Chapter Eighteen: Sforzando
As Scully stepped though the doorway, she realized that she was falling into space. Her arms wheeled uselessly in the air until Mulder grabbed her arm and pulled her back into the doorway.
Flamel, who was floating midair in a full lotus position, noticed that they weren't following him.
"Oh gracious, I forgot we turned off the floor!" He snapped his fingers and dim light appeared, as did a perfectly normal wooden floor.
Recovered somewhat, Scully shot her partner a grateful smile and stepped tentatively into the room. It appeared to be a standard department office, complete with blocky institutional desks exhibiting varying degrees of tidiness. Rather disappointingly mundane after the room with the candles. Cho and Dumbledore were taking tea at a desk cluttered with strange silver machines and maps of the night sky.
Cho looked awful. There were dark circles under her eyes, and she looked as if she hadn't even changed her clothes since rescuing her father from the fire. Still, she looked exhausted rather than grieved and managed to give Scully a tired smile.
"He'll live, but he's going to be in St. Mungo's for at least a week. Mum tried to send me home, but I got a bit sidetracked." She nodded at Dumbledore, who rose to greet them.
Dumbledore placed a steaming cup of tea in Scully's hands. "It's good to see you well, Dr. Scully. Poppy was able to tidy you up with very little trouble?"
"She did a marvelous job. I only wish I'd had more time to ask her about her methods."
"Delightful! I trust you were relatively undisturbed during your convalescence? I daresay most of the staff were on holiday."
"It was very quiet, though Mulder managed to get on Minerva's bad side."
Dumbledore paled slightly and tugged at the collar of his robe. Scully suppressed a smile. Chalk up another set of scratched ankles to Minerva.
"Minerva? Ah." His eyes darted to the other side of the room. "May I inquire after your partner? Oh, I see him with Nicholas. If you would be so kind as to excuse me?"
He abruptly turned and joined the others clustered around Flamel, who had unfolded himself from the lotus position and was directing a tray of sweets and tea service with his wand.
"Welcome, friends, new and old," announced Flamel. "I trust no introductions are necessary?"
Severus eyed the proceedings from a dark corner with feigned disinterest. "I believe all of us are, unfortunately, more or less acquainted."
Flamel ignored him. "One lump or two, Mr. Mulder?"
"One, if you please, Mr. Flamel."
"Tosh, my dear boy, call me Nicholas. Severus?"
Nicholas's face was sly as he transfigured the plain ceramic cup into a glass and ornate silver holder. "Not even Russian tea?" A cube of coarse sugar and a lemon wedge hovered tantalizingly over the steaming glass.
Severus scowled and took the glass from Nicholas.
Nicholas beamed in return. "Now," he said, vanishing the biscuit tray with a wave of his wand, "I think it's high time we got everyone up to speed on the proceedings. New arrivals, please don't be alarmed." He snapped his fingers again.
The floor vanished and the room was plunged into darkness. Scully was somewhat comforted to hear several other cries of dismay. For the sake of her tea, she forced her body to be still and realized that she wasn't falling. Still, she wished heartily for some light.
Suddenly, to Scully's astonishment, the room was filled with a comfortingly familiar skyline that cast a gentle light over the other people in the room.
"Lumos!" A pale blue light appeared at the end of Cho's wand. She looked reproachfully at Nicholas. "You might give us more warning next time. You've gone and made me spill my tea."
"I do apologize, Miss Chang." Scully started slightly at the name, then remembered Cho's dual names in the dual worlds. "Here, let me help you." Nicholas floated the teapot jauntily toward Cho and refilled her cup. By this time, Percy and Albus had lit their wands, and Scully was only a moment behind them. She smiled inwardly at the success of her spell.
Still, she felt somewhat disconcerted to be floating in the dark, lit by wands and her childhood home.
"Whose city is this?" asked Flamel, glancing about. "It's not one that I know."
"I think I did. It's San Diego," said Scully, somewhat uncomfortably. " She had little memory of the city skyline at night, except from Fourths of July spent picnicking on Coronado. As the memory flashed into her mind's eye, a glorious pyrotechnic display lit the room around them. Dumbledore and Nicholas applauded. Scully felt the beginnings of an embarrassed smile, but it fell when she noticed Severus scowling at her.
The city lights and fireworks faded to black with her growing discomfiture. Nicholas cleared his throat, and the room was instantly illumiated by a giant floating globe in the center of the room.
Mulder snickered. "Many Bothans died to bring us this information."
Scully elbowed him.
