Chapter Ten: Revelation and Remonstrance
Evie had left her charge in a state of remembrance and eased herself out of the girl's active awareness because she was finding it difficult to follow the girl around in her mind. She had the oddest sensation that the child was not actually in her mind, but knew that was not right.
I simply need to rest, she thought. And perhaps the confusion in her mind is a sign that Ree is not completely comfortable with my presence--any competent hypnagogue could tell you that.
Heedless of Toadhopple's absence, Ree moved on.
She was at sixes and sevens about boys. Well, to be honest, about one boy in particular. Before the Change, she had snogged Draco more times than she could remember, but she supposed those experiences did not count now that she was a girl. Justin Finch-Fletchley counted; she had made out with him a bit on last year's first Hogsmeade trip. That had been nice--until Justin had begun to paw her and Ron had appeared out of nowhere to pummel the boy. In fact, between Ron's constant surveillance and Blaise's rumors, any boy that she thought she might want to kiss had to be pretty determined about wanting to snog her.
And, so far, no one's resolve had proved sufficient to overcome the continued harassment of her would-be chaperones--not for long, anyway.
Charlie had been owling her a lot, though. He had kissed her goodnight after the Ministry's Christmas ball, and also several times over the course of the summer near the end of his visit to his family. They had been lovely kisses--open-mouthed--but never particularly intense. They were certainly nothing like the kiss Blaise Zabini had given her after the first Quidditch practice of this year when she had forgotten that she was a girl again and gone into the boys' changing room.
It was as if his tongue had been somewhere else entirely.
Perhaps I'll just take a moment to check on Chore, Evie thought, before deciding against it. She did not wish to betray a lack of trust in her daughter. And that Weasley boy she's mooning around is too old for her.
Besides, what harm could the child get up to in a joke shop?
Content with this thought, the haruspex decided to "peek" back in on Ree's mind. The girl seemed "present," and Evie could see her thoughts more clearly, though she did not make her presence known to the girl for fear of spooking her again.
Who knew that went on in the Quidditch changing rooms! the woman thought, somewhat taken aback, for Harry was thinking of a time when she had been about the same age as Terpsichore.
Since that first taste of him, Harry had sought any opportunity to investigate Blaise's mouth. She would have endeavored a more thorough exploration of that boy had he allowed it, but Blaise, like Draco, was a teasing prat. Where it seemed Charlie was being a gentleman, she knew that Blaise was playing with her.
I hate him! she thought, walking toward Hagrid's hut.
She wasn't going to talk to the half-giant about the boys she still wanted to kiss, especially not the one about whom she was most curious.
Oh, dear--a Weasley! thought Evie in alarm. It's all that red hair--it inflames the girls. And the freckles . . . .
Harry knew that Ron was Hermione's, but . . . .
He keeps attacking any boy who looks at me.
And the more Ron defended her honor, the more intriguing he became.
Yes, indeed. Gordon was that brand of noble, as well. Devastating, devastating . . . .
In Divination, Parvati and Lavender said that men who fought for you were interested in more than your protection. Hermione had rolled her eyes about their comments when Harry had reported them.
"Chivalry isn't dead, you know. Some men are gentlemen," her friend had told her, a slightly suspicious edge to her voice.
Yes. Some redheads were very tall, very tall gentlemen who would not let other boys near you, very tall gentlemen who would not let other boys near you who constantly tried to be near you themselves.
And he has the nicest mouth.
Perhaps Chore should be sent to that cheese-making academy in Cheddar--mostly girls enrolled--and she shows no real signs of exercising her latent Sight, thought Evie, pulling a bit further away from her charge's memory as she became more involved in her own thoughts.
"Yer lookin' a mite bit confused there, Harry," Hagrid greeted her as she arrived at his hut.
Maybe he just reminds me of Charlie. And maybe it's your own fault for letting Blaise anywhere near you!
"Harry, yer lookin' a wee bit flushed, as well."
But I miss Charlie--and Blaise uses his tongue.
