("What?" you gasp. "You've been holding onto this for seven years? What is wrong with you?"
I shrug nonchalantly, but only to hide my deeply seeded guilt. "I forgot my password and my old email address was disabled."
You are justifiably beside yourself with indignation. "And what, you just remembered out of the blue? Just like that?"
"Pretty much, yeah," I reply glibly. "Four invalid password attempts later, and... well, here we are."
Cue the rotten fruit.)
Author's Notes: The year is A.C. 196; Harry Potter and friends are in their sixth year at Hogwarts.
PAIRINGS: 1+2, 3+4, 5+?, HGRW, and DMHP. I haven't decided on who I'm going to pair Wufei with, or even if I'm going to pair Wufei.
DISCLAIMER: Not mine; this disclaimer applies to all chapters.
~*~*~*~*Harry Potter and the Secret Link*~*~*~*~
~*~*~*~*Capricious Purple Clarity*~*~*~*~
Geoffrey Heckelmuff was a rather decrepit old man. His thinning, discolored hair barely covered his ever-growing bald spot at the back of his head as his hairline receded at such a pace that he would most likely be nearly completely bald by winter. Once he had been a tall, striping young lad, but now he was short and slumped over, his once flawlessly tanned skin wrinkled and paled since the peak of his younger years. Thick, black rimmed glasses nearly encompassed his entire face, increasing the width of his beady eyes to five times their actual size. His mouth was a permanent thin line of seriousness, as the time from his youth had rarely caused any more smiles. Nonetheless, laugh lines (or more accurately, 'crows feet') stayed with him even into his wizened years, marking him a once happy man.
Despite all of this, Geoffrey would like to think that he was a diligent, hardworking man. He did his job right and did it extremely well. He wasn't paid well, but it was a decent pay nevertheless. He wouldn't trade his job for any other job in the world.
Geoffrey was the Keeper of the Books. Ah, but not just any books. He and his trusted employees Kept the three Sacred Books -one that recorded the birth and death of every witch and wizard ever born on English soil, and with pinpoint accuracy regarding the date and time down to the very second, from the first breath to the last. The second Book noted all wizard's debts that were currently owed, and oaths sworn. The third was Great Britain's Wizarding Census, so detailed that it even broke the wizarding population into percentages according to ethnicity, age demographic, and blood -pureblood, halfblood, half-breed, and muggleborn.
The Books were said to have been Rowena Ravenclaw's greatest accomplishments. That was one of the main reasons why the Books were considered sacred treasures to the wizarding world. In an ideal world, his position was one of prestige. He used to think his position was one of quiet honor and dignity. It took a logical mind to comprehend what was recorded on the old pages, and few wizards contained so much as an ounce of logic. Further, over a millennia's worth of important decisive information was perfectly preserved while the Sacred Books still served their uses in the present.
The Books were a historic marvel bequeathed by Rowena Ravenclaw to the wizarding world. The Keepers of the Books were once revered...
Then Cornelius Fudge became Minster of Magic. Soon after, the newly appointed Minister, full of "fresh" ideas and "modernized" improvements, decided that since the Keepers of the Books were part of the Ministry, they would do well to integrate into a "department" like all other parts of the Ministry. Thus, the "Book Keeping Department" was formed. Geoffrey Heckelmuff was immediately promoted to "Head of the Department of Book Keeping."
The modern update still made his insides churn with irritation. The Keeper of the Books was still trying to preserve the quiet dignity of his status, but there were new obstacles at every turn. The younger Keepers rarely donned their pearl white robes with golden designs threaded along the hems. They wore their robes open, shamelessly revealing their underclothes. He was only thankful that they were dedicated to their work despite their casual, unorthodox way of approaching their duty.
They were also a bold reminder that he had slowly become a relic of the past over the years as his once glorious sect transformed into a "department." Not for the first time, Heckelmuff entertained the thought of an early retirement. He was born a century and a half ago; surely it was time to name a successor and retreat from a world that no longer had much of a use for men of his mentality.
There was only one thing preventing him from following through with his retirement. The Sacred Books were precious to him, but Heckelmuff thought he would not be nearly as dedicated if not for the only mystery ever provided to him by the Records of Life and Death. One evening thirteen years ago as he turned the pages, he found an odd sight -a name that had faded from black to a light grey, with a little symbol next to it that declared the owner was no longer in the United Kingdom. The mystery was not in where the named could be located, but that his name had notably faded over time.
