Roy was in the middle of packing for the holidays —something he had procrastinated on for weeks— when a sudden burst of fire appeared above his bed. Fortunately this wasn’t the first time Albus had used Fawkes’ powers to send him a message, so Roy wasn’t very startled when he saw a piece of parchment and a single golden feather fall on the bed when the fire disappeared.
The note held a simple message, informing Roy that Arthur Weasley was out of danger. Good news at last. Roy wasn’t very familiar with Arthur Weasley, he knew Molly and Bill far better by now, but he didn’t want anyone to die in this war. Naïve and idealistic, perhaps, but that didn’t stop him from wishing they had no losses despite the harsh reality of war.
Roy was done packing by lunchtime, all of his notes carefully shrunk and hidden in his pocket (he couldn’t risk leaving them here in case Umbridge found a way to snoop around his quarters, even if he doubted he would have time to work on anything during the holidays), so he decided to eat at the school.
Lunch was far more relaxed than breakfast had been. Both Albus and Minerva appeared noticeably calmer now, and Umbridge’s displeasure only served to raise the professors’ general mood. Roy talked about his supposed holiday plans with Pomona and Aurora —they both had shown a great deal of interest in his romantic life ever since Roy’s little show back in October— and accepted their suggestions for places to visit in his time away from the school.
He was the first to stand from the staff table, and left the Great Hall after exchanging well wishes for the holidays with the rest of the staff.
Every fireplace in Hogwarts save for the one in Umbridge’s office was being monitored by the Ministry, as Kingsley Shacklebolt had confirmed around a month ago, so Roy took a small detour on his way to Grimmauld Place. He flooed into the Three Broomsticks and from there he walked over to the Hog’s Head, which had a fireplace in the back room. Aberforth had agreed to let Roy use his bar as a midway stop if it was necessary, though he wasn’t very pleased about it. Finally, he flooed to Grimmauld Place.
Sirius was the only one at the kitchen when Roy arrived. He was lounging on one of the chairs, waving his wand around as a large amount of dishes and cutlery washed themselves in the sink.
“They left for St. Mungo’s?” Roy asked. The house was far too calm to have five teenagers in it, and there was no way Molly would let Sirius take care of the household spells unsupervised if she was here.
“Yeah. Arthur will recover,” Sirius replied. He looked exhausted, and Roy wouldn’t be surprised to learn he hadn’t slept at all last night. He doubted anyone who’d been in this house had.
“So I hear. Why don’t you go catch some sleep? I’ll finish that for you,” Roy offered, gesturing to the sink.
There had been a change of plans during the morning, Roy learnt when Sirius walked down the stairs a couple hours later looking somewhat more refreshed. Due to Arthur’s stay at St. Mungo’s, of which nobody knew the length at this point, Sirius had offered Molly the option for her and her family to stay at Grimmauld Place for the holidays so they would be closer to the hospital. That would include Potter and, once school was over, Hermione, meaning a full house.
“Are you kicking me out?” Roy asked jokingly, aware that wasn’t the case, and raised an eyebrow at Sirius.
“No, but you don’t have a room anymore,” Sirius replied with a cheeky grin. “I’d offer you Regulus’ old room, but Kreacher might try to murder you in your sleep if you stay there. You could always bunk in with me, or we could transfigure one of those ugly armchairs in the drawing room into a bed. If you don’t mind the furniture.”
I’ve slept in worse places, was the first thought that came to Roy’s mind, accompanied by a memory of the tents back in Ishval, but he pushed it back and found something more suitable to say instead.
“No offence, but I’d prefer the drawing room. I’ve heard you snore.”
Sirius raised a hand to his chest in a gesture of mock offense, but before he could reply with something outrageous, they heard the front door open.
They exchanged a look and listened in silence as a group of people walked in, half-expecting Tonks’ usual crash against the umbrella stand and Mrs. Black’s subsequent screeching. Fortunately, there was none of that. The only unexpected thing Roy heard was a single set of footsteps climbing up the stairs before the rest of the group drifted into the kitchen.
For some reason, Sirius glanced at Roy and smirked. Roy sent him a questioning look, but had his answer almost immediately.
