Rabnott had been an Unspeakable for thirty-seven years. As such, he could count on the fingers of one hand the times he had been requested to leave the Department of Mysteries during work hours in order to make his way up to the higher levels of the Ministry, where everybody else worked.
The number of times was two, for the record… although he supposed he could call them three now.
Last week he had received an owl from the Minister, letting him know that permission had been granted for two visitors to examine Prophecy Record n. 9728. Knowing what he did about the Prophecy in question, and whom he thought it concerned, Rabnott had not been as surprised as he might have been in another situation.
The only reason why the Hall of Prophecy rarely got any visitors nowadays was that most people no longer knew of its existence. It had faded from public memory and record a long time ago, so long ago, that the Hall of Prophecy was now regarded as nothing more than a rumour by all but a select few. None of this meant that its Keeper's responsibilities had changed though. It was still Rabnott's sworn duty to maintain the Hall, to look after the records, and make sure that everything was well and properly documented.
Along with all that came one more duty, though he had never had to exercise it before: as the Keeper of the Hall, he Kept the prophecies, so that if their subjects came to him, they could be listened to.
By law, the Ministry was not allowed to deny anyone this right, so the main obstacle there was usually a lack of knowledge. The daughter of the Crown Prince of the Red Kingdom suffered from no such setback, however, as he assumed that most countries had something akin to the Hall somewhere, and it was no stretch to think the royal family of one such country might know more about it than most…
That their visitors had known to ask for permission and that this permission had been granted was therefore to be expected, though Rabnott wasn't entirely sure how they could have found out about the Prophecy in the first place. Unless they'd found out from Dumbledore somehow, before his disastrous fall from grace.
But it wasn't Rabnott's place to ask those questions.
Permission granted was permission granted, and so Rabnott now found himself sitting in one of the upstairs offices, the Crown Prince of the Red Kingdom and his ten-year-old daughter both taking their seats across from him. Introductions were made. Then, he picked up Prophecy Record n. 9728, which he had taken off its shelf in the Hall for the first time since he had placed it in there eleven years previously.
"This is the one." He told the Princess, "The enchantments protecting this record have temporarily been lifted, so it's perfectly safe to touch. All you have to do is focus on it and you should be able to hear the Prophecy inside your head. If you don't – well, then I expect that will be quite the relief for you, won't it…?"
He held out the Prophecy with a sympathetic smile, as the princess reached out to take it.
A moment of silence passed. A displeased expression crossed her face. Then Princess Hel picked up her notebook and a muggle quill – and started writing.
HOGWARTS SCHOOL of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY
Headmistress: Minerva McGonagall
Dear Ms. Potter,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.
Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no later than 31 July.
Although Princess Hel was turning eleven years old today, this story had begun ten years ago – on the night when Albus Dumbledore had left her on the doorstep of her aunt and uncle's house, swathed in a blanket with only the clothes on her back and a letter clutched to her chest, addressed to one Mrs. Petunia Dursley.
But Dumbledore's plans hadn't gone as predicted, because that same night, Hel's father had found her. He had given her a new name, had adopted her magically as well as legally, and from that day onwards she had no longer been Rose Potter, but Hel – a princess of the Red Kingdom, the daughter of Asriel, and second in line to inherit the throne.
If that had been all there was to that story, things might have looked better for Dumbledore. Hel's father wasn't just any prince though: among his friends and colleagues he was known as Belphegor, an assassin with frightening skill and a bloodlust to match. For many years, he had been part of an organisation known as the Varia, and as he had refused to send her off to the Red Kingdom to be raised by relatives, Hel had spent the early days of her childhood at the Varia Castle, surrounded, entertained, and brought up by assassins.
When Hel was seven years old, her father had retired. When she was nine, they had found out about a Prophecy that might possibly concern her, had destroyed the manipulative meddler who'd tried to blackmail her father, and had taken great pleasure in seeing him be stripped of all his power and influence. The cursed letter Hel's father had sent him had very unfortunately not killed Dumbledore, and he had since gone into hiding.
He probably wouldn't make the mistake of underestimating them again anytime soon, but in the meantime, they had bigger things to worry about anyway.
