The Golden Age
Disclaimer: Obviously, I own nothing but my own thoughts. Harry Potter and his world are the property of J.K. Rowling.
Chapter 24—Dreams: The Unicorn in Kensington Gardens
1. Mirror of the Invisible World
The faintest echo of booted feet whisper down the dark and deserted hall. They are coming stealthily, full of fear and anger. Helmets and body armor give the impression of war machines, rather than human beings. The leader, with silent hand signals, motions a team forward to the stairs. Their heavy weapons are at the ready, their strange torches paint circles of light on the stone walls, as they guide the way to the dreaded enemy. A soldier takes a deep breath, and pushes the door open.
Silence. The monsters are asleep, just as promised, and the soldiers ease into the room. The marksman in front takes aim—
But a torch has shone into the eyes of one of the creatures. It blinks, and suddenly sits up, uttering a shriek like a tea kettle. Instantly the marksman fires. There is a muffled thud, and the thing flops back, silenced, but too late. The others have awakened, and are screaming in their turn, some of them darting about the room, small and agile. Firing into this confusion could be dangerous to themselves, so the soldiers draw their commando knives to take them down. One of the targets stands wide-eyed and frozen, illumined by the seeking torches.
"Scorpius! This way!" Albus Potter grabs at his friend's arm. Spurred into motion, the terrified little boys duck out of the light and take to their heels. Heavy boots are pounding after them, but there is the other way out of the Slytherin dormitory, through the tapestry—
They are through, running. Their pursuer is halted by the magical barrier. Baffled, he crashes into the wall, cursing and kicking.
"Who are they?" gasps Scorpius.
"MUGGLES!" Albus screams at the top of his voice. "MUGGLES IN THE CASTLE! Peeves! Baron! Anyone! THERE ARE MUGGLE SOLDIERS IN HOGWARTS!"
"We've got to find the Professor!" Scorpius clutches at his wand, grateful to his father for the holster. ("Remember, Scorpius, you must always keep your wand on you. You must always be very careful—")
Deep voices rumble through the hallways like the challenge of a distant Minotaur. "After them! Second Platoon! Go! Go!" There are other voices, farther away: shouts, screams, a rattle of what sounds like fireworks, and then a series of muffled explosions. The stone floor shudders under the small bare feet. A kneazle flashes past them, a blur of speed. Rats scurry in the walls. Portraits on the wall spread the alarm, their voices rising in horrified confusion. A door slams open, and their tall Head of House is there, dressed in black, wand in hand.
"Muggles!" the boys call out.
"Get to the Room of Requirement!" the wizard orders them. "The cabinet is there! Use it! Take anyone you find along with you!" Grimly, he stalks away, robes billowing, back in the direction of the dormitory.
"But aren't you coming with us—?"
"Go!" the commanding voice hisses. "I can't abandon them! Cast a Notice-me-not on yourselves!"
The boys watch him disappear into the darkness.
"He's going to die for us," Scorpius whispers, as he stumbles away.
"He swore an Unbreakable Vow. He has to try to save us. Hurry! We need to find Rose!"
Rose is there, behind a statue, and squeaks with fright at the sight of them. Her two dorm mates are behind her, weeping softly. "They've come to kill us! We've got to hide!"
"Everyone cast a Notice-Me Not! The Professor said to get to the Room of Requirement. We can escape through the cabinet!" Scorpius herds the witches along, and Albus is in front, wand at the ready.
They pass through crowded halls, full of faceless muggles in battle armor. Strange devices are being hauled into the castle. There are other people with them—and Scorpius recognizes the grinning, grizzled Filch, talking to a big muggle with a loud voice. A door disintegrates with a crash, and there is Neville Longbottom, fighting for his life, Sword of Gryffindor in one hand, and wand in the other. He is conjuring a series of shields, lips moving. He looks radiant and unafraid. It will take the muggles some time to get past him. Two muggles have weapons that spurt fire, and spew it at him in roaring jets of orange flame. While the muggles are distracted, the children edge past, clinging to the far wall.
Two students on brooms zoom overhead, evading the crackle of the muggles' weapons. In a moment, they escape through a window, their mocking laughter trailing after.
At last the children reach the upstairs hall. Why does it take so long? The Room seems to be considering their request forever. Running feet are on the stairs—
The door appears, and they run through.
"Close! Close!" Scorpius begs the door frantically. The door ripples into smooth wall and they are safe. Before them is the cabinet. "Through here! Time to go!" he shouts, opening it.
Bare wood confronts him. "No!" he screams. "It's broken!" He slams his fists against unyielding oak. "Let me through! Let me through!" Behind him, the girls are screaming.
Albus thinks he's betrayed him. "You said you could fix it! You promised!"
Something is dropping from the ceiling. The tumbling cans burst open, and a heavy mist spreads through the room. It is green and glowing: the color of the killing curse, the color of Albus' eyes, and Scorpius pounds uselessly on the back of the broken cabinet, already choking…
"Draco! Draco! Wake up!"
