Disclaimer: "We are all assumed, these days, to reside at one extreme of the JK Rowling spectrum, or another." —Michael Crichton, probably.

A/N: I know I've said this before, but I have the next chapter mostly written, so we'll see how that goes. I also tightened up my outline by a few chapters. I'm still trying to finish this properly, and I will always keep you informed. You can safely assume that the story is still alive unless I specifically say otherwise.

Chapter 30: I Hate Halloween

12 Hours Earlier

Headmaster Crouch had told the students that there would be no prefect patrols on All Hallow's Eve. The teachers would be covering the nightly patrol, and they had better not catch anyone out of bed. He didn't explain why, but given the date, it wasn't hard for people to guess in hushed whispers that the Dark Lord himself would be walking the halls of the castle tonight.

Separately, Theodore Nott and Flora and Hestia Carrow were called aside to participate in the night's goings-on. In fact, they had one of the hardest jobs of the night: getting Peeves to go where they wanted him.

This was easier said than done. Peeves was the ultimate contrarian and would never cooperate with anyone except occasionally for a prank. Under ordinary circumstances, it was possible to bait him—taunts, thrown objects, basically playing him at his own game. But Peeves was afraid of Voldemort. What a poltergeist had to fear from anyone in general no one was ever sure. In a thousand years, no one had succeeded in harming him or expelling him from the castle. It was even stranger that he was afraid of the Bloody Baron, who was intangible.

Regardless, Peeves would have made himself scarce at a whiff of Voldmort being around, so Nott and the Carrow Twins had a different task. They were to hunt down Peeves by half eleven and drive him into the arms not of the Dark Lord, but of Walden Macnair. Though the man was more fond of killing beasts, he was still the Death Eater whom Voldemort trusted most to handle dangerous and valuable ones.

The three Slytherin students got to work. First, they had to locate Peeves, something that could be easy or hard depending on his mood. Then, they had to get him to chase them. These parts turned out to be difficult as it was. Now, they were racing through the corridors to meet up with Macnair, but they would need to get the Poltergeist to shoot past them and stay out of sight themselves.

Nott and Macnair together had planned the ambush—blind corners in just the right places. He gestured to Flora and Hestia, and they dove into the alcoves just out of sight before Peeves came into view. Just as they'd hoped, he kept soaring along and rounded the next corner, where a far deadlier threat waited.

"Oi, Peeves!" Macnair called out when he saw the poltergeist. "Smile, you son of a bitch!" he said, holding out his arm.

Peeves tried to screech to a halt, but it was too late. There was a sound like cracking ice, and he froze stiff in midair, a look of horror on his face…petrified by Lord Voldemort's three-month-old basilisk.

"Heh, that worked out pretty well," he chortled to himself.

Some minutes later, Voldemort arrived, his steps echoing in the dark halls. He regarded Peeves's motionless form and then turned to his servant. "Excellent work, Macnair," he said. He then whispered in Parseltongue, and the basilisk slithered from Macnair's arm back to his own. After exchanging a few words, he placed its hood back on, rendering it safe—unless of course he ordered it to attack.

"Nott, Carrow, and Carrow, show yourselves."

The three Marked students came out from around the corner, where they were avoiding the basilisk's gaze. They tried their best to look confident as they bowed.

"You have done well," Voldemort said.

"Thank you, Master," they answered.

"Come. To the Great Hall. You will bear witness to this night."

They followed. Since Peeves was tangible, the Dark Lord had no problem "levitating" him to the Great Hall. That was where the rest of the group was waiting, with a pentagram drawn on the floor and candles spaced around it that looked more like a muggle black metal album than just about anything in the magical world—not that the students knew that.

"Lady Pantera, Bellatrix, we are ready to proceed," Voldemort said.

La Pantera pointed: "Put him in the middle of the circle."

Voldemort placed the poltergeist in the ritual circle, being careful not to cross any of the lines himself. La Pantera was in her Aztec ceremonial regalia, and she had called Bellatrix Lestrange once again to help with the ritual. Bella's appearance was much plainer, of course—simply a red headband and a few blue feathers braided into her hair. Both women regarded Peeves's frozen form.

"What do you think?" Voldemort asked casually.

