In many ways, Dani Diggle was a contradiction.

She had spent her first years being taught at home, sometimes by tutors, but usually by her grandfather. Dani had always been allowed to let her studies go where her interests led her, since she did not have to follow a structure of exams and coursework. So long as she learned the material, she could study as she wished.

When she had tested into the fifth year, even though by age she should probably have been in the fourth, no one blinked. If you did not know her date of birth, you'd never realize how young she actually was.

It had worried her a bit, when she learned that she would be a year ahead. Colin Creevey had done a lot to put her at ease, and then Ginny Weasley and her other yearmates did the same. Even Harry Potter was supportive, something Dani had not expected.

In truth, however, it was Jamie Potter who had done more to welcome Dani Diggle than anyone other than Colin. That, too, was surprising, since he was a new student as well. They had first met over the summer, when the Headmaster brought examiners in from the Ministry. For Jamie, and his friend Trevor, they were administering OWLs. For Dani, the tests were more varied, intended to show that she was caught up to her prospective yearmates.

As they had waited for results, Jamie and Trevor had led her down to the kitchens, where the three had a light lunch. The elves did not enjoy serving an empty castle, and welcomed them with open arms.

When asked, Jamie told Dani that he had grown up on stories about the school - its history, its professors, and its secrets. For someone who had never set foot in the castle before that summer, it was clear that the lost Potter twin had a reverence for the institution.

He was also a skilled storyteller, as she learned that afternoon. Trevor chimed in, of course, but it was Jamie who carried the tale.

Now, months later, Dani Diggle was sitting at breakfast, watching as her fellow Gryffindors buzzed with nervous energy. The younger years huddled together in whispered conversations, speculating on the events of the day. The older years were doing their best to focus.

Dani had come prepared, with her coat and scarf. She would be supporting Jamie, though in truth she was not worried. She had seen him fly before, after all.

Quidditch Tryouts had not been this dramatic for Gryffindor in many years. With two graduated chasers, and two beaters who left the school rather dramatically the previous year, the team was expected to have a rebuilding year.

Dani glanced down the table, and saw Harry Potter speaking with Katie Bell. Her arm, severed during the attack on Diagon Alley, had been regrown, but it was still in a sling to keep it at least partially immobilized. She would serve as the team's coach, since she wasn't comfortable flying yet.

She had gotten lucky. The curse that severed her arm was her own, and lacked any dark magic. Luckier still, she had cast the spell before the cursed fire could reach her shoulder, which would have prevented the sort of regrowing charms that had worked so well. Most witches and wizards who lose limbs do so in battle, and the dark magic cripples them for life. Reattachment is a possibility, sometimes - but not when the severed arm is incinerated, as it had been here.

Katie Bell wanted to be 100% healthy before she flew in a game. Even if the professional scouts would understand her situation, she knew that she really only had one shot at a spot on a team. She fully intended to make the most of it.

Dani was excited - it was going to be much more fun than a Hogsmeade weekend. After all, she had spent a lot of time in the village, but she had never seen Quidditch tryouts.

oOoOoOoOo

By the time Katie and Harry saw the assembled crowd of Gryffindors, they knew what was happening. There were probably a dozen or so flyers with a shot at the team, based on previous years or skill. The rest just wanted to fly with the boy who lived.

Both of them, perhaps, thought Harry, as he noticed the second and third year girls gazing over at Jamie, who stood with Demelza Robins and Ginny Weasley, all three of whom were trying out for chaser.

It was odd, seeing some of the reactions he had gotten over the years now directed at Jamie. But it was just something the lost twin would have to deal with, if he planned to be on the team.

Harry and Ron began organizing the younger students into two teams. The sides would play a pickup game, with Katie refereeing from the stands. If anyone stood out, Katie would move them up to the formal tryouts. If not, they'd form practice squads to play against throughout the year. It would give the team a chance to practice under match conditions, and it would give the younger players time to practice against a more experienced side - something that would make them better prospects for future years.

Katie had done the math. Even if she played part of the year, she was graduating. Harry would be gone the following year, as would Jamie (if he made the team). Ron, a sixth year, would be competing against Cormac McClaggen, a seventh year, for keeper.

