Christmas was a much less joyous affair that year. While my younger children were still excited to get their presents the next morning (they'd all fallen asleep too soon to open one on Christmas Eve), Libra and I struggled to smile and show our usual delight at seeing our children happy. Harry was quiet and moody, and didn't seem all that excited about the Nimbus 2000 that Sirius had gifted him. He only took it out for a ride after Sarah wouldn't stop begging him, but kept it low and slow. I didn't even find it in me to protest, only smiling and nodding and telling him to be careful when he took it out.
To my surprise, church was rather well attended in Hogsmeade that morning. Father Andrew was still around, having been the one to perform the funeral service, and held Christmas services in the wedding Chapel before it was finally torn down.
"Most years, I only talk about the good in Christmas," Andrew said, pacing back and forth slowly on the stage. "I talk about how the world receives the greatest gift when Christ came to Earth, how heaven and earth rejoiced and angels sang for shepherds."
He paused, slowly turning on his heel to scan the audience. "But I'm not the only one who doesn't feel much like a party, this particular Christmas. So, I'm going to speak on the other side of Christmas. The one we don't tend to dwell much on. Christ came, yes. But he came to die."
The vast hall was quiet, only a few muffled sobs and whimpers. Andrew turned to face the cross that had been erected above the altar, but magic projected his voice just as well as if he'd faced us.
"Christ lived to die. He was born knowing where his destination lay: to be killed in a brutal, inhumane fashion for the sins of the world. We celebrate not just that our Savior was born, but that our sacrificial lamb at last had come to bridge the gap that sin had made."
"Death haunts us all. On this day in particular, we mourn for Albus Dumbledore, a great man, one who taught umpteen numbers of students here at Hogwarts. A good man, a kind man, a man who dedicated his life to bettering his fellow man."
Andrew slowly turned about again. Pacing up to the lectern, he placed his hands upon it. "A man. Who is now dead. And one who I can only pray is not dead eternally."
"You see, for all the good he did, for all the greatness he attained in his life, Dumbledore was just a man. He will not rise again, save for when trumpet sounds and we are one and all called to judgement. But for the birth and death of Christ, that trumpet would be only the sound of doom, of the condemnation of an entire world for the sin and corruption that festers in each of our hearts."
"But unlike Dumbledore, Christ did rise again. He triumphed over Satan, Sin, and Death itself. He lived to die, but in dying he raised us all from Death. He did what no spell nor potion can do: he granted us all Eternal Life."
There was a stirring amidst the crowd, and Father Andrew raised his hand to quiet them. "I know, of course, of the Famous Mr. Flamel, who is here in this very room. I must also inform you, that last night, after the funeral, I spoke with him at length. He is weary of the world. He plans to destroy his Stone, and move on again. Alchemy is not the path to eternal life."
A man who appeared to be in his sixties, but who I couldn't have put a firm age upon, nodded from the front row. A woman of equally mysterious age sat next to him, and patted his hand. A woman in her early thirties with a brood of children and her husband sat next to them, and, to my shock, Snape.
"Look not to my art for eternal life," Flamell called. "My life has been long, and good, but I am growing weary of life. Save for my beloved Perenelle, all I have known and loved have died. My children, their children, and all my friends are gone. I have seen what this life has to offer, and it is not enough. I am tired. Come to New Year, the Stone shall be destroyed. It was the last wish of Albus. He knew the danger the Stone posed, and throughout my life, too many have attempted to claim it for themselves and brought those I love to grief, including the parents of Sophia, my last living relative."
"I have never been able to copy the Stone, despite many attempts. And what I paid to create it...it is not a price worth paying. Do not walk my path to seek eternal life. Put your trust elsewhere. I shall."
That caused quite a stir. The rest of the sermon was interesting enough, but I had more than enough to chew on. The Philosopher's Stone was to be destroyed. Few paths for Tom's resurrection remained. What did that mean?
I didn't have too long to ponder it. The day after Christmas, myself, Harry, and Libra, were called to the Headmaster's office by Minerva.
"The Headmaster's final affairs are being set to rights," McGonagall said. "And, it should come as no surprise that your family features heavily in his last Will and Testament."
McGonagall retrieved a small package from beneath the desk and pass it to Harry. "This was to be yours this Christmas, young man, but I believe it is best you receive it with the rest now."
