Chapter 1: Compromise (Hermione & Daphne)
Katrina Abel’s boy was capable of upending garbage bins over the neighborhood bullies, she reported. He taught her how to eat new things. He believed — just pretend! Of course it was pretend. How nice of his Mentor to be such an imaginative person — that in their fantasy-play, he might make a nice Gryffindor.
Finch-Fletchley’s girl, rather alarmingly, was partial to Slytherin. But Finch-Fletchley felt, in the interests of fairness, that one had to remember that she thought it was all make-believe at this point, and also that it was terribly far-sighted of her to want to enter the den of the snakes and reverse its thinking. Marvelously ambitious, that one. Full of promise. Shame she thought it was all a game.
Tremlett simply wrote: Tariq is more than ready to find out. For that matter, I’m more than ready to tell him.
This was the new development closest to Hermione’s heart, the program she’d crafted all on her own, the first thing she’d fought for and succeeded at, even if the more conservative relics of the old Ministry had exacted some concessions. And so she’d meant to sit and think it over that very morning — properly think it over, research similar approaches in other countries, determine how best to propose it to Kingsley. But she didn’t have the time to respond.
At the start of the work-day she’d had a screaming row the Prophet would later characterize as a “lively debate,” with Smith, over the issue of leveling any taxes at all on Gringotts’ vaults which were more than two hundred years old.Then came the problem of hag immigration. Travers, who handled that department, was of the opinion that it was a non-issue. No hags were emigrating. Thank Merlin. When she pointed out that this was due to his long-standing policy of awarding witches and wizards a slap on the wrist for killing foreign-seeming hags on sight, he took offense.
He’s offended! she thought, still fuming, going over her revisions to that particular MLE imbroglio, He is! I’ll show him offended!
Noon brought a goblin crisis to a head, which the stupider Undersecretaries seemed to think might be well solved if someone would just go out and procure the head of a goblin. Afternoon ushered in the oldest relic on the Wizengamot now that Dumbledore was gone, Crepusculus Nott, complaining of the educational resources siphoned away from nice, sensible children to be given to the werewolves. For roughly three hours, he stood in her office and threatened to turn Kingsley into a peach.
"I don’t believe that’s what impeach means," she’d told him, trying to keep her temper under check, "Or that we do that in our current political system."
“You don’t tell me what an impeachment spell does!” he’d cried.
Yes. It had been a headache day. And now — now memoranda shot in from every corner of the Ministry, exploding from her chimney and bursting from the desk drawers she really shouldn’t have given over to Secretarial Correspondence.
Horrifying! screamed one.
Despicable waste of the Minister’s time, to have him sign off on such a program! shrieked the Howler from Care & Representation Magical Creatures, a department which had never forgiven her for limiting their ability to control and regulate.
The Prophet will hear of this, vowed Games & Sports (which really ought not to have had any kind of opinion on it, but which was — and had long been — in the pockets of the Baddock-family-owned Baddock Broomstick Company).
You’ll overturn the Statute of Secrecy! cried Muggle Artifacts, which had been getting rather cheeky ever since Hermione had granted their senior-most member a generous severance package before he could do anything troublesome based on his shaky grasp of Muggle culture. (Given what working at the Ministry could drive a witch to, she would have had to murder him. And her husband would have been rather upset with her.)
She called in her junior secretary to deal with the mess.
"Well, news of the Muggle-born mentoring was bound to hit their ears sooner or later," said her secretary.
"Just as the children are coming along tremendously," she said, "Do you know what I think? I think they’ve finally realized that — that Dumbledore had the right of it all along. That children are powerful. That the way you shape them matters.”
"That was your lot that taught them that," said her secretary, "That wasn’t mine."
"And — and after complaining for years that Muggle-borns are stupid, that they don’t know anything—"
"Up until now they haven’t, and I shouldn’t think it’s been anything but lovely for some people, having all that empty space to shove revolutionary ideas into—"
"Oh, shut up, Greengrass," Hermione said, "You sniffed about it, too. You all did. But you didn’t do anything. You just laughed at these — these children who were torn from their world and dumped in yours, and you didn’t want to teach them anything. And now that we are—"
"Yes, yes," said Daphne, "Now they’ve lovely Guides to help them. Muggle-born helping Muggle-born. It’s sweet. It’s…"
Hermione shot down a memorandum rather ominously, daring her to say something dismissive.
"You’re going to need to put the MLE on it," was all Daphne said, "Let them know who to protect, now that these little darlings are in contact with our big bad world. And it’ll puff up Weasley’s chest a little more; he’s your robin ginger-breast, isn’t he?"
"Yes, turn this into an opportunity for a dig," Hermione snapped, "Just like one of your lot.”
"My lot does things like make a lot of noise about hag policies, and then slips in an awful new change for Muggle-borns when everyone’s caught up in the hag mess," said Daphne, "My lot is political. Don’t say you haven’t learned from us."
This was, regrettably, true. She had learned. If someone had told her, a very small her, that there was a world with people like Greengrasses and Notts and Smiths in it, she would have wanted not just to beat them. She would have wanted to learn from them, too. She’d been, in her own way, an ambitious marvel.
"Now they’re making noise about this," Hermione said thoughtfully.
"Yes," Daphne said, rolling her eyes, "Yes. Stars in your eyes now. We can push this, and let them worry over it enough to let us do something about the poor little house elves, or, knowing you, even the bloody centaurs. Then we’ll push that, and behind their backs—"
"Bend the Statute a little," Hermione said, "Maybe. Move forward, at any rate."
"Pretending to compromise, and then not compromising at all. I really don’t know why you Sorted where you did," Daphne grumbled.
The Johnsons were fortunate, said Angelina’s parents. They said this in spite of all logic and mounting evidence to the contrary; in spite of several tragedies; in spite of small cruelties which had been committed upon the wizarding-born, foreign side of the family throughout the years; in spite of terrible injustices which had plagued the Muggle-descended, local side for nearly a century in the British Isles. They said it reverently, with complete assurance. They said it and Angelina believed them. This is because they — and she — had a strange, stubborn, surviving quality in them. Faith.
Faith. Ugh. Odd and illogical and very Muggle, wrote many a Minister, over the years. Ought to be banished from the wizarding world, said a portrait of Dexter Fortescue, just last week. Thankfully not in vogue for several centuries, sighed the late Lucilla Malfoy, one hundred years ago. A panacea for small and miserable and unintelligent folk, said young Nicholas Flamel in 1350.
For, illogical as magic was, it welcomed logic. The wizarding world adored cool explanations and easy blood theories, worshipped methodical thought and cold deconstruction. It stood uneasy next to such inexplicable things as belief, love, unfairness, death, the divine. These were the great problems generations (and Dark Lords) had attempted to solve, and would try their hand at forevermore. So that when someone like Angelina appeared in sight, sure of herself, thanking the world for her good fortune, confident even when she was clearly a half-blood, clearly had hair quite beyond the normal, clearly was not top of her class, clearly spent too much time on the Quidditch pitch, clearly had little understanding of her tender gender and muddled blood and her occasional limits, clearly was not favored, by all the blood theories and social thinkers and rational minds of the time; the wizarding world would throw up its hands and declare her quite silly, very stupid, a conceited little mind. Grasping for pretty straws from a cold and hard and scientific universe.