"You'd better come in la--lass. I've got a nice pot of herbal tea brewing. It'll be just the thing to settle yeh."
Brewing. Potions master. . . . I wonder how he kisses.
Evie smiled widely, thinking, I knew it!
Hagrid had poured Harry a cup of tea and sat her down at the table in his home before the girl realized she was drinking.
"So?" he prompted, looking worriedly at her.
"Maybe it's three boys," she said when she broke her reverie.
Tha's all right, then. She's just in love. "Maybe so," he agreed, a big grin spreading across his face.
Harry hid her own in her mug. Today couldn't possibly get any worse, she thought, resolving to talk to Ron that evening.
I'm going to kiss him and get it out of my system, or punch him until he promises to leave me alone!
The haruspex gently surfaced from Ree's mind and gazed fondly at the girl.
"Violence never did further the course of love, sweeting," she said, pulling a knife from her robes and slicing her finger, for she had decided to check on her sixteen-year-old daughter, after all.
The sudden flash of her youngest daughter whispering something in a tall boy's ear came to her, and she apparated to Weasley's Wizard Wheezes in lieu of healing herself. She made a disturbing entrance into the shop holding her blade before her, and startled George into taking three long steps away from her daughter.
"Theresa Terpsichore Toadhopple-Thompson, come here this instant!"
Shacklebolt had been perusing the letters from Zoroastrid all day, unaware that his activity had aroused someone's interest. Albus "watched" him from the side of Minerva's bed after "leaving" Harry.
The first letter was from Lucius Malfoy to his son, sent just after the younger Malfoy had transferred to Durmstrang.
"My Dear Draco,
"I know that this letter finds you in health and happiness, as Igor has informed me that you have made an excellent impression on your school fellows. He further notes that your new friends have not prevented you from engaging in your studies and extra-curricular activities with vigor. I am delighted to hear of your accomplishments, my son, but I urge you not to over-extend yourself. You have responsibilities at home which may require your return here you when least you expect it.
"It will please you to know that your mother has been amusing herself with your good friend Mr. Zabini's mother. Both ladies seem to be in excellent spirits, despite the conditions in which their husbands find themselves. Unfortunate, is it not, that such elevated moods rarely last long?
"Of course, with your mother occupied, I have been at liberty to concentrate on affairs at the Ministry. That institution, as you well know, is due for a reorganization. The energies of many of us are bent toward correcting those issues of policy of which we take gravest note. The time is coming, my son, when change will be inevitable. It comforts me to know that, at that time, you will be by my side.
"I am not alone in being impatient for that day. Until then, I remain,
"Your devoted father"
Shacklebolt considered the epistle. Malfoy had obviously been planning to deal with his wife's infidelity in a most unpleasant manner. The intimation that Draco might have been planning to be a Death Eater was not surprising; although, no one knew how he could have survived Potter's spell, as he now knew the wizard had done.
Why would Zoroastrid want me to have this? he mused, picking up the next letter.
"You know that I will be unable to attend your Solstice party. Luci simply insists I remain at home for a family celebration. It's best to indulge his whims. Don't be cross.
"Your own Cissa"
The skin on Kingsley's neck prickled in the way it always did when he was about to discover something. Of Narcissa Malfoy's affair with his ex-wife, he had been well-aware for some time. He had never understood what her attraction was to that vapid creature, but Zor' had been entranced by the witch since she was fifteen.
The next letter was more telling.
"Narcissa, please, you can't do this to me. The boy is almost grown now. He'll graduate in seven months. You and I love each other in a way that cold bastard of a husband of yours would not understand. Don't make me wait any longer for you. Come to me. --Vincent"
This startling message was followed by a more succinct one.
"I cannot bear it. I am coming for you. If you won't tell him, then I will. --V"
Kingsley put down the parchment in his hand and rubbed his eyes. No wonder she left my office so quickly.
Zoroastrid had never shared well. It must have been awful for her to discover her lover's infidelity.
He picked up the next message.
