“Here we are,” says Amelia, setting down the final tray of tea-time treats with a flourish. “Those scones from Sainsbury’s you like so much.”
Her brother Edgar claps his hands in delight. “Just like mother’s, if Mum were any good at baking.” He conjures hot water for both of them, then slides one of the cups across the table to her. “Now, what kind of favor do you need from me that you're willing to venture into Muggle shops?”
“My new case,” she says, as she slides into her chair. “Or rather, the same case, but a new angle. It involves a former colleague of yours. Do you happen to remember anything about a woman named Susan Pevensie?”
“Do I remember Susan Pevensie?” Edgar heaves a dramatically adoring sigh. “Does the world remember Helen of Troy, or Cleopatra? Do you remember Delphine Rosier?”
Amelia flushes. “A simple 'yes' would have sufficed.”
“And that, dear sister, is why you are in law enforcement and I am an Unspeakable.” Edgar tops off his tea with a generous swirl of milk, and takes a long, self-satisfied sip.
She checks her own cup to see whether it’s achieved the proper shade of dark amber yet. “Based on your examples, I take it your interactions were mostly limited to you pining from afar.”
“See? You wouldn’t have gotten that from a simple ‘yes’.” He sets the tea aside and picks up a scone, which he proceeds to bury in clotted cream. “Mind you, as far as I know, Susan didn’t let anyone get too close. That was part of the appeal. Beautiful, brilliant, but...remote. Walled off. You’ve heard what happened to her family, I assume?”
Amelia nods. Muggle photos from the crash were included in the file. She’s looked at them just closely enough to be grateful she doesn’t need to study them further. “I can see why it would be difficult to form attachments after losing everyone like that. But still: she never mentioned any dates? Friends? Old school chums?”
“I’m not even sure where she went to school,” Edgar admits, with a thoughtful frown. “She’d been with the department about a decade when I started, but I can’t remember anyone who’d have overlapped with her at Hogwarts sharing any stories. It certainly wasn’t something she talked about, at least with me.”
So the gap in the “Education” section of the profile she’s been handed - not to mention her own repository of Hogwarts gossip - isn’t just an oversight, then. That might not have raised any red flags with the Department of Mysteries; Amelia knows from past conversations with Edgar that the best Unspeakables often bristle at having their studies boxed in by mandatory assignments or NEWT prep. But it doesn’t bode well for the hypothesis that Pevensie is simply an innocent English Muggleborn caught up in political implications she doesn’t understand.
Before she can follow up on this line of inquiry, though, Edgar interjects: “May I ask a question? This case of yours - it’s the one involving those Knights of Walpurgis bastards, right? What does Susan have to do with any of that? Is she in trouble, or…?”
He does his best to keep the tone light, bless him. With a different investigator, it might even have worked. But Amelia can tell he’s more concerned than he wants to let on, which also tells her she needs to be more careful with her response than she otherwise might. “She’s made some...interesting friends since leaving the Ministry. Best case scenario, we’re hoping she can help us keep tabs on them, or fill some gaps in our files. Worst case, well...I don’t suppose you ever had a chance to see her dueling skills in action?”
Of all the questions to lift his spirits, she wouldn’t have bet on that, but his eyes light up. “Actually, yes. One of the interns was doing tests on a nundu - long story; not as interesting as you’d think - and it got through the containment spells and went charging straight for the most dangerous experiment in the room. Before anyone else had time to get over being shocked, she froze it with wandless magic and went back to her own work, calm as you please.”
Amelia raises an eyebrow. “Froze?”
“Not like with ice,” Edgar clarifies. “Just stopped it in its tracks. I always assumed it was some kind of time spell. Her specialization, you know. But she wouldn’t explain it, even when the Control of Magical Creatures reps showed up and couldn’t undo it themselves. Said she didn’t like big cats and walked off. I think they wound up transfiguring it into a statue.”
Wonderful. A possible pureblood supremacist who is intimately familiar with the inner workings of the Ministry, and who can perform near-impossible magic learned who-knows-where as easily as breathing. Amelia can’t decide whether she’ll be disappointed if she only gets to meet this woman after she’s been taken into custody, or hopes the case takes a turn that will ensure their paths never cross.