Asteria's dark eyes were looking into his. She was shaking him awake. Draco stared at her, shivering, still in the grip of the nightmare.
His wife's voice broke through his terror, warm and soothing. "You were dreaming again, Draco. I shouldn't have let you sleep in so long. It's half-past nine. It was just a dream—"
"I've got to go! Scorpius is in danger—" he croaked.
"Scorpius is fine. We had an owl from him yesterday. He is fine and so are we. Come and have some breakfast."
"Breakfast?" His teeth were chattering, making it hard to speak coherently. It had seemed so real. His limbs were terribly heavy. If armed muggles were to burst through the door at that moment, he wasn't sure he could draw his wand—
"Yes-- have a nice hot shower and then come down to breakfast."
Reluctantly, Draco struggled up on his elbows, and managed to sit. His mouth felt as if it were full of glue. He tried to swallow, and then stumbled into the shower. A muttered command, and stinging hot jets of water massaged him into rationality. "Gods, that good."
Judging himself presentable at last, he joined Asteria downstairs. She was sipping her tea, eyes shut in enjoyment. The table still seemed empty without Scorpius. He hoped Asteria was serious when she had proposed having another child. They had been too busy for it while traveling and researching, but now he had contracted to stay at Miskatonic University for a minimum of three years, and it seemed an optimum time--
She asked, "What was the dream about?"
"Muggles!" he groaned. "I dreamed that muggles had gotten into Hogwarts and were killing the children."
Asteria set down her cup, and put her hand on his arm. "That's horrible, Draco, but it was only a dream. Muggles can't get into Hogwarts." She gave him a pat, and set about dissecting her grapefruit.
"Filch was there. You know the Irish put out that warning about disaffected Squibs, and then there was that muggle family who killed their little girl—"
"Draco, there are wards!"
"You read my research! Muggles can use our muggle-repelling wards to chart the position of a magical area!"
"It was that film, wasn't it? A silly piece of muggle fiction. You shouldn't have watched it again."
"The X-Men films have real value as metaphor, Star," he answered, earnest on the subject, as always. They had debated this for years. Draco's first experience of muggle cinema—right here in Arkham in their student days--had been an intense one. "Too many muggles know about us."
"The dream couldn't have been that real. Think about it, and tell me some things that couldn't be true."
"Well—" Draco paused, teaspoon in hand. He had been a coward, all the through the War. Escaping to America had given him a second chance in a new world. Then Asteria had come into his life and helped him find his courage. Even in Africa, when it had looked like the end, she had stood by him and believed in him. If he had become a man, it was her doing. His heartbeat was slowing now. He huffed a rusty laugh. "Snape was Head of House instead of Zabini. He was going off to fight the muggles, cloak billowing in that way he had."
"There you are—a dream, full of all sorts of random things that worry you or make you sad."
"The Weasley twins escaped through the window on brooms the way they did my fifth year." He grunted and reached for his teacup. "And the cabinet—" He stopped, not wanting to talk about that.
"A dream." Asteria said firmly.
"A dream," he agreed reluctantly. He took a long swallow of tea. and then asked, "Have we made a terrible mistake, sending Scorpius to Hogwarts?"
"Oh, Draco, not that again!" His wife shook her head. "Stop all this second-guessing. If it gets bad, we'll bring him home and put him in the Miskatonic Lower School. It really means a lot to your parents to have him at Hogwarts, and he's made friends there."
"Yes," Draco agreed sourly. "Potter and Weasley. I told him to have the hat put him in Ravenclaw, but he claimed that it refuses to listen to students these days. And most of the old Slytherin families are gone. Father says there are hardly any purebloods in Slytherin other than the poorest of the poor, using the House scholarships to better themselves. The rest are a pack of hypercompetitive mu—Newbloods. They wouldn't even be able to field a Quidditch team if it weren't for Scorpius and Potter's boy." He shook his head. "You know Father. He always says that 'things had to change, so they could stay the same.'"
"Your father is very sensible. Besides, I doubt that he cares about the rest of the old families, as long as there are still Malfoys. But really, darling, Albus Severus and Rose are nice children. The boy was so shy at first. You know that Potter's children were homeschooled by his mother-in-law. Young Albus had hardly met any children outside the family before he went to Hogwarts. I think extending an invitation to him for a few weeks this summer would be a good move. Albus would jump at the chance to get away from that brother of his."
"I'll think about it."
"I'll think about it, Star! He just—looks so much like his father. I can't see Potter allowing it."
"All the more reason to invite him. If his father refuses, then he's the spoilsport. And having a Potter and a Weasley in Slytherin has made a difference. Blaise tells me that none of the newly sorted Slytherins withdrew from Hogwarts this year. That's the first time since the War." Her dark brows knit in thought. "I'd like to invite Rose, too. She's a clever thing, and her mother talks the talk about reconciliation—"
"Her father doesn't, from all accounts. At least she's not a redhead."