La Pantera waved her knife around him. "It'll wear off eventually," she said. "Maybe as little as a few days with a basilisk that young and how much power is tied up with him. If he were a ghost, we wouldn't have that problem, but it's damned hard to kill something that was never alive to start with. Takes a little more oomph."

"Just see it done," he said. This was an offence that could not go unanswered. After one of his Death Eaters was killed by the poltergeist (and a hard-to-replace teacher, at that), Voldemort had spared no expense in getting rid of it. While he could keep the spirit contained with the basilisk, destroying it would send a far more potent message.

"Alright, bring in our other guests," La Pantera called, and two more dangerous creatures were brought into the Great Hall, one of which made the black metal comparisons even more apt.

On the first hand, Lucius had procured a Hidebehind from the States that was to be the centrepiece of the ritual The Hidebehind was a liminal creature. It was the crossbreed of a ghoul and a demiguise, but it possessed shapeshifting abilities that neither of its parents had, and spirit-like qualities so potent that it had been misclassified as a Spirit in some references.

A thestral would probably work, too, but the Hidebehind was supposed to be better.

The second creature was of a different sort entirely, and the students couldn't help shivering and retreating when it entered—couldn't be helped, Voldemort supposed.

"Peeves is a spirit of chaos—of mischief," Lady Pantera had explained earlier. "Not jovial, but infinitely mercurial. Ideally, you want some kind of opposing energy to expel it, but spirits don't usually fit into neat little boxes like that. Luckily, there's one spirit that opposes all other emotional aspects, and we have plenty of them in Britain."

And that was how, for the first time in living memory, a dementor crossed the threshold of Hogwarts Castle.

La Pantera didn't seem fazed by the dark spirit's presence any more than Voldemort was. She raised her knife and began the ritual.

The witnesses described it afterwards, whispering to their trusted friends in the darkness, as a "Thing That Should Not Be." This wasn't just about Peeves. Killing something that was never truly alive was hard enough, but this was striking at the oldest, deepest layers of magic of school, and the castle itself seemed to shudder from the offence. The ghosts around the school wailed, some without knowing why. Students woke up in a cold sweat. Two dozen would be admitted to the Infirmary the next day with panic attacks, uncontrollable weeping, and even self-harm. On the floor of the Great Hall, there was a black scorch mark on the floor that looked like a Rorschach blot and took a magical deep cleaning to remove.

And, miles away, Argus Filch, exiled to the muggle world and struggling to get by as a janitor, dropped dead of a heart attack.

(Mrs. Norris would go on to terrorise the back alleys of that town so thoroughly that she became a minor urban legend among the local children until she died of old age at sixteen.)

The Next Morning

"I hate Halloween," Harry said.

"Yeah, me too," Hermione agreed.

"What happened?"

"It's mostly congratulating themselves for getting rid of a 'dangerous element,' and all that tripe, but I think it was one of La Pantera's rituals—somehow."

"Hm…Makes sense," he grumbled. "She's been causing trouble this whole time. If anyone could figure out how to kill a Poltergeist…"

"But how, though?" she said. "It's supposed to be impossible to do that. He's a physical manifestation of the spirit of mischief created by hundreds of teenage wizards living in the same place."

"But how much mischief do you think is going on in the castle right now, Hermione?" Harry said, and that shut her up at once. He wasn't sure if that was the whole story, but it made sense to him. If Peeves worked the way other spirits did, the current circumstances must have weakened him.

"Everyone always said he came with the castle," Neville said sadly.

"It's almost like losing Hogwarts again," Ginny Weasley said a few seats down. Many of the former Gryffindors were congregating around their table. "Peeves has always been there. They're turning the place into something it's not."

"Something worse," said Colin Creevey.

"Dude, they already did that," someone scoffed. "'Slytherin School' my arse!" Even the former Slytherins didn't contradict them.

"I'm just worried there won't be anything left if we ever get back," Ginny said.

At this, Luna stood up from beside Harry and walked over to hug her friend. "It'll be okay, Ginny. Hogwarts is safe."

Ginny stared at her in surprise.

"Voldemort has Hogwarts Castle, but he can't touch Hogwarts School," she said. "We are Hogwarts. Even at Beauxbatons. As long as we uphold the mission of the Founders. Besides, we have the Book of Names."

Ginny smiled and hugged her back, and Harry laughed. "That's my girl," he said.

