A/N Hi again, everyone, and welcome to the first book of the third Jennifer Craw Series! This book takes place seven uneventful (well, for Hogwarts, anyhow) years later when Alexandria Snape is ready to enter school. This is a series of seven books and honestly, five of the books in this series is more about Severus and the kids than of Jennifer, and all in all, this entire series is really about Severus. There's a new villian this book of a new flavor, and lots of 'new' abilities (which you'll quickly realize has roots in JKR and my old series, except for Alicia's...Alicia's I planted last book, actually, but the idea was a total play on her name. Anyhow, this is a very dark series compared to the other two, but I hope you like it. If you're new to Jennifer Craw, it begins with Jennifer Craw and the Phoenix Wand, which is a short, simple intro compared to the rest of these books...they get more complex after the second one, and I hope you plan on reading it.
This seven book series is written after canon book five and before book six, so you'll see a few cameos from five in it. In many ways, this is the most popular of the five series in the JC universe. I hope you will come to like it as well. Last revision: 3-16
Mystery in the Marsh
It must have been a very curious sight to the locals to see three robed figures enter the marsh on such a dark, cloudy night. Such odd behavior made the magicless townsfolk extremely nervous; gazing at the abandoned castle ruins just above the town as if expecting ghosts to float down and haunt them, even though they never had. They were a suspicious lot, these Muggles… of course, they would be even more nervous if they had any idea that the castle actually wasn't "ruined" at all, but was host to a number of under-aged witches and wizards who were studying at Durmstrang's Academy. In fact, had they known, they would have probably formed a mob and tried to burn it to the ground…not that it would have worked. The castle might have looked as if they had reduced it to rubble, but beyond the veil of powerful enchantments and illusions, the Academy would have continued unharmed.
Jennifer Craw Snape, a Potions professor from another magic school entirely, was silently wishing she were anywhere else but trudging across that cold marsh on such a grim mission. It was summer; during the time she normally spent with her children or swimming below the cliffs near her cottage in Haven's Bluff, or just spending some quiet time alone with her husband away from her hectic job at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Jennifer stumbled and nearly fell into the marsh before someone behind her steadied her with a firm grip. She gazed up at Severus…a tall, sallow man with long black hair and a very somber expression, his black eyes darting about with an alertness that came from years of living a step in front of death.
Perhaps at first they seemed a rather mismatched couple, he with his hooked nose and callous nature and she a very bright, auburn-haired beauty who hadn't seemed to age at all in seven years. But looks were quite deceiving; for ever since they had met there had been a strong bond between them, and after countless close calls fighting evil wizards and dark creatures and curses, the two had become nearly inseparable.
Alvin Archibald, Headmaster of Durmstrang, glanced back with concern, making sure they were keeping up. He had been a comrade of Jennifer's when he taught History at Hogwarts, and a classmate of Severus before that. Jennifer had been sorry to see him leave when he and his wife Rolanda Hooch Archibald had left the school several years ago, but she was happy that he got the Durmstrang position. There were so few wizards with a knack of dark magic out there that actually used it responsibly, and Jennifer knew that Alvin, like she, was one of the few who did. If anyone could bring some balance to that dark tainted Academy, it would be Alvin. It was as a favor to him that they were there now searching the marshes below the school, dreading the idea of finding what they were actually looking for.
"She said she had been around here somewhere," Alvin said. "It is too bad her ghost is too frightened to come back and help us look."
"Not that she remembers enough to really help," Jennifer sighed. "Whatever curse did this must have been pretty powerful to have led her down here."
Severus took out his wand and began muttering a spell that Jennifer didn't recognize, the words in an ancient tongue. A cool breeze came up, raising the hairs on Jennifer's neck before settling again.
"It is close, and definitely underwater," Severus said with certainty.
Jennifer turned her attention downward, taking out a lantern from her cloak pocket and lighting it. The area had been searched more than once already over the last week to no avail; for the marsh was a tangled web of plant life and water, and even with the aid of magic kept its secrets hidden from them. But they knew it was here. It had to be. The ghost told them herself. Jennifer began concentrating on where she was standing, wondering if she was searching the same area over and over again and had simply forgotten where she left off.
It was as she waded out into the thigh deep water near a patch of heavy vegetation that she thought she noticed something strangely white in the water. Growing pale, she reached down in the water and felt a clammy bloated arm, and then bent down to pull the child's corpse up out of the water, forcing herself to keep her emotions in check. Ursa Kristov had been barely a year older than her own eldest daughter. Jennifer quickly buried her thoughts about what her parents would have to endure, knowing that now wasn't the time for that. Instead, she called the others over as she pulled the body onto an embankment.
Alvin's face was totally aggrieved as he knelt beside the girl. It was one of his own students, and he simply reached out and the blue hand seemed disinclined to do anything else. But Jennifer, wanting to get this over with, had gotten straight to work casting her spells to look for dark curses.
