It was an odd sort of mixed blessing, for Chaser, that Halloween fell on a Sunday this year.
On the one hand, it meant he could relax all day, without having to worry about classes or homework or anything, really. After all, he had all of his classwork done, mostly because he knew he wouldn't be in much of a mood to do it today, of all days.
On the other hand, he did not have classes to distract him from the date.
He was far from being the only student at Hogwarts who had lost one or both parents, of course. Even within his circle of friends, Susan and Neville both understood exactly where Chaser's mind was. They were, perhaps, more sympathetic, since the date their parents had died or been attacked was never turned into the closest thing to a national holiday Wizarding Britain had.
Hermione and Ron, neither of whom had direct experience like their friends, were still as supportive as anyone could ask. When Chaser made his way to the common room, he found the pair sitting near the fireplace.
Across from them, sitting on another couch, were their cats.
"Oh, hell," said Chaser, as he walked up. "They're planning something."
"When are they not, mate?" Ron said, his eyes still on the pair of cats.
Hermione had purchased her half-kneazle over the summer. Crookshanks seemed to dislike everyone except her mistress, which amused Chaser and Ron to no end. That change, of course, when Ron showed up to the Hogwarts Express with a cat of his own.
The Weasley family had visited Egypt to spend time with Bill, who had been assigned by Gringotts to one of the Nation's larger projects in that part of the world. Unfortunately, one of Bill's coworkers had been injured, and Bill was unable to spend much time with his family. So he had sent them gifts by way of apology, insisting that they accept. He did not have to tell them that the Goblins had started paying him more after the diary incident. Tracking down and neutralizing a horcrux - on a freelance basis, no less - is exactly the sort of thing the Nation looks for in its cursebreakers.
All of which is to say, Bill wanted to do something nice for his family, could afford it, and would not accept no as an answer.
Ron, who had not had a pet these past two years, got a credit at Magical Menagerie, the same shop that sold Crookshanks. There, he had found a particularly grumpy-looking breed of cat known as the Maine Coon. Despite being a muggle breed, the cat was obviously magical - at times, it seemed to walk through walls, according to the shopkeeper. Its size was attributed to a thyroid problem, though the cat seemed naturally large, and unbothered by the fact.
Once Ron got the cat home, its name was soon obvious, much to the twins' displeasure.
Hermione, having gotten used to her cat and Ron's seeming to plot, just rolled her eyes. "Crookshanks and Grudge are perfectly innocent, aren't you?"
The cats both focused on her for a moment, before returning to their lounging.
"I don't know, Hermione," Chaser said. "Grudge always seems innocent, right up until she's not."
"Remind me to tell you what she did to the twins, Harry," Ron said. "They know to leave her be, after that."
"Of course they do," Hermione said, firmly. "She's a queen, and she knows it."
"Meow," replied Grudge.
The three were still laughing when Neville and Ginny came down to the common room.
Despite being a Hogsmeade weekend, Spellforged had chosen to spend the day in the library with Erik, Luna, and Astoria. While the three younger Ravenclaws worked on their classwork, Spellforged was reading back issues of the Daily Prophet.
His father's comments about enemies had bothered him. Director Ragnok was known for being a pragmatic ruler, focusing on solutions rather than lamenting his problems. He knew, and had taught his son, that one rarely made the best decisions while angered. There would always be time for executing the enemies of the Nation after whatever damage they had done was mitigated.
While he had not told his son everything, as expected, Director Ragnok had been clear about one thing, as far as Spellforged was concerned - Bellatrix Lestrange was a risk to him specifically. Now, it was his task to find out why.
November 5th, 1981, Spellforged read. The infamous Lestranges were captured at a death eater safe house in Yorkshire, after their location was given to the DMLE by an unnamed source. When the trio was taken into custody, they were found with Auror Frank Longbottom and his wife, Alice Longbottom, both of whom had been incapacitated by multiple dark curses. While the investigation into the attack on the Longbottoms continues, DMLE sources expect additional charges to be added to the already lengthy list awaiting the three at trial.