"Now," said Nicholas in a pedagogical voice that contrasted ludicrously with his retreat into full lotus. "We have come together today to recognize a grave threat to life as we know it on this planet. Because some of you are aware of only part of the situation, I will summarize briefly. A group of power--hungry Muggles have teamed up with the worst of our kind to destroy an ancient network of protective shielding devices. These shields were put into place by our magical ancestors in order to protect our planet from hostile extraterrestrial invaders."
Scully was pleased to note that none of the others laughed. Still, it was interesting. Nicholas didn't mention that the "magical ancestors" were extraterrestrials themselves. Mulder caught her eye. He had certainly noticed the omission.
The globe that Nicholas had created was suddenly covered with a myriad of small red dots. "Each of these points represents an area that we suspect a magical shield generator exists, though we only have precise information on a few of them."
"How does one divine the presence of one of these generators?" Mulder wanted to know.
"Very much the way astronomers find black holes," said Dumbledore. "Only we use a certain 'wavelength' of magic, if you will, or absence of magic."
Severus cleared his throat. "So am I to understand that these generators cannot be precisely located by magic?"
"That's it precisely, Severus," said Flamel. "The designers of these generators were very clever. Only someone with no magical ability can precisely locate or manipulate them."
"That explains how several of them ended up in Muggle museums," commented Scully.
"Really?" Percy's surprised look faded to tone of understanding when he caught Mulder's eye.
"We know of at least two to date," said Mulder. "A small blue hippopotamus from the Smithsonian in New York City and two small statues of cats from the British Museum. All of the statues seem to have ceremonial origins, which would guarantee them gentle handling as long as the civilization lasted. And they all must have some sort of preserving magic on them, seeing as all were in nearly pristine condition after thousands of years."
"If durability is the common denominator," commented Cho, "I should imagine at least an equal number are now in private collections."
"It's a pretty puzzle, to be sure." Flamel frowned, gesturing at the globe. "As you can see," he continued, as a number of the dots migrated and disappeared, "the conspirators have already managed to disable a number of the shield generators, particularly here." The globe rotated and Scully felt her heart sink. The entire continent of Antarctica was completely devoid of shield generators.
Mulder's whisper came from somewhere on Scully's left. "Makes the hole in the ozone layer look like small potatoes, doesn't it?"
"Well, the generators would be easier to locate in Antarctica," said Cho. "There's nowhere to hide a manmade artifact."
Dumbledore nodded. "And as you can see, the southwestern United States is vulnerable, as well."
"The government went over the Southwest with a fine--toothed comb after the crash at Roswell," added Mulder. "Anything unusual they turned up is probably in the hands of the consortium or their extraterrestrial co--conspirators."
"Excuse me, Mr. Flamel?" Percy's hand was tentatively raised.
"Yes, Mr. Weasley?"
"I don't quite understand why Wizards and Muggles are trying to destroy the shield. Surely it would behoove us all to strengthen it."
Flamel exchanged a look with Dumbledore, who nodded. Flamel looked at Percy, Cho, and Severus in turn. "I'm sure I don't need to remind you that this conversation is taking place in the utmost of confidence. If you should decide that you are not interested in participating in our plan, we must remove your memory of this discussion."
Percy and Cho nodded seriously. Severus refrained from sneering.
"Very well then. Albus, if you please?"
"Thank you, Nicholas. To answer your question, Mr. Weasley, the reason that a consortium of Wizards and Muggles would destroy our planet's protective shield was one that perplexed us both. However, we have learned from Mr. Mulder's unique expertise that the consortium has gained extraterrestrial technology in exchange for destroying the shield, and not just from studying the workings of the shield generators."
"Absurd!" exclaimed Snape. "Even Muggles aren't dense enough to miss the fact that they would be enslaved or destroyed along with the rest of the human race when the invasion came."
"It's not that simple," Mulder cut in. "You see, the hostile extraterrestrials planted a weapon in the earth's crust millions of years ago-- long before the shield was erected. It's so potent that humans can't even touch it. The consortium already know this. They figure that the invasion is inevitable and are trying to buy themselves enough time to create a defense against this weapon-- a vaccine."
Cho's eyes were wide. "The weapon is a disease?"
Scully nodded. "Specifically, it's parasite. The enemy can control a person who's been in infected with it, but it will eventually kill the body."
Percy shook his head. "Impossible. Surely it would have been found."
"More troubling is that it has been found. We know of at least two incidents in Alaska and Russia," said Mulder, "and I'm sure there are many deposits just waiting to be discovered."
Scully had a thought, and spoke without thinking. "Is it possible that deposits exist near shield barriers? Perhaps the Alephi erected the barriers to provide protection against it, as well as external threats."
Mulder's eyes shone at her with an intensity that surprised her. "I'm sure of it, Scully."
Dumbledore and Nicholas seemed equally taken aback. Nicholas recovered more quickly. "Of course!"
