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Ellie Nihil and the Rise of Darkness

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The back of Ollivander's shop was hot and stuffy in the summer, but it was still Ellie's favorite place to be. On his son's recommendation, Garrick Ollivander had hired Ellie to help mind the shop for the summer. It was their busiest season, and Ellie did her best to keep the shelves organized, but Ollivander didn't like her to be underfoot while he was working, so by the time he was done with the sales at the end of the day, the counter was always littered with wands and empty boxes that needed to be re-sorted and shelved.

But whenever Ollivander was in the front of the shop, Ellie was allowed to be in the back. Mostly, she swept sawdust, stirred potions, and polished finished wands, but if she completed those duties quickly, she was free to use the materials at hand for her own work.

She'd learned a lot about wandlore and wand-working over the last three years. Lionel Ollivander, Garrick Ollivander's son, came to Hogwarts once a week to give Ellie private lessons on the topic. It wasn't as good as a real apprenticeship, which required years of dedicated and exclusive study, but it was useful nonetheless. Lionel had done his real apprenticeship under his father, but had really found his calling in other forms of woodworking. His father was convinced that he would give up his furniture-making and return to wandworking once Garrick was too old to continue, but Ellie wasn't so sure. While Lionel was able to teach her nearly everything she wanted to know about wandlore, his actual wands rather paled in comparison to that of his father.

Lionel really believed in Ellie, though. It took several years, but eventually he wore his father down with his arguments and convinced him to let Ellie learn directly from the master, or at least sit silently in the workshop so she could absorb some of his knowledge. Lionel felt that he had nothing left to teach Ellie, so their classes would be coming to an end. This summer was her last chance to learn everything she could about wands. It was probably for the best, though. She had other plans for her advanced studies at Hogwarts, and she wouldn't have time for this particular interest.

"Still here, Nihil?" asked Garrick Ollivander, coming into the back, "I thought you were leaving early today."

Ellie was momentarily confused. Why did she need to leave early again? Then she remembered, and jumped off the stool so quickly that she knocked it over. "What time is it?" she asked urgently.

"After three," he replied.

"But then the letter's already there!" said Ellie, "Thanks for reminding me. I've got to run!"

"You're coming in tomorrow no matter what the results are," said Ollivander.

"Yes, sir!" shouted Ellie, already halfway out the door.

 

She arrived out of breath at Snape's house a few minutes later to find the professor sitting calmly in his armchair, reading.

"Welcome home," he said, "how was work?"

Ignoring the question, Ellie asked, "Have you opened it yet?"

In response, Snape pointed at the envelope in the table, wax seal in tact. "Catch your breath first," said the Professor, "opening it quickly won't change the results."

Ellie immediately tore open the envelope and started to read. She was so nervous, though, that the words weren't making sense. Heeding Snape's advice, she sat down on the couch, took a few deep breaths, and tried reading it again.

 

Ancient Runes - E

Astronomy - A

Care of Magical Creatures - O

Charms - E

Defence Against the Dark Arts - O

Herbology - O

History of Magic - O

Potions - O

Transfiguration - A

 

Ellie breathed a sigh of relief. "Well, I'll never be a healer with that transfiguration grade, but at least I passed everything!"

Ellie passed the paper to Snape and let him look it over. "This is very good," he said, "You have some options for which NEWT classes you want to take. Five is typical, but you can do more. Have you thought about which ones you're dropping?"

"Well I'll keep Potions and Herbology of course. But I can't continue with Astronomy or Transfiguration with only an acceptable, so that choice is made for me. And unless Professor Kettleburn comes back, I think I'll be dropping Care of Magical Creatures too."

"Ancient Runes?" he asked.

"No, I don't think that's worth continuing. But Professor Dumbledore approved my request for a Magical Theory independent study, and Professor Babbling said she would be my advisor."

"You just aren't interested in the standard classes, are you?" said Snape, "First wands, now theory…"

"I was interested in theory first, if you recall." said Ellie, "Besides, I'm not interested in what everyone already knows. I want to know NEW things."

"You're only fifteen, Ellie. You have time." said Snape, "You should focus on the fundamentals first."

 

"Nearly sixteen," said Ellie, "and I'm dropping charms too."

"Charms class is essential, Ellie." said Snape, "You shouldn't drop it so lightly. I know that wand magic hasn't always been easy for you, but you can't give up on it."

"I'd rather take History, though." said Ellie. "History, Herbology, Potions, and Magical Theory."

