And I'm finally back. It's been a hellacious year so far. In the past six weeks, I've finished post-graduate degree, moved 2000 miles, caught Covid, and buried my mom. The last two really sucked. So, I hope you'll be understanding of why updates have been so slow. Hopefully, I'll be in a more stable situation and can manage more frequent updates.
Usual stuff: Everything that looks familiar belongs to JK Rowling. Please check out Strangers In Boston on Amazon. Get vaccinated if you haven't already.
And now back to our show…
and the Resurrection Game
Chapter 18: Messages In The Night
Sunday, 7 September 1994
At the sound of a soft knock, Gregory Goyle Jr. looked up from the owl post he'd received earlier from his parents and rose to open the door. Waiting in the hallway were Amy and Harry. Nervously, Greg poked his head out of the door and looked both ways to make sure no one was around to see his visitors. Given their prior history, he might be able to get away with his former adoptive sister, Amy Wilkes, coming to visit. But Harry Black? Not a chance. Quickly, he ushered the two inside, and Amy gave him a hug, which he returned gratefully.
"Hello, Greg," Harry said. "You wanted to speak with me?"
In fact, the boy had indicated nothing of the sort, at least not directly. Harry noticed that Greg had received an owl post at lunch, and after reading the letter, he gave Harry an anguished look that Harry intuited as a cry for help. He just hoped that none of the Slytherins around him—mainly Cassius Warrington's cabal of "Death Munchers"—had picked up on it.
"Yeah," the larger boy stammered. "I got a letter from my mother and father. It …" He paused and shook his head before handing over the letter. "I should probably warn you. The words Mudblood and blood traitor filth get used a lot."
Harry nodded and reviewed the letter. It was from Gregory Goyle, Sr., a marked Death Eater who escaped Azkaban through the machinations of Narcissa Malfoy. Lucius Malfoy had once described the elder Goyle as "a feral hog that somehow learned to dress itself and perform magic." The letter advised Greg, through the extensive use of blood purist slurs and general profanity, that Greg was no longer to take tutoring from Hermione Granger. Moreover, he was somehow expected to keep his grades up despite the loss of the extra tutoring that had thus far kept him from being held back a year if not flunking out. He was also ordered not to associate with Harry Black "except when directed to do so by Cassius Warrington," an instruction that caused Harry to crook an eyebrow.
"House Goyle is allying with House Warrington?" he asked.
"I think so. House Nott paid our Wizengamot dues for this year, but I think Father sees the Warringtons as a way to get in with House Selwyn."
"Hmm," Harry murmured. Idly, he wondered whether the elder Goyle knew that Tiberius Nott was dead and Narcissa was acting as Regent through the fiction that he was just ill and bedridden. Then, he focused an intense gaze on Greg, who swallowed nervously without understanding why.
"How do you wish to proceed, Greg? I protected Amy as I promised I would, but I would have done that even if you hadn't agreed to spy for me. If you feel it might put you in danger to keep doing so, I won't mind if you stop and break ties with me."
"Well, I would!" Amy said hotly. "No offense, Greg, but Uncle Gregory and Aunt Agnes are beastly people. Harry, you helped me get away from the Goyles and Lord Nott! You've got to do something to help Greg too!"
Greg smiled and put his arm around Amy. "Shh. It's okay, Amy. And you know the Goyles aren't all bad. Just, you know, the ones I'm stuck with."
"Oh?" Harry asked, suddenly curious. "I'm sorry but I don't know much about your family. I'd assumed it was just you and your parents."
"Oh no! I've got loads of cousins, but they're from the lines that didn't stay Pureblood. Over a hundred years ago, there were three Goyle brothers. The eldest married a Pureblood, the middle married a Muggleborn, and the youngest snapped his own wand and went Muggle. I don't know any details about that, but that's why the Goyle's aren't in the Sacred 28."
"I've met a few of them," Amy told Harry. "Well, not the ones that went Muggle, of course. But Uncle Gregory is required to provide a stipend for any Halfblood Goyles because of the house charter. Only Purebloods can inherit the Lordship, though."
Harry rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Are you an only child, Greg?"
"I am now," Greg answered. "I had two older brothers, but they both died in the war before I was even born. Honestly, that's why I was born, I reckon. Father lost his heir and his spare, so he and Mother had me when they were nearly 40. Had to take fertility potions to conceive that late."
He chuckled. "Father says that's probably why I'm slow-witted."
"Greg!" Amy admonished.
"It's okay. I know I'm not smart. But … I think Hermione helped me. I'm gonna miss that."
"Greg," said Harry. "I'm pretty sure I could arrange for you to study with Hermione, or someone else, without Warrington and that lot knowing. Do you want me to try?"
The boy swallowed nervously. "I … I don't know. I think Vince is watching me for the Warringtons. Or maybe just for my mother and father. The Goyles and Crabbes have always been close."
"You think Vincent might actually be spying on you?" Amy said aghast. "I thought he was your friend."
Greg shrugged. "We grew up together, and our parents basically told us to become friends. Vince does what he's told and I, well, never had the nerve to say no."
"So, you and Crabbe aren't really that close?" Harry asked. Goyle shook his head.
"I remember growing up," Amy said slowly. "Whenever Vincent and Drusilla came over, you made me play with her but didn't want me around when you played with him. Why was that?"
Greg licked his lips nervously at the question. "I just didn't want you around him, okay? I worried about you."
Harry folded his arms. "Greg, do you mean to say you thought Crabbe might try to hurt Amy?"
The larger boy opened and closed his mouth a few times as if trying to decide how to answer the question.
"Vince … likes to hurt things. Small animals, I mean. One time, I went to play at his house, and he had this rabbit …" Greg shuddered and his voice trailed off at the memory. "He hides it fairly well. But I think at some point, he might move up to people. The other day, he got really excited about Moody's lecture on the Unforgiveables. And he told me he really wanted to learn the Cruciatus someday."
Amy looked horrified, but Harry merely nodded as if filing the data away for future consideration.
"Let me think about this, Greg. I'll figure something out."
Moments later, he and Amy were walking down the corridor away from Goyle's room.
"You're going to help him, right?" Amy asked quietly.
Harry snorted. "Of course. You should have realized by now that I'm unable to resist a wounded stray."
The McAvity Hearing
Monday, 8 September 1994
Despite both the personalities involved and the contentious nature of the subject matter, the Ministry's interview of Alexander McAvity went surprisingly well. The notorious Australian wizard answered all of Amelia Bones' questions concisely but forthrightly. And in any case, by the time of the hearing, the Aurors who had investigated the World Cup attack had issued their report and concluded that the terrorists involved were likely neither Death Eaters nor Australian insurrectionists, but some third party.
"A third party, eh?" McAvity replied amiably. "And who does the Ministry want to pin all this on if not myself?"
"Alexander," Dumbledore chided.
"It's a fair question, Albus," said Amelia. "As it happens, the Death Eater traitors—Peter Pettigrew and Augustus Rookwood—are still at large. Pettigrew apparently has some preternatural ability to influence werewolves, who were part of the assault. Rookwood is a master at occult brainwashing techniques, and at least some of the attackers appear to have been actual Muggles compelled to attack the tournament."