“Oh, hello, Roy,” Molly greeted him with a smile, and as one all of the four Weasley children turned to look at him. From their dismayed expressions, it was clear Sirius hadn’t bothered to tell them Roy was going to spend the holidays here.
“Ooops, I forgot,” Sirius said suddenly with a most unrepentant grin. “I’d already invited Roy over for the holidays. I hope you kids don’t mind having a professor around.”
Harry Potter was hiding. Roy had suspected as much from his absence at dinner yesterday and the worried looks his friends exchanged from time to time, but it was confirmed when he didn’t show up for breakfast the following morning. Sirius had told Roy that Harry had been concerned about his dream yesterday, something that was understandable. Roy thought to give him some hours before convincing Sirius to go talk to him if nobody else did anything about it.
For now, though, Roy found himself immersed in the bizarre experience of decorating the house for Christmas and listening to some equally bizarre seasonal songs. Pretending he knew what he was doing proved to be easier than he had feared, given that everyone’s definition of decorating seemed to be ‘put everything wherever you want’. Roy suspected he should feel grateful that he couldn’t see all of the colours, even if the giant blue tree taking up one end of the kitchen was disturbing to look at.
There was no trace of Potter at lunch, but Fawkes arrived with the news that Hermione would be here later today. If Hermione Granger could be counted on for something, that was being thorough and persistent, and Roy doubted she would let Potter brood for long once she was here.
Potter joined them for dinner that night, no trace of sulkiness on his face, proving Roy’s theory.
Christmas morning started brightly for Harry, with his pile of presents and Ron on the other bed to chat with as they opened them. Things soured a little when Fred and George apparated, unannounced as usual, in the middle of the room to warn them not to head downstairs yet. Mrs. Weasley was crying in the kitchen because Percy had returned his gift unopened. They started talking, trying to make some time to let things calm down, but were interrupted by a yell outside.
“Mustang, you bastard!” it was Sirius, and Harry was on his feet and rushing to the door before he realised there had been a laugh in Sirius’ words. He heard Sirius stomp down the stairs, looked back at the others, and the next thing he knew the four of them were creeping down the stairs attempting to go unnoticed.
They stopped on the steps above the landing of the first floor, where they didn’t have a great sight but could hear Sirius perfectly. Mustang had clearly come out of the drawing room, because their voices reached the group without any distortion.
“First you refuse to eat my food, and then you do this?” Sirius demanded, and from his voice Harry could imagine some exaggerated theatrics not unlike what Fred and George liked to do.
“I figured it could help you. If you’re failing with the theory, there’s nothing like an easy guide to work through it. It’s certainly more useful than this.”
Whatever ‘this’ was, Sirius burst out laughing.
“Oh, come on, your girlfriend will love it!”
“Do you really think I need something like this to impress a woman?” Mustang asked, his voice the same he used whenever he was addressing a student who’d done or said something he found stupid.
“Who knows,” Sirius said in a sing-song voice. Then his head appeared and Harry and the others moved further up the stairs. Fortunately, Sirius was facing downstairs. “Oi, Moony! Look at this! Can you believe he did this to me?”
All in all, Christmas was a pleasant experience for Roy. Grimmauld Place was free of the underlying tension that had taken over Hogwarts for most of December, the spirits high due to Arthur’s recovery.
Roy dedicated a handful of hours each day to mark the exams, so that the letters with the results could be sent before New Year’s Eve. Given how antsy Hermione became every time he mentioned he had to work, Roy took pity on her and told her she had passed as soon as her exam was marked. In fact, all six students currently in the house had passed, even if Ron had barely managed it. It was something Roy was charitable enough not to mention in Molly’s hearing range.
His classes, however, had shrunk in number of students once more.
The only incident, if it could be called such, happened when Snape dropped by to tell Harry about the Occlumency lessons that Albus had mentioned to Roy. It soon became clear that Snape and Sirius’ animosity —the one Roy had noticed the night of the third task— ran deeper than he had first suspected, but the only thing Sirius said on the matter was that he knew Snape was still a Death Eater despite whatever Albus believed. Roy had his doubts. Albus was a sharp man and did not easily place his trust in others. However, Roy knew when a conversation wouldn’t take him anywhere and left the issue be. Sirius asked him to keep a close eye on Snape and Harry, and Roy agreed. Despite disagreeing with Sirius’ main reasoning, he’d heard plenty of stories around Hogwarts. There was no harm in keeping track of one more development. By now he was aware that there was no love lost between Snape and Harry as well.
