them simply shocked, others unsure of him, and at least one silent with planning. Finally, it's Rose that speaks, "Prisoners?"
James again, grinning. "What's the matter, cousin? Feeling squeemish?"
She wants to say no.
III. The Third Day
"He's burning up."
Rose pulls her hand away from Sebastien's forehead. Whatever else that spell did to him, it's manifested a strong fever. Looking up, she sees Scorpius frowning, concern in every line of his body, even though his arms are crossed, closed. Sitting beside him, knees up to her chest, arms wrapped around them Kate Goyle glares at and her and makes no attempt to hide her lack of trust. Rose doesn't blame her. This isn't the way things were supposed to happen.
Worse, Assistant Professor Lupin came in earlier and pronounced the whole thing in line with the purpose of the exercise. Rose's stomach has been in knots ever since, because it's not true, it's not, and Lupin… Teddy… she doesn't know why he's ignoring that. He's supposed to make sure things like this don't happen.
It has to stop, but she feels as though the ground beneath her feet shifts and slides, and she isn't entirely certain at the moment how it started. She's unaccustomed to this. School is easy, the spells come to her as swiftly as she can think the words, always have, and relationships have always been the same. Rose has always been sure of her footing, until now. James has changed all of that in three short days. She thought she knew him, and thought the James she knew was arrogant, intolerant, but would never have guessed this.
"He'll die if someone doesn't tend to him soon." Scorpius watches her, grey eyes distant and slightly cold. He looks more like his father this way, the man she's only seen from a distance. He looks nothing like the passionately intelligent young man Albus praises.
"I know. I'll stop this. I promise."
Rose stands and moves to leave, before she has to reveal the doubt in her eyes. She hopes she hasn't made a promise she can't keep.
Outside, Franklin waits, hands in his pockets, a glance flicked over her shoulder to see what lies beyond. There's a frown on his face that only furrows deeper when he sees Sebastien, and hears the unconscious boy moan. "This is bad."
Rose nods, crossing her arms because there's nothing else to do with them. "Very bad."
"What do we do?"
Franklin never speaks much. She likes that about him. He's thoughtful, and when he speaks, it's to the heart of the matter without wasting words. "We stop it," she told him, trying to emulate his outward calm. "We talk to James."
A hesitation as Franklin steps from one foot to the other, still frowning, eyes unfocused. Rose waits, because sometimes that's what one has to do with Franklin. It's always worth it, though.
"Tomorrow. When Professor Lupin comes. We'll talk to them both." His eyes lift then, briefly, to meet hers. "If Seb will make it."
It's Rose's turn to hesitate, to think of Sebastien's current state, the heat of his forehead, the way he spends most of his time unconscious or delirious. She isn't a Healer. She really just doesn't know. They should have Madame Pomfrey in here, but James has forbidden anyone to send up a flare for help. "He'll have to, I guess. But… I think… he won't make it past tomorrow. It has to be tomorrow."
Franklin nods. "Both of us."
"Both of us. They'll have to listen."
They'll have to listen. She tells herself that again, internally, because she hates that she isn't sure about two people she should know.
Written in a notebook left in the Gryffindor common room:
A spell to twist the insides and make them near impossible to untwist.
A spell to cut the inside without cutting the outside.
A spell to mutilate the face.
A spell to cut the target into many pieces.
A spell to cause the environment (walls, floor, furniture, etc.) to absorb the target.
And many, many pages of additional spells. Well after midnight, enough to say it is closer to dawn, the boy comes down the stairs, flushed with the sudden realization that his notebook, that notebook, was left downstairs. Idiot, he calls himself, because that notebook, well, he's just lucky it's still here and hasn't been discovered. It isn't where he left it, but he can only imagine it was the dutiful house elves who closed and stacked it with other forgotten books, for anyone else would have taken one look at the spells written within and taken it straight to Professor Longbottom.
It hasn't happened. His precious work is safe.
James smiles and hugs the book to him. He is fifteen. He's been writing spells in this notebook since he was twelve. It's the only thing close to a friend.
V. The Fourth Day
Things are getting worse.
She said: Stop this, James, it's wrong, you know it's wrong, you have to send up sparks and end this.
They hold her down. James on one side, Audra on the other, even though Audra looks about to vomit, and Caleb straddles her stomach. She's been told about things like this, but this isn't what she expected. If she were going to be held down, she expected another sort of violation, and in a twisted way she's almost been ready for it, especially the past four days. Somehow, a part of her mind said it will get worse, and then you know what will happen, with all these boys around, but that isn't what's happening. That's not what Caleb wants from her.