When Heckelmuff first noted the oddity less than a decade ago, he almost skipped right over it. The fade had been slight, barely distinguishable between the other names around it -but it had been enough for Heckelmuff to take a second lingering look. Over the years the name faded into a dull silver, until finally it was barely legible at all. Having no explanation for it, he confided in his old friend Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, who was rightfully intrigued by the development. The Headmaster informed him that it was impossible to interpret the cause and that it would be best to keep an eye on it in the future.
He was also cautioned by the Headmaster to not bring it to the attention of anyone within the Ministry that had any authority. While Heckelmuff thought it was an odd request, he had no qualms about keeping the mystery within his sect. After all, he was no fan of the new Ministry and the modern policies they put into place.
That was exactly what he did. He looked upon the page once every day, sometimes more often than that, his curiosity never faltering. He wanted to know why the name was fading -names just didn't fade from the Records of Life and Death! The intrigue was perhaps the only thing that kept him fettered to a job he once considered anything but mysterious.
His patient observation came to fruition on an early summer day.
"Mr. Heckelmuff!" a familiar voice broke through the dull roar of the cafeteria. The wizen man slowly searched out the source before he finally noticed his youngest apprentice darting around groups of people mingling around the entrance. Michael Trenton was bright, inquisitive, and perhaps even more infatuated with the Sacred Books than Heckelmuff was. Despite the fact that Trenton was but a young man fresh out of Hogwarts and had joined the Book Keeping Department less than a year ago, Heckelmuff had hopes that the lad who willingly wore the proper vestments of his station would one day be his replacement.
"What is it, lad?" Heckelmuff wheezed, taken aback by the exuberant energy surrounding the youth.
Michael Trenton inhaled deeply, holding the air in his lungs for a brief moment before exhaling again, visibly calmer. Dark eyes still suspiciously bright, Michael knelt at his superior's side and leaned close to eliminate the chance of anyone overhearing.
"It's his name."
A tingling sensation ran up his backbone as he knew instantly to whom his apprentice was alluding. Heckelmuff slowly and steadily placed his cutlery on his plate, leaning further towards his apprentice. "What of it?"
His apprentice looked around the cafeteria; even though it appeared no one was paying them any mind, he still erred on the side of caution and hurriedly said, "You need to see for yourself."
Gregory Heckelmuff sprang to his feet instantly, a sudden well of youthful adrenaline pumping through his blood as his heart rate increased. For a short moment he panicked, thinking he was about to suffer from a heart attack before he realized that he was overwhelmingly ecstatic!
The trafficked journey between the cafeteria and the location of their department deep within the bowels of the Ministry passed as a blur, Heckelmuff being too lost in thought to notice his apprentice's fidgeting.
Heckelmuff hurried his steps once he was within sight of their department entrance. He flew through the door and made a beeline for the room in which the Sacred Books were kept. Without hesitation he barreled over the threshold of the open door and approached the ornately decorated Sacred Book resting on the center pedestal, another Sacred Book on each side of it. Unlike the other Sacred Books, the Records of Life and Death was lying open on the very last page Michael Trenton had been looking at when he made his discovery.
Watery brown eyes traced the list of names, falling directly on the one he was interested in.
Almost a minute of absolute stillness passed before Heckelmuff remembered to breathe again. Having even more questions than before, the wizen Head of the Department of Book Keeping turned to his apprentice, who had stopped halfway into the room to stare at his boss' back mutely while chewing on his bottom lip.
Heckelmuff closed the Book gently before he turned away from it. As he strolled passed his apprentice, he paused long enough to place a bony, wrinkled hand on the boy's shoulder. "We will keep this between you and I, hmm?"
Blinking, Trenton nodded dumbly.
"Good lad," Heckelmuff praised before he retreated to his office. Once the door was shut behind him, he leapt for the Floo.
Albus Dumbledore's reaction was... interesting, at least to Heckelmuff. His old friend had always been difficult to stun into silence, so that he had the opportunity to witness the impossible himself before he passed on was heartening.
"Pardon me," Albus murmured, eyes partially wide behind his half-moon glasses. "Did you say the name changed?"
Heckelmuff nodded quickly. "I've never seen anything like this before, not in all my years studying those Books, nor did my predecessor ever mention it during my apprenticeship. My expectations were high, but I never fathomed anything like this!"
"How intriguing," Albus mused, absently rolling the end of his long white beard between his thumb and forefinger. "Is the name still grey?"
Heckelmuff shook his head. "By the time I arrived, the name was almost charcoal -for the last few years, the old name has been almost unrecognizable." He hesitated for a moment before he added slowly, "He is also in the United Kingdom."
"I see!" Albus exclaimed, suddenly beaming. "My, my. He would be sixteen at this point, I believe. How wondrous..."