Thankfully, Edgar doesn’t seem to have realized why she’s gone quiet. “I’m sorry, Mels. I wish I could be more help. But if you want real answers, you’ll need to go higher up the chain of command.”
She groans. “Talking to your boss gives me a headache.”
“That’s how you know he likes you,” says Edgar, grinning. “If he thought you were just another MLE hothead or paper pusher, you’d get lovely, meaningless chats on historical or magical minutiae, instead of actual theory.”
Amelia stares at the bottom of her teacup as though it holds tea leaves, or as if she could read them if it did. (“They don’t teach the real stuff at Hogwarts,” Edgar had warned her, back when she was trying to decide on electives.) “I’m not sure theory will get me any closer to figuring out the next move in whatever game she’s playing. Perhaps I should set aside background for the moment, and focus on more practical avenues of investigation.”
He shrugs. “Far be it from me to tell you how to do your job. But something made you start here. If I were you, I’d trust your hunches.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks, Eddie.” She rises, dropping a quick peck on his cheek on the way up. “Will you be at Mum and Dad’s for Sunday dinner?”
“Of course.” He blushes suddenly. “I, uh...might even be bringing someone.”
It’s a good thing Amelia’s already finished her tea, or she’d be wearing it right now. “And you let me natter on the entire conversation about work? What’s her name? Where did you meet? How serious is it?”
“And you wonder why I preferred the other interrogation,” Edgar grumbles.
She waves off this complaint with a wink. “Never mind. I’ll make her tell me all about it. In embarrassingly excruciating detail.”
The grumbling intensifies into a full-on sulk. “You might enjoy watching Mum pester me about settling down and giving her grandchildren, but don’t think she won’t turn it on you if she gets desperate enough.”
“There’s always Daniel,” Amelia reminds him. To her, their little brother will always be the five year old she hugged goodbye at King’s Cross on her first day at Hogwarts, but he’s about the age she was when Delphine’s ice-blue eyes started making her insides do somersaults. For Dan’s sake, she hopes his first love turns out to be a little more attainable.
Edgar’s glower fades, replaced by a startlingly sincere, pleading expression. “I really like this one, Mels.”
“Fine, fine, I’ll behave.” She gives his shoulder a final squeeze and grabs a scone for the road. “See you Sunday.”
“Positive,” Borgin spits.
“Far be it from me to doubt your word.” Amelia lowers the picture and shifts to surveying the store, letting her gaze linger on the more questionable items as long as it takes Borgin to notice. “While I’m here, though, it occurs to me that I should check: you are up to date on your shop licenses, aren’t you? Particularly the ones designating you as an authorized carrier of cursed objects?”
Borgin suddenly develops an interest in a scuff mark on his shoe. “It’s possible we might’ve missed a renewal notice.”
“Three, in fact. Fortunately, the Ministry tends to be lenient with those who make an effort to rectify such mistakes.” She reaches into her bag and pulls out several official-looking scrolls, which she places in front of him with a thud. “You’ll need to submit the paperwork to request an extension, but I’m happy to make sure it gets looked at by the right people. Provided I can count on your assistance in this matter, of course.”
“If you really want my help, you’ll keep the inspectors away,” Borgin scowls.
Amelia makes her eyes go wide. “Now that would be breaking the law. You’re not suggesting you’re comfortable with lawbreaking, are you?”
Borgin must have some skill as a salesman, because he clearly knows when to stop pressing his luck. “Fine. She’s been coming in every few months, for the last...three years? Feels longer, somehow. Always the same request: keep an eye out for interesting timepieces.”
“Interesting how?” asks Amelia.
He shrugs. “Dunno. She’s never taken a liking to anything in stock.”
“Then why so protective, if she’s not a real customer?”
“She buys other things. A carving of a stag. A knife. Couple of pieces of furniture. A busted green ring that looked like something out of Zonko’s, ‘cept I couldn’t figure out what kind of metal it was. After the price she paid for that last one, I’d keep an eye out for rubies from Mars if she asked. And no, I have no idea what any of them have in common.”