"Here are those documents you requested. I certainly agree that we need to attend to the Orkneys. Too much unauthorized magic, too many unsanctioned objects--I'm certain recruits might be found in that area.
"Unfortunately, I will be unable to meet with you to discuss it until after the holidays. I have a personal matter to dispose of.
"When you see me next, I will have good news concerning my status as a widower.
"Self-defense, old boy. Self-defense. I am, as you have encouraged me to do, practicing that phrase.
A knock disturbed the Auror.
"Yes!" he barked.
"Hullo, there, Kingsley," Arthur Weasley greeted him affably. "Fancy lunch at the Gryphon's Foote?"
"I think you should see these, Minister Weasley."
"'Minister Weasley'? Why so formal today?"
Shacklebolt handed Arthur the letters. They finished reading them together after Arthur had caught himself up.
"V. is going to do something stupid. My son is home but feeling ill, and my husband won't understand. I don't feel safe. I need you with me. Come to me, now."
"I expect that Malfoy must have enchanted his wife to look like himself before the arrival of her ardent lovers. And that in Narcissa's form, "she" convinced Goyle to kill Crabbe so that it would look like self-defense."
Yes, that is a reasonable thing to believe, thought Albus.
Arthur cleared his throat.
"I don't expect Mrs. Zabini would have cared to know that her lover was cheating on her with Goyle."
"I doubt she'd care. I know she doesn't--she brought me the letters. But I expect she does have her reasons, one of which is a marriageable son. The Girl Who Lived would make an excellent daughter-in-law, wouldn't she," the Auror said, pointedly.
"Well, I'd say that these letters go a long way toward proving Ree's innocence."
"I agree, Arthur, but without her testimony--and Gregory Goyle's testimony, the Wizangamot will not be satisfied."
"No one has seen Goyle in months."
"No one has seen Potter in months."
"Yes, well, I expect it will be awhile before anyone will be able to talk to Ree, Kingsley; however, you'll want to get those documents to the court. They'll need to convene a board of inquiry into this matter. Narcissa Malfoy can be easily called as a witness, as can Mrs. Zabini."
Kingsley shook his head. "I agree--except about the part where either lady can be easily called as a witness in any proceeding."
It had proved impossible, the Auror remembered, to secure either Narcissa or Draco Malfoy's testimony in the "murder" of Lucius the first time. And as far as the second grisly event, no one had seen young Malfoy since his father's dismembered corpse had been discovered.
Perhaps, Shacklebolt thought, now that I have documents that might damage the Widow Malfoy's reputation, she'll be more helpful in producing her son if he is alive.
Of course, without the Dark Mark, or any evidence against the boy to support his connection with Lord Voldemort, the Auror knew he would have to free Malfoy after he answered questions. That galled him.
"They should have all died."
Arthur Weasley put a friendly hand on the other man's shoulder. "Malfoy's just a boy. Snape assures me that Lucius forced his son to take the Mark."
"You're a good man, Arthur. As far as I'm concerned, he's the enemy. My job is to . . . subdue the enemy."
As he returned to his office, his lunch quite forgotten, Minister Weasley did not dwell on what he knew were his friend's thoughts about Severus Snape. He found conflicts of personality some of the most difficult issues with which to deal. Once again he found himself slightly in awe of how Albus Dumbledore had managed the Order.
All I ever wanted was to head my old department, he thought wistfully before clearing his mind to focus on the task at hand.
Albus empathized with Arthur, as he, too, moved on with his task.
Chrysopharus Cranaminimus Croakes was a peace-loving man who desired nothing more in the world than a nice rum pudding, a steaming cup of tea, and a fragrant bath of bubbles after a harrowing day of negotiating the precarious corridors of the Ministry of Magic's Department of Unexplained Objects. The D.U.O. worked closely with the Aurors, most of whom Chrysopharus found over-hasty and impolite, but with whom he had heretofore been able to work with some reasonable level of comfort. But that was before Kingsley Shacklebolt had been promoted to the head of the Department of Auror Activities, and what to call that man, well, Chrysopharus was too much of a gentleman to express it aloud.
