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for merlin's sake how long has this been going on

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In the end Hilary felt she had no recourse but to explain the situation to Amy--who, being of an impressively practical and logical mind, was wholly sympathetic but couldn’t bring herself to deny the facts at hand any more than Hilary could.

“I don’t know what to do,” she concluded, bundled up in a blanket at one end of her bed while Amy sat cross-legged at the foot. “I never thought he would do a thing like this to me--but then again no girl ever does, does she?”

“That’s a dreadfully cynical way to look at it,” said Amy, although Hilary noted that she neither agreed nor disagreed. “And I don’t want you to think I’m siding against you or anything, because if it’s true he really has been a tremendous ass, but--”

“If?” Hilary blinked fuzzily at her.

“He seems very sure that you’ve made some kind of mistake,” said Amy cautiously.

“Don’t you think I’d love to believe that?” Hilary scowled. “The mistake would be in his uncle’s spellwork, then, and that doesn’t seem likely. Or I misunderstood somehow, and trust me: there wasn’t much room for misunderstanding.”

“You’re not going to like my advice, then,” said Amy, and sighed.

Hilary groaned pitifully. “I can’t talk to him, all right? I just can’t.”

“You’ve known him a long time,” Amy continued, relentlessly. “If you asked him outright, do you think he’d answer you honestly?”

“He would,” said Hilary, although she burrowed more deeply into her blanket for admitting it. “Even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.”

“Then you’ve got to ask.” Amy propped her chin in her hands. “I know you’re terrifically upset, and I understand, but suppose you /are/ wrong, and never mind why. If he’s that important to you, do you really want to miss that chance?”

“You’re a cruel woman,” said Hilary. Her stomach twisted, though; she knew the other girl was right. “The Wizengamot will love to have you one day.”

-------

Hilary delayed as long as she could, but there was only so much fussing she could do over her choice of clothing with Amy there to egg her on. In any case her wardrobe had never been one of her greatest priorities to begin with, so eventually she settled for a clean skirt and her least wrinkled blouse and was pushed unceremoniously out of the dormitory. She set her shoulders and thought: where was Jerry most likely to be?

The Gryffindor common room was nearly abandoned, which she supposed was understandable; exams were over, and most students were likely to be outside. The kitchens, too, were empty of everyone save the house-elves who worked there, which left the Quidditch pitch as the next most likely prospect.

The walk to the pitch felt far too long; long enough, certainly, for Hilary to sink back into brooding. She felt a guilty pang of longing for her mother, and suppressed it. Mothers were, after all, meant to be confided in in this kind of situation--but she knew motherly reassurance wasn’t what she had needed to hear today. All the same, she couldn’t help thinking wistfully of her parents’ portraits back at home. It was nowhere near the same as having them alive and well, but whatever happened she’d certainly have a lot to tell them when she went home to the Red House. She had photographs, of course, but they were a still more inadequate substitute. Just useless little bits of the past, Hilary thought bitterly, bits of people trapped like--

Something clicked over in her head, and she stopped in her tracks.

It was a ridiculous idea, really; surely Merrythought and Parker had thought of it already, and whether right or wrong they must have been on the right track if Jerry and Louis were healing. But then again, seeing as it wasn’t her job to deal with the attacks in any case, surely a little curiosity couldn’t hurt one way or the other. And if it turned out there was something to the idea, she couldn’t very well leave it alone.

She stood there a minute and looked around, conflicted. The pitch wasn’t so far off, and she realized for the first time that she could recognize Jerry among the handful of other students practicing there. She had known him long enough to recognize his exuberant style of flight, but she saw no evidence of it now; he was hovering quite still and level with the goals, pelting Quaffle after Quaffle through them. Hilary wanted nothing more, and at the same time nothing less, than to to go there and face him.

The dark spike of a tower in which the Durmstrang students had arrived, and in which they had been living ever since, wasn’t too far off either. The new Durmstrang Head was fond of photography, Hilary recalled; perhaps he would know.

She stood there a moment longer, indecisive, but after all Jerry had been one of those attacked; his safety was more important, she told herself, than addressing their mutual heartbreak. In full awareness that she had just found an excellent excuse to put off an unwanted confrontation, she turned her path for the moment towards the Durmstrang tower.

It was a small space compared to any of Hogwarts’s House towers--after all, it only had to house one teacher and a dozen students--and it didn’t take Hilary long to find Petrinovich’s office, the very top room of the tower. She knocked on the door and someone said “Come in,” immediately, in a reedy voice she recognized as that of the man she was looking for.

“Oh!” said Hilary, as she shut the door behind her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t--hello, Katerina, I didn’t know you were here. I could come back later.”

“We were only talking,” said Katerina. “It’s quite all right--isn’t it, Professor?”

“And I would not have expected you, either,” said Petrinovich, and smiled. “I assumed it was another of my own students at the door. What can I do for you, Miss Thorpe?”

His office was understandably bare, lent character only by a shelf bearing a variety of cameras and a certificate not in English that Hilary suspected to be some kind of diploma. She noted, curiously, that for all his seemingly singular passion no actual photographs seemed to be on display. He seemed far more at ease than he had the last time she’d seen him; perhaps he, too, was relieved to be more inconspicuous now that the tournament was over.