Gryffindor had been lucky to have a core group of seven that could stick together for a number of years - but now they needed to build for the future.

When the younger players took off, Harry waved Jamie over to the bench. There, Harry handed his brother a package.

"This was the best chaser broom I could find on short notice," Harry explained, as Jamie unwrapped the broom. "Everything local is backordered, since the fire."

The broom Harry had ordered was a Starsweeper XI. Jamie had never seen one, though he had read about them. All he knew was that they were not designed for quidditch.

He raised an eyebrow as he looked at his brother. "A quodpot broom?" Jamie asked.

Harry shrugged. "Good speed, precise control, everything you need to make the shot." He nodded toward the broom, as if presenting it. "If you can ignore the fact that it's American, I think you'll like it better than the Nimbus."

Jamie's eyes ran the length of the broom, taking it in. He was still surprised that Harry had gone to the trouble to order a broom in the first place. When he looked up, Harry could see the question in his eyes.

"I'm not going to be the one to stop you from making the team, Jamie," Harry answered. "You didn't ask for any of this, and neither did I. The best we can do is just move on."

Jamie frowned at that, but said nothing. Again his eyes met Harry's, and it looked like his brother was going to say something else. Before he could speak, however, a whistle blew.

"Alright, clear the pitch!" shouted Katie Bell.

Harry grinned, and inclined his head at the brand new broom. "Better take that for a lap or two, make sure you have a feel for it."

"Yeah, I'm on it," Jamie said, absently.

Harry nodded, and mounted his Firebolt.

"Harry!" Jamie called, just before his brother could take off.

"Yeah?" Harry asked, turning back to face Jamie.

Jamie held up the broom. "Thanks, Harry."

"Of course," Harry replied. And with that, he took off.

Trevor walked up as Jamie watched Harry warm up.

"He actually did it, didn't he?" Trevor remarked.

"Yeah, mate, he did," replied Jamie, looking down at the broom.

Trevor looked at his friend, and saw the uncertainty on his face. The doubts that had piled up over the past months, the tension between his parents and his brother, the lofty plans of the Headmaster. Everything.

"Oi," said Trevor. "Look up there."

Jamie followed Trevor's outstretched hand, and saw only the goals. "Yeah? What about them?"

Trevor sighed. "What do you see?"

"I don't know, Trev, why don't you tell me?"

"Fine," said Trevor. "What I see is the only thing that matters for the next hour or so. That goal. You fly your arse up there, take the quaffle, and score." He grinned, as Jamie looked back at him in a mixture of annoyance and amusement.

"That simple, eh?" Jamie sighed.

"That simple," agreed Trevor. "If it was any simpler, I'd actually be able to beat you."

Jamie turned his head, and looked up in the stands, to where several professors were seated. His mother's red hair was easy to spot.

"It's never that simple, Trev," he said, quietly.

"It better get real simple, real fast, Jamie," Trevor replied, still grinning. "Or else you're going to be the reserve player with the fanciest broom."

oOoOoOoOo

Draco Malfoy woke to pain in his shoulders, just as he had every night since the beginning of September.

It had been obvious, when the Dark Lord gave him this task, that no one expected him to succeed. Some even wondered out loud how long he would last, surrounded by the enemies of the Dark Lord.

Even the most pessimistic of death eaters did not expect him to fail on the first night. The Dark Lord certainly hadn't, and his anger was fuel for the cruciatus.

The next morning, when he came to, Draco was told that he had been under the torture curse for seventeen seconds. It had felt like years.

What he had not known about the cruciatus, and what no one had been brave enough to tell him, was that it was nearly impossible to sleep afterwards. Even now, weeks later, Draco could simply not find a way to lay down without aggravating his nerves. Nor could he brew the potions that might help alleviate his symptoms - not with his hands shaking like this.

Wearily, Draco stumbled through his morning routine, cleaning himself and preparing for the day. He nearly stumbled on the narrow staircase as he descended to the kitchen of the small Hogsmeade safehouse.

A plate of fruit and eggs was waiting for him, the stasis charm keeping the food fresh. A Malfoy elf was standing nearby, waiting for him. When Draco was seated, the elf poured a glass of water.

The sight of a familiar elf gave Draco some small measure of hope. He took it as a sign that he was not alone. He did not know that his father had ordered the Malfoy elves to obey the Dark Lord.