An unknown fourth assailant remains at large.
Spellforged stared down at the Azkaban portraits of Rodolphus Lestrange, his wife Bellatrix, and brother Rabastan. Each raged at the camera, spitting silent bile at the guards and aurors who undoubtedly stood nearby. Sirius had explained that the guards would verbally insult the inmates during the taking of the official picture, specifically so that they would be angry when what is likely the last photo they ever appeared in was taken.
No one was ever happy to be sent to Azkaban, but the DMLE took no chances. It was one more indignity in a list of them, according to Sirius.
Of course, these three had deserved it, and more, Spellforged thought, as he read accounts of the trials, the horrifying list of crimes with which each had been charged. Spellforged grimly noted that this was only what the DMLE could prove - undoubtedly, the list of victims was much longer than anyone suspected.
The fourth assailant turned out to be the son of the DMLE Director at the time, one Barty Crouch. The man's last act, just before he resigned his post, was to ensure that his son was convicted and sent to Azkaban for life.
Spellforged compared the old stories with recent accounts of the escape from Azkaban. Rabastan and Rodolphus remained in Azkaban, which raised the question of why Bellatrix had not released her husband and brother-in-law during her escape. Barty Crouch, Junior, had died in his cell in early 1983.
Perhaps the method of her escape prevented her from bringing the other Lestranges along? According to Madam Bones, Bellatrix Lestrange's cell had been blown open from the outside. To do that, someone would have had to first know which cell was hers, then identify that cell from the outside of the prison, and then destroy an external wall of the prison with one shot - since that first shot would alert the guards, if it was anything powerful enough to breach the wards around the structure.
The debris from the escape had littered the empty cell, and some pieces of stone had had the prisoner's blood - meaning that she had been struck. They were found in the front of the cell, furthest from the window, which Spellforged realized (and which Madam Bones confirmed) meant that Bellatrix had been expecting something to happen.
Two days prior, the prisoner had been visited by an advocate who claimed to be reviewing her case. Which advocate, one might ask? None of the guards on shift knew. Somehow, the specifics of the man's identity went unnoticed. The guards could only testify as to the man's apparent gender, and the fact that he had seemed older than they. Though a prisoner, Bellatrix Lestrange was still a pureblooded witch - and, as such, was entitled to a confidential meeting with counsel, so the secrecy wasn't even strictly illegal.
So. Someone wanted Bellatrix Lestrange out of Azkaban. Why?
Something Seeker had said came to mind, and it seemed as relevant as anything else.
Who would want a death eater - and, particularly this death eater - loose at this moment. What did they hope Bellatrix Lestrange would do? And, most importantly, who did they expect her to target?
As he put the old newspapers back into the library's archive, Spellforged could not shake the certainty that he would find out - the hard way - very soon.
Marigold had skipped Hogsmeade as well. With a free afternoon, she usually would make her way to the Hospital Wing, filling her role as an apprentice to Madam Pomfrey. Today, however, she chose to spend the afternoon playing chess with Neville.
It was not as if Neville had had any real interest in Hogsmeade, for he had been to the village many times in his youth. His grandmother, Madam Augusta Longbottom, was a member of the Hogwarts Board of Governors, which would meet at the castle. Neville would find himself attending as well, though much of the discussion usually went over his head.
Now, however, Hogsmeade was not an option. His Gran had rescinded her permission the instant Bellatrix Lestrange had escaped, and Neville had not cared enough about the decision to disagree. In truth, he worried about one of his parents' attackers being free, but did not feel unsafe here in the castle.
Marigold had agreed, though her first Halloween feast had shown her exactly how imperfect the castle's security could be.
"Merlin," she muttered to herself.
"I told you, Marigold, you can just call me Neville," he replied, not looking up from the board.
"Prat," she chided him, smiling. "No, I was just thinking about the feast two years ago."
"Oh, right," Neville said with a nod. "That one time you incinerated a professor, how could I have forgotten?"
"You mean the time I defeated You-Know-Who, again, don't you?"
"Something like that," He agreed. He finally decided on a move, and the two then focused on their game for a few minutes.