Harry slowly opened it, to reveal silky black cloth within. His eyes went wide, and he looked to me.
I nodded. "Go ahead."
Harry wrapped it around his arm, which vanished. "The Cloak of Invisibility," Harry murmured. He looked to McGonagall, his eyes suddenly ravenous. "Do I get the Master Wand and Resurrection stone as well?"
McGonagall pursed her lips. "The wand has passed to another. As for the Stone. Well."
From a drawer. McGonagall retrieved a small paper-wrapped package, which she delicately sat on the old wood of the desktop. "For you, Mr. Murphy."
Harry reached for it, but McGonagall swatted his hand. "Not you, young man. Your father."
"Me?" I said, shocked. "But I can't even use it! I'm a muggle, remember, and one that magic REALLY doesn't get along with."
"And I believe that will make you a most excellent caretaker," McGonagall said. "Now please, take this wretched thing from me, that I might be tempted no more."
Gingerly, I carefully took the package and stowed it in my jacket pocket. "I'll keep it hidden." I was making plans to hide the thing in Harry's vault until he needed it, but I'd have to talk it over with Libra first.
"And for you, Mrs. Murphy," McGonagall said, drawing out a large embossed tome.
"Tales of Beedle the Bard?" Libra asked, sounding puzzled as she accepted it from McGonagall. "But whatever for?"
"That's...interesting," I mused, eyeing the book.
Libra eyed me expectantly, while Harry sat up eagerly. McGonagall, however, let out a heavy sigh. "What is it, Mr. Murphy?"
"Dumbledore gave this book as a gift in his last will and testament in...well, the other timeline," I explained. "But he didn't give it to Libra. He gave it, well, to one of Harry's friends. It was rather important and significant."
"Don't hold us in suspense, Professor. Please, enlighten us," McGonagall said in tones that indicated she'd put up with just about enough mysteries for a lifetime.
I nodded to the Cloak. "The Deathly Hallows."
"Ah." McGonagall sat back, eyeing the three of us. "So, you receive two of the three, and the tale of their origin. I must confess, for a long time I considered the Hallows no more than a myth, but…" Uncharacteristically, McGonagall appeared guilty and nervous, and her eyes strayed to my coat pocket.
"You took the Stone," I said quietly, touching my hand to where it was hidden. "What did you see?"
McGonagall looked away, and tears slid down her cheek. "My late husband. And Albus as well. It is not…" Taking a deep, shuddering breath, McGonagall wiped away her tears, then fixed me with a piercing stare. "That Stone is a trap, Mr. Murphy. It killed Albus. If I kept it, it would kill me as well. The living are not meant to dwell amidst the dead."
Harry looked at the cloak in his lap with horror. "They're cursed. They're all cursed!" he held the cloak up to me. "Take it, dad. Please."
Reluctantly, I took the Cloak, running the smooth fabric through my fingers. It was a bit like silk, but more slippery somehow.
"Dad!" Harry exclaimed excitedly. "Look!"
I looked down and saw that part of my hand, which was wrapped in the Cloak, had vanished. I quickly took it out, then folded the Cloak up and shoved it in my pocket. "Yeah, best not to have that lying about I guess."
"No! The magic, it affected you!" Harry said excitedly, pointing. "Nothing ever has before!"
"Not quite. The magic didn't affect me, precisely. I could stand behind an illusory wall and see through it, but if you put up a real wall and made it invisible by bending the light I'd walk right into it. The Cloak disappears, and I disappear when I'm behind it. Nothing more," I said.
"Oh." Harry looked slightly crestfallen at that, but then turned back to McGonagall. "Anything else? Did he have, you know, some advice for getting the Horcrux out of me or whatever?"
"Severus and I are going through Albus' notes now," McGonagall said. "So far, we have discovered nothing. When I...spoke with Albus...he said...well, he gave me some clues of where to look. But I shan't take that thing up again. It's too risky."
I nodded. "Yeah, I have to agree. But, what now? Dumbledore shielded me from the Board and the Ministry. Without him, can I keep my job?"
"There is little worry when it comes to that," McGonagall said. "The last real opponent to the school employing a muggle was Lucius Malfoy, and as he was ignominiously exiled, anyone who agreed too loudly with his former opinions would be seen as a traitor. Your position and that of your family here is secure, Mr. Murphy."
