By Marcus L. Rowland
XVII – The Secret Keeper
At 11.30 the next day Percy inspected his men and decided that things seemed to be more or less under control. The press corps were ready to see the Minister arrive, Aurors were guarding the perimeter to make sure that nobody unauthorized got into the area, and had already relocated and obliviated four groups of hikers, and Harry and Hermione were ready to help explain things as needed; Hermione had no official status, but was the best expert on Muggle affairs Percy could find at short notice. Ginny was there as an interested onlooker.
Around the same time the Aurors watching the castle noticed several women gathering in front of the entrance, and guessed that they'd somehow received word of the arrival; all Muggle and magical communications links were supposed to be blocked, and Percy wondered how they knew. Perhaps it was divination, or some new Muggle trick the spells couldn't counter. Or possibly Kennedy had been told when to expect company.
A few minutes before twelve more Aurors apparated in, and one of them moved to a clear area and cast a spell. A huge glowing letter H appeared in a circle on the ground, about thirty feet wide.
"What on earth's that for?" Percy tried to work out the magical meaning of the symbol. "Hogwarts?"
"Helicopter," said Hermione. "Maybe the Prime Minister doesn't want to be apparated."
"Not a gun-shop, I hope."
"Gunship. I doubt it, not if the Ministry knows it's coming. Anyway, Muggle military helicopters don't usually have an escort riding brooms." She pointed south. "And they aren't usually painted bright red." There was a distant roar of powerful engines.
"Could be red for danger," said Percy, spotting the helicopter and its escort, about half a mile away.
"Don't be a pillock."
"You'd all better come with me to meet it," said Percy, "the Minister's bound to want a photo with you. Shame Ron couldn't make it."
"Stay back until it's landed, the rotor blades can take your head off if you get too close."
"The things whizzing round on top."
The huge helicopter landed, the blades slowly whirring to a halt. There wasn't much risk of decapitation; they were well above head height. One of the Aurors waved his wand, and a roll of red carpet appeared below the helicopter's main door and unrolled towards them, as the door opened and some steps extended down to the ground. "That's laying it on a bit thick," said Harry, "I know the Prime Minister's important, but…"
"Harry," said Hermione, discreetly pointing to the people climbing down from the helicopter, "that isn't the Prime Minister."
"Oh Merlin," said Percy, "what on earth do I say to her?"
"I think that 'Your Majesty' is supposed to be a good start."
"…and this, of course, is Harry Potter," said the Minister for Magic.
"Your Majesty," said Harry, trying desperately to think of something to say, "It's an honour to meet you… I'd like to introduce my wife, Ginny, and this is Hermione Granger."
"I've heard of all of you, of course," said the Queen, "I've always regretted that the Statute of Secrecy prevents me from acknowledging your service to the country."
"I must admit," said Hermione, "that I never quite realised…" she tried to think of a tactful way of putting it.
"That I was aware of the activities of witches and wizards?"
"Yes, your Majesty."
"Who did you think was the Secret Keeper for your community?"
"I don't quite understand, your Majesty," said Harry.
"Did you really think that every slip every witch or wizard makes was instantly detected and repaired? If all of your Aurors worked every minute of the day people would still start to notice. But you remain a secret, because the… ah... Muggles are sometimes unable to see what is under their eyes. That spell requires a Secret Keeper who is not protected by it; for centuries it has been one of the duties of the Crown. Without it war would be inevitable. Even Voldemort never dared to tamper with it, if he ever knew that it existed. And of course similar protections were extended to the Watcher's Council, in the light of their service to mankind."
"It's odd that they don't teach us about it," said Harry. "I'm afraid that they never really mentioned the Crown at Hogwarts."
"With that sort of spell," said Hermione, "the more people who know how it works, the more likely it is to go wrong. They must have decided it was safer to leave it out of the syllabus."
"Perhaps it's for the best," said the Queen. "Now, if Mister Giles and the Minister are ready, perhaps we'd better go inside. I think that there's a treaty that needs to be renewed, and some problems to be ironed out.