Arthur was released from the hospital on that same day, the last one of the holidays for the children, though Roy would have to return to the school that evening. He waited to leave until after dinner at Molly’s insistence.
The first day of classes, a Monday, passed with little fuss. Most students dragged their feet around, clearly mourning the loss of their holidays, but there were no incidents of note. His seventh year students, however, seemed very surprised to learn that Fred and George Weasley remained in his class after the exam.
The calm lasted until that night, when Fawkes showed up in his room with a short note telling Roy to hold onto Fawkes’ tail. Roy did, and suddenly he found himself in Albus’ office. He barely thought about having teleported through a bird, because Albus was standing behind his desk with one of the grimmest expressions Roy had seen on his face up to date.
“As I am sure you know, Harry had his first occlumency lesson today,” Albus started, voice grave. Roy nodded. “Towards the end of it, Severus discovered that Harry has been experiencing recurring dreams about the Department of Mysteries for months now. Harry hadn’t realised what the dreams were about up until then, it appears, and asked Severus about it. I’m afraid this proves Harry’s connection to Tom runs deeper than I feared.”
Roy frowned, disregarding Albus’ last sentence. So Harry knew about the Department of Mysteries now, and he and his friends had already learnt some pieces of information of what was happening back in the summer (Roy had heard plenty of rants about the infamous Extendable Ears incidents, and Sirius had told him he’d answered some of Harry’s questions as well).
“Perhaps you should tell him about the prophecy,” Roy suggested, and elaborated before Albus could object. “Riddle already knows about it anyway, and Harry isn’t likely to ignore this. He’s made it clear he wants to know what is happening, and if you don’t give him any answers then he’ll look for them himself.” What Roy had also learnt about was Harry’s track record of getting himself in trouble; Sirius was very proud of some of Harry’s so-called adventures.
Much to Roy’s frustration, Albus shook his head.
“It would be too dangerous for Harry to learn the contents of the prophecy. If Tom realises that Harry knows, he could actively try to use that connection to learn them.”
Roy opened his mouth, a retort about how the very vague contents of the prophecy weren’t vital enough to take this risk, when a streak of light entered the room and took the form of a patronus lynx.
“Azkaban has been attacked. The dementors have joined Him. Ten Death Eaters escaped,” said the patronus in Kingsley Shacklebolt’s voice before it vanished.
Albus’ face darkened further, his brows furrowing in a mix of frustration and what might be anger. He had warned Fudge about the danger the dementors posed, after all.
“All bets are off now, aren’t they?” Roy said, drawing Albus’ attention back to himself. Roy turned to look out one of the many windows in the office. Releasing his followers had been one of Riddle’s main objectives before starting an open war. He might or he might not wait to know the full prophecy before taking that step. “Any theories on who these ten Death Eaters might be?”
“Unfortunately, I am certain I can guess at least some of them. We’ll undoubtedly have confirmation tomorrow. Fudge can’t hope to hide something of this magnitude from the citizens.”
Indeed, the following morning’s Daily Prophet announced the breakout on the front page in large font, the article accompanied by the pictures of the ten fugitives. It, unsurprisingly, placed the blame of the breakout on Sirius, a convenient scapegoat to deny Riddle’s return. But Roy focused on the escaped Death Eaters, trying to place them from the stories he had heard about the previous war. Most of the names stood out to him as members of what Moody had called Riddle’s inner circle, responsible for many of the losses the first Order of the Phoenix had suffered.
The scales had finally tipped to one side, and Roy didn’t expect this cold stage of the war to last much longer.
He looked up from his newspaper to see the reactions around the Great Hall. Grim faces took up the whole staff table. Albus was talking hurriedly to Minerva, most others were either reading the news avidly or frowning down at their plates, and even Umbridge looked in a dark mood instead of the usual attentive malice she directed at the room. From her face alone, it was clear this incident had shaken the Ministry more than Fudge’s statement to the press suggested.