McAvity crooked his head. "You just said that the terrorists were neither Australians nor Death Eaters, but you also think the masterminds were Death Eaters. How does that work?"
"We do not exclude the possibility that the few remaining Death Eaters at large played a role in the attack. But the attackers themselves were not Death Eaters. The actual Death Eater movement was based on blood purism, and You-Know-Who would never have countenanced both Muggles and werewolves being allowed to wear Death Eater robes. And certainly not allowed to combine Death Eater robes with Muggle trainers while using Muggle guns."
"Hmm, seems a bit thin to me," McAvity replied. "What makes you so sure that some fourteen years after Lord Thingy's unlamented demise, his remaining followers haven't become more openminded about employing werewolves and even Muggles?"
"Oh for Merlin's sake, McAvity!" snapped Barty Crouch. "Are you trying to sink the deal that will allow you and your people to finally return home? We are taking the position that two former Death Eaters were behind the attack and that we will continue to pursue them and bring them to justice, but the incident was in no way the fault of the Australian visitors or of you in particular. However, if you want to press the issue, our fallback position is to start trying every Australian caught at the scene, including you, before the Wizengamot. Do you want that?"
The other man rolled his eyes. "Of course not, Director Crouch. My apologies for not acknowledging the … political implications with which you must deal. I am grateful for your government allowing me and my people to return home at last."
"Well, your people at least," said Dumbledore. "As it happens, should you wish to stay a bit longer, you are certainly free to do so." Then, he looked pointedly towards the Chief Auror and Director Crouch. "Isn't that right, Amelia?"
Amelia Bones took a deep breath before producing a parchment which she handed over to McAvity. "It is. Now that you are exonerated from any involvement in the Quidditch World Cup attacks, I am at liberty to present you with this."
McAvity took the paper and scanned it. His eyes widened.
"General Amnesty? What?!"
"The statute of limitations on the offenses of which you were accused ran out many years ago," said Amelia. "But the Wizengamot took the position that, in light of your movement's anti-government activities, your choice to flee the country tolled the statute until such time as you returned."
"But," added Dumbledore, "the Ministerial Decree of November 1981 granted a general amnesty to, and I quote, 'all persons accused or suspected of insurrection against the government who have not been convicted and sentenced on or before 30 November, 1981, except in cases of murder, destruction of public property, Grade IV or higher breach of the Statute of Secrecy, or use of an Unforgiveable.' Publishing an academic paper under a false name is not among those listed exceptions, and the decree does not, by its terms, limit itself to persons suspected of serving Voldemort. As I was preparing for this meeting, I remembered the rather broad terms of the decree and realized that those terms would apply to you as well. And while Minister Fudge initially expressed disapproval, I persuaded him that acknowledging the grant of amnesty and blaming it on his deceased predecessor might be an effective means of smoothing things over with the ICW. So, congratulations, Alexander. Your banishment is at an end."
McAvity stared at the Headmaster while, across the table, both Bones and Crouch looked distinctly unhappy about this development.
"I have been granted a general amnesty," McAvity said slowly, "pursuant to the same poorly drafted decree that allowed an untold number of Death Eaters to escape justice?!"
And with that, the man burst into laughter. Amelia frowned at his response, while Crouch looked like he'd bitten into a lemon.
"Well, well, well," McAvity said while wiping a tear from his eye. "This is certainly unexpected. But while I appreciate the gesture, I have a new life now in Australia. You may inform Minister Fudge that I have no plans to repatriate to Ole Blighty. I'm sure he'll dance a jig when he hears the news."
"I'd thought as much," Dumbledore said. "But be that as it may, I was hoping we could persuade you to stay a little longer in an official capacity."
"Oh? And why is that?"
Crouch finally spoke up. "Hildegard Büstenhalter is down with Spattergoit."
McAvity stared at the man in confusion. "Well … that's … unfortunate, I suppose. But also unresponsive to my question. Who's Hildegard … Büstenhalter?"
It was Dumbledore who answered.
"She is the newly appointed Junior Mugwump from Unified Wizarding Germany. And I believe, Barty, you'll find that the woman's name is Ermengard Burkhalter."
"I'm retiring at the end of the Tournament, Albus. I don't have to learn anyone's name anymore. Burkhalter, Büstenhalter, what difference does it make?"
"Well for one thing, Crouch," McAvity said, "Büstenhalter is the German word for 'brassiere'. It might behoove you to learn which is which before you meet her in person."
"Which I don't expect to do on account of the aforementioned Spattergoit."
"Which brings us back to the point," Albus said with some asperity. "Ermengard was to represent the ICW at the Triwizard Tournament. Due to her present illness, they are scrambling to find someone else to take her place."
"And I'll wager that, for most of the Mugwumps, dropping everything and trekking to Scotland to gladhand at a high school academic competition is not considered a desirable appointment."
"Admittedly, it presents … logistical issues for most of the available Mugwumps. But since you are already ensconced here at Hogwarts …" Dumbledore's eyes gave their customary twinkle.
"The Supreme Mugwump thought it would be a good idea for me to hang about for the better part of a year just to look good at press events?"
"No one's asking you to hang about, McAvity," Crouch said pointedly. "Assuming you even want to act as the ICW representative, I'm sure it would be satisfactory for you to return to Australia and then come back just for the opening ceremony and the three challenges."
"Yes, well, I do so love International Portkey Travel. I hardly ever even vomit anymore. Buuuut … Headmaster, if I accept the ICW's request, might I prevail upon your hospitality for the duration?"
Dumbledore sighed. "In light of the circumstances, I suppose it would be for the best for you to stay at the castle."
"But not under house arrest this time, right?" McAvity clarified. "I mean, I'm back in Britain for the first time in over a quarter-century. Will I be able to come and go as I please? Visit my hometown? Renew old acquaintances? Maybe take in a show at the West End?"
Then, he turned towards the two Ministry officials.
"Perhaps give a few speeches and lectures here and there?"
McAvity thought the lookon Crouch's face was absolutely priceless.
About thirty contentious minutes later …
As the four exited the conference room Dumbledore had set aside for the hearing, they found an unexpected figure waiting for them: Alastor Moody.
"Now that yer little inquisition is over, I need to talk to you three. Not you, McAvity."
"I'm wounded … Mr. One-Eyed-Man-I-Don't-Know."
Albus stepped forward to make the introduction. "Alexander, this is Alastor Moody, retired Auror and Hogwarts DADA professor."
"Moody, Moody," McAvity muttered as if trying to dredge up a memory. "I remember you now! You were Head Boy my Sixth Year! I didn't recognize you at first … for obvious reasons."
Then, his brow furrowed in thought for a second before he broke out into a broad grin. "Hang on, didn't you arrest me at some point as well?"
Moody snorted. "January 1964. Disorderly conduct, breach of the peace, holding a rally without a permit. Not holding a grudge, I hope."
"Not at all, Professor Moody. In fact, I recall you showing great professionalism, especially in comparison to those Hit Wizard thugs Randolph Parkinson sent around to bust our heads."