"I'll just need a moment," said the tall stranger – Giles – who was apparently representing the Watcher's Council. He walked over to the wards, waved and whistled loudly to attract attention, then made a throat-cutting gesture with his hand. There was a short pause; then with a soft 'twang' the defensive wards vanished. The carpet started unrolling again, stretching out until it reached the main doors.
"Very well," said the Queen. "If you would all accompany me let's see if we can settle this before things get out of hand."
"I'm inclined to think that Quentin Travers was ignorant, not corrupt," Giles examined the folder that held the treaty, and the record card that tracked its movements from the archives at Buckingham Palace. "The last person to request access was Margaret Thatcher, in the early seventies. There's no evidence that Travers ever looked at the treaty, and if he was anything, he was a scholar. If he knew it existed he would have read it, even if he intended to ignore it. He should have certainly seen to renewing it when it expired in ninety-five. Long before then he should have offered our help to your Ministry, or the Ministry should have requested it."
"I'm not sure how your people could have helped against Voldemort," said Harry. "Your Slayers don't seem to be much more immune to magic than anyone else, they seemed to recover a little faster but that wouldn't stop the Killing Curse. And didn't you only have one Slayer then?"
"I think that the variety of magical tools at our disposal might have been useful. Even in the nineties we knew of vengeance demons, Voudons, Chaos Mages, and other magicians who could have made life very difficult for him without ever coming near him."
"And we might have been able to help with tracking them down," said Dawn. "In those days there were hundreds of Watchers, if they'd been briefed properly they might have been able to give you a lot of help."
"That was then." Kingsley Shacklebolt steepled his fingers. "And while historically there has been a treaty, we need to decide if it's relevant under today's circumstances. Might it not be better to reorganise your organisation under the wing of the Ministry?"
"I think not," said Giles, "and I would imagine that the Queen thinks not, since she has taken the time and trouble to arrange this conference. Looking at the wording of the previous treaty, it's clear that the Council was originally expected to act as an external check on excesses by the Ministry, if they affected people outside your community; for example, if the Minister was possessed or replaced by a demon and started to have… um… Muggles executed. Similarly, your representative is supposed to act as a check on the Council. Consolidating the organisations would remove those checks."
"Just out of interest, what would you do if you did feel that the Ministry was behaving oddly?"
"Whatever was felt to be necessary." Giles didn't elaborate. After a moment Shacklebolt blinked and turned his attention back to the papers he was reading.
"There obviously does need to be some mechanism to avoid conflicts of interest," said Percy. "We've seen proof of that in the last few days. Perhaps we should look at renewing the existing treaty on a short-term basis, with minimal changes to reflect the current condition of your organisation, and settle the immediate problems right away; in the long term more sweeping changes would probably be needed, but that ought to give us some breathing space."
"That works for me," said Kennedy, "and I guess the other Slayers will go along with it if we have more representation at the next round of negotiations." Giles nodded his agreement. After a moment Shacklebolt followed suit.
Harry heaved a sigh of relief, and wondered how things were going outside the conference room.
"So you're a vampire, are you?" said the Queen.
"Since 1880, ma'am," said Spike.
"Did you ever meet Queen Victoria, or any of my other predecessors?"
"The old Queen visited my school when I was a boy, but I'm afraid I was well at the back, didn't really see much. And I was in the crowd on the night of her Golden Jubilee celebrations, of course, but about all I saw of her then was her carriage. After that I was overseas, so I'm afraid I never met any of the others. You don't really see much of society when you're a vampire."
"What a shame," said the Queen.
"There was Dracula, of course, but you couldn't exactly call him royal…"
"So we don't have to worry about helicopter gunships?" said Harry.
"You really shouldn't take Spike too seriously," said Dawn, "especially when he's trying to con you. We do have a couple of helicopters, but they're just used for transport. We don't even have the machine guns that the Council's mercenaries used to use; LAPD confiscated them a few years ago."