Caleb grins down at her, and no matter how hard she tries she can't break from James' hold, or Audra's. "Please," she gasps, suddenly not too proud to beg, not when it isn't a game anymore. "Please, Audra, don't. Don't let them." She appeals to Audra, because she is aware now of the depth of James' cruelty, and knows not to expect any mercy from her cousin. "Please!"
"I'm sorry." Audra glances over at James, on Rose's other side, and flinches at what she sees there. "I'm sorry."
She said: What's wrong with you, where did you get these spells, why are you using them?
"Shut up," James barks at Audra. "This is just what she deserves as a traitor to the cause. It's what the real Death Eaters would do, isn't it, Caleb?"
"Yep," says Marietta Edgecombe's son, his eyes gleaming with a fever unrelated to his health. "Absolutely. She's been fraternizing with the enemy, boss." He's taken to calling James that, 'boss,' as though James were somehow paying him for every act of hatred. Perhaps simply because they seem to share a spirit.
She said: Why'd you tell Elaine to do that to Sebastien? That spell should be an Unforgiveable.
Caleb leans down closer to her, and runs the tip of his wand down her cheek. It's warm, not yet hot enough to burn, but it will be, oh it will be, and she knows it will hurt.
"You know," he whispers to her, as though sharing a long-cherished secret, "I always imagined what would happen when I'd be able to pay your bitch of a mother back for what she did to mine. I imagined a lot of things, but never something this good."
Rose turns her face away from him, then the other way, because to her right she can see the crumpled form of Franklin, felled by one of James' curses after trying to stop them from wrestling her to the ground. She can't tell if he's still breathing or not, so she doesn't want to look at him. What if he's…
Then the pain begins, and it isn't like fire, it isn't like knives, it's like both of them together and a million other agonies she's never known existed, all of them focused on her face.
She said: If you don't stop this, I will.
"It's too bad, little bitch. You had a pretty face."
Caleb gets off her, and James and Audra let go of her, knowing very well they no longer have to hold her down. Rose can't move, she's in too much pain, more as her tears fall and sting the wounds. Spell wounds, curse wounds. Merlin, how shallow is she that even now she's thinking about St. Mungo's and how little they'll be able to do for her? Caleb is right, she'll never be pretty again.
Caleb's gone, and James follows quickly after, leaving only Audra behind, Audra, who hugs herself and looks back and forth between Franklin and Rose. Rose can barely see her through the haze of red filmed over her eyes.
"I'm sorry," Audra whispers, then flees. Rose knows that nothing will stop James now.
All of this, because Rose said she would, she would stop him.
Teddy said: She's a traitor, guys. You know how Death Eaters would deal with traitors. Then he walked away.
This happens at St. Mungo's. It happens right now:
The Healer sits with them, with the Potters, who are already devastated. Harry sits staring at the opposite wall, and his eyes do not refocus when the Healer's head moves into his line of view. Beside him, his wife, clutching his hands, white-knuckled and white-faced, but more focused.
They are here about their daughter.
What the Healer tells them causes Harry to snap back to the present, to break Ginny's grip on his hands, and send him careening to the nearest corner to vomit. There's silence, save for his heavy breathing, until Ginny makes a wordless sound in the back of her throat.
"I can't be certain, of course," the Healer says quietly into that silence, "she isn't very coherent. But… based on what she's said about him… it seems the most logical conclusion."
The problem is that it seems the most logical conclusion to a pair of parents who have had questions over the years, who looked sideways at two of their children and wondered, but pushed the thoughts away. What terrible things to think, how could they? Harry and Ginny never even shared their thoughts with each other, and as Harry stands with his head bowed over the pool of his vomit, as Ginny sits staring at the Healer, they still don't know that the other is thinking but I knew, I knew, didn't I, but I didn't want to know.
How did their children go so wrong?
Lily slips through the curtains dividing the common room headquarters for her team from the balcony overlooking the western grounds and approaches her brother. The lines of his back are so well known to her in their rigid defiance of every rule and anything that would seek dominance over him. Has she always known such lack of respect for the rules—both of people and of nature—would lead to where they are now?
She isn't certain. James has always been heading somewhere known only to him, barreling straight through all obstacles, and she shudders with the memory of one barrier in particular he battered down. Do not say no to James, because he doesn't hear it. He hears only what he wants to, and on those occasions when even he can't deny what's standing in his way, he gets rid of it. By any means.
She's surprised he hasn't tried one of his horrible spells on Scorpius yet. He has much to say on the subject of their brother dating a Malfoy.
The second time she says his name, it's quieter. She's heard Rose talking to Franklin, seen Audra crying, seen Elaine staring stone-faced at the fireplace. All around her trembles potential and promise for the following day, positive words with perhaps negative outcomes. The potential is for violence, the promise is for the loss of James' temper. If he's heard what she's heard, if he knows….
