Children of the Goddess

by Zen Lady

"Death next to love is a trivial thing."
– Madmartigan, Willow

…whose smile reminded him of everything that he had ever loved in his life, of everything that had ever been of value and holy in his life…
– Herman Hesse, Siddhartha


Prologue: At the Request of the Professor

At precisely eleven o'clock on a frigid evening in early November, Professor Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, raised the silver knocker on the door of a little house at the end of a lane and rapped three times. A petite, dark-haired witch opened the door for him after only a few seconds. "Professor Dumbledore," she greeted in a slow, almost impeded way of speaking but with a warm smile. "How lovely to see you."

"Good evening, Contessa. You are looking as enchanting as ever." He examined her very elegant pale pink robes with an eye of approval.

The lady placed her hands on the old wizard's shoulders, and he leaned down to allow her to kiss him on each cheek. "Welcome to my huble home. Please come and sit with me. I have some Cabernet Sauvignon breathing." She stepped back to allow him to enter.

"Excellent, excellent." She led him into a narrow sitting room furnished with two wing chairs and a matching low divan upholstered in rich jacquard fabric along with several delicate round cherry wood tables; a fire had been lit in the hearth and heavy drapes were half drawn over diaphanous chiffon window panels. Professor Dumbledore took a chair as the lady fetched the glasses and bottle along with a plate of dainty biscuits. She poured two glasses and presented one to her guest before seating herself on the divan. "To your good health," he toasted.

"And to yours," she replied, sipping from the delicate crystal glass which she held by its long stem. "Ah! That is lovely."

"As usual, you have most exquisite taste." He sat back and looked at her. "Are you well, Calyxa?"

A small smile appeared on her face and she nodded. "I feel like a different person after this year. I cannot remember when I have felt so content. Between you and Jillian, I have been very lucky."

"I am very happy to hear it. Of course, being so far away, we knew nothing of your troubles until we read of them in the papers."

"You have been extraordinarily kind throughout everything," she replied, "and if I may say, I should be happy to help you in any way that I can."

His eyes twinkled. "I suppose I should have expected such perception from you."

"You seem troubled and very worried," she answered.

"I am." He took another sip of wine. "As you are aware, Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban Prison."

The lady's eyes widened. "Yes, of course I had heard."

"No one knows how he did it."

"The newspapers say that no one has ever escaped before."

"Yes. But there is something else, something that the papers do not tell." He studied her as she listened with a slight frown creasing her brow. "He was accused of betraying the Potters and revealing their hiding place to Voldemort."

Eyes wide and mouth ajar, she stared at him as if he were mad.

"It is what he was condemned for. Not mere murder, he was found guilty of betraying his friends to their deaths and afterwards killing many innocent bystanders. And now, there is more."

"More?"

"Shortly before his escape, Sirius was overheard talking in his sleep. He was saying 'He's at Hogwarts,' over and over."

The contessa stared at him with her dark eyes huge in her pale face. "Who is?"

"Young Harry Potter."

She blinked and shook her head. "You cannot think he would… harm the child."

"It does seem to be the only explanation, but no, I don't honestly think he would."

With a sigh, the lady set down her glass, rose, and went to the window where she twitched aside the chiffon and gazed out into the moonlit garden. "I could not believe it then, and I cannot believe it now."

"I feel the same way, and I knew him, man and boy. At the scene of the crime, he made no attempt to run, and despite the number of witnesses, I think there is something important we don't know. On the other hand," Dumbledore shrugged, "you said yourself that he had a cruel streak, even as a boy."

"Yes," she sighed. "And that horrible mother." With a little shudder, she turned to face him. "I do not think that there is much that I can say to aid you, but I am willing to do whatever I might to help. That poor little boy! How much does he know?"

"Too much, I'm afraid." Dumbledore met her gaze. "You have a unique quality: you knew Sirius well enough to have got his measure."

Her face went very white and she reached out both hands to grip the back of the empty chair. "Professor… you cannot think I can help to capture him." The pale, petite contessa in her fashionable shell pink robes and elegantly coiled hair looked almost faint at the idea of having to confront the dangerous criminal. The absurdity of the question, of the idea that Albus Dumbledore would want her to do such a thing, would have been humorous had the situation not been so grave.

"Of course not. All I need you to do is detect him. I want to talk to him, to discover what really happened." He stood, took up the wine bottle, and refilled her glass. "There is something else. A few nights ago, Sirius somehow found a way past all the dementors and got into the castle."