"Yeah, we are Hogwarts!" one of the younger students yelled out, which started a wave of shouts of solidarity that the Beauxbatons teachers seemed unsure how to respond to.

They were still going when Madame Maxime came over to their table, but she had a different matter in mind. She handed Harry a letter and said, "Monsieur Potter, Madamoiselle Granger, Monsieur Dumbly-dore has asked you to come to a special meeting for the war effort tomorrow."

Harry perked up at once. This was the first time this had happened in a while, even before school started. "Maybe we can finally do something," he said.

Harry and Hermione were escorted to the Order meeting by Sirius and Remus, after verifying everyone's identity. They didn't have any specific meeting place since they were still nominally off the books, but to make it easier for the two of them, they were meeting at the Delacours' villa in Baton Vert today. Harry's and Hermione's parents were there; as always, they demanded to be kept up to date even if they couldn't do much. Mad-Eye Moody was there, and a few others who were less familiar, some of whom might have been local. Dumbledore had been busy in France.

"Harry, Hermione, thank you for coming," Dumbledore said as they took their seats.

"Thank you for inviting us, Professor," Hermione said, and Harry nodded agreement.

Dumbledore began the meeting: "As each Halloween tends to result in drastic changes in the war, I thought it prudent to gather to review the situation so that everyone is on the same page, as it were…"

The Order of the Phoenix, Harry had learnt by degrees, wasn't a fighting force, not with the British and now French Ministry leading the war effort. Many of its members did fight. It had served as a sort of auxiliary to the Aurors in the last war. But even then, they were more a group for doing things that needed to be done off the books. Sometimes, that meant major operations like with Hufflepuff's cup last year, but most of the time, it was just information gathering.

"I trust you have all seen the recent news?" Dumbledore continued.

"About Peeves? Of course," Harry said.

"Ah…No, Harry. While Peeves's fate is most unfortunate, we have larger concerns at the moment."

"Nurmengard," Remus said.

"Indeed." He addressed the group again. "And the broader circumstances around that attack. I would like to introduce our other guest for tonight."

Everyone turned to a corner that they had mostly noted—where Harry had seen someone and kept an eye out, but had taken his cues from Dumbledore that they were supposed to be here—and out from the shadows stepped Viktor Krum.

"Viktor!" Harry said in surprise.

"Harry Potter," Viktor replied formally. "I am glad to see you are vell."

"The attack on Nurmengard Prison two nights ago was only one piece of a larger, ongoing operation on the part of the enemy," Dumbledore said. "I asked Mr. Krum to join us to give us his perspective on the situation."

"Are you joining the Order now, Krum?" Sirius said in surprise.

"No, Mr. Black," he said. "I vill help as I can, but I am advocate first for people of my country who are suffering in this var. And I am advocate for those like my grandfather who vere killed by Grindelwald's madness. Right now, situation in Bulgaria is grave. Many refugees are coming across Black Sea to Bulgaria, and also to Romania."

"I thought the Balkans were locking down magical travel," one of the other members cut in. "Yugoslavia sure is."

"No, you misunderstand," Viktor said. "These are muggle refugees."

That was a surprise to just about everyone except Dan and Emma (who still looked a bit startled, but then nodded in recognition) and Remus, who was being paid to know these things.

"We've been paying attention to the attack on Nurmengard, but there were also attacks at multiple sites in the Caucasus on Halloween," Remus explained. "And those didn't start on Halloween; they've been going on for weeks, which is unfortunate because they had just signed a ceasefire in Chechnya. All of these things are the work of Konstantin Jugashvili, the Russian Seer. He has feelers throughout the region, and we know Voldemort has been paying him for divination services, although we don't know how much of this is Voldemort's plan and how much is him taking advantage of the situation. Snape, do you have anything on that?"

Snape looked out at the group from his seat with his usual sour expression. "Not as such, Lupin," he said. "Regardless of whose plan it is, it works in the Dark Lord's favour. Unrest in the muggle world diverts attention from him and can even divert our own forces."

"True enough," Remus admitted. "Anyway, now that the werewolves have quieted down, the Balkans is the hotbed of the active conflict in Europe. They were already shutting down magical travel because magical refugees were pouring in from Poland and Germany. Probably some muggles, too. Greyback scared a lot of people. And now, there are muggle refugees from Chechnya, Georgia, and…Dagestan—?" He paused to double-check his notes. "Yes, Dagestan. And it's easier for wizards to slip through the border in a muggle crowd. Then, there are the muggle governments in the Balkans, which don't want an influx of refugees and are having their own problems. Serbia's dealing with a rebellion of Albanians. The muggle Albanian government just went bankrupt from bloody pyramid schemes."