After his empty plate was cleared away, Draco finally looked at the box in the center of the table. He did not dare open it, for he knew what it contained.

It was his penance, the price of failure. Now, instead of being a spy and a thief, he was reduced to playing assassin.

Somehow, this cursed amulet needed to make it to the neck of Headmaster Dumbledore.

Wearily, Draco placed his head in his hands. One thought ran through his mind.

How the hell am I going to pull this off?

oOoOoOoOo

Chaser tryouts ended a few minutes early, when Demelza Robins was struck with a bludger. She managed to land, before passing out, to everyone's relief.

When she came to, she panicked. On her left, Harry Potter was leaning over her, making sure she was alright, while on her right stood Harry Potter, holding her broom and looking worried.

"Fuck me, I'm seeing double," she groaned, covering her eyes with her hand.

"Funny," Harry said with a laugh, offering his hand. "I said the same thing just this morning."

Once he had helped her up, Harry waved his wand and cleaned the dirt off of her quidditch robes. She sat down on the nearby bench as Madam Hooch checked her over for injuries. Other than being a bit shaken up, she was fine, but decided to go to the hospital wing as a precaution. Jamie agreed to take her broom back to Gryffindor Tower, and left soon after with Trevor.

Harry, meanwhile, mounted his broom and flew up to the stands, where he found Katie Bell waiting for him.

"You've got a hell of a squad, Captain," Katie declared, with a smirk.

"Seems that way, Coach," he replied. He inclined his head toward the now empty pitch, and gave her an inquiring look. "What did you think?"

Katie's smile faded slightly, as she considered the question. There was only one prospect he would be asking about, since he knew the styles and skills of everyone else who had tried out. "I think that we're really going to need that practice squad."

Harry winced, knowing how much more work that would be for her. "You saw it too, then?"

"Yup," she agreed. "He's never played with a full squad. Every time Jamie tried to run a play with Ginny and Demelza, he broke it up instead. His passing is weak, and he didn't have enough of a head about him to track the quaffle when he didn't have it."

Harry nodded. None of that was a surprise. "But?" he prompted.

"But, every single shot he actually took was on target," she admitted. "He nearly gave Mclaggen fits. Ron did a lot better, but then again he did better against everybody."

Harry nodded again, and looked out onto the pitch. "He grew up isolated, Katie. No wonder he flies solo."

"Not all the time," she corrected. "He and Trevor Longbottom are as close as you and Neville, if not closer."

"Yeah, and if Trevor had an interest in quidditch, I think you'd have seen a different side to Jamie today," said Harry. "According to Neville, Trevor enjoys flying more than he does playing the game. If Jamie hadn't been so eager to play, Trevor might never have bothered with it."

Katie frowned at that. "Your father was a chaser, wasn't he?"

For the briefest moment, Harry almost corrected her to 'biological father', but then he decided against it. It really didn't matter.

To Katie, he simply shrugged. "So I'm told."

"So," Katie continued. "The only voice in his ear was probably pushing him in one direction." She gestured out at the pitch. "We both saw him on that broom, he'd be a fine seeker if he put the work in like you have."

Harry raised an eyebrow. "Better than the current seeker?"

"Don't be daft," Katie scoffed. "Point is, he goes where he's led." She nodded toward his gleaming Captain's badge. "With the right leadership, he'll do fine."

"Here's hoping," Harry said, with a frown. "If he decides to listen to the wrong voices, it'll go badly."

"So," she replied, a playful tone in her voice. "Be the brother he needs, then."

"If he lets me," answered Harry.

oOoOoOoOo

After watching Jamie tryout for the Gryffindor team, and making sure that Harry gave his brother a fair shot, Lily Potter made her way down to Hogsmeade. As a new professor, she was required to assist with Hogsmeade weekends. Alice Longbottom had gone to the village with the first group of students, since she did not have a son competing that day.

In most cases, professors were required merely to be present in the village. So long as students could approach them as needed, professors were able to do as they wished. Alice had taken the opportunity to replenish some of her potions ingredients at the village's potions shop. Minerva would frequently visit the three broomsticks for a drink with her colleagues.