"Potente Signora!," she whispered, aghast.

"No one was hurt. It was Halloween Night, so everyone was down at the feast. He tried to enter the Gryffindor dormitory, but since he didn't have the password, he could not get in. Instead, he slashed the entrance portrait. He must have fled, then, for we searched the castle and found no trace of him."

The poor contessa maneuvered into a chair. "The Gryffindor portrait? The Fat Lady?"

"You remember? Yes. Very violently, in fact."

"It is beyond belief," she murmured. When she looked up at Dumbledore, her expression was mournful. "What can I do, then?"

"Well, his escape means he must have found a way to confound the dementors. Whatever his secret is, though, they cannot seem to detect him."

"But I can."

"You can."

Wrapping her arms around herself, she closed her eyes. "What must I do?"

"I would like you to come to Hogwarts and stay there until he's found. In the event that he tries to get into the castle again, you could be my warning."

Her eyes opened and she blinked at him. "Come to Hogwarts?"

"I'm sure you'll be able to do your research there. I shall announce that you need some of the books in our library."

She stared at him. "You have the aptitude for the criminal mind, sir."

He laughed in delight. "After all these years teaching teenagers, I have to." His merry smile faded, and he met her gaze. "If the dementors catch him, they will not just take him back to Azkaban. I think you are aware of the results of a Dementor's Kiss. You see, it is a race against time. If we can find him first, then perhaps we may spare him that ghastly end."

Twisting her hands in her lap, she chewed on her lip as she considered his proposal. "What of Amanita?"

"She will come along, as will whomever else you may need."

"She will be going to Borodin after the Winter Solstice. I am certain that you will not want him at the school." With one hand, she rubbed her eyes in a weary gesture. "I can scarcely believe that I should be allowed there."

He smiled at her. "Don't fret, Calyxa, I shall handle all the arrangements. And you will be happy to hear that you will be able to renew some old friendships when you arrive."

Unable to refrain, she smiled as she reached for her wine glass. "Is dear old Professor Flitwick well?"

"He is, and I am certain he will be overjoyed to be able to discuss your book and other research at length."

"He never got tired of my asking questions," she sighed, sipping her wine. "He never lost his temper, never let anything ruffle him. He always told us what was theoretical and what was not known. Though, I think Professor McGonagall wanted to strangle me sometimes."

"I think you will find that she is quite proud of all you've been able to accomplish thus far, and as much as she hates Divination, she once prophesized your future."

Now that the earlier alarm was forgotten, the little Italian witch's face lit with pleasure as she restrained a grin into a ladylike smile. "Did she?"

"I cannot say exactly what her words were," said Dumbledore, "but it was something about you one day discovering something that would make you world famous."

"Truly? That is high praise indeed from one of her stature."

"There are others you'll remember. You most probably do not know, but we have Severus Snape teaching Potions."

"Severus Snape?" she repeated in surprise. "As with Sirius, he is just another example of how poor my judgment used to be," she remarked in a self-deprecating tone. "But he is now a teacher of children?"

"You will see for yourself very shortly," he assured her. "There is another of whom your judgment was markedly better, our new professor for Defense Against the Dark Arts: Remus Lupin."

The contessa's eyes widened and her mouth opened as she stared at him. Sitting back in her chair, she shook her head as if in slow motion, her thoughts traveling back to another time and place.

Dumbledore waited for a response, but none came. After many long seconds of silence, he said, "I trust that this news will not influence you to change your mind."

"Remus Lupin," she said, her thoughts far away. "That is a name that I have not heard in many years." After a moment, she took a long sip of wine, and when she spoke, her voice was hesitant. "Does he know I am to come to the school?"

"Not yet. I could not inform the staff until you had agreed." He was frowning at her. "Calyxa, I will ask nothing about what happened in the past; however, you must tell me if there is some reason why you will not come. Apart from the danger, I mean."

"No," she said even more slowly than usual. "No, not at all. I shall come and will try to help you." She took another drink of wine, still thinking, and finally turned her eyes up to his. "Sir, he most assuredly is the one who could tell you how Sirius may have entered the castle."

"I am well aware of that," said the old wizard with a satisfied smile. "Thank you. I shall look forward to welcoming you to Hogwarts the day after tomorrow."