“I had a question,” said Hilary, trying not to look round to see whether the Quidditch pitch was visible from his office window. “About photography. I can use a camera and all that, but I thought since you’re supposed to be rather an expert--it’s more about the magic that works it, really, and I don’t know anything about that. I was wondering--” She hesitated, suddenly embarrassed by the thought, but the only way to extricate herself from the situation at this point was to proceed. “The people who have been attacked during the Tournament. They’ve all been turned into paper, haven’t they? But it didn’t necessarily kill them. I mean, I saw Jerry Wimsey after his arm was cursed, and he could still move his fingers somewhat, even if they didn’t work right. So could the curse work on something of the same principle as a camera? Only turning the people themselves into images rather than creating images of them.” She laughed nervously; the idea sounded even worse aloud.

And yet, now that she had finished explaining herself, Petrinovich’s eyes had narrowed in a way that was beginning to make her genuinely uncomfortable. “It’s an interesting thought,” he said slowly. “But you’d have to ask one of the Aurors or your own professors. They are, after all, the ones who have been working on healing the poor young men who were cursed.”

“I haven’t yet,” said Hilary, and realised a moment too late that if a lifelong weakness for adventure novels had taught her anything, and if the absolute worst were true, she might have just said exactly the wrong thing. “I was only out for a walk, and I was passing the tower anyway so I thought I’d ask.” She glanced over at Katerina, who after all knew the man much better, but the other girl must have picked up on something as well, for she looked equally uneasy. No matter what, Hilary concluded, she was committed, and might as well see the thing through. “It was only a silly idea, really--but what do you think of it, Professor? Could I be right?”

“I think you’d better sit down,” said Petrinovich, but his smile this time looked far less welcoming somehow.

“Thorpe,” said Katerina hopefully, “it’s a beautiful day outside, isn’t it? We could go for a walk.”

“You can go, if you like.” Hilary shook her head, although she also didn’t think she cared to sit down. “I’d like to hear what you think first, Professor.”

“I think--” Petrinovich reached out of sight and laid his wand on the desk, holding it comfortably. Despite her resolve, Hilary edged a little closer to Katerina’s chair. “I think you had both better stay here for the moment. Just until I have an answer to your question, of course, Miss Thorpe.”

Professor,” said Katerina, wide-eyed. “What are you doing?”

“I don’t understand,” said Petrinovich, sparing a glance for his own student and then looking back at Hilary. “Having been such a clever little girl and caught me out, why would you come directly to me and tell me so? And tell me first? You seem to lack forethought, Miss Thorpe. I imagine that’s why my own student here has proven to be the superior witch.”

Katerina looked pained. “You killed Professor Fedorov. And cursed Renard--and that Wimsey boy--why?”

“Gregor was old,” said Petrinovich sadly, “and growing soft. Too soft on all of you, and yet he could have gone a long time yet before retiring. Miss Thorpe wouldn’t understand; the English don’t know to be afraid of Grindelwald. But you should, Miss Chernikova; you should be afraid, and all your classmates too. That is why Gregor needed, unfortunately, to be replaced.”

“Grindelwald killed my father,” said Katerina, her usually low voice jumping up an octave for a moment, and Hilary stared; she hadn’t known. “In the attack on Varna, in 1918. I know what he is.”

“And yet England thinks nothing of him,” said Petrinovich, apparently worked up to a sufficient state to take this information in stride. “Grindelwald won’t cross the Channel; no one knows why; no one seems to care why. It isn’t that I wish he would; but it’s been so nice, for once, to see the English Ministry in a panic as ours must be all the time. Not to mention that it disguised my motives quite nicely. The Beauxbatons champion, and then Wimsey’s nephew--I imagine Wimsey and that Auror have been frantic to find someone who would want to sabotage the tournament.” His hand was tightening on his wand--whether consciously or not, Hilary couldn’t say, but she took advantage of his distraction to let her own slip down into her fingers. The reasonable thing would have been to run for it, but she hadn’t been lying; she had come with a question, and she /did/ want an answer.

Katerina was grim-faced again. “So you killed Professor Fedorov to get his job?”

“That’s a cruelly simplistic way to put it, but yes, I suppose so.” Petrinovich frowned. “You both realise, of course, that I won’t be able to let you repeat this to anyone else. But what, exactly, I shall do--”

He and Hilary raised their wands at almost the same moment, Katerina’s appearing half a second later. “Expulso,” blurted Hilary, desperate to think of something before he did, and the shelf over his head flew into bits and rained down on him. “Get out,” she told Katerina, in the precious few seconds while Petrinovich was cursing and recovering his wits. “I’ll keep him busy or something, go get help.”

Katerina opened her mouth to argue; then, to Hilary’s immense relief, she scrambled out of her chair and clattered away down the stairs.

Her relief was premature; Petrinovich was finding his feet again. He flung his wand hand out, shouted “Confringo!” and Hilary ducked just barely in time before the chair that had been Katerina’s exploded into flames.

