Chapter 25 - I Guess There Aren't Any Rainbows Left
History of the World Volume XXIV Chapter 10 The Rule of Turpin - Agriculture
Each tier of society provides valuable contributions to the empire. While wizards focus on more magically significant herbilogical pursuits, Muggles labour to produce the grains, fruits, and vegetables that fill the larders of our society. Inevitably wizards must oversee these activities as Muggles cannot own land. Because they work closely with wizards, farming has long been considered the most respected profession for a Muggle to achieve. In the past, wizard overseers taught basic maths and reading to their tenants. That policy changed following the pitched rebellion based out of France in the thirteenth century. Educated Muggle farmers were key supporters of the seditionists. Education in the wrong hands is poison, turning mens' heads and filling them with unattainable aspirations.
Since this time, actively teaching writing or maths is taboo in the farming profession, though a few overseers still maintain the practice.
A silver ribbon danced through the air, looping and twisting. As it passed in front of the wand directing its course, a hoarse, barely intelligible voice emerged. Albus allowed the recorded recitation to cycle over and over, listening to the last words of his dead spy as he mentally digested the information it relayed.
"I've spent the last several months working on a complex probability matrix with Mabel Turpin. Almost until the end, I didn't know what we were filtering, but I impressed her with my insight and creative manipulation of the numbers. She eventually told me everything. Her project is designed to perpetually circumvent a prophecy. The emperor's demise was foretold and he has already assembled the men and women predicted to do him in. He keeps them alive and close; they're his pets, the Reapers.
"The location in which the prophecy chooses champions shifts geographically over time. Locating the prophecy's chosen champions is an intricate probability manipulation. Using scrying and divination stones, Mabel and her associates move large numbers of young Muggleborns and Half-bloods to the location where choosing has shifted. The prophecy likes Muggleborns and Half-bloods. In the end, we're all human and it plays out in the choosing. No witch or wizard is truly exempt though some are more likely depending on heritage, age, and geographic location. The exact phrasing of the prophecy..."
Before the voice could recite the prophecy again, Albus twitched his wand and the recording stopped, the circle of silver frozen from its languid twirling.
A man who lived his life on the razor's edge had died, tortured in the Emperor's killing fields. With his death, Severus had delivered Albus a wealth of invaluable information. While a part of him grieved for the life lost, his mind already whirled with the possibilities of a partially executed prophecy and decades old grievances that he had never completely recovered from.
His baby brother hadn't just been chosen to become a Reaper, first he was chosen by a prophecy. Aberforth, his wild, trouble-maker sibling, had been meant for greater things. How many exceptional young men and women had been chosen by prophecy only to be destroyed and perverted before getting the chance to reach their potential?
Tears shimmering unshed in his blue eyes, Albus moved the silver thread of recording forward to the last few seconds and reactivated the playback.
"We both knew this was going to kill me eventually, but it will mean something. I'm giving you everything you need to end this dictatorship, to achieve your goal. Don't forget your promise. You owe me old man."
Albus nodded absently before carefully storing the silver string of magic in a glass vial and sealing it with a simple cork stopper. "I won't forget, Severus."
Wearing a set of navy blue Quidditch robes, Harry dropped onto a bench next to the other backup players. Unlike him, his teammates spent every day drilling their skills together and in shifts with the actual starters. His more sporadic attendance could be tolerated only because Seekers were in short supply and the position didn't require a lot of coordination with the other players. His teammates didn't give him a hard time over his part-time status, though they didn't mind taking the Mickey over him being the youngest, smallest player on the pitch.
A burly black-haired man, Joseph, one of the reserve Beaters, plopped down next to him and punched Harry playfully on the shoulder. "Hey squirt, you excited about the game this weekend? You might get to play. The Yanks are a physical team. They crashed out four of the Australian players in their last match."
Excited didn't quite encompass the spectrum of terror, joy, and fervour he felt at that prospect, but Harry simply nodded. "Just hope I don't make a fool of myself if they put me in."
"No worries, kid, you're talented and with exceptional Beaters like myself watching your back, you'll be fine." Joseph grinned, exposing a missing front tooth. He had lost it in his first professional game and declined having it replaced. They'd lost the game and old Beater superstition said it was unlucky to take teeth back from a defeat.
Harry was quite glad there wasn't any Seeker lore that required he end up missing teeth or other body parts. "You know, technically, if I do end up in the game, you'll probably still be warming the bench and I'll have to depend on those blokes who've been doing their best to knock me off my broom to keep me on it. What if they get confused?"
Joseph laughed and shrugged. "You guys will be wearing the same colours. That might help."
