Chapter Seventeen: Accelerando
He had been expecting the phone to ring for quite some time, yet the electronic trill still startled him when it did. He set his glass of Ogden's down on the desk and raised the mobile phone to his ear.
"Mister Malfoy." The voice on the other end was not pleased.
"My sources tell me that you decided to shut down our operation. Permanently."
"I should hope you would have heard by now. It's rather old news here."
The bored tone elicited a momentary silence. Malfoy allowed himself a smirk.
"What on earth possessed you to destroy everything we've worked for in the last year and a half?"
"Where should I start?" Malfoy's drawl took on an edge. "You first sent Muggles to do a Wizard's work and they managed to get themselves killed in a damned awkward way. I was left to clean up your mess. Then, in your infinite wisdom, you sent a Witch to do a Muggle's work. Yet again, I was left to clean up your mess. Furthermore, she managed to befriend the one person in the Brisbin Institute with the means to uncover the true cause of your agents' deaths. I took the steps that I deemed necessary."
"You destroyed a two hundred and fifty million dollar building."
"They were insured."
"You destroyed our research."
"The work, to date, was delivered to your agents not a week ago. If anything, I should be the angry one. One of my hand-picked researchers is missing, presumed dead. Fortunately, he had already finished the most important project before I found it necessary to 'shut down the operation,' as you termed it."
Spender drew a deep breath. Malfoy assumed it was filtered through the end of a cigarette. "What do you mean, 'I sent a Witch to do a Muggle's job?'"
Malfoy sneered. "Don't tell me you didn't know your Agent Scully is a witch?"
Spender was uncharacteristically silent. This was too much. Malfoy exploded in peals of derisive laughter.
Spender's voice was tight with anger. "What makes you think that Agent Scully, a cool and rational scientist, could possibly have magical ability?"
"My dear Mr. Spender," he said, recovering somewhat, "the better question is, how could you have missed it?"
Spender was uncharacteristically silent. Malfoy chose to elaborate.
"A wizard on her flight to London discovered her and reported her to our Ministry of Magic. From the moment she set foot on British soil, she has been tracked by a particularly thorough Ministry employee. It was through his reports that I managed to connect Untrained Unregistered Witch 683 and your Agent Scully."
In reality, it had been Alphone McKendrick's bragging about his newest object of affection- Weasley's American cousin. Malfoy, who prided himself on knowing all New and Old World magical lineages, knew that there was no such thing. That alone had raised enough suspicion for him to raid Weasley's office and later access the Ministry's master UUW tracking map. The moment he read that UUW683 had entered the Brisbin Institute and met Cho Chang in the lobby that morning, Malfoy knew that drastic action was required.
"If you knew she was a witch from the moment she set foot in Britain, why did you allow her to get so close to the truth?"
"Morgan's Girdle!" swore Malfoy, "Be glad that I discovered her when I did, before she did irreparable damage to our organization."
"You seem to have done plenty of irreparable damage on your own," said Spender. In a less powerful man, his tone might have been described as sulky. "Do you know if any of them survived the fire?"
"Liangru Chang is in critical condition at St. Mungo's, the premier magical hospital in London, and his daughter that brought him there. Most inconvenient. As for Agent Scully, it is my guess that she is in hiding with Agent Mulder. She was with Liangru's daughter at the time of the explosion, so we can assume she made it out alive. She has not been back to her hotel, nor has her partner. Agent Mulder was last seen in the British Museum, where he was investigating the disappearance of the two minor Egyptian artifacts that were stolen."
"So Mulder knows."
"Then he will have to be eliminated."
"To eliminate him now would make him a martyr to his cause. Surely you have more subtle means at your disposal."
Malfoy exhaled loudly. "Why should I waste my time and efforts on subtlety?"
"Really, Mr. Malfoy. Have I ever not made your time and efforts worthwhile?"
"It will cost you dearly this time, Spender."
"Yes, yes. But do see that there are no loose ends this time."
"There would be no loose ends, if not for your interference. Leave everything to me."