Heckelmuff started, squinting his eyes at his old friend. "I do not believe I ever mentioned the lad's date of birth..."
"I'm familiar with the boy's family," Albus explained jovially. "I'm aware his parents hadn't the chance to raise him for most of his life. I once attempted to find him, but obviously, I never managed to locate him."
"You didn't tell me that when I told you what I'd observed nine years ago," Heckelmuff pointed out.
He stopped twisting the end of his beard. "I apologize, old friend," Albus responded sincerely. "It is a private affair, and not mine to share." The Headmaster of Hogwarts straightened in his chair, a contemplative twinkle in his eyes as he mused aloud, "I believe I'll send him an invitation to study here. After all, his old name has been on Hogwarts' enrollment list since before he was born."
"Albus," Heckelmuff argued, "you don't know where the boy has been!"
"Yet the odd circumstances surrounding his name has intrigued me, just as it has you for these many years," his old friend replied whimsically. "Alas, you are right. I shall arrange a meeting with him first to ascertain whether or not he would be welcome here. What is his name now, so that I may address a letter to him?"
Gregory Heckelmuff would never, for all of his remaining years, forget the name.
-*-*-*-*-*Break it like it's hot*-*-*-*-*-
Somewhere in Ireland, a boy had just recently purchased a cheap, rinky-dink hotel room for the night. The neon light of the sign splayed in ugly, block letters Ocean Shore Inn in twitching, dying light. There was only one floor of rooms, and that floor only had forty-seven rooms. The boy had checked into room forty-two, which surprisingly did have a nice view of the ocean front.
The room was sparsely decorated, as if someone actually grown taste overnight and tried to make the simple seedy room look homey. There was only one bed and one pillow, with a television set that only picked up eight stations. The bathroom, which was currently occupied, barely had enough room to maneuver. A conservative architect probably wasn't thinking about comfort as much as his budget when he decided to try and push the sink and mirror, the toilet, and the shower into the same small room. If he bent over, his butt would be hitting the sink and his face would be enshrined within the toilet bowl. If he faced the shower and did the same, he would probably bump his butt against the door and fall forward only to split his head open on the cracked tub. But the water was hot and they actually had entertaining movies on TV, so who was he to complain? He couldn't exactly afford comfort.
Outside of the tiny bathroom, where the steam built up behind the closed door, there was mysterious fluttering outside of his hotel room door, followed by the soft hoots of a barn owl. Mere seconds later, a small envelope slipped underneath the door. Somehow, as if controlled by something other than the air conditioner, which seemed to be permanently set on sub-zero, the parchment curled in midair a few times before floating softly to the bed.
Minutes later the shower's water ran to a trickle. The door slowly opened, emitting steam as the colder air flew into the once enclosed room. The boy, teeth chattering under the sudden clash of cold and hot air, hurried to his pack to throw something warm over his nude form. The towels weren't even big enough to wrap around his waist, and compared to many, his waist was tiny. Once he had thrown on a pair of boxers and woolly pants (and in the middle of looking for a shirt that was at least partially clean), the boy finally noticed the letter.
Slowly, knowing instantly that the yellowish-brown envelope hadn't been there before, he glided toward the bed. Too small to be a bomb, but it was still entirely possibly it was dusted with poison. He paused long enough to dig through his duffle bag for a pair of worn gloves and a bandana that he tied around his lower face, easily slipping his hands into the gloves. With nimble fingers, he cautiously picked it up and read the address to himself.
Room 42 of the Ocean Shore Inn
Ocean Shore, Ireland
Duo blinked. This letter really shouldn't have found him at all. No one knew where he was, as he had taken to constantly wandering the globe, and he rarely kept in contact with anyone who would actually care. For a letter to reach him this fast when he had checked in only an hour before... well, that was only possible if the person sending the letter knew where he would end up before he did, and there was no way said person could predict he'd be in this exact room.
So who would send him a letter? Correction: How could this letter get to him?
Duo Maxwell was an exceptionally handsome young boy; many would be quick to claim he was quite pretty. He had thick, long chestnut hair in an elegant plait, and wide purple eyes that almost normally reflected merriment and mischief on his better days. He usually wore some semblance of a priest outfit; tight black jeans and a black shirt with rolled sleeves, the underside white, while a tiny sliver of white hinted at a priest's collar. A small, golden cross usually hung from around his neck, but it had taken to rest on the television for the time being.