Neither does Amelia, though one of the items in particular jumps out at her. “Can you remember any details about the knife?”
“The blade was made of stone, and had some gibberish carved into it to look like runes. Can’t say it struck me as anything special. Or much use as a knife.”
She decides he’s telling the truth. “Thank you, Mr. Borgin. You’ll let me know the next time she shows up?”
“Suppose it wouldn’t be sufficiently cooperative of me not to, would it?” Borgin grumbles.
Amelia grins. “Now that’s the kind of fast learning that will serve you well with the inspection board.”
She’s barely taken two steps out of the shop, still pleased with herself, when a voice as far removed from Borgin’s tobacco-ravaged rasp as possible interrupts her train of thought. “You know, there are easier ways to find me than shaking down my suppliers.”
Amelia spins, and gets her first good look at Susan Pevensie in the flesh. It’s quite a thorough look, as she finds herself incapable of doing anything but staring for several seconds. Edgar’s comparisons to Helen of Troy and Cleopatra do not do the woman justice; such regal, timeless beauty deserves a kingdom of its own.
And right now, the entirety of this vision is focused on her in gentle amusement. “Has anyone ever mentioned you look just like your brother when you’re surprised?”
Somehow, Amelia collects herself enough to speak. “Ms. Pevensie, I presume.”
She bows her head in acknowledgment, and Amelia resists the urge to curtsey. “Susan, please, Auror Bones. May I call you Amelia?”
“I have a feeling it would be pointless to insist on formalities,” says Amelia, in lieu of a highly inappropriate suggestion that Susan can call her whatever she wants.
“Indeed.” Susan’s glorious smile turns just the tiniest bit sharp. “Does that extend to bringing me down to MLE as well?”
Right. She’s getting much too far ahead of herself, if she needs her target to remind her this is an investigation. “Depends how open you are to answering my questions.”
“I’m sure this is nothing that can’t be resolved with a little friendly conversation...over drinks, say?” Susan gestures in the direction of Diagon Alley, and the Leaky Cauldron. “First round’s on me.”
“I am still on the job,” Amelia reminds her, waving off the overly solicitous barkeep. “How did you learn about my investigation?”
“I have my sources.” She chuckles at Amelia’s brief, suspicious frown, or at least comes as close to chuckling as the melodic elegance of her laughter will allow. “Not Edgar. I don’t know what kind of loyalty he still feels toward me, but I’d never dream of challenging the Bones family bond.”
“Then you also know why I’ve been looking for you.”
Susan sips from her drink, somehow managing to avoid leaving any stain on either her lips or the glass. “Yes, and I must say, I’m disappointed. I’m sure you’ve been briefed on my history. Do you really think I’d get involved with the Knights of Walpurgis on ideological grounds?”
“You wouldn’t be the first Unspeakable to prioritize knowledge over ideology,” Amelia points out.
“You’ve got me there,” Susan sighs. “The Knights claim they’re the keepers of ancient secrets forgotten or suppressed by ‘traitors to our glorious wizardly heritage’, but it’s all just propaganda. Stir up the rank and file with stories of what they’ve lost by accommodating Muggles, and then set them loose on their alleged ‘oppressors.’ Even when they do manage to stumble on something of genuine value, they rarely notice, never mind realize what they’ve found.” She reaches out for Amelia’s hand. “But I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what damage the arrogance of small-minded men can cause.”
Amelia pulls her arm back, though not in time to douse the flame she’s certain is igniting her cheeks. “Yet you were willing to take a chance on them. Why? Just what made them a better prospect than remaining with the Ministry?”
“Mels.” She’s going to kill Edgar for letting the childhood nickname slip, except that she’s never heard it accompanied by such a seductive purr before. She thinks she wouldn’t mind hearing it again. “My research has nothing to do with anything criminal, including the trail you’re pursuing. In fact, I’ve been absent from enough meetings at this point, it’ll likely cause suspicion if I start showing up again. Not that I’m interested in continuing to play informer, but...” Before she can react, Susan reaches into her bag and pulls out a voluminous file. “Here. Everything I’ve learned about my primary contacts, organizational leadership, their targets: your entire department should have enough to keep you busy for months.”