"That's only four classes!" said Snape, "And one of them isn't even a standard NEWT class. You did so well on your OWLs, I'd hate for you to throw that away by just dropping all your classes as soon as you're allowed."

"But I don't want to take all these classes," said Ellie, "why can't I just study what I want?"

"Save that for after you graduate Hogwarts," said Snape.

"How many NEWTs did you do?" asked Ellie.

"Eight."

"Eight?" said Ellie, "No one has eight NEWTs!"

Snape listed, "Potions, Charms, Transfiguration, Defence against the Dark Arts, Herbology, Care of Magical Creatures, Astronomy, and Arithmancy. Eight."

Ellie frowned and said, "Well I'm not interested in eight subjects. I'm interested in four."

"Do what you want with charms, but I absolutely forbid you from dropping Defence against the Dark Arts," said Snape. "Nothing is more important right now."

"You can't make me!" said Ellie, fully aware that she was too old for such a juvenile argument. As soon as she said it, she knew that she had lost.

"I am your father and your head of house," said Snape, "and you will do as I say."

Acknowledging defeat, Ellie took her OWL results and went upstairs. As promised, she immediately wrote a letter to both of her best friends, sharing her grades and which classes she hoped to take. If Yuki and Phineas were both taking charms, she'd consider it.

At dinner that night, Ellie tried to get Snape to divulge who would be teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts that year, but if he knew, he was being very tight lipped.

"No matter who's teaching it, you still have to take it." said Snape.

"You weren't so keen on it last year," said Ellie.

"My quarrels with Lupin are none of your concern," said Snape, "but things have changed. You understand that the class is not purely theoretical, don't you?"

"You've been saying that for years," said Ellie, "but none of your supposed dangers have ever manifested themselves. Unless you count Draco being a prat sometimes, which I don't."

"The Dark Lord was inside Hogwarts just a few years ago, Ellie. Did the message not sink in then?"

"That was Harry's problem though. He's always getting into trouble. If I just keep avoiding him like I have been, I'll be fine. I can't believe you thought I was a troublemaker. I didn't run off to fight a troll my first year, did I?"

"I'll admit, you have done a good job of keeping your head down the last few years. Potter's arrogance and disregard for the rules has caused far more damage than your curiosity ever did. But trouble can find you, even if you don't seek it out. As I recall, there were quite a few incidents in your fourth year."

"Alright, so it wasn't easy being a muggle-raised Slytherin that year, but I kept winning the fights, so no harm done. If they actually taught duelling in Defence Against the Dark Arts, I'd be more interested in the class. And I wouldn't have been petrified anyway, since I'm not actually a mudblood. So no danger, really."

"Your actual parentage is much more dangerous than being Muggle-born, as I keep explaining. Everything that Potter has faced would be your fate too if people knew that Lily was your mother."

"I know!" said Ellie exasperatedly, "Which is why I've kept it a secret all this time. I haven't even talked to Harry. What more do you want from me?"

"I want you to be prepared to defend yourself when the Dark Lord returns," said Snape.

"I don't think he's coming back," said Ellie, "If it's been this long, I think he's finished."

 

Snape lapsed into silence. The Dark Lord was returning soon, and all of the former Death Eaters knew. The mark on his arm was visible now, for the first time since the Dark Lord's fall. And thanks to him, Dumbledore knew as well. Even as Ellie and her friends were thinking about NEWTs and classes, Dumbledore was preparing for the return of the most powerful Dark Wizard of all time. On top of that, preparations for the Triwizard Tournament were underway. The timing couldn't be worse, and there would be no rest for Snape this year.

With the Dark Lord growing stronger, he would be looking for ways to get to Harry Potter. Snape's greatest fear was that Ellie would become the tool to capture him. Snape had not revealed Ellie's true parentage to anyone, even Dumbledore. Snape trusted Dumbledore to do the right thing, for the greater good, but Snape would never allow Ellie to become a sacrifice to his cause. A consequence of this, however, was that Ellie had none of the protections that Potter did. It was only Snape looking out for her.

If the Dark Lord got to her, he could use Ellie as a lure for the one he really wanted. With Potter's incurable hero complex, he would surely jump at the chance to rescue a long-lost half sister, even if he knew Snape was the father. But Dumbledore would try to prevent such heroics. Between the two, Snape felt sure that Dumbledore would be willing to sacrifice Ellie to protect Harry. There were no prophecies about her. And Harry would obey Dumbledore, no matter what.

He couldn't allow Ellie to become a pawn in their games. Her relationship to the chosen one would erase everything else about her. She would just be a tool for Dumbledore or Voldemort to use and dispose of. He wouldn't let that happen.