Disgustingly, the bit about the Prophecy had turned out to be true after all, and although its contents were annoyingly vague, one thing was abundantly clear to Hel: the so-called Lord Voldemort had marked her as his equal, and if in doing so he had made her the child of Prophecy, she was bound to be targeted because of it.
She already had been, when she was only a baby.
But if Riddle thought that Hel would make it easy for him – that her family and Kingdom would just stand back and let that happen – then he was sorely mistaken.
Although she had grown up in a time when it was relatively safe to be the daughter of the current Crown Prince, Red Kingdom royals were no strangers to sleeping with one eye open. Their family had been through two bitter and bloody succession crises in recent history, and her own father had gone on to make slaughter and bloodshed a profession as well as a hobby. He knew a thing or two about having enemies, and how to survive them even when all resistance seemed futile.
To royalty failure was never an option, so if neither could live while the other survived… then what had to be done about that was really quite simple: 'Lord' Voldemort would have to perish, because Hel refused to.
She intended to be old when she died. Old enough to have grown-up grandchildren, to be Queen, and to have Tom Riddle be nothing more than a distant, bad memory…
Halfway through July on the year of her eleventh birthday, an owl arrived at the estate in Sicily.
Well – several owls arrived at the estate in Sicily around that time, but Hel wasn't surprised by this. It was the season when the magical schools of Europe all started sending out their acceptance letters, so she had been expecting those for some time now. What she was actually referring to was another message, this one separate from those three.
It was a letter from her great-grandfather, who had wanted to address the fact that Hel would be turning eleven this month, and what this meant for her. It was Traditional for a prince or princess of their Kingdom to be introduced to the royal court on the day they turned eleven, so an invitation had been extended for Hel to visit the Red Kingdom for a week at the end of July, with her father.
This was a little disappointing, even despite her father having forewarned her. Hel had wanted to spend her eleventh birthday with her friends and cousins – another pool party, outing, or sleepover – something fun. Spending her birthday away from Sicily meant that Hel wouldn't be able to do any of that, but her father had placated her with a small stack of old books, and a promise.
If she got the lore and theory down by the end of July, he would start teaching her how to call upon her Flames, and how to use them.
The throne room of the Ruby Palace was something Hel had only ever heard descriptions of.
Designed for the very purpose of being awe-inspiring, her relatives who had been there previously had told her that the entire room was a work of art – from its high, carved ceiling, to the magnificent boiserie, the paintings hung up around the mezzanine, and the intricate patterns on the shiny, wooden floors, she could definitely see why someone might say that now. It was clearly a room made to impress, and it did that flawlessly. There was a raised dais in the middle back of it, where the King was sat on his throne, bordered by long red drapes of luxurious, heavy fabric, while the handful of guests he had invited to court today were gathered around him at a distance.
Papa was standing next to him, but Hel was stood a little ways off together with Herr Gregorovitch. It wasn't the Gregorovitch who was standing next to her, but one of the retired wandmaker's more ambitious grandsons. He had followed in his grandfather's footsteps and was, by all accounts, extremely talented at his craft.
Hel turned to look at him as she asked:
"What is this one?"
The wandmaker looked at the wand, and replied swiftly that it was-
"Maple, Your Highness. Twenty-six and a half centimetres long, with a core of dragon heartstring."
Hel turned her wrist, weighing her wand curiously and admiring it from every side. Out of the tens she had tried this morning, this was the wand that had chosen her. Already, Hel liked it a lot… it felt light in her hand, but comfortable – cooperative in a way her previous wand of silver lime had never been.
Though that wand had not technically been her own. It had belonged to her late great-grandmother, and her father's aunt, Princess Cassiel, had given it to her to practice with when she was six. It had never fit her quite right, and although Hel had learned to work with it since, she would probably never be able to bring out its full potential.
The maple wand, however-
Hel gave it an experimental swish, and uttered an incantation which caused half a dozen of glittering little lights to come whizzing out of the tip of her wand and settle, floating, in mid-air. This elicited a polite applause from everyone in the room, and Hel grinned.