Which was not to say that Angelina cared a whit. She saw the world as divided between the fortunate and good and loving; and exacting, pitiless, heartless people, not guided by morality or kindness, merely consumed by egotism, an entire parade of fallen star names. This was the sum of all their pure blood and their mathemagical, scientific exactness, in Angelina’s estimate.
Until! Until she should go away to school. Oh, school blasts open the mind and the heart, or at least proper schooling does; and it does this not so much through textbooks and theory, as through a sudden and terrible exposure to one’s peers, their strange personalities, their unflinching quirks. It was at school that Angelina met a pair of genuine Experimenters.
Experimenting with color-changing charms, and with the patience of Professor McGonagall. Experimenting with getting rich quick, and with exploding potions. Experimenting with the boundaries of magic itself, and with the toilet seats in the boys’ loo. Experimenting with the points system (how many could one lose in one day, really?) and with bits of canary fluff, and with beating out Zonko, and with the limits of transfiguration, and with ickle Ronniekins. Experimenting not because of, but often in spite of pure old Mum and Ministry man Dad. Always experimenting.
And having fun at it, too. Fred and George were fun, above all; warm and merry, not cold and (too) merciless. They were quite the opposite of Angelina — not believers in the slightest; that seemed like such a mum thing to be, really; probably people like Percy became believers, because for all their intelligence people like Percy had stubborn cores and couldn’t really get creative, couldn’t really get dangerous and face hard truths, right Gred?
But, see, they were not at all what Angelina had been expecting, from a pair of scientific minds. They were not lost in blood obsession. They were not in need of the divine. They were brilliant. And funny. And good friends to her — they happened upon her and the older MacLaggen in Madam Puddifoots, once, and transformed a dismal date into a prank-filled delight. They showed her where the thestrals were, they looked the other way when she and Katie snuck out after hours, they stole Firewhiskey before the Yule Ball and shared with all. They took her to see a mirror in which all the sweetest and most perfect things were reflected, like a vision of God. (It’s only a tricky bit of illusory charmswork, they said, half-bragging, half-modest, as if not sure whether they wanted to impress her with this or not. As if not sure which one wanted to impress her, even.)
And so Angelina made peace with this atheistic experimentation. She knocked around her mind, not to mention her heart, until there was room in it for these two, these pitiless purebloods, for she suspected that someday with all their experimenting they might crack the code to curing some terrible illness, might bring the world struggling forward into a brighter day — this was the hand of God in science. And who better to accomplish it than such a pair, so united, so perfect, so fortunate — for the two were never, ever alone; and there was always one there to check the other; they were twin suns at the center of a galaxy of good cheer, and perhaps they thought very highly of themselves, perhaps they recognized no Higher Power or even the lowliest school authority, but still! Still, they were not egotists. How could they be? Each loved the other better than himself.
Having expanded her heart and mind so, she could not shrink them back down again. You must know that a week after Fred died, without fulfilling this grand miracle she had been so sure they would unleash on the world, Angelina stood before her faithful parents and church and community, and doubted. For the first time in her life, she could see no divine reason. Only pitiless, exacting truth. An unfair universe. No fortune for anyone, not really. And how horrible it was, how evil and silly and small, to crow about their good fortune, their survival.
When Fred lay dead.
Fred. Who had gazed with her at the mirror of heart’s desire and joked that her expectations were too high, that he saw no divinely-made world, that he needed no divinely made world. That he saw only himself and his brother, as they were, together, working on building a life for themselves. A bit silly Angelina was, right Gred?
A bit demanding, I’d say, Forge.
And for a year after, Angelina was numb and cold, and curbed her demands. She went to the Wasps, and let them put her on reserve though she was a better player by far than old Derwent. She composed several Owls to the Weasleys, but never sent them. She felt for the first time that she was not a flesh and blood miracle, a strange bit of chance made living, a walking fortune; but instead a kind of failed experiment, a clockwork woman sitting alone on a bench, with her faith mechanism quite broken. Until one day a freckled hand should reach out from the stands and poke her.
“Reserve?” George said. “That’s not you. You’re better than that.”
"Closed down your shop for months," snapped Angelina, who could not bear to be the only broken mechanism in the place. But then she felt bad.
"It’s open now," George said. "Percy’s helping. Running it. Probably into the ground."
"What do you do, then?" asked Angelina, genuinely curious. "If you’re not running it, I mean."
George picked at his scarf (black; did not suit him), and said offhandedly. “This and that. I went to see you once.”
"My mum didn’t say so," said Angelina.
"It was at your church," George clarified. "You were wearing this thing over your hair. I thought it was silly, covering up all your hair like that. I like your hair."
"Bet you thought the whole thing was silly," Angelina said.
"No," George said, suddenly stubborn. "No. I — I thought of the mirror then. When that fellow, your dad or whoever, started talking? I thought of—"
"My dad made you think of your heart’s desire," Angelina said flatly.
"Made me think it wasn’t just my heart’s desire," George said. "But something, somewhere, some fortune I might get. Someday."
She stared at him. For the first time in as long as she’d known him, he looked almost embarrassed, and not at all brilliant. Young and alone. He muttered, “Not that it makes any sense. I just. Maybe someday. After I’m dead. I’ll see what I saw then.”
The Weasleys were fortunate, said Fred and Roxanne’s parents. They said this in spite of evidence to the contrary, in spite of what people said about the family, in spite of pointless deaths and mourning that would not go away. They said this in spite of the world’s injustices, which they were fully aware of, and which Mum poured a Quidditch fortune and most of the shop money into correcting; and in spite of a stubborn part in Dad that could not let go and face hard truths no matter how many times Uncle Percy laid them out before him. They said this even when they felt broken. And when they said it, Fred and Roxanne believed it. Mum and Dad simply seemed very sure, glancing between each other in perfect understanding.
It was, against all odds, a very happy marriage, this marriage of knocked-about heart and expanded mind, of a Believer and an Experimenter.
The Weasleys were fortunate.
There are publishing laws, though imbecilic persons like Xenophilius Lovegood disregard them, and are henceforth fined accordingly.
Laws that say what children may read, and what adults may impart. Laws that rail against obscenity, and protect young minds from monstrosity. Laws that accord with Mr. Malfoy’s view of the world – best to present Muggles as something foreign and odd – and likewise with Mrs. Weasley’s view of the world – best to give the impression that all magical persons are sexless as monks. Indeed, there are laws to please everyone, laws of all varieties, laws that have cut the volume of wizarding-published books in half over the last few centuries, and what a relief thatis; for a book may attack one, a book may fly about one’s head, but Merlin forbid a book expose some precious tot to what mummy or dad do not see fit to teach.
The Ministry does not believe in freedom of the pen. Ink and pen are mightier than the wand, said Albus Dumbledore. And, fearing what that man’s supporters might publish, Mr. Fudge reeled out seventy-two laws the next day, realizing for the first time that such terrible weapons must be handled with the utmost caution. Bravo, Mr. Fudge! cried magical adults everywhere. Bravo! Best to be careful, around a book.