"Consider it left. Good evening, Mr. Malfoy."
Malfoy flipped the tiny telephone shut and placed it next to the tumbler of Ogden's. Damn. The ice had melted.
He downed the watery liquor in one gulp, and pulled a magnifying glass from his desk drawer. The master UUW tracking map seemed to be having some trouble. The picture was clear enough, but the text identifying the people on it was so fuzzy as to be nearly illegible. Was there magical interference of some sort?
He peered through the glass at the red dot in the center of the map. She was in bed, and her partner was at her side. The layout of the room was confoundingly familiar, but he couldn't place it. There was one other person in the room by the window, but the identifying text was vibrating so much that he couldn't read it.
He squinted, willing the name to be still, and miraculously, the script cleared for an instant. He rather wished it hadn't.
This wasn't going to be pretty.
Scully drifted into consciousness with the sensation of warm sunlight on her face and the rumble of Mulder's snores. He had been seated beside her bed, but he had slumped onto the edge of her bed, head buried in the crook of his elbow.
She examined her surroundings with interest. Vaulted ceilings and flagstone floors contrasted sharply with the privacy screens that separated her immediate surroundings from the rest of the room. Apart from Mulder, the only other sign of life was a tabby cat basking on the windowsill and flashes of movement from the paintings on the walls. The moving pictures should have surprised her, but for some reason, they didn't. Magical surroundings went a long way towards explaining why she was still alive.
Her lungs ached when she breathed deeply, but they were remarkably free from fluid and infection. Apart from her scratchy throat, she felt fine. Better than fine. She hadn't felt this remarkably well since before the cancer.
The last thing she remembered was trying to get Severus out of the fire. Apparently, she had failed to get him to safety, but she had been rescued, somehow. Had Severus been rescued, too? Where were Cho and Liangru? Hopefully, Mulder would know.
She gently nudged his elbow with her leg.
"Mulder." Her throat felt like sandpaper.
"Mmm," he said, drifting into consciousness. "I had the strangest dream. And you, and you, and you were there."
Scully smiled, in spite of herself. "Where are we, Mulder?"
"Care to venture a guess?"
"Close, but no cigar. Try someplace more magical."
"You don't think Havana is magical? You must have been during tourist season."
Mulder grinned. "You sound surprisingly chipper for someone who nearly died last night."
"I nearly died three months ago. I no longer let brushes with death spoil my sense of humor."
He ruffled her hair, but his eyes were serious. "You're really OK, Scully?"
She gave him a radiant smile. "For once, I think you can actually believe me when I assure you that I'm fine."
"Amazing," he said, smiling softly. "And to answer your question, we are in the hospital wing of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You and Severus were both treated for smoke inhalation and minor burns."
"Did Severus make it?"
The smile faded. "Yes, he's fine. He was in worse shape than you were, but he'll be turning cartwheels in no time."
Mulder sensed more than just relief behind her exclamation, but was too respectful of her ordeal to call attention to it. Perhaps that was a subject best left undiscussed.
"What about Cho and Liangru?"
"Cho's fine; Liangru is in intensive care at a magical hospital in London."
"Will he be all right?"
"They're not sure at this point. Percy says it's lucky that Cho's mother has so much influence in the magical world. Most Muggles are banned from magical hospitals."
Lucky indeed. Damage to the lungs was notoriously painful and difficult to treat. Yet the magical treatment seemed to have completely restored her health in less than twenty-four hours. She looked at Mulder quizzically. "Liangru was exposed to so much less smoke than Severus. Doesn't it seem odd to you that Magic hasn't been able to cure him instantaneously?"
Mulder looked thoughtful. "So do you think Muggles are more susceptible than Wizards?"
"I think it's more likely that someone attacked him and then tried to hide it in the fire."
A slow smile spread across Mulder's face. "Sneaky. I like it. Of course, the real question is, how did you and Cho manage to blow up the Brisbin Institute?"
"We didn't have to. Someone blew it up for us."