"Listen up ladies and gentlemen!" One of the assistant coaches held a hand up commanding silence from the blue clad reserve players. "Janice is handing out packets of player tickets to the game this weekend. You each have ten seats to offer your friends and family. No, you can't have extras. No, I do not care what you do with the ones you have. Sell them, eat them, give them to a teammate with fifteen siblings, they're yours. Practice is suspended for the rest of the week. No sense being tired for the game. I will see the lot of you Saturday no later than twelve hundred hours. Good practice guys."
Harry accepted his envelope filled with its prize of valuable family passes. He mentally tallied the people he wanted to give tickets to. Ron, Draco, and Lisa were easy; they liked Quidditch and they were his friends. Hermione was a friend but didn't much appreciate wizarding sports in general. Mentally calculating the odds she would get angry over receiving a ticket, Harry decided to just give her one and hope it didn't rub her the wrong way. His only family, Isobel, should get one, but the logistics of that might trip him up.
The Headmistress had strongly encouraged him to come to her when he needed to see his little sister after the incident at Christmas. He would just have to petition Professor McGonagall and maybe she could work it out. If the stars aligned and he made his world Quidditch debut, he wanted his sister there. McGonagall would understand, hopefully.
Assuming everything worked out, he would be left with five tickets to barter or outright sell. It was a rich haul for a nobody with nothing to his name. He might actually get to buy his sister a Solstice present this year, instead of hoping someone left another toy as charity.
A quick shower followed by a trip through the main transportation circle, and Harry was back to school. He was a few hours later than usual, but it had been the last practice before a big game. He breezed into an almost deserted great hall for dinner. In his age group, only Neville remained. Harry piled up a heaping helping of fish and half dozen rolls before joining him. "Hey, how are you?" Harry asked politely.
Neville looked up from the book he was reading and shrugged. "I'm fine. Did you have a good practice, Harry?"
"It was a bit more intense than usual. We have a big game this weekend. I'll probably be watching from a comfy seat on the bench, but it's still exciting. Will you be attending?" Harry asked with hopes of selling one of his extra tickets. For Neville he wouldn't even charge much.
"My mum got tickets ages ago, fifth box." Neville closed his book and set it aside. "Do you know who the Westies are starting? Is Franklin back from injury yet? I heard that the starting Seeker is only fifteen. What's his name?"
"Nah, Boise is still chasing for Franklin and the seeker is Herriman, Louise Herriman. She's sixteen and quite good."
"Really? It'll be her debut. I hope we win." Neville's smile was genuine and wide.
"Me too." Harry leaned across the table. "So I have a couple of extra tickets for the game. Do you know of anyone who might want to buy them?"
The contents of a cauldron boiled, thick white potion plopping as bubbles of gas escaped the concoction. Lilly scooped up a handful of crushed lotus roots and stirred them in. The Potion's colour shifted to pink and the mixture thinned. "Do you have the Orange leaves chopped?" From her perch on a nearby stool, Isobel, pushed a pile of roughly chopped aromatic leaves across the table. Her hair tied back in pigtails, she wore a simple apron and protective dragonhide gloves. Even though the potion she was helping her mother with required no actual caustic ingredients, Lily had explained that wearing your protective gear was a good habit and learning to handle a knife in thick gloves was better practiced on inert ingredients than explosive ones.
Isobel hadn't been enthusiastic to be included in her mother's brewing, but eventually accepted the activity as a necessary if awkward event. Lily examined the leaves critically and used her own knife to even the chop until the leaves were fine, nearly perfect slivers. "It's important to chop ingredients uniformly when brewing," she explained. "If they go in as different sizes they won't absorb equally and it can make your potion less stable. Had you started brewing yet? I think they started us brewing around your age when I was at the group home."
"Brewing wasn't required, and I didn't go." She frowned at her mother. "Why were you raised at the group home? Did your family lose you too?"
Lily hated the way Isobel always referred to her abduction as though her parents had carelessly misplaced a trunk at the train station. "I was taken from my family too, but my family were all Muggles. They technically gave me up. My parents knew what I was and turned me over to the empire when I was four. They wanted me to have a better life."
"The empire takes magical kids from unacceptable situations all the time. I mean, if you and Dad hadn't been what you are, they wouldn't have taken me and Harry away either." Isobel knew she was being difficult, accusatory and maybe not quite fair to her mother but she couldn't help herself. "Your parents wanted you to have a better life, but you didn't care what kind of life me and Harry had."