"That is not all," Viktor said. "Latest word from Bulgaria this morning is Ebola outbreak in refugee camps. They will be asking ICW for assistance on Monday."

Half the room groaned, and Harry quipped, "So, basically, they just won the world's worst game of Bingo."

"That's about the size of it," Remus said with a sigh. "We've been lucky that Ebola doesn't spread very easily in areas with reliable infrastructure and sanitation, but a refugee camp would be a breeding ground for it, and that's only going to put the governments more on-edge—magical and muggle."

"Correct," Viktor said. "There are fears of panic in Bulgaria. This is on top of already-dangerous situation. My country is very distressed by attempt to free Grindelwald. Danger from him escaping vould be too great. If your Voldemort vere to ally vith him—"

"He will not," Snape interrupted. "The Dark Lord will not accept second billing even, or perhaps especially, to someone as powerful as Gellert Grindelwald. Nor does he share Grindelwald's ideology."

"Doesn't he?" Viktor said suspiciously.

"He does not," Snape told him. "Grindelwald sought to tear down the Statute of Secrecy and rule over the muggles openly, 'for the Greater Good.' The Dark Lord, despite his aggression towards muggles, is careful to maintain secrecy. And he certainly seeks no good for anyone but himself. He has not shared all of his plans, but in the long term, I believe he seeks to infiltrate the muggle governments of Europe to keep them from finding out about us, to keep them from developing technology that could threaten us, and to control their media to cover up muggle-hunting and other attacks. Sowing divisions through Jugashvili's efforts and through more immediate attacks serves that purpose."

"In other words, it's in his interest to keep the muggles squabbling and disorganised instead of trying to unite them under a single puppet state like Grindelwald did," Remus said. "It's not going to be a world war if it gets to that point; it's going to be a bunch of small ones. And terrorist conflicts, I think, what with the muggle hunting."

"That has already begun," said Snape. "I can confirm that at least one of the recent attacks in Paris was specifically targeted at the muggles, to look like muggle terrorists."

"And that's another thing. The French Ministry is blaming muggle Algerian terrorists for Death Eater attacks in Paris, which wouldn't be so bad for us, except the Algerian terrorists are denying responsibility."

"Which will lead people to wonder who really did it and why," Dan concluded. "So what's our next step, Professor Dumbledore? It sounds like we're on the back foot on multiple fronts. Or—actually, is it Remus who's leading the fight now?"

"Neither of us is leading it, Dan," Remus said, "although I'm in a position to advise more than most. And you're right. We are on the back foot. We were working on a plan to crack the Durmstrang problem—and that's still going on to the extent we can." He nodded to Viktor. "But now, we have to worry about shoring up the magical governments in the Balkans and making sure the security on Grindelwald is airtight. It's diverting resources away from where we need them. Which leads us to our first problem. Albus?"

Dumbledore took the floor again: "The International Confederation of Wizards is frightened. We already know that the German Ministry cannot be relied upon. They feel that it would be safer to move Grindelwald out of the country."

There were gasps around the room. "Out of Nurmengard?" "To where?" "Where can you put him?"

"Albus, that can't be a good idea," Sirius said. "He was secure there for ages, and didn't they fail to catch him or hold him loads of times before that?"

"That is true," Dumbledore replied. "The plan is that we will move him to a place that I will aid personally in warding against both attack and escape."

"Can't you just fix the security where he is, Professor?" Harry spoke up. "How did they get that far into Nurmengard in the first place? Can you plug the hole?"

"Personally, I believe I could. For that matter, I am not convinced that Grindelwald is interested in fighting anymore. It would not be as safe as I would like, but safer than moving to a new, untested facility. However, the ICW disagrees. They feel that Germany is simply not secure enough in the present crisis. As for how it was done, you should recall that Konstantin Jugashvili is an expert at obscure arts like scrying and astral projection—possibly the most gifted in the world. This is a woolly subject, much like its sister discipline of divination. He cannot simply look in on anyone at any time. However, by asking the right questions, it is possible to get very specific answers about the present, unlike the future, which is far fuzzier. An expert like him can interpret those answers, and with that information, he was able to formulate a plan to break in."