"Any guesses as to why?"
"That's easy. We got too close to the truth."
Mulder blinked in surprise. Fortunately, Scully continued without noticing his lapse.
"Cho and I had sequenced the molecule that we believe caused all of the external deterioration of the body. It's a completely novel protein that causes severe tissue necrosis. It's homologous with two types of spider venom. I can't rule out a natural origin for such a substance, but it seems to me that the venom is too perfect a weapon and too copiously produced to be the work of a known creature."
"That's my girl! What would you say if I agreed with you without reservation?"
"I'd ask how much smoke you inhaled yesterday."
"Seriously, Scully. You're right on the money. The creature we're looking for is not natural in any way."
"While you and Cho were profiling novel proteins, I was reading through the book you purchased for me last night." He grabbed the crimson-bound book that had been resting under his chair and opened it. "Look at the very first entry in the A-Z index. Does that set your spider sense a-tingling?"
Scully digested. "Unbelievable."
"Yet there it is, in uncontestable print. I think our killer is an acromantula, or several acromantulae."
"And either our man was killed in Borneo, or we have solid proof of the colony living in Scotland."
"Had, Scully. We had evidence. Like you said, you were too close to the truth."
The cat on the windowsill jumped down abruptly and began rubbing against Mulder's shins. He scratched it behind the ears absently.
"So where do we go from here, Mulder?"
"Well, Nicholas and Albus have rescheduled our meeting for later this afternoon, but they've also extended some more invitations. It will be the four of us, plus Cho, Percy, and Severus. He owled Percy a portkey."
"That's how we got here, Scully. A portkey is an enchanted object that transports all people touching it to a specific place, often at a specific time."
Scully grinned. "I think this is going to be fun."
Mulder shrugged. "Admittedly it's not quite as cool as being beamed places, but unlike Star Trek, this is real."
"Lying in the hospital wing of a school for magical training seems pretty unreal to me, but I'm willing to take your word for it." She wriggled uncomfortably and tugged at the neck of the white gown she wore. "Mulder, do you know where my clothes are? You might not have noticed, but apparently Magical hospital gowns have about as much coverage in the rear as their Muggle counterparts. I feel a distinct breeze."
"Don't worry about your missing clothes," he said with a pun-prefacing grin. "We'll get to the bottom it."
Scully rolled her eyes. "Mulder."
"Did I ever tell you about the man with one buttock whose autobiography was called 'Left Behind?'"
"You're right, Scully. I apologize for my ass-inine behavior. Ow!"
The cat that Mulder had been petting abruptly sank its claws into his ankle. He grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and set it back on the windowsill. It wriggled and hissed at him, but remained on the sill.
"It can't be sanitary to let animals hang around an infirmary."
Scully hid a smile.
"And speaking of grievous injuries," he said massaging his ankle, "Madam Pomfrey wanted me to find her when you woke. If you can stand to be alone with that murderous beast, I'll see if she wants to give you any more medication."
Scully patted her wand, which was lying on the bedside table. "I'll be fine."
When Mulder had limped behind the screen, the cat returned to her bedside and leaped up to the foot of her bed.
Scully curled her feet up underneath her. "Oh no, you don't," she said to the cat. "I saw what you did last time. Not that I blame you. You just got your claws out faster than I did."
The cat looked at her guiltily and rubbed its face against her knee, purring.
"Well, aren't you a sweet pretty girl?" Scully traced the markings around the cat's eyes with her index finger.
Scully gathered the cat into her lap and stroked her from tail to tip. The cat arched her back into her and purred even more loudly.
A loud snicker from behind surprised her.
"Well, well, well. Isn't this a heartwarming scene?"
"Severus!" He was wrapped in a white blanket, and looked quite ghastly, but he was alive.
The cat leaped from Scully's lap as if stung. She stalked to the window, tail stiff as a bottle-brush, and flounced back up onto the sill. If cats could be said to glare, this one was looking daggers at Severus.
Severus smirked at the cat.
"I take it you two know one another?"