Lily places her hands on his shoulders, and lays her cheek against his robed back. Through the clothing, she can feel the heat of his skin, always burning, as though there's a fire inside him that can't be contained by mere mortal flesh. By now, the others have felt it, though they don't know it as intimately as she.
"What?" It's like a pin in the heart, when he finally speaks to her; his tone is brusque and cold.
She slides her arms down and around his waist, only to have him pull away from her. "They're not here, they can't see," she tells him, though he's never been the one concerned with being seen before. She just can't conceive of a different reason he would move away from her.
"What do you want?"
Lily feels her bottom lip begin a quiver, and stops it cold. He has these moods sometimes. It's nothing. He still loves her. He always loves her. "I just thought you might like some company. Are you looking for the other team? I don't think they'll try anything. It's been three days." She steps to his side so she can see his face.
"If they're following the rules they will. The Order would stage a rescue." James scowls out from the balcony.
"Maybe they're not following the rules. Maybe they're going to just abandon their teammates. It's what their parents would have done." Except Scorpius'. And maybe Kate's. And…. Saying any of that to James would be a certain way to gain his anger, however, so Lily remains silent on her personal opinions of their opponents. She is worried, though, about Sebastien Lestrange's fever. "Listen, James, can't we—"
"No, they have to play by the rules," he growls, glaring out over the grounds. Below, there's a couple of large tents set up, that the other team finally conjured for themselves after the mission that saw their teammates captured. James ignores her. "Longbottom won't let them abandon the captives."
Lily stares at him. Longbottom? Since when is Neville anything but Neville or Professor Longbottom?
A hand on his arm, she tries again. "I think Sebastien Lestrange is too sick to—"
James jerks his arm from her, and turns to glare at her with eyes she's never seen before, never, not even that night when… not even then. Lily's breath catches and she steps back from him, eleven years old again and unsure of who her brother really is, and maybe then she did see this, maybe she saw it behind everything else, maybe everything else was just a mask to cover this James. All she really knows for sure is that this James doesn't care if Sebastien lives or dies, and doesn't care that Elaine will have to live with it if he dies. A sob, before she knows it's coming, and Lily gasps, "James."
"Go back inside. Don't talk to anyone for fuck's sake, unless it's about the morons out there on the grounds. Understood?"
Lily nods, and turns, and goes, because this is not her James. Audra rises to meet her, hugs her, sits her down in a chair next to Elaine, but doesn't ask why she's crying. She probably just assumes James was cruel, which he was, but there's so much more. Audra brings her tea, and murmurs soothing but meaningless words while Caleb ignores them. Rose is probably with Sebastien, and Franklin is probably with her.
"It's all right," Audra assures her quietly. "I'm sure it's fine."
It's not fine, but Lily can't bring herself to say that. All she can do is hope that her James, the James who loves her, will come back soon.
VIII. The Last Day
They run, because there's nothing else to do. They run because they have been discovered, because the devil himself is on their heels, because if they don't run, they are absolutely certain they will die.
Rose's face is bandaged, but still bleeds, and still she runs.
Between her and Kate, they practically carry the stumbling Sebastien, who sweats and gasps but is still somehow, miraculously alive. Behind them somewhere is Scorpius, who was not so lucky once Caleb cursed him to the ground. Kate didn't see what happened after that, but she heard him screaming, and will remember those screams every day for the rest of her life, and every night in her nightmares. Damn it, damn it, damn you, Daddy, for asking me to do this. I didn't even want to!
Ahead of them Franklin, limping, stops to look behind. "Can I help?"
"No, keep going, stupid!" Kate answers for the both of them, though she has no doubts he was talking to Rose. Kate is the only one of them not injured, but she thinks that's only because she, as a Goyle, has been beneath James' notice until now. He had bigger names to torture, like Lestrange and Malfoy.
Beyond Franklin, Kate sees something else, something that makes her curse with joy. Theodora and Payton, their wands in their hands.
"Move!" she shouts, takes a better grip on Sebastien, and forces the three of them to move faster whether Sebastien or Rose can handle it or not. "Keep going, keep going, move move move!" If they can get to Theodora and Payton, they'll have two more people on their side. As it is, it's only her, Rose, Franklin and Payton. Scorpius gone, probably dead, and the rest of James' idiot team chasing them with their leader.
It's all so fucked up.