"Well, that makes it even worse, sir," said Harry. "What if it's a trick? Like when we baited Voldemort into moving the horcrux? What if that's what they want us to do?"

"That's exactly our problem," Remus answered him. "I told Fudge to trust Dumbledore to handle things, and he told the ICW, but they aren't listening. If that's Voldemort's or Jugashvili's plan, then it's working."

"Is there anything we can do, then?" asked Harry. "I mean, if Jugashvili could find out the plan…"

"Ve should just kill him," Krum said. "Grindelwald. I don't know vhy you didn't ages ago."

"The sentence was passed long ago," Dumbledore said stiffly. "It was a decision I made after our final duel, and which the ICW also made in the trials after the war. At the time, we wanted to distance ourselves from any form of executions, and it appeared as if Nurmengard would hold indefinitely."

"The question is whether there's an alternative to moving him," Hermione said.

"Yes," Dan agreed. "It's like Harry said. We know what Jugashvili did to breach Nurmengard. Shouldn't we be looking at how to stop him from doing that again?"

"We can do some things," Remus said. "There are more secure ways to do things in general, of course. People who are in hiding would be very easy to find if one could simply send an owl to them, so we know how to block obvious things like that. The Aurors can randomise their patrols. They were already doing that in France, but we weren't considering Nurmengard as a major target like we should have. We can cast our nets wider to detect moles within the system. And we can do better at warding against him listening in on conversations, at least from that distance. But none of that will assuage the fears of politicians who…honestly, who think like Mr. Krum, here."

"Would they kill Grindelwald?" Hermione cut in. "I mean to say, the sentence was already passed. They can't go back to it and kill him now." Viktor scowled, but said nothing.

"Legally, they can't," Remus confirmed. "Wouldn't stop some people trying, but I don't think any Ministry would. After all, the Wizengamot didn't execute Greyback, even when we had the political will. We've been more-or-less assuming we'll have to kill Voldemort because of…" He paused and glanced around the room. "Well, we need to make sure he can't come back again. But that's an active wartime threat."

"I would not be so certain of the Ministries of Magic, Remus," Dumbledore cautioned. "While you are correct as a matter of law, we should not underestimate the lengths governments will go in sufficiently desperate times."

"Point. Which brings me to our other major issue. We're stretched too thin here—have been for a while. We need to petition the ICW for more resources—probably from overseas. Greyback's reign of terror really put a strain on the local Ministries, and now, they're scared and diverting more resources to the Grindelwald problem."

"Great, more politics," Harry muttered to himself, though unfortunately, he spoke louder than he intended, and the group heard him. Everyone paused and stared at him. "Sorry," he said.

However, Dumbledore looked down on him kindly: "Take it from one who has already lived through too many wars, Harry. Most wars involve a great deal of politics. But as we have asked you to join us for this meeting, what are your thoughts on the situation?"

Harry blinked. "Me, sir?" He didn't think he would have anything to add to the experts in this room.

"Indeed," Dumbledore replied. "Though you are young, your instincts have often proved right. Your fate and Voldemort's are connected, and you have a unique insight into his thinking—even now." He placed a subtle emphasis on the last words to make it clear to those in the know to what he was referring.

"Oh. Er, thank you, sir." He thought for a minute. At first, he still wasn't sure he had anything to say on the matter—not that would be productive, anyway. But as he thought, something came to him, he finally voiced something that had been nagging at him for a while, but he couldn't quite articulate.

"What's Voldemort's plan?" he demanded. "Long-term, I mean? Besides keeping the muggles fighting each other?"

"What, you mean taking over the world?" said Hermione.

He shook his head. "Voldemort lived through part of World War II in the muggle world, right? And he would have seen Grindelwald's whole career in the papers. He must know that people who try to take over the world don't fare too well. And he can't stand against the whole ICW—at least, I sure as hell hope he can't."

"Long-term, I wouldn't be so sure about that," warned Remus. "Short-term, I think he's after the same thing he was in the last war, absolute power over the British Isles—and immortality, which would let him play the very long game."

"But will that work? He must know we'd send a counteroffensive eventually."