"Everybody told me how brave I had been," Marigold admitted.
"It seemed that way, from the cheap seats," Neville said, using a muggle phrase she had taught him.
"Yeah, I can see how it might," she conceded. "The reality is that I just wanted to check to make sure the professor was alright."
Neville made another move, and then looked up at her. "If he was before, he wasn't after," he said, carefully.
"Yeah, that's just it, though," Marigold said, as she moved her remaining bishop. "He didn't start to burn up until I touched him."
Neville considered that, as he moved a pawn. "I wonder what caused that."
"All I've got is guesswork, nothing more," Marigold replied. The five had their theories, of course, and the fact that the same trick worked for three of them seemed definitive. But that wasn't something she planned to mention here and now.
"Shame," Neville said. Marigold looked up, and saw his unreadable expression.
"Why's that, exactly, Mister Longbottom?" she asked, uncertain as to his mood.
"Well, I mean, Check," he said as he moved his knight. Then he continued, as if the game had not interrupted. "You're not the only one with a mad dark wizard after your family, Mari," he said, quietly. "Only, mine's a witch."
"Nev," Marigold began, but the look in her friend's eyes stopped her.
"I just kinda wish Bellatrix would catch fire, if I got my hands on her," he said.
"I wouldn't worry about that, Neville," she said, trying to sound as reassuring as she could. "There's no way she'd come anywhere near the castle, not with the dementors about. Sirius told me that being near one would be the last place he'd ever want to be, having been in their care before. He thinks she would react the same way."
"We'll see," Neville said, and then they focused on the game once more.
The exchange stayed with Marigold long after the game ended in her defeat, and Neville went to put the chess set away before the Halloween feast.
"Why do we have a feast for Halloween, of all things?"
Rose Potter looked up from her book at the grousing first year.
"It's a muggle tradition, innit? Why does it matter to us? We're wizards!"
Rose closed her book, drawing their attention. The speaker, a pureblood named Ian Smythe, seemed to shrink back at her green eyes, as if expecting her to be angry.
"There are a few reasons, Mister Smythe," Rose said. "If you ask the professors, I suspect most would give you different answers, but you're welcome to try if you like."
A seventh year chimed in, as she walked past. "You mean you're not taking credit for the celebration, Potter?" she asked with a sneer. "Not proud of defeating the Dark Lord?"
Rose shrugged, not rising to the girl's needling.
"The Halloween feast has been going on for more than a century, which you'd know if you thought to ask," she said. "The ghosts are most talkative, when you get them going. You see, it was the ghosts who started flying through the Great Hall during dinner on All Hallows Eve, or what we call Halloween. The Headmaster made a celebration out of it, at the urging of the house ghosts." She eyed the girl, who now seemed to regret having spoken. "Long before my parents died to save my life, the last day of October was special in these halls."
"Cor," replied Smythe. "Even the Baron?"
Of course, he'd focus on the ghosts. "Yes, occasionally, though the Bloody Baron usually keeps to himself, as we all know." She leaned forward, and brought her voice low - and even then, knew that the whole room was listening. "He typically shows up only when Peeves tries to get in on the act."
Slythe's friends started chatting about what they might see that night, and Rose sat back in her chair, glad to have exited the conversation.
"That was well handled."
Rose looked up, and saw Cassius Warrington standing nearby, having watched the exchange.
She shrugged. "Nothing I said was untrue," she replied.
"No, of course not," he said. "But what you did say, and how you said it, led them exactly where you wanted them to go - which is to say, not talking about your parents." He saw her look of surprise, and chuckled. "Which, I can see, is exactly what you planned."
Rose shrugged again, not willing to admit that that had indeed been her plan.
"Usually," Warrington continued, "the firsties look up to the seventh years, by this point." He nodded toward the group surrounding Ian Smythe. "Now, I think they're going to look up to you, Miss Potter, as their example of the Slytherin ideal."
"Not sure I like that," she remarked, as she watched the first years.
"Not sure they care," Warrington said with a chuckle.