"If you knew her as well as I knew her, I doubt very much you'd consent to hold her on your lap."
"She did claw up Mulder's ankle a moment ago. Perhaps she doesn't care for men. I've known both dogs and horses that couldn't stand to be around men."
Severus looked at the cat thoughtfully. "That might explain a great deal."
The cat hissed at him and strutted behind the screen, tail held high.
Severus watched the cat go and turned to Scully. "I hope you and your partner didn't discuss anything important," he murmured. "The walls of this place have ears, and they love to repeat everything they hear."
Scully frowned. Had they discussed anything that wasn't known to the Wizarding world at large? It was possible, but it also couldn't be taken back at this point.
"Thanks for the warning."
"From what Chang and Weasley have been able to tell me, I believe it is I who owe you thanks, Dr. Scully."
She looked down, shocked to feel her cheeks flushing. "You nearly asphyxiated because I didn't know the charm to make an air supply."
"I believe a more graceful reply might be 'You're welcome.' Such a response would also preclude my calling you a dunderhead."
Scully smiled. "I am very glad you're alive."
"So am I. But your timely rescue does raise some interesting questions. Chang says she left you alone on the fourth floor, and Weasley found us both in the lobby. I know for a fact that I lost consciousness before getting into the hallway. I outweigh you by at least four stone."
"As for outweighing you, it makes little difference when one knows accio."
Severus frowned. "You used a summoning spell to get me out?"
"Not at first. I tried to share my air supply with you first, but it just stressed the edges of my bubble."
"But how did you know I was there in the first place?"
"I saw you," Scully blurted out. "I can't explain how, but when I was in the stairwell, I saw you unconscious in the doorway as clearly as if I had been standing next to you. After that, it was easy to find you."
"As a medical doctor, would you have encouraged a patient of yours to follow a hallucination?"
"This wasn't a hallucination."
"How can you be sure?"
"It may sound like circular logic, but I'm sure because you were actually there. Isn't there a branch of magic that deals with this sort of thing?"
"Yes," he admitted with distaste, "but it's an imprecise art, rather like psychology. The frauds in the field far outweigh those with the real gift of foresight."
"Is it understood why visions occur, Severus?"
"There are many thoughts on the subject, but none that can be tested or proved. Besides, true visions are very rare and occur unpredictably, so they would be difficult to study empirically."
Scully exhaled loudly. "Leave it to me to end up with a gift for the iffiest branch of magic. It's as if fate is mocking me for my dependence on logic and love of the scientific method."
Severus looked at her sourly. "It could always be worse. You could have found that you had a skill for necromancy."
The absurdity hit Scully hard, as did the realization that it hurt to laugh.
"Severus!" came an authoritative voice from behind. "I will not have you distressing Dr. Scully! And you should be lying down. Back to bed with you!"
Scully watched in amazement as the small witch shooed Severus behind the screen.
"Now," she said, turning to Scully and raised her wand. "Breathe deeply and hold it for a moment. Audio!"
Scully allowed the mediwitch to examine her, fascinated by the diagnostic spells she used. It was over all too soon.
"Good," she nodded. "You may take lunch this morning, but stay away from dairy and citrus." She waved her wand and replaced Scully's hospital gown with the dark blue robes she'd purchased in Diagon Alley. With another wave, a goblet of potion appeared on the stand next to Scully's bed.
"Drink that before you eat. It will replenish your strength. I daresay you'll need it. Mr. Weasley wants to whisk you off as soon as I release Severus." She tutted disapprovingly.
Scully drained the bright blue potion gratefully and felt her spirits rise.
The mediwitch gave a maternal smile. "You're welcome, Dr. Scully. If you'll excuse me, I have to see what Minerva did to your partner's ankle. May I ask what he did to provoke her?"
"He made a series of feeble puns."
"Puns? Oh dear. There will be no living with her now."
She bustled off in search of Mulder, shaking her head sadly.