The students, however, were a different story. Most of them looked oblivious to the news, chatting animatedly amongst themselves, though some had their heads buried in a newspaper or were talking over it with worried or scared expressions. Hermione and her friends were amongst the latter group, and Roy wouldn’t be surprised if the intensity of the lessons in the defence club increased as a consequence. He certainly intended to hint at the suggestion as soon as he had a chance.
Suddenly, Hermione raised her head and met Roy’s eyes. There was a request in her gaze.
“Professor Mustang!” Hermione called out during the first break of the day, hurrying along the hallway when she spotted him. Some heads from the students walking through the area turned to her, which was good, because the last thing Hermione wanted was for someone to think Professor Mustang was doing something that would attract Umbridge’s attention.
She had the perfect way to prevent it.
Professor Mustang paused and turned around to face her, an eyebrow quirked.
“Yes, Miss Granger?”
“I’m sorry to bother you, sir, but I was wondering if you had a moment before the next period? I have a couple of questions about my exam results, and it’d help me study better for the next class to have the answers before then,” Hermione asked, making sure to sound as eagerly excited as she did whenever she approached a professor to ask extra questions out of class.
She saw a Hufflepuff snort behind Professor Mustang and knew she had managed it.
“Certainly. Who am I to discourage enthusiastic learning?” Professor Mustang replied, his lips pulling into a pleasant smile. Someone sighed wishfully behind Hermione. “Come along, Miss Granger. I have the exams in the classroom.”
Hermione followed him, and asked a question about the many issues that could arise from transmuting any metal with oxygen if done incorrectly, which Professor Mustang had once mentioned in passing during class. She saw more than one person roll their eyes as they walked by. Excuse or not, the response was fascinating.
Once inside the classroom, Professor Mustang closed the door, threw a short barrage of spells at it and turned to Hermione.
“I assume this meeting is about more than your worry about perfect marks. What is it?” he asked, walking over to his desk and leaning his back against it.
“Have you read the newspaper?” Hermione asked, dropping the ‘sir’ because, technically speaking, they would be on first name basis if not for his position as a professor.
“You know I have. What’s bothering you enough to risk a meeting under our beloved High Inquisitor’s nose?”
Hermione bit back a snort at the way Professor Mustang said the title and focused on the topic at hand.
“I’ve been thinking… With this breakout, people are bound to —finally— start being more critical of the Ministry. It’s a matter of time before Fudge’s lies stop working, and this would be the perfect chance to have Harry’s story from what happened at the cemetery published. In an interview.”
A calculating look took over Professor Mustang’s face.
“I assume you have a publication in mind, given that the Daily Prophet would never agree to release such an interview.”
Hermione shrugged. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than nothing.
“Luna Lovegood’s father runs a magazine. It’s not the most serious magazine in the world,” there went an understatement, “but it’s the best option we have. I’m sure they’ll agree to publish it.”
“Well, in that case, I have no issue with you contacting our dear Miss Skeeter, provided that she holds to her end of our deal. Let me know when you’ve sent your letter so I can send one of my own confirming that I agree to let her write this interview.”
That day, the main topic of conversation was the fact that Hagrid had finally been put on probation. Roy was actually surprised it had taken Umbridge so long to do it, given the stories he had heard about her inspections of Hagrid’s classes.
As the days passed, however, the story of the escaped Death Eaters began to spread through the school, until it took over any other subject that could have drawn the students’ attention, and with the news, the rumour mill began to work madly. In Roy’s not-so-humble opinion, Umbridge had contributed to this development with her latest educational decree. The day after the breakout was announced, Educational Decree Number Twenty-six had appeared on every notice board in the school, announcing that henceforth professors were banned from giving students any information that wasn’t strictly related to the subject they taught. This, as was expected, drew a healthy dose of curiosity, as there was no reason for such a decree unless Umbridge feared the spread of specific information.
It hadn’t taken long for students to put two and two together, and with this realisation came the seeds of doubt over the official version of events the Prophet and the Ministry insisted on spreading both over the breakout and over what had transpired during the third task of last year’s tournament.