But the children – they do not agree. Young Dean Thomas, on the run for a year, with only his wand and his paints to protect him, found safety in the wand, yes. But the paints gave him comfort. He began to sketch out, on every available surface, the tale of bold Lady Courage (alias of a mild-mannered halfblood), who fought and bested seventy times the vile Unforgivabelle, a golden-haired fiend determined to lock innocent persons in dungeons.
Seamus Finnigan, himself not averse to penning a tall tale, later added in Dayanara Dietz, a ward and faithful sidekick.
Miss Mandy Brocklehurst dreamed up the White Wand Gang, to pass the time waiting for the Carrows. The White Wand Gang, creeping in and out of castle passageways, always under threat from amoral ruffians like Gunnvor the Strange, the Black Potion King — yet never truly defeated by them!
Ernie MacMillan, who fell in love with Miss Lavender Brown, sketched out a story of El Gentilhombre, the son of self-sacrificing werewolves, bitten by a cursed unicorn at the age of seven, counteracting his parent’s disease and giving him power over all magical creatures.
And Daphne Greengrass, at her father’s trial, created amoral Conlan Blood, A ruffian born, whose parents supported the rise of Grindelwald and taught him to do the same, a chance battle side by side with a handsome Muggle-born taught him the error of his ways — and saved him from prison.
Society rails against these stories. Dreadful! Not educational! Not at all what mum and dad intended! And so racy.
But they sell, you know. And by now most attempts to censor them have been struck from the books.
"I look a right tit," hissed Roger Davies.
"All the Muggles dress like this," said Anthony Goldstein, "What were you going to do: stroll into a Muggle neighborhood with your dress robes on?"
"Nice neighborhood it is, too," said Roger. He looked around, paranoid, at the strange metal staffs on each corner that flashed a cryptic pattern of red, green, yellow; at all these people without proper robes on, the women in skintight denim and odd bright chemises, wires feeding dissonant noise straight into their ears; at the sinister way young men in this area walked with secret chiming rectangles in their hands, violently beating out indecipherable codes. "Where’s your man, Tony? When’s he going to get here? Is he even coming?"
"He’s coming. He’ll be here," Anthony said. But he didn’t sound too confident.
They waited. They tried to look nonchalant. Around them, the Muggle city grew darker.
"This had better be worth it," said Roger, "Do you know what we’re risking? Do you know what they say? This stuff is dangerous."
"It’s mind-blowing, is what it is," said Anthony, "I tried it once — you should’ve been there; Su Li had this haze of charms and transfig—"
"Good, powerful magic’s supposed to block it," said Roger. His hands were clammy. He wanted to leave. "Good wizards aren’t supposed to—"
"Listen to me," said Anthony, "This—this is a high like you’ve never felt before. This is it. The boundaries of all knowledge just melt away. You feel like you could know anything, like you’re connected to every other living being. It’s nirvana. It’s total transcendence. My man’ll be here.”
But his man was a woman. A Muggle, looking dangerous in skintight denim, looking like she didn’t realize what they were risking, what they’d come for. Maybe she didn’t care. Roger didn’t look her in the eye as he handed over the payment they’d painstakingly transferred to Muggle currency earlier this morning.
But then after she’d gone he looked down at the books and traced their titles, wondering. Coding for Beginners. Advanced Topics in Types and Programming Languages. The Expert’s Voice in Software Development.
"Mix that with some Arithmancy," said Anthony knowingly, "Throw in some of Su Li’s stuff. And then you’ve got yourself a cocktail resistant to even the most magical abode, my friend. And then you can go—"
"On the internet,” Roger said. He looked half-drugged with delight.
"Captured by old Nott, my grandfather in Knockturn, in his prime and at the cutting edge of society, really," says your host, "People do talk about him, but those were fanatical days; Grindelwald had not yet fallen, and everyone had what would now be deemed an unpopular opinion, not just grandfather. And there, on the wall, the portraits — meant to echo each-other — of his father, who was on the Wizengamot, and of mine; they have the general look of the family, as you can see. Great-grandfather of course is also somewhat disliked today; they say he was monstrously unfair, but if truly you read his opinions I think this is exaggerated. One could only do so much before the great Muggle-lovers’ reforms swept in, and he did not believe in judge-made law. I agree. I do think it’s a bit like overstepping one’s station, don’t you?" Here he gives a small laugh. "We have never liked oversteppers, I must say…"
This is an understatement, so you do not comment.
"…of course you’ll note that my father is in the cut he wore back then, when there was a great mania for traditional wizarding regalia and such. When you are a family like ours, you do tend towards tradition. Other people treat it as a bogeyman. Unfairly, I think. But then again there is my son. Here’s his photograph; the very image of my father, only in a great flapping Muggle kind of belted cloak. Very embarrassing, but my wife had Dippy take the picture. A very devoted mother, my wife. It’s a shame we don’t have the women’s portraits in here; they far outstripped the men, I think. Now here—"
"But wait," you interject, suddenly noticing something very odd, "Where are you? I don’t see your picture anywhere."
"Oh," your host says, with a kind of only barely-concealed dread, "Oh. I’m afraid we generally sit for portraits at eighteen, and my eighteenth year was not a portrait-painting sort of time. And of course I’m by far the least prepossessing in the line. A pointed chin, you know."
And then he sweeps you out of the very imposing, cold room (which looks terribly old, but which they say had to be rebuilt after the war), and a house-elf appears at your elbow to make sure you don’t try to turn back for another glimpse, and there is your host’s mother, distracting you with light, canny talk; and out of the corner of your eye you can see your host looking relieved. Is it because he no longer has to discuss this with you? He is a renowned coward, after all. Far too much of a coward to face the reality of his family, you think. But then you turn your mind back to all those proud brows and haughty chins, and begin to wonder if, really, he is relieved that there is no picture to complete the chain, nothing to demonstrate he may echo his forefathers, no voice which might say, “Oh yes, there is old Draco, who is exactly like the rest of them, really; note how much like his father around the eyes.”
Perhaps the relief is because he would not like to be like them at all.
Headmistress McGonagall was nowhere near as controversial as her predecessor. She was given a thankless task, but rose to it with aplomb. Her work rebuilding the school was lauded even by the Prophet. And she never once had a salacious biography published about her early romance with some budding Dark Lord. Young wizards and witches mourned the loss of her presence when she gave up her post, cheered her retirement, and toasted to her good health. Their parents, however, raised some complaints. McGonagall had a habit of hiring young, untested staff. Longbottom for the Herbology position. Thomas to cover a year of transfiguration. Granger as a contentious visiting professor of Muggle Studies; she stuffed the children’s heads with anti-establishment notions, and proved to be difficult grader, besides. And, as if this was not bad enough, sometimes these young radicals did not merely visit or stay for a year. Longbottom was gifted Head of Gryffindor in short time and proved to be a fixture, patient and smiling and impossible to oust even at the efforts of school governors who swore up and down that his wartime actions were a fluke brought on by desperation. In truth, screamed parents and governors, he had very little magical power, quantitatively speaking, and ought to have been driving the Knight Bus, not handling magically powerful children.