"I was just doing my job, McAvity."
The other man laughed. "And so were the Hit Wizards. They just had a different job than you."
With that, McAvity bowed respectfully to Amelia Bones (and pointedly did not bow towards Crouch) before departing for his rooms. Once he was gone, Albus addressed Mad-Eye.
"What did you wish to speak to us about, Alastor?"
"I have a proposal for you three. A little something for the DADA program. Albus, Amelia, I'll need both of you to sign off on it. Barty, I need advice from you about the best way to go about teaching it."
Amelia adjusted her monocle. "And what exactly do you plan to cover in your DADA classes that requires approval from the Auror Corps?"
Moody regarded all three of them, but his magic eye remained fixed on Barty Crouch for some reason.
"Unforgiveables. Specifically, the Imperius Curse. I want to offer lessons in how to resist it to any interested students. Which means I need someone who can cast the damned thing, since I can't. Also, legal permission for that someone to cast it on consenting students, and probably a Mind Healer standing by to make sure whoever casts it doesn't start to enjoy it too much."
"I cannot count the ways that could go badly, Alastor," said Bones. "The Death Eater Laws are no longer in effect. Aurors do not have permission to cast the Imperius at will. No one does."
"Oh, that's not true and you know it, Amy," Moody growled. "The Auror Academy includes training in resisting the Imperius, and that means trainers who can cast the Imperius. We all know perfectly well that unlike the Cruciatus and the Killing Curse, the Imperius can be resisted, but you've got to learn how. I know at least five Aurors who are legally permitted to cast the curse on trainees for educational purposes."
He turned to focus his attention on Barty Crouch. "I believe that was a program that you put into place back in the day, right, Crouch?"
Barty glared sullenly at Moody in response.
Later that evening, just after midnight …
Harry Black jerked upright in his bed with a loud gasp. It had been a nightmare—or, if not a nightmare, then a very disturbing dream of some kind—but he'd already forgotten whatever it had been about. It was a source of considerable frustration to the gifted young Occlumens that his usual eidetic memory didn't seem to apply to dreams. Harry made a mental note to ask Snape about how the psychic arts interacted with dreams. This was the third time since returning to Hogwarts that he'd woken up unexpectedly like this, and it was getting old.
After his breathing returned to normal, Harry summoned his wand to turn on the lights in the room. Then, he picked up the empty glass he kept on his bedside table and filled it with a quick Aguamenti. But as Harry lifted the cup to drink, he froze as something unexpected caught his attention. He put the cup back down and then rolled his left sleeve up. To his surprise, there were strange markings on his arm that had definitely not been there when he'd gone to bed. Even stranger, the marks appeared to be some kind of writing. They were fading rapidly, but he could definitely make out several letters from the alphabet—H…PL…R..—though the rest were illegible.
"Mark?" the boy called out. There was a sudden itching sensation as the partial Dark Mark he'd accidentally acquired the previous Christmas slithered up his back so that its head was close to Harry's ear.
"Yesss, my massster?" Mark hissed.
"By any chance, do you know what the hell is happening to my arm?"
"I believe, Massster, that thisss is the resssult of a metamorphic change you have performed on yourssself reverting to your true ssshape. The effect on your ssskin feelsss sssimilar to the consssciousss changesss you have made to your form on occasssion."
"Wonderful. Bloody wonderful. Now, I'm shapeshifting in my sleep. Good thing I have a private room, I guess."
He looked back down at his arm. The letters had all faded completely now. His skin was unblemished there.
"It looked like … writing of some kind. Any idea what it said?"
Mark gave an odd pseudo-hiss that Harry recognized as an expression of both confusion and amusement.
"Regretfully, my massster, while I have retained many ussseful skillsss incorporated into the creator'sss Dark Mark, literacy wasss not one of them."
Despite himself, Harry snorted at Mark's droll response. He wasn't entirely sure, but he was coming to suspect that the snake tattoo was developing a sense of humor that mirrored his own. Harry wiped his hand over the spot on his arm where the letters had been. Nothing remained now.
"Mark? The next time I'm asleep and start changing my form, do you think you could wake me?"
"I can hissss loudly in your ear, my massster. Would that be adequate?"
Harry shrugged. "I dunno. We'll try it and see how it goes. Obviously, don't do anything like that if I'm asleep and there are others around who might see or hear."
"Obvioussssly, my massster."
Harry exhaled and finished his water before turning the lights back out and returning to sleep, He slept fitfully but uneventfully.
From the next morning's Daily Prophet
9 September 1994
DARK LORD McAVITY EXONERATED BY MINISTRY!
By Andrew Smudgley
In a development that has sent shockwaves through much of the Ministry and the Wizengamot, Chief Auror Amelia Bones this morning announced that all prior legal charges had been dropped against Alexander McAvity, the Muggleborn Dark Lord who was banished from Britain decades ago due to his association with the "Mudblood Pride" movement of the 1950s and 60s. More specifically, McAvity was widely believed even after his banishment to be the mastermind behind AMPA, the "Alliance for Muggleborn Pride and Acceptance," though Lord Abraxas Malfoy famously asserted that it actually stood for "Alexander McAvity's Private Army." A violent Muggleborn terrorist organization, AMPA plagued Britain in the late-60s before it was eclipsed by the far more dangerous Death Eater Insurgency, a political movement which itself was born in response to Muggleborn violence against wizarding society. Regardless, AMPA was responsible for a number of terrorist attacks before its dissolution, most famously the assassination of Lord Cantankerous Nott, Jr. Though McAvity and the other leaders of his movement denied any responsibility, the group was also accused of the 1960 bombing of the Marriage Contract Registry Office. Among those killed in the bombing was Elaine Crouch nee Doge, Chief Registrar for the office and wife of then-DMLE Director Bartemius Crouch.
Later that morning in the Great Hall …
Daphne slapped the newspaper down on the table hard enough to make the nearby dishes rattle. Annoyed at her own loss of poise, the Greengrass heiress looked around the Great Hall to see if anyone had noticed her display. Her anger only grew when she noticed Hermione Granger on the far side of the room. Despite the distance between them, Daphne could still clearly see that the Gryffindor was looking straight at her.
"What has you so worked up now, Daphne?" Tracey asked while idly buttering a scone.
"The Dark Lord McAvity has somehow been cleared of all the charges against him. Worse, he's actually being allowed to remain in Britain as a political guest!" Mr. FinchDaphne glared at the girl who'd always been like a sister to her. "I'm surprised you don't already know, Tracey, now that you've thrown over the CPS for Granger's little insurgency group. This travesty has her fingerprints all over it."
The blonde Slytherin just laughed. "Insurgents? That's ridiculous!" She tore off a bit of her scone and popped it down before continuing. "Almost as ridiculous as the idea that a Hogwarts Fourth Year could do … well, whatever you think Granger's done now, I suppose. Do you really think that a Muggleborn, even one at the top of her class, has the ear of Minister Fudge or Chief Auror Bones?"
"Why not?" Daphne practically snarled. "She's done a good job of turning you against me and my family!"