Percy cut in. "But if the containment is magical in origin, is the weapon also?"
Cho nodded. "I can't imagine anything more terrible than a magical contagion-- one that has the virulence of a Muggle disease but the resistance of a magical substance."
Dumbledore's voice was grave. "We would be powerless to stop it."
Severus, who had been uncharacteristically silent, spoke. "This weapon-- is it a hydrophobic black liquid about the consistency of Mercury?"
Mulder choked on his tea.
"Where did you see it?" Scully asked sharply.
"I worked with it every day for three weeks. Your 'consortium' now has a potion to counter its effects."
A general uproar followed this statement. The lights flashed on, the globe vanished, and they all fell heavily to the floor.
"Ow!" Mulder had banged his elbow on a desk.
"Nicholas!" complained Cho, attempting to charm the spilled tea from her shirt.
But Nicholas was too shaken to hear her. He, Dumbledore and Mulder immediately began interrogating Severus.
"Why didn't you include this in any of your reports?"
"You mean to say a cure exists?"
"What did you use for the active ingredient? Dragon's blood?"
"I didn't include it in my report, Albus, because I thought I was making a vaccine for a particularly virulent hemorrhagic fever. Yes, Mr. Mulder, that's what I just said. And yes, Nicholas, dragon's blood was used. Now if you would all kindly step back a few feet--"
Albus looked furious. "Surely the Institute's asking you to find a cure for a Muggle disease should have raised your suspicions--"
"Nonsense, Albus," protested Severus, with equal force. "The rural African magical community has long been susceptible to particularly virulent strains--"
"What diagnostic methods did you use?"
Severus glared at Mulder. "I only worked in vitro, there was no need for diagnostics."
Mulder's voice betrayed equal irritation. "But how long will it take to mass-produce?"
Flamel's sounded thoughtful. "We'd need to start drawing blood immediately. Who has access to dragons nowadays?"
Albus turned his piercing glare to Percy. "Percy, does your family still have friends in Romania?"
Scully had somehow managed to land in a chair near Percy, who stammered something to the affirmative. She listened to the frenzied chattering for a moment longer before letting fly with an ear-piercing whistle. The conversation ceased abruptly.
"Albus, Nicholas, I'm sure you didn't call us all together to discuss mass production," she said in a stern voice. "Mulder, while I agree that inoculating the world is important, it's vital that we focus on protecting what's left of our defense. You must realize, if I'm correct about the correlation between the black oil deposits and shield generators, then for every shield generator that has been moved or destroyed, there is an unprotected deposit of lethal substance lurking below the ground."
Nicholas was taken aback, and Albus looked as though he were going to argue, until he deflated suddenly. "I believe you're right, Dr. Scully," he said.
"Besides," said Severus, brushing nonexistent lint from his robe, "it's not as if my only samples of the vaccine went up in smoke with the Brisbin."
Albus looked piercingly over his spectacles at Severus. "I trust you will be properly provisioned for tomorrow's excursion."
Nicholas shoved his glasses further up his nose. "Well, that settles that. I have just one more thing to show you all before we retire for the evening. Miss Chang, brace yourself. Albus, if you please?"
The lights went out again, and they found themselves floating in midair. Scully was beginning to feel a bit airsick. The globe appeared again, then grew unspeakably large, zooming in on a single red dot in central Scotland.
Cho gasped in recognition.
Percy even uttered a soft "Oh, my!"
"As you can see," said Albus, "we have the perfect opportunity to test both Dr. Scully's theory about the proximity of the enemy's weapon and my and Nicholas's charm for protecting the shield generators. We believe that a shield generator exists in the forest at the edge of Hogwarts's grounds."
She could practically hear Mulder's heart rate increase. Hers wasn't exactly calm, either.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, Headmaster," Percy's voice trembled, but did not break, "but Mr. Mulder's description led me to believe that the shield generators were ancient ceremonial or sacred objects."
"That is correct, Mr. Weasley."
"But what manner of sacred artifacts exist in the Forbidden Forest?"
"That's what we're hoping to find out tomorrow, when all of us will go to the Forbidden Forest, locate the shield generator, and participate in Nicholas's charm to protect the shield generators."
"And how, precisely, do you expect to find the shield generator, when it is undetectable by magic?"
"It's quite simple, Severus. Mr. Mulder will lead us."
Once Albus had given them directions to the rendezvous point in the forest and charmed a less ridiculous porkey for them, he sunk into silence, watching gray smoke pour from one of the small instruments on his desk.
Flamel silently placed a cup of tea near Albus's elbow and smiled. "I think we'll leave Albus to his ruminations." He held the office door open, and the other stepped into the circular room once more. When the door closed behind them, the room began spinning, blurring the candlelight into a brilliant blue line. The rotation stopped as quickly as it had begun.