"Oh my god." Theodora's exclamation on seeing them says it all about their appearance. After a moment, she shakes her head, as though shaking herself from a stupor. "We were coming to get you," she tells them as they make it to the territorial line. Kate isn't sure how the territories were drawn the past few days, as she's been a prisoner, but she can feel the protective barrier as they pass it. Rose and Franklin have some trouble, until Payton makes some adjustments to let them cross. It seems some of the Death Eaters have officially become deserters.
"That should protect us from them," Payton says, casting another charm on the boundary. He turns to them, almond-shaped eyes glancing over each of them in turn. "For a little while anyway." Then he and Theodora stare at them. Kate realizes this must be their first indication of how wrong things are in the "Death Eater" camp. She turns her own gaze to her companions.
Rose pants, the sounds closer to whimpers with every moment that goes by. Kate can't blame her, with the way Caleb fucked up her face. On the ground, Sebastien groans, weak, and a bit wheezy, which can't be good. Franklin's better off than either of the other two, and they haven't figured out the extent of the injury to his leg. None of them are going to be safe sitting out here in the open, even with Payton and Theodora's protective charms. When James finds them, and he will, it will be only a matter of time before he tears through those charms.
"What do we do?" Rose whispers, Ravenclaw Rose, daughter of the woman often called the brightest witch of her generation. Even Kate can see the brightness of panic in the other girl's eyes, though.
Rose, losing it. Sebastien, maybe dying. Franklin hurt. Theodora and Payton conferring on the strength of their smaller barrier, both pale with shock, showing uncertainty. Out there, big-shot Potter with his lost mind and his pack of morons.
"We have to go back to the tower," Kate blurts before knowing it. Of course, they all look at her like she's out of her mind. "No, really. They're all out looking for us. We leave Sebastien and Franklin here, the rest of us go back to the empty tower, get to the top, and fire off sparks to end this stupid fucking thing."
"We can't leave—"
Payton cuts Rose's protest off before her stubbornness can bloom. "Sebastien obviously can't go any further, and Franklin's leg will slow him down. They're safe enough here, Franklin can protect them."
"But it won't matter, because we're going to lure James and his idiots back to the tower with us anyway." Kate scowls at them, and stands, her wands gripped tight. "Keep them away from our wounded, confine them inside the tower if we can, and if not, as long as one of us gets to the top to set off the sparks, it'll be enough."
They're silent, all of them looking at her, their eyes unfamiliar. Kate scowls deeper and looks at the ground. She doesn't like the look in their eyes, the surprise.
"Why the top of the tower?" Rose asks, shivering, though the inside of the barrier is warm enough for spring. "Can't we just do it here?"
"We set off sparks here, James will definitely get to us before anyone else can. In the tower, we have a chance of cutting him off, locking him up, and the rest of them." Theodora speaks what Kate already knew. "And sparks from the top of the tower will be seen faster."
"All right," says Payton at last. "All right. That's the only plan we have. Let's do it."
"And fast." That's Rose again, voice shaking. "Ted—Assistant Professor Lupin is coming."
He is, off to their left, fast approaching. "Go," Franklin says, limping to place himself between Sebastien and the running Lupin. "Go!"
IX. An Accident
This is now:
They are gathered, and they are nervous. It's less than a week into the exercise that's supposed to last two, but all the parents were contacted and asked to come to Hogwarts immediately.
Well, they were all asked, but some are missing. Weasley looks around the room, face ashen and expressionless to hide his distress from the wife with her nails in his arm—I knew something like this one happen, he can hear it already—as he tries to find his best friend. The trouble is, there are two families not present. Weasley doesn't know it's because they were contacted in person, they've already been told what's happened, and they are at St. Mungo's. In the morgue. There's only one representative from one of them present in this classroom, the person other than the parents who is most affected by what's happened at Hogwarts.
Albus Potter. He sits with the questioning parents, talking to none of them, frightening them with his paleness and silence, with his obvious distress. He has no time for a glance or a word with his aunt and uncle.
Something is wrong, the parents all know it, and others have noticed the two missing families. This must mean that whatever has happened, their child is safe. Right? Of course.
The classroom door opens. Longbottom enters, without Lupin on his heels, which is probably best, as Longbottom looks disheveled enough for the both of them. After closing the door, he stops just inside, and looks around at the gathered people with a vaguely surprised expression, as though wondering what they're all doing there.
"What's happened?" someone finally says. Marietta, heavy makeup unable to hide her scars or her fear. Beside her, her husband, who pulls her close and turns back to the man who assured them their children would be safe. Michael's face is tight with fear and the promise of anger.
"Just tell us!" It's Daniel Lidden this time, Muggle and out of place, allowed where no other Muggle goes due to the situation. He is the first to stand, but others follow quickly. "Are our kids all right?"