Tracey sighed and shook her head. "Daphne, I haven't turned against you or House Greengrass. But I'm a ward of your family, not one of your house elves. I will always be grateful for what your parents have done for me and my Mum. But I am allowed to have my own interests. And that includes an interest in that part of my magical heritage that I've ignored for too long."
Daphne's eyes narrowed. "What part of your magical heritage?"
Tracey smiled almost sweetly. "What else? Mudblood Pride!"
From a letter dated 10 September 1994
To: Mr. Finch-Fletchley, Miss Granger, and the members of the Society for the Prevention of Abusive Magic
It is with great regret that I must deny your request to have Alexander McAvity speak before your student group. Unfortunately, word of the request somehow made its way to the Board of Governors who rather hastily passed a resolution stating that outside lecturers must have Board approval before being allowed to speak at Hogwarts. While I still have authority (with some limitations) on the hiring of actual staff members and teachers, the Hogwarts Charter is silent on this specific matter and so my hands are tied. Rest assured, I will continue to press the matter at future Board meetings.
On another note, my congratulations to Mr. Finch-Fletchley on his election as the new president of your organization. I'm certain he will do an excellent job.
Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
A private room at the Leaky Cauldron
15 September 1994
Bellatrix Black (or Delphini White, as she was presently identified) fell back onto her side of the bed, completely out of breath. Lying next to her, Bill Weasley was just as drained from their mutual exertions. Bill was still young and thus an exuberant lover, while "Delphini" had years of experience combined with a newly rejuvenated body. Over the last week, they'd been asked twice by management to keep it down, and finally, Bill had put up his strongest Silencing Ward over the room.
"I shall miss this," Delphini said as the afterglow faded, "when I'm back in Australia."
Bill frowned almost petulantly. "I wish you didn't have to go."
"I know, darling," she replied. "But I've just started my Defense Mastery with Buck. The Ministry is finally allowing us to leave, and where he goes, I must follow. You know what Masteries are like."
And as a curse-breaker, he did, but it didn't make the thought of parting any easier.
"Do you think we'll ever see each other again? With you in Australia and me floating between London and Cairo?"
She shrugged wistfully. "Who can say what the future holds, poppet. These past few weeks have been some of the best of my life, and I don't think I will ever forget you. But you and I lead very different lives and expect very different futures. And then … there's the age difference to think of."
Bill gave a laugh. "Delphini, you are easily the most mature eighteen-year-old I've ever met. Certainly, a lot more mature than I was at your age."
She smiled at that and kissed him gently on the lips.
"Bill, darling, you have no idea."
They talked some more and kissed some more. As Bill started to get dressed, they made plans for a final good-bye dinner that evening. Gallantly, Bill insisted on treating her to Summerisles, as he'd set back a little money for a special occasion. She was to depart the next morning along with Buck and the other Australians who'd been barred from leaving the country since the conclusion of the World Cup.
After her lover had departed, the witch picked up her wand and very carefully cast a Charm just over her abdomen. Ghostly sigils appeared in the air before her. The results were positive.
The expectant mother's face lit up in delight.
27 September 1994
"Okay," said Theo. "Let me see if I've got this straight. Five times in the last two weeks, you have woken up in the middle of the night from increasingly disturbing nightmares that you don't remember when you wake up and with what appear to be random letters on your arm created by some kind of subconscious Metamorphmagery."
"Yep," said Harry. "Any thoughts?"
"Only the obvious one: Have you asked Regulus about it?"
Harry frowned. "Of course. He's never heard of such a thing as 'sleep-shapeshifting' and says that any use of Metamorphmagery requires active concentration. He recommends taking a light dose of Dreamless Sleep before bed and making sure I never sleep in the same room as someone who doesn't know my secrets. Otherwise, he says to ignore it unless things get more serious."
Theo shrugged. "Sounds like good advice."
"Maybe so, but I still want to know what you think about it."
"Uh, why? I'm hardly likely to think of something you haven't thought of."
Harry stared rather intently at the other boy. "What is that supposed to mean? You're clever!"
Theo chuckled. "Yeah, but we both know I'm not as clever as you. You're the Prince of Slytherin. I'm just here for moral support and occasional martial arts training. Speaking of which, you're slacking on your morning katas."
"How did you …? Never mind. Anyway, where is this coming from?"
"Harry, you know perfectly well where this is coming from. You just don't want to admit it. Deep down, you don't think I'm as clever and intelligent as you are. Certainly not to the point of coming up with a viewpoint you hadn't already considered."
"That's not true! Remember back in Second Year when you figured out how to communicate with the Hydra Throne when I couldn't?"
"Yes. And your response was not to compliment me on my own cleverness but rather to berate yourself for not thinking of what was in hindsight an obvious solution."
Harry looked at his friend thoughtfully. "Theo, I … I had no idea you felt this way."
"Oh yes you did," Theo answered with a grin. "Otherwise, we wouldn't be talking about it right now. Anyway, you've never been condescending to me over it. Well, not too condescending, anyway. And you do think that I bring valuable skills to Team Harry. But being clever enough to help you think of a solution you couldn't come up with on your own isn't one of them. And you also know that I'm fine with that kind of friendship."
"Well … I'm glad of that, at least. And for what it's worth, I'll try to be less condescending in the future. I really do value you as a friend. In fact, I honestly see you as more of a brother than Jim and always have."
"I know. And I'm deeply grateful for you stepping into that role when Alex couldn't. No matter what our last names are, we're family. Blood of the covenant and all that."
Harry smiled at that. Then, he gave a deep sigh and closed his eyes. When he opened them five seconds later, Theo No-Name was gone, and only Harry's reflection was there to look back at him from the mirror in his dorm room. He turned away and returned to his writing desk. On it was a sheet of parchment bearing the words Advocatus Diaboli followed by a list of names. He shrugged and marked through the first one before putting the parchment away in a drawer.
He would give it some thought and try again in a few weeks.
4 October 1994
"Good morning, all!" said Dolores Umbridge cheerfully as she strode into Auror HQ. "I come bearing gifts. Or more accurately, invitations!"
"Dolores! Er … I mean, Madam Umbridge!" exclaimed Pius Thicknesse at the sight of the witch. "What a pleasant surprise! What brings you here today?"
Nearby, Aurors John Dawlish and Victoria Savage glanced at each other and fought down the urge to roll their eyes. That Pius and Dolores had been dating for the last several months was an open secret in the Auror Corps, but the two lovebirds still tried to maintain the fiction of a purely professional relationship. Savage briefly allowed herself to contemplate whether the two had progressed to "the next level," but then, she suddenly had the mental picture of Pius and Dolores having sex. Probably in a bed with pink satin sheets decorated with a cat motif given Umbridge's current fashion preferences. Savage couldn't remember the last time she'd seen the woman wearing neither something obnoxiously pink nor something decorated with a feline in some fashion. Today, Madam Umbridge ticked both boxes with a bright pink handbag adorned with dancing black cats.
"I'm here with your invitations to the opening ceremony of the Triwizard Tournament, of course," Dolores answered, unaware of Auror Savage's inner monologue and fashion critique. "I have tickets here for the Chief Auror and the three Senior Aurors, and a 'plus-one' for each of you as well."