“Your generosity is appreciated,” says Amelia in her coolest, calmest voice; it won’t do for MLE’s finest to jump about squealing like a four year old on her third helping of cake. “But I’m afraid I still find myself concerned why you’re in the market for enchanted knives.”
“Knives?” Susan’s confused expression gives way to the first sign of genuine disgust Amelia’s seen from her. “Oh, that thing from Borgin’s. It wasn’t enchanted. Or much of a knife. I’d hoped...well, never mind what I hoped.”
Amelia lets this evasion go for the moment. “And the ring?”
Susan’s eyes light up with the telltale gleam Edgar gets when he’s too satisfied with his own cleverness to keep it to himself. Sometimes, Amelia thinks the name Unspeakable was intended as a cautionary reminder to its practitioners, rather than a descriptor. “Ah, now that was something. Of course, it couldn’t serve its original purpose on its own, but I thought I might be able to use it to get a fix on a companion. That failed, but it did prompt me to go digging through the Professor’s notes again, which was when I realized--”
Alas, this is when she remembers who her audience is, and clams up. Amelia spends the next several minutes sitting in attentive silence, despite a desperate desire to ask who “the Professor” is.
Her patience is finally rewarded by a thoughtful, appraising look, then a slow smile. “Very well. You want to know more about my research? Meet me at the Department of Mysteries this Saturday, eleven p.m. Bring a friend or two, if you like.”
Amelia isn’t sure what she was expecting or even hoping for, but it wasn’t that. “I--”
But Susan has somehow already downed the last of her drink, and is halfway to the door. “It’s a one-time offer. Don’t let me down, Amelia.”
Alan Sanders, head of the Department of Mysteries, strokes his full, tawny beard thoughtfully. “Do you plan to take her up on it?”
“Of course. I was just hoping you might be able to give me some idea what I’m walking into.”
Sanders rises from his desk and begins pacing the length of the bookshelves. He seems to have added a few since Amelia was last there. “What do you know about Time-Turners?” he asks her.
Amelia frowns. “I don’t see the connection.”
Sanders just looks at her expectantly.
“I know they exist?” she ventures at last. When this response meets with further anticipatory silence rather than scorn, she continues more confidently. “I know they have a limited range, and that law enforcement is forbidden from using them. Too much risk someone will overstep and try to change the past.”
“And why would that be bad?”
“Because…” Is it her imagination, or have the bookshelves multiplied again? “Are you saying it wouldn’t be?”
“Oh, no. I am merely illustrating the degree to which most wizards overestimate their comprehension of the dangerous forces they are meddling with when they seek to alter time’s natural flow.”
She thinks she begins to see where this is going. “But time is Susan’s specialization. Surely she knows better.”
Sanders’s laugh is a rolling bass rumble. “Surely you’ve learned by now that the more someone thinks they know, the greater the odds they may one day decide the rules do not apply to them. And Susan, unfortunately, has more reason than most to believe it.” His amber eyes fill with profound sorrow. “The responsibility is mine, I fear.”
She’s lost the thread again, even as she can feel tears of her own welling forth. “I don’t understand.”
“By the ineffable grace of my father, she and her siblings were sent to my land as children in a time of great need. But the wonders they found there could not last, so I urged them to seek out the miraculous in their own lives. The others heeded the lesson, treasuring their memories without surrendering to them. Susan refused to let go. She turned from the light and sought the dark, thinking it would bring her peace. She is not even truly a witch, as you understand the concept. Her powers are the result of corrupt bargains and secrets that should have remained hidden. For this, she was forever denied the thing she sought most, and has blamed me ever since.”
Amelia’s head is swimming. It doesn’t help that the room is growing more indistinct, or that Sanders’s voice keeps swelling to fill the empty space, or that his appearance keeps shifting as well. He looks more like a feral, broad-shouldered version of Rufus Scrimgeour, almost verging on some sort of hybrid feline creature.
Which shouldn’t surprise her, she realizes, in a sudden flash of clarity. After all, Edgar’s boss is not named Alan Sanders.