After the feast was ended, Seeker watched the ghosts finish their routine by chasing Peeves out of the Great Hall. The poltergeist had thought to add his own brand of cheer to the festivities by showering the students with finely aged pumpkins.
The twins, when asked, said that the pumpkins were softened so that they'd splat messily without injuring students unlucky enough to be hit. Fortunately, the pumpkins weren't allowed to rot like regular pumpkins left outside for too long. In short, Peeves had been planning this for a while.
The ghosts had been quick to give chase, and only a few students found themselves wearing a very different sort of pumpkin juice. A few quick vanishing spells took care of that. The laughter, however, was longer lasting.
Seeker was grateful that no one had brought up his parents this year.
As with Chaser's Gryffindor, Seeker found that the elves had been generous in sharing hot cocoa with his housemates. Almost all of the Lions had a mug of the beverage, in honor of James and Lily Potter. It had been a long tradition for Chaser and his father, since the drink had been Lily's favorite.
Seeker had no way to know if his Lily Potter had also enjoyed hot cocoa. But then again, he had no reason to suspect otherwise. Wherever she was, he hoped she appreciated the gesture for what it was.
Across the link, his siblings assured him that she would.
His eyes took in the Great Hall, and the laughing students at every table. Even the normally stoic Slytherins had been amused at the antics of the ghosts. A blonde head of hair caught his eye, and he found himself meeting the gaze of Daphne Greengrass.
To his shock, she lifted a brown ceramic mug, still steaming.
Before he could even think about it, he was lifting his own hot cocoa in return, in a brown mug identical to hers.
It was the smallest of gestures, almost certain to go unnoticed by the Slytherins. But the fact that she had joined him in honoring his parents?
That was priceless.
Just as the feast was about to end, however, he heard a string of Goblin cursing in his mind.
"Oh, shite," he muttered to himself.
"What's that?" asked Ron.
"Nothing, mate," Seeker replied. "Nothing at all." He raised his mug, still in his hand, and Ron followed suit. It was not always easy to live his life, but tonight Harry was thankful for his circumstances.
He did not envy Spellforged, this night.
Then he closed his eyes, realizing exactly what was happening to his Goblin brother. The events he was hearing could mean only one thing.
Marigold? He sent his thoughts to the link.
Marigold watched as most of the professors rushed out of the Great Hall. Professor Flitwick remained, along with Madam Hooch and Hagrid.
Yeah, she replied to Seeker's worried voice in her mind. It's happening here, too.
What's happening, exactly? Rose's urgent tone calmed her down, slightly, and she reported what she was seeing.
Flich came rushing into the Great Hall at the end of the feast. I couldn't hear what he said, but Dumbledore was angry when he heard it. Most of the professors rushed out after that, and Filch locked the doors. Flitwick is telling us to remain calm and quiet, which tells us everything and nothing all at once.
Spellforged spoke, then, and all of them could tell how angry he was.
Professor Flitwick just explained everything to Madam Hooch, and I had a good angle to read his lips, Spellforged said. The entrance to Gryffindor Tower was blasted open, and the portrait guarding it is missing.
Blasted open? Chaser's tone was incredulous. That'd take quite the curse. And what do you mean, missing?
Flitwick thinks that she was there when the attacker came, and left the portrait before the spell struck. Now she's hiding somewhere in the castle, so we don't know who attacked.
Oh, Seeker replied. I've got a pretty good idea.
Yeah, maybe, Rose said. That would make sense if she were attacking Marigold, but why would she attack Gryffindor if Spellforged is in Ravenclaw?
Would she know that he was sorted into Ravenclaw? Chaser asked.
I don't see how she wouldn't, Spellforged answered. It was news, here. The Boy Who Lived, sorted into Ravenclaw, rather than Gryffindor like his real parents? The Goblins must have led him astray, they said.
Sounds kind of racist, honestly, observed Marigold.
Enough that the editor got a letter from father, Spellforged said, his amusement at the memory plain even over the link.
So, Seeker said, bringing the discussion back around. We think that Bellatrix Lestrange got into the castle somehow, and broke into Gryffindor Tower. He paused, and then asked the question on his mind. Why?