Umbridge batted her eyes at Thicknesse, obviously expecting him to invite her as his 'plus-one' even though the Undersecretary already had a ticket for herself. Pius blushed slightly and made a mental note to ask her officially to accompany him later that evening. This time, Dawlish did roll his eyes.
"So why are we all invited to some academic decathlon at Hogwarts?" he asked aloud. "I thought Hogwarts would turn its defenses against any Aurors who show up unless its part of a murder investigation."
"Happily, I found a loophole in the Hogwarts-Wizengamot Treaty of 1704." Dolores explained, "Ministry personnel of sufficiently high rank can visit Hogwarts for diplomatic events with the Headmaster's permission. Senior Auror is a high enough rank, the Tournament is considered a diplomatic event due to all the foreigners in attendance, and Dumbledore has already given his blessing. As to the why, the Minister is concerned about the possibility of something … inappropriate happening at the opening ceremony. Of the two visiting schools, Durmstrang is currently run by a former Death Eater and draws from nations that support blood purity, while Beauxbatons is, well, French. The Minister is concerned that with McAvity in attendance, extremists on both sides of the Muggleborn Rights issue might cause some mischief, and so he sought a pretext to have the four highest ranking Aurors on hand to deal with any problems."
"Madam Umbridge," said Chief Bones from the door to her office. "If you would step into my office, please. I know the bare outlines of what the Minister wants from us, but I wish to go over these treaty provisions that you say will guarantee our safety before I commit the Corps."
"Of course, Chief Bones. I have all the information right here." Dolores patted her (bright pink) handbag which contained all her research notes, among other things. Amelia nodded and returned to her office with Umbridge following behind. Pius watched Dolores depart with a slightly goofy smile on his face.
"Well, it's no secret who Pius here will be taking!" Savage said with a laugh. "And I've never had any problem getting dates. What about you, Dawlish? Do you think if the whole Corps works together, we can get you cleaned up to the point that someone will come to the party with you?"
Dawlish sniffed disdainfully at Savage's teasing.
"Not that it's any of your business, Savage, but I've got a date already. You see, I've been dating someone for several months now. I just don't let my personal relationships bleed over into my professional life like some other people I could name. As it happens, we've gotten rather serious and have been talking about moving in together."
"Good for you, Johnny!" Pius exclaimed. "Who's the lucky witch?"
Dawlish gave Pius a sour expression.
"Leonard," he said somewhat defiantly before heading back into his private office. Pius's eyebrows rose in surprise at his fellow Senior Auror's revelation. Victoria, who had known of Dawlish's orientation if not the fact that he had a boyfriend, just shook her head. To her own annoyance, she was now mentally picturing a different pair in bed together.
From a letter dated 8 October 1994
My dearest Countess Zabini,
I have received your letter regarding your attendance at the opening ceremony of the Triwizard Tournament and your desire to have dinner together, and I should be delighted. I must protest, however, your stated intention to stay at the Three Broomsticks Inn for the duration of your time in Great Britain. While a fine establishment in its own right, the Three Broomsticks is far below the standards to which you must be accustomed. I have discussed the matter with my Heir, and on his behalf and my own, I cordially invite you to reside at Blackstone during your stay. From here, we can both travel to Hogwarts together by Floo, as I shall be attending the opening ceremony as well.
I look forward to your response.
Sirius Orion Lord Black
Blaise Zabini's room
Two days later
"Dammit, Mother," the boy muttered angrily as he read the letter that had just arrived from Italy, though no one else was around to hear.
The Office of Minerva McGonagall
14 October 1994
"Thank you for meeting with me, Miss Granger," said the Deputy Headmistress.
"You're welcome, Professor," said the young Muggleborn, who still had no idea what the meeting was about.
"I have what might seem an unusual request to make of you, Miss Granger. As you know, the visiting students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will be arriving very soon. We had planned to accommodate 10% of years Four through Seven from each school, but due to the … unpleasantness during the Quidditch World Cup, each of the two schools has decided to send fewer students to address concerns from parents. Beauxbatons will be sending fourteen students, while Durmstrang will be sending nineteen. Most of them will be Sixth and Seventh Year students, but each school will be sending a smaller number of Fourth and Fifth Years. We had planned on appointing several upper-level Hogwarts students to act as representatives of our school and assign each of them to a group of visiting students, but with the smaller number of visitors, we've rethought that plan and will instead be assigning ambassadors one-to-one."
"Sort of like a buddy system?" Hermione asked.
"Yes, I suppose so," replied McGonagall, who was unfamiliar with the Muggle term. "I've asked you here to see if you would be willing to be one of those Hogwarts representatives."
"Of course!" Hermione answered brightly. "And I speak French and Italian, so that should make it easier with any Beauxbatons students from either of those countries."
At that, McGonagall's face pinched slightly. "Yes, well, about that … as it happens, I've asked to meet with you about this separately because … we've had a request for you in particular to be the chaperone for one of the Durmstrang students. Specifically, Viktor Krum, who you might have heard of already."
Hermione blinked in surprise. "Viktor … Krum? The Quidditch star? I don't understand. First, I have no interest in Quidditch, and second, well … does the Headmaster at Durmstrang know I'm a Muggleborn?"
"That's another reason why I wanted to speak to you about this matter privately. You see, the letter I received containing this request did not come from Headmaster Karkaroff. It came from a Durmstrang student. Specifically, Draco Malfoy."
24 October 1994
It had been an exhausting day, as Hogwarts was turned upside down in preparation for the arrival of the visiting students the next morning. The excitement of the Triwizard Tournament was at a fever pitch. As a result, Harry fell asleep mere moments after getting into bed. There was only one change to his normal evening preparations—tonight, Harry slept bare-chested. His preparation was rewarded. At around 2:00 a.m., the boy shot up in his bed from a nightmare about falling from a very great height to the sound of Mark hissing loudly just below his ear.
"Massster! Quickly! The messssage on your arm!"
Instantly, Harry held out his hand, and his holly and phoenix feather wand jumped into it. Without even turning on the lights, he raked the wand-tip down his arm while uttering a spell. The letters that were still visible flew off his arm and into the air, catching fire as they did through a variation of the Pyrologos Charm. Harry stared intently at the flaming letters that hovered above his bed as if willing them to make sense. They didn't, but he thought the first three letters at least gave a clue: HJG.
"ACCIO COMMUNICATION PARCHMENT. ACCIO QUILL." Both items flew into his outstretched hand. By the light of the floating letters, Harry could see that the original message on his arm had already vanished, but the copy he'd made endured. He tapped the quill against the enchanted parchment and began to write.
Seconds later, up in Gryffindor Tower, Hermione awoke to the sound of a chime from her bedside table. She turned on the lights and picked up the parchment to read the message.
Harry: Hermione, wake up! It's important!
Hermione: I'm up. What is it?
Harry: Does this mean anything to you? HJG: PLZ & TY R MGC WRDS.
The young witch studied the cryptic message with a furrowed brow before replying.