“I’m dreaming, aren’t I?” she says. “None of this is real.”
Not-Sanders, more animal than man at this point, smiles at some private joke. “Just because it is in your head, why on earth should that mean it is not real?”
“I don’t like riddles,” Amelia snaps. “Who or whatever you are, if there’s something you want from me, tell me what it is and let me go.”
“You are free to wake at any time,” says the beast, now fully settled into the shape of an enormous lion, as he comes padding toward her. She tenses, but the second his fur brushes her skin, she feels nothing but calm: contentment, even. He lifts his muzzle to her ear, and she leans into the contact.
She can’t understand the words that come pouring forth, but she can sense the intent. A spell. Something big. Something complicated. Something ancient. Something no one like her or any mere mortal has any business performing.
She tries to muster enough room for other thoughts to put together an objection, but the lion is walking away. “Wait!” she cries. “How do I cast it? Why should I cast it? What does it do?”
The lion’s voice wafts back to her, as gentle as his touch. “When the time comes, Daughter of Eve, you will know.”
She should go tell the real head of the department. For that matter, she should tell her own superiors. But Susan knows far more than she should about Amelia's investigation - and Amelia herself, for that matter. She knows with the same reflexive certainty she knows which way to point her wand that if she treats this as a sting, Susan won't show.
Naturally, the most logical course of action would be not to take the bait at all. But if she does that, her triumph in obtaining the file will be marred by her inability to confirm the reliability of its source or tie up the loose ends of her involvement. Also, Susan likely doesn’t have further time to waste on cowards, which rules out the option immediately.
So. A friend or two. Her thoughts fly immediately to Edgar. Of course, the mere fact she feels confident she can count on him not to rat her out suggests they may both be fatally compromised. They need an objective third party.
In the end, the choice is obvious. There's only one colleague Amelia knows who’ll be prepared for anything without asking the wrong kind of questions. And there’s no partner she’d rather have with her as backup if this all does go to hell.
She prepares her message, then conjures her Patronus. “Alastor Moody,” she tells it, and sends it on its way.
“Person of interest,” says Amelia from where she sits slouched on the floor just outside the Department of Mysteries, at the same time Edgar says, “I’m sure she’ll be here soon.”
Alastor rolls his eyes and leans against the entryway, careful not to touch the black door. “Pathetic, bleeding hearts, both of you.” He squints his eyes at Amelia and snorts. “Especially you. Did you do something with your hair?”
Amelia is about to retort that she’s allowed to break out the VolumElixir if she feels like it, but the click of high heels on tile and Edgar’s sharp intake of breath tells her the main attraction has arrived. She rises, though not so quickly that she misses Alastor’s futile attempt to tidy his own hair as he straightens up.
“Edgar.” Susan punctuates the greeting with an air-kiss. “So good to see you again. Not the least bit surprising, but good.” She turns to Alastor. “And this must be the legendary Auror Moody.” Her gaze fixes on his right eye just long enough to be slightly discomfiting, before her attention shifts to Amelia. “I believe I’ve kept you waiting long enough. Shall we?”
Edgar hesitates a moment, then opens the door. “Where are we headed?”
“Where do you think?” Susan asks coyly, traipsing past him.
“Are we sure about this?” Alastor whispers to Amelia, as they follow the others into the interior chamber. “Because I think we’ve established your usual solid judgment goes on holiday when your libido gets involved.”
“My libido is not involved,” Amelia hisses.
“Did you or didn’t you bring me along to keep you honest?”
He has a point, which Amelia refuses to concede. “I also brought you along to keep guard. Can you do that and scold me at the same time?”
“Probably,” Alastor retorts. Nonetheless, they pass through the next set of doors without another word, and into what, judging by the clocks and hourglasses that line the walls from floor to ceiling, can only be the Time Room.
Susan claps her hands together in evident delight. “Just as I remember it.” She surveys the others. “Well. Let’s get started.”
“You can’t give us even a hint what this is about first?” Edgar asks plaintively, accompanied by an emphatic nod from Alastor.