"So you support my husband retaining his position?" Libra asked.
McGonagall peered at me over her spectacles. "For now. We shall see what the NEWT and OWL scores come out to be at the end of term." Then she gave Libra a warm smile. "But considering he is the man who wrote the curriculum, I have few worries in that regard. Now, if you will forgive me, there is much to do. I have a great many things to which I must see, and little time to do them in. There shall be a staff meeting tomorrow morning where we go over our plans for the semester. I expect the both of you to be in attendance."
We made our goodbyes and left, quietly making our way down the stairs. While little about the office had changed in the few days since McGonagall had taken over, there had been one notable change: All throughout our meeting, the portrait of the former Headmaster had benignly smiled down upon us from a place of honor right above the Headmistresses. Gone, but certainly not forgotten.
As we made our way through the halls, we bumped into Father Andrew, walking quietly along with a sheaf of parchment under his arm.
"Morning, Father," I said, nodding to him.
"Good morning, Professor," the priest said, extending his free hand to me and then to my family. "And you, Mrs. Murphy. And how are you doing today, young man?"
LIbra said a polite nothing, while Harry shrugged and looked down at his boots, scuffing them on the floor. I rested a hand on Harry's shoulder. "I think we've all been hit hard by the loss of Dumbledore."
"Yes, even for those of us who left Hogwarts behind us many years ago, it is difficult," Andrew said, sighing and nodding. He was a few years older than myself, on the far side of forty and even more balding than I was, with nut brown wispy hair that was going grey in patches. Today he wore a rather standard wizarding robe, though he also had his ecumenical collar on.
"Do you have plans for dinner tonight?" Libra asked. "We'd love for you and your wife to join us. You married Pygmalion Trelawny, didn't you?"
"Yes, we've been staying with her aunt Sybill in the castle the past few days," Andrew said, making a slight face. "It was more convenient, what with first the wedding, then the funeral, and now all the other arrangements."
I laughed. "As much as I respect my esteemed colleague, Sybill can be quite the experience, and in high doses...Well, that would be something. Isn't your son in Ravenclaw? Mark Andrew in 3rd year?"
"Yes, though he isn't taking your rather excellent course this year I'm afraid. He's rather come to regret it. While I myself am a muggle born, Mark rather lacks experience on that side. But yes, Pygmalion and I would love to join to join you."
"Bring your son as well, it would be good for Harry to have someone to talk to," Libra said, prodding Harry.
"He's a beater for Ravenclaw, isn't he?" Harry asked, perking up slightly.
"I'm afraid he is, much to the befuddlement of his parents," Father Andrew laughed. "Neither his mother or I were ever much in the way of athletes. His other aunt, Pandora, was quite the quidditch fiend back in the day, though you'd never know it now."
"Come over about six then, we'll be having chicken stew. I'm sure our oldest daughter Sarah would love to hear Mark's quidditch tales as well," Libra said. "And it will be good to have a fellow believer over. I'm afraid we feel quite isolated in our faith here."
"I understand," Father Andrew said with a nod. "I've endeavor to spread the Gospel amidst my fellow wizards, but alas, what need for God have those who consider themselves gods? We'll see you at six then."
"Why don't you make some of those American style biscuits to have with the stew, dear," Libra said once we got home. "They'll go nicely with the strawberry preserves Molly gave us for Christmas."
"Sure thing. Marie, you want to help daddy make some biscuits?"
"Yep!" Marie happily help me mix in the butter and bacon grease, getting flower everywhere. While the biscuits cooked, we colored in one of her Disney coloring books she'd gotten for Christmas. Aladdin had come out the month before, and of course Marie and her sister were smitten with Jasmine now, Belle all but forgotten in the distant mists of time after they'd gone to see Aladdin with Molly and Ginny.
For now, Marie wasn't concerned that she had to hold Sarah's hand when they floo'd somewhere, just as her mother did. In a few years, she'd start to realize she had none of the magic that her older siblings, or even her little brother, did. At this moment though, she was simply a happy 3 year old girl who was getting to spend some quality time with her father and color a tiger.
The Andrew's showed up at precisely 6 o'clock, with Pygmalion bringing a vanilla custard she'd made for "pudding." Thankfully, my kids didn't argue with her, figuring that custard was what they thought of as pudding in addition to being desert. Dinner was quite good, with even the Brits enjoying the Americanized biscuits.