But nothing could induce Professor McGonagall to fire him. And so too with his fellows, for Thomas and Granger came and went as they liked; and, worst of all, on the eve of the Headmistress’s retirement, flighty adjuncts Vane, Chang, and Brown were awarded tenure.
Awful! Vane was a bubble-headed creature, as arrogant as her name suggested, who was far too gossipy to be an effective librarian. True, she seemed to know instinctively which books which children desired, but often these were books on young love and skincare and fashion, not the proper thousand-page Instructional Tomes of yesteryear. And Chang was given to emotionality; everyone knew that. As flying instructor, people whispered that she let her adoration for a long-lost Hufflepuff override natural house pride. Accordingly, she was distressingly fair when it came to judging matters of Quidditch, putting down anyone from any house who looked to spice up the game with a little cheat here or there. And besides, she seemed more interested in teaching escape tactics and defensive flight from Dark wizards than manly feats of derring-do like the Wronski feint; blending flying and Defense in ridiculous new ways, entirely ignoring the Ministry-approved syllabus. As for her friend, that near-werewolf Brown? She used Divination not so much to foretell the future as to instruct the children on how to weed out charlatans and liars. She whispered that the point of teacups and tea leaves was fun, and also knowing when someone was having you on. She claimed that nine out of ten prophecies had no real point; they always came true, whether you knew about them or not. But knowing where to find the excitement in magic, where to let yourself enjoy it, even if it was wooly? She could teach them that.
Oh, these girlish beings were unbearable. Governors and parents could not abide them; it was not simply that they failed to care much about testing and studying, but that they were failures as witches. They did themselves up in Muggle fashions instead of pointy hats, flaunted boyfriends (and girlfriends) in Hogsmeade, and cheerfully gabbed to students about using Mugwort to make lipgloss, of all silly things! It was terrible of the Headmistress to lock them into their positions. The Headmistress! Formerly so sensible.
Of course, in the year leading up to the Headmistress’s retirement, she had considered gently sending them away. She did not dislike them, but they were not as clear-headed, as stiff-lipped as her favorite students. They had recommended that she hire Daphne Greengrass (of the very much still blood purist Greengrasses) for the Potions position, purely because they’d met and admired her hair at some mixer in Diagon. And they went to mixers in Diagon! They did not don long, professorly nightshirts and patrol the halls like the staff of yesteryear. They tossed on dangly earrings and danced the night away in these new nightclubs, and then quaffed hangover remedies and exhaustion-curing potions before their morning classes. True, they knew their subjects and taught them well. But this was still very cavalier behavior.
But then, over Christmas, Yasmina Yaxley went missing.
Yaxley was a silly little Slytherin. Her family was dreadful, her father imprisoned, and yet the daffy little creature seemed not to notice. She floated through the halls discussing Witch Weekly to anyone who would listen; she cared very little about politics or current affairs; and she had begun a strange kind of dungeon sorority that ran on networking and gossip. It occurred to the Headmistress that of courseYaxley would go missing for no reason; Yaxley was just the type to cause trouble like that, not at all a rational, sober, and shrewd child.
Protocol was followed by most teachers. Search parties dispatched to the forest. Owls sent home. Students send to their dormitories. Rote, sensible procedure, carried out with methodical accuracy.
But Vane, who’d had long, girlish talks with Yaxley and seen her check out books on the war alongside books on haircare, immediately conferred with Chang. And Chang had lent an ear to Yaxley when she’d seemed down, and helpfully flown her near a certain still-cursed section of the grounds that Yaxley had seemed particularly interested in. So she suggested they take what they knew to Brown. And Brown confirmed it. Yaxley saw particularly morbid things in tea leaves; she had a kind of secret fixation she rarely revealed to her fellow students, but she would come out with it, if you happened to be her favorite professor.
So Vane seized up her owl to send for help should they need it, a sensible notion. And Chang grabbed her broomstick to get them to where they had to go — also very clear-thinking. And Brown? Just to make sure, she cross-referenced school records, and also brought along a certain book by Horace Slughorn, a book not much noticed in these postwar days, for it discussed the role of Slytherins in the war, and the truth was: much of the Wizarding World longed to pretend the worst of the war had never happened.
Then, when they found Yaxley, they gave her the book, and also cocoa, and also they looked each other in the eye. They privately decided that, the student having been unhurt, despite straying into a place very badly affected by Dark Magic, and in fact no one having been hurt, perhaps they ought to take this cause up with the Headmistress. Perhaps, in this case, it would be fairer to leave off point-taking and detentions.
"She’s really not so very silly when you get to know her," said Vane to the Headmistress. "The truth is, the silliness is a bit of an escape."
"Speaking of," said Chang, "That’s just what her brother did. You know, in the war. Escaped. And then after that he was struck down here at the Hogwarts grounds, blown to pieces by some curse."
"Slughorn has the time and place of death recorded," said Brown, "And it appears to be right where Yasmina likes to go. Of course, she didn’t realized the full extent of the trapping hexes there, and she got herself caught by one."
"Well, that is foolish in the extreme!" said the Headmistress. She was horrified and angry, scarcely able to believe that some child in her care was obsessed with the resting grounds of a Death Eater. Silly Yaxley had probably made an idol of him, as foolish little girls were wont to do. “An in-dungeon suspension should—”
"Deter her not at all," said Vane.
Chang gave a delicate cough. “Begging your pardon, but it didn’t deter her brother. After you sent him and his housemates back down to the dungeons, he came right back up. And fought. For us.”
All words dried up in McGonagall’s throat.
"Speaking as someone who was there, professor, you weren’t wrong," said Brown. "But you rather are now. See, sometimes I think we assume we know the measure of people, when really all we know are silly little details. Houses. Colors. What they read. Not who they are."
"So we recommend tutoring in hex defense,” said Vane.
"And therapy," said Chang.
"And perhaps a shoulder to lean on, a fellow Slytherin. It’s been so long since we had a Slytherin on the staff," said Brown. "Still longer since we had a nice one with nice hair."
In the end, McGonagall decided to keep these three girlish creatures on a more permanent basis. They were new thinkers, in their way. Good for the school. And Yaxley received her tutoring and therapy. And Greengrass, in short time, was hired.
Which was lovely, because she made an excellent hangover remedy.
Oh, but that place is legend. You won’t find a place like that today. People wanted to forget, you see. When graduation day is your best friend murdered in a duel, a former professor felled by a Death Eater, a Quidditch rival crushed by debris before your very eyes— reconstruction is not the first thing that springs to mind. How can one rebuild, after that? How can one put the pieces back together, as though nothing had happened?
Oh, maybe it would have been the right response. But we couldn’t all be Potter and Granger and Longbottom, could we?