Marigold reached over to take a drink of her pumpkin juice, and saw Neville Longbottom sitting across from her, watching the head table closely. She looked down, and saw him leaning against the table, turned in his seat for a better view.
She saw his fist clenched.
/Groznak/, Marigold thought over the link. Who do we know in Gryffindor, both here and in Spellforged's world? Someone whose parents fought the Lestranges, and who were ultimately crippled by them?
Oh shit, Chaser replied.
Yeah, answered Spellforged. /Groznak/ indeed.
Spellforged joined his housemates in one corner of the Great Hall that night, when the professors locked them in as the castle was searched.
He had spoken briefly with his Head of House, as the long tables were cleared away to make room for hundreds of sleeping students. The conversation had, as per usual, been relayed to the link, where Marigold was as surprised as the rest.
"Sir?" Spellforged had begun. "I know there was an attack, but the rumors don't make a lot of sense."
"Well, we can't have that, Mister Spellforged," Professor Flitwick answered. Then he levelled his gaze at Spellforged, and shifted languages. /I trust this will remain between us?/
/Of course, sir,/ Spellforged replied with a nod.
Flitwick returned the nod. /Someone broke into the Gryffindor Boys' dorm. That is where we are focusing our efforts./
/I see,/ Spellforged said. /Do we know how they got into the castle?/
/No,/ Flitwick replied. /We may have an idea how they escaped. They tried to break into a corridor on the Third Floor, and we found an owl feather there. A window further down was broken open./
Prompted by a suggestion from Rose, Spellforged passed it along. /An animagus, perhaps?/
Flitwick looked surprised - they had not considered that. /The main suspect is not known to be an animagus, Mister Spellforged, but the idea has merit./
/My godfather was not known to be an animagus, either, Professor,/ Spellforged replied.
Flitwick nodded again. /A good point./
After that, Spellforged had been sent back to his place with the other Ravenclaws, some of whom were more nervous than others. After the petrifications the previous year, it seemed that the students were waiting for the other shoe to drop - and a school-wide lockdown just proved them right to worry.
Luna met him as he walked over, and slipped him a note. Then she returned to her place near the other second years, giving him a chance to read it.
"Do your siblings have any ideas? Or are they sleeping in their dorms tonight?"
Leave it to Luna to cut right to the heart of things, Spellforged thought with a smile. He took a quill and quickly scrawled a response.
"Only MG. Same attack, same target, and nothing to be done from here."
Luna walked past not ten minutes later, dropping the note in Spellforged's lap.
"Give her my best. It's scarier for her, being her tower that got attacked."
Smiling, Spellforged met his friend's gaze, and gave her one firm nod. She smiled back at him, and turned back to her friends.
That left Spellforged with only his thoughts, and those of the link.
Luna sends her best, Marigold, he began.
Chaser's laughter could almost be heard over the link. I'll still never understand how she figured you out, Spellforged, he said.
Spellforged grinned at that. Honestly? Neither will I.
The five shared their thoughts on the situation, and on Neville's reaction to it. Spellforged did not have a good view of Neville Longbottom from his place at the opposite end of the Great Hall, but even his limited glimpses of the boy showed a very agitated Gryffindor. Marigold was spending much of the evening working with Hermione keeping Neville's mind off of things, and it was mostly working.
I hope they didn't hurt Trevor or Scabbers, Seeker remarked.
Trevor is Neville's pet toad, right? Rose asked. I remember him mentioning it. But what I want to know is who the hell has a pet named Scabbers?
Ron Weasley, Seeker answered.
Oh, really? Chaser replied. That's a shame. Here, he has a cat named Grudge.
Who names a cat Grudge? Rose sputtered.
It's a long story, Chaser said, not wanting to get into it right now. What kind of cat is Scabbers?
He's not a cat, Marigold answered. He's a rat. Ron got him from his brother Percy when Percy got an owl.
A rat? Spellforged asked.