Duo also had a dark past. Due to his dark past, he didn't usually stay in one place for too long. If he did, his time there would only span to a little over a month before he moved on again. It was his dark past that kept him from carelessly ripping open the envelope to get to the letter inside. Or, more aptly put, it was his training in that dark past. Duo Maxwell, sixteen and still living, had been a trained terrorist by the time he had been fourteen. He had saved the world before his sixteenth birthday. With the end of the war behind him, he had the secret of the Gundam with him, and an unknown future before him.
That was strangely a little too poetic for him.
With care he flipped the old-fashioned seal from the back and easily slipped the parchment from inside. Slowly he unfurled it. The first thing he noticed was that the letter was written in green ink on tanned paper. The second thing he noticed was what it said.
Dear Duo Maxwell,
It has been brought to the attention of the faculty at
Hogwarts, a school for youth with special abilities, that you
have returned to the United Kingdom. I wish to schedule a private
meeting with you in person so we can discuss your future with our
school. I regret that I cannot explain all in a letter, but
this meeting is of dire importance.
Included is a map of a part of Scotland you should be familiar
with. In three days you will be picked up by a very close
friend, who will bring you to this school to meet me. Just
meet him near the Forbidden Forest, but be careful not to go
into the forest! The Forbidden Forest is very dangerous during
I look forward to meeting you again, Duo Maxwell.
Professor Albus Dumbledore
Headmaster of Hogwarts
That last sentence only cemented the deal. Duo would be heading for Scotland by morning.
*-*-*-*-*-Break it like a Polaroid picture*-*-*-*-*-
No one said traveling to such a rural portion of northern Scotland would be easy. Duo only proved more so. He almost didn't make it in time for the third day; in fact, he thought he had missed the date. But as he traveled the outskirt of the dark, creepy forest that sent chills down Duo's spine (and that was not an easy accomplishment), he finally found the person he was looking for. Or, to be fair, the person who was looking for him.
Jesus, that guy was big.
The man Duo supposed was waiting for him was tall. Taller than Rashid, Quatre Winner's servant and comrade, if the comparison could be fairly contrived. It had been a little less than a year since he recalled seeing the leader of the Maguanacs, but if he had to guess, Duo supposed this man had to stand a good foot and a half over Rashid. His shoulders were wide and his arms heavily muscled; Duo had little doubt that this man could go against a mobile suit barehanded and have a good chance of putting up a good fight. His black hair was wild, long and untamed by a comb. His beard was in similar state, and was so bushy it nearly covered his entire face. The only thing Duo could see really well were his eyes. Those eyes were too friendly to fit such a mean-looking exterior. Those eyes were the only reason Duo didn't turn around and hurry away before the giant could stop him.
The giant caught sight of him, and a wide grin broke out from under that bushy beard. "Oy! Ya must be Duo, hey? Duo Maxwell?"
Determined not to show nervousness at the booming voice, Duo nodded with a confident grin on his face. "That's me! I run, I hide, but I never, ever tell a lie!" Duo imitated a low, sweeping bow before straightening and quickly giving the giant a sweeping look. "You must be the friend the headmaster mentioned. You're taking me to Professor Dumbledore, right?"
"Aye," agreed the giant. "Name's Rubeus Hagrid. Most call me Hagrid. We'll be goin' over Black Lake ta git ta the school. Any questions 'fore we go?"
"Yeah. Why's it forbidden?" He motioned to the forest, but Hagrid did not see the motion. He was already walking back the way he came, presumable towards a lake Duo had yet to see any evidence of.
"Lots a' dangerous creatures there, I 'magine," Hagrid replied after a moment of deliberation. "Some 're harmless, wouldn't hurt ye if they wanted to -but a lot of 'em can and will if ye don't know how ta talk to 'em properly."
Talk to them? So, what, Hagrid was the modern-day Dog Whisperer, only his expertise extended beyond the canine world? Curiosity piqued, Duo had to walk at a brisk pace to keep up with the big man's ambling gait.
"Do you work for the Headmaster, Mr. Hagrid?"
The man grunted, but his voice was kind and amiable when he replied, "Jus' Hagrid, lad. I'm a professor. I teach the kids how ta take care of creatures. I also keep up with my ol' duties -sort a' like a groundskeeper, I was."
From groundskeeper to professor, just like that? The big man must have known his stuff.
The canopy of trees broke away, revealing a large lake that curled around a bend in the distance. The water danced and sloshed against the shore line roughly, but not to the point that traveling by boat would be dangerous. That was what he thought until he saw the rinky-dink, careworn row boat that he would have to share with a guy that probably weighed ten times more than Duo.
"In ye go, lad," Hagrid said cheerfully, waving at Duo to climb onto the rocking, wooden shipwreck waiting to happen.