Asteria smiled to herself. "Her sorting put her at odds with her father, and she likes us. Our Christmas present went down well, since it was something no one else would have thought to give her. She thinks your parents—and your sisters-- very glamorous. We're forbidden fruit, in a sense, and she's just at that age—"
Draco smiled at last, and applied himself to his breakfast, thinking about the recent gossip from England. "Ah, yes—trouble in the Weasley paradise. It's better than a Cheering Charm."
An owl rapped on the window. Draco recognized it.
"There's the Prophet. I wonder that Father still insists on sending it."
"He likes us to keep up with events in the Old Country." She paid the owl and opened the paper.
Draco had not quite finished his sausages when he looked up and saw her face.
2. Whispers by The Distant Southern Sea
He knows this is a dream, of course.
He always knows. Long ago, he mastered the discipline of lucid dreaming. The horrors that once assailed him nightly are part of the blessedly dim past. Shadows and vapors parade before his mind's eye nightly, sometimes amusing him, sometimes causing him to remember forgotten pain. If it becomes too distressing, he can remind himself that it's only a dream, and either wake or change the events to suit himself.
Often he hears conversations in which he plays no part. He is in darkness, and sees nothing. He is a silent eavesdropper as voices discuss school business, the schedule of daily classes, the assignment of points and prefectures. Sometimes the voices are those of children, being rebuked or rewarded. Years ago, he heard Minerva's voice a great deal, but after awhile it was another voice, one he did not know, a brisk English voice roughened with age. Others call her Headmistress, or Professor Goshawk. Sometimes he still hears familiar voices, but they are growing fewer every year. Sometimes these whispers fade into normal dreams, sometimes they are a part of them, sometimes he cannot tell one from the other.
Once two young girls stand near to him, the elder recounting a favorite bit of local folklore to the younger.
"He's the One-Who-Never-Died. He was the bravest of all, and everybody was against him. Nobody knew he was fighting to save them, and they all said terrible things about him, and then they left him to die, but he didn't."
"Where is he, then?"
The older girl whispers, "They say he's still here, down below, in a secret laboratory beneath the Chamber of Secrets. They say he'll come back if Hogwarts is ever in danger."
It is a more interesting conversation than most. He suspects that these conversations are actually taking place on the other side of the world. So much of the time there is only silence, or the faint scratching of a quill, or a muffled snore.
Not long ago, the old witch speaks to a boy.
"I understand you wanted to see the portraits, Mr. Potter."
"Yes, please, Professor. I've seen Professor Dumbledore on chocolate frog cards, but I've never seen Professor Snape at all. He has a card, but it's really rare."
"There is a portrait at the Dumbledore School, but you were educated by your grandmother, I understand."
"Yes, Professor." The voice is young and hesitant. It does not sound at all like Potter. "I just wanted to see him. He doesn't look like I thought he would. My father—I mean—he doesn't look all that mean or scary."
The listener is faintly indignant.
The boy goes on, rather wistfully, "I wish I could have met him. I heard so many different things. I like to be able to make up my own mind about people."
"Very commendable, Mr. Potter," the witch replies.
The whispers tonight are different. There has been silence for a long time, and then a murmur of many voices. These are shockingly familiar, and he stands uneasily, wondering what is going on.
"Severus," calls a voice he knows better than his own. "Severus, open your eyes."
It is difficult, but he obeys the voice, as he always has. The light is painful, but he cannot turn his eyes away, once they are open.
Dumbledore is standing before him, arms out as if to embrace him, beaming at him affectionately. Behind him stand a crowd of companions. Minerva is there, smiling tentatively, somewhat shame-faced. Moody peers at him, glowering; but as Moody always glowers at everyone he does not take it personally. Emmeline Vance raises a dignified eyebrow, and Charity Burbage's eyes are swimming with tears. Remus Lupin is there, nodding to him politely, and Tonks grins and gives him a wink. A little further away stand Sirius Black, pretending to be indifferent, and James Potter, conscientiously pleasant. Lily is there too, looking very pretty, her hand on her husband's arm.
He is surprised for a moment that his heart does not thrill at the sight of her, but he is older and wiser, after all; and the expression of tender forgiveness on her face irritates him. He does not wish to be condescended to by a chit barely out of Hogwarts. He looks instead at the Headmaster, wondering what the old wizard wants now.
"Severus," Dumbledore says gravely. "If you are ready—if you are prepared—"
A phoenix flashes into the sky above in a burst of ecstatic song, higher and higher, until the last plangent note dies away.
He sat up, listening for the phoenix. The room was silent, save for the soft, regular breathing of his wife and the sound of the ocean, less than a mile to the south. At this distance, the ebb and flow of the tide was softened to the confidential hiss of a mighty serpent. He looked at the time.
Half-past midnight. He lay back down, There had been no Dumbledore and no Fawkes. Just a dream—
It was hard to sleep again, with his mind set astir by memories.