Nicholas hummed pleasantly and ushered them through one of the other doors into a long hallway.
"Thank you Nicholas," said Percy. "Will we be having the honour of meeting your wife tomorrow?"
"Perenelle? Heavens, no. She has more important things to do."
"More important than saving the world?" The impertinence of Cho's query was tempered by her obvious curiosity.
"My dear Miss Chang, she is saving the world, or at least, the world as we know it. Perenelle works for the same department that Albus and I do, but her work is top secret, even to us. What I can tell you is that when we were married, she was sixteen years my junior. She has since narrowed the gap to six years and seven months."
Mulder whistled. Scully and Severus shared a nod.
"That reminds me," said Percy. "I need to speak with Albus for a moment. I'll floo to the Headmistress's office and meet up with you tomorrow for breakfast." He set off in the direction of the circular room.
"Floo?" asked Mulder, once Nicholas waved them through the golden gate of the lift at the end of the hall.
"Magical powder that allows you to travel from fire to fire," explained Cho. "It's quite convenient, but a bit disorienting."
"Einstein would have a field day here," commented Mulder.
"That's something I've always wondered about," said Cho, as a pleasant voice announced their arrival in the Atrium. "What would he have come up with if he'd been a Wizard?"
"Hair products, most likely," commented Severus dryly. "Not everyone flourishes with a surfeit of choices."
They all stepped out, Nicholas leading the way across a huge and magnificent room to a line of golden fireplaces, which crackled merrily.
Flamel dipped his hand in a golden urn on one of the mantelpieces, pulling out a handful of sparkling powder. He threw it into the fireplace, whose flames flared emerald.
"Well, fellow adventurers, this is where I say good evening. Mr. Mulder, Dr. Scully, I took the liberty of checking you out of your hotel and moving your things to rooms at Hogwarts. Just say the name "Figgy" when you arrive, and a house elf, a dear friend of mine, will appear to help you to your rooms. Rest well, and I'll see you at eight o'clock tomorrow!"
He waved jauntily, stepped into the green flames, and disappeared with a loud snuffing sound.
Cho glanced at the others. "I'm beat. Shall we be off, as well?"
Severus took the newly portkeyed teacup out of his pocket and held it out to them. "Very well."
As soon as their fingers touched the rim of the cup, the world jerked as it had before, and the atrium swirled into blackness. Abruptly, Scully found herself standing in a different part of the castle than she had been in before.
The room was even larger than the atrium they had just left, and the ceiling glittered with crystalline light fixtures. Shiny wooden floors clicked smartly under her heels and she surveyed the large doors on either end.
Severus took no time in pronouncing "Figgy" in an impressive voice.
There was a soft pop from behind them, and Scully spun around to see the oddest creature she had yet beheld.
It stood no higher than her hip and had an impressive span of ears and protuberant brown eyes. Its face was heavily wrinkled, and a few strands of white hair wisped from the edges of its bald pate. It wore a handsome livery with a four-colored crest and bowed deeply.
"Greetings, friends of Nicholas Flamel," it said in a quavering baritone. "I am Figgy."
"Hello Figgy," said Cho. "I'm Cho Chang, and this is Dana Scully, Fox Mulder, Percy Weasley, and Severus Snape."
Figgy nodded serenely at their names until Cho reached Severus. The creature started, then peered at Snape suspiciously.
Snape glared back. "Aren't you supposed to take us to our rooms?"
"I will," said Figgy, "but know that I take no pleasure in serving you." After uttering this proclamation, Figgy stamped viciously on his ankle with the heel of his other shoe. He emitted a grunt of pain and his huge eyes watered, but he turned to Severus.
"Will Mr. Snape require his former chambers?" Figgy said the words blandly enough, but Scully thought saw a flicker of irritation in Severus's eyes at being called "Mr."
"That will not be necessary, Figgy. I shall take the room Nicholas asked you to prepare for me." Scully noted a slight emphasis on Flamel's name. Figgy twitched, but kept his face neutral.
"However," Severus continued, "I will require the fires lit in the subdungeon to be lit in half an hour."
"As you please, sir." He turned his back on Severus and spoke more pleasantly to the others. "You will all follow me please?"
"Excuse me, Figgy," said Cho, "Would you please tell me what room this is?"
"This is the formal ballroom, Miss Chang," responded Figgy.
"I never knew anything about a formal ballroom at Hogwarts," commented Cho.
"Only special friends of Hogwarts are allowed," said Figgy. "It's generally used for celebrations marking the end of O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. examinations."
Cho looked mildly surprised. "But I was top of my year for both exams, and I never received an invitation."