Duo gave the boat a dubious look. "Can't we walk? I like walking. It's good cardio." Feeling solid ground underneath his boots was a hundred times more reassuring than the sight of the bath-time toy.
"Nah, we wouldn't get there 'fore dark," Hagrid said. "Don't fret, lad. She might not look like much, but she's sturdier than ye think."
When Duo cautiously stepped into the boat and sat on the wooden bench, he briefly entertained the idea of pointing out that getting in a boat without a life-jacket was against a large number of ethical, nautical, and normal school rules, especially since Hagrid didn't know if Duo could swim or not. Okay, so he could swim -not particularly well, but he knew how to keep his head above the water should the occasion call for it. Hagrid didn't know that, nor did he even acknowledge the lack of life-jackets.
He also thought it was odd that Hagrid didn't tie the boat to a tree near the edge of the lake. With the way the water was rippling, the boat should have been carried away by the current since it had been left unsecured.
"How long have you worked at Hogwarts?" he asked instead, trying to take his mind off of his growing agitation when the boat dipped dangerously under Hagrid's weight.
"'Bout fifty years, give or take," was the absentminded response as the big man used one foot to push away from the shore before he sat down. Duo was a little surprised that, after Hagrid pushed the boat from the shore, the ride wasn't nearly as rough as the American originally thought it would be.
Duo's eyebrows shot up at the response. "Dude, you hide it well."
"Eh?" The big man squinted at him in befuddlement.
"You don't look like you're pushing seventy," Duo clarified with a quick grin, half of his attention focused on the seemingly smooth propulsion across the lake's choppy current. There wasn't a motor that he could see or hear, and it was obvious after noting the lack of oars that Hagrid had no intention of rowing. So how was the boat moving along with no deviation from the set course?
The giant man chuckled heartily. "Aye, years of clean livin' 'll do it."
Time for a new line of questioning. "So what's Hogwarts like?"
"Like any school, I reckon," the giant man replied guilelessly. "'Cept Hogwarts is one a' the most prestigious boarding schools this side a' the hemisphere, if I do say so meself."
One of the most prestigiously nonexistent boarding schools, Duo thought suspiciously. Before he would entertain the thought of meeting with a man who claimed to know him, he decided to make use of the ultimate information tool. Several different internet search engines spat out numerous websites and articles about different breeds of pigs and the scientific classification of the warts they get, but no school. Albus Dumbledore didn't get so much as a ping, either.
Another thing that tickled his paranoia was that Hagrid was being very careful about his answers. It wasn't so much about what the man was saying as it was what he wasn't saying. Hagrid supplied brief, honest answers that didn't include a lot of details, even though it was obvious he thought highly of his place of employment. The giant man's smile was much more relaxed when Duo asked about Dumbledore and the school itself; his expression became fixed when Duo asked questions that required the finer details.
"What kind of classes do they teach at Hogwarts?"
"Classes 'ny other school would teach, I s'pose, 'cept the teachers are topnotch."
"What are the students like?"
"We got a lot a' good students, a couple a' bad apples..."
Duo grinned mischievously. "If I enroll, do I get to play with a lot of pointy objects?" The question was mostly in jest, but a small part of him wanted an answer that was a bit more substantial than what the big man was giving him.
The giant actually looked confused for a moment before his expression brightened. "Yeh, in almost every class."
The response stumped Duo.
If Hagrid noticed that he was on the receiving end of an incredulous stare, he didn't mention it. Instead, the giant man looked forward as they rounded the bend, a delightedly benign smile under his black bush of a beard as he said fondly, "There she is -Hogwarts."
Duo turned around to get his first good look at the so-called school, never imagining what was in store for him as his eyes met a tall, stone structure sitting atop a cliff in the distance. His mouth fell open as he stared at the enormous compound with its many tall, pointed towers, windows, and the smaller, more humble buildings surrounding it. Several of the smaller structures he could see were made mostly of glass -greenhouses. He could see a hut nestled near the forest at the very outskirts of the expansive grounds. There was a hint of another tall structure in the distance, located on the opposite side of the school. From where he was sitting, it looked like some kind of stadium.
"You're school is a castle? How friggin' sweet is that!" Duo didn't have to feign his astonished wonder.
"That it is, lad," replied Hagrid fondly.
His attention was drawn by a series of splashes, but he found the source too late to get more than a passing glimpse of an unidentifiable fish tail disappearing beneath the surface of the lake approximately 20 feet to his left. He wasn't a great expert on marine life aside from a few of the more common varieties of fish, but after a few seconds of estimation he realized what he saw peaking out of the water could have roughly matched a fish that was the size of a child.
"How big do the fish get around here?"