"That's why he's playing the politics, too. Being so careful with the Statute of Secrecy. He's trying to get his 'regime' legitimised by the ICW. If he's recognised as the ruler of Britain, Fudge and Dumbledore become pretenders, and he'll be as entrenched as La Pantera is in Mexico, or other dark mages around the world in places like Somalia."

"Oh! That would be awful," Hermione said. "How could we ever get him out of there, then? It would be like the Cold War." She didn't need to say the second bit—that they would never be able to return home if that happened.

"Regrettably, yes," Dumbledore said, "which is why the political situation is so precarious. In two months, Walden Macnair will be able to petition the ICW again for Voldemort's rule to be legitimised. If that happens, it will be very nearly a loss for our side. Voldemort would be all but unassailable until decides to invade another country."

"Well, he will do that, won't he?" Harry said hopefully. "I mean, it wouldn't be good for whoever he invades, but it would tell the ICW they need to be serious about getting rid of him."

Dumbledore shook his head. "I am certain he will, Harry, if for no other reason than to not let you rest easy, but not right away. Perhaps not for ten years or more. He has moved faster than he would like. The same allies that helped Voldemort return to life and to power also forced his hand by involving the ICW at all. He has needed to make larger plays faster in order to hold on to his power. This has overextended him, perhaps more than is apparent, which gives us an advantage. However, if his rule is legitimised, he will be safe to pull back and consolidate his power."

Sirius chimed in, "That's why you're helping with the Grindelwald move, isn't it? You need to stay on the ICW's good side."

"I would have helped them with it rather than let them risk it alone regardless, but yes. It is important that we maintain their goodwill. Not all of the motives there are against Voldemort."

"What's our countermove, then?" asked Dan. "It's not going to be enough to just keep our sovereignty. We need to fight back. Shouldn't we petition for aid in taking back the islands?" The madness of the situation was not lost on him. Dan's father, who had helped to liberate France, would be having fits if he saw Britons in this position. "What about America?"

Remus shook his head: "MACUSA is one of the strictest countries about the Statute of Secrecy. They're name doesn't mean the same thing in the magical world as it does to muggles. Voldemort might think they'll broker a truce. Hell, he might even be right."

"Not with the ICW opposing it," Sirius protested.

"If they continue to oppose it. Which is precisely our problem. If we can get MACUSA on our side, it would be a large win, but it'll be an uphill battle to get there."

"Excuse me," Hermione asked suddenly, turning to Dumbledore. "What does that have to do with us, Professor?"

Harry was a bit annoyed with her for bringing it up, but privately, he had to agree. What more was there for him to do at this point? As much as he wanted to help, he knew there wasn't much specific being talked about.

Dumbledore wasn't phased, though: "Primarily, to keep you informed, Hermione. I know that Harry appreciates being aware of the current situation. Additionally, it may become pragmatic for Harry to make a personal appearance at the ICW soon. But no, the operations do not pertain to you directly."

Harry supposed he should have expected that. It was the same as he already knew, really. Until he finished school, his only real contribution would be keeping up the bloody political speeches (and his regular training). At least he knew what was going on, at least.

However, it turned out that wasn't the only thing Dumbledore wanted him for.

"In truth, I asked you to come in part because there is something I wish to discuss with Harry in private." Dumbledore said when the meeting wound down. He looked to Dan and Emma. "If I may?"

They agreed after a minute, and Dumbledore led Harry to the conservatory and warded it against eavesdroppers.

"Harry," he said, "some time ago, you asked me if one of Madam Fan's prophecies might refer to the Deathly Hallows."

"Yeah?" Harry remembered foggily. "You said it didn't."

"Indeed. I said that because I already know the whereabouts of all three of the Hallows."

Harry's jaw dropped. "You know where they are? You have them? Wait, hell with that; they're real?"

Dumbledore chuckled. "Yes to the first and third," he said. "I trust you to keep this completely secret, Harry. I myself have one of the Hallows. Another is being held by Ambassador Grayson for safe keeping…and you hold the third."


"I expect Sirius has told you of the unusual quality of your father's Cloak?"

Harry stumbled a bit. "I need to sit down," he said.

Dumbledore waited for him to catch his breath, then continued, "I tell you this not for the sake of the war effort; it would be more dangerous to us than to the enemy to use the Hallows beyond what we already are. I tell you because there is a very great favour I wish to ask of you—one of a personal nature."