It didn't take long for Jennifer to notice the crescent-shaped silver moon pendant around the girl's neck. There was only a residual of dark magic around it, perhaps caused just being too close to the cursed item they were looking for… and yet… something about it made Jennifer unsure. Glancing up at Severus who nodded to her and readied his wand in case anything went wrong, Jennifer quickly slipped on some gloves and cast a curse removal spell. She gently took the necklace off the girl, bringing it closer to the light. Along its surface, tiny indentations ran up and down as if something had been imbedded in it. Jennifer frowned.
"Found something?" Severus asked.
"Maybe. I'm not quite sure," Jennifer murmured. "Something's just not right here."
"A lot of things aren't right here. A student is dead," Alvin said angrily.
"I still think the signs all point to it being an item possession and not a true possession," Jennifer said, glancing at the necklace again. "And this seems to be the only item she has on that has any residual magic on it."
"I will go check the water where you found her. She may have been holding something," Severus suggested. But even as he stepped away to do so, Jennifer somehow knew he wouldn't find anything. Something inside her told her she had the right item, and yet… the item didn't seem to be cursed.
"I think we should take this up to the castle. There are stones missing from here, and I want to ask her what happened to them," Jennifer said. "Any translation draughts left, Severus?"
"One," he nodded, double-checking the area before helping Alvin get the corpse onto a stretcher.
A misting rain began to seep into Jennifer's clothing, getting around the waterproof material of her cloak and creeping across her skin. Was it always so gloomy here, she wondered, as they stepped through the moss-covered rock wall and onto the grounds.
The castle itself was located on the edge of a caldera of an ancient volcano, which was filled with water creating a large, dark lake. She couldn't help but look around curiously for the Quidditch Pitch but saw no sign of it, unaware that it was actually in a huge cavern under the school. The only the structure visible was the castle itself which stood out in the center of the water. Around the side of the castle was anchored a rather large, curious ship that reminded of a ship out of a pirate novel, and Jennifer couldn't help but wonder why a ship like that would be in such a small area. But whatever the reason, she was soon distracted by the sound of the long drawbridge opening, and the three of them slowly made their way across.
An elderly wizard in purplish robes, Hans Hexendaas, met them just on the other side of the portcullis. He was a balding man with a silvery, curly ring of hair around his head and a long, thin goatee. Jennifer had met him several times before, for he was the deputy Headmaster. His face had fallen immediately upon seeing the body, his gnomish face turning quite somber.
"I see you succeeded. Any problems?" he asked in Norwegian.
"None yet," Alvin sighed, gratefully letting Hans take the stretcher. "See if you can't get hold of her parents, please. We're going to try and talk to her. Any idea where she is?"
"Up in the east wing tower again," Hans said. Alvin sighed and nodded, and Jennifer saw from his face that while the answer wasn't unexpected, it bothered Alvin for some reason.
Quickly he led them up a winding stair past hallways filled with shields and armor and curious statues of magical creatures. None of them were very realistic, really; most with sharp or pronounced features and out of proportion torsos. A couple of them Jennifer wasn't altogether sure what they were meant to be. But the most startling display in the castle was in the open, circular entryway into what they called the Chamber of Gathering: it was a full-grown stuffed Norwegian Ridgeback, its long neck bending down towards the entry and its mouth open wide and teeth bared as if ready to breathe fire. Jennifer couldn't help but grin slightly imagining what it must be like for first years on their way to the dining chamber running into that for the first time. She had little doubt that latter year students ran in to get a decent place on the stairs so they could get a good view of the expressions of the new students when they walked in.
The wing they were going to was just up the stairs from where they came in, for Durmstrang was nowhere near the size of Hogwarts. Of course, there was much to be said about a smaller school, Jennifer mused. How many times had she wished she could have given individual attention to all the students on sensitive topics when she taught Defense, or a more critical eye when delving into the more intricate potions? Not that she would ever leave Hogwarts, especially after what Severus had told her about the school; for many of the subjects taught at Durmstrang were probably not handled in a way she'd agree with.
Alvin paused at a large set of double doors framed with heavy, blood red drapes. He knocked then, and a rather large woman Jennifer was introduced to as Professor Barents opened the door, leading them into what appeared to be the common room of the girl's dormitory.
It was a very no-nonsense sort of room filled with tables, each with large reference tomes chained to the center of them. Gorgeous tapestries lined the walls depicting wizards she didn't recognize performing daring deeds and with carefully written mottos beneath them. Three carved wooden arches led past the common room to the dormitories where stood several rows of beds, stripped of their linens for the summer. They stretched down either side of long red carpets that ran the length of each of the rooms. Alvin entered the arch carved to look like a pair of cranes and Jennifer and Severus followed close behind. The phantom of a young girl sat on the edge of one of the far beds, looking down towards the floor with her wispy hair falling down over her face.