Today, Lily was having lunch with an old friend.

Since returning to the Wizarding World, Lily had been filled with doubts. She knew that the Headmaster had a plan, and that she and James - and Jamie - had an integral role in that plan. Yet still, she could not shake the feeling that events were spiraling out of her control. It was not a feeling she enjoyed.

Her friend was already sitting in a corner booth, and had ordered for the both of them. Even with the tryouts ending early, both women had known that it would be a late lunch.

She did not rise as Lily came to the table. Only when she was seated did her friend speak.

"Lily, you look like hell," said Andromeda Tonks.

Lily sighed, and took a sip of the butterbeer in front of her. "Thank you, Andi," she said.

Andromeda raised her own butterbeer in response. The older witch had been a Slytherin prefect in her seventh year when a very young Lily Evans had been sorted. Despite the house divide, she had become friends with the muggleborn Gryffindor, and that friendship had continued after Hogwarts.

Once she began working at Saint Mungo's as a healer, it was natural that Lily would see her. Most healers were pureblooded, and shared the usual prejudice against muggleborns. Lily had known that Andromeda held no such bias, as anyone who had met her husband could attest.

Andromeda had even delivered Harry and Jamie.

It was that relationship that had seen her recruited to provide healing services for a family in hiding, after the end of the war. Andromeda had been hesitant - she had wanted nothing to do with the war, after all, and celebrated its end - but Lord Diggle had been persuasive. He argued that she would be able to help a family in need, without compromising her values.

The unspoken message was that the family in hiding was not that of one of the death eaters who had fled to evade capture. That had been one of the biggest sticking points for Andromeda.

When he gave her a slip of parchment telling her about the estate at Falcon's Rest, she was intrigued.

When she arrived to find the Potters, she was shocked.

When she learned why she did not find all of the Potters, she was appalled.

Of course, then came the assurances. Harry was safe and healthy, she was told, and the fidelius charm had not worked out so well for the Potters anyway. They were not willing to risk both sons, when other options existed. Better to separate them.

Again, Lord Diggle had been most persuasive. Andromeda agreed to be oath-bound, promising on her magic never to reveal that the Potters lived.

As Lily and Andromeda ate their lunch, they talked about little of consequence. Lily talked about taking over the DADA position, and proudly described Jamie's performance at the quidditch tryouts.

It was nothing Andromeda had not expected, and she said so.

"Sirius told me that Harry was fully expecting his brother to make the team," she said, meeting Lily's eyes. Lily looked down, a brief look of guilt on her face.

"Jamie takes after his father when he gets on a broom," Lily replied, quietly, as she picked at her meal.

"Good for him," Andromeda replied. "It sounds like Harry is putting together a good team."

"I hope so," Lily said.

Andromeda took a sip of her drink, and sat back. "So," she began, "Can we talk about this like adults, or do I have to catch you sneaking out of the library for you to be honest with me?"

Lily's eyes widened at the comment, even as she smirked at the memory it brought to her mind. They had first become friends when Andi had caught her leaving the library too late to escape curfew. What's more, she never let Lily forget it.

It meant something, that she mentioned it now. To Lily, it said that she was speaking to Andi, her friend, rather than Healer Tonks or Sirius' cousin.

After a moment, Lily let her guard down.

"Sirius," Lily said, almost in a whisper.

Andromeda nodded. "Sirius."

"By the time we found out what happened, Andi, it was too late," Lily argued, halfheartedly.

"Too late for what?" Andromeda responded, without heat. "He could have been granted a hearing at any time, you know that. The Chief Warlock could have made it happen at will."

"And how would he learn about it?" Lily asked. "He'd have had to reveal his source."

Andromeda nodded, seeing the picture come together. "And he wasn't willing to do that."

Lily shook her head. "Too much was at stake, Andi." She looked up and met her friend's eyes. "Too much is still at stake."

"You've said that before, too," Andromeda remarked, as she took another drink. "I never quite understood that."

Lily sighed, wearily. It was obvious to Andromeda that the younger witch was under enormous pressure.

"You're one of my oldest friends, Andi," Lily said, almost desperately. "You delivered my sons, and you delivered Rose as well. You handed her to me, so I could say goodbye. You didn't have to do that, but you knew how devastated we were, so you did it anyway. You've always been there for me. Please, trust me now."