Scully rose from her bed and marveled at how well she felt. She shook the stiffness out of her shoulders and walked to the window. The hospital wing was located on what appeared to be the third floor of the castle, though towers stuck up haphazardly from the lower floors. The manicured castle lawns gave way to a lake and a dense swath of forest as far as she could see.
She turned her eye to the courtyard and smiled when she noticed a shock of red hair walking toward one of the large doors. Percy. The sun flashed off his glasses as he looked up at the castle, and Scully waved. He started as he noticed her, then waved back enthusiastically. His pace quickened and he disappeared into the door.
The sky was filled with high cirrus clouds, and the air was warm and humid. Scully suppressed a yawn. Where was that lunch the mediwitch had mentioned? She slid behind the privacy screen at the head of her bed and into an aisle that led between the two rows of beds.
Only one other bed had been occupied recently, presumably Severus's, but he was nowhere to be found. Feeling somewhat disconcerted by the probing gazes of the portrait occupants, she made her way quickly to the front of the hall, where she heard the mediwitch's tutting.
Mulder's foot was resting on the seat of a wooden chair, trousers leg rolled up. The mediwitch was searching through the thousands of potions doses stored in what appeared to be an enormous wardrobe. Finally, she emerged with a vial of green potion.
"You're very lucky, Mr. Mulder. I was nearly out of cat-scratch cleaner. Minerva has been in a frightful temper since the students left for the summer. I assume it has something to do with the departure of the Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor. She hated to see him go," she said in a confidential voice. She cleaned the cuts with a few dabs. The potion made an odd hissing sound when applied. She then poked his ankle with her wand, and the scratches healed instantly.
"Amazing," said Mulder, staring at his unmarked ankle. "Can you heal any flesh wound like that?"
The Mediwitch was rifling through the wardrobe again. "All skin wounds, except for those caused by curses or cursed animals, yes."
"Easy as eating a pumpkin pasty."
"If we can identify the symptoms, we can cure them. Not a single Wizard or Witch has ever died of plague, syphilis, or tuberculosis. The nastier viral diseases can sometimes kill before the victim can find an experienced Mediwitch or Mediwizard, but unless the patient is extremely stubborn, we can cure everything, from Ebola to pinkeye."
"So what can't you do?"
Madam Pomfrey's face grew grave. "As long as there are wizards and witches out there finding new ways to interfere with the body and mind, mediwizardry will always be a step behind. Even now, there are a number of incurable poisons, as well as spells that affect the brain and central nervous system in ways that we don't completely understand." Her face cleared as she noticed Scully watching them.
"And now that I've given you both a clean bill of health, sustenance is in order. Take the stairway on the right down two flights when you leave the infirmary, then follow the suits of armour to the Great Hall. There ought to be plenty of room at the Head Table. Severus is already down there, and he has a knack for clearing a room."
"Madam Pomfrey, I noticed Percy on his way in. If we don't see him on our way to lunch, would you let him know where we are?"
"Certainly. And if you see Minerva lurking around the hallways, can you please send her up here? I'd like to have a word with her. It's also much safer for Severus's ankles if they're separated by a floor or more."
"Of course. Thank you for everything."
The mediwitch smiled. "It's all in a day's work, Dr. Scully. Off with you now!"
After the heavy oak door to the infirmary had closed, Mulder shook his head. "She may be a bit dotty about her cat, but she certainly knows her stuff."
"I'll say," said Scully, gingerly picking her way down the uneven stairway. "I find it hard to believe that Severus is alive, much less taking lunch at this point."
"Gee, Scully, if I didn't know better, I'd say you had a soft spot for Mr. Tall, Sallow, and Sour-Faced."
"Really, Mulder," she said, sending a reproachful look over her shoulder. "If Alb-" she cut off, glancing warily at the paintings, who gazed at her expectantly. "If Mr. White has worked with him for so many years, then he's sure to be a useful ally."
They followed Madam Pomfrey's directions and an enormously tall set of doors opened at their approach.