"We don't mess 'round in the lake," Hagrid replied delicately, pointedly not looking in the direction Duo was focused. "It's a protected habitat."
Duo stifled a sigh. Reluctantly he admitted to himself that he probably wasn't going to get any straight answers out of the big man. He let his curiosity fester for the time being, but only because he could sense that Hagrid was a nice guy. Bad guys didn't bother attempting to answer questions during a pseudo-interrogation.
Bad guys also had a habit of frisking their guests for weapons. Duo was only comforted by the heavy weight of the fully loaded fire arm tucked away next to his right thigh, secure and hidden in the depths of his pocket. The presence of his gun was quite possibly the only reason he hadn't demanded to be taken back yet.
Duo leapt out of the boat as soon as it sidled along a dock that had at least a dozen or more boats surrounding it, each loose and untethered in the water. He didn't bother asking about it, suspecting he wouldn't get a straight answer anyway. Instead, he threw his gaze in the direction of the castle again.
The sight was more majestic than what he had seen from the lake. He also had a better view of the stadium in the distance, but the only thing of note about it were the six golden hoops rising high in the air, taller than even the stands around them. No game he had ever heard of involved vertical hoops that stood too high to serve more than a decorative function.
"What kind of sports do you play here?"
Hagrid looked at the stadium. "Oh, that's the Quidditch pitch. The kids love it."
Quidditch? "I've never heard of it."
"I hear it's not as popular where yer from."
"How do you play?"
"Uhh," Hagrid bumbled, clearing his throat. "All in due time, lad. Can't keep the Professor waiting." That said, the man began ambling towards the castle, forcing Duo to jog behind him just to keep up.
The American bit his tongue to keep from grumbling out loud. At least the man hadn't outright lied to him... Yet.
The walk to the castle was arduous and took even more time because of the steep hill he and Hagrid had to tread to get to it. Duo was by no means out of shape, but after casting a gaze back in the direction they came and retracing their route over the lake, he could see why the giant man was adamant about making use of the boat instead of walking. Duo would have been sweaty and absolutely wiped out by the time they got to the castle, and very likely not in the mood to talk to some Headmaster about anything other than food and where to park his ass for a long nap.
After they reached the top and crossed under a sheltered bridge, Duo was invigorated. He hadn't had a workout like that for several weeks and had almost forgotten how good it felt to put his body to the test. He would definitely need better shoes for it; his boots, as much as he cherished them, just weren't made for that kind of walking.
"Ah," Hagrid said suddenly, pleased. Duo looked up from his worn boots and inclined his head curiously at Hagrid.
"There's the Deputy Headmistress."
The woman at the entrance was tall, but nowhere near as tall as Hagrid. She was a normal sort of tall. Her unusual dress was of a tartan design, denoting that she was most likely Scottish. Her black hair was bound in a tight bun at the back of her head, and she looked sternly at Duo through a pair of square glasses. He got the distinct impression that she was strict (the stiff set of her shoulders) and didn't take any nonsense from anyone (the way her lips reflexively pressed when she noted his hair).
Unlike Hagrid, this woman was exactly what Duo imagined who he would see if Hogwarts didn't turn out to be a trap. Stern, serious, and looking at him like she knew his type and was already planning a speech about how she wouldn't have any of his shenanigans in her school.
"Professor McGonagall," Hagrid announced brightly, "this lad 'ere is Duo Maxwell. Professor Dumbledore is expectin' him."
"Yes, Hagrid, thank you," she replied in a Scottish brogue. "I will take him from here. You may want to attend to your new shipment of animals."
Hagrid's beady eyes widened, briefly panic-stricken before he lumbered towards the hut near the edge of the forest in what possibly passed as a dead run for someone as big as him. Duo distinctly heard him wail, "My bugbears...!"
Glib, Duo raised his hand and waved at the giant man's back, shouting, "Nice meeting you, Hagrid!"
"If you're quite finished," the woman said stiffly, her tone just shy of disapproval.
Duo cupped his hands around his mouth, finding it a little difficult to smother his grin as he bellowed, "Maybe you can show me some of your critters later!"
Hagrid tossed a wave over his shoulder and shouted something back that the American didn't catch, but the tone was jovial.
Duo tried to adopt an exculpatory expression when he turned wide eyes to McGonagall, but judging by the thin line of her pressed-pale lips, she wasn't buying it.
"Follow me please."
He did so without preamble. She didn't give him much of a chance to speak, as she had already started prowling into the castle without so much as a glance over her should to see if he was doing as he was told.