Andromeda paused as Lily spoke, her drink halfway to her lips. When Lily finished speaking, Andromeda slowly set her butterbeer down on the table.

"Lily, I've never turned my back on someone I considered a friend, and I'm not going to start now," she said, evenly. "I told you that long before you had me deliver the boys."

Lily nodded, clearly relieved.

"So understand that I want to help you," Andromeda continued. "in any way I can."

"Thank you," Lily whispered. "Thank you."

"And that's why you need to be honest with me, Madam Potter," Andromeda intoned, an edge to her voice. Lily's eyes widened as she saw that Andromeda now had her wand on the table, held lightly in her fingertips.

"Andi?" Lily said, alarmed.

"I need you to be straight with me, right now." Andromeda snarled. "Who the fuck is Rose?"

Lily paled visibly, even in the dim light of the Three Broomsticks.

"I remember every child I've ever delivered, Lily. Every single one. The ones who thrived, and the ones who didn't. You never had a daughter," Andromeda continued, coldly. "Explain."

Shock forced Lily to speak, even as her instincts were screaming at her.

"I… when we went into hiding, I lost the baby…" she said, in a whisper. "She was stillborn. We named her Rose. You handed her to me, and we cried over her together."

Whatever response Lily expected from her friend, it wasn't the one she got.

"...What the fuck…" Andromeda whispered, shaken.

oOoOoOoOo

For Ambrose Rookwood, it was a novelty to have a date to Hogsmeade. He had never been serious with anyone to the point of taking them on a Hogsmeade weekend. Often, he would skip the visits entirely, taking advantage of the free time to study.

Now, with Pansy Parkinson on his arm, he found that the weekend was much more enjoyable.

The two Slytherins had walked the village, as if they had no cares in the world. For the morning, that was the case. It felt as if the war had ignored the village, for there were no signs of the ongoing conflict in evidence. Even the few aurors he could spot had none of the tension he would have expected.

After lunch, Ambrose accompanied Pansy to some of the small shops that catered to the students of Hogwarts. Outside Honeydukes, they met up with Daphne and Astoria Greengrass, who were doing some shopping of their own. The two aurors following them were doing well to keep their distance, but still managed to make their presence known.

After all, it would not do to have anyone harm the Minister's daughters.

"Would you mind if I went with Daphne and Astoria?" Pansy asked.

Ambrose raised an eyebrow, even as he chuckled. "Girl stuff?"

Pansy nodded. "Girl stuff."

Leaning down, Ambrose gave her a kiss. "Have fun, then. I'll see you at dinner?"

"Of course," she agreed. Then Pansy gave him a kiss of her own, before walking over to the Greengrasses.

Ambrose looked over at the nearest auror, an older man named Gordon Drummond, and made eye contact. The auror nodded in silent agreement. Ambrose nodded in turn, knowing that Pansy would be protected if something happened.

He leaned against the shopfront and watched the girls as they went, smiling to himself. When they, and their guard, had turned a corner, Ambrose straightened himself up and walked toward the village gates. There, he helped Professor Sinistra keep track of the students entering the village, and those making their way back to the castle. Toward the end of the day, the prefects would know who the stragglers were, so that they could go look for them in the village.

A group of third years asked him for directions, which he gave. As he was distracted, he did not notice the student speaking with the Professor.

"Hey! Get back here!"

Ambrose turned, and saw a third year Slytherin darting away from the Professor. The boy ran directly toward the woods, heading in the direction of the Shrieking Shack.

"I'll take care of it, Professor," he told Sinistra. When she nodded in agreement, Ambrose Rookwood ran into the woods, chasing after the fleeing student.

oOoOoOoOo

It was not yet mid-afternoon, so there was plenty of light filtering through the trees. The leaves had begun to turn, but only just. In some ways, it felt like summer was lingering this year.

Despite that, Ambrose quickly lost the trail he had been following. It was as if the footsteps just ended. It was unnerving enough to force him to pull out his wand.

He did not hear the voice until it was too late.

"Imperio," said a young boy's voice, coming from behind. Ambrose felt the unforgivable curse wash over him, and fought it. But he had been caught by surprise, and the caster was powerful enough to assert his will.