"The sleeping and the dead are but as pictures…"
Yes, they were all dead now. He most regretted Minerva. The Stunners fired at her by those Ministry stooges had weakened her heart, he had heard. Her tenure at Hogwarts had been all too brief. She had made changes, most of which he approved, and some of which had lasted. As for the others, he had long since made his peace with his past.
Had that portrait connected him in some way to Hogwarts? He was not entirely pleased at the thought. His feelings about the place remained ambivalent, nostalgia and loathing combined. The life he had now was what he wanted: work that interested him, a companionship of respect and affection, two bright boys unshadowed by his past.
He listened more carefully. There was no sound from that quarter, so they must be genuinely asleep and not shamming. The point of the day school in Melbourne was to allow his sons to live at home while getting a decent education. His own experiences had given him no illusions about boarding schools. He sometimes thought the curriculum at the boys' school a little soft, but his wife said he sounded like an old coot when he complained.
"In my day," she teased him in a quavering, nasal whine, "we studied Runes, Astronomy, and Potions simultaneously, with only burnt porridge for dinner and flogging on Sundays!"
Dumbledore had called him Severus. No one had called him that in twenty years. The name no longer elicited a response from him. He had been Jonathan Prince for the best years of his life, and was content to let Severus Snape go. He was not worth a regret.
Now and then he had news of Lucius and Narcissa. He was cautious about it, avoiding situations that might lead to exposure. He wrote books, but made no public appearances. He traveled, but did not visit places where he might be recognized. He had nearly been caught out early on, when he had gone to Chicago to track down a rare manuscript. He had had no idea that Perdita Robinson was serving an apprenticeship there. She had been his student, and certainly would have known him. He had glimpsed her briefly, and made good his escape with seconds to spare. He had smirked then, thinking over a half-forgotten article from the Prophet, which had revealed her relationship to Lucius. He should have guessed…
Thinking of Malfoy's byblow led him to remember Hermione Granger. It had transpired that she was the child of Barty Crouch Sr. He had been oddly unsurprised when he read that, thinking it fitting that such a smug and irritating know-it-all should be the child of that hypocrite Crouch, and the sister of that clever and fanatical lunatic, Barty Jr. There wasn't a member of that family who didn't think that he or she had a monopoly on the Truth. Granger was apparently some sort of drone in the Ministry of Law Enforcement now, which did not much surprise him, either. He had considered her a born follower, first of her teachers and then of Harry Potter. Later she married that halfwit Weasley boy, and that was the end of any possible respect for her. It was just as well that she had few international contacts with the foremost creative minds in research and experimentation.
He had had many invitations to speak at Miskatonic University, but had declined them all. Recently he had begun to reconsider. He ought to have a look at the place. Miskatonic might have a great deal to offer his sons. Draco was there, and perhaps it would not be such a terrible thing to see him again. Draco had made himself respected in the States. Lucius and Narcissa, too, had successfully reinvented themselves. Perhaps a discreet message—
He looked at the clock again, feeling that there was something he ought to be doing. He remembered this uneasiness from years past, but he could not recall anything left undone. It nagged at him, the sense that something was about to happen--something terribly important--but he could not imagine what it might be.
With a scowl, he shut his eyes again. Whatever it was, he would deal with it in the morning.
3. The Unicorn in Kensington Gardens
They have been wandering for months, searching for the Lost Ones. Hermione's face is gaunt and drawn, her robes bedraggled and unclean. They desperately need hot food and rest, but dare not return to Hogwarts for fear of spending weeks in quarantine. There are so few of them, so pitifully few willing to step outside the safe areas and join the hunt for those left behind.
Hermione has detected a weak magical signal. "It's coming from the west—possibly somewhere north of Hyde Park."
"Impossible. A team went over that part of London only three months ago."
"It could be a newborn. Neville said that the Hogwarts Quill made two entries this year. Someone's still having babies."
"How? Why?" he wonders in a mutter. "If Snape doesn't come up with something soon, we'll all be dead."
He feels very hot. His head swivels, hardly able to comprehend the horror about him. The newest buildings are the first to crumble: a lightning strike, a strong wind, and the acres of glass shatter, leaving the structure exposed to the insidious power of rain. Most of the bodies are gone now. As the Red Death took hold, muggles would drop dead on the streets, their limbs splayed, blood pouring from nose and ears; from eyes and rectum. For a brief period, while such things survived, muggle media speculated hysterically about Hanta Virus and radiation poisoning. Carried on the chilly breeze, a single page of a muggle newspaper blows down the street and clings to his leg like a lost child. He kicks at it, trying to escape. It detaches, slowly, and he reads the headline.
THE END? it asks.
They are instructed to immolate any human remains they find. Not everyone has died of the Red Death. Around five percent of muggles appear to be resistant to the disease, perhaps due to some genetic heritage from a magical progenitor. That hardly means that five percent of muggles are surviving the epidemic. There are old people in nursing homes, helpless without caregivers; isolated people unable to find food or clean water; people with other, muggle illnesses, deprived of needed medicine; appalling instances of infants found starved to death, surrounded by their dead families. Surviving the Red Death does not guarantee surviving this catastrophe.