Scully gasped. The Great Hall was approximately the size of Notre Dame, with an enormous ceiling open to the sky above. No, she thought as she and Mulder walked between the long tables that ran the length of the hall, the ceiling had to be enchanted to look like the outside. There was none of the sun's burning radiance from above, and the air was unnaturally still.
As the mediwitch had predicted, Severus was the sole occupant of the hall, and he had changed into his usual black robes.
"Hello there, Professor Snape," said Mulder in his friendliest voice. "Do you mind if we join you?"
"Yes," said Severus, not looking up from his eggs.
The partners exchanged glances, Mulder with eyebrows raised and Scully with a ghost of a smile at the corner of her lips. They opted for seats at the other end of the table.
Percy walked up the stairs to the hospital wing as quickly as his dignity allowed, not even noticing the cat watching his approach. He didn't even notice the soft whoosh that accompanies a human transformation. He did, however, notice the imperious voice that hailed him a moment later.
"Just a moment, Mr. Weasley."
He turned to face his former head of house and groaned internally.
"Headmistress, how good to see you. I do apologise, but I'm in a terrible rush, so if you'll excuse me." He began running up the stairs. To hell with dignity!
"You are not excused, Mr. Weasley," she said, running after him. "You have a great deal of explaining to do. And if you do not cease running away in this cowardly manner, I will turn you into a turtle."
Percy stopped short.
"Now, if you would be so kind as to accompany me to my office?"
She swept down the hallway without waiting for an answer. He had no choice but to follow. In spite of her self-proclaimed dislike of using transfiguration as punishment, McGonagall had grown notoriously crotchety in her ascendancy to Headmistress, and he had no wish to push his luck.
She banished the paintings on the wall with a sweep of her wand, cast a cone of silence spell over her office, and gestured for him to sit down. She regarded him pointedly over the tops of her spectacles.
"Now Mr. Weasley, where is Albus?"
"I beg your pardon?" He hoped his shock didn't show on his face. How did she find out that Albus was alive?
"You heard me, Mr. Weasley. And don't think that I'll believe that cock-and-bull story you told Poppy about Albus giving you a portkey years ago. I happen to possess all of the portkeys Albus created during the war, and the one you used is not known to me. Furthermore, Albus is the only other person who can make a portkey to a location inside Hogwarts." She rose and leaned threateningly over her desk, eyes glittering dangerously. "Where is he?"
He swallowed hard. "With all due respect, Headmistress, I can think of about a dozen more likely explanations for the portkey than thinking Professor Dumbledore has risen from the dead."
"So can I, Mr. Weasley, but none of the more likely explanations also account for the fact that your two friends were discussing him this morning. In the present tense. Now, tell me where he is!"
Something clicked inside, and he suddenly realized that was under no obligation to tell her anything, and she knew it. She was bluffing! He met her gaze squarely. "No, Headmistress. I won't."
Red spots appeared at her cheeks. "I beg your pardon?"
"I'm sorry, Headmistress, but I will say nothing more on the subject."
McGonagall looked ready to hex him, but she suddenly slumped into her seat. Percy was shocked to see tears in her eyes.
"You have no idea, Weasley."
Percy handed her a handkerchief and gestured for her to continue.
She blew her nose loudly. "For the first year or so after he disappeared, I was convinced that he'd gone into hiding somewhere. I couldn't believe he was dead. I searched for him everywhere, but fruitlessly. When the school year came, I threw myself into being Headmistress, but I never stopped searching."
"He isn't coming back, Headmistress."
"How can you say that, Weasley? Hasn't he always come when we needed him most?"
The image of Ginny's ashen face after her ordeal in the Chamber of Secrets flashed through Percy's mind. "No, he hasn't."
She sniffed, regaining a bit of her old starchiness. "No, I suppose that's true. No use in being sentimental. And I suppose it's selfish of me to think that I need him more than the rest of the world does. But it's a hard lesson to learn that you're not the most important thing in the world to the person that means the most to you."
Percy didn't say anything, but he reached out and took her hand. She blotted her eyes with his handkerchief, collected herself, and handed it back to him.