"I need to show you something," said Snape, "There is no more time to waste."

He rolled up his sleeve and held his forearm out for Ellie to see. It was faint, but Ellie was able to make it out. 

"What is that?" asked Ellie, "I've never noticed it before."

"It's the Dark Lord's mark," said Snape, "All of his closest supporters had this branded onto us. You could not see it before, because his powers were waning. But it has been growing stronger. It means that he is gaining strength. He will be back. Soon."

"And it can't…" said Ellie, "I mean, it can't be wrong?"

Snape shook his head, "I wish I was wrong about this. I know you grow tired of my warnings, but it is only because I know what is coming. I have been through this before, and I want to protect you from it."

 

Ellie grew very quiet, and Snape covered his arm again. "Alright," said Ellie, "I'll take Defence Against the Dark Arts."

"Good," said Snape, "That will prepare you to stand up to his followers. But as a… person of interest… you need to be able to protect yourself from you-know-who himself. I hope that you will never meet him, but if you do… I think that it is time I taught you Occlumency."

"What's that?" asked Ellie.

"It is what has enabled me to be such a good double agent. Have you heard of legilimency?"

"Er… not really. Does it have something to do with reading?"

Snape replied, "Somewhat. The naive and unlearned might say that legilimency is mind-reading, but it is much more complicated than that. The Dark Lord, however, is neither naive nor unlearned. He is a master of legilimency. He is adept at extracting thoughts and memories from foes and allies alike. Even when not actively attempting to break your mind, he is using this power to know if you are lying. Occlumency is the art of defending yourself against these mental attacks."

"Why haven't I heard of this before?" asked Ellie, "What's the point of keeping all these secrets if the Dark Lord can just read my mind whenever he pleases?"

"It is not that simple. Many factors, including time, distance, focus, and intention, have huge impacts on the effectiveness of legilimency. And even the unprotected mind is not an open book to be perused at will," explained Snape, "And as for not encountering this before, this is far from common magic. I know of only three Legilimens and Occlumens that have enough skill for it to even be worth discussing. The Dark Lord, Albus Dumbledore, and myself."

"So you're a… a legilimens too?" asked Ellie, "Is that how you always know when students are lying?"

"No," said Snape, "most students are simply not as clever as they think they are when it comes to making up lies. In general, I do not use my powers of legilimency, only occlumency."

"Oh," said Ellie, a little disappointed, "Can you teach me both?"

"No," said Snape, "You only need to know how to defend your mind. I won't bother trying to explain the twisted morality of legilimens, since you are always eager to defend the dark arts, but I will not be teaching it to you."

Ellie shrugged, knowing Snape was right, but privately decided that she could probably teach herself if she really wanted to. Nothing made her more excited about learning than being told that a topic was off-limits.

"Now, I should warn you," said Snape, "Occlumency is incredibly difficult to master. It requires emotional control and a discipline of mind that you currently lack."

"I can control my mind!" said Ellie defiantly, "and my emotions."

"You are having an emotional reaction right now," said Snape, "can you suppress it? Can you push it completely from your heart and repeat your words such that even with the power of legilimency I cannot tell that you are lying? Someday soon your life may depend on it."

Ellie took a moment to gather her thoughts. She'd gotten too comfortable lately. Her trust in Snape allowed her to wear her heart on her sleeve. But she remembered what it was like before she met him. Bouncing between foster homes and Miss Trumble's Home for Girls she had faced her fair share of difficult situations. Back then, she'd learned to manage her emotions in the face of her bullies. She gave no response, and eventually they left her alone. She'd prided herself on this ability. Her emotions were more dangerous than she knew. When she couldn't control the anger, the magic burst out of her, violently. Before she knew she was a witch, she'd hurt people. She had seriously injured bad foster parents and elementary school bullies alike. And once, her outbursts had even resulted in death. When she lost control of her mind she killed two little girls, as fragile and friendless as she had been.

But she didn't want to think about that right now. It was enough to know that she had the control within her, even if she was out of practice. She took a deep breath, suppressing the feeling of insult that had been her knee-jerk reaction to Snape's words. She arranged her face in a calm expression and repeated, "I can control my mind and my emotions."

Snape appraised her and said, "Hmm, maybe you can after all."

"Can I start learning now?" asked Ellie, "Or do I need to wait for the term to start?"

"If you help me wash the dishes, we can start right now," said Snape.