As easy as that – no willing the wand to do anything. No fighting it at all-
Hel couldn't wait to get back home and try it out properly now, in a room with padded floors and training dummies, where she could go all out and discover what this wand was really capable of. She did not know all that much in the way of offensive magic yet, but Papa had gifted her with an array of books on easy spells and jinxes to complement her knife skills, so she could definitely start there…
Herr Gregorovitch waited out the applause.
"A wand for the high achiever, to be sure." He told Hel, beaming, "I think you will find this one to be particularly amenable to duelling, should Your Highness choose to take an interest in it."
Oh, Hel intended to.
"Thank you, Herr Gregorovitch. I believe this is the one."
A glance towards the dais had the King nodding, so Hel curtsied and thanked him as well.
While Gregorovitch had started packing everything up again, Hel eyed the double doors – one on each side of the throne. She so wanted to slip away and test out her new wand a little more, but the courtiers and the rest of the family were already gathering around to congratulate her, so Hel resigned herself to a morning of smiling, being polite, and playing nice instead.
"Well done," Hel's father said after most of the guests had finally left, and it was only family still lingering around the throne room. She let him kiss her on the cheek, and then watched on with polite indifference as Papa turned to look pointedly at Princess Jophiel, who excused herself at last.
Hel smiled, "Thanks, Papa."
"You're welcome, Princess. Shishishi~ you looked like you needed a break."
The morning of Hel's eleventh birthday had so far been spent at her great-grandfather's court, and by the end of all this, she wasn't entirely sure how people could bring themselves to do this regularly. True enough; there had been no blades, nor any bloodshed anywhere in sight, but that didn't make every interaction she'd had and witnessed today any less of a battle. Didn't help that her brain was hurting, in protest after having to remember all of the new names and faces she had been introduced to over the course of the last two hours.
She supposed it might get better over time, once she knew the people a little bit better and had established a rapport with them... but for the time being, it was strenuous work, and Hel was happy to see the back end of it.
"Can we leave soon?" She asked at last, looking back up at her father, "I've met everyone there is to meet here."
He shrugged, "It's been long enough, so I can probably make up some excuse for us to go now. Your great-grandfather wants to talk to you first, though."
"He didn't say," Papa admitted, "but if I had to guess, it's probably that you're old enough to start being taught certain skills. He's been bothering the Prince about that, lately."
Hel mulled this over inside her brain, but couldn't immediately think of what her father might be referring to, so let it go for the time being. She was sure she would be finding out all about that soon enough, anyway…
Papa started to lead the way, so Hel followed along until she fell in step beside him.
"So, was your Great-Grandaunt making herself insufferable again…?"
"Only a little," Hel rolled her eyes, remembering the conversation her father had interrupted a little while ago, "Princess Jophiel was just making sure I wouldn't forget any of my manners while I'm away at school."
Her father grinned widely in response to that, and Hel rolled her eyes at him too. Of course he'd find that funny. Before her father could say anything more though, they had reached their destination.
At some point between the wand-picking ceremony and the two hours that had transpired since, the King had left his throne to mingle with the crowds and talk to his courtiers. Now that most of the courtiers were gone, the moment found him talking to Great-Aunt Cassiel.
Once she had gone, Hel and her father approached.
As protocol demanded, Hel curtsied to the King before saying anything.
"You asked to see me, Great-Grandfather?"
Her great-grandfather turned to look at her, then glanced behind her and gestured for Papa to leave them.
Thin, white-haired, and with a face lined with age, King Rasiel III of the Red Kingdom was a man who was starting to be seen as old even by magical standards. Even so, this had in no way diminished him. He was tall, sharp-looking, and oozed lordliness like one breathed air. Since Hel had met him a couple of days ago, she had also come to the conclusion that her great-grandfather was someone who didn't like wasting time, and abhorred it when others dared waste his. Perhaps that was why he asked her how she liked her new wand, then, after Hel had assured him that she was very happy with it and couldn't wait to try out some more magic, moved immediately on to the topic he had clearly called her over for.
Which was Occlumency, apparently.