No, we wanted to forget. And to have fun. We wanted to see Veela hostesses, a constantly-changing Charmed Backdrop, and the ceiling raining glittery powdered Runespoor scales on New Year’s Eve. We wanted new holidays, new fashions, and elf-made wine served in goblets made of werewolf claws and bent-out-of-shape galleons, money tossed aside like it was nothing. We wanted the stupid relics of Ministry culture tossed aside too, in favor of nude parties and Weird Sisters albums played with reverence, from start to finish at full volume, with no interruption. We wanted that old Knockturn theater of our fathers reclaimed, made our own pleasure hall. We used the old dressing rooms for groping, the great stage as a dance floor; and in the lobby we drunkenly voted, every morning before staggering home, whether to crown Snape’s portrait, or to set it aflame. It wasn’t the real portrait, of couse. Just some naughty scribbles that resulted from Finnigan and Thomas hitting the Firewhiskey too hard.
Warbeck showed up, and got a booth to herself, and we all stood and gawked even though she was Mum’s celebrity and not ours. A couple of Ravenclaws hawked potions that made you see things you couldn’t believe. Cho Chang, always the best-looking girl in the room, wearing crup-bone earrings and her old flame’s portrait in her miniature locket, took up with Krum; and they had a booth to themselves as well. Hannah Abbott wasn’t married then, just had an arrangement with a fellow Hufflepuff, and they showed up one night with a supposedly famous Dark Wizard huddled between them, and had everyone shrieking and making a fuss about it for days, until Hannah confessed it was just her brother, and they’d only wanted to do it for a laugh.
Almost everyone was there: in spray-charmed pink Death Eater masks, in Muggle bikinis, wearing hollowed-out cauldrons for skirts, in rank-smelling dragon-hide jackets, in nothing but gold paint.
The Ministry shut it down that same decade. The owner, some Nott in our year, boasted a bit too much about the profit he’d made (bankrolled by Malfoy, until he lost out in that suit to Parkinson; you could sometimes see them sitting and arguing in their booth, but they never mingled, not that anyone would have wanted them to). And people claimed the manager — that Goyle — had murdered someone in the back room. Goyle claimed it. We all laughed. He was on a potion at the time, and probably joking. And we had a murder night, where the walls dripped blood, and a night where half the patrons were rumored to be werewolves, and even a night where a goblin drank too much and was found dead the next morning in the alley.
Yes. That place was a legend.
If you managed to make it past the door, that is.
In magical Paris there was a place where one would find the love of one’s life. This was its sole claim to fame. Culinarily-speaking, it was no great restaurant. Certainly not for Paris. The bread was always a bit stale or a bit soggy, and the main courses very dry. The wines left one gagging. And best not to mention the desserts.
And it was always either full to bursting, at a glance, with so many patrons spilling out onto the street that anyone feeling ready to die of starvation would still have reconsidered, passed it by, suggested the party go elsewhere to avoid the crowds; or else it was empty and eerie and still, when one finally got in, with the waiting elves looking very bored, as though nothing had been prepared all the day.
So for ambience, this was not the place.
And yet still the rumor persisted. Here — here! — one would find a soulmate. It had been woven into the wall panels by some clever French witch, long ago, this spell to bring about purest love; it was some kind of curse left by a handsome wizard troubadour whose beloved had been whisked away to a convent; it was simply a part of the magic of Paris, perhaps.
For Katie Bell, the place was a mere whim, something Angelina and George had booked for her, hoping to bring her out of her slump. Katie was at odds with magical notions of love, you see; she was too retiring, perhaps the result of some terrible accident in her seventh year; she did not collect beaus as some witches did, nor did she bother to meet men, nor did she flirt very much: the business of romance seemed to escape her entirely. And indeed the experience of being kissed by a young wizard brought about more a crawling, bored sensation than any true fervor. Her solid Muggle minister father was alright with this; everyone else saw it as a kind of defect. Katie had been far more alive in her schooldays, quick as a flash on the pitch, at home with her fellow Chasers, so bright and delightful and laughing and not closed, in that way she was now, with all these fellows Angelina and George would throw at her.
She would have to try a bit harder, that was all. To apply herself, to really work at finding a soulmate. Perhaps it would be someone as closed-off as she was, a man left equally bored by the prospect of a grope after a candlelit dinner; someone she could simply talk to, not someone to curl up with or bat her eyes at — for some people were not ever passionate; it was not in their natures. Or perhaps it would be some lothario to draw her out of her mouse-hole, some great lover to incite her to eroticism; some people preferred to jump straight into the sex, and it was the romance that bored them.
So to the restaurant Katie went, her place reserved in advance. She was full of trepidation and dread. She sat at the table and looked around at the empty room, and felt like she’d been made a fool of. For there was no one here! She rang for the elf. The elf came over, and in crisp French that was far far better than hers, told her to stop being silly — there were fellows everywhere.
If she could not see them, then they were not for her, yes?
"So it’s something wrong with me,” Katie decided. For that must have been it. Katie was ill-suited to finding a match, and this was surely a character defect.
"I don’t know that it is," noted a voice, coming up to the table from somewhere behind the house elf. "Hallo, Katie. I think this is my seat."
It was a quick, laughing voice, a voice from some long-ago memory. It corresponded to someone whose brown hand on her shoulder had once made Katie light up with delight, someone whose friendly jokes inspired far more ardor than any candlelit dinner.
"I can’t see the men either," confided Alicia Spinnet. "Only you. Not that I’m surprised."
And solemn Katie, with her Muggle minister father, had never contemplated that it might turn out this way, but she was not the least bit surprised either. This made a terrific amount of sense. A great rush of relief came over her.
She put her hand in Alicia’s.
The girl who was cruel to you at school did not get married.
What a thrill!
Secondhand, we discover that she did not get married. And perhaps she moved away in disgrace. She did not get married and perhaps she moved away in disgrace, and Morag who was in Ravenclaw says that the boy she was suppose to marry is now married to someone else, and is happy without her.
Oh, how that must stick in her craw!
Oh, and someone saw her, once, and her nose is still awful. Her calves have gone dumpy, too. Sources report no improvement in the nose, and severe deterioration of the calves, and disgrace, and no marriage.
Secondhand, the victims recreate her, only now she is not living and breathing and sniping at one, but stuffed and bloated, hidden behind glass so that she cannot hurt a soul, punished for her crimes, now completely on display for all the world to see her failures, her agonizing popular girl’s death.
She deserves it, that girl who was cruel to you at school.
Never again will you suffer her taunts. Never again will you have to consider her a person while she does not return the favor. Never again will you have to envision her, standing opposite you, laughing. Smiling.
You do not wonder if perhaps the boy she was supposed to marry wasn’t a prize, after all. You do not wonder if she’s found a young man or a nation that suits her better. You do not wonder why she always needed to put you on display and point out your flaws. You do not wonder if she has fallen in love, perhaps not with a boy at all, perhaps with a city or a discipline or a girl, frizzy-haired or freckled or boring, not unlike the girl you used to be.
You do not think of how unlikely it is, this idea you have that she will spend her life never smiling, never happy, all because she was cruel to you at school. You do not think because it is still painful to remember her as she was, and to realize that, despite all she did, she might not suffer all her days for it.