"By Isarat, he really is an Unmentionable, Dribbles," the man informed his rubber toad in a solemn and forlorn tone, invoking his family god to underscore the depth of his feelings. "He is causing trouble with this ridiculous parade of suspects in for questioning, and requisitioning that old Tool Chest for sport--it's unconscionable!"
A Tool Chest was something that the first few generations of Aurors had used to "work on" their suspects, and, although such procedures had long been banned, several of the people to whom Shacklebolt had been speaking were rumored to belong to families with extensive training in the use of such items--for the sake of tradition, and all that rot, you know. The Auror had written on his requisition form that he merely thought it would make his subjects "feel more at home" before he took the only complete Tool Chest out of storage to aid him in the Orkney enquiry, which seemed to be dragging on entirely too long.
It's as if he seriously believes he'll find more supporters of Voldemort after what that evil wizard did. No one could possibly--oh! It's all so ridiculous!
"Not as ridiculous as you would imagine," Albus murmured.
"I should have stopped him, I suppose. But he didn't seem like he would stop, you know--and what do I know about interrogation, anyway? It's just that I can't help feeling that more people will refuse to speak to the man if they're afraid. Do you think" he asked his toy, holding it up and blowing bubbles from its knobby head, "that he really just means to bully them? That he doesn't actually care what they have to say?"
It was irregular, most irregular. But that was the way of things when one didn't place very highly on one's N.E.W.T.S.
Chrysopharus sighed. I should have studied, Dribbles. I really should have studied.
Albus turned his attention elsewhere.
Harry was beginning to think Severus had been right about her training with a vampire as she stood in the massive courtyard in front of the largest doors she had ever seen. Walls enclosed the area before the castle's entrance, and a bewildering display of frantic activity was taking place. It was difficult to fix on any one thing people were doing--cleaning weapons, cooking, tending to the screaming wounded, unloading supplies--but the young witch tried to observe everything.
It was part of being on her guard.
Of course, she did not remember disembarking the carriage, so perhaps it was already too late for caution.
"No. It is not."
Harry turned to her left, and met the eyes of the speaker with the firm, low voice, who was gazing at her dispassionately.
"Would you be the master?"
"Would I be the master of what? Specifics are--"
"Lord and master of these walls, I bear a petitioner," called a frightened looking man from a carriage that had just entered the outer gates. He threw open his door and fell to the ground, pulling the bloodied form of a very young looking man with him. "My brother, Great One, my brother has been wounded!"
The master walked toward the man.
"And do you come with an appropriate petition?"
There was nothing in the vampire's manner to suggest that he was aware the situation was dire, but Harry saw that he paid careful attention to the begging man as he ripped his brother's bloody shirt from that man's broken form. There were carvings on his chest. The vampire waved a hand, and servants appeared to take the wounded person away. The brother hastily returned to his carriage.
And then the Old One was back at her side, and they were standing in a quiet enclosed garden.
In response to Harry's obvious confusion, he said, "You will become used to this thread of time soon enough, and then your moments will pass much as they always have."
Remembering the etiquette Severus had insisted she learn, Harry replied, "Thank you for the lesson."
"I am Tancredo, one of many stewards of the borders of the Wilds, and your master for the duration of your time with me. You will not make free with my name when you leave this place, nor attempt to return here."
"Yes, Master Tancredo."
"Have you questions?"
"You may ask one at this time."
Oh, dear, thought Albus.
His arm moved faster than Harry could see it, but she knew it had moved, as it was what must have struck her, sending her flying across the garden and into the stone of a damp wall.
"You must learn the appropriate forms, my apprentice."
Shaken, Harry slowly stood.
"Thank you for the lesson, master, and thank you for allowing me to ask one question."
Tancredo nodded slightly to indicate she was free to enquire of him.
"What was carved into that man's chest?"