“As I told your sister, a demonstration will be far simpler.” She raises her arms. A slow, quiet rattling sound builds to a crescendo as a cloud of...something surrounds her.
Sand, Amelia realizes, at the same time she realizes she’s said it out loud. “She’s drawing the sand out of the hourglasses.”
“Those are Time-Turners,” Edgar corrects her, his tone graduated to full alarm. “Susan, I really have to insist--”
“Insist nothing. I’m ordering. Drop your hands,” Alastor barks, wand drawn.
To Amelia’s surprise, Susan appears to comply for a moment, the sand circling her in eerie slow-motion. Then, with a motion like a cobra striking, she gestures in their direction.
Amelia knows she should be firing off every disabling spell in her repertoire, but the training manual entry on combat with a master of wandless magic amounts to little more than “run and call for backup.” Moreover, Alastor should have gotten off a few of his own by now, but she hears nothing from him or Edgar.
Remembering the tale of the nundu with growing trepidation, she turns her trembling eyes on Alastor. Sure enough, her friend stands as though petrified, wand still outstretched. She can’t bring herself to check on Edgar, but she’s certain he’s suffered the same fate.
The shock has barely begun to sink in when another horrific possibility hits her. She tries to move her own limbs, and finds she cannot.
“They’re still alive,” Susan reassures her, with a smile unnerving in its placidness. The cloud of sand begins to accumulate again. “And you can still talk. Though I reserve the right to change that if you insist on behaving stupidly.”
Amelia swallows in lieu of screaming. “Am I allowed to ask questions as well?”
Susan nods magnanimously.
“Right. I know you’ve been trying to avoid verbal explanations, but...what the hell?”
She half-expects this will be deemed too stupid to stand, but Susan merely transfers the sand pile off to one side. “It’s become increasingly clear to me that even if there were other ways to achieve my goals, I’ve no means of pursuing them without attracting unwanted attention. So I’ve settled on brute force.” She reaches beneath her collar and pulls out a long chain, at the end of which dangles a pendant that makes the other time-keeping devices in the room look like a crude sundial sketched in the dirt. “This Time-Turner is of my own devising. When I’ve finished loading it up, it’ll be able to take me whenever I want to go. Into the past, at least.”
“Sounds like you have it all worked out,” says Amelia, more pointedly than seems sensible under the circumstances. “Why am I here, then? And why encourage me to drag others into it?”
“Call it a test, of sorts. You can put up a struggle - for whatever that’s worth - and join your friends. You can stay just as you are and watch quietly, and I’ll let all of you go before I leave. Or you can assist me, and come along for the ride. It shouldn’t take much more power to transport two than one.”
“Or we could all work this out like reasonable, intelligent adults,” Amelia suggests, trying and likely failing to keep a lid on her desperation. “I’m sure Edgar would be far more help on your first run. And Alastor…” Admittedly, she can’t see unfreezing Alastor right this second ending well, but having gotten him into this mess, she owes it to him to try. “If anyone understands what kind of trouble overzealousness on the job can get someone into, it’s him.”
Susan continues her sand collecting, unperturbed. “This is a one-way ticket, I’m afraid. Edgar has someone special he’d be leaving behind, doesn’t he? And your partner is far too paranoid to appreciate the opportunity. You, on the other hand…” She glances up just long enough to reassure Amelia her heart is still beating somewhere under the paralysis as it gives a traitorous flutter. “I’m not saying you wouldn’t be missed here and now, but we’d make quite a team. The things I could show you…”
“I’ve no interest in your corrupt bargains,” Amelia cuts her off.
She doesn’t register anything odd or notable about the phrasing at first, but Susan’s expression goes cold and blank. When she opens her mouth again, it is with a venomously honeyed smile. “You’ve been speaking with Aslan.”
“Who?” asks Amelia, even as her subconscious supplies flashes of dark gold fur and cryptic pronouncements.
Having finished gathering up the sand, Susan conjures a steadily flowing river of it into the Time-Turner, then sets about fiddling with the settings. “He might not have called himself that, but I’m sure you know who I’m talking about. Go on. What other lies did he tell you?”