Stupefy,” she gasped, at the same instant that Petrinovich said “Confringo!” again, and the spells collided and ricocheted up into the ceiling. “People will know--Impedimenta--oh hell--if you kill me, you won’t be able to hide it this time. Impedimenta,” she tried again, and Petrinovich flew back against his desk, giving her a chance to get her back against the wall by the window before he could get back to his feet. She had to get her wits together; she had to Stun him properly, and soon, but her palms were sweating and she couldn’t seem to get a good grip on her wand.

Petrinovich wiped a trickle of blood from his head, blinked at his hand, and then shrugged. “I’d rather go out on my feet,” he decided, and raised his wand. “Confringo,” he said once more, just as Hilary got her grip back and shouted “Stupefy!”

The split second afterwards felt very long. It was enough time for Hilary to consider exploding in flames, and the sheer drop from the window, and to decide which she preferred. It was not, fortunately, enough time to reconsider; she twisted out of the way of the curse and leapt outward.

She didn’t hear the explosion, but she certainly heard and felt the loud /crack/ with which she hit the ground. She lay there for a minute, winded and contemplating the wide range of pains springing to life throughout her body, before it occurred to her that Petrinovich had not reappeared and that her own curse must have found its mark as well.

After a few more minutes Hilary groaned and decided to try to sit up. She could feel a variety of bruises, and she still hadn’t got her wind back; she also found her wand under one hip, snapped nearly in two, which doubtless explained the cracking noise. “Damn,” she muttered, and shoved the heels of her hands into her eyes before steeling herself to try getting to her feet.

The effort didn’t last long; the moment Hilary planted her left foot and tried to put weight on it, her shin bent in a way shins were absolutely not meant to do, and she screamed and collapsed back to the ground. The agony subsided slowly--how slowly she couldn’t tell, but it felt like years before she could think again and understood that her leg was broken.

She wished she knew how long it could possibly take for Katerina to get to the castle, and come back with help; for that matter, she wished she knew how long Petrinovich would remain Stunned.

For lack of anything better to do, Hilary fumbled with her wand, trying to hold it together enough to send up some sparks and attract attention. The best she was able to manage was a large cloud of oily-looking purple smoke, which hovered overhead for a moment and then drifted unhelpfully off towards Hogsmeade.

“Miss Thorpe!”

It was Parker, at last. Hilary hadn’t seen him arrive--her range of motion was, after all, somewhat limited--but she could hear the clatter of several more Aurors charging up the stairs inside the tower. “I broke my wand,” she said blankly, and then after a moment’s further consideration: “And my leg, I think.” She was trying not to look at it, to be honest; the sight was making her ill. “Is Katerina all right?”

Parker smiled reassuringly, kneeling down at her side. “Miss Chernikova is back at the castle. As far as I know she’s quite well, but it seemed best that she stay with Professor Dippet until the situation is cleared up.”

“Charles!” called a witch who was leaning alarmingly far out of the gap in the tower wall through which Hilary had jumped. “He’s up here--still out cold, looks like.”

“Oh,” said Hilary faintly. “Good.”

“Bring him down, then,” Parker called up, and then turned back to Hilary. “Well done, I see--although Mr. Wimsey will be dreadfully disappointed. He’d just gone off to Durmstrang to work out how Petrinovich had got that curse to Fedorov via post. It seems you’ve rather removed the need for that.”

“Never goes away until you need him for something,” said Hilary, and shivered. “That’s what Jerry said to me about him once--although you’d probably better not tell either of them I told you that, because really Jerry worships him terribly, and you’d probably better not tell either of them I told you that either.” She giggled nervously; the pain in her leg was subsiding into a surprisingly dull ache, but she was beginning to feel quite cold all over.

“Don’t worry,” said Parker, now examining her leg; Hilary reached reflexively to bat his hands away, and fisted her hands in her skirt instead to keep them out of his way. “I can do something about this for you, enough at any rate to get you to the Infirmary to get fixed up properly. You’ve been very brave, you know; stupid as hell not to leave the matter to me and Wimsey, but brave all the same.”

After an entire school year of being told how brave she was, not to mention clever and mature and generally outstanding, Hilary found quite suddenly that despite Parker’s good intentions she was thoroughly sick of it. “Of course I am,” she said, with a bitterness not even she could explain. “I haven’t got much of a choice, not when things keep happening, and it isn’t as though anyone else is going to be brave for me, is it?” She lay back on the grass and took in a deep breath, trying to calm herself, but it turned somehow into a sob instead; the next, for all her efforts, was worse. The tears that followed felt all but inescapable.

“Er,” said Parker, and hesitated in the middle of binding up her leg. “Miss Thorpe--” Amidst her shudders, Hilary felt the hesitant touch of his hand to her shoulder, and was so ashamed on top of everything else that it nearly made her sick.

She curled away from him, as much as she could without moving her leg, and wept into the crook of her arm. “I don’t,” she mumbled, “please don’t--I don’t want--” She did in fact want reassurance, but not if it were a lie, and no other kind seemed possible.