"That isn't true, Isobel." Lily didn't raise her voice at the obvious goading or let her daughter's now familiar tirade get under her skin. Her daughter had been indoctrinated almost from birth to believe in the empire and she wasn't going to understand the complexity of the situation immediately, or maybe even any time soon. "Your father and I love you and your brother more than anything in the world. We wanted to give you the chance to live in a free society—a rebellion is always for the children, for the future."
"Society seems to be doing fine to me." Isobel stripped off her dragonhide gloves and jumped down off her stool. "I bet Grandpa Bart is in his studio. Can I go watch him paint?"
"No, this is a lesson and you're staying for the entire potion. Brewing is not optional in this house. Don't make me use a sticking charm to put you on that stool." Lily pulled out a new ingredient, slimy and gray-green. "Do you know how to break down a frog carcass?"
Rolling her eyes, Isobel gloved back up and remounted her stool. "No, go ahead and show me."
With practiced ease, Lily used her silver knife to remove the frog's eyes, spleen, and other important viscera. "We'll be using the spleens, and pickling the rest for use later. You take the others apart while I get the pickling salts ready. Do you know why we use a silver knife?"
"Silver is pure?" Isobel answered uncertainly.
"Silver purifies," Lily clarified. "Any residual magic that might be lurking in the items is flushed out so that nothing unexpected happens when you combine the ingredients." Lily smiled and guided her daughter's knife through the final cut on her first frog. "Very well done."
"Will you be my teacher now? Since everyone thinks I'm dead, I can't go to school. I can't even go outside." Isobel attacked the next frog, thinking about her friends that she would never get to see again.
"You'll go to school, just not here. We're going to move far away once we have Harry back. Then you and Harry will both go to school. We're going to be a family. So, where do you think we should relocate? Australia? Japan? France?"
"Not Japan. I don't want to learn a new language." Isobel made a disgusted face as some frog innards stuck to her glove. She delicately wiped it away. "I have some good friends that I'm never going to see again, but starting over doesn't sound completely terrible either. I'll have my brother and that's the most important thing, but I wouldn't count on dearest Harry feeling the same." Isobel popped the eyes off a frog and slit its cold white belly. "He is going to be so angry at you when you take him away from school. Harry loves school and his friends and Quidditch. Did you know he was designated number one in his class or that he plays as Seeker? He made so many friends at school that between camp and birthday parties, I barely saw him last summer."
Focused on her task, Isobel didn't see her mother's reaction to her words. Lily first smiled with pride at her son's accomplishments and then frowned, worried that her daughter was right. It sounded like everything was going well for Harry. How happy would he be to have his whole life redirected? Isobel was angry with the changes in her life at least half the time and she hadn't had the chance to achieve nearly so much. "It will be an adjustment, but family is the most important thing."
"Right, whatever you say," Isobel snorted. "I don't want to move away from Grandpa Bart and Grandma. They're family too. It isn't fair. Just because you and Dad had to be criminals, me and Harry can't have anything we want."
"Isobel Potter, you will stop using that tone with me."
Isobel almost dropped her knife, her mother's firm words so startled her. And she'd called her Potter not Green. Isobel couldn't remember hearing her true name spoken aloud and strung together. She had definitely never heard it spoken as a scold. Her mother cupped her chin, gently lifting her face until their eyes met.
"I love you. We aren't taking you away from your grandparents. You can visit them every day if you want to." Lily let go of her daughter's face, and she averted her eyes almost immediately. "I know it isn't easy to imagine, but some of the things you've been taught aren't true. Just try to have an open mind and I'll show you the other side of the propaganda. Then maybe you'll understand how we could become criminals as you put it. Will you at least try?"
"Okay," Isobel whispered. "I'll try."
"You finish those frogs. I'm going to get your homework assignment." Lilly strode out of the kitchen and up to the Potter's library. She leafed through the section stacked with Melinda's essays until she found the one she wanted Isobel to start with. If her daughter had found it in her to bond with and trust her grandparents, maybe she would be able to accept her parents' political views and choices when espoused by one of those grandparents.
The long climb to the top of the east tower let Harry mentally practice his proposal to McGonagall. He just needed to focus on how easy and obvious the whole situation was. He had the tickets; finding someone to escort his sister should be easy with the incentive of getting to watch the game. Whoever ended up babysitting her should practically be paying him for the ticket, really. It was a privilege, a steal.
The head's imposing mahogany office door loomed, but Harry marshalled his courage and knocked firmly.
"Come in." The door opened on its own in response to the Scottish woman's clear invitation.