Many members of staff made a point of being seen huddled in small groups by the students, talking to each other about the things that weren’t safe to say in the staff room anymore, which only fostered the doubt and suspicion amongst the student population. Roy, as much as he wanted to contribute to this development, decided to stay back and do nothing to draw attention to himself: his status as the only member of the Order and one of the few professors who wasn’t subject to Umbridge’s suspicion was too valuable to sacrifice yet.
So, instead, Roy used what little free time he had to work on the development of the array to separate a soul from solid matter, a process that wasn’t advancing as quickly as he would like because of the amount of time he had to spend monitoring the many events that took place at the school.
Besides, he had already added his two cenz with the letter he had sent Rita Skeeter in which he strongly recommended she accepted the interview with Harry Potter as a show of goodwill and improvement on her part.
As part of Roy’s show of distance with those Umbridge considered dangerous, he made a point of appearing focused on his classes whenever he was in the staff room. The students who had passed the exam had finally started working on small transmutations (though, much to general despair, that hadn’t freed them from theoretical lessons, even if now the exams were every month instead of every week). So far they were doing little more than grow frustrated at their failed attempts to accomplish transmutations Roy had been able to do shortly after he got his hands on his first alchemy book. It was a detail he was kind enough to omit.
He took these first lessons as an opportunity to prove his previous insistence on understanding the concepts instead of simply memorising them, and revealed that this was the difficult part of the subject. He lost some students during the month of January, as they grew discouraged by their lack of progress through several classes. Eventually, it was to the point where most of his groups were small enough to be considered nearly private lessons. This allowed Roy to focus more attention on each student.
By the fourth week, when he guessed everyone who would drop out after the exam had already done so, Roy made an announcement.
“As of right now, and until the end of the school year, each of you will start on a project. You may have noticed the untouched cabinet in the classroom. Inside is a collection of materials. Each of you will choose two of them, and over the upcoming months you will start to develop your own transmutation circles to work with them. Whatever you create is up to you, but the resulting array and transmuted object will be three quarters of your final grade. I am willing to answer questions outside of class and help you reach your own conclusions and answers, but I will not give them to you. First of all, you will have to identify the materials, as they are not labelled. I believe by now you all understand the importance of knowing exactly what you are working with.”
All in all, most of the changes stayed under the surface for now. Riddle hadn’t made a move, and from Snape’s reports it appeared he intended to get his hands on the prophecy before revealing his return to the world. The Order kept tabs on known Death Eaters, but they no longer had a member watching the entrance to the Department of Mysteries after Arthur’s near death experience. Umbridge slowly closed her fist over Hogwarts, terrorising both Hagrid and Trelawney with her inspections of each of their classes and stalking the halls, handing out detentions for the smallest of infractions, attempting to squash any opposition. Most students tried to keep their heads low and stay out of the way, but some made their distaste and disregard for Umbridge’s authority clear. Roy wondered how long it would take for the opposition to gain force.
And like that, with tension slowly building but nothing changing to the outer eye, the fourteenth of February arrived and with it came the interview Hermione had scheduled with Rita Skeeter.
Roy had manoeuvred his hallway patrols and school duties to ensure he had the day free, and he headed out to Hogsmeade early in the morning under the disguise of running some errands before he stopped at the Three Broomsticks for lunch, where he settled on a very visible table to make sure Skeeter didn’t forget any part of their deal.
Surprisingly, Harry was the first one to arrive. Roy had heard through the grapevine that he had a date today, and from his expression things didn’t seem to have gone very well. Roy entertained himself with the idle thought of slipping that ridiculous book Sirius had given him into Harry’s bag. Harry fought his way to a corner table where Hagrid was moping over a large tankard and sat with him, partaking in what looked to be a very uncomfortable conversation before Hagrid left. The pressure was clearly getting to Hagrid, and it was an open secret that it was a matter of time —little time— before Umbridge sacked someone. And Hagrid was at the top of the list.
While this conversation took place, Hermione entered the Three Broomsticks accompanied by Luna Lovegood and Rita Skeeter, and waved Harry over as soon as Hagrid left. While Harry walked to them, Roy raised his butterbeer at Skeeter in a mockery of a polite greeting, then sat back and watched the events unfold.
Now it was just a matter of waiting until the next edition of the Quibbler was released to see how the Ministry, the Hogwarts students and the wizarding society in general would react to the truth.