Having been given no instructions, Ambrose froze in place, his wand outstretched but unused. He heard footsteps in the brush, and saw the student he had been chasing come into view.

"You will not reveal that you are under the imperius in any way," the boy said. "Acknowledge verbally."

Ambrose tried to clench his teeth together, to hold his breath, anything to fight the effects of the curse, to no avail.

"I will not reveal that I am under the imperius in any way," he said, in a conversational tone. After all, the forced drone of someone under the curse would reveal that he was under the curse, which he could not allow. It was one of the hallmarks of a caster unfamiliar with the nature of the imperius, and one of the chief weapons of the aurors in finding its victims.

So few understood that the telltale signs of the imperius curse could be hidden, merely by ordering it so. In the back of his mind, the part of Ambrose that was still aware filed that piece of information away. Whoever this was, they had access to polyjuice and knew quite a bit about the imperius.

"You will wait for one hour without being seen by any student or member of staff," the boy ordered. "Then, you will proceed to your post at the village gates. Remain there until five o'clock. Then, enter the village and go to the house at the address on this parchment."

The boy held out a scrap of parchment, and Ambrose did nothing.

The boy huffed in annoyance. "Take the parchment, lad," he said.

Ambrose took the parchment, noting the fact that whoever was before him was likely an older wizard, rather than someone around his age. He considered it unlikely that a witch would have polyjuiced as a wizard, though he could not discount any possibility at this point.

"When you arrive," the boy continued, "knock on the front door seven times. The man there will place you under his own imperius. You will obey his instructions completely. Acknowledge verbally."

Again, Ambrose fought the order. Again, he was unable to do anything other than obey. With clenched teeth, he repeated his orders. "I will wait for one hour without being seen by any student or member of staff. Then, I will proceed to my post at the village gates. I will remain there until five o'clock. Then, I will enter the village and go to the house at the address on this parchment. Once there, I will knock on the front door seven times. I am to obey the instructions I am given completely."

"Good," the boy said, with a nod. "You must understand, Mister Rookwood, that this is nothing personal."

Ambrose's expression remained even, but he saw an opportunity to fight back within the orders he had been given, and he took it.

"I understand that this is nothing personal," he recited, in the same voice he had used to repeat his previous orders. He had, after all, been told to acknowledge verbally.

His captor nodded. "There is far too much on the line to risk anything, you see."

"I see that there is far too much on the line to risk anything," Ambrose repeated.

"Good lad," the boy said. "Off you go, then."

"Off I go, then," Ambrose said, even as he turned and walked deeper into the woods.

After a few minutes, Ambrose found a quiet spot and sat down on a log to consider his situation. He had to obey his orders, that was undeniable. There was no way he could get someone to dispel the curse without revealing that he was subject to it - which would, itself, violate his orders. That was, after all, why it was so critical to give detailed orders.

More than a dozen death eaters had been caught during the first war, simply because they were lazy in their use of the imperius. Their victims were able to get themselves caught, and then were able to testify as to the identity of the one who cursed them. His father had told him stories about some of the more spectacular failures, each framed as a cautionary tale.

If you know your victim cannot disobey you, then give the orders that matter.

In this case, Ambrose had been ordered to keep the curse secret. He had not, however, been ordered not to think about it. So think about it, he did.

oOoOoOoOo

When he arrived back at the gates to Hogsmeade, Ambrose told Professor Sinistra that he had escorted the wayward student to the castle. She shrugged, knowing that the boy's name would be marked off the list at that end. The enchanted parchment she held would reflect the change, and that would be that. She did not ask the name of the student, because she didn't need to know - the problem was handled.

Ambrose, even as he played the role of prefect, thought about the fact that his captor had not even bothered to take on a real student's identity. He had looked at the list, and saw no third year Slytherin boys in the village. Which, of course, meant that the boy had not been a student. Did someone have random hairs, just in case they needed to polyjuice into a particular form?

He had also told Ambrose that this wasn't personal. What wasn't personal? Had he been targeted directly? He had assumed it was a death eater plot, but now he wasn't sure. None of the death eaters would have told him that it wasn't personal, simply because it was personal. He had rejected the Dark Lord, both by balking at his invitation and by sheltering Pansy.