"Of course not," snapped Severus. "The celebrations were for those who underwent the most challenging trials, namely the staff and examiners."
"This way, please." Figgy waved a small brown hand, and the grand doors of the ballroom swung open to reveal a hall lined with doors and golden statues.
They passed notable after notable, finally stopping in front of a statue of a witch named Elfrida Clagg, around whom flitted a flock of small golden balls.
"This will be Miss Chang's room," announced Figgy, as the door swung open. "It was the favorite of Ogden Tiberius's when he used to give the History of Magic N.E.W.T. You notice the goblin--wrought fixtures and the twelfth century tapestries. Please let me know if there is anything I can provide."
"Thank you, Figgy," said Cho with an enormous yawn. "I think I'll be all right for the evening. See you all in the morning!"
Figgy continued leading them down the hallway and stopped at a statue of a gaunt--looking wizard whose plaque claimed that he had invented a self--stirring cauldron.
"Mr. Snape will be here this evening," said Figgy shortly. He did not open the door.
Severus entered his room without a word. He shut the door with perhaps a bit more force than was necessary.
"Wonder what he did to Figgy," Mulder whispered.
"I couldn't begin to guess. And I'm not sure who I'd like to ask less, Severus or Figgy."
Figgy studiously ignored their whispers and led them down the hall-- it appeared to have no end-- finally stopping by a statue of a small boy holding a cauldron proudly aloft.
"Mr. Mulder will be in this suite. This room is favored by foreign dignitaries who travel with their families. You will find a fully--stocked bar by the window. The doors have the most powerful silencing charms of any place in the castle. If you require any food or other beverages, simply say my name and I will bring you anything that it is in my power to bring."
Figgy held the door open for Mulder and turned to face Scully.
"Dr. Scully will be in the tutor room. It was designed to accommodate children traveling to Hogwarts with their families. It adjoins Mr. Mulder's room, though the connecting door is currently locked. Please call my name if you wish me to open it for you. I trust you will have a pleasant stay." With that, Figgy bowed, and disappeared with a pop.
Scully felt slightly as if she'd been snubbed, but shrugged it off. She grasped the heavy golden handle of the door, and was dismayed to find that the door was locked. A moment after she had decided to crash with Mulder for the evening, glowing red letters appeared over the knob that read alohomora.
Remembering the wand motion diagram in her book, she pulled her wand from her robe, flicked it at the door, and pronounced the spell.
The door swung open on silent hinges, but the room was completely dark. Unsurprisngly, the word lumos floated livid in the air before her. She cast the spell, and the room was filled with a blaze of light.
An enormous chandelier hung overhead, lit by a thousand tiny points of light. The floor was covered with plush carpet, and the room was sparsely but elegantly appointed. Scully kicked off her shoes and walked to the window. The sun had already set, but there was still a soft glow at the horizon. She could just make out the outline of the forest in the darkness. As she squinted to see the edge of the lake, the tip of her nose brushed against the window.
Immediately, the red letters appeared, spelling out scourgify. Surprised, Scully jumped back, wand drawn. She shook her head, and cast the spell at the tiny smudge, which promptly disappeared.
Turning from the window, she was delighted to find that her luggage and books had been arranged and the clothes had all been cleaned, pressed, and hung in the closet. The bed was a glorious affair of goosedown--stuffed duvet and sheets so smooth that the palms of her hands tingled.
But the bed would wait. Scully needed a bath.
She filled the huge tub instantly by pronouncing the words that the red letters prompted. All manner of oils, soaps, bubbles, lotions, and tonics were available from engraved taps that circled the bathing area. She placed her wand on the small shelf above the tub and sank gratefully into the steaming water.
The red letters promptly ordered her to cast lavaro, but she ignored them, opting instead to try a few of the taps. Scully turned one, which released delightfully tingly bubbles that she massaged into her scalp, willing away the last of the soot and grime and sinking into semi--consciousness.
A bell rung softly somewhere in the main room, and Scully groaned. She expected the red letters to tell her what to do, but they resolutely held in the washing spell. Not knowing what else to do, she cast the spell, which caused a soapy washcloth to appear and start washing her back.
She yelped and tried to pull it off, but it diligently scrubbed on. Ducking into the water did not deter it. She finally managed to seize the soapy rag in one hand, her wand in the other, and cast the spell that appeared in response to the repeated ringing of the bell.
Mulder's face appeared suddenly in a large tile on the wall. She abruptly immersed herself in the water up to the neck. The enchanted washcloth took the opportunity to slip out of her grip and began scrubbing her face and behind her ears. She wrestled it away from her face, and glared at her partner, who appeared much too amused for her liking.
"What is it, Mulder?"