It took a little over a week for the interview to be published. On the previous weekend there was another annoying quidditch match, but by now Roy’s students knew he wouldn’t accept any nonsense in his classes. Anyway, the tension preceding this match was nothing compared to the previous one.
Finally, the second Monday after the Hogsmeade weekend, the March edition of the Quibbler was released. Roy wasn’t officially subscribed to it, though he had asked Fred and George Weasley to slip him a copy as soon as it came out under the pretence of revising their progress with their alchemy projects. Thus he knew he would have a copy of it after his seventh year’s class when he saw Luna Lovegood with her head buried in the magazine before she stood up and walked over to the Gryffindor table.
As for Harry… well, he was surrounded by owls, and Roy watched as Hermione pointed him to one in particular that turned out to be the owl bringing him a copy of the Quibbler. The rest, then, must be carrying letters from people who had read the interview, and their presence had drawn the attention of many people around the Great Hall. Roy pretended to focus on his breakfast, but kept an eye on the Gryffindor table the entire time, and thus saw the exact moment Umbridge noticed the ruckus and approached them.
He watched as Harry threw his copy of the Quibbler at her, saw Umbridge’s face go through a myriad of emotions ranging from incredulity to pure rage, and then her lips move as she no doubt issued some form of punishment.
Hours later, Umbridge did the best thing she could have ever done to ensure that every single person in Hogwarts read the Quibbler: she banned it under threat of expulsion if anyone was found in possession of the magazine.
In the privacy of his class, while readying his lesson for the seventh years, Roy shook his head. For all her ambition and obvious cunning, Umbridge had too much pride, too much certainty in her power and status, and that would be her downfall.
Roy expected the entire student body would have read the interview by the end of the day, if not earlier. Magic made contraband and subterfuge so much easier when there were people willing to put in the effort.
Roy was taking a stroll through the hallways that were still full of students as there was still some time left before curfew.
After a particularly frustrating hour in which he had been forced to discard all of his work on the array so far, Roy had decided that he needed to just move, stretch his legs and walk around without any real purpose, let his mind wander away from worries of fragmented souls, war and disturbing politics at what was meant to be a peaceful school.
As he wandered, the school drew his attention, but in the simplest way it could. In his mind there was no Umbridge, no politicians attempting to take over, no professors in danger of losing their position; no, he only saw the school, as he thought it might be during peaceful times. Students roaming the halls, no wariness or worry on their faces, just the stress of exams and classwork. House rivalries probably weren’t as pronounced during peace times, a topic that, when Roy thought about it, made him snort. He had heard plenty of speeches and muttered comments about the purported evilness of all Slytherins. Sirius in particular, amongst the members of the Order, held a real grudge against that house. Yet Roy was convinced, were the Sorting Hat to somehow bypass whatever barriers Truth had placed in his mind, that he would be sorted into Slytherin. His life now, his life since Ishval, was too full of intrigue and subterfuge for any other house to fit him better —though whether or not Roy classified as evil was up for debate, depending on whether the Sorting Hat focused more on past deeds or intentions for the future. And yet Roy was certain his eleven-year-old self would have been sorted into Ravenclaw in a heartbeat. He had been starved for knowledge at that age.
Roy found the entire house system in general to be an obsolete and terrible idea. He was yet to meet a person whose personality traits only qualified them for one of the four houses and dividing children like that while letting stereotypes of the houses fester amongst them was a recipe for disaster.
But he wasn’t thinking about disasters and their potential ramifications now. No, he was thinking about light topics. Riza would be a Hufflepuff, her loyalty so strong that it would probably eclipse even her intelligence in the hat’s judgement. The entirety of his team, Roy thought, would fit wonderfully into Hufflepuff, though most of them would also make good Ravenclaws. Except for Havoc. Havoc had enough recklessness in him to make an excellent Gryffindor.
Edward would either be in Gryffindor or become the strangest, most conflictive Ravenclaw in the history of Hogwarts. He’d probably pick a fight with Peeves the moment Peeves pulled one of his pranks on him.
Roy was walking through a second floor corridor, entertaining the mental image of Argus Filch close to a stroke due to an extremely inventive and destructive Elric-brand spell when he heard the first screams.