The school was as breathtaking on the interior as it had been on the outside; the entrance hall was immaculate and spacious, with a high sweeping ceiling that arched and swooped seamlessly down to the smooth stone walls. A large chandelier hung in the center of the chamber, numerous lit candles flickering in the wind funneling through the open door at his back. Duo assumed it was a relic that was in good enough condition for practical use, since a quick glance around yielded no evidence of so much as an electrical socket. It very likely cost a lot of money to update a large castle the size of Hogwarts; perhaps they had chosen to focus on the areas of the castle that really needed it, like the computer rooms and the dorms for the students?
"Hogwarts School is the oldest school in all of Europe," Professor McGonagall informed him, a note of pride in her tone. He tore his eyes away from the spectacular entrance and found that she had stopped at the base of a large, winding staircase which was mirrored by another staircase that was identical to it on the other side of the hall. "This castle has served as a school since the completion of its construction in 312 BC."
Duo's eyebrows shot up. "That's roughly 400 years before the castle in Yemon."
"That's right." The stern professor almost looked impressed by him. "This way, Mr. Maxwell."
"The castle in Yemon is said to be the oldest standing castle in the world," Duo pressed on as he trotted after the woman, "and it's barely standing at all. The oldest habitable castle is even younger than that. Hogwarts could totally blow it over if you advertise right."
"We're a private facility, Mr. Maxwell. We don't advertise." The statement was so matter-of-fact that Duo couldn't rightfully question it without feeling like he was beating a patch of flowers with a dead moose.
"I noticed," he said as the crested over the top of the staircase, only to round another set of stairs leading to the next floor. "I couldn't find so much as a passing mention of Hogwarts on the internet."
Her pace didn't even falter at his subtle prompting. "Hogwarts is a school for gifted young men and women, ranging from ages eleven to eighteen. It is strictly invitation-only, as enrollment here requires a very distinct skill set.
"Our students are separated into what we call houses," she continued without pause. "We encourage them to see their houses as their families, and we also stress the importance of working together despite house boundaries. However, house rivalry does occur through academic achievements, sports, politics, and numerous other circumstances and current events.
"Should you chose to join us in the following years, Mr. Maxwell, I should warn you -you will be required to go through a rigorous summer program that will ensure you qualify to enroll with your age bracket. We have never accepted a new student older than twelve, so this will be a learning experience for everyone involved."
Duo wasn't concerned despite the conviction in her voice and the imperativeness and earnestness on the old professor's face. While his sporadic school transcripts would reveal a chaotic mess ranging from below average to average grades, Duo was capable of outstanding academic achievements if he bothered to apply himself. Most of his efforts (or in some cases, lack thereof) during the war was merely window dressing meant to draw as little attention as possible while maintaining his cover.
He had been the typical high school teenager -an outgoing, boisterous social butterfly seeking out friends and acquaintances in a new school with new faces. No one thought twice about a friendly teenager with decent grades.
They didn't deviate from the stairwell until McGonagall had led him to the seventh floor, where she strode down one of the corridors with a purpose to her step. Duo almost completely missed the sudden movement he caught out of the corner of his eye. He stopped, his eyes drawn to the painting of two young children, both towheaded and dressed in Victorian-style clothing. The children in the painting were kneeling over a tall patch of grass, seemingly frozen forever in a state of curiosity.
He couldn't fathom why it caught his attention in the first place. Without a second thought, he turned away and moved to catch up with Professor McGonagall when the sound of giggling made him whip his head back around to the painting.
The two children in the painting were facing him, hiding their mouths behind tiny hands. After another bell-like giggle, the little girl moved her hand, tilting her head in a way that caused her blonde ringlets to bounce.
"You have really pretty hair," she told him shyly, blushing as she cupped her hands around her warm cheeks.
Duo found himself blinking stupidly at the painting for several long moments, certain that the slack-jawed expression on his face was responsible for a fresh wave of laughter from the blond boy in the picture. After several weak attempts to speak, he managed to choke out, "Uh, thanks?"
"You are quite welcome," the girl said cordially just as her friend took her by the wrist and began pulling her out of frame. Duo's eyes automatically followed them into the next painting, which sported several safari animals grazing in a field of long, yellow grass. He watched mutely as the children cooed over a lazy zebra before they ducked out of that frame and into the next.
"Cool," Duo murmured. He already had his fingers curled around the portrait of the field of flowers, itching to check out the circuitry that was sure to be coming out of the wall in hopes to see how it worked. He had never heard of technology for interactive portraits before, but perhaps the artificer was a Hogwarts alumnus who was testing out their new invention while the patent was still pending.
"Mr. Maxwell, what are you doing?"