Some do not choose to survive. Harry can no longer count the times he has entered a house and found a suicide, a poor soul who has given up when his world ended.
Witches and wizards, when they are found, are to be taken at once to the Quarantine Ward at St. Mungo's. So far only a few have shown signs of the disease, but the Healers are frightened. Muggle survivors are to be cared for in the nearest Reclamation Camp. It was an afterthought at first, but now there is more and more anxiety to save all those who can be saved.
The world is changing. Proud in their power and their isolation, the wizarding community is now awakening to the coming crisis. The world will be a thinly populated planet, devoid of many things previously taken for granted. No one quite understood how much the muggle world had contributed to their existence. Muggles may not have magic, but they can be of great use as laborers and clerks, as farmers and servants, as hewers of wood and drawers of water. And they still greatly outnumber wizards.
Western Europe is in chaos. Of the lands beyond, there is almost no news. The last word from the States was of a Civil War raging between muggles and wizards, between wizards and wizards. The Confederate Mages have never made peace with their northern counterparts, and hold a bitter grudge against their old enemies in Arkham for the hurricane and flood that nearly destroyed their capital in New Orleans.
While wizards ponder uneasily over this lonely new world they imagined they wanted, the true winners appear to be the other magical creatures. Even before the muggles were gone, they began trickling into the world outside the Forbidden Forest. Indeed, Britain seems to have become one great Forbidden Forest, dotted by a few human settlements. Free of old constraints, the centaurs gallop across Salisbury Plain. There are acromantulae in the Fens, and Harry has heard that Welsh Greens are breeding in the Highlands. A colony of fairies flutters past Harry and Hermione as they trudge along the deserted streets. Hermione recognizes them as the ones who are living in Harrod's. At night, faint lights dance in the display windows, an exquisite show in an forsaken city.
A scrawny white cat peers at them timidly from beneath an abandoned bus. It has a collar. Harry supposes it was lucky not to be locked inside to starve like thousands of others. They are sorry for the dogs and cats. The teams are warned to be vigilant for feral animals—even the non-magical ones. Packs of wild dogs can be vicious, and one particularly large pack is responsible for killing a muggle boy who tried to run away from his Reclamation Camp near Exeter. Werewolves, anxious to prove their usefulness, have been assigned to deal with this danger.
They are walking up Exhibition Road. The Royal Albert Hall's roof has collapsed: the jagged tops of the walls resemble dragon's teeth. Hermione is making notes in her diary. They will give Kensington Palace a wide berth. Something strange is living there, something neither muggle nor wizard, and Harry does not want to know what it is. Rescued muggles babble about "The Lady." Hermione thinks a muggle ghost has manifested exceptionally strongly, its power fed by the dying city. Green coolness ahead draws them into Kensington Gardens.
They are by the Long Water. Harry is so hot that he kneels down to splash his face. A grindylow snaps at him, and he jumps back, startled.
Hermione only smiles. They walk on, and stop near the statue of a young boy. He is a cheerful figure in the silence. Harry thinks he should know who he is, but cannot recall the name. Hermione draws white bread from her beaded bag, and hands it Harry. He says he is not hungry, but she insists that he take it.
"You'll feel better if you have something to eat." She offers him a golden cup of chilled red wine. "It's from my father's house."
They eat and drink in silence, sharing the cup. There is a rustle and an echo of hoofbeats. Harry should raise his wand, but he is hot and hungry. The pure white bread is much better than anything the Dursleys will give him.
"Oh, Harry!" Hermione breathes.
A unicorn is trotting toward them. It is a shimmer of whiteness surpassing that of pearls and lilies, and it glows as if illumined from within. Harry's heart breaks to see something so beautiful, but he wonders if it will want his bread, so he eats faster. Hermione goes toward it, offering her own food.
She turns back to Harry, looking very young: robed in blue, crowned with a diadem, a golden locket shining at her throat. "I can still touch a unicorn! You poor thing," she murmurs to the unicorn. "There are no roses here for you. Have this instead." She offers the white bread to the creature, who sniffs at it suspiciously and then snorts in alarm at the drops of red, red blood spotting it.
"Hermione!" Harry screams.
Blood is running from her eyes and nose, trickling from the corner of her mouth. "Go on, Harry!" she cries. "You're a great wizard!"
The unicorn draws back, angered at the witch, and rams its horn through her chest. It tramples the bread underfoot.
His eyes opened suddenly, looking at the paper on the desk when his head was resting. With a disgusted grimace, he sat up straight, noticing that he had drooled on his notes. His glasses were askew and he fumbled with them, blinking.
I must have fallen asleep. I hope no one saw me. A fine thing for the Head Auror to doze off in the middle of a crisis!