Hermione: At a guess, I'd say it means "Hermione Jean Granger says, 'please and thank you are magic words.' Which is an odd thing for me to say in a coded message."
Harry: Any idea what that means?
Hermione: It's a Muggle expression. Something you tell small children to remind them to say 'please' when asking for something and 'thank you' after getting it. Have you never heard that before?
There was a pause.
Harry: Yeah. I remember now. A teacher said something about that when I was eight or so. Then, that night, Dudley ordered me to do something, and I said, "What are the magic words?" And then Vernon … Never mind. Not important. Thanks Hermione! See you tomorrow!"
Hermione looked at the message thoughtfully. Whatever that had been about, she'd find out from Harry in the morning. But after she turned out the lights and laid back in bed, she was struck by the odd timing of their exchange, as it echoed the dream she'd been having when Harry woke her up. The details were already fading, but it seemed to involve her, Harry Black, and Luna Lovegood traveling together in the gondola of a hot air balloon. Not a normal hot air balloon, of course, not with Luna involved. No, the balloon part was shaped like a balloon animal that was large enough to support the gondola. A giraffe, she thought, though it was bright green instead of a giraffe's normal colors. The three friends had been talking while enjoying the vista from the balloon that floated half a mile above a scenic valley below, though Hermione had already forgotten what they'd been talking about. She only remembered reminding Harry of the Muggle expression 'please and thank you are the magic words.' Then, Harry became very excited and promptly jumped overboard seemingly to his death (though for some reason neither Luna nor Hermione were very concerned).
She wondered briefly what the symbolism of the dream might mean before falling back to sleep.
Thirty seconds later
Lucius Malfoy awoke instantly in response to the blazing silver light illuminating his bedroom, and with a twitch of his hand, his wand flew across the room into his grasp. Then, he blinked in surprise at what had awoken him: an enormous silver snake Patronus.
"Mister Malfoy," said the snake in the voice of Harry Black. "I'm sorry to wake you at this hour, but I must come through immediately. It's about the box."
The Patronus faded away, and Lucius frowned in annoyance. There was only one "box" that mattered to them now: the orichalcum chest that had been retrieved from the Gaunt Shack the previous summer. He gestured with his own wand. "EXPECTO PATRONUM."
Seconds later, it was Harry's turn to be surprised by the arrival of a Patronus while he was pulling on a shirt. Specifically (and perhaps appropriately), the Patronus came in the shape of a large silver peacock with its brilliant plumage on full display.
"Malfoy Manor will be accessible from the Prince's Lair in exactly five minutes. And I expect results if you're going to wake me at this ungodly hour of the night."
As the Patronus faded, Harry pulled on his bathrobe and left his bedroom to creep down to the Lair. He threw a pinch of Floo powder into the fire before stepping into the fireplace and emerging in Malfoy's ancestral home. The Lord of the Manor was already waiting for him, still in black silk pajamas and a brocaded green bathrobe. Despite the lateness of the hour, his hair was immaculate. Harry was jealous but pushed the emotion aside.
"My apologies for calling so late, Mr. Malfoy, but … well, there may be 'Harry weirdness' at play, and I thought there was a possibility that I might forget the password."
"Which is?" Lucius asked expectantly.
"Well … I think it's 'please and thank you' or something along those lines."
The man crooked a dubious eyebrow.
"It's a Muggle expression," Harry said hastily before explaining the phrase's meaning.
"Hmm," said Lucius. "Well, that is not an expression that would have been used by my parents during deportment lessons. Still, Erasmus Wilkes was something of a Mugglephile—if only to know how best to kill them—and that does sound rather like his sense of humor. Let us try it out."
He gestured towards a nearby table where the orichalcum chest was already waiting. Harry stepped forward and softly hissed.
"Pleassse and thank you."
And, almost anticlimactically, the box unlocked with an audible click. Harry's excitement that the impregnable box and the Horcrux within were finally accessible warred with his anger that it had taken so long. He should have guessed please and thank you as Wilkes's "magic words" on the day that they first found the chest. Unfortunately, however, his only memories of the Muggle phrase were associated with a nasty burst of violence from Vernon Dursley, and so the incident had been locked away in Harry's memory palace.
Lucius took a single step towards the table and the gestured with his wand. Nothing happened. Lucius frowned at the reminder of orichalcum's anti-magical properties. He then retrieved a poker from the fireplace and gingerly used it to open the lid. Happily, nothing evil jumped out to attack them. The two Slytherins leaned forward to look inside. Within the box was a velvet lining with depressions to hold two items: a simple brass key and a garish-looking ring with a clunky misshapen black stone set into it. Lucius quietly muttered the Horcrux identification spell, and ghostly sigils manifested above the box.
"It's the ring," Lucius said quietly. "The Gaunt Lord's ring, I expect."
He gestured again with his wand, and the key floated out of the box and came to rest on the opposite end of the long table. The wizard moved to that end to cast additional identification spells.
"Interesting," he muttered. "While not a Horcrux, the key is also magical in some way."
"The Toymaker did say that there was more than one 'treasure' inside the box," Harry said. "Maybe the key leads to Wilkes's hidden vault. Is it safe to touch?"
Instead of answering, Lucius concentrated and cast a very complex spell on the key. In response, a large array of runes manifested in the air above the ring. To Harry's surprise, he recognized them as Elder Futhark, though the array was far more complicated than the simple arrays he'd been studying in Ancient Runes.
"Hmm," said Malfoy thoughtfully. "There are only two enchantments on the key. One is a nasty and frankly ridiculous curse on anyone who touches it who is not of House Wilkes, so it should be safe for you. The other one is far more interesting and complex. I cannot immediately divine its specific purpose except that it invokes Wizardspace. Which might explain why no one can find the missing Wilkes vault. It simply does not exist in the physical world unless accessed with the key."
"Okay," Harry said. "A key implies a lock. So, is there a particular door I need to open with it? And if so, where is it?"
"I've no idea," Lucius replied. "That information is not part of the array."
Harry frowned and then looked back at the floating runes. "Wait a minute. There's a spell that lets you just pull out the runes on an enchanted object and see what spells are on it?"
"Naturally. You will learn the basic version of the Charm when you begin NEWT level Ancient Runes, but that version is easily defeated if the enchanter uses a separate spell to encrypt the rune scheme. Decrypting an encrypted rune scheme such as this one requires an advanced version of the spell that is only taught to licensed curse-breakers."
"And you, apparently," Harry said pointedly.
"Every wizard has his price," Lucius responded with a wry smile.
"Uh-huh. And what's the price for you to teach me that version?"
Lucius looked thoughtful for a moment. "Well, this spell is not proprietary to me. And we are allies in the quest for the Dark Lord's Horcruxes. Two-hundred Galleons and an oath that you will not reveal who taught you a legal but severely regulated spell."
"Done." Harry reached over and, after a second of hesitation, picked up the brass key. Nothing terrible happened, but he did feel a slight vibration from the Lord's ring he wore, one which confirmed that this key could only be handled by a member of House Wilkes. He put the key into his robe pocket.