Longbottom sits on the closest available surface, the desk. "Audra is fine. Shaken, but… healthy." His hand shakes as he brings it up to cover his eyes, his face, and he thinks it was a monumentally stupid idea to talk to the rest of the parents all in one group. They should have been told individually, like the Potters and the Malfoys.
Faced with all their demanding expressions, he can think of only one thing to say.
"There's been… an accident."
X. The Lightning Struck Tower
How did it come to this, how how how?
It's my fault. Mine.
Teddy groans, looking up through bloodied eyes to the boy standing above him, wand drawn. This is not the James he knew, the boy who might as well be his little brother for all that they grew up together. Somewhere in there must be the same kid who ate a handful of mud before spitting out the worms, who always tugged on Teddy's nose as an attempt to make it grow, who once made it rain blue frogs directly over his babysitter's head. Where is he, where's the kid Teddy loved?
Not here. There's no trace of him in James' eyes, brown and cold, nor in the smirk twisting his lips.
Nothing, just the widening of his mouth to show teeth Teddy imagines are sharp like a snake's fangs. Lightening strikes, and there is a gleaming, like venom.
It's Lily, finally breaking from the spell of shock that kept the rest standing still. She runs forward, placing herself between Teddy and James, though Teddy tries to tell her no, no, don't, Lily, move away.
"James don't," she says, her hand on his wand arm, the other hand starts on his chest, then moves up to touch his face in an odd manner. Teddy can't place it until he realizes it's the way Victoire sometimes touches his face when he's upset. "James, don't. This is Teddy, don't do this. James, please, for me, please don't—"
"Oh shut up," James snaps, and Lily steps back as though struck, and then she is struck when James snaps his wand to the side and a blast of light shoots out, striking her in the chest to throw her back against the battlements. His face screws up into a mockery of expression as his voice rises several octaves. "'James don't'," he mocks, "'James please, James stop.' Don't you know how to do anything but beg?"
This isn't right, Teddy thinks, because there's just something about the way James mocks her, and the expression on her face, but there's no time to consider it further as James turns back to him and steps closer, two steps, wand only a foot or two away from Teddy's face. His wand arm is broken, even if he could get to his wand.
"James," he tries again, but it's cut off when James's wand flicks, he says a spell Teddy doesn't recognize, and pain slices through his body as though the lightening has found him.
"Torqueointussempra!" screams a high-pitched voice, to high to be James.
The boy in question, so young, so cold, grunts and stumbles backward, somehow remaining on his feet as he convulses.
Teddy sits up, gasping, looks, and incredibly it's Lily with her arm outstretched, eyes wide and shocked and pained but filled with hate, too, so much hatred, so much fear and anger.
James screams now. Blood begins to drip from his nose, slowly at first, then in a gush. Teddy's never heard these spells before, but they're dark, that can't be denied. "Lily," he gasps, "Lily stop, you're killing him."
"He killed Scorpius," she whispers in return. But she's not there. Not really. "He hurt Sebastien, and Kate, and helped Caleb hurt Rose, and me, he said he loved me but he hurt me, he—"
Her mouth snaps shut on what words she might've said then, though Teddy is beginning to suspect, he's beginning to think he understands. There's too much, all Teddy wants to do is go crawl in a hole somewhere and forget, maybe die, but he has to see if he can save his godfather's children first.
There's no time, as they all feel the barrier around them buckle and snap, probably due to his own weakness. Cold air rushes over them; the barrier is gone, and James begins to lift his wand, pointing it toward his sister, his eyes manic and deadly. "Stupid whore," he growls at her, at his sister, and the hate in her is nothing compared to the hate in him, the disdain that he's laid bare for them all to see, including Lily.
James' form lights up for a split second, then he's falling back, first on the foot still behind him, and then back against the battlement and over the crenelle. In that moment, he is gone. There's not a one of them that wants to look over the side, that cares to see his broken body at the bottom.
"Lily," Rose says, Teddy hears her footsteps, and in a moment he's able to move enough to see wounded Rose kneel next to Lily, who has her wand still extended in the direction where James was only a moment ago. After some silent trembling, Lily's wand arm falls and so does she, sideways into the waiting arms of her cousin. "Lily!"
Lily's only response for a second is a choked whimper, so faint Teddy barely hears her. In her eyes, he can see they are in danger of losing her forever. Another whimper, and her face, blank except for tears, turns up to Rose's and she whispers, "He said he loved me, Rosie. He said he loved me always."
Rose looks up at Teddy, the same sick understanding in her eyes.
"I know he did," she says, looking away, helping Lily stand. "I know he did, Lily-bean."
The sky opens, snow falls.