Harry felt utterly self conscious standing in front of the stern Headmistress, but she had seemed sympathetic last solstice when he and Hermione had been caught out of bounds. She had told him to come to her instead of plotting to see his sister on his own. "Headmistress, I need your help. There is a Quidditch game this weekend. I know I'm only a reserve player and I probably won't be flying, but I have ten tickets to the game and having my sister there would be amazing. If I give Isobel a ticket and send a ticket for whoever needs to supervise her, everyone should be covered. Can you help get her to the game?"
Minerva sat up straighter, looking down her nose at the nervous, hopeful child. "I'm sorry Mr. Green, but it won't be possible to get your little sister to the Quidditch match this weekend. Beyond needing a chaperone there are other issues."
"But I have an extra ticket for whoever would be willing to chaperone her. Surely some adult at the home would be willing to sit through a Quidditch game with my sister. It isn't considered torture in most circles. These tickets are valuable."
"If your request were possible, it would be granted. We have policies for a reason. Now, I'm sure you have some homework to do. My mind isn't going to change." Minerva levelled the visibly offended twelve year old with her most daunting glare and held it until he turned away and her door snapped shut behind him.
Minerva gently massaged her temples, trying to relieve the knot of tension behind her eyes. Lying to the poor boy had been harder than anticipated. He presented his request in a timely, polite manner. He made his case logically and earnestly. Any other day she would have politely escorted the child's sister herself, but Harry's sister wasn't in the group home or even alive according to the empire's records. Albus had informed her of the situation with the Green/Potter siblings and tasked her to protect Harry from discovering his sister's apparent death until they could be properly reunited.
Minerva took out a quill and began scratching a note in neat, even script. He might not get to know about it today, but a boy deserved to have his family at his first Quidditch game, and she could at least try to make that happen.
"Seriously?" Draco looked up from his spell crafting homework to where Harry was sprawled across his bed. His friend's head hung off the end so that his glasses threatened to surrender to gravity and fall off his face. "She denied the request because it isn't standard policy?"
"I wouldn't be so bothered, but the woman told me to come to her if I had a 'reasonable' need for access to my sister almost a year ago. I haven't made a single request of anyone in that time. What were her words exactly? 'Don't take matters into your own hands Mr. Green. Don't go outside the system when we're here to help you Mr. Green.' Load of bollocks."
Draco nodded. "So you and this sister are close?"
"She's my sister," Harry said with an ineloquent shrug. "I want her there."
Draco mulled the situation for a few moments, tempted to just let the headmistress's ruling stand, but Harry had given him a ticket to the upcoming game, something his father hadn't bothered to do. "If she isn't too annoying and you want me to, she could sit with me and Lisa and we'd make sure she stayed safe."
"You would. Really?" Harry rolled into a sitting position. His hair stuck straight up, though his glasses noted the change in direction and settled back on the tip of his nose. "Maybe we could break her out for the day?"
"Or if we didn't want to land a month's detentions, I could write my father. If I phrase the request correctly, he'll borrow her for us. I'd like to see the headmistress say anything to the sheriff for defying standard protocol." Draco smirked superiorly. "If he thinks Lisa Turpin wants your sister at that game, he'll get her there. Politics."
Harry frowned. He couldn't think of Draco's father without remembering Halloween and the werewolf hunt they had disrupted. "Your dad is kind of important and a little scary. Are you sure we should be bothering him?"
"Don't you trust me?" Draco ruffled Harry's insane hair on his way to grab some parchment for the letter to his father.
Isobel Potter couldn't seem to get her footing in the minefield of her life. Her new home and new family were nice enough. They fed her and gave her comfortable clothes and posh toys. She even had her own room. Her mother taught her things and her grandfather let her paint with him almost every day. Her father wasn't home as much, but he never missed dinner.
She ought to be blissfully happy. If it weren't for the hiding and the fact that her parents were terrorists, life would be very nearly perfect. Isobel felt ashamed almost immediately for her mental choice of label. Her parents called themselves Rebels, and they had the literature to explain their point of view. She just couldn't quite buy it all.
The world wasn't a terrible place really. Why did everything need to change?
Instead of dwelling on the oddness of her family, she tried to focus on the homework her mother had set, a stack of essays to read and Latin conjugations. It was terribly confusing. She had to remind herself that she'd envied the other kids their Latin lessons when she got dropped from the real classes. Her mother had no idea Isobel wasn't gifted enough for real school and was teaching her as if she were capable of learning it all.
She could always tell Lily about her educational demotion earlier in the year, but the thought made her cheeks burn with shame. She had barely been able to bear Harry finding out and she felt secure in his love.
Defective verbs, Isobel stared at the word and willed it to make more sense to her.