Startled, he jerked his fingers away from the picture frame and tried not to look guilty. "I wanted to see how they work," he replied, a touch defensive.
McGonagall appeared somewhat confused. She turned her head from him to the painting and back again. "Do you mean the painting?" She looked slightly worried. Maybe she was afraid he would try to replicate the technology for his own profit?
"These things are ingenious!" he exclaimed exuberantly, waving dramatically at the walls. "I mean, most museums these days have holographic projectors in nearly every corner, but those aren't nearly as cool! Interactive paintings will revolutionize the world of art and history! Can you imagine striking up a conversation with a replication of the Mona Lisa? Or actually watching the clocks melt in The Persistence of Memory?" He grinned wildly in excitement. "They'll have to hand out earplugs to anyone who wants to see The Scream! It'll be freaking epic!"
McGonagall surveyed him with a thoughtful expression on her face before the corners of her mouth ticked up in amusement. "Come along, Mr. Maxwell."
He trotted forward and slowed his pace only when he reached her side, still caught up in the portraits. He vaguely recalled passing many different paintings while ascending the staircase, but Duo had been so caught up in what McGonagall was telling him that he couldn't recall seeing them move. "When do you think the inventor will be ready to reveal all of this to the world?"
"It'll be a while yet," McGonagall replied. She actually sounded like she was holding back laughter, which wasn't a characteristic of her personality he expected to see. It was a pleasant surprise.
It wasn't long before McGonagall stopped in front of a seemingly innocuous gargoyle. Without hesitation, she said, "Ice mice."
His eyebrows shot up when the gargoyle leapt out of the way to reveal a narrow entrance in which a winding staircase revolved like a specialized escalator of some sort. Unbelievable -the technology could be applied to what looked like a very convincing stone statue, too?
"Does he fetch, too?" he asked the professor dryly, surprised when she allowed a quiet chuckle to break her stiff upper lip routine.
"Go on, Mr. Maxwell. The Headmaster is expecting you."
So he took the express stairway without a second thought, absently wondering why they hadn't replaced the other staircases in the castle yet. The stairs stopped escalating once he reached the glossy wooden door fitted with a brass knocker in the shape of a griffin.
Duo didn't bother to make use of the ornate knocker. He was expected, after all.
The office was an elegantly beautiful circular room with high windows that were open to allow the golden light of the descending sun to wash over the interior; where there wasn't a window, dozens of portraits lined the walls, each featuring a different old man or the occasional old woman dressed in odd clothes that sort of reminded Duo of a role-playing game involving sorcerers and sorceresses. Very few of the portraits seemed to be quietly conversing with their neighbors (They even interact with each other? Well, the kids moved from one portrait to another... Boss!) while the others dozed against their frames. The rest of the walls were taken up by rows and columns of glass shelves with each item on display even more interesting than the next.
Wedged in a corner nearest the door was a tall wooden shelf of books that sported unusual titles like Extraordinary Trials in History, Law and Literature, The Dark Arts: A Legal Companion, and Magical Moral Perspective. Each book, mysteriously sorted with a specific ordering system in mind, was even more outlandish than the other.
Almost behind the door along the opposite side of the bookshelves was a large perch that was empty save for half a bowl of food pellets and another container of water. There was a nondescript black cabinet next to the perch.
There were several spindly-legged tables in the center of the room upon which sat strange trinkets and baubles that purred and thrummed and belched out chromatic, odorless smoke. Duo almost caught himself getting distracted by the spectacle and didn't even realize he had moved to the closest table to inspect a silver instrument that twirled in lazy circles, softly colliding with other objects and emitting musical tings, dings, and pings upon contact.
At the other end of the office was a glossily polished claw-footed desk. On one corner of the desk was a ornately embellished silver bottle stoppered with a matching spherical lid next to a scarlet feather that stood wedged in a silver encrusted stand that reminded Duo of a nice penholder. On the other corner was a palm-sized ball of crystal in a spidery metal stand that curled over the bottom of the smooth crystal -kind of like a crystal ball one would see fortune tellers ogling when they were on the job.
And in the high-backed chair behind the desk sat one of the most unusual men Duo had ever seen in his life.
Gandalf the Grey served the staring American teenager a congenial smile. "Ah, good evening, Duo Maxwell. I've been expecting you for quite some time."
Duo could think of only one thing to say.
"Is this the part where you call me Ring-bearer, recite some fancy poetry at me, and then send me off to Mordor to destroy the One Ring of Power? Because I think that's liable to get you sued for copyright infringement."
I'm like, 98% certain Zanne beta'd this for me. Props to Zanne!
Any remaining mistakes are solely my own.