Perhaps it is good that she left.
You deserve to be free of Pansy. And Pansy of you, for somewhere, at some point, she is probably not miserable and dumpy, but smiling.
(Make your peace with it. I’ve heard — secondhand, of course — that Pansy already has.)
Diagon’s finest jokemaker dressed always in black, and his smile was strange and somber. Children would whisper about it as they bought puking pastilles and extendable ears. Because mum had said he used to be the funniest boy in her house. And dad said that he & that brother of his once turned all the third-years into canaries, just for a laugh. Mr. Weasley hardly seemed like the sort of man to do that.
What they didn’t know was that years ago, about a week after the last battle, he’d thought he heard his brother calling him. And for just a moment his face lightened, and he turned his head to respond, and at his back he found—
And the strange, somber smile froze into place then, and after that it never went away.
On the south-facing side of the drawing room is a portrait carefully coated with charms to prevent sun damage, in the best frame money can buy, daubed with colors so bright and perfect that they make one gleeful just to look. It is the portrait of the handsome young man. He is open, friendly, laughing, and he will always be kind. He is a delight to talk to. Everyone says so. He will point out the best books on the shelves. He will tell you of the garden with its wide Quidditch pitch. He will describe his friends. He has many friends.
And on the cold opposite side, partially hidden, is the portrait of two people who wanted to look on the young man even after they died. But sometimes it seems they can’t bear to look at him. They will tell you that he fills them with joy, and he does. He also fills them with pain.
It is Cedric’s portrait that faces the south. It is Cedric’s portrait that collects the sunshine. Cedric can see, through the drawing room windows, the bright and cheerful pitch they once set up for him.
The other portrait is of the people Cedric left behind.
Colin, on the run, refused to give up on photographing everything they came across. The Dark Mark over Dorking. The spot where someone had been Crucio-ed ‘til they scratched and bled and pissed themselves and scratched and bled some more. The terrified cast to Muggles’ faces that you could only capture when they thought you weren’t looking, because they didn’t quite know what they were so terrified of. Dennis told him to quit it, but he wouldn’t. He thought that someday someone might want to see these photos. He thought that in days like these, everyone had to see them.
"The moments when— when the world’s gone and fractured? Those are the moments you record," Colin said. After the Battle, though, it turned out that no one wanted to remember those moments. Everyone wanted to move on. It was all too painful.
Until one hundred years later, actually. Until Dennis, an old man, found the pictures in the attic and donated them to that memorial museum in Harrowyck Alley. A small white placard was put up next to them: Life on the Run During the Second Rise 1997-1998, Colin Creevey (14 June 1981 - 2 May 1996), shot with a Bernhard Mago-Panoptical Instant, graciously donated by Mr. Dennis Creevey of Ottery St. Catchpole.
And people came to see them. Lots of people. Sometimes their eyes would close and reopen, watering at the corners like they were leaking away anger they didn’t know they possessed. Sometimes their mouths would go hard or they would inhale very suddenly like something inside them had broken and only a quick jolt of air could fix it. But they all went away understanding something they hadn’t before.
This was why Colin had recorded the fractured moments.
Chapter 13: She Would Be Criminally Underutilized Filing Papers All Day (Viktor, Hermione)
Chapter by nimmieamee
"Of course I only decided to holiday here because everyone knows Bulgaria is experiencing the greatest surge of magical development since the rise of Basil II," said Viktor’s Ministry contact, "I’ve read the most tremendously underrated book on it, Thaumaturgic Improvements in the Balkans: One Witch’s Quest to Reclaim Dark Magic’s Hidden Wilds. Naturally, it focuses mainly on Lisa Turpin’s personal contributions to the so-called Tarnovo Magical Revolution, and so I do think further study is needed, and her citations need work, but then again she never could cite properly…”
As she spoke, she charmed the contents of her hidden handbag into his pocket. It was a pretty piece of magic, very much worthy of a Unspeakable. But of course anyone listening would only notice her rather conspicuous luggage, charmed to alert her to Dark Wizards at twenty paces, or possibly they would be so bored by her recollection of esoteric travel literature that they would fail to recognize a meeting between two underground soldiers in the fight for recognition of Eastern Magical Creatures’ rights.
"It is good to see you again, Hermy-own-ninny," Viktor decided.
People said that she and Lavender had never talked about anything but boys, but actually they had talked about music and those marvelous stories in Teen Thaumaturge, and dragon riding and unicorns, and shoes and the stupidest Ministry decisions, and bangles and wandmaking, and purses and politics, and where in London to find the best food and the nicest Muggles, and ten million other topics besides. Once, they had even talked about their post-graduation trip around the world, which they would naturally take together.
When Parvati finally made up her mind to do it, Padma offered to come along instead. Padma, of all people, could have been an able replacement.
She and Padma talked it over. But Parvati, courageous Parvati, brave even in the face of insubstantial monsters like gone and alone, Parvati who’d never not had a companion, figured she had to get used to loneliness. Or the overwhelming terror of it would never leave her be, not for the rest of her life.
And to plaster Lavender over with Padma (who was dear to Parvati, but nothing like Lavender, after all) did not seem right.
Chapter 15: Not Even The Blibbering Humdingers Could Ruin Our Friendship (Neville, Luna, Ginny)
Chapter by nimmieamee
Time and time again, Luna, whose primary interest in Quidditch was the Asynchronous Broom Mites, creatures she knew propelled themselves into the paths of very cocksure players, would go out to certain pitches: for example, the ones the Harpies might play at in a week or so. There, she would sternly communicate to these malevolent beings the terrible importance of not interfering with certain games and specifically not interfering with a certain Chaser.
And Ginny, more and more over the years, would take a moment now and then to examine growing things that seemed mundane, but would turn out to be wondrous: creeping vines and leaves that dripped sap and branches that bisected to create odd star patterns. She would insist that whoever was with her at the time — Harry or her brothers or Hermione — help her take a sample for a particular friend she had, a friend particularly interested in all manner of curious greenery.
And as he aged, Neville would come across the occasional atmospheric clearing and he would pause, staring at the very blank space something with long nostrils and magenta feathers, a great snuffling wild thing that stole children’s teeth out from under their pillows in order to cast magnificent prophetic spells. He himself swore this something existed, even if he couldn’t see it, because a very clever and embarrassingly honest person had once described it to him.
There are many popular pilgrimages and travel sites in the magical world. There is Godric’s Hollow, that sacred birthplace which was once nothing but Muggles, but which welcomed many a passing sorceror paying homage to its most esteemed son, and so became over time a shared place — a place unique for its value to both worlds. And more and more we see this happening with other curious Muggle places with round-sounding, simple, odd Muggle names - Surrey, where a certain hero spent his youth; and a dental practice in Bloomsbury, which might go completely unnoticed were it not associated with the cleverest witch of the age; and an ugly town in the North where perplexed wizards and witches in camouflaged purple and green now wander the backstreets between Tinker’s Way and Miller’s Mile, asking if perhaps one knows where a famous spy once lived, or where a girl with oddly bright green eyes might have received her letter.