Amelia says nothing. Unfortunately, silence is not on her side this time. If anything, it just appears to improve Susan’s concentration on her task. “I genuinely do like you, Amelia. It’s the reason you’re here, let alone still capable of talking. You might as well humor me. Besides, don’t you think you should have both sides of the story?”
This is quite possibly the first thing Amelia’s heard since their arrival in the Time Room that makes any kind of sense. She sifts through the embers of the dream, looking for useful scraps. “He said your magic was…unconventional.”
Susan lets out a single, mocking laugh. “Very diplomatically put. But yes, it is. So is his, mind you. Even if he is a god, I don’t believe for a moment he’s the sort of god he claims to be.” As though sensing Amelia’s dumbfoundment at this proclamation, she prompts: “What else?”
“I couldn’t follow most of the rest of it,” confesses Amelia. “He...exiled you from somewhere? Or took something you wanted?”
“He has no idea what I want,” Susan snarls. “Or at least he pretends not to. Never mind Narnia, never mind kings and queens, never mind power. It’s always been him. He used me. He used all of us, and he had the nerve to claim he was rewarding the others for playing along, instead of tying up loose ends. Well, I’m taking his tools away. I’m going to go back and save my family from the monster who stole them from me. And then, assuming that alone isn’t sufficient to leave his carcass rotting on the Stone Table, I’m coming for him.”
Like anyone trapped in conversational waters over their head, Amelia resorts to platitudes. “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through, but--”
“Oh, but you will.” Susan turns from her tinkering long enough to look Amelia in the eye, then returns her focus to the rapidly dwindling pile of sand. “I’ve seen your future, Amelia Bones. When the skull and serpent rise over your parents’ house, when Edgar and his children lie slaughtered in their beds, when the Dark Lord comes for you on the eve of your greatest triumph, will you be so accepting of your fate? Or will you wish you’d followed me when you had the chance?”
The calm clarity in Susan’s voice sends a chill down Amelia’s spine. Nonetheless, she rallies: “If you’ve seen the future, then you already know what I’ll do.”
“True.” The last of the sand is sucked into the Time-Turner, which Susan gives a final once-over. Satisfied, she loops it back around her neck, and raises her hand. “Power aside, you may be stronger than I am, Amelia. You’re certainly a better person by anyone’s standards. But you’re not going to stop me.”
Aslan’s spell flashes into Amelia’s head. Before she can think better of it, or think at all, she shouts the words.
The Time-Turner flares a bright white, and Susan’s howl of rage cuts off into nothingness as she - and it - vanish. A second later, so does the Time Room. Amelia finds herself standing once more at the door to the Department of Mysteries. Beside her, Edgar and Alastor stretch as though coming out of a deep sleep.
“What’s going on?” Alastor demands.
Amelia has no idea how to even begin trying to answer that question. She settles on what she suspects he will consider the most important part: “It’s all right. She’s gone.”
He blinks at her. “What? No, I mean, why the hell are we here?”
Terrific. Then again, perhaps she shouldn’t be surprised a spell capable of turning someone into a living statue also involves some short-term memory loss. “Okay, what’s the last thing you remember before Susan froze you?”
Now she’s really starting to worry. “Alastor, if you’re joking, I swear--”
“I’m not. A minute ago, I was settling in for the night with a bit of bedtime reading, and suddenly I’m here in full kit with you fussing over me.” He turns to Edgar, scowling. “This is your fault, isn’t it?”
Edgar holds out his arms and shakes his head in bafflement. “I’m just as lost as you are. Who’s Susan?”
She studies the two of them for signs of collusion. “So neither of you remember me telling you anything about my case in the last week.”
“Not unless you count that gripe session at tea over not having any new leads.” Her brother looks her over with the same expression of concerned confusion she suspects she’s wearing. “Are you all right?”
Amelia allows herself a moment to take stock before responding. Susan is indeed gone, both physically and from others’ recollection of events, which means she can’t rule out the possibility the woman’s insane scheme worked even with the interruption. But the fabric of reality isn’t lying in shreds around them, so the spell must have done something.