After dinner, Harry, Sarah and Mark talked quidditch and admired Harry's broom. it was dark, with a light snow falling so they didn't get to try it out. Marie and James were put to bed early, and didn't protest too much.
"Oh, Tim, look at this, a first edition of Beedle the Bard," Pygmalion remarked when we sat down around the coffee table with warm drinks. "That brings back memories for us, doesn't it?"
"It rather does," Father Andrew said, smiling and picking the book up from the coffee table. He flipped expertly to the Tale of the Three Brothers. "You do remember our little club from back in our school days I trust? You, your sister, and your two admirers."
"You were interested in the lore behind the Hallows?" Libra asked, setting down a tray with hot tea. I'd taken to drinking it warm instead of iced, as the climate of Scotland fit that version of the beverage much better.
"Oh yes, my sister and her husband still are as a matter of fact," Pygmalion agreed. "I believe you were actually interviewed by Xenophilius a few months back, in regards to the...incident...with your family."
"We were," Libra agreed. "But I confess, my husband and I recently became rather interested in the lore behind the Hallows. What can you tell us?"
"Oh a great deal I suppose," Father Andrew said, setting the book back on the coffee table. "You of course will know the basics, that there were three brothers, given three artefacts by Death. What you might not know is that they were the Peverell brothers, and they were in fact real historical figures from the 13th century. They were most remarkable in that they were the last confirmed figures to interact or be gifted with what is often referred to as Elder Magic."
"Elder magic?" Libra asked, looking startled. She glanced at me. "We've heard that term before, in relation to a turtle from Hawaii. That's how we met Akeakamai, in fact."
"The Supreme Mugwump? Why, that's remarkable! And yes, the Hawaiians do indeed have a few remaining Elder Beings, though they are all considered lesser manifestations. Honu in particular is rather well documented. If you've met him, consider yourself very lucky my dear," Father Andrew said.
"Wait, that reptile is in the same league as objects supposedly from Death itself?" I asked in confusion.
"More or less, yes," Pygmalion agreed. "Elder Honu is possesses with ancient magics, and has great control over the oceans and even the Hawaiian islands themselves. His domain includes growth and life, mostly of fish and animals. His song has been shown to increase the spread of marine life, and plant life both on sea and land. It also seems to be involved with quieting volcanic eruptions in the region."
"If you really wish to learn more about him though, you're better off speaking with the Hawaiians themselves," Father Andrew put in. "I've actually read a few books Akeakamai and her mother wrote on the subject some years past, so she would be a primary source rather than what I could relay to you."
"But how does Elder Honu relate to the Deathly Hallows?" Libra asked.
"Well, it has mostly to do with the source of his power. You see, most magic, what is typically referred to as common or modern magic, stems from-"
I spied a small face peeking out from the stairway, and excused myself as Andrew continued on to Libra. I found a very guilty looking Marie blinking up at me.
"What's going on kiddo?" I asked gently, and bent down to pick her up. I quickly discovered exactly what the problem was, as she was soaking wet.
"Sorry daddy," Marie whimpered.
"It's ok, kiddo, it's ok. Call Dobby for me, would you?"
Dobby appeared at Marie's call, and was more than happy to magically switch the bedsheets. I comforted Marie and put her back to bed. As I was walking back towards the stairs, I spied my jacket hung up in the master bedroom. I paused and reached into the pocket, pulling out the wrapped resurrection stone.
Hesitantly, I unwrapped the stone, holding it in the paper. It was a black gem, about the size of a tangerine, shaped like an octahedron, but somehow wrong. It seemed to wrap in on itself, and my eyes couldn't trace its lines, which seemed to shift if you stared at them too long. Slowly, I reached out one trembling finger to touch it.
Ice ran through my veins the instant my skin contacted the Stone, and my finger seemed to freeze in place. Darkness clouded my vision, and I began to shiver uncontrollably as a deep sense of wrongness filled my mind. My eyes darted back and forth, and my heart raced as my breaths came in shuddering gasps. What was going on? I tried to shout, but couldn't manage it.
"Ah, David. I am so glad this worked out as I planned."
Before me, a shape formed. And I saw the face of a dead man.