"So," Lucius said. "The Horcrux next. Did you bring the Basilisk venom?"
Harry winced. "Sorry, no. It's in the safe back in the Lair. I was in a hurry and still half-asleep when I came through."
"Well, go back and get it!" Malfoy said irritably. "I have a fragment of the Dark Lord's soul in my house—again!—and I want it gone at once!"
Harry nodded and darted over to the Floo before passing through to the Prince's Lair. Lucius watched the flickering flames for a moment. But then, he stiffened at the sound of a soft whispering voice, one he'd not heard for years but knew he would never forget.
"Luc," whispered the long-dead Christina Fenwick.
Lucius whirled around and glared at the box on the table and the cursed ring inside it. Christina's voice sounded once more. "Luc," she said. "Come to me."
Malfoy closed his eyes and concentrated on his Occlumency.
"I am iron. I am diamond. I am steel. I am Malfoy," he whispered softly but urgently. "I am iron. I am diamond. I am steel. I am Malfoy."
Malfoy opened his eyes again, and, to his shock, he had somehow crossed half the distance to the table without even realizing that he'd been moving. He began to shout his mantra out loud.
"I AM IRON. I AM DIAMOND. I AM STEEL. I AM MALFOY."
But, despite all his will and concentration, he took another step towards the ring. Desperately, he tried to call for a house elf to save him, but for some reason, he couldn't remember any of their names.
"I AM IRON! I AM DIAMOND! I AM … I AM … HARRY!"
Meanwhile, in the Prince's Lair, Harry had just opened the safe and removed the flask of Basilisk venom when he had a sudden flashback to that awful night in Grimmauld Place when he just barely managed to destroy the Locket Horcrux before it drove Regulus to suicide. Suddenly, the boy was filled with concern over leaving Lucius Malfoy alone with one of the foul things. Concern became panic when he heard a scream from the fireplace. He snatched the Black Wand as well and then darted back through the Floo only to find his worst fears made manifest.
Lucius Malfoy was on the floor with his back to one of the table legs screaming in agony. The Gaunt Ring was on the ring finger of his left hand, and the hand itself had turned black! Harry rushed to the older man's side, setting the flask of venom on the table as carefully as circumstances allowed. He reached to pull the ring off Lucius's finger, but the man pushed him aside.
"W-wand," Lucius gasped. "N-n-need … wand!"
Harry looked around the room wildly and saw the man's wand with its distinctive serpent-head handle lying on the floor just a few feet away. He reached out his hand, and Malfoy's wand jumped into it. Harry passed the wand to its owner who grasped it in his right hand. Then, Malfoy thrust that arm out to the side, almost knocking the boy to the ground. He said no incantation, but he did let out a primal scream as a thin bolt of fire shot out of the wand. Alarmed, Harry jerked back out of the way as the stream of flame hit a painting on the far wall, setting it ablaze.
By now, Lucius's left hand seemed to be rotting, and the black discoloration had begun spreading down his arm. It had nearly reached the Dark Mark, and the snake tattoo had begun to writhe as if afraid of the approaching curse. Or perhaps excited that the curse would soon kill Lucius for his betrayal.
With a sharp movement and a bestial roar, Lucius snapped his wand back towards his left arm, and the jet of fire, now behaving like a flaming whip, wrapped itself around the arm between his elbow and the Dark Mark. The former Death Eater screamed again at this new agony and then jerked the wand away. In response, the fire whip tightened until it cut through and severed his arm completely. The arm flew off, and Harry had to dodge yet again to avoid being struck in the head by the rotting appendage. It landed on the floor palm-side up with the Dark Mark exposed, just a few feet away from the fireplace.
"Summon … Severus…" Lucius gasped. Harry could only gape at the blackened, cauterized tip of Malfoy's arm stump, but he pushed through his panic and fumbled for the Black Wand.
"EXPECTO PATRONUM!" he cried out. Amigo, Harry's snake Patronus, appeared, and the boy barked orders to it.
"Go to Severus Snape at Hogwarts! Tell him to come to Malfoy Manor at once. Mr. Malfoy has been cursed and injured!"
Amigo nodded and then disappeared in a flash of silver light. Harry jumped up and ran for the Floo to open it for Snape's imminent arrival. Then, he darted over to the burning painting and extinguished the flames before returning to Lucius's side.
"My arm … my arm," the man moaned weakly. Harry tried to console the man.
"I know, sir. It must be agonizing. But Professor Snape will be here soon."
Lucius's head snapped towards Harry, who was surprised to see that his agonized expression was replaced with one of pure anger. Before the boy could react, Lucius reached up with his remaining hand and slapped the boy across the face!
"MY ARM! YOU FOOL!" Then, he pointed towards the fireplace. Harry turned to look in that direction only to freeze in shock.
"No … way," he said in disbelief as he slowly rose to his feet.
The severed arm was about three feet away from the Floo. But it had somehow flipped over palm-side down. The ugly ring was still on the blackened ring finger. And as Harry watched, the fingers stretched out and dug their nails into the fabric of the rug before contracting to pull the whole arm forward. Then, it did the same thing, again and again, dragging the arm inch by inch towards the open Floo.
"Oh no you don't!" Harry exclaimed angrily. He ran to retrieve the flask of Basilisk venom before carrying it over to the still moving arm. Then, he pulled out the stopper and tipped the flask over. Pure Basilisk venom rained down onto the Horcrux ring and the hand that bore it. The hand spasmed wildly before the familiar gout of black smoke emerged from the ring. Harry stepped back quickly and winced at the terrible screams that emanated from the dying Horcrux. Finally, the smoke faded away.
Harry exhaled deeply. "It's done. The Horcrux is destroyed."
And it had been, along with the severed limb that had borne it. Only a pile of blackened ash in the rough shape of a man's forearm remained in the center of a large hole in what had been an antique rug.
"Along with your rug," Harry added ruefully. "Was it expensive?"
"Persian," Lucius said in a raspy voice. "Seventeenth century. I'll add it to your bill."
Just then, the green flames in the fireplace shot up as Severus Snape stepped through and took in the scene.
"Congratulations, Black," he said. "I honestly can't think of anything sarcastic enough to be worthy of this ridiculous tableau."
Harry shrugged weakly. "… Thanks?"
Moments later, after Severus had performed basic first aid, he and Harry relocated the semi-conscious Lucius Malfoy back to his bedroom. There, Snape began rummaging through the potions bag he'd brought with him while addressing Harry over his shoulder.
"I will attend to Lucius's condition as best I can before I return to Hogwarts. I will also summon Andromeda Tonks. But you should depart at once. You will have a stressful day tomorrow."
"More stressful than this?" Harry inquired.
"Perhaps," Snape said acerbically. "The Durmstrang students arrive tomorrow. As punishment for your role in this … incident, I am delegating to you the task of explaining to Draco how his father became an amputee!"