“That’s the Department of Mysteries for you,” she says at last. “Let’s go.”
But first, there’s something she needs to check.
The resource desk attendant at the Muggle library nearest her parents’ home seems cheerfully unperturbed by her incompetence with the microfiche reader. (“If most patrons knew how to work this, they wouldn’t pay me, dearie!”) After multiple false starts and a bit of stifled cursing, she finally acquires enough proficiency to send the woman on her way and concentrate on finding whether what she’s looking for is still there. In this, she hopes she fails.
But no: there is the article on the railway crash, just as it looked in her file. Mr. and Mrs. Pevensie, their sons Peter and Edmund, their youngest daughter Lucy, all still dead; only their older daughter spared, having missed the family outing for unspecified reasons. A miracle, or a cruel twist of fate, depending on one’s perspective. Amelia isn’t sure which side she comes down on.
Waving an absent goodbye to the helpful librarian, she leaves the building too absorbed in her own thoughts to notice the person walking toward her in time to avoid a collision. She picks herself up and starts to offer an apology, then freezes in recognition.
“Susan!” she gasps. For Susan it is, but...changed. From her smart hat to her matching high heels, she looks like the model in a Muggle advert for hand soap, or some other sensible, ladylike product. The silver threads in her impeccably coiffed hair have vanished under hair dye, the fine lines around her eyes and mouth patched with foundation: but strip these away, and Amelia suspects there would be more of them. There is nothing the least bit magic about her, let alone the wild aura that might inspire foolish acts or frighten gods.
She is still the most beautiful woman Amelia has ever seen.
And right now, she is staring, with a haughty dismissal lacking any sign of recognition. “Have we met?”
“I’m sorry. I....” Amelia scrambles to come up with a reason the two could have crossed paths that doesn’t require Susan to believe anything she clearly doesn’t remember, and fails. “You just...look like a Susan,” she finishes awkwardly.
Susan’s eyes narrow further. “This isn’t the beginning of some scam, is it? I don’t take kindly to tricks.”
Amelia can only shake her head; if she opens her mouth, she’ll either babble or be sick. “Excuse me,” she manages at last, and runs until she reaches the shelter of a large oak, well out of sight.
She can’t articulate what it is that she’s lamenting, or why it hurts so much, beyond a deep, bitter certainty she deserves this. The Susan she knew was anything but content with her life, and yet Amelia feels she’s stolen something even more vital from her than magic. Or worse, been used to steal it. If only she could remember the details of the spell, or where it came from…
A warm breeze rustles the oak’s leaves, brushing past Amelia’s cheek like a breath, or a caress. As abruptly as it started, her grief subsides. All is as it should be. It must be. How could she continue to function, if she truly believed the universe only capable of taking without giving?
“Goodbye, Susan,” she whispers. Drying the last of her tears, she continues on toward her parents’ house.
“Here I am,” Amelia echoes. She elects not to ask if he’s recovered from the previous night, which he no doubt recalls very differently by now. Besides, there are more important things to attend to. “And who’s this?”
Edgar beams, turning to his companion. “Joan, I’d like you to meet my favorite sister. Amelia, this is Joan. Mum and Dad just got through telling her about the Puffskein incident, so you might as well not try to outdo them on embarrassing childhood stories.”
“Didn’t I promise I’d behave?” she chides, embracing first Joan, then Edgar. “Although if you haven’t driven her away screaming, I don’t think there’s anything I can say to scare her off.”
But as the words leave her mouth, Susan’s warning comes back to her, unbidden: When Edgar and his children lie slaughtered in their beds…
No. Without Susan there to see it, who can say whether her prediction still holds? And even if it does, futures are far more easily rewritten than the past. If Amelia retains nothing else of this strange encounter, let her remember that destiny is not fixed. Whatever Dark Lords may come for her, she will save her loved ones from whatever horrors await them. And she will get it right the first time.
“Mels?” The distant, anxious sound of Edgar’s voice makes her realize she’s still clinging to him. “Everything all right?”
“Yes,” she says, and repeats it silently as a promise to him, to Joan, to Mum and Dad, to herself. “Everything’s fine.”