The Dark Lord tended to take that sort of thing rather personally.

As the afternoon dragged on, Ambrose Rookwood came to understand the true reason why the imperius curse was declared an unforgivable curse. He was trapped in his own mind.

Every time he tried to assert himself, the curse brought him back in line. He simply could not disobey. This, for a wizard who prided himself on control, would have been enough to cause him stress.

He couldn't even exhibit stress, though. If his heart rate increased, if he began sweating or breathing heavily or what have you, it could be a sign that he was under the imperius. He had been ordered not to reveal the curse, by any means. So, his automatic responses to stress were locked down and suppressed.

This, of course, would be enough to put him on the edge of panic. But he couldn't even do that.

Ambrose Rookwood found the experience terrifying.

oOoOoOoOo

At the appointed time, Ambrose made his way to the house located at the edge of the village. He knocked seven times, as he had been instructed. Then he stood and waited, wondering who would answer.

When the door opened, Ambrose was surprised to find himself standing in front of Draco Malfoy.

"In, quickly!" Draco hissed. Ambrose, having been told to obey the instructions he was given by this person, entered the house.

"Are you under the imperius?" Draco asked, without preamble.

Ambrose turned to look at him. The Heir Malfoy was pale and tired, his hands shook, and his clothes seemed to be pieced together from whatever he could find. It made sense, especially if he had been punished for his fight with Professor Flitwick and subsequent escape from the castle.

It had been a decent ploy, sending a death eater in under polyjuice. It had even worked before. Once revealed, it would tell everyone that the Dark Lord could put his followers anywhere, as anyone. His enemies would question their closest friends, their allies, their families. Fear would reign.

Instead, the ploy had been exposed almost immediately. No, the Dark Lord would not have been happy.

Ambrose's orders were to not reveal the curse. He had not been told to say anything. So he didn't.

"Fucks sake, Rookwood, answer me!" Draco hissed, angrily.

Ambrose did not sigh - the curse prevented it. Instead, he obeyed.

"I was ordered not to reveal that I was under the imperius to anyone, in any way." he said.

"That's not an answer, Rookwood!" Draco snapped.

"I was ordered not to reveal that I was under the imperius to anyone, in any way." Ambrose repeated. He knew the answer would anger the death eater before him, but in that moment Ambrose Rookwood did not give a single flying shit about Draco Malfoy's feelings.

"You think you're so fucking clever, do you?" Draco snarled, as he brought his wand up. "Fine. Imperio."

Ambrose's eyes widened as the curse washed over him, for the second time that day. It was easier for Draco, Ambrose thought, because there was no resistance to the curse whatsoever.

One poorly understood fact about the imperius is that you cannot be placed under its effects by two different wizards at the same time. When Draco cast his curse, the earlier curse was released. If the caster saw Ambrose again, his magic would know that his own curse had been lifted, but that was unlikely.

Why polyjuice again and risk exposure? Half the reason for using someone under the imperius was so that they could act on your behalf.

Draco could, of course, remedy this by ordering Ambrose to follow all previous orders. Alas, he did not think about that.

"Stand still." Draco ordered.

Ambrose, who had already been standing still, complied.

Then he fell to the ground, when Draco Malfoy cast a banishing hex on his leg. It was as if his right leg had been kicked out from under him, which wrenched the left leg and sent him tumbling to the floor. Having been ordered to stand still, Ambrose could not even break his own fall.

"Lay there," Draco said, as he walked to a nearby table. "Let it bleed, you fucking know it all."

A box was tossed at Ambrose's feet. Having been told to simply lay there, Ambrose did not react. He could not even bring himself to turn his head toward the item.

"When I say to leave, go back to the castle, and take that with you," Draco ordered. "Do not be seen before you arrive. Act as you normally would. Use your prefect status to arrange a meeting with Dumbledore. Say whatever you need to say to make that happen. Once you are alone with him, give him the box and tell him to open it."

Ambrose thought about the instructions he had been given. As before, he said nothing.

"Well?" Draco snapped. "Why aren't you moving?"

"I was ordered to lay there and let it bleed," Ambrose replied in an even tone.

That earned him a kick to his left knee.