"I wanted to talk, but if you're indisposed..."
The red letters formed the word alohomora again.
"Oh no, you don't," said Scully under her breath. "Hang on a sec, Mulder," she called. She knotted the offending washcloth around one of the taps, where it wriggled pathetically, and realized that she didn't know how to turn off the tile. Mulder was still watching her with an innocent look on her face. Damn. There were no towels close to the tub. Fortunately, there was a soft cotton robe on the door, which she accioed and wriggled into, her eye on Mulder at all times.
Belatedly, the words finite incantem appeared in front of Mulder's face. She glared at the letters and resolved never to forget that particular enchantment. Unfortunately, the spell had the unintended effect of undoing the lighting spell she had cast earlier.
She managed to slip on the wet tile before the red letters reminded her of lumos, another spell she was resolved not to forget. She collected herself and cast alohomora on the door. It swung open to admit her partner.
He whistled as he stepped into her room. "Nice room. Shame about the bathroom, though." He flopped down on her bed and stuffed a pillow under his chin.
"Make yourself at home, Mulder," she said with a wry smile. She pulled a pair of comfortable jeans and a cotton shirt from the wardrobe. "I'll be right back."
"But there's no television! What am I supposed to do, read?"
She didn't dignify this with a response-- she merely closed the door and set to work drying her hair. Several sets of red words appeared earnestly in front of her, presumably to help, but Scully wasn't interested. In fact, she was grumbling under her breath, trying to figure out a way to dismantle the red text.
She even poked at the letters with her wand, but to no effect.
"It won't work," said a mournful voice.
Scully jumped. "Who's there?"
"It's me," said the voice. "You're looking straight at me."
Scully's brow furrowed. All that was in front of her was the mirror. She looked sternly at her reflection.
"Did you say something?"
"I did, but I honestly don't know why I bother," droned the mirror-- definitely the mirror. "Everyone is always too busy with the red letters. Nobody ever listens to me anyway."
"Well, do you have anything useful to say?" She pulled on her clothes quickly.
"I doubt it," said the mirror. "My problem was that I started out as an automatic abacus, but they transfigured me into a mirror. All my computational ability wasted on people wanting to know if a haircut makes their faces look round. It's so depressing, really."
"I'm sorry you aren't enjoying being a mirror. Have you talked to the Headmistress about a career change?"
"It's no use. I used to be in one of the student bathrooms, but she moved me in here specially. She figured I would put the visiting children to sleep I suppose."
"Why were you moved away from the students?"
"Nobody liked me. I get everyone down. I'm not depressing you, am I?"
Scully hid a smile. "Not at all. But I do need to get back to my partner."
"I knew I'd depress you," said the mirror dolefully. "I always do."
Scully regarded the mirror shrewdly. "Out of curiosity, you don't know a way to turn off the red words in this room, do you?"
"I've been a mirror for more than fifty years," droned the mirror, "and everyone gets depressed and leaves without -- what was that?"
"I said, 'do you know how to turn off the red words?'" In the silence that followed, Scully had an odd sensation that the mirror had perked up.
"I know, for all the good that it's done me." The mirror sounded slightly less despondent.
"Will you tell me?"
"I haven't anything better to do." The mirror was clearly enjoying itself, but Scully was getting a bit impatient. The red letters appeared suddenly in front of the mirror and formed the word silencio.
Scully ignored them. "How, exactly, do I disable the words?"
"You snap your fingers."
"There is a proper enchantment, but I don't remember it and the letters will never tell you what it is. Be glad there's an easier way. You can snap them on and snap them off."
She snapped experimentally at silencio, and it vanished. She snapped again, and the word reappeared. It faded a moment later.
"Thank you so much for your help," she said to the mirror. "If there's anything I can do for you, just let me know."
"Nothing can help me," sighed the mirror. "But perhaps if I do some sums it will make me feel better."
Suddenly inspired, Scully gave the mirror a penetrating look. "Do you know what a Fermat prime number is?"
She felt a sense of tentative curiosity emanating from the mirror. "No, but I once recited the first million prime numbers when I was hung in the boy's bathroom in the Arithmancy corridor."
"This upps the stakes a bit. A Fermat prime is a Fermat number that is prime. Fermat numbers are generated by the equation F sub n equals two to the two to the nth power, plus one. It's generally thought that there are not an infinite number of Fermat primes, but we've only been able to come up with five with current computational methods."
The mirror mulled this over. "And you think I can come up with more?"
"No idea," said Scully honestly. "But if you can, I guarantee it will be of interest in the Muggle world, if not the Magical one. Perhaps then you'll be restored to a form that pleases you more."
"I'll have to think about this one," said the mirror, more to itself than to Scully.