"You've grown into a good man, Weasley. We all knew you would."
Percy looked down, flustered by the praise.
"And as for that nonsense with your family when that idiot Fudge was still in power, we all make mistakes. The important thing was that you came around when Voldemort revealed himself. That showed good character, Weasley, and none of us have forgotten it, nor all that you did to help the Order."
"Thank you, Headmistress. I only wish I had come to my senses before."
"You and Severus both. And please, call me Minerva. 'Headmistress' seems a bit stuffy. But would we have had someone in Voldemort's inner circle if Severus hadn't erred in joining the Death Eaters? And where would we have been if Fudge hadn't put you in charge of Ministry PR? If you hadn't kept your nose firmly up his arse when you were his secretary, Fudge never would have been forced from office. That was a good bit of work, by the way. If I didn't know better, I would have thought your meticulous explanation of Fudge's new laws were exactly what the Ministry wanted the public to know about them. The earnest tone was brilliant." She smiled with satisfaction. "And may I never forget the sight of Dolores Umbridge being pelted with rotten tomatoes at the press conference."
"You were there?" Something stirred at the back of Percy's memory. "Hang on a tick, I remember reading a memo from the committee investigating how such a large number of tomatoes got into the press conference. The conclusion was that those tomatoes were transfigured from the leaflets she passed out to the audience. And they were expertly done – just the right degree of decay."
"Really?" said McGonagall, popping a sherbet lemon into her mouth. "How extraordinary. Well, it seems as if I'm not going to get much else out of you, so I suppose I'd better let you get on with your business."
He rose. "Thank you, Headmistress. Minerva."
"Oh, Weasley," she said, as he reached the doorway. "I don't mean for you to betray a confidence, but I'd be eternally grateful if you could ask him where he got his sherbet lemons. I'm nearly through his stores, and none of the magical sweet shops I know seem to have any that are nearly as good."
He gave her a tiny smile as he closed the door behind him.
He found the three of them in the Great Hall, Dana and her partner deep in conversation, and Snape studiously ignoring them. He cleared his throat, and they all looked up at him.
"I'm glad to find you all together. We need to join our friends at your earliest possible convenience."
"It took you long enough to find us," Severus commented. "Get caught in a trick stair, did you?"
"No," said Percy. "I met Minerva on my way up to the hospital wing, and there was a bit of a misunderstanding."
Mulder and Snape shot him twin looks of sympathy, though the latter covered it with a frown. "Awfully familiar, aren't you, Weasley?"
Percy ignored him in favor of returning Dana's brilliant smile. "Have you eaten? The berries are wonderful this time of year."
Percy took in the spread of sandwiches, fresh fruit, fluffy omelets, and, to his surprise, sunflower seeds.
"I'm still full from breakfast at my parents' house. Have you all finished?"
Mulder and Scully stood, while Snape deliberately licked the last bit of egg from his knife. "I suppose."
Percy withdrew a cheap plastic snow globe from his pocket and held it out for them to touch. It was marked, "Official Souvenir of Nome, Alaska." He looked up and down the Great Hall to ensure that they were alone, shook it vigorously, then held it out for all of them to touch.
The plastic igloo inside glowed a dazzling white, and the familiar tug at his navel assured him that the portkey had worked. When the world righted itself, he found himself in an odd circular room, lit with blue candles. There were twelve plain, black doors on the surrounding wall. One of them opened into a pitch-black interior, and a friendly but unfamiliar face floated into view.
"Nicholas!" Dana's partner appeared to be on a first name basis with the face.
"Mr. Mulder! Dr. Scully, I presume! Please, come in! Come in! Albus and I have been holding tea until your arrival, though I couldn't keep him away from the chocolate biscuits. And I must say that I heard the most amazing joke about two old witches who visit an apothecary!" The face then seemed to notice the others. "Gracious, but I do run on. Welcome, dear friends, to the Department of Mysteries! Nicholas Flamel at your service."
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