"Ursa, you cannot stay here, you know," Alvin said sternly. "Ghosts are not permitted in the dormitories. I wouldn't want to have you removed."
"I like it here. It's quiet," Ursa said in a soft voice. "Besides, what can you do to me now? I'm already dead. And before you ask again, I still don't remember how I got this way."
"Actually, we're here to ask you about something else," Jennifer said, holding out the necklace. "Might I ask where you got this?" The ghost brought her faded hand to her neck as if startled to not have it; her eyes steady upon the gently swaying crescent.
"My mother gave me that for Christmas. I'd like to have it back, please," she said, her tone oddly threatening.
"There's no way we can do that, Ursa," Alvin explained patiently. "You're not in the same world as we are any longer. Perhaps you could tell us if there were ever any stones in it?"
"Any stones in it?" Ursa repeated, quite confused at first as she rose and floated over to them. As she gazed at the necklace her face became stricken with horror, her hands coming up to her mouth in complete surprise and despair. "My pendant! What happened to the diamonds?"
"It wasn't like this before you… when you last remembered?" Jennifer asked.
"Of course not! It was lovely! And now it's ruined!" she wailed with despair, her anguish evident in her shrieking voice as she suddenly bolted, heading up through the ceiling.
"Surely they didn't fall out in the marsh," Jennifer muttered to herself, gazing at the pendant again.
"Quite unlikely, especially if it were enchanted at any point. Even if they weren't, I can't fathom that they would all fall out upon hitting the water," Severus said.
"Could she have damaged it herself while in the trance?" Alvin asked.
"Not if the pendant or the diamonds were what had cursed her," Jennifer said. "A cursed item would encourage a victim to preserve it, not destroy it. If the diamonds were in tact before she left the castle, chances are someone else must have taken them. And considering the pendant was still on her neck, I'd say she was murdered for them."
Had Jennifer any doubts that more was going on than a student accidentally getting hold of a cursed item, it ended when the girl's parents arrived. Her mother and father both looked pale and drawn; the mother especially seemed to be suffering from lack of sleep. Ursa had been their only child, and the death had come as a complete shock that had devastated the older couple. Her dark-haired mother would have been quite fair in other circumstances, Jennifer thought, and her heart wrenched again for what they were obviously going through. Clamping her teeth together, Jennifer forced herself to put her feelings aside as Alvin quietly asked them about what they found.
"A necklace? With diamonds? We were barely able to send her to school, Headmaster, as you know well," the mother said, quivering. "I sent her but a care basket and some red gloves with dragon clasps that…" as hard as she tried to keep her composure, Ursa's mother burst into tears. Her husband cautiously put an arm around her. Jennifer nodded discretely to Alvin, letting him know they were telling the truth.
"Perhaps we should step into my office," Alvin told the couple, nodding to Hans to head them in that direction. "I will fill them in on what we found out, not that the blow will be any less," Alvin said distantly. "Why don't you stay here tonight? It's quite late, I'm sure you'll find…"
"Thank you, but I believe we'd rather Apparate back," Severus said.
"Thank you both for coming out here," the Headmaster said sincerely. "I'm going to send a letter to the Tribunal about what we've found." Jennifer carefully put the pendant in a glass box, sealing it and handing it to him. "I'll send word as soon as I hear something," he added with a nod.
"Don't hesitate to call if you need anything, Alvin. Anyone capable of… of what happened…" Jennifer said, faltering a bit. "Needs to be caught before anyone else gets hurt." Alvin thanked them again, seeing them to the drawbridge before slipping inside to see to the girl's parents.
"Turning from cursed item consultant to Auror, are we?" Severus inquired as they walked out, gazing as his wife steadily. Jennifer didn't answer him at first, debating the question for herself.
"Those parents deserve to know exactly what happened to their daughter. I just want to make sure it doesn't go unanswered," Jennifer admitted with a sigh.
"This wasn't our student or our school, Jennifer," Severus said evenly, ignoring the irritated look she gave him in response. "Helping identify a cursed item when asked is one thing, but you can't keep allowing yourself to get personally involved in other people's problems."
"All I kept seeing was Alex when I pulled up that hand," Jennifer said quietly as they reached the edge of the caldera. "What if had been our daughter, Severus?"
"Our daughter knows that we don't send packages by post and also knows not to touch any item that hasn't been thoroughly checked. Not to mention that our letters are charmed so that no one will try and forge them again," Severus pointed out. Jennifer had once made the mistake of trusting a note was from him without checking, and it had nearly cost her life. "Even as capricious as Alexandria can be at times, she'd never do something like this. But let's be off. It's too late to disturb the Weasleys tonight. We'll pick up the children in the morning."