"Well, if you come up with anything, so let me know" she said, slipping out of the bathroom.
She found Mulder sprawled on the bed reading Index Infusia. Red letters appeared over the table, prompting her to conjure up drinks. She scowled in their direction and shook her head. They lingered for long enough to be insolent, but faded before she had the opportunity to snap them into oblivion.
She joined him on the bed, resting her neck and shoulders on the air--soft pillow and sighed. "I wish my room had slightly less personality."
Mulder closed the book and grinned at her. "You seemed to be getting on with the mirror. Sounded like a most reflective personality."
"Mulder, if you make one more pun, I'm going to ask Figgy to bring Minerva in here."
"I might have to make some Figgy pudding if he does."
She snorted and rolled over on to her stomach. "So, would it do me any good to ask you what you thought of today's meeting, or is your brain as tired as mine?"
"I'll say it was a nice change from bureau. It was refreshing to have so many people on the level."
Scully nodded. "It feels good. Indescribably good. Like we're not alone anymore."
"Like we've been vindicated. I guess this means you have to admit that I'm not crazy."
She smiled. "Perish the thought."
"And can you imagine what your magic will do for our work, Scully? Being able to cast a charm to immobilize a monster or walk through fire?"
Scully shook her head. "I still don't feel like I know enough for it to really be useful in the field. And I don't think we'll be here long enough for me to learn much."
The smile on Mulder's face faded a little. "Skinner. I forgot to call Skinner."
"What would you have told him if you had remembered before now? That the victims were bound and dissolved by giant talking spiders?"
"I would have said the murders are nearly wrapped up."
Scully batted him playfully on the shoulder. "What did I warn you about puns?"
"That you'd give me a foot massage if I made lots of them?"
"Just for that, I declare that it's your responsibility to contact Skinner from now on. You'll get no help from me!"
Both their heads snapped up at the soft ping from across the room. A small dish of powder had appeared on the mantelpiece. Instead of words, the red script formed a series of arrows, indicating that they throw the powder into the fire.
Scully raised an eyebrow. "I don't think Skinner is ready to have us pop out of his fireplace."
"Is there even a fireplace in the building? We could aim for the furnace."
"And risk setting off the fire alarms again? No thanks." Scully snapped her fingers and the diagram disappeared. She crossed to her neatly piled belongings on a side table and located her cell phone. The batteries were still in the bottom of her jacket pocket from when she had removed them in Severus's lab. Once she had reinserted them, the phone began to vibrate and flash madly as it had then.
She removed the batteries and shrugged. "So much for wireless technology. Figgy?"
The ensuing pop made her jump. This would definitely take getting used to.
"At your service, Dr. Scully."
"Figgy, is there a telephone anywhere in the school?"
"I'm afraid not, though the fireplace in your room has full connectivity to the floo network."
Scully shook her head. "I don't think that will work."
"How about a television?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Mulder. There are no electrical appliances anywhere at Hogwarts."
"I knew there was a dark side to all this magic."
"If you wish, I can ask the Headmistress to recommend a suitable form of communication, assuming it is someone in the Muggle community you wish to contact."
"That's very kind of you. Thank you Figgy."
He disappeared with a pop and reappeared a moment later.
"The Headmistress would like to speak with you both, if you are not otherwise engaged."
Mulder shrugged. "I'm game."
"We'd be happy to meet her, Figgy. Let me put on some shoes."
She summoned them from their place by the wardrobe, just because she could.
"Please follow me."
Figgy led them to the very end of the golden statue hallway, up two flights of stairs (three trick steps total), across what appeared to be a gaping chasm, down three flights, by several large galleries, and finally, up a dizzyingly tall spiral staircase, where they came face to face with a very ugly gargoyle.
"Loch Lomond," announced Figgy, and the gargoyle moved aside to permit them entry.
The room was large and beautiful in the light of a roaring fire. Scully was surprised to see a large plate of sandwiches perched on an ottoman in front of the fire. Then the person sitting by the fire stood, and Scully had to suppress a gasp.
Before her stood a witch. A real witch. She was dressed in a green velvet robe and wore a jaunty pointed hat festooned with pheasant feathers. She was tall to begin with, but in her hat she towered over them all. Her face and hands were lined with age, and she leaned slightly on an ebony walking stick, but she radiated power in the same way that Albus did. She even had the same measuring gaze over the rims of square spectacles.
Not knowing what else to do, Scully pulled out her badge. "Headmistress? I'm Special Agent Scully and this is Special Agent Mulder. F.B.I."
The witch narrowed her eyes perceptibly at Mulder.
"I believe we've met."
Mulder smiled ingratiatingly. "I'm sure I'd remember meeting such a charming lady as yourself."