"Get up!" Draco shouted. Ambrose complied, wincing as his knee screamed with pain. He saw blood on the floor near where his head had lain, and wondered how frightful he looked. He had not been ordered to run a hand over his face, however, and so he did not.

"Take the box and go," Draco ordered, pointing at the door. "Get out of here."

Ambrose said nothing. He merely lifted the box from the floor, wincing again as he bent over. Then he turned and walked through the front door and into Hogsmeade.

oOoOoOoOo

Ambrose Rookwood thought about his situation as he walked through the woods, up to the castle. He was amused when he realized that this was the path he supposedly used to escort the missing third year Slytherin up to the castle that afternoon.

Here, it served another purpose. It allowed him to comply with his orders. He would not be seen before he arrived at the castle.

As he walked, he came to the conclusion that, unlike his earlier captor, Draco Malfoy was not an expert in the use of the imperius curse. If he was, he would not have ordered Ambrose to act as he normally would.

The Rookwoods were known for learning and keeping secrets. But that was only half of the story. No, what mattered more was how and when those secrets were revealed, and to whom.

Draco had told him to act normally. So, he would do exactly that.

In a stroke of luck, it was his Head of House at the castle entrance, checking in students. Septima Vector glanced at him as he approached, and looked down at her parchment. Then her eyes snapped back up, as his appearance registered.

Ambrose had straightened his uniform, as he normally would. He had not, however, cleaned his face. He had, after all, been told to let it bleed.

"My word, Mister Rookwood, what happened?" Professor Vector asked, as she hurried over to him.

"We're going to need to speak with the Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress, Professor," Ambrose replied.

"Of course," Vector said, with a worried expression on her face. "What happened, exactly?"

"I'd rather wait, Professor," he replied, hoping that she took his tone as weariness, rather than growing panic.

It took only a few minutes for Headmaster Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall to arrive, as they both had been in the Great Hall. Vector led them to a nearby classroom, where the professors watched as Ambrose set his wand down on the Professor's desk at the front of the room. Then he crossed to the other side of the room and took a seat.

"Well, Mister Rookwood?" asked McGonagall, clearly annoyed at having been pulled away from dinner. "What is this all about?"

Rookwood smiled, having felt part of the curse fall away as he completed his orders. Certainly, no one would have expected him to get a meeting with the Headmaster this quickly, but his approach had been effective nonetheless.

Of course, no one would have anticipated what he said in that meeting.

"Professors, it's like this," Rookwood said, politely. "I seem to have been placed under the imperius."


A/N: Welcome to 2022.

Y'all, I have thoughts about the imperius. Perhaps that comes from growing up with the classic Robot novels of Isaac Asimov, where giving precise orders avoided all manner of mischief. Here, a simple "Don't get caught" can have the full weight of magic behind it, and the victim would be compelled to aid their captor. A skilled caster, like our first example, can pull off quite a bit. An unskilled caster, on the other hand, like our lad Draco? Not so much.

It helps that Ambrose knows more about the curse than most, thanks to his father - who was probably more skilled in its use than anyone. (And yes, Augustus Rookwood really is dead. That's not up for debate, Ambrose buried the man himself. Either it's obvious that he would have made certain, or I've written him all wrong.)

I had to add the bit about Rookwood's impulse to panic, and realizing that he couldn't. Patients being treated for catastrophic injuries have reported feeling trapped in their own bodies, unable to react to stimuli despite being completely aware. Some forms of seizure have a similar effect. Almost every account describes the phenomenon as utterly terrifying.

With the imperius, being told not to panic would literally force you to endure this most gruesome violation of your person, all without any of the normal stress responses our bodies use to deal with the stress caused by said violation. I mean, fuck, that's horrifying.

A point I raised in Keystone Council, and repeat here - think about all of those death eaters who pled out due to the imperius. If they were forced to do all of those heinous crimes, and had no remorse? That's a big old red flag, as far as I'm concerned. A true victim would have made amends, somehow - or decided that they could not live with the regret.

All of that is to say this - this curse is fucking terrifying, and with good reason.

On that happy note - Best Wishes for 2022! I'm hoping (but not promising) to write more this year. Starting things off with a new chapter seemed the best way to begin.

Feedback, as always, is welcome.