"I trust you know what that is, at your age?"
Yes, she did – her tutors had mentioned it a few times, during their lessons. To Occlude was the practice of closing off one's mind against Legilimency, which was the art of magically navigating another person's mind.
Occlumency was the name of the discipline, and it was rumoured to be a tricky one.
"So it is." The King agreed, "Needless to say, it is an incredibly useful skill to have – especially since you are now old enough to be welcome at court. Eleven is as good an age to start as any, so I will find you a suitable teacher before Christmas. They will contact you when we have come to an agreement."
And that was that, Hel supposed.
She couldn't have refused even if she had wanted to, so she curtsied again and thanked the King for his generosity instead. Both for the maple wand, which he was paying for, and for the upcoming Occlumency lessons.
The first time Hel had held a knife, she had only been five years old.
Her father had taught her how to use that knife, but she had come a long way from the impatient little girl who'd needed to have her stance corrected, and her grip patiently adjusted, so she would learn to do it the right way, without the risk of picking up any bad habits.
Her father had since bought her new knives – knives she'd got to choose for herself – and had taught her how to use those, too.
Her primary weapons when sparring nowadays were her daggers, sharp, identical, and lethal, which had cost her father half a fortune to acquire because they had been commissioned to be made by goblin craftsmen. They really were the best blades, though, incomparable to anything she'd ever fought with, so the price tag had been more than worth it. As befitting the daughter of a man who'd once been known as Prince the Ripper, Hel had all sorts of knives of varying shapes and sizes, with different uses for each one and different places to hide them.
Part of ensuring she lived, after all, was making sure that Hel was hard to kill.
To that end, she had already received ample instruction in runes and how to draw them up, and Mila had taught her a thing or two about the simpler of wards, which could do things like alert her to someone intruding on her space, or simply offer Hel some privacy. After finding out about the Prophecy, Papa had also acquired a range of protective accessories for Hel to wear, and it had been Great-Grandaunt Jophiel's suggestion to hire someone to stitch some runes into the interlining of her clothes, so that Hel could be guaranteed a degree of personal protection no matter where she went, or in what state of unpreparedness an ambush might catch her.
Some people might call this overkill, but those people were surely not Hel's father or their family or Varia Quality, because Hel had it on good authority that there was no such thing as overkill. There was only being alive or being dead, and with a prophecy pitting someone who was much more experienced than herself against her, Hel needed all the help that she could possibly get.
This was why Papa had decided that she was old enough to start learning about Flames as well this year, and today was finally the day. Reading all of the books her father had lent her had taken up most of Hel's summer so far, but she had learned a lot about the different types of Flames, their attributes, what their uses were, and what the dangers involved could be.
For their lesson, Papa met her in the library.
"Dying Will Flames are called that because oftentimes the first time you use them you'll do so instinctively, in response to danger or pain or fear – anything that makes you call upon your Flames with enough force to go Active. Even though that is the most common way for civilians to do it, it's not the only way. Practice can get you there just as well. It just takes longer."
At this, he passed her a ring, which Hel had to slide onto her thumb because it didn't fit properly on any of her other fingers. There was a gem in it, pretty an purple.
"There are different types of rings, ranging from E-Rank to A-Rank. The higher the rank, the more Flames you need to light a ring, the lower the rank, the easier it is, though you do run the risk of breaking them if you use too many Flames… it doesn't matter if this one breaks, though – all I'll be trying to teach you today is how to coax your Flames out, alright?"
Hel nodded. That sounded reasonable.
Holding out her hand with the ring on it, she asked:
"What's this one, Papa?"
"That one? It's an E-Rank Cloud Ring."
"And how do you know this one will work for me…?"
"Experience, Princess." Papa grinned wryly, "When you're Active you can learn to sense Flames. Eventually, you build up enough familiarity to tell the different types apart. Do you have anything else you want to ask before we begin?"
Hel shook her head, so Papa reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring of his own. He wore it, formed a fist with his hand, and the ring ignited – red fire bursting out from the gemstone. He explained how he had done it, that she needed to Will it properly, and set her to work.