She gave him a thin--lipped smile. "I'm sure you do remember me. Perhaps you know me only by my Christian name, or perhaps by my distaste for the lowest form of humor."
Scully stared at the woman, trying to remember where they'd met. She tried to imagine meeting anyone with such presence, when suddenly in her mind's eye a small furry face was superimposed over the Headmistress's regal one.
The Headmistress had the grace to look a bit embarrassed. "Yes, take ten points, Miss Scully. Please, sit down."
She absently summoned two more chairs and ushered Mulder and Scully into them. Tea and blood sausages joined the plate of sandwiches on the ottoman.
"First things first," said the Headmistress. "I must apologize for eavesdropping on your conversation in the infirmary this morning. It was childish behavior, and I am thoroughly ashamed of myself. However, I can't say I'm sorry for what I learned."
Scully was suddenly mortified. They'd been talking about Albus.
The Headmistress seemed to have noticed the look on her face and held out a small box.
"Have a sherbet lemon, Dr. Scully. And don't worry. Albus knew I'd find him eventually, and it's just as well that I did today. Your group is going to need all the help you can get, if you'll excuse me for saying so."
Mulder was staring at Minerva in something like awe. "How did you do it, Headmistress?"
"I'm an animagus, Mr. Mulder. I can turn into a cat. But let's stick to the topic at hand, please. Since I will be accompanying your group into the Forbidden Forest tomorrow, I would like to know a bit more about the people leading us on this wild jarvey chase."
Mulder bit into one of the sausages. "What would you like to know?"
"Well, your education for starters. Practical skills, that sort of thing."
Mulder grinned. "I have Ph.D. in psychology, and I used to profile serial killers. I currently investigate paranormal phenomena."
Minerva looked a bit disappointed. "Any practical skills, Mr. Mulder?"
Mulder, who seemed to be getting used to this sort of reaction in the magical world grinned. "I have a photographic memory and I have fairly extensive training in firearms, at least the Muggle kind." Mulder started eating another sausage
"Well, I suppose it's better than nothing." Minerva's gaze turned to Scully.
Scully shrugged. "I'm a pathologist by education, a paranormal investigator by trade, and I found out that I had magical powers three days ago."
Minerva regarded Scully over her spectacles. "What magic have you been able to do?"
"A few basic spells."
"She blew up a vase of flowers with Severus's wand," commented Mulder.
"How in blazes did you get Severus's wand?"
Minerva raised an eyebrow. Scully decided to be more explicit.
"I kicked the wand out of his hand. He tried to summon it, but I managed to freeze it in midair."
"You interrupted his summoning without a wand?"
"Yes, but I couldn't hold it. When he held the wand to my neck, I kicked him in the groin, grabbed his wand, and ran."
Minerva coughed, quite possibly covering a snicker, then handed Scully a nearly empty teacup.
"Mr. Weasley mentioned that you've had visions. Kindly interpret these tea leaves for me."
Bewildered, Scully stared at bottom of the cup, willing something to happen. When nothing did, she gently rotated the cup, and allowed her eyes to relax. She breathed deeply and swirled the leaves gently in the bottom of the cup.
When she heard the Headmistress release an impatient breath, she suspected that she was being had.
"I can't see anything other than a mess of tea leaves."
"Surely you must see something. A large dog, perhaps? A cross?"
Scully looked the Headmistress squarely in the eye. "The visions I had before just happened. I don't think any amount of staring at a teacup will induce them. I see a clump of black specks. Unless we're going to be attacked by a swarm of fleas, this cup doesn't hold the future any more than this footstool does."
Minerva took the cup back from Scully and refilled it with an unreadable look on her face. She stared at the steam rising from the cup for a moment, then reclined in her chair and stretched her stocking toes toward the fire, gazing at them both in turn.
"I feel quite strongly that neither of you will be a detriment to tomorrow's mission," she said at last. "And if you don't mind rehashing some of your meeting this afternoon, I'd really like to know more about the black oil Mr. Weasley mentioned. Severus has already locked himself down in the old potions classroom and only communicates in grunts."
Scully eyed the Headmistress. "Figgy didn't seem to pleased to see him."
"Naturally. Figgy, like most of the Magical Community believes Albus Dumbledore is dead."
"What has that to do with Severus?"
"Severus was the one who blasted him off the astronomy tower with a killing curse. We were all quite devastated. In retrospect, they must have been planning it for quite some time."
"Why did they do it?"
"That's something you'll have to ask Albus one of these days, Mr. Mulder. Now, it's nearly past my bedtime. Black oil, if you please, in five hundred words or less."
"Delighted, Headmistress. Setting: Alaska about ten thousand years ago..."
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