"Her what?" say the residents, squinting up at these very out-of-place beings, these excitable and hurried persons who nevertheless always manage to block the street, rolling out curious maps and holding aloft strange looking guidebooks (Peregrine Somerled’s Sorcerous Sightseeing, Series Seven).
"Her letter! Oh drat, I would have said Owl, but it’s very clear that the term here is just ‘post’ with no mention of owls, and naturally it would have been delivered in person to her, so I suppose—"
"Sorry miss," the locals will say, "We’ve no idea what you’re talking about."
And then, once out of hearing, they will shake their heads and add, “Tourists.”
The dollhouse had been his mother’s, a perfect miniature of the modest country den her father had built. How boring. And unsuitable for a boy. But he never got rid of it. That would have saddened her very much.
Still. Better to gratify father, to play with the racing brooms, with crystalline toy cauldrons, with real pewter soldiers that battled and shouted and turned the great nursery upside-down, blackening the painted ceiling with soot. Over the years, the various bits of the house — small upholstered divans, beaded lamps the size of a thumbnail, the three pretty dolls with their hair ranging from dark to medium to light — became fodder for the soldier wars, were stuffed in the fireplace as a lark, were catapulted from windows or else tossed sullenly at the house elf. And the shabby little country house stayed in its corner, gathering dust, unless by chance the soldiers should need a place to lay siege to, or a blood traitor’s den to commandeer in the great war for the Wizarding World.
The little men uncovered every nook, and tortured the wooden house elf when they found him lurking underneath the stairs, and loosed the trapdoor that made the attic magically appear, the attic where they set up operations in the name of purest blood, freeing the fairest of the dolls from vicious Muggle captors made of wire and string, and setting them afire as revenge.
And it seemed to him, at the time, that this was terrific fun. For the real house had not been occupied yet, in the name of purest blood, and the real family had not seen such mischief done, seen their every secret loosed on the world, and a house elf bleeding in the hall.
Sometime during that occupation, the dollhouse vanished or was stolen or set aflame by some bored Snatcher, and Draco never saw it again.
But he remembered it, and, because he could not bear to see the nursery ceiling blackened with soot (for a part of him would start, and not see the had not been the work of his son’s pewter soldiers, but instead a hazy vision of Greyback and Rowle and Gibbon having fun with a Muggle-born), he decamped to its counterpart.
Very shabby, compared to the Manor. Very small. Suitable, perhaps, for a family of three and one elf, and how his mother and her sisters had survived a childhood here he could not quite understand. But she would come to visit and would exclaim with delight over some odd corner, some place she had adored when small, would say, “Oh, they always hated it— they remembered living in the heart of wizarding London with the rest of the family, Father struggling to wrench free the purse strings from his elder siblings, but Mum so joyous, so delighted to be at the heart of society. They both said this was a house for a forgotten country squire, for the family’s last-born and least-noticed. But I loved it here.”
Scorpius did, as well.
It began to seem to Draco that life as a forgotten and unnoticed country squire was worth it. Very much worth it.
The office situation was becoming untenable. Here they had given up the best one next to the Minister’s, with such a delightful view and surely earthquake-proof, as it was under that nice, sheltering stair. And for who? A cocksure interloper. A swaggering sort of young person who’d done them all one small favor, and now was to be repaid for it with the nicest office, though he’d barely been on the job five years.
And he wasn’t even grateful. He didn’t seem to know what most Ministry men knew, in their heart of hearts: that there was the Ministry, a safe factory of laws which was bound by wards and walls and existed largely to perpetuate itself; and then there was the abnormal world beyond, which needed far too much fixing for a simple Ministry man to be of much use to it. But while the Undersecretaries undermined anyone who might come between them and their new carpets; and Regulation and Control waged war with Muggle Artifacts for the fourth-floor canteen; and the MLE outfitted their floors in finest marble and erected a third dueling hall — where was he? Out. Out there. In Knockturn, finding the half-breed street children who had nowhere to go until he gave them a place, but who knew every crevice and corner of that dangerous lane. In Hogsmeade, where the effects of a nearby battle were making themselves known to the locals — curse backlash, like a kind of magical radioactivity, they said. In Azkaban, which he and those two shadows of his seemed determined to close down.
If he’d done it to eventually obtain the Minister’s office, they might have understood. For if the world outside should go to pieces, well, then at least then he would have the office with the nicest view, and that sort of thing is something Ministry men understand perfectly. But that was not why he did it. That was not why at all.
Harry Potter was well aware that one could choose not to face the dangers of the outside world. Doing so was abnormal. Most Ministry men, they were not so different from the Muggles, ignoring the extraordinary and horrible things around them, focused instead on canteens and carpets. But he’d long stopped worrying about being abnormal — being a freak. And besides. He’d definitely never asked for the stupid office under the stairs.
The truth was: people did not like Potter, Weasley, and Granger coming to work for the Ministry. Powerless people felt it was a breach of trust to have their heroes suddenly side with the government. And those in power resented a bunch of upstarts coming in on the coattails of that rebellious replacement, Shacklebolt. They gave the trio impossible tasks in order to stay on, all the better to fire them when they inevitably failed. Potter was told that he would have to solve the decades-old murder of Tiberius Ogden’s cousin, with his only clue a photo in the Prophet. All the other evidence had mysteriously vanished along with the body. Potter winced, went to work, spent a week furious and bored out of his mind in the newspaper offices, and, miraculously, cracked the case (Wilkie Twycross did it. And, as they say in the MLE, he would have Apparated away with it, too).
They also tried to remove Granger. They sat her at a desk and kept a snowy owl’s vigilant watch on her. They told her not to leave until she had tracked down the Department of Mysteries’s missing collection of flying and teleporting seven-league boots (overkill, but that was the Department of Mysteries for you), which they claimed had been absconded with by some fashion-conscious Voldemort supporter. The truth was, every last boot had gone up in Fiendfyre during the war and they all knew it, but the paperwork documenting this was conveniently missing. Granger sifted through reports all day, and then, finally, sent off a missive through the floo. They left her working through the night, and rejoiced to find her desk empty in the morning. But at half past she floated in, well-rested, and said, “Oh, is this what you were looking for?”
The easiest to oust should have been Weasley. He was the weakest link, in their opinion; they knew all about his rigid mother and his bumbling father and his upbringing, and they suspected that they could have a bit of fun with it, they could make him squirm in the process. So they told him he would be doing a routine patrol of Knockturn, and of course he would be fired if he couldn’t clean the place up, but not to worry: it was routine, and this was positively the easiest stretch of Knockturn, just a few smuggling rings and a dragonsblood dope den, no trouble at all. Perfect for a beginner. And then they deliberately assigned to him the worst route, the fool’s route, that long stretch with all the houses of lewd foreign monster girls. When he appeared the next day, bleary-eyed and somewhat horrified-looking, they pounced on him and said, “We notice it’s just as bad as it was before,Weasley!”
Weasley blinked at them. “Not at all,” he said. “It’s a cleaner place now. Go and see. Why, even my old mum would approve.” They did go and see. It was, to his credit, a cleaner place. The placards did the trick (<b>This is not a brothel. There are no prostitutes at this address</b>). His old mum would have approved.