Across the room, Lily dutifully sipped the medicinal potion that kept her curse in check. Its sickly sweet flavour left her tongue numb and her teeth unpleasantly slick. Four cauldrons rested on her mother in law's ornate sideboard, their contents cooling.
Much like her daughter, Lily felt a bit lost in her own life. Being a mother hadn't seemed nearly so complicated before the abduction. She loved her children absolutely and unconditionally; they had returned that love. Now she wasn't sure what Isobel felt for her besides suspicion and occasional bursts of anger. Harry still didn't know his family existed.
Lily didn't blame her daughter for her anger and angst. There were too many other people to blame for their strained relationship. Lily swirled the milky potion in its plain crystal flask and pocketed the remainder. If she were being honest with herself, as much as she hated the empire and Oscasia and Peter Pettigrew, no one was more to blame for the problems in her family than Lily herself. She was responsible for dragging James into the rebellion, for putting them in a situation that made them targets. After all the fighting and sacrifice, what had they really accomplished—a few small victories that barely inconvenienced the empire?
Nothing was ever going to change.
They had been naive to think any of it mattered.
The only really important thing was family and protecting each other from the rest of the world. Lily understood that now; her priorities were straight. She wondered if Melinda would bother with 'I told you so' when she confessed her epiphany.
The unmistakable sound of parchment crumpling brought Lily back to the moment and she frowned at the frustrated set of her daughter's face. "How are those conjugations coming?" Lily asked. When Isobel didn't respond, Lily took a seat next to her and unfolded the knot of paper. Isobel had written defective verbs across the top and hadn't added another word. "I can explain them again if you like. Maybe it would be easier if you told me where you were in class, and then we could review and go from there?"
Isobel fidgeted and bit her lip, knowing she had to admit the truth now. "I don't know any Latin. They didn't let me take the real classes last year when Latin started. I'm not a powerful witch. Professor Umbridge called us the lower third of the bell curve, whatever that means. So we don't need to study all this. I'm going to end up learning a trade or something. You're wasting your time trying to teach me."
Though she had spoken in a perfectly calm, light tone, Lily could hear the brittle undertone of a girl ready to cry at the least provocation. "Don't let them tell you what you are. Did you read any of the articles I gave you yet? Read the one on Educational Darwinism. The difference between the bottom third and the top third of Professor Umbridge's bell curve is miniscule. It's an excuse to control the distribution of education. Without education, we're weak and easier to control. You are as capable as anyone else. Forget the stupid curve."
Isobel opened her mouth to argue that she was less capable. Hadn't her mum watched her struggle and fail all morning? But Lily looked so sure, so determined. "I'll try my hardest, if you think I can learn it."
"Of course you can learn it. It will be easier when I start at the beginning, instead of throwing you in over your head. Do you know why we bother to learn Latin or any ancient language?" Lily flipped the Latin text back to the first chapter and left it open between them.
"Words of power are old words," Isobel replied, parroting a phrase she'd heard from her brother and other older kids.
"Very well said." Lilly gestured for Isobel to read along with her. "Let's build some vocabulary."
While Lily worked diligently to build a relationship with her daughter, James sloughed through his own mission. The Reapers were a menace and a bloody complicated mystery. Sirius and his animagi were actively attempting to capture a Reaper while James used every contact at his disposal to find information on the enforcers. Unfortunately, the only substantive literature on the group dissected their proclivities without explaining what they were. Sirius's plan to capture a Reaper and pick apart the enchantments on it at first blush seemed a bit risky, but how else were they supposed to destroy them? You had to understand your enemy before you could properly fight them.
Leaving Lily cursed was a last resort and destroying the creature that cursed her might just cure her.
Stacking a final book on the pile he had selected from the regional records archive, James hefted his finds onto a table to work. Reapers were regular old people before their transformation, and in accordance with Sirius's plan, James was building dossiers on the six of them.
Before he'd read three lines of text on the newest Reaper, one Cedric Diggory, an official-looking brown owl swooped in and presented a letter for removal. James gently relieved the owl of its missive and ripped open the envelope. A letter and three Quidditch tickets fell out. Not immediately recognizing the handwriting, he glanced ahead to the signature, Minerva McGonagall. He read through the letter quickly, his nostalgic smile blossoming into one of real glee. Casting a quick reshelving charm at the books he had only just acquired, James made haste for the nearest floo.
Those dossiers would have to wait another day—his news would not keep.
This section of chapters is an inevitable train wreck. You can see the mess coming and you wait for someone to pull an emergency break, but they don't and then the wreck happens and you have to see what will survive and with what wounds.