"A petition. The wounds are runic offerings made as a request for my assistance. They allow me to feed from the injured party as payment for his healing."
That's disgusting! That man was almost dead!
"In the old days, I, or one like me, would have licked the subject clean to indicate acceptance of the petition. Traditions are difficult to change. I prefer to take nourishment from freshly pumped arterial blood, so I have given up certain aspects of the Rite of Request and Acceptance. As to his being near death, you are correct."
Harry was curious, but forbore from speaking.
"You may ask me your questions."
"Thank you, Master. How will you heal him if he's almost dead?"
"He has been taken to a part of the keep in which time runs more slowly. This will permit him to heal. Unfortunately, when the petitioner returns to his own time, all that he knows will have changed."
"Gods--will that happen to me?" Harry asked before she could stop herself.
"Godrixibus knew how to phrase his request for your training properly. Your time here shall be considerably longer than that which will pass while you are gone. You will be home two months hence by the reckoning of your own people, but your experience shall be of several months.
"But if you know that you could heal this man and return him to his family, why don't you do it?" Harry asked, assuming that Godrixibus was the intermediary whom Professor Dumbledore had engaged to arrange her training.
Albus sighed as he read the girl's thoughts. He wished he had not had to keep so much from Harry.
"I am constrained by the request. Outsiders respect tradition. Further, I do not wish my home to become a hospital for anyone who stumbles upon the truth of this place. Requests must be specific and respectfully made, or they will not be honored."
"Ask any inhabitant of the Wilds, and you would receive the same answer. This is our home, and we would not have it overrun, particularly as that is a constant threat from other quarters, as you have observed. . . . Now, show me your skills."
Thirteen hours later, Harry unsheathed her sword and raised it above her body, having failed in her efforts to successfully wield the smaller blades her master had provided her. "Fidelis," she said clearly--because she had immediately had it demonstrated to her that there would be no secrets in this place--and the blade disappeared.
"If you practice with your sheath in spine position and wear your hair as you do normally, you will be able to surreptitiously remove it by pretending to stretch above and behind your head."
"Thank you for the idea, Master Tancredo."
"Physical prowess, even with weapons, will not avail you much success against Lord Voldemort."
"No, I expect not. But I like my sword. It extends my reach."
"Put it away. Your reach is not at issue."
"As you wish, Master."
"If that were true, you would be taller, stronger, and a man--an ugly man."
"I don't understand."
Neither did Severus, which is why I could not send him to Tancredo, Albus thought, remembering how much of his promise the boy had wasted over the years. If only he had trusted me. If only he had been patient.
But Severus had sought another master before Albus could make proper use of him. Tired from his efforts, the man left his "watch"; he knew what happened next.
"I know," Tancredo told Harry.
It was odd, Harry thought, that her master was so unnoticeable. He appeared to be a very young, rather plain, quite unthreatening man.
"We wouldn't last particularly long in a world of humans if we couldn't lose ourselves among you."
"I expect not," Harry replied, quite used to others reading her thoughts, and resolving to be more careful.
"The elders of my kind prefer to remain unremarkable and unremarked upon. Self-preservation and subterfuge are greatly enhanced by anonymity. Unfortunate for you then, that although you are not a great beauty, you are well-known, not an Animagus, inadequate at transfiguration, and possessed only of an enchanted sword and an invisibility cloak--an article of clothing that does nothing to mask your breathing or hide your steps. . . . You would not survive a direct assault on a more educated wizard."
"Even though I may be more naturally powerful?" Harry asked, irritated by her master's dismissal.
Tancredo laughed at that, a laughter so subtle that she felt it in her bones before feeling it as a cacophonous wind against her face.
"Oh, Godrixibus did not tell me that you were funny," her master laughed. "'More naturally powerful'--do you really believe such a condition will make a difference for you?
Well, it has before, Harry thought, pointing her wand at one of the odd statues that decorated the garden, and casting, "Vivus!"
The statue crouched and prepared to spring in Harry's direction with a chalky growl.