So the miraculous trio stayed on. They could not be ousted. They seemed unstoppable. No one knew how they had done it.
Except for Ms. Lovegood, whose father had snuck into the Prophet offices years ago and seized up copies of all their lost work on the Ogden case. And Winky the house-elf, who had access to the Hogwarts time turners and was fully capable of defending against fire. And Fleur Delacour, who spoke the language of the Veela and could provide helpful pointers on how not to inadvertently proposition them.
She’d also laughed herself silly when she’d received Weasley’s Owl.
Potter later reformed the Prophet and gave a boost to the Quibbler’s public image. Granger championed the cause of house-elves everywhere and made sure their Fiendfyre-repelling methods went public, with full credit to the elves themselves. And Weasley became a passionate magical creatures immigration advocate (and, thanks to some research Hermione forced onto him after the Knockturn Alley affair, a fierce protector of the rights of the working girl — or fellow).
Heroism at its finest is not an individual endeavor. Sometimes one cannot win on one’s own. A true hero recognizes this. And, if they end up taking all the glory, they still find a way to pay it back, somehow.
“Tell me what you think,” said Harry Potter. He was ready to give up and beg off dinner. All would-be biographers bothered him. They never got the story right.
“Truly?” said his dinner guest. The dinner guest seemed bored. He glanced all around at the tapestries on the walls, the many souvenirs these Weasley-Delacours had brought from abroad. He could not tell if he hated them or not. Weasley was an avid collector of the foreign, which was slightly nauseating. But he was also a friend – they had met inside a pyramid, running from the same curse, and though they had competed for the same priceless treasure he had won it. But he’d surrendered it to Weasley for a story; Weasley had said, “Let me tell you of the Damia’s cavern…”
Harry Potter was beginning to look impatient.
“I met a wizard on the trip over, looking harassed, waving off Ministry Passport Regulation, terribly upset because his luggage was un-shrinking itself. A prank, he said—”
“What does this have to do with—“ Harry Potter said.
“Listen,” said the dinner guest. “He said he’d won the enmity of some persons at school. I said, ‘Tell me more.’ I love a good story. He said, ‘It happened like this. I was in my common room, and in came the girl I adored at the time. Though, perhaps not adored. She was a nag, and her nose turned up too much, but my parents liked her. But someone had gone and given her a pug’s whiskers, which was cruel. I said, “Who did this, Pansy?” She said, “There I was, returning my corrected essay to that complete imbecile, Lupin—”’”
“He wasn’t a—” Potter said, furious.
“Listen,” said the dinner guest. “’”There I was returning my essay, which you know he wanted to be all about how we should hug and cuddle trolls and make love to hags; he’s so enamored of all that filth,” said the girl I somewhat liked at the time. “He’s such a champion of the half-breed—“ “Like all of them,” I put in. My people never did like half-breeds. And also Pansy was alright. Not my favorite person. But alright. “Yes,” said she, “And I told him so, and in came those horrible Weasley twins—“ And Pansy did not need to say more,’ said the fellow with the luggage. ‘Pansy did not need to say more. I knew right away where that was going.’ And as his luggage attempted to eat him, he explained that these twins were awful pranksters fully capable of hexing everything one owned, even if one owned quitea lot, and on that day he earned their hatred very fully. I will not bore you with the details of how—“
“No, please do,” said Harry Potter. “I think I’m going to like this story.”
“Well, what interests me, really, are the twins,” said the dinner guest. “I came upon a shop with their name while I was attempting to find my hotel. I bumped into a young fellow with odd green hair outside it. He said, ‘’Scuse me. James and I have got to get these new exploding quills. It’s a matter of life and death.’ I said, ‘Djinn’s drawers. Really?’ He looked somewhat shamefaced. ‘Oh, well. I suppose not. Gran says I shouldn’t use language like that. I mean, nowadays nothing’s really a matter of life and death. Certainly not some schoolboy prank.’ But I said, ‘Now, times must have changed. Just this morning I heard of an enmity that began at your Hogwarts and continues to this day, and—‘ ‘Well,’ interjected the fellow, ‘See, Hogwarts was different, once. It was a real battleground! Why, Mr. Weasley’s brother laid down his life there, and, and—‘ ‘And?’ I prompted. ‘And my mum and dad!’ he said stoutly. But he would not go on, and I would not press, as it was rude. Still, I got the story of these heroes out of— Well. I’m going on too long, I think.”
“No!” said Harry Potter. “I want to know who was talking about them! Tell me!”
“You know the fellow,” said his dinner guest. “Tall, red-haired. Weasley’s brother. He met me at the Apparition point. He seemed upset, possibly in a rush. I said, ‘Friend, I can see you work for the MLE. It is a trying profession. Do what you must, and I will wait.’ ‘Hang on,’ he said, looking guilty. ‘It’s not that. It’s the date. Anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts. Now, the person you’ve got to hear it from is Dennis Creevey, who lost his brother. So did I, but Dennis is a better storyteller. And the way he told it to me is that while I was off camping and having an awful time, the time they were having at the school was worse. “Ron,” he said, “Ron, You and I both? We don’t what it was like under Snape.” Alright, to give Snape his due, he was working undercover, but he was a real arse, so nothing Dennis said really shocked me. “Thing is, Ron,” Dennis said, “Your sister probably keeps it from you, but the truth is that when we saw them again, the rest of the DA was all ready to die by the time the Battle rolled around. Dying couldn’t have made it worse. See, people just tell the story of that one day. But what they miss is the lead up to it. ‘Dennis!’ Eloise Midgen said when she saw me, before I went on the run. ‘Dennis! There’s been so much death. Mad-Eye Moody’s gone, did you hear.’ And she repeated it when I saw her a year later. Mad-Eye had been gone for a while, but she’d fixated on it. People do, when there’s a lot of awfulness. They pick one point and keep to that. They can’t handle it all,” said Dennis. Wait. Merlin’s balls, but I’m muddling the story,’ Weasley said.”
“Not at all,” said Harry Potter.
“That’s what I said to Weasley,” said the dinner guest.
But then he didn’t say anything else after that. He cut into his meal. Chewed. Looked thoughtful. Swallowed.
“Well, go on!” said Harry Potter, “I’m sure you’ve heard of what happened at the school all that year, and the people who died for us, and the build up, how even as kids all that hatred was there, and that death, and—”
“That story should be told,” said his dinner guest.
“Yes,” said Harry Potter, “Not my story, but—“
“But the story of a whole society, of a world,” said his dinner guest.
“Yes,” said Harry Potter. “Yes.”
And this was how Mr. Shahryar, he who could find — within a single tale — the countless other tales that gave it a foundation (for they say he is son of the son of the son of the son of Scheherazade herself), was invited to pen Harry Potter’s biography.
Only not Harry’s, not really. Everyone’s. One couldn’t tell the story without the buildup, the ones who’d died, the small hatreds of children, the great deaths of the men and women they became—
Well. One could. But why on earth would one want to?