He shivered at the vividness of the nightmare. He hadn't had such a detailed dream in years.
He refused to pursue that memory, and forced himself to think about work. He had been awake since yesterday. It must be—
Half past two in the afternoon, he realized. Everything had been mad since yesterday afternoon. After some debate, it was decided that simply Obliviating the Schultzes would not be sufficient. Skylar Schultz might be easily coached into a display of accidental magic for the benefit of muggle investigators. He had gone personally to arrest the Schultzes in their home, to find everything bit of documentation about the wizarding world they possessed, to question them under Veritaserum to find out exactly what they had told to whom. Those individuals were visited and Obliviated. The father was taken to every place he had stored evidence and the evidence disposed of. Under glamours, some Ministry employees were sent to Heathrow with the family's passports to create the impression that the Schultzes had hastily returned to the States.
The tabloid's offices had been rifled by Aurors and every available copy of the damning paper had been destroyed. The Schultzes' floo had been disconnected, along with the floos of every recorded squib in Britain. The families of muggleborn students at Hogwarts and the Albus Dumbledore School were being rounded up and put in protective custody. Any students whose parents did not live with a wizarding family in a secure location would board at hastily created facilities at the school for at least the near future.
Volunteer Aurors had been deputized for the duration of the emergency. Security had clamped at the Ministry, Hogwarts, the Albus Dumbledore School, St. Mungo's, Hogsmeade, and Cloud Hill. No one could enter them save by floo or apparition. Roads that muggles might utilize were under guard. All owls and all brooms were to be grounded until further notice. No one was to speak of the wizarding world, or magic, or anything secret by telephone or computer. A few powerfully warded old wizarding homes, such as Malfoy Manor, had been opened as refuges for frightened wizards and witches and their families. Others were camping out in the Ministry.
Diagon Alley, which Harry felt was the most vulnerable site, was closed down as well. The Leaky Cauldron could no longer be seen or accessed from Charing Cross Road. The Schultzes had come through the pub, and entered by means of the brick wall, and that means of entry was now gone. No muggles were to be permitted within Diagon Alley. If students needed supplies, a teacher or approved wizard or witch would obtain them.
It would not be enough, of course. Even if every copy of that newspaper was destroyed, the story was posted on the Internet, and could not be stopped. Harry had only a pair of witches in his office techno-savvy enough to monitor the traffic, and only one attempting to listen in on phone calls. They simply had no idea how many muggles knew about them. The secret was out, and furious messages were arriving from wizarding governments around the globe.
Very luckily, Skylar Schultz had only a first year muggleborn's knowledge of the wizarding world, and she had not had Hermione's inquisitive mind. She had never been to Hogsmeade, and only knew the bare fact of its existence. She knew that the Ministry was in London, but had no idea where. She had heard about the Dumbledore School and that it was in Sussex. Harry and his team had retrieved the girl's books, and believed they had found all the copies. One of the tabloid reporters had started scanning Hogwarts, a History into his computer, but the device was seized as well. As far as they could tell, the muggles involved with the Sun had no clear idea of Hogwarts' actual location, and did not know that St. Mungo's and Cloud Hill even existed.
Others did, of course. Harry shuddered. He had sent someone to deal with his aunt. He could easily imagine her coming forward, spewing every detail about the "freaks." It had not been reassuring to be told that she was not to be found at her old address at Lewes. The people now living in Marge Dursley's home knew nothing. Marge herself had been dead over seven years. Harry had absolutely no idea where Petunia and Dudley might be. Petunia knew about Azkaban, and who knew what else?
Justin Finch-Fletchley, their liaison with the muggle Prime Minister, had had a difficult and unsatisfactory conference with the man. The whole concept of Memory Spells had very much alarmed him, and his remarks to Justin were evasive and insincere.
"Something's going on there," Justin reported. "You should request a warrant for full Legilimancy."
On top of all this, The Irish were publicly accusing the British of deliberately exposing the wizarding world. A shower of pamphlets from the High Council exploded in every wizarding street, describing them with a term not used since the War.
The brief document was blunt and inflammatory:
"…Our right is manifest to protect our lives, our families, and our ancient culture…That careless arrogance that has been the hallmark of British dealings in Ireland has now born poisonous fruit...Heedless disregard of inherently inferior but crafty muggles…We demand that the British wizarding community show evidence of an effort in good faith to protect the magical world they have so recklessly revealed, or others will undertake the task as they see fit… Let the teeming multitude unblessed by magic beware,"
Harry grimaced at his own copy of The Irish Manifesto.
If the muggles ever saw that!
He grimaced again, wishing for some tea, remembering bits of his dream. It must have been that rumor passed by Lucius that had set him off. No one was likely to loose a murderous plague on the muggles. As Hermione has said so sensibly, it would obviously be insane. It was only a nightmare, Rationally considered, the upshot of the current crisis would most likely be that they would simply have to be very, very careful until the muggles were distracted by the next exciting scandal or rumor. In fact, he should ask Hermione to get some of her people to cook up something of the sort--
Hermione herself bustled through the door, and tossed a bag of takeaway onto his desk.