In a language unknown to the girl, Master Tancredo cast a spell that caused the statue to replicate itself. Soon, there were about a dozen unrecognizable stone creatures menacing Harry.
"Yes, my apprentice?"
"Is the lesson that I cannot predict what my opponent will do?"
"No. The lesson is to teach you that you do not know what is possible. Lack of preparation kills more warriors and wizards than does anything else, save perhaps the arrogance inherent in a trusting nature," the vampire said, seemingly to someone standing behind Harry.
But the witch did not turn. The statue animals tightened their perimeter, and Harry drew her sword. Now, holding both sword and wand, she brought quickly to mind every destructive spell that Fred and George Weasley had ever taught her.
Good ol' Fred'n'George, she thought as she remembered nine of the twins' favorite pranking curses.
"Should you survive this lesson, dinner will be served in your room in two hours. This will be followed by a discussion of your course of training."
"Thank you, Master."
Her thoughts shifted, and suddenly Harry found herself looking at a tall boy with long dark hair. He was holding a mask up which partially obscured his features, and standing in what looked like a cramped workshop.
She heard a door open, but found she could not focus on the scene; it was as if she were standing in someone else's memory. The young man hastily placed the mask over his features as another robed and hooded figure, also masked, came into view.
"Your friend speaks highly of you," said the newcomer.
"Thank you," responded the young man.
"To know your worth myself, I would have you assist me in teaching an object lesson."
"How may I be of service to you?"
"Our world is deteriorating, though there are those who deny it."
"And I would have them feel the cost of their ignorance that they might prove more amenable to instituting those necessary changes we mutually desire. Tell me, are you familiar with the class of potions known as Deterioratus Memoria?"
"Deteriorating Memory potions--yes! I can brew all six of them, though some take longer than others to prepare."
"Of course you can, but that is not why I have brought you here."
"I do not understand."
"No, I see that you do not, but that matters little if I have your obedience."
The other man said nothing. Harry could feel the nervousness rolling off him in waves.
"Only those with truth in their blood and magic in their veins can save our world from the cancer that is eating away at its heart. You understand that, or you would not be here. Extending our reach, our influence, with those who make the decisions governing our people, is critical if we are to save ourselves."
"How would you have me assist you in such a task?"
"The complacency of certain Ministry officials would best be cured if they could be made to feel what their inactivity and misguided policies have done to those they govern.
"You wish me to poison people?" the younger man asked, his voice cutting into Harry's ears with a worried edge.
The other wizard laughed, and replied, "I wish you to turn a useless potion, indeed, a destructive potion, into a teaching tool, my friend. I trust you know that I would not abuse such a useful device. Imagine, won't you, how those imbeciles will be made to listen to reason when they experience their own magic draining out of themselves, just as has the strength of our world?"
"I know you, boy," the older wizard--Lord Voldemort! Harry realized--said sharply.
The young wizard grasped his head, crying out and half-stumbling as Voldemort slowly approached him, one measured step after another.
"I know your family."
The boy fell to his knees.
"I know your fears."
"Please, stop, I--"
"I know your desires."
Placing a hand over the young man's shoulder, the sorcerer drew him up as if pulling him by an invisible string.
"I can offer you much in exchange for your loyalty. Submit to me, and I shall raise you above all others. Serve me, and I shall give you the power you seek. Join me, and you will be responsible for returning order to a world grown chaotic, cruel, and condemned. Though it will be hard, though it will be painful, though it will be demanding of you in ways you cannot now know, together, you and I and those who belong to us will make everything right again. . . . Do you wish to save your world? Are you wizard enough to save it?
"My lord, I will serve you," the boy choked out. "Ask me anything."
"You will work with another to turn the simplest draught of Deterioratus Memoria into a spell that will replicate its effects on the bodies of those who would oppose us. Let them feel the threat of wasting death so they understand what it is they have permitted our world to become."
"But you--we--will not kill anyone, will we?"
"Now, I ask you, what good would our lesson be if we allowed our students to die?"
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