"And military aid?" asked Shacklebolt.
"We've got some contacts, but they've got their own duties. For a while we were nearly at war with the US Army, but that turned out to be the usual sort of demonic cult thing, once we'd exposed them things got back to normal. Don't worry, we're not going to start using tanks on you." Shacklebolt and Percy looked blank.
"I'll explain later," said Harry.
"Moving on," said Percy, "there's the matter of the body."
"It stays here." Kennedy gestured towards a picture of Kendra on the wall, one of a dozen small portraits with black borders. "Most of the people she knew when she was a Slayer come here from time to time, and they'll all want to visit. There's another reason, of course; there's a black market in Slayer bodies, and some goddamned nasty spells they can be used for, she needs to be kept from that."
"Mister Dumbledore won't be pleased," said Shacklebolt.
"Perhaps he could come here for the funeral," said Harry. "It isn't really that far, and once he knows where it is he could apparate any time he wanted to visit."
"And that way he'd get to meet Rona," said Dawn, "she's Kendra's third cousin, or something like that, and she should be flying in tomorrow. She must be related to him too."
Shacklebolt nodded. "Let's provisionally agree to that, subject to mister Dumbledore's consent. Now, was there anything else?"
"Let's see," said Percy, looking through his scroll. "We've agreed to waive all charges re the… um… incidents over the last few days, we're postponing discussion of demonology and other Dark Arts until we hold the next round of talks, that just leaves… oh yes, a rather large compensation claim from mister Bury, and deciding on the date and venue of the next meeting."
"Oh joy," muttered Harry.
"I wonder how they're getting on in there," murmured Hermione. "I wish we'd agreed four people for each side in the negotiations, I'd love to sit in on it."
"Same here," said Willow, "but it should be okay unless they've killed each other and nobody noticed. But I don't think it's likely."
"At least she seems to be enjoying herself." Ginny nodded towards the Queen, who was having an animated conversation with Illyria in the courtyard. Their conversation mostly revolved around the habits of thestrals, with occasional jumps into horsemanship, botany and comparative religion. The Aurors assigned to protect her watched nervously.
Harry caught up with them a while later, as the Queen was watching some of the Slayers in a martial arts class. He bowed, and said "Your Majesty, the Minister asked me to inform you that we've drawn up a provisional agreement, including a timetable for discussion of a permanent treaty. They'd like to present it to you for your signature."
Kendra was buried beside the castle three days later. Thanks to another emergency treatment by Mervyn Lloyd it was an open casket ceremony; thanks to some fast tailoring by Gladrags, Aberforth looked almost respectable for a change. Harry and Percy represented the Ministry, with Ginny and Hermione along to keep them company. For the first time they met the original Slayer, Buffy Summers, just arrived from Cleveland. Kendra was buried with a sword, bow, arrows, and stakes, as befits a Slayer.
Rona and Aberforth met, but unfortunately Rona turned out to be allergic to goats, which tended to make family meetings difficult.
Bury eventually took his thestrals and hearse home. His compensation paid for another hearse and led to an eventual expansion of his business to cover the whole of the mainland United Kingdom.
Kennedy and Willow were married in a Civil Partnership ceremony in October.
Harry and Ginny's daughter Lilly was conceived in a tent in Scotland and born in 2008.
In January 2008 Luna Lovegood published her first book, "In Search of Fantastic Creatures," with an introduction by the God-King Illyria. An edited version of her account of the creation of the Crumple-Horned Snorkack has since been printed in several anthologies and in 2009 won the Hugo award for best short-form science fiction story.
Percy is now the Ministry of Magic's liaison with the Watcher's Council, in addition to his other duties, and a final version of the treaty between the organisations should be ready some time in 2012.
Despite extensive enquiries Rita Skeeter's current whereabouts are unknown.
Note: after some reflection I've decided not to add an alternative ending in which everyone starts fighting and things escalate until the Muggle government decides to nuke them all. No matter how much some of my readers at certain sites would appear to want it...