They practiced with the ring for half an hour, but in the end, Hel made no progress at all. Frustrating as this was, Papa indicated that this wasn't uncommon – more often than not, it took a while for people who were unfamiliar with Flames to get the hang of it. Now that she knew how, she would just have to keep practicing, and once she could coax her Flames out they'd see about getting her a better ring, and a proper teacher. One who had the same Flames as her, so that he could teach her how to control and use them.
Hel wasn't really looking forward to tedious hours of this, but agreed to do it anyway because she knew it was important.
"There's one more thing I want to talk to you about before you go. If you're going to try and call on your Flames, the moment you succeed you'll be Active. You remember what a Guardian Bond is, right?"
Hel nodded, "They can be formed if you're compatible with a Sky… but you've said they're far more likely to happen if you're Active, so – oh."
"Yes – oh." Papa agreed, "You'll be at school for months at a time, surrounded by people your own age, and one of them might be a Sky. That doesn't mean that you will Bond, or that you'll even want to, but if you've got enough common ground to work with, it might still become a possibility. If that happens, I want you to remember that it is a choice, but once you commit to it, those types of Bonds run deep. They're not all that easily broken off. I know you're smart, so use your head and look before you commit, alright?"
Hel nodded again, and on that note, her father let her go.
Their last evening at the Red Kingdom arrived at the end of what had felt like a surprisingly short week, considering how busy Hel's schedule had been for most of it. Whatever anyone else might think, being a princess didn't mean that Hel got to slack off: there were a lot of expectations to be met while she was visiting her country – duties to be undertaken, pre-arranged engagements to be on time for… and from day-long guided tours to various different places, monuments, sights, and the like, to visiting relatives, getting used to life at her great-grandfather's court, and attending formal dinners with Lord and Lady so-and-so, or the Duke, Minister, or Prince of this-and-that, there was always somewhere to be.
There were a lot of titles to be remembered, a lot more names than there were titles, and each and every one of them had to be treated with the proper respect their status warranted. It was exhausting work, even if it was very important. At least her last dinner at the Palace had been a lot more relaxed, with only family and a few guests attending.
Leo Rosier was one of those guests. He was the uncle of her somewhat distant cousin Ernst, and the new headmaster at Durmstrang. Hel liked him. He was in support of abolishing that useless muggleborn ban Durmstrang still held fast to, and was all for bringing about some change and innovation. He was also a lot more interesting to talk to than a number of Hel's older relatives, so that was pleasant.
It was during dinner that evening that Papa announced, to the great surprise of some people, but not all of them, that Hel had chosen to attend Hogwarts.
Durmstrang would have been a risky decision to make while it was undergoing drastic changes – changes which Hel's father was pushing for, even though they weren't popular with a lot of the more distinguished families that had attended Durmstrang for generations – and a good school though it might be, Hel wasn't convinced that Beauxbatons would be the one for her.
Just like Durmstrang was a more traditional, battle-oriented school, where curses, counter-curses, and the like were studied extensively, Beauxbatons placed a lot of value and importance on culture and the arts. Having heard it all in detail from Isa and Claudio in their letters, Hel had decided that she wasn't interested in what their curriculum had to offer, so Hogwarts, which focused a lot more on practical magic and prepared its students for further studies, was the one she'd ended up going for… despite certain... drawbacks.
Still, Hel's name had been down on their list since she was born, all seven years of her magical education already paid for by the Potter family, and while she was there she could still work on her long-term goal of crushing Riddle and any chance he stood at coming out on top.
Plus, Blaise would be there. That would be nice.
Even if she would have to put up with people calling her 'Potter' the entire time she was there, since that was the last name she'd been enrolled under. Then again, Hel mused, that might be for the best. She didn't trust her teachers and fellow classmates not to butcher her father's last name…
Hel Potter would keep it nice and simple, and since it wasn't the name she actually went by, it could still work as an added protection layer. You never knew when someone might try to use your own name against you.
Yes… better that way.
But those were all worries for later, and for the time being, Hel was just happy to be going home. She had one month left to enjoy before the school term started, and she intended to take full advantage of it!