"I daresay you missed lunch. You'll feel better if you have something to eat. I'll make us some tea."
Her words disturbed him, recalling his dream. "You've been out, then."
"A brief stroll, taking the measure of the muggles. So far it's just another news story. And I felt like Chinese."
He did feel better for the food. He had another meeting with the Minister at four, and must pull himself together.
"Did Ginny get home all right?" Hermione asked. She seemed a bit edgy, and blew on her tea to cool it. Harry wondered if she had taken any more of her potion. When there was time, he must sit down and talk to her about it seriously.
But this was obviously not the time. Recalling Ginny's frantic floo calls made him sigh heavily. "I pulled some strings and they finally gave her an International Portkey. Most of Europe is locked down. She's at Grimmauld Place with Lily now. I already asked her to fetch Hugo after school. She'll take care of it."
"I appreciate it. I've no idea when I'll be able to go home."
"No more have I. It's bad, Hermione: there's no use pretending."
"The Wizengamot is holding another special session tonight. Are you going to be able to make it?"
"I don't see how. I'll give permission for you to be my proxy."
"Try to come if you can. It's very important."
"A vote of no-confidence?"
"I think it's inevitable. A lot of people feel that whatever we've doing to keep ourselves safe—well, it just hasn't been enough. We can't track down all the people who know about us. We don't even know the names of all the people who know about us. I think the Isolationists feel their case has been made for them. We've got to make radical changes, and we've got to make them now."
The food was good, but he was too preoccupied to really taste it. He admitted that he was a perfect fool at politics, but even he could see who would profit the most in this situation. "It's Lucius, isn't it? Malfoy is about to have a go at becoming Minister of Magic."
"We should have seen it coming, Harry. There are so few of his generation left, and he's been out there for years and years, making himself a leader, drumming up public support for his impeccably just causes. The Irish will talk to him, too—and not many can say that."
"Maybe I should have—" It occurred to Harry if he had done even a little to publicize himself, to capitalize on his fame, then he would be looked upon as the natural leader in this crisis. The thought revolted him. He still hated fame. He loved his quiet, normal life, and hoped it would survive this crisis. If Malfoy wanted the name and influence of Minister, he was welcome to them. Harry thought he could work with him. In fact, he had been working with him for years. Either Malfoy's views had changed a great deal, or Harry's had crept closer to them. One never heard Malfoy ranting about blood purity these days. That was old news, and the world had moved on.
He considered his words, and asked outright, "Are you going to vote for him?"
Hermione nodded. "I think I'll have to. He's the only one who has a thorough, consistent design for our security that doesn't absolutely trample on the muggles and the families of the muggleborn. At least he talks about "co-option" rather than outright kidnapping and obliviation. He grants the need for a constant influx of fresh blood into our population, though he would put rigorous controls on information leaks. I always thought him too conservative, but considering the current situation, maybe he's been right all along. He's responsible for a new movement that will supply us with some of our food without going through muggle middlemen. He gets all the credit for Cloud Hill—I know you were involved, Harry, but you never went public—and Cloud Hill gives us a second secure wizarding village that is virtually unknown to the Muggle world. Narcissa fronted for him at the Dumbledore School, and now Willow is teaching there. He's back on the Hogwarts Board of Governors and on the Wizengamot as well. Over the years he's built up a great deal of support, without crassly paying off the Minister of Magic this time."
"Older and smarter," Harry sighed. "I heard about the animagus stunt."
Hermione bit her lip. It had always vexed her that she could not master the animagus transformation. "I suppose it's very laudable for a mature wizard to take up a new study like that and succeed," she said grudgingly. "It's just a stunt, as you say, but he uses it with the environmental people to present himself as At One With Nature. And the form is very--cute."
Harry snorted. "A silver fox. Appropriate, I guess. I always thought that you would be Minister of Magic."
"One day, possibly. Maybe when all of those children at the School who know me grow up. Let's be honest: my own peers never cared that much for me, and I can't charm people the way Lucius does—or the way you do. I thought that the War would give us a base, but when I really think about it, I realize that not that many people actually were at the Battle of Hogwarts on either side. Most of wizarding Britain was either passively supporting Tom Riddle, or passively enduring him, or lying low, hoping it would all go away. A lot of the Muggleborns we rescued left the wizarding world, and are out there, mixed up with the general population. I've asked the Hogwarts staff for a list of all living graduates, and we'll have to figure out where they are. Some of them could pose a problem."
Harry leaned back in his chair. "I thought it would be all right—forever," he admitted. "It seemed at the time that getting rid of Voldemort would solve all our problems. It's pretty clear that it didn't."
"Oh, Harry!" Hermione got up and paced restlessly, rumpling her hair. "I think we've done very well! Yes, wizarding Britain isn't perfect, but I can see real improvement: laws are more just, and administered more honestly; nobody cares much about blood status any more—"
"In public," Harry put in, a little doubtfully.