Harry grimaced at that before returning to the Floo. But just before he could reach for the Floo powder, his attention was drawn to the pile of smoking ash that lay on the floor nearby. He moved closer and knelt beside it. Then, he pointed the Black Wand at the ash and cast an Aguamenti followed by a Scourgify. The ash was washed away and the area around it cleansed. All that remained was a pebble that appeared to be the same irregular stone that had been set into the Gaunt Ring. But now, it was pale grey instead of black, its prior color apparently due to some kind of lacquered coating that had been eaten away by the Basilisk venom. Harry nudged the stone gently with the tip of his wand before finally picking it up with his other hand. He turned it over and then gasped.
Etched into the stone were three markings: a circle, a triangle, and a straight line. The sign of the Deathly Hallows.
As Harry studied the stone in amazement, he couldn't help but recall Serena Zabini's words from just a few months earlier during their fateful meeting in a Paris cemetery.
"If it is your destiny to reunite the Hallows and become the Master of Death, then in time, the Hallows will come to you."
After a long moment of silent contemplation, Harry dropped the stone (no, the Stone) into his robe pocket alongside the mysterious key and stepped through the Floo into the Prince's Lair. Once there, he returned the Black Wand and the key to his safe and, after a brief hesitation, he placed the Stone there too, carefully setting it as far as he could from the Cloak. He closed the safe and finally returned to bed, though sleep did not come for a long time.
The Department for the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts
25 October 1994
James stepped into the cramped office with a cup of coffee in his hand to find Arthur already at his desk as usual. Perkins, of course, was late.
"Good morning, James," said his boss with his normal good cheer. "There's a package and a letter that came for you just a few minutes ago. They're on your desk."
"Thanks, Arthur," James replied.
He drained the last dregs of his coffee before banishing the cup back to the Ministry canteen. Then, he sat down at his desk and opened the letter first. To his surprise, it was an invitation to the opening ceremony for the Triwizard Tournament on 31 October, along with a note from Amelia Bones. Apparently, Minister Fudge wanted to arrange a security detail of some kind for the opening ceremony even though Hogwarts defenses would not tolerate the presence of Aurors or Hit Wizards on the premises. Dolores Umbridge had already found one workaround by getting tickets for the Chief and Senior Aurors as diplomatic attaches for the night. And it seemed she'd found a second workaround as well: Ministry personnel who were the spouses of Hogwarts staff did not trigger those defenses, which meant James could attend as well. As far as he knew, Lily was the only Hogwarts staff member to be married to anyone at the Ministry. He made a mental note to send his wife an owl letting her know to expect him. It would be nice to see Lily and Jim during the school year.
Then, he turned to the package, which, from its shape, appeared to be a gift-wrapped book of some kind. He opened the attached card first.
I wanted you to have this first edition. Consider it a token of gratitude for everything you've done for me over the years.
James frowned. The Potters and especially Jim had gotten very good coverage from Rita Skeeter over the last few years. Well, until everything exploded the previous May. Then, he remembered that in the first few years of his marriage, her coverage had been decidedly not good, as she'd regularly painted Lily as a gold-digger, himself as a callow fool taken in by her, and both of them as unfit parents for the Boy-Who-Lived. Then, Peter had talked to her, and her coverage changed overnight to almost fawning. In fact, James had seldom spoken one-on-one with the notorious reporter, with Peter handling that role for the last decade or so. Suddenly and inexplicably nervous, James quickly unwrapped the package.
It was indeed a book. The cover depicted his family crest cracked in two beneath the title "The Fall of the House of Potter" and Rita Skeeter's name. James trembled slightly as he opened the book and began to read.
Harry headed down the corridor towards the Great Hall, still groggy from the previous night's exertions and still wondering how he was going to break the news of Lucius's injury to Draco when he arrived in a few hours with the Durmstrang contingent. To his surprise, Harry was met near the entrance by an anxious Neville Longbottom.
"Harry! Are you okay?!" the Gryffindor said urgently.
Confused and wondering how on earth Neville might have known about what had happened at Malfoy Manor, Harry responded hesitantly.
"Um, yeah, I think so. What's going on?"
The other boy licked his lips nervously.
"Harry, have you seen the Daily Prophet yet?"
Before Neville could answer, there was a sudden commotion from inside the Great Hall, and Harry was quite certain he could hear Jim Potter screaming obscenities. He stepped past Neville into the Great Hall to see that everyone was talking excitedly. And then, a disturbing percentage of the students immediately stopped talking and turned to stare at him. The silence was broken by a bellow from Jim.
"IS THIS YOUR DOING, HARRY?! HAVEN'T YOU DONE ENOUGH TO US?!" he screamed while Ron and Hermione tried desperately to restrain him.
Utterly confused, Harry reached over and snatched the newspaper out of Neville's hand and then took in the front page. It featured an unflattering picture of his mother beneath a shocking headline:
LILY POTTER: THE MUGGLEBORN MURDERESS!
Lily stepped into the Headmaster's office and froze. Dumbledore was not alone. She took a second to put on a brave face.
"You sent for me, Headmaster?"
"At my request, Lady Potter," said a smug-looking Corban Yaxley, Head of the DMLE. Beside him stood three Hit Wizards. "I'd like to ask you a few questions about … Vernon Dursley."
Next: The Dursley murder investigation gets under way, the foreign students arrive, Hermione has questions, and Draco gets the bad news!
AN1: Check out the Sinister Man's web presence on the POS wiki, the POS TV Tropes page, and my Discord server (through which you can see advance previews of this story as it is being written). Also, the Sinister Man would be profoundly grateful if you checked out my P*****n page and supported my original fiction. Patronage is not necessary to get the free POS previews via Discord.
AN2: What the Sinister Man is reading:
A Brother's Second Chance by Moonfly7 (AO3): An interesting (so far) mashup of WBWL and time travel fix-it What makes it interesting is that it's the WBWL who's the time traveler, and he's come back after learning too late in the original timeline that Harry's the one needed to defeat Voldemort.
Enough Is Enough by AnonymousMagpie (AO3): In response to the First Year backlash from killing Quirrell, Lily's magical protection becomes self-aware. And it strongly disapproves of Dumbledore's dubious efforts to keep Harry "safe." Also, check out some of AnonymousMagpie's other AO3 works as well.
Advocatus Diaboli by GuestofaGuest (FF.N): My first official spin-off! An AU retelling of Prince of Slytherin in a world where Tom Riddle never went bad, Lily and James divorced over his plan to send Harry to the Dursleys, and main antagonist isn't Lord Voldemort but Lord Norvegicus.
Finally, I don't recall if I ever rec'd The Black Family's PR Nightmare by ElphelbaLives (FF.N), but even if I did, I'm recommending it again because it's hilarious.
AN3: Special shout-out to all my Discord editors: likeasoapopera_Paryanoia, Aelia, Banshee, BaronVonRuthless91, BlueWater5, EssayOfThoughts | Aich, Idefix, iMplode nZ, Jiiti, Kangaroostorm, kean, Krisni, ohana, PrettyPinkCupcake, Rubric of Ahriman, Sakkiko, Sandyna (Melanie), and sehrrhes. Thanks, guys!
AN4: Vital Statistics: Reviews: 18,106. Followers: 20,019. Favorites: 18,213. Communities: 252. Discord followers: 5,343! Go Team POS!