A rat. Seeker confirmed. Lazy little bugger, but he's Ron's, so it is what it is. He paused, as if considering the attack. If Bellatrix Lestrange broke into the dorm, and only found a rat, would she kill it?
Oh, Chaser replied, I doubt it very much.
What makes you say that? Rose asked, in her 'You know something' voice.
Tell me, how did Ron get Scabbers? Chaser asked, his voice deceptively calm.
I dunno, give me a minute, Seeker replied. The link was silent as they waited for Seeker to find his answer. Ron says he got Scabbers from his brother Percy, who found him in their garden.
Right, ok, Chaser said. So when did Percy find him?
Another pause. He found him when he was six.
And he's a seventh year now, Rose said, doing the math. 1982.
Awfully old for a rat, Spellforged remarked.
But not for an animagus, Chaser replied. Peter Pettigrew, the man who betrayed our location to Voldemort, was a rat animagus. Dad killed him in my world, but in the others... His voice trailed off.
It was Marigold who spoke first, as the others worked through the implications of Chaser's accusation.
Bellatrix Lestrange isn't targeting Neville, then, she said, anger in her tone. She's looking for backup.
Seeker saw it differently. There's a bloody death eater living in my dorm?
Not for long, said Rose.
As Harry Spellforged was discussing the evening's revelations with his siblings, his Headmaster was conferring with his Deputy on the third floor of the castle.
"And the owl feather was found here, Albus?" Professor McGonagall asked.
"It was indeed, Minerva," the Headmaster replied. "Fortunately, the defenses held."
"Yes," she agreed. "But I'm more troubled by the fact that she even knew to look in the first place."
"It is a concern," Dumbledore agreed. "And the trouble is that I have no idea what to tell her. Your husband volunteered to host the spirit of Voldemort, forfeiting his life in the process? She knows he still lives, and her owls come right to the castle, as they would if he were still here."
"Which, of course, he still is," McGonagall finished.
Dumbledore waved his wand, and the oaken door swung open. The defenses on this door were substantial - far more so than they had been two years previous, when a certain first year managed to get past them unassisted.
Inside, behind three layers of wards, was the Mirror of Erised.
"Quirinus Quirrell was a fool, Minerva," Dumbledore said, quietly, as he walked up to the mirror. "But that does not merit a death sentence."
"He brought You Know Who into the castle, Albus!" McGonagall snapped. "He taught children with that thing on his head!"
"This is true," Dumbledore replied. "But learning how to separate the spirit of Voldemort from his next victim is worth the risk."
McGonagall sighed, even as she stood next to the Headmaster. "It's been two years," she said, her voice low. She did not look at the mirror.
Dumbledore did, however. There, he saw the frozen features of Quirinus Quirrell, trapped in the enchanted mirror at the urging of Harry Spellforged.
"We have contained the spirit of Voldemort, Minerva," Dumbledore said, his voice almost a whisper. "If it takes us twenty years to stop him for good, then twenty years it shall be."
A/N: NaNoWriMo has not quite gone as planned, but then - what has, this year? So, we're going to just go with it and keep writing as we can, as see what happens. Thank you all, as always, for your reviews and feedback.
If you're watching the current season of Star Trek Discovery, then you know why Grudge the Space Cat was the inevitable choice when Ron became a cat person. If not, then all you need to know is that Grudge is a queen. Full stop. No, this doesn't make Keystone Council a crossover. Even I have limits.
Bellatrix's motives are a bit clearer, here - but we still don't know why she really acted as she did. We know what the five suspect, of course, but only time will tell how right they are.
As for Quirrell, well. Dumbledore's original plan, way back in Book One, surely had some sort of endgame in mind beyond an unplanned Deus Ex Potter, yes? The idea that Dumbledore wouldn't attempt to use that chance to trap Voldemort is not reasonable, absent other considerations. As a lone wolf, trapping Quirrell allows Dumbledore to figure out the secret of how the Dark Lord survived at his leisure.
When the man has a wife, however, it becomes more complex. And mail owls, especially ones sent within the castle, are very very good at their job.
Stay safe out there.
Feedback, as always, is welcome.