"Well, no one says anything about it to me," Hermione shot back. "And the muggleborn have more opportunities than ever before. House elves are protected. Werewolves can hold jobs. Wizarding education is so much better than it was when we first went to Hogwarts—I could talk about that for hours—" she saw his expression, and laughed. "—but I won't." She sat down and looked at him ruefully. "It might have been a brief Golden Age—only twenty years—but I'm sure that someday we'll look back and call it just that."
"Everything's going to change now," Harry muttered. "It was easier when my scar hurt: I knew something bad was about to happen. Even that stupid prophecy gave me a clue. Now—the future is just a blank. I can't begin to guess what comes next."
They were silent for a long moment. Then Hermione rose briskly, brushing off her robes. "Well, I know what I have to do next! I've got to decide what to recommend for that wretched Schultz girl. The parents broke the law and we're going to prosecute them—there's no doubt about that. The girl is too young to prosecute as an adult, though, and I suspect she'll have a hard time if she goes back to Hogwarts. I'll come up with something. You're a great wizard, Harry, and we'll get through this together. Later." She leaned over the desk and planted a light kiss on his brow. He caught quickly at her shoulder, and gave her a squeeze.
He was left with his thoughts only briefly. His secretary peeked in to tell him that Mr. Ron Weasley was still demanding to speak to him.
"I don't have time for this," Harry growled, "but put him through."
Ron appeared in the fire, mouth open, and Harry interrupted him before he could say a word.
"Listen to me. You tried to play legal games with the Ministry's best legal mind. It was a bad idea. Kissing your girlfriend in front of Hermione and her whole staff--also a bad idea. Sign the custody papers, and Hermione won't press charges. Got that? Sign papers, get girl out of holding cell. Then move on to really important things, like checking the wards at your parents' house. Make sure your girlfriend is in a safe place. The muggles know about us, and I think it could get ugly. I've got to go, and I'll try to talk to you in a few days."
He needed to get away, to get some air. He threw off his robes, holstered his wand underneath the sleeve of his jacket, and found an emergency exit that permitted him to step outside using an inconspicuous door. There was something he needed to see.
Apparating would be reckless. A few minutes in a muggle taxi served his purpose just as well.
The whirlwind that was muggle London engulfed him. After the driver let him out near the Albert Memorial, he tried to make sense of his surroundings. This was nothing like his dream. The Royal Albert Hall across the road was massive and intact. There were crowds of people everywhere. There were no horrors lurking in Kensington Palace. He turned, and walked into the gardens with a quick step, passing the dawdling tourists. A man was reading a paper--not the Sun--and the front page caught Harry's eye.
The Secret Lives of Witches--More Revelations!
He ground his teeth together. Other papers were taking up the story. Not a good sign, but it was still just the tabloids.
If it appears in The Times, though--
He moved on, head down, glad of the exercise after a day spent underground. The Gardens were nothing like his dream, after all. They were much bigger and not quite so green. The Long Water glinted through the trees. Harry paused, and took the path along it. Ahead, children were climbing on the familiar statue. He slowed as he approached it.
He had never read the book himself. It was hardly something that Petunia would have bought for Dudley. He watched a tiny girl as she clung to the plinth and giggled.
Her mother called out to her, "Clap your hands if you believe in fairies, Emma!"
The girl jumped down instantly and clapped her hands, "I do! I do!" Brown curls danced in the light breeze.
"Come on now, we have to meet Daddy." The mother's hand found the daughter's, a moment of everyday tenderness that made Harry's throat ache. He tried not to stare like a stalker as they walked by him.
Harry glanced up, alarmed to see the excited child pointing. Was there something odd about his appearance?
She was not pointing at him. Her mother looked, too, but seeing nothing, gave the little girl's hand a tug and went her way. The child's eyes were huge, disbelieving. She turned her head, trying to catch another glimpse until she was pulled around a corner.
A rustle, an echo of hoofbeats, a shimmer of white surpassing that of pearl and lilies. Harry waited until the unicorn slipped back into the shelter of the trees.
Notes: Yes, all three parts of this chapter take place simultaneously.
Thanks to all my readers.. Thanks to my reviewers for their always interesting remarks and ideas. Special thanks to JOdel for her help with the direction and concepts of this story.
In Rowling's handwritten marriage/birth chart, it is difficult to tell if the Greengrass Draco married is named Astoria or Asteria. I have plumped for Asteria, since it contains the Greek root for star (very suitable). Astoria is a made-up name in honor of the wealthy Astor family, and I can't see that wizards would have any reason to celebrate rich (mostly American) muggles.
Lucius Malfoy's observation that "things had to change to stay the same" is stolen shamelessly from Lampedusa's The Leopard, a great novel about aristocrats in a time of change.
"The sleeping and the dead are but as pictures." Macbeth, Act II, Scene II.
As always, reviews are welcome.