 

What Ellie learned over the next few weeks didn't feel much like magic. Snape just kept having her do exercises to control her thoughts and emotions. Mostly, he had her practice lying. It was sort of fun to have permission to lie about little things all the time, but Snape was very good at catching her in it. He wouldn't say whether he was using legilimency or not, though.

"If you meet the Dark Lord, he will not announce his intentions first," said Snape, "You may not even be able to feel when he is using his powers. But you should always be on your guard if he is looking at you. Eye contact is essential for legilimens."

"Then why don't I just refuse to meet his eyes?" suggested Ellie.

"It will not work," said Snape, "If you defy him openly, he has other methods of getting information. The imperius curse. Torture."

Ellie gulped and focused harder on controlling her emotional reaction. The fear she felt at that statement was her weakness. After a moment, she felt like she was in control again and said, "I want you to try it for real. I can't even tell if I'm doing it right."

Snape scowled but said, "Alright. I suppose I have to let you try eventually. But you'll have to do it without your wand until we're back at Hogwarts."

"What? Is there a way to use a wand to do occlumency? You didn't mention that."

"There is no particular spell. But certainly if it comes to the point where someone is openly making an attack on your mind, you should use any means you can to stop them. True occlumency, however, is done with the mind alone."

"Legilimency too?"

"No, that one has a spell. Legilimens ." Snape pulled out his wand, pointed it at Ellie and said, "Now, prepare yourself."

Ellie wasn't quite sure how to prepare herself when she didn't have a wand, but she squared up to Snape anyway and tried to clear her mind.

He pointed his wand at her and said, " Legilimens! "

Ellie didn't know how she was actually supposed to prepare herself, but she was immediately sure that she had done it wrong. 

Unbidden, memories began to flash before her eyes. She was 8, and she'd been caught stealing food from her foster parents. She was 14, and she was finding a note in her bunk, written in blood, that read, go home, mudblood . Then she was holding Phineas's hand at his Aunt's funeral, while they both cried.

Suddenly the torrent stopped, and she was back in the moment. She was a little embarrassed to find that she was crying, and hurriedly wiped her eyes. "Did I stop you?" she asked.

"No, I stopped on my own," said Snape, "I could feel you resisting me at first, but then you gave in. I don't think you're ready for this yet. You lack the necessary fortitude."

"I have fortitude." she said firmly, "let me try again. Now that I know what to expect I think I can do better."

Snape hesitated, but raised his wand again, obligingly. " Legilimens! "

Again, a memory swam before her eyes. She was standing in the apothecary on Knockturn Alley, and she could hear Snape's slow, measured, footsteps approaching the counter. He'd told her to stay away from Knockturn alley, and she was about to be caught. She was filled with fear and guilt. But this time when that thought began to blur into another memory, she stopped it. She forced herself to stay in that moment that had frightened her so many years ago. But she wasn't frightened anymore, or guilty. She was merely remembering those feelings, but she didn't need to feel that way anymore. 

She focused on her breathing and that sense of fearless guilt-free calm that belonged to the real present moment, and slowly the scene faded. She found herself back in Snape's home, facing the Professor, who had a look of intense concentration on his face. She could still feel the magic tugging at her mind, trying to take her back there, but she resisted it.

Snape ended his attack and lowered his wand. "That was very good, for a second attempt," he said, "But you still let me get too far. The Dark Lord could use that memory against you."

"I know," said Ellie, "let's go again! I think I'm getting the hang of it."

Wearily, Snape raised his wand again. "Once more," he said, "Then I need some rest. This is as tiring for me as it is for you. Legilimens! "

This time Ellie was prepared. In the split second between when she first felt that mental pull and when the memories would begin, she put up a wall. She was not frightened, she was not sad, she was not guilty. She was just calm. Once she'd gained that levelness of emotion, it was almost easy to keep him out.

Just as she was thinking this, there was a sudden surge in the intensity of his mental probing, and her wall crumbled. More memories came floating up, too quickly to really grasp. She tried to find something to hold onto, but she was adrift in her own mind, completely out of control.

Then it stopped.

"Arrogance is a weakness, Ellie," said Snape, "I have not yet put my full power into this, and the Dark Lord is infinitely more powerful than I am. But that's enough for today. You have an instinct for the basics, which is more than I had hoped for. I think that with time and practice you will be able to learn this."

"Yes, Professor," said Ellie, with evident disappointment. She didn't want to end on a note of defeat. She wanted to keep practicing.

"You don't need to call me that at home," said Snape, "even if I am actively teaching."

"Yes, father," said Ellie, in the same tone.